AGENCY IN THE STANLEY PARABLE

So I recommended The Stanley Parable to you last week. I’ve played the game a bit more and watched my friend finishing it. (You have to play it more than once to be satisfied which you’re going to find out why soon.J) Now I’m even more fascinated by it. It’s really strange!!! In a good way of course.

The remake of The Stanley Parable was released in 2013, expanding the player’s experience from the original version (released in 2011) with more story pathways and decision-making. You are an officer worker called Stanley who should mindlessly follow orders from the authority, the narrator. But here is what is so exciting but confusing about this game. You can either follow the instructions given by the narrator or disobey them and do what you want. Different choices you make in the game will lead you to more than 15 different endings!

One thought that I came across over and over again while playing The Stanley Parable was this, “What choice do I need to make this time? What is going to happen if I do this? Do I listen to the narrator? Do I actually have a choice here?!!!” In today’s post, I’d like to talk about how the idea and feeling of having AGENCY IS IMPORTANT to the video-game players and how The Stanley Parable shows it well by introducing you to some of its endings. Having the power to make choices and produce results gives satisfaction to the player. Gamers instinctively try different actions to solve and unfold the problems they face in video-games which produces some kind of results/endings. They know that they have the power to make choices in a given context and they use it. I think The Stanley Parable is a unique game because it gives you the feeling of full agency but makes the player feel powerless at the same time. This game plays with the idea of agency and the player’s instinct developed through his/her gaming experiences. This review by Joel Goodwin is worthwhile reading. He defines The Stanley Parable game as “a game in which player recognises free will is limited and their genuine choices are few.” But then he points out even though the narrator tries control the player by continuously telling the player what to do, he actually has no control over you. It is true because despite the feeling of having no control, you are still the decision-maker for each choice. Here are some interesting examples (spoiler alert to those who haven’t played yet!).

The freedom ending: To get this ending you follow everything the narrator tells you from going in certain doors to finally deactivating a “mind control machine”.  I felt that I had no choice in how the story played out. Something funny to note is that the so called “freedom” at the end when you escape the complex is shown to the player in the form of a cut scene. This is ironic as cut scenes are times in games when the player has absolutely no control whatsoever (i.e. can’t control the camera or move etc). Very clever! Although this ending is how the “story” is meant to unfold, it does not give the player the satisfying level of agency. But yet it was the player’s power to make choices each time to obey the narrator instead of going against him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKcT-yRjoRg

The death ending: If you are so eager to go against the narrator and mock him like he does to you, you can throw yourself from a cargo lift and plunge to your death. At this the narrator mocks you for your eagerness to go against him and resets the game. I felt like it was showing you that you really have no control in the game.

The heaven ending: If you press random buttons in the office, you get this weird ending when you are in “heaven”. This is just a room filled with buttons and chanting music. This is pretty funny because it’s like saying if you like pressing buttons so much then this is your heaven. This is making fun of gamer instinct to press everything. Most games don’t have a penalty for just pressing anything. Pressing buttons and clicking everywhere that is “clickable” are few of the very obvious interactions in video-games which produce some kind of results. Gamers gain a sense of agency in doing so.

The suicide ending: So you get this ending by disobeying the narrator a few times. He tries to make peace with the player and be on good terms with him/her. You reach a room with some lights and the narrator says he is finally happy and can be at peace. He asks if you can just stay there forever.  Unfortunately standing still is not a game and with nothing to “do”, the player has no choice but to repeatedly throw themselves from a set of stairs while the narrator pleads for you to stop. This ending had the most impact on me as it points about what a game is in terms of interaction and player choice.

http://youtu.be/oRTVxgkFiOg

The player must always have something to do and it is important to the player!  

http://www.electrondance.com/the-stanley-paradox/#more-7760

The Stanley Parable

I played a bit of The Stanley Parable the other day. I’m not a gamer so I haven’t played a lot of games yet but surely this was a very unique one. The whole time I was thinking…”Am I really in control here? Who is making the decisions, me or the narrator?” But of course, the narrator is the game-maker! This already is a popular game but I recommend it to non-gamers. A good way to understand the “controversial agency” idea! It was for me at least 🙂 

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/09/12/lets-play-with-your-mind-the-stanley-parable-trailer/

Hero’s Adventure

After the lecture on Friday, I went home and played Hero’s Adventure myself. I’m not a gamer but I just thought this game was very interesting and weird and short… In the very first battle with an animal, I just did whatever it tells me to do. I chose what kind of attack I would use and fought. It was so sudden and weird that I just did it. But then I was thinking…’I don’t want to kill a cat? Why am I doing this?’ At the end of the game, the parents are worried about me (my game character) because I’m not safe out there. I was like, ‘I’m the one who is dangerous and a bit of freaky one here killing animals and burying them in a secret place…’

In order to play this game, you have to make a decision to kill those innocent animals. It gives you some rewards (points).  Like I’ve experienced, when you first have to have a battle to continue the game, you forget it is a violent act or what it means to kill something. It’s just participating in a game.  But like Line Hollis says those decisions you make in games could “affect who you are and what you’re capable of” because it still is your own decisions. I’m not saying nor supporting that what you do in games is who you are in real life but playing this game made me think about what kind of decisions you have to make in games and how serious they could be in real life but you just choose to do whatever that can make you stay in the game. 

Women in games

Tom Raider released in 2013 presented a new kind of female protagonist in the gaming world. Lara is independent, doesn’t rely on other male characters to solve her problems, and carries out physically advanced tasks throughout the whole game. When I watched #Reborn trailer of the game, she was very similar to other male protagonists with lots of actions and fights that sometimes looked even more brutal than those in games with male protagonists. I should also mention the fact that she wasn’t too hyper-sexualised. She still is an attractive girl with good body figure in tight clothes; it’s nothing like those female characters who barely wear anything in previous games. Chris Morris suggests in his article that Lara is the most “formidable” protagonist in videogames and players were “more than willing” to accept this female leading character.

But is this still the case in other games?

Other than Lara we all agree that it is pretty hard to find another few female characters that are as strong, independent and important as of male characters. Morris says that it is very rare in games that are set in more realistic world, not a fantasy. First of all, heroic character who actually solves the problem is almost always a man. Well, more than 60% of Xbox users are male so it could be influencing the fact. I watched “The Last of Us” (the whole game played like a movie) with my gamer friends the other day. Although Ellie is a very important heroic character who “tries” to be strong and independent, I felt like she can’t do anything without the male protagonist “Joel”. In games, female protagonists need some kind of protector (=men). This is the reality of games until now. But it is also true that characters like Ellie and Lara show us that gaming world is improving slowly in reflecting and representing women (who aren’t hyper-sexualised and independent and can potentially solve problems on their own both intellectually and physically). I hope to see more of this in the future!

http://variety.com/2013/digital/games/female-avatars-gain-ground-1200005984/

Immersion and gaming

This week, I’m going to talk about a fairly new game called “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” (Starbreeze Studios, 2013) and its achievement in immersion through a unique use of the controller. I found a part of this review interesting. It talks about how the control scheme of the characters is designed to make you fully appreciate that the two brothers rely on each other during their journey. So what you have to do is you move each brother with different analogue sticks at the same time. In doing so, it makes you focus on the emotional context of the story. You can engage even more than usual because you control both the characters and you feel difficulties they go through with them. So if you were an experienced gamer, I think you’d enjoy this game a lot. But there is a problem. I’m a non-gamer but my gamer friends once said, “Once you play games, you’d be absorbed into this great world of exploration.” Then last week’s lecture made me think about why I couldn’t get into gaming world as much as those friends. When I tried to play this game, I first thought its graphics is amazing and the story is emotional and felt like to try it. But it was almost impossible for me to take any actions and I constantly asked my gamer friend to help me. This didn’t give me a chance to be immersed into the game like my friends because I was worrying and trying to use the controller. Unlike what the review says, my focus wasn’t on the emotional context and the characters of the story-line, but the technology I’m holding in my hands. This relates back to what we talked about in the last week’s class how the pre-technological literacy can determine the immersion in games. Being able to ‘control’ the controller would definitely give you more emotional, immersive world of gaming!

http://www.giantbomb.com/reviews/brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-review/1900-589/