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Alternatives to Microtransactions in Games and Apps

Cell phones are ubiquitous these days, as are phone-based games and apps. These activities are colorful, fun, and addictive–if you have the money for an addiction, that is.

Most if not all cell phone games, as well as some apps such as Lumosity or adult coloring books, are free but have in-app purchases. The in-app purchases are usually tied to premium content or the ability to play the "full" game. For instance, in Jeopardy World Tour, you can play rounds for "free," as long as you have virtual cash. To increase virtual cash, you can wait more than 24 hours for your bank to build, or you can purchase virtual premium currency with actual money.

Even the best-intentioned game/app users end up engaging in microtransactions more than they mean to. In many online worlds, people who spend a lot of real money actually have a nickname; they’re called "whales." Whales or not, most players complain about microtransactions, but admit they don’t know an alternative.

Could there, or should there, be alternatives to microtransactions? If yes, what might those be? Are there currently apps or games that don’t depend on microtransactions, and if yes, what makes them successful? How are these games or apps able to "survive" without monetary microtransactions? Examine and discuss.

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    Mario, Link, and Scott Pilgrim: Relationships in Video Games

    Scott Pilgrim vs The World uses a video-game-like series of boss battles as a thinly veiled metaphor for relationship drama. It has been compared to Mario’s video game series, in which the hero fights giant gorillas and dragon turtles in order to win back his lady love. The Legend of Zelda is another famous example of this trope. What other video games and game-related movies portray relationships with this kind of drama? What are the pros and cons of the different portrayals? Are these relationships healthy? If not, is that made clear enough to dissuade people from following their example?

    • Examples include Legend of Zelda, Mario, Scott Pilgrim, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat). – noahspud 1 month ago
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    • I'd recommend tackling Scott Pilgrims source material the graphic novels and what it has to say about video games and romance. Especially since the video game is based on the movie which is rushed and lacks a proper payoff that the comics have. – Roneish 2 weeks ago
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    Horizon Zero Dawn and the End of the/our World

    The narrative of Horizon Zero Dawn is fascinating, and while there are many potential themes to be examined, I keep coming back to how it handles apocalypse and the end of the/our world. In the game’s past, the Earth faces annellation. When all seems lost, the solution is not to cling to some far-fetch hope for salvation, but instead to for pave the way for something new. Obviously, the crises facing Elisabet Sobeck, Aloy, and today’s humans are all very different. Nonetheless, I think this game offers some food for thought as we face our own climate crises: do we accept coming devastation and focus our energies on creating the conditions for a new, better world to emerge? Or do we cling to what we have and try to save the world we know? Where do we locate hope for the future? Do we have to chose between what we have and what might be? Is it possible to have hope for the emergence of something new without total destruction (as happens in the game)?

    • This could be a great topic, though I think HZD is a bit too rosy in terms of imagining alternatives for humans. I think a post-human or even anti-humanistic reading on HZD might provide nuance. – ProfRichards 2 weeks ago
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    Taken by ProfRichards (PM) 4 days ago.
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    Casual Violence in the Borderlands Franchise

    I, for one, love the irreverent humor of the Borderlands Franchise. But part of that humor comes from revelry in casual violence. While violence is common in many other videogames and other media, it is commonly only funny when that violence is non-lethal. Nevertheless, in Borderlands 2, for example, we might laugh at Brick praising you for killing all his men, and at Tiny Tina torturing and murdering the psycho while having a pretend tea party with him and her stuffed animals. The game attempts to justify and authorize laughing at murder: bandits infinitely spawn and the villains’ cruelty makes us feel better for killing them. The Borderland’s Presequel seemed to introduce nuance to humor in murder by showing the descent of Handsome Jack into evil even as he (mostly) tries to do the right thing, but the story, as many critics have said, was weak by comparison to the others.

    I’m wondering if there is more nuance to humorous murder in this game, or if part of the fun of it is that there is no nuance to it. How might the series make us think it’s okay to laugh at murder in other ways? Does the franchise succeed in justifying this laughter in violence? Does it deliberately cause laughter at murder only to show us our own guilty pleasure at laughing at the worst humanity is capable of? What are your thoughts on the franchise’s take on violence?

    • This would be an interesting topic to analyze especially when attempting to understand the use of violence in the Borderlands universe. It seems that violence in borderlands is just a part of everyday life and therefore isn't really thought of as anything out of the ordinary. It will be interesting to see if this normalization of violence adds or detracts from the nuance, if there is any at all. – JakeGreenwood 2 years ago
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    The Rise and Fall of Zynga Facebook Games

    When Facebook first came out in 2007, social games came with it. Most of us played these games hoping to build connections with friends and improve our standing in fantasy worlds/virtual lives.

    One of the biggest provider of such games was Zynga. From Farmville to Cafe World to Hidden Chronicles, they churned out plenty of games with plenty of connections and worlds to explore. Yet in a few years, most of these games vanished. Hidden Chronicles, Cafe World, and others are now just Wikipedia pages, although you may find some Facebook groups still asking for the games to be brought back. Meanwhile, other games similar to these, such as Pearl’s Peril, are either floundering or closed.

    Examine some of these games and discuss why they didn’t last. Compare and contrast them to some games that are popular on social media now. Are the newer games easier? If yes, how? Are they more fun or satisfying? What problems might they still share with the old games? If older games were to return successfully, what improvements would they need to make?

    • I imagine the disappearance of these games has been largely due to the rise of mobile games and steam. I couldn't imagine people playing Facebook games when their out as they have their game on the phone. And when their home on the PC I imagine free to play games like Apex, Valorant, and league which are pretty easy to run on most PC's are more favorable choices. Just speculation as I have not done research on this topic. – Blackcat130 5 months ago
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    Why is it so difficult to make video game film adaptations?

    Movies based video games have a fraught past. From the goofy live action Mario Bros movies to the more modern and highly divisive Assassins Creed film, the level of success has not been high or constant for that matter. For the piece you could research a short history of some prominent video films and their failings, as well as any successful video game films, and give some insight on why the movie industry has such a strong disconnect from the gaming world.

    Is it because studio execs don’t think the gaming community wants movies based on their games? And do they?

    How does this relationship compare to the relationship between books and film? Why is it so easy to adapt a book but not a video game into film?

    One could be quick to jump to the idea that it’s simply economics: studios don’t think the video game adaptations will make money. But this all changes in 2020, with the video game market being worth more than film and sports as of recently. Video games are where the money seems to be, so why aren’t these films put in the right hands with the right funding?

    • I think one reason for this may be that the broad details of the video game’s plot aren’t fixed, whereas, in a novel, theatre script, or even a manga, it very much is. In this case, things would start to delve into a discussion of the script writer’s abilities as a creator of plots, as opposed to an editor. From here questions for an article can take a number of different directions. – J.D. Jankowski 11 months ago
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    • Additionally, video games are designed for you to be part of the action while movies are designed to have you be an observer. Some of the sequences that make video games really exciting don't translate as well to film. Character development in games may happen over 10 to 20 hours in a game like The Last of Us, but films only last 2 or 3 hours. – Sean Gadus 11 months ago
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    • I think the biggest struggle lies with the familiarity of the characters. The adaptation of a book into a movie is almost easier because despite the idea we have of the character in our head, they have yet to exist in a visual format. We haven't see or heard from them, we only imagine what they would look or sound like. Video games are more challenging to adapt because we already have a reference to work from. The character has a face, and someone has already spent a painfully long time developing their voice. It's hard to imagine them as anything but what they already are, so no matter how much money a studio puts into the movie, they have a lot of work to do just to break away from the preexisting conceptions. – Nello 9 months ago
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    • The thing with video game storytelling that is so difficult for film to get right is that the nature of the medium is inherently interactive and nonlinear, whereas film (sans really a few examples throughout history) is not actually interactive and is linear most of the time. You as the film viewer have no leverage in determining what route the film goes down, whereas in videogames the player can often be just as much of a storyteller in the process. Granted videogame film adaptations were fraught with problems since their inception, and most of those examples were adaptations of mostly linear games with little to no branching storylines and narratives. I think the problem there is in the transcription of a game world to a cinematic one. For example, the Super Mario Brothers film works too literally in translating the game's characters and events, making the primary antagonist a grotesque humanoid. Perhaps then the problem is a team of filmmakers not working directly with the source material and understanding its vast array of storytelling; the director of Warcraft, for one, seemed to just work from the given world and randomized a story he thought would cast as wide of a net as possible. I think it's entirely possible to make a good film adaptation of a video game, it'll just require a sophisticated and detailed approach, along with some luck for good measure. – Thatboyd 9 months ago
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    • video games are far more immersive (in my opinion) so it just makes it difficult for a film to have that same pull – moonchild 9 months ago
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    The Value in Episodic Game Trilogies

    Most games these days are released as either one finished piece at a final price or at an earlier stage at a reduced price. But occasionally – as with the newly rebooted Hitman trilogy – a finished game is instead divided into pieces and sold separately over a period of time, resulting in a sort of TV/Video Game hybrid wherein players experience shorter segments of gameplay over a long period of time. Could this style of release pose new creative opportunities for games, and if so, what might they be? Does a game have something to gain by releasing in this way?

    • Is this like the Mass Effect trilogy, 3 games with an overarching story and characters? I am a bit confused by the term episodic game trilogy. – Sean Gadus 10 months ago
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    • Agreed with Sean’s point. The biggest culprit in this broad category would be sports games from Electronic Arts (FIFA, Madden et al.), which have yearly releases. – J.D. Jankowski 10 months ago
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    • A good game to look at that attempted a sort of television/gaming hybrid was Remedy Studios "Quantum Break," which incorporated actual episodes that responded to a player's choices in the game. It's a very unique approach and not one that I believe worked very much in it's favor -- the characters that showed up in the television segments did not make an appearance in the actual game, which led to a big disconnect and stops the momentum of the experience dead. The applications of this formula should be expounded upon, but it should actively affect how the game itself plays rather than vice versa. – Runestrand 9 months ago
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    Extreme Realism in Video Games

    Video games have seemingly been on an endless march towards total realism since their earliest days over 70 years ago when they were little more than repurposed radar equipment. Modern technology has managed to make games more realistic than ever before. However, in recent years, there have been murmurings around popular titles that they have stepped too far towards realism, to the detriment of the game. Red Dead Redemption II and Kingdom Come: Deliverance have both been subjected to criticisms that they are ‘too real’; the systems and mechanics meant to enhance the experience have instead diminished it. At what point does realism in gaming stop being desirable? Is there such a thing as a game being ‘too real’ to enjoy? Where does this mysterious new boundary exist, if one believes it to exist at all?

    • Really interesting topic, I would also wonder about whether our perception of realism (that is, what we accept as real in video games) have changed and affected this boundary? – Hui Wong 10 months ago
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    • Leaving out specific games, have there been other specific functions or mechanics in games that were deemed as too real? For me, playing any of the sports on GTA starts as fun than I quickly wish I never started. – Marcus Dean 10 months ago
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