Sunday, 11 March 2007

Fishy and Flow

The flow channel occurs in game play through the attainment by the balance of skill or ability, and challenge. It’s a zen moment of dynamics, with anxiety and boredom on either side. Theorised by Dr. Mihaly ‘Mike’ Csikszentmihalyi, and followed up by notable others such as Bernie DeKoven who has identified vector lines within the flow model, and tendencies towards complexity.Collaborating with physical educator Muska Mosston, developer of the ‘slanty line’ principle on the high bar, allowing each pupil to set their own flow level. Jenova Chen is another theorist in the area, whose games, Traffic Light (concerned with response time, in which players set the speed), Cloud and the eponymous flOw, all concern themselves purposely with player control of skill level.

With Fishy, gameplay and challenge is structured through progression, and a system of rewards that is immediately available. It bears a similar resemblance to other games of its basic 80s design. In easy opening level the effortlessness is somewhat boring for a experienced player though the pretty of the games look and sound provides a therapeutic environment much like Samorost does. Further levels require more concentration, and intensified sense of personal control. Like racing games there becomes a merging of awareness and action- I find myself not only ducking and diving, but gliding, happily taking in un-mathematical routines in favour of a graceful character control that is more showy than anything. Submerging myself in the game I’m aware of time on an intuitive level – the distortion is the only component Csikszentmihalyi lists that I’ve not experienced with this game. This may have something to do with the size of the .exe, significantly smaller than monitor size.

(Word count: 278)


Csikszentmihalyi M. (1975) Beyond Boredom and Anxiety pp.72 Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA. 36.

Wikipedia entries

Flow: an optimal psychological state of total involvement in the task at hand : Introduction, Retrieved online on March 10th 2007 at

Chen, J. Flow in Games : A Jenova Chen MFA Thesis, Retrieved online on March 10th 2007 at

DeKoven, B. Of Fun and Flow Retrieved online on March 11th 2007 at


Flow from
Traffic Lights from
Fishy Screen-capture from

Magic Circle, Lusory Attitude and Manic Miner

The magic circle and lusory attittude is in games to what Grant Morrison proposes in his spherical model to real-life security in his writings on Pop Magic, inclusive of Spatial Awareness, context, agreement and acceptance.

The magic circle is a respite from the pressures of modern life, taking place around the games console. However, Mum agreed with Huizinga in the magic circle’s relation to normative values, hand-in-hand with time limits, room of play and sound level. Much of 1984-85 I estimate spending12 hrs+ per week on Manic Miner, mostly on the Commodore64 though also regularly on a pal’s ZX Spectrum. The Spectrum sessions occurred at a neighbour’s household were the contract was tighter, with games-day being allotted to Saturdays. There, games were more likely to fit Huizinga’s estimation of their inefficiency in relation to a private fee-paying education. They were seen as having no material benefit, and as a waste of energy, with plugs being pulled and sessions being cut short for homework on a regular frequency. Deciding to play a game of Manic Miner went with as most other games, a sense of intrepidation, and determination to succeed were failure occurred previously. The lusory attitude also existed very much in the physical realm from configured finger and wrist behaviour, to mimicking of the central figure’s walking style.

I climbed as far as the sixteenth level on my own initiative, and when I eventually got hold of a ‘poke’ for infinite lives, I completed the game losing only two extra lives. The authenticity and debated importance of the lusory attitude is interesting in that until I began this study, the memory of having completed Manic Miner had overwritten the memory that I cheated to do so. It wasn’t a huge betrayal given my large devotion of time, and ability. It does serve to illustrate how debatable theory is in belief systems.

Playing it recently online after a gap of 20yrs I returned to the 5th level, Eugene’s Lair, on my first attempt, with instant recall of key configurations, and directions for completing each level. I am not sure Magic Miner has considerably affected my life in entering the magic circle, other than putting off adulthood for a few years.

(Word count : 371)


Morrison, G. (2000) Pop Magic. Retrieved online on March 11th from

Järvinen, A., A Meaningful Read: Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmermann: A Review Retrieved online on March 10th from

Thorhauge, A.M. (2003) Player, reader and social actor, Retrieved online on March 11 at


Animated gif

Spectrum Level One Screencapture

Manic Miner - alive in my house! by ChopperKhan

Eugenes Lair. Screencapture taken from

Rhetoric, Dimitri Williams and Doom.

Rhetoric is the use of persuasive language utilising compositional and linguistical tricks and techniques to impressive effect. However probably due to a reliance on ‘figures of speech’ and well-worn cliché, it is betrayed by its lack of “sincerity or meaningful content”(1)

Williams study(2) of Utopian frames found that game presentation included the enhancement of physical skill, for example in spatial ability, violence as catharsis(3) , games as educational and games as good displacement. In the latter he cites Langway’s studies(4) which found the arcade functioning as a community, a peaceful one which encouraged bonding through a mixed and otherwise tense set of communities. I found this myself amongst the arcades in Northern Ireland. The second wave(5) of positive media rhetoric from the games industry and its supporters too; these aspects included videogames potential to build intelligence(6) , to be in themselves enjoyable, to create and power a social environment(7) and to foster and encourage the sponsorship of technoliteracy(8) . This frame was somewhat reactive and defensive yet nevertheless served as an important pre-emptive move to a predictable strike by tabloid reaction that really only took up the opposite of these. Williams’ frames concept is by Wartella and Reeves(9) and upon application of the Dystopian frames found again two waves – the first consisting of health risks, theft, drug use, and activity displacement. This was a noteable point in that it deprived gamers of other more worthwhile uses of their time(10) and it also deprived them of the use of their money too(11) . The second wave identifies games as a health risk with all media-constructed physiological diagnoses for problems with players wrists, hands and the more worrying but also very rare stimulus to epileptic seizure. It also identified video games as promoting violence, and other social risks, including perceptual difficulties, short attention spans(12) and gamers and journalists both indulging in a language of pathology.

Doom has been particularly pulled out by the tabloid media for its referencing in discussions between the Columbine murderers(13) . Doom-maps are focussed in on, both in pencil form in the boys relation to their activities at the school, and at home in the form of WADs. It is interesting that mainstream media seem to have overlooked this huge phenomenon(14) of a global spike of numbers of games programmers, an interactive trip, which became a seriously intelligent hobby and no doubt stimulated a number of careers and important social bridges(15) . Tabloid press tends not to focus on videogames cultural milestones as newsworthy, and nowhere there have I found rhetoric employed to mention the enthusiasm for Doom, Doom WADding, first person shooters in the context of architectural measurement, bridges between the environments of home and arcade. Nor does this sort of rhetoric recognise the finesse of information relating to pumpkin smashing, or show any ability to observe what the game awoke in people to inspire them to create, and find audiences for comic strips, cartoons, videos, novels, clone games and pieces of music.

(Word Count: 496)


(1)Oxford English Dictionary
(2)Williams, Dmitri (2003a). The Video Game Lightning Rod: Constructions of a New Media Technology, 1970-2000. Information, Communication and Society, 6(4), pp. 523-550. Retrieved 10 March 2007 from
(3)‘The Asteroids Are Coming’ (1981) Newsweek, 23 February.
(4)Langway, L. (1981) ‘Invasion of the Video Creatures’, Newsweek, 16 November.
(5)The first wave is discussed on pages 537-538 and the second wave on pg 539
(6)Lord, M. (2000) ‘Just One More, I Promise’, US News & World Report, 27 November.
(7)Taylor, C. (1999b) ‘Dream Machine’, Time, 2 August.
(8)Loftus, E. (1984) ‘Being Hooked on Videogames Can Be Good for Your Kids’, US News & World Report, 20 February.
(9)Wartella, E. and Reeves, D. (1983) ‘Recurring issues in research on children and media’, Educational Technology, 23: 5–9.
Wartella, E. and Reeves, D. (1985) ‘Historical trends in research on children and the media: 1900–1960’, Journal of Communication, 35: 118–33.
(10)Elmer-DeWitt, P. (1993b) ‘Too Violent For Kids?’, Time, 27 September..
(11)Skow, J. (1982) ‘Games That Play People: Those Beeping Video Invaders are Dazzling, Fun – and Even Addictive’, Time, 18 January.
(12)Meyer, M. (1998) ‘Just Don’t Shoot the Client. How Do You Train Nintendo-Generation Workers?’, Newsweek, 30 November.
(13)4-20: a Columbine site. Basement Tapes: quotes and transcripts from Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's video tapes. Retrieved on March 10th, 2005.
(14)Wikipedia on Doom and Doom WADs. Retrieved on March 10, 2007 at and
(15)“Several thousands of WADs have been created in total: the idgames FTP archive contains over 13,000 files, and this does not represent the complete output of Doom fans.” Retrieved on March 10, 2007 at

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Samorost, Wittgenstein and others

The common characteristic of interactivity is present in Samorost 2, though this is at the reader/player's own pace, like the card game Solitaire. As Scott McCloud put it describing comics, and the transition between panels, "the reader decides when the axe falls". The central icon bears humanoid characteristics, though the landscape, rich in detailed Surrealist fantasy art becomes iconic in its own right, as well as the source of many actions and interactions. Samorost is about exploring the text and the hidden choices available. Its a learning game of sorts, about placing actions in the correct order, though it is quite risk-free if time is not an issue.
Its also a multi-role game approaching metaphysical properties. During the final chapter when the central protagonist is trapped, s/he still has the ability to manipulate items on the other side of the room. This is not the only example.

Wittgenstein discusses common features in games in terms I would previously refer to as style , with genre or form. Family resemblances occur between Defender and Falcon Patrol, so closely that one may be a template for the other, Falcon Patrol a more technologically advanced and visually appealing version with sound. Gameplay is essentially the same. Defender is quite far removed from GoldenEye, though it has its small sub-screen map running alongside the main screen. The scrolling screen of Defender/Falcon Patrol is legitimised in modern racing games' lap system.

Defender (Atari 1982 above), Falcon Patrol (Commodore 64, 1983, below)

SissyFight and Fighting Fantasy are both games with themes of combat and largely utilise text and bare-motion graphics. Frogger and Space Invaders are cousins because of similar character movement, and deluxe and Gen One versions will likely be forever similar in this characteristic. It seems fair to extend ‘word’ or ‘concept’ to ‘genre’ in a number of places, when talking art, be it video game, comics, music, cinema. Words and concepts will always be the strongest source for reference. Manic Miner and Donkey Kong are both games were low income workers must climb 3-5 levels of platforms, against great odds and enemies, to complete an objective. However, both keep their gorillas and scaffolding at different points of focus, while barrels represent a minimal tool in one and a direct threat in another. Wittgenstein’s concept is flawed only when the physical intrusion of gamer’s cramp can be felt some time after the game, a theory stretched when it meets some of the more tabloid-y stories about the wii.

(Word count: 401)


McCloud, S. (2000) Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, HarperPerennial

McCloud, S. (2000) Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form, HarperPerennial

Poole, Steven (2000) Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade.

Bobin, James (director/producer) (2001). Thumb Candy [television broadcast]. 49 min. UK: Talkback/Channel 4. Retrieved 4 March 2007 from

Wittgenstein at Wikipedia. Retrieved online on 10th March at

The Video Game Critic's Atari 2600 Reviews D-E
Retrieved online on March 11th at

The Greatest C64 Games of All Times
Falcon Patrol screenshot, retrieved online on March 11th at