Okay, let’s hear the popular opinion. Keith Stuart of the Guardian Gamesblog says he won’t be holding his breath for Halo to come on A-Level English Lit but for some reason is happy for it to go on GCSE. I bet Keith’s secretly upset at not having Halo for his A-levels. The popular reaction is that of hesitation and doubt …
And mind you, these are only some of the questions …
I’m interested in how this translates into the videogame narrative and becomes popular so fast. Here’s the history of the rise and fall of the House of Jimius – an after-action report based on Rome total war. It’s been written by one Jimius, the pseudonym of a 24 year old player from the UK. I will read a bit of the history of this noble Roman family. Pace Caesar, it seems the Jimian household boasts of even greater glories.
In these respects, the videogame is clearly showing its potential. Through a phenomenon called the after-action report. This is only an introduction. Not much work has been done on this (except for an article in The Escapist) and certainly nothing academic. So here’s a start. AARs: use definitions. After-action reports are not new and have been connected with the basics of Western literary education. You will know this example well if you ever had to do Latin in school. All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war.
It is not only Jimius who writes these. There are entire blogs catering to these. There is a journal called The Critic’s Quill for the writers of empire total war based AARs, there are guidelines for writing, FAQs and competitions. AARs provide imaginative context to the game and even critical analysis. The After Action Reporter is a popular blog. It’s tagline is interesting – why play when you can read?
The range of AARs is also quite surprising. This is a shot from Blue Casket an AAR repository. Degeen - history of an English adventurer in the 1770sRunner – based on ‘runs’ in Mirror’s EdgeReggio perino – history based on a mercenary’s life in Mount and Blade. Charles Dickens: Football Manager – is an AAR about a very foul-mouthed version of Charles Dickens managing a Victorian Football team. ‘As soon as I came up with the title, I knew I’d struck gold. And my natural propensity to rage at incompetencies in the beautiful game, led to the sweary, hilariously vicious persona of Dickens in the diary’.Why do they do all this? I’ve often asked myself. AARs can be about the experience of a game in various stages of completion and they arguably involve many more elements from the player’s imagination. The examples of gameplay mentioned above are crucial in capturing the experience of the game. Besides the affordances that game designers have put in place for the development of the game’s plot, much of the action in the videogame depends on the player’s input. Whether the avatar runs faster in the game or how deftly he or she can scale a wall depends on the player’s skills. Imagine a situation where how Achilles wins (or loses) his battle with Hector depends on you. Further, as the player is able to play out a story all over again, the memory of the player’s experience with the earlier iteration of the story might also affect the outcome. All of these scenarios emerge in the composite narrative that the AAR forms. Mike Prescott, writer of the now famous ‘House of Jimius’ and ‘The Amateur’ AARs has the following to say about his work:‘House of Jimius’ was based on Rome: Total War and was a chronicling of a grand campaign, from city state to Europe-spanning behemoth. ‘The Amateur’ was based on Hitman: Blood Money and was a more character-driven playthrough of the game, as someone who became a hitman by accident. (Prescott)Prescott believes that AAR writers should stick to the gameplay closely and then use their imagination to build the narrative further: What you write has to reflect what happens, the events described must be an accurate portrayal, otherwise there’s no point, go off and write some fanfic. Sure, come up with the fluff that connects the dots the game presents, but don’t let that overwhelm it. I’ve seen some massive, sprawling AARs that divorce themselves from the game being played far too much to be interesting, that devolve into florid prose and twiddly stuff that is just filler and distracts from the point of the thing. (Prescott)It is important to note that he makes a distinction between the AAR and fan fiction. In the huge quantity of fan fiction that games such as Halo and World of Warcrafthave generated, not much is related to actual gameplay. For example, Halo: Code Protocol the latest novel in the series by author Tobias Buckell is described as continuing‘an excellent tradition that's now a solid aspect of the Halo novels, bringing a fresh new perspective to a limitless universe and bringing his prodigious writing talents to bear in ways that will surprise and engage fans of the series and newcomers alike’ (Halo Nation 2011) by Frank O’Connor, the franchise director of Halo. AARs, however, do not usually have a print publication and are written independently by fans.
Fortuitously, one of the AAR – writers, the famous Jimius himself, responded to my questions. In real-life as he tells you Jimius is a 24-year old guy from the UK called Mike Prescott. He is responding to questions on the influences on his writing and on how close his work depends on the gameplay. He has quite a bit to say. I am happy to share his interview if anyone’s interested. Here are excerpts.
So clearly the AAR is beginning to have its own generic expectations.
It also proves to be the site for promoting experimentation with videogames, their gameplay, their structure and their ethics. Ben Abraham’s AAR on permanent death in far cry 2 is a case in point.As Clint Hocking points out , ‘ Effectively, by attempting to experience the meaning that arises from adding irreversibility to Far Cry 2 and taking away one of the things he was allowed to play with, Ben is playing with the game more, not less. It is not the combination of Far Cry 2 + authored narrative irreversibility that is making the permadeath experiment meaningful to Ben and to others, it is the the fact that he is able to manipulte the game to create this experiment that is bringing meaning.’ Abrahams has brought out a book-length outcome of his permadeath experience. For those who are curious, it’s free to download. -----I should perhaps mention that there have been attempts, both tentative and solid, to analyse playthroughs. Drew Davidson’s Well Played, an edited collection with playthroughs by a galaxy of game studies names from the US, is a good example where critical analysis is melded with gameplay. Some of the playthroughs even read like AARs; however, there is no representations on AARs as such.-----
After Action Reports vs Let’s PlaysJanuary 15, 2012Leave a commentGo to commentsI’ve been thinking about the term “Let’s Play” and the term “After Action Report”. I had considered them interchangeable, but I’ve decided there is a difference, and it’s in how the story is delivered. AARs are usually posted on a web page as a story without comment from the audience. Let’s Plays, on the other hand, are usually written up on a forum and often include a lot of reader interaction with the author.With this handy and sensible definition I’m going to start using the terms on this blog with this distinction in mind.
I have just touched the tip of a rather large and fast growing area that connects to both Computing and the Humanities. For example, the question of agency and choice is something that I have purposely left out. On another level, in the videogame called research that we play in our labs and our workdesks, it’s up to us to choose where we go with this new and deep media.
Thank you for your time and especially to Under the Mask for having me here. http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?t=446546 : Guidance on how to write AARs.http://houseofjimius.wordpress.com/ : House of Jimius bloghttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1qF2AF5ytcKNXRESbRuBqw7IqWHSQNpocUXtSUUO9Wn4/edit?hl=en_GB&authkey=CO-L264B: Mike Prescott’s interview.http://bluecasket.sekritforum.com/http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_185/5674-Story-Time-with-Agent-47.3
Reading Games and Playing Books - Dr Souvik Mukherjee, Presidency University: NGDC 2012
Reading Games and Playing Books Or, a game researcher’s ‘leap of faith’
Why You Guys (Probably) Already Hate Me … • I am an academic. I get to talk a lot and do little by way of coding. • I research videogames and say that I do GAME STUDIES (now that’s a contradiction!) • I try to correct misconceptions about videogames. • People always raise questions about the VALUE and the SERIOUSNESS of games research. • Anyway, LIKE IT OR NOT, games are a cultural phenomenon and influence how we understand CULTURE, SOCIETY and ART these days. • Both Academics and the industry need to consider these aspects if they wish to stay in business. • That’s why I’ll talk about STORIES in VIDEOGAMES.
I love reading Max Payne. I mean the videogame, of course.
Videogames as literature “This is, of course, a gigantic debate, played out constantly between two schools of videogame theory; the ludologists and the narratologists. I think the key points here are that game narratives can at least be thought of in similar terms as novels, and that they provide a different insight into the whole concept of story-telling. But I wont be holding my breath for the first game to appear on an A Level English Lit syllabus. GSCE is a different matter, though...” (Keith Stuart in the Guardian Gamesblog)
NOW, ACADEMIA IS VERY CONFUSED … Why all this intensity? Why do thesedamned things have so many endings Who’s the Agent, ? Baldy?
Let me just say that no video gamer now living Videogames will survive long enough to experience the AIN’T medium as an art form!!! ART ???Roger Joseph Ebert is anAmerican journalist, film critic andscreenwriter, who has beendescribed by Forbes as "the mostpowerful pundit in America". The game is "about trying to find a balance between elements of urban and the natural." Nothing she shows from this game seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card. Is the game scored? She doesnt say. Do you win if youre the first to find the balance between the urban and the natural? Can you control the flower? Does the game know what the ideal balance is?
Some people say, videogames don’t tell stories. Then why all the fuss? Why do people say they love the story of Skyrim or Fallout 3? If there’s nothing artistic about videogames, then what are we doing here ? (especially the artists among you)
“I‟m sure there was a time when movies first started that they weren‟t considered art, and it‟s not like movies went to the world of literature and said, „Please, could you say that we’re art? They didn‟t ask permission from fine painting, they just did what they did and they took it seriously, and that’s where people started considering it art.” Tim Schafer, Noted game-designer and founder of Double Fine ProductionsClearly, the Eberts of this world have a problem.
Rethinking Morality: The „No Russian‟ mission in Call of Duty 5
Rethinking Time: Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimePrince: Take this, return it to yourfathers treasure vaults...guard itwell...Farah: I owe you thanks, but why didyou invent such a fantastic story, doyou think me a child, that I wouldbelieve such nonsense?(Prince kisses Farah)Farah: (pushes him away) I said Iowe you thanks. You presume toomuch.(Prince rewinds time)Farah:...Such a fantastic story, doyou think me a child, that I wouldbelieve such nonsense?Prince:...Youre right, it was just astory (gives her the dagger).Farah: Wait, I dont even know yourname...Prince: Just callme...Kakolookiyam..."―Farah and the Prince[src] Theirfinal words before parting in onetimeline.
Rethinking Involvement: Spaced!, British TV serial
Rethinking GAMES“The function of this center was not only to orient, balance, and organize the structure-one cannot infact conceive of an unorganized structure-but above all to make sure that the organizing principle ofthe structure would limit what we might call the freeplay of the structure. No doubt that by orientingand organizing the coherence of the system, the center of a structure permits the freeplay of itselements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any centerrepresents the unthinkable itself. Nevertheless, the center also closes off the freeplay it opens up andmakes possible.” Jacques Derrida “If we apply to science our definition of play as an activity occurring within certain limits of space, time, and meaning, according to fixed rules, we might arrive at the amazing and horrifying conclusion that all the branches of science and learning are so many forms of play because each of them is isolate within its own field and bounded by the strict rules of its own methodology.” Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens
Can you read a story that you readCan you read a game that you read yesterday? yesterday?
Rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, ) : artist‟s impression
Chapter XVI – 204BC (From The Rise and Fall of the House of Jimius, an after-action report based onRome: Total War)with one comment204BC – Roma VictorQuintus II finally reaches the front, having abandoned his infantry for extra speed, but all he gets to do is huntdown a Brutian family member that’s just hanging around. Galerius goes to the boot of Italy and siegesCroton, while Lentulus hits Tarentum on the heel. Meanwhile, a scipian fleet carrying 2000 troops is sunk in theTyrhennian sea. Takes about fifteen separate attacks to sink a single ship, but still. I did it.Tarentum sally with the aid of the last Brutian stack of troops. The pre-battle odds give me 1:2, I think this is meantto be one I lose. Screw that, while I may have no chance in a straight defence, they won’t be expecting an attack.As the troops leave the gates, my siege towers rumble up to their walls, and all the melee infantry I can spare rushin. Under heavy fire from the gate and just generally being heavily on fire from boiling oil, they force their way intothe city. Racing to the square, they manage to engage the relieving cavalry before they can get to the square. Theenemy pour through the streets as they realise the countdown timer for city possession has begun, but thanks tothe dogs holding them for precious seconds, they can’t reach it in time. It’s almost a bloodless victory, but it is oneof the best manoeuvres I’ve ever pulled off. Daring can work occasionally. I’ve summarised it in this sexy, sexytapestry.
After-action reportsAn after action report (or AAR) is any form of retrospective analysis on a given sequenceof goal-oriented actions previously undertaken, generally by the author himself.The two principal forms of AARs are the literary AAR, intended for recreational use, andthe analytical AAR, exercised as part of a process of performance evaluation andimprovement, while in most cases AARs are a combination of both.The first AARs were developed by army generals. One of the first and best examples of anAAR is Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.Contemporary examples of AARs include project evaluations in business, as well assummaries of large gaming sessions in videogame culture. (Wikipedia)AARs are a fun way to read about a game and provide interesting details and examplesof gameplay that reviews often don’t. They also can be very funny, entertaining andeven enlightening! So read on and enjoy as we list to new games, old games and nichegames that may surprise you. (After Action Reporter)
Hello, I’m Mike, I’m 24, and I write game diaries.‘House of Jimius’ was based on Rome: Total War and was a chronicling of a grandcampaign, from city state to Europe-spanning behemoth. ‘The Amateur’ was based onHitman: Blood Money and was a more character-driven playthrough of the game, assomeone who became a hitman by accident. I write a few AARs a year but mostly theystay on the cutting floor of a forum somewhere. *…+What you write has to reflect what happens, the events described must be anaccurate portrayal, otherwise there’s no point, go off and write some fanfic. Sure,come up with the fluff that connects the dots the game presents, but don’t let thatoverwhelm it. I’ve seen some massive, sprawling AARs that divorce themselves fromthe game being played far too much to be interesting, that devolve into florid proseand twiddly stuff that is just filler and distracts from the point of the thing.
It has to be clear what you, the player, have done and how the gameworld hasresponded, you never want to come away from reading a diary with a lack ofunderstanding over what just happened. This can be difficult to put across intext and image form so you have to be imaginative in how you get it acrosswithout being overly boring.With The Amateur I was playing in-character which does help with that. Thatis, you can’t just play the game and write the AAR afterwards, you need tohave played it in a certain mindset and reported on it accordingly, whetherthat’s a sneering disdain for the game, some naive optimism in one aspect, orwhatever. Having something personal that a reading audience can latch ontois important.
Permanent Death in Far Cry 2Death in games is often very… temporary. I want to find out what happens tome as a player if I make my videogame death much more permanent. This isthe story of one game of Far Cry 2 – one single narrative that one way or theother will end in my death. Whether it is at the hands of my enemies, theharsh environment, or my own ineptitude, I am not going to survive thetelling of this tale.The rules: Normal difficulty; fortunes DLC installed. When I die, that’s it.Game over.Let’s see how far Qurbani Singh can get. Ben Abrahams (2009) Permanent Death – the Complete Saga
So why should you bother about the videogame-story ?
Dr Souvik Mukherjee, Department of English, Presidency University, email@example.com Blog: http://readinggamesandplayingbooks.blogspot.comWherever you look now there are white Mysorian flags fluttering. Souvik seems to be musteringwhat’s left of his force for a final assault on the pavilion. His own archers arc arrows onto theflat roof of the building. Bargirs fire back at them from behind sawtooth crenelations.Musketmen edge forward and are driven back by a hailstorm of lead. Perhaps sensing the lastchance of victory has slipped away, the Mysorian leader charges his own horsey formation intothe corpse-strewn pavilion yard. A musketball knocks him permanently from the saddle. From ‘Bangalore Galore: An Empire Total War AAR’ by Tim Stone (slightly modified)