12 thoughts on “2019-Week-5: Empathy in game mechanics”

  1. Summary: According to fans and super-fans around the world, Ico and The Shadow of the Colossus are two of the best games ever made, specifically when you look at them through an artistic lens. That is not to say that they are the most beautiful games visually, instead “the power of these games does not come from the visuals … [the power comes from] evoking empathy in the gamer through the play itself.” In Ico, the game revolves around a boy protecting and leading a girl through a ruined castle. According to this article, “the act feels more intimate than it sounds,” both speaking about the game in general and the specific action of pressing a button to hold the girls hand and lead her around. Aside from the duty, there is supposedly nothing to collect loot wise and very little to kill, however the bond you as a player feel to your duty is immensely strong. “The prospect of losing a fight [and the girl] evokes feeling of guilt and sadness.” The second game, The Shadow of the Colossus, is similar in terms of being revered as art, but different in approach and style. The first game, according to its creator, is not a game at all, but this one is. The point, in short, is you are a warrior who is tasked with killing giant creatures to bring a woman back to life. The world is empty except for you and the creatures. This evokes emotions, specifically loss, according to the author, and in the end the author states “Emphasizing the ways that games are tools for instruction … is an unfortunate residue … Abandoning it will be the sign [this story telling medium maturing].”
    Quote: ”Emphasizing the ways that games are tools for instruction—whether intellectual, physical, or moral—is an unfortunate residue of their origins as children’s playthings.”
    Comment: Why is it unfortunate for games to be viewed as tools for instruction? Why can’t the inherent implication, that art and tools cannot coexist, be false?

    1. I feel that we’ve proven in the past that art and tools CAN coexist (fancy armor, decorated pots, etc). However, I think because video games have such a huge stigma around them, it’s hard to escape that idea. Even though I play lots of games, when I think of someone who calls themselves a “gamer” I still think of a young person doing something for fun. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a part of our society that we have to work to fix.

  2. Summary: In his article “The Video-Game Art of Fumito Ueda,” Chris Suellentrop discusses two of Fumito Ueda’s games: Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both of these games embody compassion or empathy primarily in their mechanics, rather than their stories. In Ico, this mechanic is holding the hand of a ghost, guiding her and protecting her as you explore a castle. In Shadow of the Colossus, the empathy comes from the fact that the player must kill these enormous, innocent creatures. The player is meant to feel uneasy at the idea; these creatures have done nothing to harm anyone. The final point the author makes is that games shouldn’t have to have a function. A lot of times, you’ll hear people talking about how games are good for you, but they never talk about games as a form of art. The author claims that this is a result of decades of games being treated as “children’s playthings.” Games, like Ueda’s, should be viewed as what they are: a method of interactive storytelling.

    Quote: “Abandoning [the idea that games have a function] will be the sign, maybe the last one, that this new form of storytelling is all grown up.”

    Comment: I think sometimes it’s hard to tell where the line between game and art is. It’s a fuzzy line, and most examples are sitting on top of it, but it definitely exists. Ueda claims that Ico is not a video game. However, it has all the things that games require. I think that what Ueda meant by this is that Ico is not reliant on its medium; Ico would have played out wonderfully as a short film or a story. Instead, Ueda uses the facets of a video game to enhance Ico. The act of physically pressing a button to hold a ghost’s hand is much more impactful than simply reading about it.

    Question: How do you build a game that is based around empathy? Do you start with a story and enhance it, or do you start with a mechanic and build a story?

    Link: https://www.polygon.com/2014/3/31/5566098/gone-home-is-it-a-game
    This article discusses when a game may no longer be a game.

    1. I like your emphasis on interaction, that the pressing of a button to hold her hand makes it more impactful. I agree, I think it would be hard not to, and I really see how this can further that video games are art. A lot of art is interaction, there is such thing as interactive art, and for me video games fit into that category. While a painting, story, or book may tell the story, so does a game, but you get to interact with it as well, adding another dimension that I think improves it all.

  3. Chris Suellentrop’s article “The Video-Game Art of Fumito Ueda” discusses the beauty and art of video games that can be seen in the works of Fumito Ueda. The two games by Ueda that garner a lot of praise are “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus”. These games have been celebrated worldwide, including celebrities such as director Guillermo del Toro and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. Suellentrop explains the praise, highlighting the empathy each game evokes. In “Ico”, you play as a horned young boy in a ruined castle, who finds a girl in a ghostly white dress, and attempts to escape. There is very minimal dialogue (the characters do not even speak the same language), and the little violence in the game is centered around the guilt of having your companion taken, rather than self-preservation. These aspects along with the minimal sound makes the experience very personal, and makes the connection to the girl very emotional. In “Shadow of the Colossus” you play as a man trying to resurrect a woman, and must kill the amazingly huge and beautiful colossi. Throughout the game there is minimal sound, and no enemies (besides the colossi), except for during the fights and the mournful music after. The game has a very empty feel, with the little sound making you feel as if you may be disturbing the world and the enemy yourself. Suellentrop ends the article by reminding the readers that there is no currency or items for players to tediously search for, leaving very little “wasted time”.

    From my reading of this article and my experience with games such as “Shadow of the Colossus”, I must disagree with Roger Ebert’s claim that “in principle, video games cannot be art”. Games are another way of story telling. Just as a painting, a novel, a play, or a movie can be art, so too can a game. These games are perfect examples, while the visuals may not be as stunning as they were for the time, “Shadow of the Colossus” is stunning. And as discussed in the article, it has an emotional and thought-provoking plot. Even if you claim that not every game is art, though I’m sure you could argue each and every game is, it is ridiculous to say that no game is art. Everyone has different ideas and definitions of art, but the games mentioned in this article alone are probably enough to qualify as art for the large majority, and there are thousands and thousands more that can qualify for the rest. Why do other forms of entertainment not get the same criticism as video games? TV shows, movies, even sports are often described as art, what makes them so different from a game?

    While Roger Ebert may disagree, even the Smithsonian considers video games as art:

    1. Because of the general connotation that video games rot your mind by creating an “addictive” system rather than get you immersed into a narrative. Music and movies do not suffer as much criticism because we, as the viewers, have no agency over the art that is being performed for us. When art can be experienced and acted upon by multiple people, we alter how the art can is executed. OR the video game’s narrative is so heavy handed and straightforward that there is absolutely no room for interpretation.

  4. The article mentions how Hocking says that “Finding a way to make the mechanics of play our expression as creators and as artists—to me, that’s the only question that matters” in the article “Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.” When reading through the article, this quote from Hocking jumped, and after a few reads of it, I began to wrestle with how that’s very true. However, I think that Suellentrop “Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are exemplars of how the best video games accomplish this, evoking empathy in the gamer through the play itself, rather than through dialogue or animation.”

    This comment bothered me a little. I can see where the author is coming from; dialogue and animation could be used as easy ways out in a half-hearted attempt to get the player to empathize a little bit more. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can just go ahead and separate out these two elements of a game from the rest of “gameplay”. I see, depending on how dialogue is used, that conversational aspect of a game as powerful, and a core gameplay mechanic for several good and deep games. You can use it to complement and show things through voice acting in a unique way.

    While these two games are not dialogue-heavy, they are not superior just because their empathy is stirred through some other mechanic.

    Polygon, one of my favorite sites for news and articles on games (their podcast is on sabbatical but is really solid), published an article about this a few years ago: https://www.polygon.com/2014/3/17/5519270/successful-in-game-dialogue-should-carry-players-forward

    I like what Will brings up about how the article talks about games not needing a function. He summarizes what has been brewing in my head throughout this semester when we talk about empathy, that to have a game that creates empathy, even if it’s contained within the game world, is noble itself. Does the practicing empathy within a game equip a person to see the world that way more consistently? My hunch is yes.

    1. Jacob, I highly agree with you that dialogue and conversation are inseparable parts of gameplay. I have encounters so many good games that are embellished so well by them. Games can be amazing if you use them the right way. For example, the game series Ys, the main character is the only one in this game that never speak. However, he speaks only one time, when her loved girl goes to sleep forever, he calls out her name. In all 9 games, he speaks only once, and that moment is so powerful and heart-breaking. I was down for a week just for that moment. So I totally agree with your point!

  5. Summary: The article comments on two games by Fumito Ueda, “Ico” and “Shadow of the Colossus”. The author states that these games utilize choices made by the player to provoke empathy rather than intense dialogue or animations. The creator did not want games with points as he felt they are “addictive” and remove meanings and messages from the game. Within the game, the actions of the players are meant to relate to a bigger message.

    Quote: I do not know if Ueda’s games will make you smarter, or improve your vision, or promote world peace. I very much doubt, in fact, that they will do any of those things.

    Question: Games do not have to be forwardly instructional. Leaving things open to interpretation is good. What are some better examples of this? (Aside from the 2 games mentioned)

    Link: https://medium.com/@Tarnimus/3-approaches-to-storytelling-in-games-4e62de86ef30

    1. Forgot my comment!

      Comment: I had seen the Roger Ebert’s quote on video games before and like many others, I wholeheartedly disagree. If art is defined as artifacts that instill emotions, thoughts, and ideas based on their beauty and composition, then there is no way that video games cannot be considered art. Throughout the article, the games are praised for their light narratives and introspective gameplay however I wish that the author dived into why it was powerful rather than just stating that they got chills when seeing a companion character.

  6. “There are no enemies because I am the enemy.”
    “But then the creature’s eyes dimmed, the music turned mournful, and it seemed pretty clear that a wrong had been done.”
    I personally have played Shadow of the Colossus, and what Chris described in his article greatly touched me. Indeed, in this game you are not the righteous hero anymore. You, the protagonist and player, are someone who is hunting the world’s guardian for your selfish will. It’s a dirty job, but it must be done. In this game, fighting and combat is not that important anymore, players are drawn to the character, the loneliness and regret he possess, the guilt and yet strong will to continue. It provokes your empathy. When I played the game, I started questioning myself, if it was me, what would I do? Will I give up on my love, or will I see the world fall, and being the one making it happen? The depressions followed me for days even after I have finished the game. And that’s what a good game should do.
    My question is for a long time I began to fear playing good games because they would make me so emotionally attached and sometimes painful. However, should games be made addictive and merely a pastime for fun just like League of Legends? Or should people make more games that make people to question themselves?

  7. “And not a minute of the time I spent inside them was wasted. They did not leave me feeling empty, because they are not empty.”

    Suellentrop’s article makes me genuinely want to try Shadow of the Colossus while introspecting why I only limit myself to the games with Skinnerian rewards. When I first started playing games like Half-Life and Counter Strike, my family were concerned whether I would grow to become violent due to the actions packed in the games. Looking back to that issue, I do not think those games made me violent, but rather apathy toward video game violence and gore to an extent that I subconsciously limited myself to play similar games as I grew up. Sometime I would try to switch to a well-received story-telling game, but often ended up quitting after a few hours of gameplay. I also agree with the author’s point at the end of the article, that not all games are practically functional. Similar to the taste of music and movies, some video games are sensory-overloading, but we also need the dose of empathy to be a more well-rounded gamer.


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