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.