Play Journal #6

This week’s readings dealt with particularly dark material, primarily involving misogyny, racism, homophobia, and other problematic behavior in gaming/ ‘gamer’ communities. In looking at the normalization of (or turning about of) this culture and these patterns of behavior, I came to reflect on my own personal journey through gaming communities. Since this is the final play journal of the cycle, I want to explore a little of my own narrative through the lens of these readings.

Image from the author’s social media account, 2011.

Image from the author’s social media account, 2011.

When I got an Xbox 360 in early 2009, it was almost entirely because all of the boys on my swim team didn’t talk about anything except for playing Call of Duty 4 with each other. Since I grew up on Nintendo games with my two siblings and close family nearby, I had never really played online games before. I quickly began to play with my friends every Friday and Saturday night, even sometimes sneaking in a quick session on Saturday between morning and evening swim practices. Since I had never had a microphone to communicate before, I would usually stay in the open game chat so I could hear what my teammates and friends were talking about and hear about gaming strategy. It sounds a little silly, but I will freely admit that I have never been ‘good’ at video games, and for a time in my life that fact was upsetting. Staying in the game chat and hearing how my teammates interacted with each other was a way for me to learn about the game and thereby build the “merit” Paul puts such emphasis on, increasing my social capital with my group of friends (68).

However, the side effect of this all-out exposure (especially with my mediocre skills) was I usually heard someone yelling about the game in some way or another. Though I do not by any stretch of the imagination mean to equate my experience as an objectively unskilled white male player with the “hostile environment for many women and people of color” Gray documents in her book (xxiv), I can say that my frustrated teammates would create that same space filled with the same slurs. That is to say, though the deviant language was not directed toward a player of color, the ‘locker room talk’ was normalized and viewed as “just a part of the virtual gaming community” through their constant usage (40). Whenever I talked to my friends about this language they were using in person, they would say that they never said that kind of thing in real life- perhaps a sign of Gray’s “dissociative anonymity”, perhaps not (40). I still think often about how distressing these multiplayer experiences were from even my own privileged position, and whether I could have invested even more time in showing my friends that there was a “negative valuation” (36) on this language instead of just getting upset and playing by myself. Whatever the case, by the time I went to college I was ready to leave games and the gaming gamers who play them behind.

Throughout most of my college life, I did not play video games at all. This changed when I began living by myself while working for Anheuser-Busch. For the first time since high school, I had disposable income and lots of time alone to fill. Having played single-player games extensively in high school due to my mainly negative relationship with online gaming, I thought that a gaming console could be a good way to fill the time. However, many of the games that I played tied a single player experience to hegemonic masculinity in problematic ways (for instance, Gears of War per Gray, or other games that involved police or military heroics.) Inevitably, I found myself drawn back to a whimsical parody in the Borderlands series, which is at once crude and nonsensical- the violence in this text is so blatant as to resemble parody, and by portraying aliens and monsters instead of naming any country or community in particular it is somewhat less problematic. (Not perfect, just less blatant.)

 For this final journal, I made the decision to move back into the realm of online play just to give it another chance. Borderlands 3 features online cooperative matchmaking, meaning that I was able to easily jump into a game (after purchasing the ability to play with others online, which is a can of worms I will not open at this junction.) Though there is a directly adversarial mode available, I decided to jump into cooperative play with a similar level character in the campaign mode. Immediately, I saw the advantage of this play, as we were able to revive each other often and eventually get through the difficult boss fight that had ended my session last week. Neither of us had a microphone, so all of our communication came from jumping, movement, and dropping items; for instance, I picked up a high-tier pistol that was actually worse than the one I was using, so I threw it on the ground next to him during an elevator ride. In the next mode I played, I joined a party of three higher-level characters to complete a ‘raid,’ wherein we fought our way through a long corridor filled with monsters I had never encountered before. Though we had the same communication methods (jumping, dropping weapons, etc.) we also used a sort of ‘tagging’ mechanic, where whoever was struggling with a bigger enemy was able to point directly and notify us via in-game graphic and sound which creature to concentrate our fire on. It seems, without a microphone, the online disinhibition may have swung in this case toward the benign (Gray, 39). 

I actually quite enjoyed both of these sessions, perhaps because of the lack of voice chat. Am I aware that deviant behavior does not rely on voice chat to exist, only for amplification? Yes. Do I know that narratives in games, especially in AAA games in the fighting or shooting genres, continue to be potentially (and usually) problematic? Definitely. However, these many years later, I realize that while I am technically able to avoid the problematic by distancing myself from it, this is not necessarily the most productive or ethical path. Gray ends her book calling for more specific recognition of black women in the scholastic community (79-80). Though it is neither my place nor my passion to shift the entire focus of my research to online communities of color, I do intend to reinvolve myself personally. I am ready to go back online and to do what I can by holding deviance to account whenever possible.  This may not be the best path forward either, but positioning myself as an ally rather than an outsider is what I can do right now.

Play Journal #5

This week’s readings focused primarily on avatars and identity. Perhaps the topic we engaged in the most thoroughly this week was the overlap between identity and interactivity, or at least the perception of their overlap. Regarding this, Adrienne Shaw’s lens of identification either “as” or “with” was what I wanted to use to pick through the object of my play this week, Borderlands 3.

For Shaw, much of the trouble with talking about identity in video games is the easy and common assumption that identifying ‘with’ and identifying ‘as’ are one and the same. After working through what identifying in opposition or by difference means using Lara Croft as an example (55), Shaw returns to a more traditional example of identifying with a cultural figure. When describing a friend’s connection to Mary J. Blige, Shaw notes that the identification her friend had with Blige based on their shared race, gender, and style was “superficial” compared to a “specifically affective identification with the singer’s music and experiences” (71). Going on to explore the concept of representation via cultural figures, Shaw finds that purely physical characteristics are not necessarily at the heart of someone identifying with a character or feeling represented by them (while “race, gender, and age” are important, “they are not all that matter” (73).) I am cautious to use much of this in application to myself, since Shaw makes it clear that her hypotheses are not necessarily intended for application to white male identities (92).

As I mentioned in a prior post, I have been playing the Borderlands series for a while now. In most of these games, players must choose between one of four class types. The rough pattern these follow are: tank (high health, good melee damage), ranged/marksperson (built for sniper rifles), stealth/mage (able to sneak up for massive (techno)magic attacks), and all-around (often featuring some kind pet or companion turret.) Though I have completed (sometimes multiple) playthroughs with every much every class across all of the games, I always use the tank class first and usually the most often I personally find it the most forgiving due to high health and ammo regeneration, which make it easier to play alone. As a small aside: I definitely believe that this is because, when playing alone, I am usually not trying to overly challenge myself. Dying does not keep me engaged in the game, it frustrates my ability to put identification ‘with’ by the way side in the name of escapist interaction (akin to Shaw’s ‘Rusty’ subject (92).) Therefore, this choice of character can be seen as simply validating Shaw’s claim that “interactivity of gameplay may overshadow the importance of identification” ‘with’ any particular in-game character for me (97)).

However, I cannot ignore the fact that the tank character is frequently not only the easiest to keep alive, but the most able to inflict bodily harm. All characters possess a special ability, and the tank’s usually put them in a bloodthirsty state of rage geared for hyperaggressive close-quarters combat. As I have mentioned in a previous week, Moze (the tank character for Borderlands 3) enters a heavily-armed mech suit during this state, while other iterations have simply pulled out a melee weapon or a second short range weapon. Tearing minor enemies limb-from-limb is not a type of gameplay I enjoy, so I often have used this ability defensively for its temporary healing factor while running away from whatever firefight I have wandered into. The few times I have used the ability as the developers intended I have found to be moments of disidentification, where I become even less associated with or as my projected identity. The actions a tank is designed to do are fundamentally disjunctive with my desired interaction in the world, yet they are also the actions that define the character. Though Shaw questions whether “people who disidentify with particular forms of action or forms of humor pushed out of certain genres or media,” I wonder what this means for when the disjunctive action is an option that can be avoided (90).  

I would also like to take a brief moment and explore the role of the voice in the Borderlands series. Since there is so little dialogue in the game, much of how the audience identifies with the character has been through their vocalizations (grunts, moans, etc.) Just as the first-person perspective can “blend enclosure and embodiment,” adding a voice to the supposed character can bring this sense even further- not just eyes and ears, but mouth as well (Rehak 14). However, one thing I have noticed is that the characters in the latest Borderlands installment scream more frequently than before, especially in pain. In fact, there was a recent patch that specifically listed in the notes that it made a boss scream less. Though I have begun to notice it less (perhaps due to another patch I did not catch,) the fact that both my character and my enemies continue to loudly scream about their bodies being on fire is extremely disruptive to my experience, removing me even further from any aspect of subjective game space, either ‘with’ or ‘as.’

Play Journal #4

This week’s readings focus on what seems to be an ongoing debate in the field of video game studies more generally: is a game a story that can be explored using theories of narrative, or is it a unique medium of its own? We’ll begin by breaking down both sides of the debate, and then pursue bizarre tangents into Jenkins’s ideas of narrative architecture in the context of my games for this week, Borderlands 3 and Pokémon Go.

Courtesy of  Wired   via Engadget.

Courtesy of Wired via Engadget.

The field of videogame studies seems to be divided rather starkly between ludology (‘video games are distinct’) and narratology (‘video games are types of narrative.’) Frasca defines ludology as “a discipline that studies games in general, and video games in particular,” with a ludologist being “someone who is against the common assumptipn that video games should be viewed as extensions of narrative” (222). Frasca goes on to clarify that this scorched earth division is flawed, but other pieces focus we read reinforce what seems to be the frustration in videogame studies: old theories simply do not function for this new medium. Whether this is Eskellien’s humorous anecdote about a misinformed scholar waiting for a thrown ball to tell stories (n.p.), Frasca’s own division between games as simulation and narratives as representation (222-225), or Juul’s note that he has previously (though, he does admit simplistically) assumed “rules” (games) and “fiction” (narrative) are simply incompatible based on how the two forms operate (177), it is clear that simply stapling film theory to a AAA console game is simply unproductive, and at worst overly simplistic.

The piece with the most potential to engage with my gameplay this week is a stated attempt to find the middle ground. Jenkins begins his fascinating piece by first noting that traditional narrative theory applied to games “can seem heavy-handed and literal-minded,” but also that “one gets rid of narrative as a framework for thinking about games at only at one’s own risk” (119). After briefly working through commonalities that both sides should necessarily agree with, Jenkins lands on the concept of “environmental storytelling.” Leading to a comparison with amusement park designers, Jenkins writes that “game designers don’t simply tell stories; they design worlds and sculpt spaces” (121). These “virtual playspaces” (122) enable the player to tell a story through the landscape through wandering, a sort of Flânerie-based storytelling. I find this a particularly interesting idea to explore (no pun intended) in Borderlands 3. Though there is a great deal of story in this game, I generally regard it as an open world game defined by side-quests and non-canonical events.

For example, while killing enemies to level up my character, I randomly stumbled what appeared to be several trash bags filled with body parts sitting under a bridge. Though I would learn that these viscera belonged to the murdered family members of a side-character during the quest to avenge them, for the moment this was simply a grim space that “[had] been transformed by… (off-screen) events” (Jenkins, 127). This is the type of storytelling I love about this series: for all the bright colors and darkly humorous dialog the series advertises, there is always the undertone that living in the borderlands lands is a truly terrifying and lawless experience. Though I am certain that my experience with Borderlands 3 will expand as I continue to play it, I have noticed that this installment’s narrative choice to move from the traditional planet with limited biomes to a decentralized intergalactic map has not allowed as much of this atmospheric immersion. We will see if this changes later in my experience, but for now I am happy for the moment I received.

Since I could not capture the moment I was referring to earlier, here is another moment of guided exploration from the original  Borderlands . Again, the visual storytelling is illustrative of how dark this universe can be. ( Source )

Since I could not capture the moment I was referring to earlier, here is another moment of guided exploration from the original Borderlands. Again, the visual storytelling is illustrative of how dark this universe can be. (Source)

To shift gears abruptly, I wanted to address what narrative architecture might mean for a game like Pokémon Go that relies on augmented reality. Pokémon Go fundamentally relies on Juul’s concept of “half-real” rules (167-169); a Pokémon does not exist on a municipal sidewalk until the player’s camera projects a “magic circle” onto the space, but after this point it can be seen, heard, and added to my data profile. Overall, I quite enjoyed this effect in my experience- having a cute character join the narrative architecture of my walk home was a nice treat. However, I want to briefly explore some potentially problematic repercussions of projecting a half-real world onto the cityscape.

When discussing possible disjunctions between rules and fictions, Juul notes that “representation may give the players reasons to make assumptions about the rules that turn out to be false” (177). In the case of AR games, this can mean that players may assume game rules apply to the real world. I ran into an interesting blog post a while ago on the Pokémon Go forums detailing the potential risks of playing in what the poster deems a “dangerous city.” The tone of this post is not pearl-clutching alarmism but rather informative tips to avoid foul play: "I recommend that you familiarise yourself with the all of the areas in your city that have the highest rate of robbery. Listen to the radio, read the news and talk with friends or parents about that.” If this poster has radically different obstacles and rules in their game dictated by the real world, are they playing the same game that I am in Austin? Furthermore, what are the affects of projecting Pokémon into lower socioeconomic spaces and turning these spaces into monetizable gamic architecture? I argue that projecting a cute image into a space into the interest of rendering the space profitable is deeply troubling, and will see if I can explore the issue more in next week’s posting.

Play Journal #3

This week’s readings continued our trend of outlining core concepts around play, games, players, and more. Coincidentally, Friday also marked the release of Borderlands 3, the only new game I have anticipated this calendar year. Due to professional obligations, I was unable to put as much time into the new release as perhaps I would have wanted to. However, looking at my few hours of play through the frameworks of the readings can yield some productive thoughts about timeliness, social connection, and how rules occasionally can’t help but be broken.

Perhaps the most personally compelling scholar we read for this week was Christopher Hanson. Hanson’s work focused on the potentiality for games to first enter into a sort of unique aliveness through immediacy to players, and then explored the implications of presence within this model. The first section “illustrate[s] how games are enlivened through play” (20), comparing the interaction between a game to a performance with an added layer of “immediacy,” or the “player’s sense of an unmediated, instant, and direct experience” (21). In my own play case, I was all in for this new game in the diegetic world that I had been waiting years to receive an update on; I am so invested in the series’s narrative that I found my planned half-hour quickly turning into nearly three hours. This is not to take a determinist persepective that I am completely ideologically affected by the game (Schulzke 7), but more that I am “immersed” or in “deep play” (69) per McMahan (more on that later.)

Though Borderlands 3 is fairly similar to the previous iterations in the series, there is one aspect of gameplay that I particularly appreciate. Though the series is primarily intended to be played as a multiplayer game, I have always viewed and played titles as single-player games. I recognize this in itself is not particularly aberrant behavior, especially within communities with less access to wireless broadband capabilities, and I in fact enjoy pausing the game to interact with people in my life or to eat without frustrating teammates (perhaps this is interrupting immediacy or the game’s enlivening- Hanson addresses “temporal manipulation” in later chapters (33).) However, the Borderlands death mechanic offers a brief window of reception: either kill an enemy or be revived by a teammate, and it is as if your health never ran out. Of course, the second option was always unavailable to solo players like myself until Borderlands 3, which introduced the ability of NPC allies to revive your player character. Though the NPCs in these games have always been articulated characters that join your character on missions, it has not been until now that I have truly felt a sense of “copresence.” Hanson notes this phenomenon is naturally part of games, and gives a side reference to how “computer controlled [characters] may also give players a sense of copresence, as the avatars of these other characters suggest the presence of other characters, or players, in the game” (39). It appears that even characters that have always been in the game are further enlivened through interaction with my character’s life.

Perhaps one of the most frequent complaints I have seen so far is about the map for Borderlands 3. Source:  Eurogamer

Perhaps one of the most frequent complaints I have seen so far is about the map for Borderlands 3. Source: Eurogamer

Unfortunately, it appears that Borderlands 3 has also fallen into the trap many AAA games face of releasing before many glitches have been worked out. Though I have read tales of save deletions and scaling level issues, the most prominent error in my game I noticed was an inability to use my action skill. Each different class of character has a separate action skill; for my character, I am able to climb into a large weaponized mech for a set amount of ‘fuel,’ which is consumed by both time and weapon usage. However, I found myself frequently unable to deploy my action skill, including situations where my button input seemed not to register (clearly a glitch) or when the limitations of game seemed to unfairly limit me (for instance, I am unsure whether it is a glitch or a feature that, no matter what the situation is, this particular action skill cannot be used when on a set of stairs.) The question becomes, can we consider a physics-breaking glitch a rule of the game? Salen and Zimmerman nicely break down rules into three categories, but within the context this dilemma seems to fit into the “operational rule” category that “[relates] directly to a player’s behavior and interaction with the game” (147) since I began to plan encounters with enemies around an unreliable power-up. However, since my glitch seems to be rare and is not necessary replicable in other machines or in other scenarios (and will hopefully be fixed soon,) it may just be errant code, “not the exact thing as [the game’s] rules” (142).

I tend to fall more in the previous camp, that the rule is more valuable as a theoretical concept I must be mindful of (‘my action skill doesn’t always work, so I cannot rely on it’) than a fixed rule of the game (‘the action skill does not activate under these conditions, even if they are not communicated to the player.’) I suppose I will have to update y’all next week as to whether the rule has changed.

Play Journal #2

Today’s Readings: Before the Crash: Early video game history (Wolf), Game Analysis: Centipede (Rouse III), Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade (Kocurek)

Today’s game(s): Hang-On, Super Smash Bros.

For this week’s play journal, I went out with friends and colleagues to Oddwood Ales, a brewery near my apartment with both classic arcade cabinets and older gaming consoles set up at communal stations. There were two significant differences between Oddwood and the arcades we studied this week: all games were free to play (with the expectation that a user would purchase either beer or food), and this was not a space specifically intended for children (though, admittedly, there were children present.) Though there is much to speak of regarding how these aspects (as well as the simultaneous broadcast of the UT-LSU football game) changed our perception of the experience, there are also a number of interesting similarities and comparisons to be made with the readings for this week.

An arcade cabinet for  Hang-On  (Sega, 1985)

An arcade cabinet for Hang-On (Sega, 1985)

Growing up, I occasionally played with arcade machines- the machines at a pizza parlor during a classmate’s birthday party, a retro cabinet in the basement of a family friend, maybe even once at a bowling alley. For all of these experiences, the arcade cabinet I have undoubtedly dedicated the most time and effort to has been Hang-On, released by Sega in 1985. With a set of motorcycle handlebars as controller (see above), the player tilts and pulls back on the throttle to propel their racer around a track filled with virtual opponents. The objective of the game is to pass as many checkpoints as possible, with the game ending when the player runs out of time. Each checkpoint adds more time to the in-game clock, allowing for a greater duration of play before an automatic game over. Hang-On meets many of the same requirements Rouse elucidates in his analysis of Centipede as aspects of a ‘classic’ arcade game. Most notably, there is no story to speak of (465), the game-play is simple (465), the “player can play the game forever” (463) (given they are able to keep passing checkpoints, which I am unable to do for more than two minutes at a time- it “[does] not last very long” (461).) Most importantly, the ability to achieve a high score comes not only with “bragging rights” (464), but monetary compensation; any player who makes it on the high score board is awarded a $50 bar tab (see below).

There is something to be said about tying performance in a racing game to free beer. Kocurek addresses the concept of the modern barcade at length in her book, noting that on particular Brooklyn bar is “a children’s play space reimagined as an adult entertainment venue. It is also a place where the history of the video game machine folds back into itself—here, the video game returns to its origins as a bar amusement” (Chapter 6). The aura of the arcade is partially detached from the concept of being family-friendly in this moment, and yet not completely separated from the white, male bias that Kocurek highlights in arcade games. Though craft beer as an industry is continually growing more diverse and central organizations have continually pushed the fact that it is unprofitable and morally bankrupt to “simply sell beer to young white dudes with beards,” the same boy’s club narrative still persists within the industry. A recent example of this boiling over was when Chris Furnari, the editor of perhaps the most trafficked and respected beer blog for nearly nine years, made misogynist remarks casually in his podcast. Furnary asserted that a top list of beer Instagram influencers “[went] to shit” when it transitioned from male beer authors to “chicks who basically take pictures of themselves in like low-cut tops with beer.” Just as there is the presumption that only men can understand and be skilled at classic games, the corollary that women “fake” their interest in and understanding of craft beer seems to run parallel. Though Furnari has since resigned, the Venn diagram of who certain hardcore gamers think they are and who certain craft beer geeks seem to think they are appears to have a great deal of overlap.

Exclusion in the beer industry. Transcribed excerpt via  Worst Beer Blog .

Exclusion in the beer industry. Transcribed excerpt via Worst Beer Blog.

A final concept worth considering is the fact that Oddwood Ales does not contain a single game made after the year 2000. This makes it a prime example of what Kocurek calls the “nostalgic arcade”, which “seems to express a longing for an adolescent homosocial space” (Chapter 6). Again, a craft brewery seems the perfect fit for a drinker invested in the technomasculine: drink beer with other boys in the bar while you compete against them in games you used to play.

For all of this, I do not mean to assert that either craft beer or classic arcade games are closed to women, people of color, or other historically marginalized identities. Much like Kocurek’s emphasis on “the inclusion of men and boys” instead of “women’s exclusion from gaming culture,” (Introduction) this critique of the intersection of craft beer and gaming can come off looking hopeless at the end. Yet, recent movements such as #IAmCraftBeer prove that while there are horrible people in the subculture, this narrative is potentially on its way out. One can only hope.

Play Journal #1

Hey folks,

It’s sure been a while since I’ve blogged on this site- good to take a little trip down memory lane. I will be posting six weekly “play journals” for a seminar I am taking on the topic of Video Game Studies (grad school? More like rad school.)

Kind of an interesting parallel- this blog will also take place while I apply for (a.k.a. chase) the next level of graduate school, and have a marginally similar semi-academic tone. You’ll find the body of my first entry below.



No Panic.jpg

Today’s readings: Nature & Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon (Huizinga), The Defininition of Play, The Classification of Games (Caillois), Flow (Csikszentmihalyi)

Today’s game(s): Borderlands 2, Candy Crush Soda Saga

Today’s readings are the structural building blocks for establishing a theory of playing, and playing games. We begin with Huizinga attempting to classify the concept of ‘play’ as a cultural object, primarily noting that play does not involve capital or a material object (99) or any seriousness (101), yet relies on following certain rules (105) and existing in certain times (103-04) and spaces (105, 114). These concepts are fascinating to me, particularly the bounding of the “magic circle” (106) that Caillois notes creates a space for play, a “consecrated spot” (105) in time and space where play exists as ritual without any value, or where “one chooses to be the dupe” (116) in religion and ritual. Building off of this roughly 20 years later, Caillois sharpens up Huizinga’s work by forming subcategories of ‘play’ and significantly adding in aspects of potential gambling and capital acquisition (124-25). Play, according to Caillois, must meet a set of requirements: it is voluntary (“free”), is separated from everyday life (“separate”), leaves room for exploration (“uncertain”), has no use-value ("unproductive”), is “governed by rules,” and creates a second reality (“make-believe”) (128). Though Caillois goes on to classify different aspects of play (130), I want to pause for a moment and pit these requirements against the games that I played this week.

A screenshot for the PC version of  Candy Crush Soda Saga

A screenshot for the PC version of Candy Crush Soda Saga

Using my iPhone, I played King’s “Candy Crush Soda Saga,” a non-canonical sequel to the successful mobile game, “Candy Crush.” In this game, the player must match combinations of items in a grid to accomplish objectives such as dropping items to the bottom of the grid, destroying certain obstacles, or simply achieving a certain target number of matches. While there are certainly rules for this make-believe world to be explored according to the path set out by the developer, I want to challenge especially that the gameplay is separate, free, or unproductive. Both Huizinga and Caillois base their concepts of play on the fact that play exists outside of ordinary life (Caillois 123), but playing on a device that also acts as part of my own day-to-day routine (used for calling, texting, and emailing) represents an erasure of difference between play-space and serious-space. That is to say, the difference between these two spaces is no longer physical space, but only different software and different times of use (which, with concurrent app usage being possible, becomes even more narrow.)

Speaking now to freedom, I turn to Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of ‘flow,’ the force that keeps individuals engaged in an activity. Though I generally find Csikszentmihalyi’s concept that happiness requires primarily a great sense of self-control wildly problematic (23, 40,) his notes on flow and addiction later on can be useful. If using the Candy Crush Soda Saga app is not simply playing, perhaps progressing is to be in flow; as the game displays its well-polished mechanics, it may also encourage an obsession that keeps a user “captive of a certain kind of order… unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life” (62). This is certainly a large ‘if,’ but perhaps worth considering in conjunction with the concept of a “flow channel” (74). Simply explained, in order to be in flow, a player/user must be appropriately challenged by the task at hand with too low of challenge resulting in boredom and too high resulting in anxiety (74).  As the user keeps playing Soda Crush, the game’s difficulty continues to increase with more and more demanding tasks. Yet, the user is not necessarily able to make more skilled decisions thanks to the random element of the pieces dropped into play (what Caillois might call “alea” (133).) In order to reach back into the flow channel, a user must purchase products from the game, including fresh lives to help them keep trying, gold to give them an extension on the particular round’s limited turns, or items that move or destroy certain pieces. The path to continuing in the flow becomes most accessible through monetary contribution, something highly problematic when considering that play is meant to be without monetary considerations. Here playing the game becomes akin to a gambling addiction: “property is exchanged, but no goods are produced” (Caillois 124).

Publicity image from  Borderlands 2

Publicity image from Borderlands 2

To contrast this model, I also played Borderlands 2, a modern first-person shooter that I have played for many hours (between all of my characters across Borderlands and Borderlands 2, I have played literally hundreds of hours.) This game, released in 2012, came before the surge of micro-transactional gaming that now so permeates gaming, meaning that the only money I have spent on this game was acquiring it used for $20. The game does not hold any more surprises for me, nor any intrigue of hidden events, and I know exactly how to power level my characters in order to make the game as unchallenging as possible; this is a game I play by rote, to kill time, in the same way that others watch a sitcom they have already seen. Perhaps this is closer to Caillois’ definition in certain aspects, but the separation and creation of game world suffer by integration into my everyday life.