Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Being a "Gamer", Are Video Games an Art?

Shadow of the Colossus
Let me ask you one question, what does the term "gamer" mean to you? For some, they are quick to think of the stereotypical gamer who is overweight, pasty, and well, nerdy, as portrayed in the World of Warcraft episode of South Park. For others, it is a immersive and complicated subculture where the medium of the "video game" is properly seated in the realm of art. Fumito Ueda, a well regarded game designer, famous for titles such as Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, has made his mark in the videogame industry as an artist. His games are not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but is able to deliver the art of story telling incorporating characters that players are able to sympathize with. So is a video game an art form? According to Grant Tavinor, the author of The Art of Video Games, he analyzes the disjunctive nature of the categorization of what an individual perceives as "art". 

"the presence of which ordinary judgment counts toward something's being a work of art, and the absence of which counts against its being art: (1) possessing positive aesthetic properties, such as being beautiful, graceful, or elegant (properties which ground a capacity to give sensuous pleasure); (2) being expressive of emotion; (3) being intellectually challenging (i.e. questioning received views and modes of thought); (4) being formally complex and coherent; (5) having a capacity to convey complex meanings; (6) exhibiting an individual point of view; (7) being an exercise of creative imagination (being original); (8) being an artifact or performance which is the product of a high degree of skill; (9) belonging to an established artistic form (music, painting, film, etc.); and (10) being the product of an intention to make a work of art."

As shown in the various points Tavinor makes about what makes "art" ultimately art, many video games share these common characteristics that are often seen on mainstream artforms. So why are videogames seen as simply a form of entertainment for people whose lost their innate sense of reality?
Being a gamer has many connotations attached to the term. What could it be that creates this dichotomy between gamers and "normal" people per se? For instance, take music for an example, one could argue that music is a universally enjoyed pastime. What makes a gamer, well, a gamer? Spending countless hours playing a game is in my honest opinion, is far from being a "gamer". In that dynamic, that would be the same as saying someone who spends countless hours of listening to music is most definitely an audiophile. To many, the definition of being an "audiophile" stretches far beyond just simply listening to music. The problem with the gaming culture is that it is NOT universally enjoyed like music. It's probably easy to name your favorite band or artist, but not everyone will be so enthusiastic about naming your favorite video game.
And through this rationalization, it unfairly generalizes every gamer into one big mess that obscures the complex discourse of being a gamer. Now going back to my first point about video games as an artform, so why are they relavent? To simply put it, the usual negative stigma that is often attached with being a gamer creates a challenge for those like Ueda to convince the general public that videogames can in fact be a form of art. If more people understood gamers as individuals who appreciate art, there might be some retribution for gamers like myself and many others. Conversely, if more people took the time to appreciate videogames as an art, like they appreciate music and other art forms, this social stigma that creates a destructive image for gamers could be finally benched. Excuse my use of cliches but, maybe only time would tell, and maybe it's worth waiting for some day.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diablo 3 Aftermath

The Diablo III launch party at the Irvine Spectrum in Irvine, CA
A week has passed since Blizzard has released their most anticipated title Diablo III, with much celebration and frustration. Blizzard set up many "launch parties" where Diablo enthusiasts got together to experience the opening of the iconic computer game. The main event was held at the Irvine Spectrum in Irvine California where blizzard's headquarters reside. Others promptly waited in line at the gaming store they pre-ordered from to receive their copy. For people like me who pre-ordered a digital copy, I was sitting back on my computer chair with a cup of coffee eagerly waiting to log in. Little did anyone know, the horrendous amount of traffic the servers had to handle was an understatement. For most online gamers, launch day for a big name like Blizzard is asking for server overload issues. Knowing this, many individuals including myself, inevitably expected for the worst. What many had experienced was beyond their expectations, having login issues for hours after launch as well as servers going down periodically in between causing major down time.

Launch Party Coverage by Gaming Illustrated

The login errors people were having quickly rose to internet fame, grabbing top trending on social media websites such as Twitter and online communities like Reddit. Reddit in particular had a sub-reddit (a sub-community if you will) that participants actively discussed the content of the game even before it was released. Blizzard released the game in multiple countries including the Canada, Europe, South Korea, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and the list goes on. It was a historical event for many gamers on the basis that many had grown up playing the first two games in the franchise. On an earlier post, I explained the possible reasons as to why this game had such a influential impact on the global gaming community. One of the points brought up was the idea of "nostalgia", being a "gateway" online game for many present day gamers. Playing the game for almost a week now, I have never played a game that emphasized team work and cooperation along with the joy of playing with friends so pleasingly. This synergy creates a dynamic space for critical thinking and compelling gameplay. I interviewed a fellow UCSD student Brian Im, to see what he thought of the game.

"I've always loved the Diablo games, especially the second one since that one was the one that I had the most closest relationship with. I would remember when I used to come home from school and play with my friends until my mom yelled at us for playing on the computer too long. It just reminds me of those days when we were young and carefree that makes this game so fun for me." 
-- Brian Im, fourth year UCSD economics student

After talking to many other gamers online and in person, they seem to have a general sense that the game's intuitive collaborative play and nostalgia kept them coming back for more. Whatever it may be, Blizzard has done something right. Beyond the server connection issues and reoccurring server maintenance downtimes, they have successfully dominated the online gaming industry at the time being. From the casual gamer to the hardcore enthusiast, this game appeals to a plethora of individuals for different reasons aside from the content. Now go on and plunge into the world of Sanctuary, cause' evil is back!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Diablo Franchise

Diablo Released 1996
Blizzard, one of the most successful video entertainment software developer and publishers in the industry, is notorious for releasing extremely popular video game titles that are worthy of historical recognition. They are responsible for creating titles such as Warcraft III, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and finally Diablo. In this entry, I will be focusing mainly on the Diablo franchise due to its third installment releasing next week. Being one of the most anticipated titles in computer game history, it has already been crowned the most pre sale profits of any game Blizzard has released.

Diablo II Released 2000
The Diablo franchise has won many awards and set many records. It won "Game of the Year" by Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences two years and still going strong. One of the few franchises that even come close to Blizzard's success is Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare selling 6.5 million copies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Blizzard has announced that they expect to sell over five million copies within just a year of release.
So what is so special about this game that created one of the most successful titles in its genre? Innovative? Not so fast. There were other ARPG (Action role playing game) that were released before Diablo such as Ultima VIII and sometimes that were deemed "Diablo clones" such as Titan Quest. One thing that Blizzard is infamous for doing is their impeccable timing. The Diablo franchise was released during a period of time where the internet was readily becoming more accessible by the public. The digital era at this point is rapidly building the infrastructure for the coming future generation of digitized media. I can remember playing the game back in circa 1998, playing on a desktop more primitive than my current HTC smartphone, with dial up 56k internet connection. As painful as it may sound, this game was the pinnacle of my computer gaming passion. It was the stepping stone to many other games that I have experienced such as World of Warcraft and Warcraft III.  Being labeled as a sub-genre of MMORPG's (Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) Diablo also succeeded in creating a game that catered to different types of gamers.  Whether an individual is casual, or a dedicated over achiever, the game can be played at the player's personal pace. This is important because MMO's are often tied to high commitment, high reward style gaming. In order to progress through the game, the player had to devote a large portion of their lives which for many, did not seem appealing. Diablo's "Battle-Net" system for joining and creating games was a different approach from simply logging onto one gigantic server where one could often feel overwhelmed. And for people who did not like socializing with other players, the game created NPC (Non-player Characters) that will help  the player on his quest to progress through the game.
The Diablo franchise now with only five days until the next installment after a long ten year down time with many (and I mean many with no exaggeration) delays will be released. The nostalgic video game that  that made such an important impact on my childhood will finally rein once again.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Introduction, and the infamous freshman 15

First, I would like to welcome you to my blog with a short introduction. My name is Steven Yoon, a communication major at UCSD and the theme of my blog will revolve around college nutrition and cuisine.  Over the past couple years living away from home, I have met many students of all ages and the topic of nutrition will usually come up in our conversation. Whether they are advocates of the gym and/or healthy eating, or your typical lazy instant-noodle soup devouring fiend, food and nutrition is something all of us have an intimate relationship with. I for one love to cook at home and do not mind the constant trip to the supermarket to stock my fridge and cabinets with the proponents to my own culinary epiphany.  Some students such as my roommates have a different approach. They rarely eat at home, and blame their inability to cook the bane to their decision to eat out almost every day.
Each week I will be discussing a special topic with usually an interview, video blog or analysis of a pertinent topic.  Towards the end of the quarter, I will hope to figure out some questions I have had regarding meal and nutrition choices for fellow students of UCSD. I will also be delving into topics of budgeting and reasons behind the nutritional choices some students make.

This week's topic deals with the infamous term "Freshman 15" coined by the college community for incoming freshman's who evidently pack on some serious pounds their first year in college. In a study done by Jay Zagorsky at the Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, reveals college has nothing to do with the infamous weight gain.

"The 'freshman 15' is a media myth," 

"Most students don't gain large amounts of weight. And it is not college that leads to weight gain -- it is becoming a young adult."

This poses interesting ideas about the correlation between weight gain and college for incoming freshmen.  Zagorsky continues by raising the problem of female weight gain especially since it could become a psychological problem leading to anorexia or social disassociation.  To top it off, most students do not even gain fifteen pounds collectively throughout their college career.
Many of us could relate when talking about our weight whether it is over or under our ideal "magic number". Some people are content with their weight and by all means, more power to them. The marginal weight gain for students in the early stage of college isn't attributed to the "college life" per se, but as Zagorsky stated, it is the transition from teenager to young adult. This steady increase in weight however, should not be taken so lightly. Habits developed in this period in someone's life often can help structure an individual's lifestyle later on in their life. Making the healthy lifestyle choice now could make the worlds difference in someone's life later on.
The social implications in weight gain is a sensitive subject, especially for female students. Ideal female representations shown in reality television shows and alike have attributed to corrupting what an "ideal" woman should look like.  The freshman fifteen connotes this ideal representation which give birth to stigmas associated with superficial trends.