The following is the assignment description for a three-page comparative gameplay experience reflection that I assigned students at about the halfway point of my course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames.” The theme of this particular week was “Emotion and Identification,” with an emphasis on the differences in both of these things across cinema and games. Students read a selection from Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws on horror and cross-gender identification, portions of Noël Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror where he expresses skepticism toward the term “identification” and plots out his own theory of our emotional reactions to film based in then-recent analytical philosophy, and a chapter from Grant Tavinor’s The Art of Videogamesin which he adapts this same analytical tradition of theorizing about art and the emotions to videogames.
I also assigned students to read Vivian Sobchack’s essay “Breadcrumbs in the Forest: Three Meditations on Being Lost in Space,” because for this assignment I wanted students to focus on a very specific feeling, and how it is translated across different media: the feeling of being lost. Cinema can present us with stories in which we identify with characters that are lost. But videogames can actually make us lost, and cause us to adopt all of the usual behaviors one turns to when lost. I wanted students to plumb this difference in their gameplay experience reflection.
The two case studies I settled on here were Gus Van Sant’s filmGerry (2002) and The Path (2009), a game by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, who together make up the Belgian art group/game studio Tale of Tales. I later resurrected this specific comparison in my SAIC first-year seminar course “The Moving and Interactive Image,” where I adapted the assignment description that follows into a lesson plan, using the following questions to animate in-class discussion, rather than form the basis for a paper.
Playing like a pint-sized mashup of Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels and Gaspar Noë’s Enter the Void, Bendon Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving (Blendo Games, 2012) packs more scintillating and beguiling details about its characters and their world into its hallucinatory, hyper-concentrated ten minutes of gameplay than most games manage in 30 hours.Bootleggers, an airport, a rooftop party, shootouts, memories, regrets, a violent end … or several?A love affair … a betrayal?All of this and much more (including a highly educational demonstration of Bernoulli’s principle) jostle together wildly in this tantalizing gem of a short.
Okay, I’ll step out of “breathless, enraptured critic” mode. Thirty Flights of Loving is an interesting game for many reasons. One of these reasons is that it steals quite a lot cinematic language—including some very interesting and unusual applications of the forms of cinema, like first-person cutting. Quick example of what this actually looks like below the jump:
Consider this another addendum, this time to my previous post on teaching the concept of procedural representation. These are two more of my favorite case studies to use for that topic—ones that, however, fall outside the designation of “games about squares.” As with the games outlined in my previous post, I teach these via small group work, assigning students to first play these games, and then present to their classmates on them. For these presentations, I direct students to not simply say “this game is about xtopic,” but instead say things like “when you do y in this game, z happens.” My aim is to get them to specifically lay out how rules shape player behavior, and provide consequences for that behavior, and how this combination of rules/behavior/consequence can make claims about the how the world works.
The first time I taught a unit on the concept of procedural representation, it was in my course “The Moving and Interactive Image” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The theme I wanted to explore that week was the limits of thinking about games as moving images, at all. Are there some games that get such a large percentage of their meaning from rules and interactions that it is not even productive to think about them as images at all anymore? To this end, I assigned students the chapter “Art” from Ian Bogost‘s book How to Do Things with Videogames, where he lays out the idea of what he calls the “proceduralist style” in art games. Bogost characterizes this style of games in the following way:
In these games, expression arises primarily from the player’s interaction with the game’s mechanics and dynamics, and less so (in some cases almost not at all) in their visual, aural, and textual aspects. These games lay bare the form, allowing meaning to emanate from a model.[i]
I also set up a unit on proceduralist games in my Intro to Mass Communication course at DePaul University, which I taught three times, in the Fall 2015, Winter 2016, and Spring 2016 quarters. As I repeatedly taught this unit, I segued away from using Bogost’s “Art” chapter from How to Do Things with Videogames. (I found that the chapter’s engagement with the tired “are videogames art?” debate was too much of a lure, pulling student attention away from the core issues I wanted to address.) Instead, I subbed in “Procedural Rhetoric,” the first chapter of Persuasive Games, with very heavy excisions. (It really is a shame that, at 64 pages, that chapter is so unreasonably gargantuan. It definitely makes for some headaches when deciding on reading assignments.) And, over time, I gravitated toward some specific games to play in-class: a group of games I affectionately refer to as “games about squares.”
The following is a lesson plan that I first used in my “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames” course taught at U Chicago in spring 2013. It didn’t really come into its own, however, until I re-taught some of the same material, with much greater success, in my course “The Moving and Interactive Image” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2015. I’m especially indebted to the students in my SAIC course for helping me direct this material into its current form.