14 thoughts on “2019-Week-4: Empathy Games”

  1. Chimero talks about the painting Nighthawk, and the details that he fills in when viewing. As he says,

    “I see four individuals with the wind knocked out of them by catastrophic events. I see eyes glazed by the uncertainty of what the future holds. I see a woman whose relationship may collapse and a group of men who may have to go to war. I imagine mouths unable to develop their feelings into words. They all sit in silence, staring off into some void, lumbering into some unknown future.”

    I have seen Nighthawks before and saw a very different story unfold within it. Molded by my experiences, without knowledge of any context the painting holds, I see two lovers, exhausted by the long day they have had, unwinding while being served by a familiar, warm server. Thursdays are busy for me, I am off campus from 4pm til nearly midnight every week, but I always end that night with a trip to the Cornelius Waffle House to visit Mama, the woman who has served our larger friend group every week for 8+ years now.

    And here lies an interesting niche that video games can serve in art, the ability to leave the storytelling up to the audience. With the bare bones, the basic structure, in place for the narrative, the player is forced to take that on and do what they wish with it. The more the game allows the player to drive the story, the more potential for impact there really is. I saw a really interesting TED talk about this, and think it highlights and complements some of the ideas we have shared in class. https://www.ted.com/talks/david_cage_how_video_games_turn_players_into_storytellers/transcript?language=en

    1. I really like the idea of subjective stories. Leaving something open ended can make it so much more interesting. In Nighthawks, I see more of what Chimero sees. I see a man having one last smoke before all hell breaks loose, kind of a calm before the storm situation. I like that everyone makes up their own story when things get simplified.

  2. Summary: In this excerpt from his book, Chimero discusses stories and their influence on people. Stories are how we make ties between others and ourselves. These commonalities allow us to feel empathy for one another. Good storytelling allows for the viewer, player, or reader to empathize with the subject. Storytelling doesn’t even have to be direct; an artist can tell a story with an image, an idea, a color scheme, a sound, or anything else they can think of. With efficient storytelling paired with other design

    Quote: “[Storytelling’s] effectiveness is why so much of the wisdom and insight about what it means to be human is wrapped up in fables and parables.”

    Question: How can you keep storytelling dynamic and engaging while dealing with unrealistic situations?

    Comment: Sometimes, the best way to influence an audience’s emotions is letting them experience the growth of a character through a story directly. Oftentimes, stories that do this will have a character’s memory erased right before the plot begins or will start right before a major change in the character’s life. This allows growth to feel like a shared effort between the characters and the audience, which increases the audience’s empathy for the characters.

    Link: http://www.steveseager.com/heros-journey-four-innovative-narrative-models-digital-story-design/
    In this article, alternate forms of storytelling are discussed.

    This weekend, I played two games that capture empathy. These two games were Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Undertale. Both are quirky games that broke their respective genres with the introduction of one simple mechanic.

    In the 3D platformer/puzzle game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the player must take control of two characters simultaneously: the older brother, dressed in blue, is controlled by the left hand, and the younger brother, dressed in orange, is controlled by the right hand. There’s no understandable dialogue in the game, but the developers were able to cram loads of emotion into it. The most profound part of the game is the end (HUGE Spoiler Warning). Towards the end of the game, the older brother dies, and the younger brother is forced to do things alone. The problem is, the younger brother doesn’t have the strength or the height to do many of these things. The most heart wrenching moment of the game is when you must press the trigger for the older brother to give the younger brother the strength to do certain things. This game allows you to experience loss not only through storytelling but also a physical loss on the part of the player, which adds a lot to its impact.

    Undertale runs pretty much like any other Japanese inspired Role-Playing-Game, but there’s one major difference. In Undertale, you never have to kill anyone. You have the option, but instead of fighting you could always compliment a monster frog or pet a dog soldier. In addition to just adding comedy, these options impact the outcome of the game. The ‘true pacifist ending’ is the true games intended ending. To achieve this, you must not only spare every monster but befriend the major characters as well. The options are where empathy comes in. Toby Fox, creator of Undertale was a touch heavy-handed with the guilt, even if you accidentally kill a monster, but it serves to make the game more meaningful. In addition to this, many of the characters in the game are so powerful that the game gets meta; if you kill someone and go back in your saves to fix it, Flowey, the main antagonist, will confront you about it. These mechanics make an already fun and humorous game even more interesting and meaningful.

    1. In answer to your question, I believe that stories can be dynamic regardless of reality. When you see the emotion in the eyes of the storyteller/actor, that is what makes a story particularly engaging. Simple words do not make a story successful, which is why so many movies are unsuccessful due to poor acting. The best movies should attribute much their success to the brilliance of the actors.

  3. Chimero discusses stories and how they are influential in the beginning of this chapter. He discusses how “A myth about how Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships is just as much a story as a coworker’s tale about their shoelace snapping on their lunch break. A story is simply change over time, and the scale and scope of that change doesn’t matter so long as it has momentum.” I found this statement interesting because I never considered a story to be as simple as a change over time. Chimero continues to discuss Nighthawk, which is a painting that emphasizes void and how that is interesting to some viewers because it is a classic “Dead-End Story.” The chapter then discusses story telling and examples that have executed story telling properly (Wall-e). The final statement that says “I think that this gets us to the most important aspect of narrative: the quality of the story is a second-rate concern so long as we empathize with the person it is about and care for the one telling it.” I think that this notion is untrue. I do not particularly care about the person telling the story, so long as the content is moving. My question for the class is stated as such: What is more important to you, the story or the person it is about?

    The link below discusses what makes a good story:

    1. In response to your question, I agree with Chimero. The characters are essential to the plot, I’m even tempted to say that they are the plot. The plot of the story can be boiled down into simple statements which are quite boring. I think the key is in the characters, as well as the person telling the story. A good story teller, game developer, author, etc. can make any story sound great. They can draw you in and have you on the edge of your seat. Chiefly so through characters. The characters can be well developed complex people with lots of description, or sometimes can be vague and let listeners use their imaginations, or even place themselves in the story. If you don’t care for a character, you don’t care what happens to them, and that is the story.

    2. Content or form? That’s basically the question.

      My linked article ( https://www.fastcompany.com/90111831/the-case-against-empathy ) I think somewhat applies here.

      An example in my article cites AirBnB’s beginnings. There was simply no market for renting your homes out to strangers. It wasn’t appealing to people renting the homes, nor was it appealing for people renting them out. The owners took some HD pics, cleaned up their UX, and their company soared. It’s the opposite of empathy and shows that sometimes what’s important is vision, not relating to public or shared wants and needs.

    3. For me, the story is definitely more important. Without a good story, who wants to listen? One thing of note, however, it is important to have a good storyteller/main character for the two are intertwined. One fails without the other.

  4. Summary: Chimero states that narrative is everything. He gives examples of everything from myths to Wall-E to his own experiences in his family’s dining room. Narrative grips audiences because of its ability to empathize and convey emotions that are otherwise lost between mediums. Good designs create experiences and humanizes it.

    Quote “… the quality of the story is a second-rate concern so long as we empathize with the person it is about and care for the one telling it.”

    Question: How much empathy can we actually convey through video games? (Compassion articles last week…)

    Link: https://www.fastcompany.com/90111831/the-case-against-empathy
    A case against empathy

    Games: Last weekend I played a game recommended to me by Ryland and was featured in one of the articles on compassion. It was a game that forced you to make difficult decisions as a low-income single parent. I didn’t empathize that much, but I felt like I was one of the people that were criticized in the articles. I felt bad, but what I am to do?

  5. Summary: The Shape of Design is an interesting piece for it does not only explicate on the idea of stories taking hold in the mind of the reader, but in the mind of many. The paragraph on scope, albeit short, is extremely interesting. The juxtaposition of Helen and the shoelace brings forth the idea that scope is not necessarily matter. This idea is then used to transition to the fact that stories don’t necessarily need to go anywhere in order to be a good story, and then reaching its logical conclusion that perhaps the substance of the story isn’t what actually matters, instead it is about what isn’t present. This idea in particular is quite unique, but only when the reader hasn’t critically thought about what it means to have meaning. Meaning, to me, is anything that the conscience dubs to make an impact. For instance, the painting Nighthawk has meaning, it makes an impact on the viewer. However, as one analyzes it further you may find that quite a bit of the meaning is drawn from what is left unsaid, or what has potential instead of what already is. Chimero notes this when he discusses how the painting is unfinished. He notes that “what is absent matters just as much as what is present.” For the games, I played Breath and Who Am I? Breathe was essentially a product that promotes wellbeing via mediation and the like, while who am I allowed players to discuss race in a friendly, albeit simple situation. Both were nice and enjoyable, but not something I would find myself using anytime soon.
    Quote: ”A story, in fact, doesn’t even need to go anywhere, as long as it feels like it is about to head somewhere good.”
    Comment:This idea of having a story that goes no where having appeal I agree with, but to me it is not the fact that it goes nowhere that is interesting, but the potentiality that is left. If a story goes nowhere in terms of an abrupt boring ending, to me that is not a good story, however one that leaves the end up to the readers imagination is. The last portion about it heading somewhere good is not necessarily true in my estimation. There are plenty of stories that go nowhere good, and yet are good stories, such as No Country for Old men.
    Follow-up: Would you say that stories must head somewhere good, in order to be good?

  6. Chimero’s chapter “Stories and Void” from his book The Shape of Design, is an exploration of storytelling and what makes a good story. Chimero breaks stories down, and explains what their essence is, as well as what is needed for a story. This is my favorite section of the reading and a good story of what I mean:
    “A myth about how Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships is just as much a story as a coworker’s tale about their shoelace snapping on their lunch break. A story is simply change over time, and the scale and scope of that change doesn’t matter so long as it has momentum.”
    Stories are simple changes over time, this is so succinct but very true. A story must move, or seem like it will move. Chimero explains how the “void” can affect stories. What is not in the story matters just as much as what’s there. Allowing listeners/viewers/etc. to fill in gaps can have a huge impact. Such is the case of “Nighthawks”, where there is no story though there appears to be, causing viewers to create their own narratives, keeping them intrigued.

    I really loved this chapter. It was well written and really makes me think about story telling and its impact. Every game we play is a story, while Black Ops 4 does not have a single player mode, you the zombies mode has a beautifully complex and intricate storyline that had me obsessed with easter eggs overturning my previous boredom with the round-based system. The void is another topic I really love. I immediately think of fantasy and sci-fi books from my childhood, where descriptions of monsters and other things may not have told me exactly how anything looked, it gave me enough to form beautiful pictures in my head. This participation of the reader was always appealing, and crosses over to my love of games such as “Destiny”, where the story was not forced down your throat, but if you were willing to search you could find an amazingly complex and mesmerizing history of the universe. One of the many reasons I did not want to be a writer centers around the “void”. How much should be included, and how much should be left up to the reader/player? I can sometimes see it in the games I play, where I want the narrator and characters to shut up, but I often struggle to determine how much is too much for pushing a storyline in a game or book, and how much is too little.

    As for the games, I played “This War of Mine: The Little Ones” and “Gone Home”. I love both of these games, despite them not fitting in to what I think of my preferences in games. They both tell amazing stories, and really get the players attached to their characters.

    In “This War of Mine: The Little Ones” you take the role of a group of adults and children living in a besieged city, struggling to get food, water, and keep your shelter safe. It requires a lot of resource management, and strategy, as players choose what to have each character do with their time. I love the game. Building up your shelter in an apocalypse-like world, and risking your life to find needed supplies, its a very tense but rewarding game. The hardest, and best part of the game, though, is how you deal with people. You need to work your survivors, but also keep them healthy and happy. You interact with others, decided whether or not to offer them supplies, not knowing what you will get in return, to ignore them, or to kill and steal from them. This variant of “War of Mine” adds the aspect of a child, who despite the situation is still a child, they cannot work, but desire fun, play, and food. Trying to protect them and keep their innocence makes the already tense game very stressful but nothing feels better than balancing it all and surviving.

    Link to game website: http://www.tlo.thiswarofmine.com/

    In “Gone Home” you play as a student returning home from a year abroad. You get to your house but no one is home. While the game begins as a somewhat scary mystery with you worrying about the family (there is a storm outside and the house is dark, and I may have watched too many horror movies), it becomes a much more peaceful and deep exploration of love and family. The focus of the game becomes your younger sister and what has become of her, a beautiful love story, but there is much more. Upon closer examination of the house, a truly curious player can discover stories of the mother and father as well, giving the player a deep understanding of the family and context for the game. The stories are all very interesting, and the gameplay is a fun, casual backdrop for the audiotapes you listen to. It was surprisingly calming, yet moving, walking around the dark house and getting to learn more and more.

    “Gone Home” website (with trailer): https://gonehome.game/

    I would really suggest playing these games. “Gone Home” is a bingeworthy game, where I honestly played the whole thing through before putting it down (it was over 4 hours I think). “War of Mine” on the other hand, has very apparent breaks. There are separate days, divided into day time and night time, which overall allows for players to stop and come back, though they may not want to. It is also a game that has a good replayability value as you can make all types of different choices and have different playstyles.

    1. Spence, the game you recommended seems to attractive. I watched the trailer and it seems like something I have been looking for. I will make sure I spare some time next weekend so I can try this game out!

  7. “Storytelling is one of the most efficient communication methods we’ve devised. Its effectiveness is why so much of the wisdom and insight about what it means to be human is wrapped up in fables and parables.”
    In this chapter, Chimero states that narrative is everything in a design. He gives examples ranging from myths to Wall-E to support his arguments. Narratives, in his opinion, are so important because it can get grips of the audience’s emotions and therefore provoke empathy.
    I was deeply moved by this idea. For all my life, one of the things that affected me the most were novels. The characters, the story itself, have led me along the path of understanding. I was mostly grateful for it enabling me to feel more about another individuals.
    My question is to what extent can video games promote empathy?
    One of the game I think fits most to this topic is Undertale. Undertale is a RPG game made by RPG maker that greatly impress people by its depth of story. Instead of being linear, the story is so radiant and dynamics that for everyone, it’s a different game.
    Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hojv0m3TqA

  8. Quote: What is absent matters just as much as what is present, creating a tension between what is said and what is implied.

    Response: When talking about how to make a compelling narrative, Chimero uses the painting Nighthawks to point out that a good story does not necessarily need to go anywhere. What is left blank in an artwork is similar to the unsaid part of the story: they both require the audience to engage the narrative and contribute their own perspectives to complete the experience. The beginning story scenes of Stardew Valley serves this purpose. The character works at a modern corporate office and became tired of his/her job. Instead of giving a monologue to describe his/her feelings, the character opens the letter left by grandpa, which he talks about how he lost his goal of life when he was young. Every player will come up with their own “need of change” in their life and project that into the game, becoming closer to the character.

    Question: The plots of a game is determined no matter how many endings there are. How to make the stories open-ended while all storylines are preset by the designer?

    Grandpa’s letter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xduk-3gK86M

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