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Commentaries on this Media!

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 

Talking TVs, the Flanders, and Gaming’s Narcissistic Pleasures

by Andrew Eisenstein

                The inherent pleasure of the game within The Game is the promise that the entire world functions entirely around Nicholas Van Orton.  As this scene shows, even that most objective, external of media products, the nightly news, manages to reorient itself to talk only about the player of the game.  For Van Orton, this is mere confirmation of what he already believes to be true, that his actions, his reality, is primary to not merely himself, but literally the entire world.  Thus, he (and we as the viewers) does not question where his maid goes after she stops in on him.  Perhaps even more telling, Van Orton is more concerned that the television seems to be able to see him than the notion that a nightly newscaster (Daniel Schorr, for god’s sake!) is crafting the broadcast to serve only him.  Oddly, the film seems to endorse this sort of narcissism as a character-building exercise, a chance for Van Orton to become a better man.  Yet, in the final scene of the film, Van Orton asks out the actress who plays one of the main roles in his game, with seemingly little care that he knows nothing about the woman.  While we are meant to believe that he is merely attracted to the woman (physically, I guess), one can’t help but wonder whether the lesson he has learned from the game is his own primacy.

In a brief sequence in the eighth season Simpsons episode, “My Sister, My Sitter,” Rod and Todd Flanders beg Lisa to “tell us a story…about robots…named Rod and Todd.”  Certainly, there is nothing unusual about a child requesting a story be told where they feature as the main character; these sorts of narratives fulfill both the desire for story, as well as the narcissism inherent in most children.  Yet, as adults, we find it difficult to create narratives that allow the reader to explicitly recognize the self within the story.  Instead, we rely on abstract identification, placing the reader squarely outside of the narrative, though granting them the right to recognize their self in the characters and situations of the story.  Books could be written (perhaps are written) about why we feel it is necessary to abstract ourselves away from the actions of the story, but we can certainly recognize that there is a profound narcissistic pleasure in the recognition that the narrative world folds and expands to contain just us and those of importance around us.  Interestingly, the narrative voice that is most applicable to self-involved narrative is the second person.  This voice, however, shifts all agency, however, to the story-teller at the expense of the character/reader.  Anything stated in the second voice is implicitly an order. 

This conflict, the desire for a narcissistic narrative abutting against the power of a second-person narrator, perhaps explains our desire to play narrative video games.  Jenkins claims that the video game produces a world that can house a narrative, rather than a narrative in itself.  For example, The Sims provides all the necessary tools and restraints to produce a domestic narrative, without restricting the system to produce the same narrative over and over.  Similarly, Madden 11 produces a world that will always show a season of football, but never the same one twice.  Within a world as such, narcissistic narratives can exist, without the overpowering control of the second-person narrator.  For example, I can build a Sim that resembles myself, but lives out a wide variety of narratives that rely on my own decision-making.  Tellingly, Madden (and virtually every other major sports game) allows the user to build their own football player and play him through a virtual career.  While I get to experience the story of Andrew Eisenstein, halfback for the New York Giants, I get to experience it on my own terms, with my own failings and successes driving the narrative.

Returning to The Simpsons, the humor in the scene derives not from the request, but from the fact that Todd immediately becomes frightened when Lisa begins said story.  Ultimately, Todd becomes worried that the narcissistic story will overwhelm his non-narrative life, turning him and Rod into robots, or some such.  This concern is central to the disconcerting sense of menace in The Game.  Van Orton is living out the ultimate fantasy, residing in a version of San Francisco where literally every person he meets exists only in his presence, only in order to drive him along his narrative.  Yet, rather than providing the ultimate in masturbatory fantasy, the game swiftly spirals out of control as the player realizes that he, in fact, has no actual agency.  Thus, The Game confronts the simple truth of video game narrative: No matter how interactive or ergodic (as Aarseth might call it) it may appear, it remains a narrative, dominated by the narrator.  Games do not make you God; instead, they make God your stalker.

Television as interactive system and device for cinematic exploration of game narrative architecture.

by slc68

In this scene the television is transformed in operation from a unidirectional medium to a two-way interactive system. In doing so, this scene touches on the possibility for ubiquitous surveillance and paranoia through the act of making the television an interactive system. Van Orton's character shifts from being the lone, passive and “safe” consumer of information and entertainment to an active participant in revealing to the television news anchor character his anxieties of being the object of gaze and subject of the overarching Consumer Recreational Services game. Interactivity here enables a type of surveillance and tracking by the game system as Van Orton's behavior equates to the decisions and procedures a video game player performs in a game, actions that may have serious consequences on the final outcome. This is an aspect of surveillance because the point is to manage, manipulate and hopefully produce the desired behavior through the threat of real consequences similar to how the formal structure of a game system is deliberately designed to influence and manipulate player behavior.

In one shot, Van Orton is seen cautiously approaching the television screen with his hand out as if to touch the screen. This alludes to a video game player's immersion into an alternate game universe. As William Gibson once noted of early arcade gamers, players looked like they wanted to reach through the screen to grab what they were interacting with. The experience of immediate feedback here encourages deeper exploration and eventual immersion into an responsive system.

This cinematic moment also makes a statement on the sublime aspect of the "talking" interactive video game screen, through the news anchor's response to Van Orton's reaching towards the screen gesture by suggesting that having a “conversation” with one's television is “impossible”. It highlights a magical and eerie quality to the dynamism and "alive"  quality emanating from simply flat images. As in eXistenZ, in which the protagonist experiences a blurring of different realities, Van Orton also encounters this uncertainty of the overlaying of a game universe onto his "normal" reality through the sudden transformation of the television into an interfacial screen, providing him with critical game starting condition information and an enigmatic game objective. Here, the flat television image signals to the protagonist and audience that the real space of Van Orton's living room is also a beginning “level one” space of the narrative architecture of the game. The talking television that provides self-reflexive game information is an embedded narrative element, a critical artifact of the pre-structured narrative that needs to be discovered and unlocked in order for the player to move forward physically and psychologically in the story.

Agency in Narrative

by Sarah Scialli

In this scene in The Game, the game experience begins, and all elements are beginning to exist only to craft the game.  Initially watching The Game reminded me of the movie industry, where every element in the frame is perfectly crafted to tell the central story. The character Nicholas stands in as both the main character of the film and as the audience, to whom all movie elements are presented. My perception was further strengthened by the scene where Nicholas’s brother reveals the whole plot, and the entire cast celebrates. This felt like a premier or a wrap party of a film, where everyone can relax and enjoy what they created. Further, Nicholas’s brother is shown going through the bill and realizing the cost of such an extravagant experience, which self-reflexively refers to the cost of making the movie that we as the audience just watched.

In response to Andrew Eisenstein’s comments, I think one of the main interests in video game is the desire to be the one the game is happening to, but only in the safe environment of the Magic Circle.  Games are often wish fulfillment, and often bring back that childhood desire that Andrew mentioned, where the child wants a story for and about them.  However, it’s important that the player’s can leave the Magic Circle without it creeping into their reality like in The Game.

I disagree, though, that game narratives should be explained so linearly.  Although many games have a set premise or an embedded narrative that will eventually make itself known to players, players are not without their own agency or narrative. This is described in more detail in Tracy Fullerton’s book, Game Design Workshop as well as in Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. When players describe their experience to their friends, they usually speak in first person and describe their emergent narrative in the game. They speak of how close they were to making it up to the end of the level, when their stash of items ran out and they had to take a detour into the forest or how easy it was to sneak into the castle. Although there is a creator of the game, the game is memorable and interesting to the players because of how the players played the game.

Even in The Game, Nicholas may be confined to the story points that were planned out, but the way he responded was his choice.  He may not have too much agency, but he could affect how the story moved along.


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.  

The Game talking television set

A television set once again appears as a narrative device for communicating with movie characters

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