Do Video Games Help Us Accept Failure?

We’ve all been there. If you’re a gamer, there’s a chance you’ve died. Not literally of course, because that would be silly. Video games test our skills, and more often than we would like to admit: we fail. We fail hard. I know I’ve had countless deaths at the hand of Robot masters, thousands of deaths in the Mushroom Kingdom, and more deaths you can imagine at the hands of Eggman. For most people, failure is a big no-no; we hate doing it, and when we do failure we take it hard. However, gamers are seemingly ok with failing in video games and, more often than not, the failure just makes them want to continue playing.

Ridiculously difficult games have always had their niche audience, but games that are exceedingly difficult have become far more popular this console generation with games like Dark Souls and Demon Souls promoting being the hardest of the hard. Are we masochists for playing these games? What about difficult games appeal to us? Shouldn’t we want to stay away from games that are difficult and make us fail more? Logically, yes. We logically should want to stay away from things that make us fail….And yet we don’t with video games. Why?

It could be that we perhaps enjoying failing. Maybe we’ve always secretly wanted to just lose to Donkey Kong Jr. in Super Mario Kart on the SNES repeatedly until the Cartridge stopped working, but we didn’t because it wasn’t socially acceptable. Sure, you could just pass it off as being bad at the game, but eventually people would get suspicious. Wondering why you, a grown man, couldn’t defeat the adolescent ape who is by far the slowest racer in the game. Things would also get confusing when you’d be miraculously better in Versus mode against your friends, so you’d pretend to lose to keep the lie going; anxiously hoping they don’t find you out for the perverse desire to lose to that tank top wearing ape that was constantly swilling through your mind. You could even try and go get help for this issue, but the looks and stares of the medical professional just makes you sick to your stomach. Eventually they’re moving out all of your stuff out of your room, seeking to find that hidden Mario Kart cartridge you have hidden away in the loose woodplank beneath your bed. “YOU’LL NEVER FIND IT!” you scream from your full body constraint, only to receive another injection of tranquilizer to calm you down. Muttering ” “DK Jr. Just likes the bananas” as you fade out of consciousness, you might even wonder if it’s all just one big trick devised by that dimwitted Donkey Kong……

What? Where was I?

Oh, failure in games. This paradox of why we typically avoid failure, and yet go to video games despite the fact that we often fail at them is what Jesper Juul evaluates in his recent essay “The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video games”  . Juul, an assistant professor at NYU’s Game Center,the most compelling video game program in the country, explores what he calls “paradox of failure”

I dislike failing in games, but I dislike not failing even more. There are numerous ways to explain this contradiction, and I will discuss many of them in this book. But let us first consider the strangeness of the situation: every day, hundreds of millions of people around the world play video games, and most of them will experience failure while playing. It is safe to say that humans have a fundamental desire to succeed and feel competent, but game players have chosen to engage in an activity in which they are almost certain to fail and feel incompetent, at least some of the time. In fact, we know that players prefer games in which they fail. This is the paradox of failure in games.

And that’s only the start of it! Is this a valid paradox? Furthermore, how does failing at video games shape us in the outside world? Does it make us more prone to failure? More okay with failing? These are all valid questions, some of which Juul touches on in his essay. He notes that we don’t like games that are too easy, which is true. Most gamers much rather play a game that’s overly difficult, like Ninja Gaiden, than games that are overly easy, like Pokemon Snap.

He describes people having a “separate rule” for video games, one in which people don’t adhere to the same regulations and attitudes in games as they would in real life. That’s certainly true, as if a partner of mine in the video game dies I don’t blink, but the same can’t be said for the real world. Separate rules for separate worlds. Seems fair. Juul is also very much aware that video game failures don’t come at the same cost as real world failures, so the stakes are much lower when one fails in the video game world. Of course this is a determining reason: knowing that you can take another stab at a problem, most of the times immediately in video games, makes failure a lot more comforting. I can imagine it wouldn’t go over too well if in their next game Bungie only allowed you to die once. Gamers wouldn’t be too happy and players would take their failures in the game much, much harder.

I have separate rules for separate worlds:you steal flowers from my flowerbed in the real world and I don’t care, you do it in Animal Crossing and I’ll send your nasty mail for weeks.

 

I don’t have too many answers on this topic, but Juul’s piece has made me rethink failure in video games. I don’t know if I view failure any differently because of being such an avid gamer, as failure in real life certainly stings, but certainly video games have made me fail quite a bit. If video games do make individuals view failure differently than non-gamers, then something tremendously sociological can be said about the impact that video games have on our socialization. Video games certainly do teach us lessons and ways of life, so perhaps it’s not too far fetched that Video games are teaching us how to deal with failure.

You can read an excerpt of Juul’s essay here!

It’s really interesting stuff. I say this because I both think it and hope to score brownie points with Juul for the sake of getting in NYU’s MFA program one day. Mostly the former…because he’ll never see this, and god help me if he did.

 

Club Nintendo Rewards: Why We Care

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Today Club Nintendo released their 2012-2013 year prize list for members who had registered enough Nintendo products to make their way into their gold and elite membership statuses. Platinum and Gold members get to choose one free gift, as a thank you from the big N. This is of course in addition to the prizes members can redeem year round for “coins” earned by registering products.

This rewards program got me thinking, as it’s quite the ingenious program that Nintendo has created. Essentially Nintendo is giving incentives beyond the games themselves for purchasing their products and often times these rewards come in the way of free p. Why do so many gamers care about these types of rewards program? Is it just for the free swag, or is there more at work?

Personal bias upfront: I think the Club Nintendo rewards program is awesome. I already buy a lot of Nintendo games because I generally enjoy most of their games, so being further rewarded for registering games I already own is a nice addition. Plus, their rewards are generally pretty nice. About a year ago I used some of my built up coins to get their 3-set of 25th anniversary posters for the Legend of Zelda, and they’ve made amazing additions to my apartment. In fact, I even framed one of them.

 

 

Why do we care?

Yes, it’s partly because of the free merchandise. Ok, mostly. But let’s look at Club Nintendo from a more sociological perspective, mainly because I’m bored and killing time.

Club Nintendo is great example of Social Exchange theory. Economist and psychologist probably can express it better, but essentially SET says that society is a series of social interactions in which people determine their outcome by rewards gained vs. negatives lost. Basically laid out, the thought process behind most interactions can be shown by this equation.

Interaction/Behavior/Act = The Positives or Benefits of the act – The negatives or costs of the act.

GLABIDYGLOOOK, I know. When applied to Club Nintendo it goes something like this: Registering a Product in Club Nintendo = Free rewards from Nintendo – The time and effort it took to register the product. If someone deems there to be more positive outcome from registering a product with Nintendo, then they’ll most likely do that action. So if someone can’t stand to take the 5 minutes to fill out a Nintendo survey, then the free rewards that Nintendo is offering aren’t worth the social act.

This all sounds like common sense, so why am I even taking the time to spell it out? I don’t know. But the theory also goes on to hypothesize that it’s social acceptance and acknowledgement that makes people deem something positive or negative. Like gamer scores or PSN trophies, registering Nintendo games on Club Nintendo is acknowledgement of a task; a badge of honor if you will. Thus gamers are seeking acknowledgement from the Big N in someway when they register their products. Neat O.

What does this say about us gamers?

We like being acknowledged, either by our peers or our developers. Hey, that’s not too bad. Being acknowledge is nice after all, and when companies acknowledge their fanbase it makes for better games. Then again, maybe systems like Club Nintendo are merely way to appease rather than acknowledge, but that’s not for me to decide.

In the end, I just wanted to talk about Club Nintendo. I’m pretty excited for these 2013 rewards. I got the three poster set, and they’re looking to be pretty snazzy. So…Thanks for the indulgence.

 

Lessons on the Social World: Pokemon

“I want to be the very best, that no one ever was!”

It’s not all links and sadness here at the Sociology of Video Games, there’s also deep personal analysis about what Pokemon means to me. No, that’s not true either. However, I did think it would be fun and worthwhile to take the opportunity to examine some popular video game franchises for their messages about the social world. What better place to start than 2nd most popular gaming franchise of all time: Little Masters.

..No, wait. Sorry. That’s the Iphone’s bastard ripoff. I mean of course:


Pokemon is by far one of the definitive games of the 90s, with it being one of the best selling and most popular franchises of all time. 15 years (That makes me feel old) later and the franchise is still white hot, like that Misty’s Sweet short shorts (or Brocks..awesome vest. For the ladies..). For any kid growing up in the last decade, Pokemon may have played an important part in developing their frame of mind when viewing various aspects of the social world. But what are these messages and lessons about social world that Pokemon is teaching our kids? Are they good messages? Is pokemon only teaching our kids to trap animals in balls, and only let them out once and awhile to fight other animals? This isn’t a PETA analysis of Pokemon, but let’s play: Here are some themes and concepts Pokemon is teaching kids all over the world.

Capitalism!

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One of the more predominant themes that seem to be underlying the Pokemon is Capitalism. Now obviously the game isn’t teaching kids to accumulate wealth (Though there’s a lot of exchange of cash for kids battling bugs in the forest), but the goal of the Pokemon world isn’t that far from the goal of capitalism: Be the best, have the most.  Now, one could theoretically go through the game without acquiring a lot of pokemon, but the game inevitably pushes you to catch multiple pokemon to succeed. That’s not a bad message, as it certainly teaches kids to be fiscally motivated (An issue we saw was lacking in games aimed at female gamers: See below)), but it also makes living creatures essentially into commodities. So..That’s bad. Not to mention you’re essentially an intern for Professor Oak; doing all his work for him while you get paid peanuts.

But like Capitalism, there’s never an end accumulation. With new games come new pokemon and the world is seemingly always expanding. Can one really catch them all? Yes…until there’s more. Gamefreak is teaching us to never be satisfied with what you’ve caught. Being Goal oriented isn’t bad though…most of the time.

Once you start thinking of monetary values in Pokemon, you probably will need to take a break from the franchise.

Competition!

“I came when I heard you defeated The Elite Four” – Professor Oak

Like the theme that I still hum to myself to get me pumped up for any event ever, the goal of pokemon is to be the very best. Pokemon is all about competition. Every battle is teaching kids to outwit, overpower, and outdo their opponents. There can only be one pokemon master and if you’re not him or her, ya suck.

There’s not much you do in the Pokemon world that isn’t a means to an end: You raise a pokemon for it to be stronger, you trade with your friends to acquire what you need, and battling is the only worthwhile way to be the best. But hey, that’s not necessarily bad- some competition is healthy, and games like Pokemon build confidence and challenge kids to think about their actions. Kids today can become in powered by video games; if you’re the pokemon master in the Pokemon world, adding and subtracting fractions aint shit.

Social Stratification!

Ok. Ok. You may think is stupid, but Pokemon certainly has a caste system. Not all Pokemon are created equal my friend. In a world filled with thousands of Pidgeys and only a handful of Zapdos, there clearly some Pokemon that are better than others. Now some might argue with me and say “IT’S HOW U TRAIN THEM. MY LEVEL 100 PIDGEY IS THE BEST”, and I’m not going to pretend to know the stat balancing factors in the games, but it’s pretty clear that some pokemon are overpowered. In fact, most multiplayer/tournament rules prohibit certain Pokemon from being used because they are considered overpowered.  Yes, it’s silly: Any video game you play will have some characters that are stronger than others, but does that lessen the message at all? Who knows. But certainly the game makes kids think of classifications and place certain pokemon in classes accordingly: These pokemon are strong, these are weak. Likewise, the very nature of game classifies pokemon into types- Fire, water, dragon, bug, etc. But hey, classifications help children learn, so it’s not all that bad.

It’s only when you start making Pokemon HM Slaves that you’re crossing the line and making a pokemon a second class citizen.

You Gotta be Social!

tradin’ jigglypuffs n shit

Pokemon was created to be a social game, even back when the gameboy wasn’t the most social things. Most gameboy connector cables were bought specifically for Pokemon, in fact how many mulitplayer games on the gameboy can you even think of? Yeah, ok I can think of quite a few. That said, Pokemon makes you be social, because without being social you can’t fulfill the one main task of the game: catching them all. Version exclusive pokemon and Pokemon that only were available through trading ensured that you were interacting with at least one other game. Gamefreak brilliantly made two versions of the game so that players had to either own both, or trade with someone else. Even if you owned both versions of the game (Which many of us did) you still had to have two gameboys to connect (which many of us did), so really the most efficient and cost effective way to obtain all the pokemon is to have friends. Recent Pokemon games have enabled players to go online and trade, battle, and interact with people all over the world, so Pokemon has really become a global community.

Why there hasn’t been a Pokemon MMO is ridiculous. Nintendo, you monsters. (Official MMOs. Sorry fan mades)

Other Quick Social lessons Pokemon has to Teach

  • All Animals, regardless of power, control over time and space, or size, can be shoved into a single ball after a series of attacks and coaxing.
  • We should probably check other parts of the world before we claim there’s only 151 of them.
  • Some animals are more racially insensitive than others
  • As a child, you’re very safe going out into the world on your own as long as you have some sort of animal at your side.
  • Don’t ever walk into tall grass. Things will attack you.
  • If someone attacks you and beats you, you’ll just black out and wind up in a hospital in the last city you visited.
  • Healthcare is free, but bottled waters are wicked expensive.
  • The world is kind of based on you, and people will more or less stand in the same place forever- even after you have interacted with them.
  • Sailing alongside islands makes crazy things happen.

So that’s that. There’s more Pokemon has to say about the social world, but I’ll leave it at this. Does Pokemon actually convey these messages that I brought up? Maybe, but no one is really being shaped all that much by the games in the manner. In the end, they’re just fun games with tons of replay value and things to do. Just make sure your starters a good one. Charmander for life.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this article by either liking, sharing or commenting. I may do some more in the future. Who knows. Who cares.

Baby Names Based on Video Game Characters On The Rise

Baby Names Based on Video Games On The Rise

I don’t know if this counts as a news story, but this week Laura Wattenberg, author of a very popular set of baby naming guides (That’s a fun sub-genre), has revealed that she will be covering a growing trend in baby names that has arisen in recent years: Baby names named after video game characters.

WHAT WHY!?

As Wattenberg puts it:

These video games have become enough of a part of our culture that you start to see names coming out of these games. Which makes sense, because if you go and watch a movie, you watch a character for two hours. If you play a video game, you might embody this character for two years.

Oh ok. So, besides this meaning that we’ll steadily begin seeing a massive influx of children being named Pikachu and Master Chief, what does this mean? It means that video games are gradually embedding themselves into our society in ways that we hadn’t seen in the past! Video games have become such apart of our social world that they’re influencing the people we are, and the people we become. As Wattenberg eludes to, people are creating emotional bonds with these characters to such a degree that they want to memorialize these characters in their children Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Who knows. One could assume a child be given the name Waluigi will have  a hell of time in life, but there are plenty of less ridiculous video game character names that would be adequate children name. For example, Robin Williams named his daughter Zelda after, duh, The Legend of Zelda. It’s not that insane, really. If I was naming a child, some names I might consider would be Ash or Miles. Then again, both those names are can easily be the target of great  ridicule…

If you we’re naming a child after a video game character, what would your choice name be? If you have an interesting one, please feel free to comment.