Tacoma as a Spatial Story

The discussion on how videogame designers and videogame studies should combine and separate modes of perspective when looking at similar storytelling mediums seems like a very necessary one to be had. I agree with Henry Jenkins–with two viewpoints on the radical ends of the spectrum, the ludologists and narratologists, there needs to be some middle ground to leave possibilities of “what video games can be” open to allow for creativity and experimentation to thrive, since the medium of video games is relatively new compared with other mediums (such as books, movies, music, etc).

I see many of Jenkins’ ideas on spatial stories translating onto Tacoma, which is the game I chose to play a bit of last weekend. The game has a unique approach to what could have been a normal visual-novel-like game, which is allowing the player the explore the various strands of “present” within a single past moment. The affordances that come with this is the ability to choose how deeply you want to know the sub-plots and characters. It isn’t necessary to listen to the entirety of all strands (or to listen to them at all sometimes), but the game helps the players to understand the main narrative through a mechanic of indicating where you need to go at what point in a given scene time to catch key conversations in a strand.

When you go to a different area of the ship, you encounter different recordings of the past, with the order that you encounter them not necessarily matching up with the order that they happened. In this sense, there is some showings of an “episodic” feature, where the order in which you see something doesn’t affect your understanding of the overall plot (pg.7). One example of this is a scene where one of the characters is playing the guitar in their bedrooms; with this room and recording of the past, we are presented with details that allow the player to imagine this fictional world on a deeper narrative level. It wasn’t necessary, however, to see it in the first place, since it didn’t act as a device for furthering the plot. Instead, this scene acts as an encouragement for spatial exploration; the result of playing into this spatial exploration is the reward of a more rich glimpse into the world of Tacoma.

The Invincibility of The Colbert Report to Bleed

In a 2014 video of The Colbert Report titled “Who’s Attacking Me Now?”, Colbert addresses the backlash from news and social media outlets regarding a problematic joke he had made as his character to parodize the actions of the person he was reporting on.

Some aspects that make Colbert strong against the bleed-out effect of actually adopting the problematic beliefs of his character is that he has a strong alibi, a facet of the social contract created when an audience member watches the show. When a person tunes into the show, they must understand that Colbert is depicting an actor, not his real self. In an RPG, the alibi provides “the premise that any actions in the game are taken by the character, not by the player…In principle, no individual is responsible for their actions in-character if those events could unfold plausibly within the fiction”. The stronger the alibi, the weaker the bleed; Colbert isn’t actually a conservative in real life, contrary to the conservative character he plays on the show. His choice to play a conservative character was to satirize the conservative personality-driven political talk programs. The role-playing experience is also a co-creative and collective one; from Colbert’s side there is the director, script writer, camera workers, and a whole crew working with him to create the character for his show. Not to mention the cheers, laughter, and clapping from the audience that demonstrate their participation of approving the character and allowing it to exist. There are so many people invested in the character, that it’s difficult for Colbert to experience bleed with it.

Some misconception on the distinction between the two Colbert’s could be attributed to having an implicit entrance to the “magic circle” as well as there being physical/name similarities between the two. When a viewer tunes into the Colbert Report, Colbert doesn’t announce “I’m going to start playing as the conservative character now, so don’t think what I’m going to say in this show aligns with my actual beliefs”. Instead, he immediately starts the show as his character. Another point that would encourage viewers to combine the two together is that they look exactly the same and share the same name, Stephen Colbert; by not donning a costume or taking on a different name, there is no immediate difference in physical appearance between Colbert’s real self and his show self.  

Does “What Would You Do?” Have ARG elements?

Similar to the Derren Brown clip about testing the limits of social compliance by building up to the persuasion attempt of getting one person to push someone else off of a roof, I was reminded of the show “What Would You Do?” and the scenario it sets up which allows an individual to speak out about an injustice or stay socially compliant to the atmosphere of the location. Could the scenarios set up in this TV show be thought of as a game? Like a game, onlookers have the choice of whether or not they want to be involved. Similar to an ARG, however, it isn’t declared as a game; for the non-actors experiencing the scene and its affects first-hand, there’s the possibility of strong emotions and reactions being evoked as a response to this at-the-time very real situation. To reference to McGonigal’s reading, immersive games don’t advertise themselves as games, unlike pervasive games. One of the consequences of having players navigate through a “this is not a game” narrative is that in the players’ minds, all of their actions are dealing with real aspects in the real world; this can have prolonged effects on how the players continue to perceive the world in a game-like manner even after the game has ended. Using this idea of a prolonged shift in world outlook after an immersive experience, I wonder whether it could be applied to the show “What Would You Do?” and whether it has the potential of creating active citizens who are more aware of their surroundings.

The Beast was described as having an effective virtual immersion by using real environments to enable a virtual engagement with reality (McGonigal reading). The impactful affectiveness of this virtual engagement is contributed to the ARG’s ability to take place anywhere and with almost any aspect of a person’s life, making it seem “real” compared to the more traditional games with obvious user interfaces. Especially since our “real environments” could potentially include “real online environments” (such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), the space for ARG interaction has only grown. ARGs depend on the collective, a force that is made up of people with various skills, experiences, and networks which would allow them to solve challenging puzzles. McGonigal makes an interesting analysis on how the collective resists turning into something similar to a mob, and this characteristic comes about from the diversity of mindset/political views/religious views, etc of the players. Following McGonigal’s train of thought on the real-world usages of ARGs and the sense of community created with them, I would have thought that political activism could be one application. This, however, would mean that most, if not all, of the members in the group would have to share the same goal and mindset, which might be different from a collective. Perhaps there could be a change in the structure of current political activism that could adopt an ARG-like structure to motivate people to become more active members of their society and combat injustices instead of living passively according to social compliance?

LARP and the “Yes, and…” Technique

The “Ask Again Later” event last weekend was my first time attending a LARP, and it left me with a takeaway experience that will help to widen my comfort zone and expectations for future events. Something that I didn’t expect was the heavy emphasis placed upon the magic circle, as well as the encouragement to leave the magic circle (with certain hand gestures) if things became to overwhelming for the actual self. Playing a character in a LARP seems unexpectedly similar to regular acting; the difference is that the players were also the audience, resulting in an individual, personalized, and restricted view on the present and future happenings of the story.

A shared component in the LARP session and theater improv is the “Yes, and…” mentality, explained in the Vickers reading, that was utilized throughout the five hour event. Not knowing other player-characters in the story but still needing to have connections to these player-characters, we were given time in the beginning to introduce our characters to each other; I noticed people introducing themselves as their characters, which provided a great opportunity to use the “Yes, and…” technique to solidify the mannerisms and mindset of my own character, as well as to place my character relative to other player-characters (paying attention to location, age, occupation, etc.). This “Yes, and…” aspect made an appearance when making small talk during the initial picnic scene; when interacting with a in-game high school student, to help ease the normalcy in this interaction I created an in-game brother on the spot who was in the same grade as this high schooler character. The player continued this idea by confirming that he knew my brother, but that my sibling was bullying him; I accepted this characterization of my brother offered to me by this player, and apologized in return. This was just one example of many when I pulled relationships, family members, and events from thin air, but every time these offers were accepted and built upon, and vice versa.

As mentioned in the Spolin reading, I felt myself limited by my want and avoidance of approval and disapproval, respectively. “Our simplest move out into the environment is interrupted by our need for favorable comment or interpretation by established authority…Having this to look to others to tell us where we are, who we are, and what is happening results in a serious (almost total) loss of personal experiencing” (7). The storytellers offered players freedom of story direction (which I’m sure resulted in a lot of improvisation on the game makers’ parts). I felt, however, that I was limiting myself due to the yearning of acceptance seeping into my character; as a witch from a family of witches who owned a bakery in the town, my vision for my character was for her to be a deviant from her family (who wanted to suppress their witch culture as much as possible) by going to practice on her own in the woods and using her powers more. Instead, I found myself following a character of authority who had a very opposite stance of life and “right versus wrong” than my own character. I understand this as bleed effect, where my actual self’s feelings managed to seep into my character. I hope that next time around I could practice recognizing the motivations of my in-game actions, and whether their potential is held back by my non-game self’s need for approval by others.

The LARP session appeared as a “game” very strongly through its system of rules (skill levels, willpower amount, drawing cards for a deck). According to Spolin: “There must be group agreement on the rules of the game and group interaction moving towards the objective if the game is to be played” (5). Everyone agreed to the game mechanics, but it was difficult to understand when special abilities and skills could be evoked without alerting others around you. As a witch player, I obtained many interesting summonings that I could have potentially casted, but I didn’t want to oust myself as a supernatural being for fear of starting a witch hunt which would cause the demise of my character. The implementation of these game mechanics (having the storytellers personally handle the deck and carry out the resulting narrative) was limited in the sense that not everyone would have a person to call upon at any moment.