Tag Archives: video games

Five Nights at Freddy’s: A Rhetorical Analysis

I’m not a fan of the horror genre. In any mode. I don’t like horror films, I don’t like horror TV shows, and I certainly don’t like horror video games. So, it was probably a bad idea for me to play Five Nights at Freddy’s, reportedly the scariest game in the history of scary things. I knew it was a bad idea when I started playing; after all, I had once had a nightmare from having watched the commercial for a Scooby-Doo movie.

Regardless, I played it. I played it, and it was terrifying. I spent several days thinking (and having nightmares about) nothing else, trying to determine why it was so scary. As a result, I have decided to embark deep into the realms of my favorite pastime, overanalyzing the rhetoric of pop culture. Are you ready kids? It’s time to talk about rhetoric, horror, and giant singing robots.

The premise of the game is quite simple, as is often the case with examples of effective psychological horror. You, the player, have just been hired as the night-watchman at a children’s themed restaurant, a la Chuck-E-Cheese. The facility is inhabited by large, animatronic animal figures, who apparently sing and dance during the day. It’s difficult to understand why they were selected to entertain children during working hours, considering that they become vicious murder machines at night, but no one ever claimed that this game made sense. Anyway, your job is to get through five nights (from midnight to six in the morning) without getting attacked by one of the creatures. Your only lines of defense are the two doors on either side of your control room, which you can open and close. You also have access to the security cameras, which go in and out of order, and the hallway lights. As a result, you can see the robots coming, then shut the doors to prevent them from reaching you.

Unfortunately, using any one of these things costs power, which you have very little of. To survive the game, you have to manage your power effectively, while trying not to lose track of any of the robots. If a robot enters the room, it will appear suddenly and emit what can only be described as a shriek, before the screen goes black.

It’s ridiculously hard.

Many aspects of this game fall very clearly in line with the conventions of the horror genre. There are flickering lights; grainy, black and white cameras; creepy children’s toys; jump scares; and unexplained noises (most notably the occasional singing and approaching footsteps of various robotic animals). Five Nights at Freddy’s operates entirely within the horror genre; there are little to no aspects of the game concept or aesthetic that are outside of the typical scope of horror.

However, the ways in which the game mechanics, also not particularly unique, and the aesthetics combine into one, cohesive experience results in one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. Because there are so few actions you can take (close the doors, check the cameras, and switch on the lights), you are forced to become fully integrated into the world of the game and cannot be distracted by extraneous features. Surviving the game requires constant vigilance and attention to detail, which leaves you extra-sensitive to the jump-scares. There is no player–avatar and very little setting; there is only you, the cameras, and the enemy. As the game progresses, occasional flickers of the eponymous Freddy figure will flash momentarily in front of your eyes, simulating your growing fear and near-hallucinations.

Are you horrified yet? Because I am.

Are you horrified yet? Because I am.

All of these features are effective at creating an eerie atmosphere and sudden moments of fright, but the true genius of this game relies on the information-resource trade-off. To obtain more information about the whereabouts of the figures, you must use power. If you focus all of your power on the doors, you lose information. Moreover, you must often open the doors back up once you believe the puppets have left, making you feel even more vulnerable to an attack. To make matters worse, because you are so limited in both capacities, you never feel fully comfortable with either your resources or your information. Sometimes you have no choice but to lose information, as the cameras stop working or robots move just outside their reach. As the night progresses you slowly run out of power, knowing that when it is entirely gone the doors will open, the lights will turn off, and the robots will get you. When I played, the increasing sense of dread that I experienced as my power got lower and lower went so far beyond what I expected from a video game. I was running out of power. I was running out of power and there was nothing I could do.

Just before I lost the game, I was circulating through the cameras. I saw that the bunny was approaching on my left, but was not particularly close. I heard singing from the kitchen and quickly shuffled through my cameras to the right. I didn’t see anything. I immediately turned on the light right beside the door and there it was. The ducky. I managed to get the door closed and went back to the cameras, looking for the bunny. I couldn’t find it. I flipped through all of the cameras on my left, literally shouting, “Where is he? Where’s the bunny?” Deep down, I knew where he was. He was already here. The ducky was in the room with me. I switched views from the cameras back to the control station, only to have the bunny pop out in front of me and emit its demonic howl of triumph. I was dead.

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night hiding under my covers, thinking that every creak or bump I heard was the approaching footstep of a murderous rabbit.

Bring a Series Narrative Together

Once in a blood red moon, a series will come out where, to the naked eye, the books are not related at all. It’s not until halfway through a series, or occasionally even later in the series, that a ribbon will come along and connect all of the books and make the reader have an “ah ha” or light bulb moment, which looks something like this: tumblr_m8zpiu1gBS1r231xw

This isn’t just something that happens with book series, it happens in video games as well. Sometimes, they (the developers and writers) never write a narrative that connects the games. This isn’t a common plot move in video games, but it is something that happens. Just as with a book, when the narrative is over, the reader/player may feel unsatisfied with the ending and feel that they are left with a huge cliffhanger. Then, something wonderful may happen in the world of video games, the developer will release downloadable content (DLC) for the game that usually adds another portion of the story and even some extra items to play with. This year, this exact thing happened with one of 2013’s best games, Bioshock Infinite; and not only did the DLC add extra story play, but it tied together the most recent game with the very first game of the series.

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Character Development and The Sims

When you write a piece of nonfiction, you don’t necessarily have to worry about developing the character from scratch, but you still need to make sure their actions are intriguing enough to keep the audience’s attention. Let’s say that you’re writing a piece where you aren’t sure how that nonfictional character would react, what do you do? What about fiction writing? When you’re trying to tell the story of a character you created, how do you figure out what their genuine reaction would be?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. In fact, character development is one of the most difficult aspects of writing because the success/failure of a story relies on it. Luckily, there are free writing activities that can help, but there’s also a video game where the entire focus is character development: The Sims.

The Sims is a video game franchise that has been around for years. The video game focuses on a character that you create and customize everything about, and then you put them in a house, get them a job, and control the actions they do, such as: when they eat, what they eat, when they sleep, who they talk to, how they talk to them, and so on. As the game develops further with time, the makers enabled more aspects that the player could customize. The Sims 3 is the most up to date with The Sims 4 being developed now. In the Sims 3, one can customize every aspect of how a person physically looks from how high their cheek bones are to how short/tall their legs are. You can pick their personality, zodiac sign, customize their clothes color, give them piercings and so much more. You can completely make the characters your own. You can also create their partner, or have them flirt with who you choose, give them a car and hobbies, have them get a job and so much more.

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Point of View & Video Games: Part 3

The time has finally come for the final segment of Point of View & Video Games. PoV in Video Games are really determined by how you see and interact with the environment around the character you’re playing as. If 1st person is looking direct through the character’s eyes and “feeling” what they feel, and 2nd person is you seeing that character and controlling all of their actions, then 3rd person is when you are seeing that character and controlling them (from an unreliable narrator perspective) but the “world” around you will keep going on if you’re there playing or not.

Essentially, 3rd person is just like 2nd person. You’re still able to develop your story and gather information that is relevant. The key difference between 2nd person and 3rd person is the game space you’re playing in. For example, in Assassin’s Creed 2 (which I talked about in Point of View & Video Games: Part 2) you are the sole player. When you decide to stop playing the game, the world that the game is taking place in stops. The game starts back up and stops when you want. With 3rd person, there is a world that continues and your character presence isn’t required for it to keep going. These 3rd person games are mainly online and multiplayer games. To relate this idea, think about a Tamagachi pet. Whether you were directly doing something with it or not, it was still aging, using the bathroom, getting hungry, and it’s emotions were changing with time. This same logic can be applied to 3rd person video games.

A great example of this type of game is World of Warcraft. This MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) is a perfect embodiment of what a 3rd person game is like.
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With this game, you modify your character as much as you want and choose what they focus on when it comes to a “story.” However, if you decide to log out of the game for the day, there are still other people playing so the game will not stop when you do. Even if by random chance there was no one on the game at all, of all the many players that their are on WoW, the game would still not stop. The world would still be functioning and continuing alone. Continue reading

Point of View & Video Games: Part 1

One of the main dilemmas that a writer can encounter is trying to determine the best way to tell a story. In my “Intro to Fiction” class last year, we had various writing activities where we had to experiment with different points of view. However, one thing I learned is that you can’t just give any story a point of view because that point of view may not fit that story.

In video games, point of view is an entirely different task. PoV in video games is a very complicated subject, which is why I’ve decided to address each in their own post to hopefully avoid confusion. While there are three different points of view in narratives, most video games are written for the same PoV but are played through different PoVs.

The most obvious PoV to figure out with video games is first person. You are playing directly from the character’s perspective. So, in essence, your eyes are their eyes; you can see as far as they can, and you control every aspect of their body just as if it was your body. Two examples of games that really help understand this view are: Doom & Bioshock (the entire series).

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The cool thing about the above screenshot is that the character, “you,” have been hit, so your screen goes red to represent it. The picture of the character also shows you what you look like and will show scars/scratches when you’ve been “beaten up.” Continue reading

It’s All About the Details: Why Batman Comes to Life in Arkham

The size of Hermione Granger’s teeth, the shapes of the ice when Frankenstein is chasing the monster, the floor layout of the building recreations in Ready Player One, or even the way Lincoln’s axe hits a vampire and how the blood splatters, all these details are what helps makes a book come to life. A reader sees every aspect of a character and world that the author is creating. Without these tiny details, the world doesn’t become as real and we aren’t drawn into it. Possibly one of the best feelings in the world is knowing the world of one of your favorite books, from the cast of characters to the variety of buildings, inside and out as though you were actually there. With video games, the same issues come to play. If the world and characters you  create are lacking the small details, it’s hard to really become and invested and enjoy yourself.

With the E3 ending a few weeks ago, gamers are even more anxious about what’s up and coming for new consoles and new games. Some of those games are completely new series or fresh ideas based on a hope and a dream, or possibly a comic or current “trend.” Others are continuations or prequels of series that are loved by gamers across consoles. One of these games is a prequel to a series with an extreme amount of success. Both of the other games in this series became “Game of the Year” for their release years (2009 and 2012), so there is a lot of expectation from this prequel. I am talking about the Arkham series.

The game that I am so excited for, is Batman: Arkham Origins. I am an EXTREME fan of this game series. Not only have the graphic specs grown tremendously between the two games, but the way the gameplay is really draws you in to the story. You feel like you’re really Batman because every aspect of the game play is in your hands.

I really don’t want to go into too much depth about the storyline of the previous two games (Batman: Arkham Asylum & Batman: Arkham City) in the series because that would spoil some of the fun. However, I’m pretty sure the basic storyline can be guessed: Batman has to kick some Villain butt to save lives. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Joker escapes from the Asylum and Batman brings him back, but little does he know it’s a trap. In Batman: Arkham City, Old Gotham is turned into a Prison City that is mixed with the Asylum’s most notorious and Blackgate Prison’s most infamous, with corruption at the heart. I strong recommend investing in these games. Continue reading

Creating a Digital Narrative Through a Video Game

It’s easy to overlook the thought and development that goes into creating a story-line for a video game. Sometimes, it’s easy to say, “that looks fun, I’ll give it a go” without really considering the story that pulls it together and makes it interesting. Usually, at the end of the game, gamers want to know what’s next. It’s not just the awesome game play that leaves you yearning for more; it’s the story.

Of course, what is a good story without a cliffhanger to keep you going? The anticipation has to build up so that when the next game, or book, comes out, you’re anxiously waiting for the release. It’s probably the best and worst part of a narrative.

Is the effect the same if there is no cliff hanger? What if you have complete control over every aspect of a narrative?

In the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, each person is given the opportunity to create their own narrative of their own life however they want. In the year 2044, the “reality” world has gone into chaos as natural resources are running out, living space is hard to come by, and trying to exist in any way is nearly impossible if you aren’t rich. Similarly to now, when Wade Watts, the main character, or any of the other citizens of this futuristic earth, want to escape from the misery of their reality, they play a video game.

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The OASIS is the video game that everyone owns, but it’s not just a video game; it’s a new way of life, and a new way that people live, work, and communicate. Think of the ultimate social networking site plus a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) with quests and all that comes with it.  In a way it’s Facebook meets World of WarCraft, but so much more than that.

In the OASIS, people go to school, have houses, form relationships, have paying jobs, and everything else that one would do in reality. The currency in the OASIS is how people buy things in real life too. The OASIS is the replacement for reality. You can be whoever you want, do whatever you want, even live in any type of world you want (Firefly, Star Wars, anything).

The book is filled with 80s references and video game, movies, and TV shows that any nerd or 80s aficionado would love. I won’t go into super details about the plot other than to say that it becomes a competition to who will inherit the fortune that the creator left behind. There are flaws in the writing overall that makes one question the story, but that’s not why I’m writing about it. The focus for the sake of this article, is the OASIS.

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Voice Acting in Digital Narratives

Back in my day (I’m currently 27, but that’s like 256 in video game years) playing a video game with a story meant a lot of reading. Like, a novel’s worth.

When I was little, I would read books, but I would also play Chrono Trigger, and those were very similar actions, as far as I was concerned. Chrono Trigger required a little more active thought, but they were of roughly equal literary value (I still feel that way, though the writing in some of those 90’s-era RPGs was a bit hokey).

But in the last decade, playing a game with a storyline has become a lot more like watching a movie. There are cutscenes that James Cameron would be proud of, skillfully written plot arcs, and voice work by actual real people. At one point, voice acting meant having something to listen to while you read the dialog box in major events. Game development companies lacked the means or the desire to fully voice a game, so you’d get a few lines with highly compressed audio wherever the developers felt like it.

Today, voice acting in video games is so prevalent, that what was once known as the “text box” is now known as “subtitles.” And their default setting when you start the game is “off.”

This a big reason why video games have flooded the mainstream media in recent years. In the same way that movies are more prevalent in the mainstream than books (though most movies are based on books), new games are more mainstream than old games (though most new games are based on old games).

I don’t particularly wish to make a value judgement on whether that’s a good or bad thing in terms of the literary value of modern video games, but it does present a new challenge for those who create narratives in the digital age:

Voice acting is a thing. In the same way bad acting can throw off the impact of a good movie, bad voice acting can ruin a well-written story. The delivery is every bit as important as the composition itself. Continue reading

Exploring “Loved” as a Short Story about Gender and Relationships

Some time ago, I shared a flash game called Dys4ia that dealt with one person’s experience with hormone replacement therapy.

There were gameplay elements to it, but I argued for it as more of an interactive narrative that required user interaction to tell parts of the story.

This week, we’ll discuss a similar game with similar theming. This game also attempts to tell a story through gameplay, and it also tries to make you a little bit uncomfortable.

Loved Title

The game (or “short story,” as creator Alexander Ocias classifies it) is called “Loved,” and you can play it (for free) right here in about 10 minutes or less. It tackles gender roles to an extent, but the game is really about making players understand the nature of an emotionally abusive relationship. Continue reading

The Fourth Wall and the Sledgehammer in Spec Ops: The Line

Many of us grew up hearing about the evils of using the word “you” in writing. It is often taught — somewhat lazily — as a steadfast rule, when really it’s more of a way to keep you from making unintended shifts in tense.

Often, in writing, we’re supposed to put our audience in a glass box, where they’re seen, but not interacted with. This is true not only in writing, but in many forms of media.

This is why it’s so jarring (and rare) to see someone on a TV show or in a movie look directly at the camera.

That would be breaking the “fourth wall,” that fictional plane that separates actor from audience, beyond which we suspend our disbelief and accept that the fiction we see is in an enclosed space, and that the characters on screen are ignorant of anybody watching. We expect that we are invisible spectators, watching events unfold independent of our own existence.

But what happens when you break that fourth wall on purpose? That’s something that happens, particularly when you want to say something directly to your audience. I’m doing it right now, for starters. But I want to talk about a game that does this in a more subtle, more controversial, and (I would argue) more meaningful way.

Spec Ops: The Line logo - foreground person with bandana covering face, background people marching with guns

Spec Ops: The Line succeeds in many ways both as a game and as a storytelling device. As a representative of the intersection between video game and digital narrative, it may be the most important game to come out in several years. But before I get ahead of myself with praise, some background. Continue reading