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The Algorithmic culture of "The Game"

by Survey of Interactive Media

It is funny how the very beginning of the film, we see Michael Douglas be very cautious with the way he makes business decisions.  He only makes decisions for the company that will bring numbers up and not down.  Instead of enjoying life and taking risks, he is more happy staying within the lines of being safe.  It even comes to a point where his own brother asks him several times, is he really happy with life.  

In this scene, we see Michael Douglas wants more out of life, from an unknown game that has so many risks; risks that we are unsure he is ready to take at 48.  Yet the process of taking this test to determine if he can be a player in the game, is more odd than we thought.  In Gaming, Alexander Galloway considers the video game as a distinct cultural form that demands a new and unique interpretive framework.  He continually analyzes video games as something to be played rather than as texts to be read.  The test for "The Game" starts off with nothing but taking a test, reading, questions that leave us confused and questioning our own answers of what we believe is true to us.  Furthermore Galloway goes into detail about the “algorithmic culture” created by video games, that intersects with theories of visuality, realism, allegory, and the avant-garde.  

Algorithmic culture is defined as, to understand it you need to be part of it, which in this case Michael Douglas is taking a test to do this.  We as audience members, try to look at the test to take the game as something of importance.  But questions on the exam such as, "If I were an eye witness to an accident," make us question if the game calls for asking someone that.  If photographs are images and films are moving images, then, Galloway states, video games are best defined as actions.  As Michael Douglas keeps taking the test, and comes the visual part of the exam, images of sex, wild animals, and erratic images play on the screen.  We become disturbed and uncertain how this game will determine our senses of being a human being.  Galloway writes, "We were born here and love it.  Short attention spans, cultural fragmentation, the speeding up of life, identifying change in ever nook and cranny-these are neuroses in the imagination of the doctor, not the life of the patient."  At the end of the clip, we try to understand the theoretical importance of Michael Douglas choice to play the game, and the mechanics of designer’s intentions with the process to play this "game".

The want and need to be immersed in a game

by John Paul Henderson

   As we get to know this character we begin to see that his career is his life.  When the "Game" is introduced to him he begins to seek out information and explore the possibilities.  This clip I believe shows a great example of something that Henry Jenkins book "Convergence Culture" explores in depth.  Jenkins sites examples and makes comparisons across mediums explaining how our culture has become obsessed with immersion into fictional worlds.  These worlds are not in any particular media, they are across all media, and people are actually crossing media to explore deeper into these fictionalized worlds.  

    In this clip we see a man that has devoted years of his life to building a company and career.  He is not one that would lay back and play a game, yet he is now devoting hours to a physical and mental examine to find out what could be.  I do believe that this clip of the movie is a statement about where we as a society want to go with our entertainment and how far we will go to get it.  This character has changed his life to "See how far the rabbit hole goes" as Morpheus would say from the "Matrix".  The "Game" utilizes cell phones, television, and everything that we utilize today for entertainment. We as a society are now willing to search for hours on the internet to get secrets to an upcoming movie, which leads us to receive emails about a text we could receive on our phones to get a discount on the comic book to see the ending where the sequel must begin in the video game.  We want our lives to be immersed just like Michael Douglas's character.  I do think this clip was a great example of how far he went to do so and how far we, as a society, will allow entertainers to take us.T 

The Rules of "The Game"

by Brian Flory

Like any other game, The Game (Fincher, 1997) is played according to certain rules. Unfortunately for Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), those rules seem obscure, contradictory, and full of red herrings. The game seems to begin, for example, with the information, “you’ve received the very first key, and others will follow. You’ll never know where you’ll find them, or how you’ll need to use them, so keep your eyes open.” While the last piece of advice about keeping his eyes open serves him well for most of the film (only reversed in the last moments when he’s advised to keep his eyes closed, because the safety glass can still cut him), the keys turn out to be largely red herrings, or at the very least misleading. He does use one key later in the film, but far more important is the flood of keys that implicates his brother in the game.
    Still, just a distraction. Daniel Schorr, playing himself, delivers these rules portentously, as if reading holy writ. “This is your game,” he says, “and welcome to it.” In truth, at least to some extent, Van Orton sets the rules of the game himself, and began playing long before this moment. Though there are several moments early in the film that one could argue inaugurate Nicholas Van Orton’s game, I think the strongest case can be made for the diagnostic sequence at CRS headquarters.
    While the battery of physical tests through which Van Orton is put are certainly important given the trials he’s about to endure, it’s important to note, too, that psychological tests are interspersed throughout. He’s presented, for example, with a series of black and white drawings presenting a number of situations, images that can be easily read into the subsequent events of the movie. Though his responses leave some room for interpretation, it’s quite probable that they shape the final form of his personal game. An image of a beach beauty being stalked by a giant serpent provokes a response of “risky” from Nicholas, which may have prompted the game’s designers to initially present Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) as harmless, even scattered. Conversely, his sardonic attitude toward the car barreling over a cliff may have prompted the designers to include the sequence of Nicholas’ car plunging into the San Francisco Bay with him inside, on the assumption that his dry humor suggests he can handle it.
    But this is speculation. What is clear is that he is to some extent setting the rules of his game by participating in the early stages of it. This is consistent with character design sequences in some video games, wherein the player makes a series of choices - in some cases practical, in some cases theoretical - that indicate how the player intends to approach various obstacles in the game. These choices then dictate the starting skills of the player’s avatar in the game. Indeed, Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (2008) presents the player character with the G.O.A.T. (Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test). A video of this sequence is available on critical commons. These are more common than is immediately apparent, even in older games, though they are often interspersed throughout the game rather than concentrated at the beginning as is the case in the Fallout 3’s G.O.A.T.. The original Fallout (Interplay, 1997) or Deus Ex (Eidos, 2000), for example, lack the initial G.O.A.T. sequence, but prompt you to choose between skills useful in combat, or diplomacy, thievery or other areas as your character gains experience. The skills chosen then go on to influence the remainder of the game, and the approach your character must take to various problems in order to succeed. Other games - Baldur’s Gate (Bioware, 1998) or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware, 2003) - gauge a characters’ actions on a scale of good and evil (or light side and dark side) and modify the game’s story to suit the player’s style, as well as which abilities players can access as their characters gain experience.
    Both the G.O.A.T. and the value judgments apparent in these games is also visible in The Game. Early in the diagnostic sequence, there’s a shot of Van Orton filling out a form indicating his responses to various value statements. These responses (probably along with his response to the pencil no doubt carefully engineered to break) are measured and applied to the design of Van Orton’s game. On the surface, the game manipulates him, but beneath, he manipulates the game first.
    Each of these sequences suggests connections to Alexander Galloway’s book, Gaming, which draws distinctions between gamic actions of various kinds. The key distinction here is between nondiegetic operator acts and diegetic operator acts. In most games with which we are familiar - that is to say, most games that take place in the physical world, such as sports - one either sets the rules then enters the game (such as by deciding an amount to wager on a skins golf game) or enters a game for which rules are long established by custom and regulation (as in any number of spectator sports). These nondiegetic operator acts are defined as such because the nature of the game in question is determined by agreements and compacts put in place outside the context of the game itself. In The Game, though, we are presented with a radically different model, in which the player - always already in the game - is presented with a series of choices, options, that affect the way the game plays out. Nicholas Van Orton is engaging in diegetic operator acts almost immediately in the film.
    To some extent, this is something we all do every day. For those of us who are students, we chose whether or not to attend a demanding graduate program, setting the difficulty - or at least required duration - of our studies, while at the same time already engaged in them. This decision, obviously, has ramifications throughout the life course. That said, Nicholas Van Orton’s wealth is a major factor, as it is precisely his wealth that allows him to essentially “pause” the game of life, pull up the options menu by going to CRS and taking the diagnostic, and change the rules of The Game. This same option is less available to those without Van Orton’s means, easily observable in the influence of money in politics or any other public arena.

The creation of meaning through images

by hsun

In this clip from the film "The Game", Michael Douglas's character Nick is going through a series of tests in order to be qualified to play the game. As we can see, besides physical examinations, one of the recurring themes of the test is to give specific emotional or psychological response to pictures or sequence of moving images. As shown in the clip, Nick was first asked to express his feelings towards a couple of simple pictures, which he accomplished with an air of conceit and sarcasm (he said "oops" when shown the picture of a car falling off a bridge); and then he was left alone in a screening room to be tested for his response towards single-word descriptions of one or a few sequences of moving image clips, he soon became noticeably disturbed and agitated. The scene ends with him standing up against the flashing  light beams from the film projector, looking rather apprehensive.

This clip, in my opinion,  could serve as a great example as how meaning is constructed through images.Through experience, we all think that reading a single image is easy, our responses towards them tend to be simple--we can usually summarise them with one or two words, we seem to be subconsciously filter the information we received in single images; while towards moving images, our response tend to be multi-angle and elaborated, one-word description of a moving image sequence is usually regarded as over-simplify or inadequate at best--or, as circumstantial evidence, movie makers always find conveying necessary information concisely using minimal scenes/sequences to be difficult, because being concise with moving images always has the riks of jumping out of context, and once a film is out of context, it would automatically lose its grip on narrative, since becoming an media/artistic experiment of some kind, to be clearly distinguished from the traditional definition of film as a narrative vessel. So when the rapidly changing sequences menifest itself as not just a vision stimulation but a message with a highly-concentrated and clarified meaning, a level of confusion and apprehension would become our natrual responce, as Nick 's in the clip.

This phenomenon prompted to consider the mechanisms of constructing meaning through single image and moving image sequence and other things. As Charles Musser would address in his essay "History Towards Screen Practice", the developing of photo is not the natrual ancestor of film, moving image is radically different from still image in conveying meanings. How the mechanisms are different? Or if they are two clearly distinguished media, do they "remediate" each other in menifestation (for the relationship between image/film is more or less an analogy of the relationship between digital photo/computer) , as Bolter and Grusin addressed in "Remediation", and if they do, how could this remediation be ditected?

Testing - The Humanly Inhumane

by Anna

Testing brings out certain emotions in people.  For some it is a challenge they love to beat, others it can be brutally painful.  In any case on the spectrum, testing one's "intelligence" or aptitude is like being put on a stage for all to judge.  In "The Game" with Michael Douglas we immediately feel empathy for this character even though he is flawed.  Filling in the circles and having his pencil break, being quizzed on images that reveal your inner thoughts, being put under physical examination, etc. are all things - that in an interesting way - make one feel vulnerable.  To have a a "game" revealing the underside of a human being could almost be compared to testing a rat in a lab cage.  Some extremists would call it cruel or inhumane.

If a game for the individual player could tap into this vulnerability and "test" in a way that touches these buttons, the entire media experience could evolve into something much greater than a two hour escape in the theatre.  Watching Douglas test and enter his own game is what the audience wants to experience themselves.  We live vicariously through this character.  Going to the movies is a way to escape in another world and to combine movies and gaming... a new experience will be born, something I don't think has been fully realized yet.
As Alexander Galloway states in his book on Gaming, "It is a massive cultural medium involving large number of organic machines and inorganic machines.  Embedded as it is in the information systems in the millenary society, this medium will likely remain significant for some time to come."
I agree with Galloway on many levels and feel this is only the beginning to a new art form still in its infancy.  I think exploring the human psyche more and what those emotional triggers are is crucial to helping form this landscape of media.

The Psychology of the Player

by Ali Mansuri

Intrigued by what The Game could be Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) visits the CRS offices to enroll into the game as a "player". In this scene Van Orton goes through a series of aptitude and psychological tests culminating into a word/photograph montage scene which is very similar to the psychological paranoia thriller The Parallax View (Paramount, Alan J. Pakula, 1974) where the protagonist is being pursued and hunted down by uknown external forces increasingly fueling his sense of paranoia as it occurs with Van Orton.

In what could be read as the "introduction" to the Game Van Orton's psychological temperament is mapped and his responses are used as design elements (or more appropriately as elements of the future in screenwriting parlance) in the Game that he will play. For instance, the confused maze will reflect his own confused state as he runs around the city in a confused agitated state trying to figure out if he has fallen victim to a far more sinister scheme. It is a twist of dramatic irony when an image of a car accident will later become an event in the narrative of the Game. It is as if the psychological responses of the player are being used to structure and design the game's events and so provide an immersive experience.

It is quite telling that the whole Game experienced my Van Orton is the real psychological test which will allow him to come to terms with the traumatic suicide of his father and  bring closure to this childhood memory.

Montage sequences for diagnosis

by Critical Commons Manager

The trope of viewing a cinematic montage as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool appears in numerous films including such disparate works as The Parallax View (1974), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Game (1997). In all cases, the viewing subjects are connected to biofeedback or neurofeedback mechanisms that record physiological or neurological responses. A parallel, non-cinematic procedure is followed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), where functional MRI imaging is used to map the location of memories in the brain in order to later eradicate the memories themselves in order to get over a failed relationship.

Response to "The Not So Exciting Game"

by John Paul Henderson

In the commentary explaining that "The Game" has little to no plot and flat characters I would have to disagree.  The story of this movie is not about the game specifically, it is about the character that Michael Douglas portrays.  The "game" is what pulls us through the story to show us who this man is and why he has made and makes the choices that he does.  When the commentary explains that there is little plot, I would have to say the plot is the change that he goes through from the beginning of the movie of being a hard ass that cares about no one except himself to a man that cherishes and loves the things that he has.  To say that the analysis or examination has no necessity in the movie is a misstatement because many examinations are given that are used to know more about the person and their habits and to know what type of decisions they may make rather than gathering information to use against a person.  I believe the examination and testing could be said to have helped the CRS company to know what choices he would be making along the way so that no one would get hurt.  When he became aware of the situation this was showing how all the testing in the world sometimes times can not take into account the human factor.  

In response to John's comment

by hsun

John's introduction of the Henry Jenkins book into the context of The Game is spot on, I quite agree that Micheal Douglas's character in the film is indeed desiring, whether consciously or not, to ride the high of the immersion into the fictional world. 

The obsession Henry Jenkins mentioned in his book looks like a projection of the fear and at the same time the joy of information implode. In the meaningless collage of image, we can detect a  clear sense of anxiety and yet a strange sense of pride as "we created all this" or "we're the masters of this after all", hence the yearning for being a modular in a artificial, controlled, fictional world.

The Game diagnostic

Michael Douglas takes a series of physical, emotional and psychological tests as preparation for the start of his "game"

from The Game (1997)
Creator: David Fincher
Posted by Critical Commons Manager