This Day in Gaming History: A Wild Pokemon Appears

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokemon franchise, with February 27th 1996 being the Japanese release date of Pocket Monsters Red and Green on the Nintendo Gameboy. To say the original  Pokemon games were a momentous  release is an understatement, as they ushered in a cultural and societal phenomenon in both the United States and Japan. The franchise has gone on to become the second highest selling video game franchise of all time, second only to Mario, and has become the most successful handheld franchise of all time. It all started in 96 with this amazing game:

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One cannot tell the story of Pokemon without first mentioning the history of the developer behind it, Game Freak. Led by Satoshi Tajiri, Game Freak started in the game industry as a video game magazine featuring hand drawn artwork and writing. It wasn’t until 1989 that the team developed their first game, Mendel Palace for the Nintendo Entertainment System. From there Game Freak worked mostly on licensed games for Nintendo, including the titles Mario & Wario and Yoshi. It was around this time that Tajiri began conceptualizing Pokemon, a title that would take 6 years to complete development.

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Pokemon started from simple inspirations. Satoshi Tajiri, who headed up development of the game, had been fascinated by collecting insects as a child. He wanted to design a game that gave the player the same thrill of chasing and trading unique creatures as insect collecting gave him a child. Taking inspiration from one of his favorite shows of his youth, Ultraman, he wanted to incorporate a battle system that utilized captured monsters as party allies. These inspirations, paired with an interest in the Gameboy Link Cable that was introduced early in the handheld’s lifespan, grew the idea of a monster collecting game in which players could train, battle, and trade monsters with friends. In 1990,  Tajiri brought the concept to Nintendo under the title “Capsule Monsters”, who  turned the idea down. After shortening the name to CapuMon and subsequently changing it to Pocket Monsters due to copyright issues, Tajiri once again brought it to Nintendo. With the help of Shigeru Miyamoto putting his support behind the idea, the game was finally green lighted for development. The 6 year development of Pokemon Red and Green was one of technical difficulties, financial woes, and many unpaid overtime hours. When the game finally released in 1996 as Pocket Monsters Red and Green Versions, Game Freak had lost many of its developers and was on the verge of bankruptcy.  Despite its almost immediate international success years later, the Japanese release of the original game wasn’t the overnight success one would expect. It wasn’t until buzz about the game’s hidden 151st Pokemon that sales starting to pick up for the game, thus creating the cultural phenomenon that we know it as today.

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The original games had some..ugly sprites

Outside of Japan,  the game released as Pokemon Red and Blue, a slightly updated version of the original game with reworked sprites and details. Each version of the game held specific Pokemon only obtainable in  that specific version of the game. With the addition of Pokemon only achievable at the cost of another Pokemon and Pokemon that only evolved through trade, to obtain every Pokemon in the game required trading with another version of the game. This is where Pokemon becomes a milestone game in the social sphere of gaming; it is a game that requires players to interact and trade with others to obtain the game’s goal. While it’s inevitable that a player could just buy both versions of the game and a second gameboy, the intent of Game Freak was to promote a sense of community among gamers that fostered real loss and exchange. The developers wanted trading away special Pokemon to mean something for each player, and for their decisions and actions to have consequence in-game and in the real world.

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Years ago I wrote a more humorous look at the Pokemon series as an entity of social agent, but many of the lessons the game teaches players are about community and comradeship still hold true. It’s one of the few games of the era that has cooperation built into its success, despite a big emphasis of the game being about battling other trainers. Even today, whether it be with the game or the immensely successful card game, fans are comparing and trading Pokemon just like in 1996. There are few games that have had the cultural impact that Pokemon has had and I think it’s pretty likely we’ll see Pokemon remain popular for years to come.

UC Davis Creates an Interactive Game To Discuss Its Future

Tomorrow at 11am  UC Davis is launching Envision, an interactive video game designed to allow students, faculty, and associated members to come together to discuss and chart the university’s future. The game will be live for 36 hours, during which users can log in and meet with others in a virtual space.

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UC Davis has created this game with the intent purpose of opening up the discussion of the university’s future to a wider population of students, giving them a virtual space to connect like never before. When it goes live for computers and mobiles, users will be able to share “micro-contributions” about their vision of the future of UC Davis, as well as add onto the visions of others. From their brief description, it sounds like the game will function akin to something like Reddit, where users can respond or add to specific threads of thought. A leaderboard system will be put into place to chart the contribution of users and winners will be awarded prizes, further promoting the “game” aspect of Envision.

This is a pretty neat concept for a major University to attempt; it shows their dedication to gaming as a tool for social interaction and advancement. Online spaces have the ability to make for more neutral and accessible grounds for discussion, so hopefully UC Davis’ community will come out in force to chart its future. It is only open to those associated to UC Davis, but it will be interesting to see if this method of discussion proves to be a worthwhile method for Universities and organizations to consider in the future.

Check out UC Davis’ Press Release about the event

This Day in Gaming History: Nintendo’s Legend

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30 years ago on February 21st 1986, The Legend of Zelda released on the Nintendo Famicom Disk System in Japan. This original title in the long running Legend of Zelda franchise has had tremendous effect on shaping our modern day gaming culture and climate. Easily the most influential game in establishing conventions for subsequent adventure games, the franchise has revolutionized the gaming industry multiple times and it all started with this singular game.

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What made this game so special?

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The Legend Of Zelda wasn’t the first adventure game by any means, and the game even draws significant influence from its predecessors such as Adventure for the Atari 2600, but what makes the game stand out is that it’s an amalgamation of what came before it. When Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo began developing this game in 1985, they drew inspiration for various popular genres at the time, including puzzle and RPG games, and also from Miyamoto’s own personal experience of exploring . The game combines all these elements in a way that hadn’t been done previously and even paved the way for games outside of its genre to gain popularity on home consoles. The result is an approachable game that allows the gamer to explore a digital world  with very little direction or hand holding along the way. This approach of giving the player very little hint as to where to go and how to progress the game was a new approach for Nintendo, one that many of Nintendo’s employees felt was a gamble. With resolve, Miyamoto and his team stuck by their decision to keep the game vague and free of clear direction, desiring a true exploratory experience and with a hope that the game would develop a community.

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Nintendo’s gambles paid off in ways they might not have expected. The Legend of Zelda became a word-of-mouth legend. Players would share hand drawn maps, secrets they discovered in the game, or notes on how to defeat a difficult enemy.  The game represented a true novelty in the gaming community: a game that bred discussion and sharing to discover everything it held. Beyond its sheer gameplay innovations, this aspect of the Legend of Zelda I believe is what makes it a true classic in gaming history and what make it the most relevant to the sociology of video games; it truly was one of the first games to promote social elements and cooperative sharing, elements that are now mainstays in the modern video game industry.

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I can’t hide my personal bias, I love the game and the franchise. Admittedly, I have never beat the original game; I’ve only ever tried to beat it without the usage of guides and each time I’ve become lost several dungeons in. Despite this, I believe it stands as being an amazing game in its design and layout. It marvels me as to how both this and the original Super Mario were released within a year of each other, both of which were miles ahead of anything else on a home console at the time. With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the franchise, one can only hope that Nintendo delivers on their promise to release another innovative, immersive experience with Zelda Wii U (If it actually comes out this year).

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FBI Releases Anti-ISIS Propaganda Video Game

There’s been a lot of strange games released for all sorts of peculiar reasons: PETA’s anti-Animal Abuse Pokemon game and Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 come to mind as two particularly strange games with questionable motives. However, these games  fail in comparison to a new game released by the FBI. That’s right, the FBI. Allow yourself to take that in for a second: The United States Federal Bureau of Investigations has created a game and it’s just terrible.

I present to you: Slippery Slope, an anti-ISIS propaganda flash game meant to dissuade youths from falling into the trap of logic leading to violent extremism.

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The game is apart of the FBI’s “Don’t Be a Puppet” initiative, which is an online effort to educate impressionable youths about the dangers of extremism and warn them about the potential realities of such beliefs, including perpetrating hateful attacks based on race or religion. The program is meant to encourage teens to think for themselves and deploy skepticism and  practicality when coming across extremist ideas and rhetoric.

Let’s pretend for a second that this game is necessary and not a vapid attempt from an out of touch agency trying to  reach kids through patronizing means, how does the FBI intend to convey such a delicate and difficult message to kids? With Goats and explosions of course!

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Minecraft is popular right? Just put a goat and radical text in there. Boom!

Included in the Don’t Be A Puppet’s interactive basement, the game is meant to be a original gameboy game entitled “The Adventures of Poonikins” starring the titular Poonikins, a goat who is apparently struggling with extremist beliefs. Design wise, it has a relatively simple  gameplay design: players control  Poonikins  while avoiding green walls as he traverses a vast green pasture attempting to make it to each of the game’s 6 finish lines. If Poonikins is to run into one of the green walls, he explodes instantaneously into various small blocks; a horrifying death for a confused goat. Upon passing a finish line and completing a level, the game displays “distorted logic text”, giving impressionable teens examples of harmful rhetoric.  Just on a purely  analysis of the game as a video game, Slippery Slope’s biggest problem lies in its horrendously touchy controls and it’s almost laughable difficulty; a tap of either arrow will send Poonikins flying faster than you can say, well, Poonikins. It’s just simply not well designed, featuring gameplay elements that feel like they would  fee stale even on  something like the Magnovx Odyssey.

Of course the greatest question is: What the hell does a goat avoiding walls and exploding have to do with radical extremism?  This game doesn’t convey any meaningful message in any way, if anything it just distracts from the initiatives overall message by being strange and absurd. Why is the goat’s name Poonikins? Does the FBI think Goats explode when touching green walls?  The Goat is a terrorist, is that whats going on? There are so many baffling questions unanswered by this one’s Goat dangerous descent into extremism.

So why am I bringing this up? What could this terrible game with questionable motives have to with sociology? On this blog I like to point out new ways video games are being implemented in our society, from usages in medical rehabilitation to being used as a means to weed out job candidates. These new implementations speak to how ingrained video games have become in our society; they are permeating into all aspects of society, giving us new ways to interact and carry about our regular lives. The FBI creating a video game with the intent purpose of educating youths is a pretty remarkable action, exemplifying society’s gradual shift towards an acceptance of the medium as a powerful tool in education. We’ve come to the point where video games, for better or worse, are transcending the the typical gaming conventions and being used for new and unique way every week. The FBI’s Slippery Slope may be an example of a poor harnessing of the power of the mediums ability to do more, but  it’s a novel one at the very least.

Still, it’s hard not come away from playing this game without feeling dirty.  If this game is the latest tool in counter terroism that the FBI can offer, maybe we need to rethink some things.

Play the Game For Yourself Here!

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