I spent my 30th birthday alone in Mexico City. There was nothing sad about the celebration, I was nearly finished with my graduate degree and simply wanted a break from Columbus, Ohio. Mexico City was the cheapest international flight I could find.
I stayed in a tiny hostel in Roma Norte, a touristy neighborhood in the center of Mexico City, close to many museums and a long walk from Zocalo, the famous plaza. The hostel was quaint, but like any good hostel, it’s not the building that makes a wonderful hostel experience, but the people.
I had the bottom bunk in a room of eight and once the awkward introductions wore off, everyone began to enjoy each other’s company. As a confession, I believe one of the many reasons I enjoy international travel is because people find my rural Americanness and slight southern twang to be charming. Whereas in many parts of the US it can be seen as somehow less intelligent or conservative.
On the night of my thirtieth, I went to a simple mexican restaurant in Roma Norte called La Zaranda. I ate tacos and drank mezcal, simple and wonderful. After dinner I returned to my hostel and was enthusiastically greeted by my temporary flatmates, all wishing me a happy birthday and feliz cumpleaños.
Many in the group wanted to go out for a drink that night and I decided to tag along. There were too many of us to seat at a nice cocktail bar so we tried a local club. The short bouncer at the door searched the ladies’ bags and found an epipen. He wasn’t sure what it was, and wouldn’t let her enter. After a small tussle with the bounder we went our separate ways.
I had found a local mariachi bar next to a whiskey bar near my hostel and made my way over there. Another American tagged along with me and we were seated in a very casual restaurant with amazing music. The fellow wasn’t into it as much as I was and kept complaining the entire night. Eventually I told him to leave if he wanted to, he was ruining my night. I’m very much ok with spending the night alone and entertaining myself. He left and we never spoke again.
After the mariachi bar, It was nearing closing time for most places, so I decided to head back towards my hostel, stopping at nearly every taco stand along the way. The vendors raised their eyebrows at me when I ordered a single taco in broken Spanish. I assured them, one is enough. I’ll most likely stop at every stand as I make my way back, which I did.
I sat on a bucket at the last taco stand a block away from my hostel. The man to my right spoke a little English and asked where I was from, making casual conversation. I told him I was in town for my birthday and enjoying the city. He bought me a couple chorizo tacos as we continued chatting.
I casually mentioned it would be nice to have a beer to wash this wonderful late night meal down. The man asks how much money I had on me. It was the end of the night and I had maybe a hundred pesos (five dollars) left. He turns to a man leaning against a bicycle behind him and whistles. It had begun to drizzle and the bicycle man was wearing a trashbag for a shirt.
Trash Bag man walked his bike over to us and the two men chatted in very quick Spanish. The man sitting next to me said to give him the money and he’ll get the drinks. I handed over my cash, thinking I wouldn’t see it or the beers that night.
We continued to chat and eat our tacos. The chorizo was especially good.
About twenty minutes after the bicycle gentlemen left, he came back with an ice cold six pack and tried to give me twenty pesos in change. I cracked open a can, offered the rest to the people around me, and gave the change back to the trash bag bicycle man.
This post was originally published in my old blog on June 26, 2018.
Recently I began writing my MFA thesis paper at Ohio State. This post will work as a casual version of my thesis introduction.
Games are huge is an understatement. Everyone I know plays games in some form or another, video games, board games, sports, etc. Game-like qualities have found themselves in apps, school, and websites thanks to the gamification revolution. The popularity of games as a pastime and storytelling medium and its unique characteristics make it a prime candidate for alternative modes of storytelling. What characteristics are unique to games as a medium? How do these traits help establish the medium? What can they do for the player?
The "cut" is arguably the most import attribute of film. The story in a movie is told through the cuts (Mamet). A shot of a man screaming cutting to a shot of a mouse is a very different story than a shot of a man screaming and cutting to a dark figure lurking in the corner. Unique attributes like this are found in all sorts of visual mediums. Comics, for example, is comprised of juxtaposed images similar to film, however, the time between the frames can vary, unlike film which is shown at a standard rate. Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics states that a major difference between film and comics is the “space” in which the image occupies (McCloud). A film (and most video games) occupy the same space, perhaps a screen or a monitor, and comic frames “occupy a different space.” If comics and film have specific traits unique to their medium, what are the traits unique to games and video games as a medium?
Video games share many of the same visual traits found in film. Lighting, camera, tone, and pacing are all part of film and modern video games. Even genre tropes have been successfully transferred to video games. Sci-fi games like Mass Effect have created vast science fiction worlds that use many of the traits found in science fiction films, traits like aliens and space exploration. The game Alien: Isolation has successfully adapted an existing film universe into a video game while keeping the same tone and style of the films (strict movie to game adaptations often fail, however).
That’s not to say film and games contain exactly the same traits as a medium. Although they share many characteristics, there are many things film does that wouldn’t work in a game and vice versa. Film has an established language that the viewer understands. In Star Wars, the soft radial wipe has a different meaning than the traditional cut. It usually signifies the passage of time and a location change. In the film Mean Streets, a wobbly camera, a long take, and inconsistent lighting show that Harvey Keitel’s character is intoxicated. This effect uses the strength of film as a medium, camera, color, and the cut. This effect could be recreated in a video game visually, however, it doesn’t use the strength of games as a medium. The strength of games lies in the agency of the player. The interactive quality of a game and the rules or systems in the game that allow for interaction are the major differences that distinguish games as its own medium, these are called a game’s mechanics. Instead of camera effects to describe inebriation, the same message could be told in the interaction with the character. In a board game, maybe there’s a punishment added to the dice roll or some other handicap given to the player. In a video game, perhaps the usual way of controlling the character isn’t as precise compared to when the character is sober. In a video game, using the point of control over the character to describe a physical or emotional state is stronger than simply showing the player. The traditional film rule of “show, don’t tell” can be extrapolated to games as “play, don’t show” (Fine). “In a film or a book, if the characters take the left-hand door, then they will always take the left-hand door, no matter how many times you re-watch or re-read; but in a game, you can take the right-hand door instead. Instead of being nice, you can be nasty; instead of being cautious, you can be gung-ho; and you can see what happens.” In games, it’s often better to convey meaning through gameplay and player interaction.
I'll be looking at deeper definitions of game mechanics in a later blog post. If visuals, audio, and the cut are unique characteristics of film, then what are traits unique to games? Obviously the answer is interaction via the game's mechanics. The player's control over the game, the agency allowed to the player, sets games apart as a medium. How can this characteristic of game mechanics be designed to influence the mood or perception of a story in the same way the cut or visual effects do for film? Games I believe that do this are Braid, Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, and various game in the indie scene. We'll look at these game more closely in a future post. The common theme, however, is the game's mechanics help to share the message of the game.
As part of my MFA degree, I also need to do a creative project. That's the main reason for this contextualized research, to inform that project. If mechanics determine how a player can interact with the game state, and if the mechanics are designed in a way that shifts the player’s perception away from how they traditionally see and experience the world, in what ways will this altered view contribute to the player’s understanding of different states of mind in the character or story being portrayed in the game? With this question in mind, the story won’t be like traditional narratives told in film and books. Instead, the conflict and resolution will be in how the player interacts with the game and the changes in the player’s perception of this conflict.
For the project, I intend to explore the design process for game mechanics so players can experience a metaphorical representation of onset dementia through interaction. Players will have two very distinct comparisons of reality: their everyday reality outside of the game world and the reality created in the game that is driven by dementia and rules of the game. The goal of this project is not to recreate the dementia experience for players with healthy minds, but instead to offer a glimpse into the emotional conflicts and confusion that are an everyday part of the disease. The goal of this research is to show how games, with their distinct characteristic of mechanics, can inform the player of the game’s message. Game mechanics can be the main conduit for the story’s message. In some cases, mechanics can provide better insight into altered realities, in this case, dementia. This research will work to show game’s strength as a storytelling medium and provide an example of how mechanics can be designed to add meaning to a player’s interaction. I hope this project will serve as a model for myself and other game designers in the future to adapt mental and emotional states to the medium of games.
Thanks for reading this long winded post. If anything is confusing I'd love to clarify!
References for this post Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud On Directing Film by David Mamet https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/124172/Opinion_Play_Dont_Show.php Mass Effect by Bioware Alien (1979) directed by Ridley Scott Alien Isolation by Creative Assembly Braid by Number None Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice by Ninja Theory
I wanted to give a quick update along with my new portfolio site. Earlier this year (pre-Covid) I quit my dev job at Pixologic because I was offered a role at Blizzard. I couldn't say no. I joined the animation team back in February and have been working on the in-game cinematics for Overwatch 2 and World of Warcraft Shadowlands. It's been an amazing year minus being stuck inside. So pumped to show everyone what the team has been working on.
I'm gonna spend the next few days and migrate my old blog posts (the ones that are worth migrating).