Violet

This is a text adventure where you have to force your character to overcome writer’s block and make progress on your dissertation while there is still time. Not just to complete the thesis, but also to save your disintegrating relationship. Though it’s a few years old, it has contemporary resonance for current-day students.

The game is played through an online gaming website (you’ll need Flash enabled) which unfortunately is one of those with distracting and garish ads and icons across much of the screen estate. If you can block those out of your vision, it’s a standard text in visual appearance and operation. Alternately, if more technically minded you can possibly download and install the game onto your own PC or Mac.

Sample of gameplay from Violet.

From the website:

The problem? You’re a graduate student working on your dissertation, but you haven’t gotten any writing done in months. Your girlfriend Violet has put her life on hold, waiting for you to finish, and she’s getting fed up. If you don’t get a thousand words written today, your relationship is over and she flies home to Australia. Unfortunately, your office is full of every kind of distraction, from the window overlooking campus hijinx to the computer on your desk, always ready to show you the latest blogs and web comics instead of your chapter-in-progress. So you have no choice but to shut out everything that’s causing you distraction so that you can turn in a few hours of solid work for once.

The game is the winner of the 2008 Interactive Fiction competition, has won several other awards, scored highly in reviews and gets regular (positive) mentions from the academic press and PhD students for both its accuracy, and as a suitable distraction from completing your thesis in real life.

Gameplay from the text adventure Violet

Bully

Bully, an open world action game, originally came out for the PS2 back in 2006, and was ported to several other consoles since. I played it for a while early on, attracted by some of the event scenes which seemed to be stylistically based on Shenmue fight sequences. It was okay, overall; not really my preferred genre, but I could appreciate how others may take to it.

In the game, you are put into a new school where your aim is to rise in status. There’s lessons to attend, which give you various skills (if I remember rightly, chemistry lessons gave you the ability to make stink bombs), social situations to navigate and, as the title suggests, bullying. Though somewhat faded in memory, the game seemed to be based less on the realities of school life (which in my case was mostly boredom and counting down the hours till the school bus took me home) and more on stereotypes and satires of school days, with the addition of the usual Rockstar Games humour.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Bully was also noted for the controversy over the content, title, possible plot lines and several other aspects of the game – before the game was actually released and played by most of the complainers. (Having said that, there was the lingering suspicion at the time that the game producers stoked up some of the controversy to get headlines and more sales; whether they did so or not, who knows) On launch, and discovering that the content was for the most part fine to all, much of the controversy went away. The game was given an advisory 15, not an 18, rating.

Now, I’m noting that an anniversary edition of the game has appeared as a well-priced app for android devices (both the screenshots on this post are taken from that version). I admit to being somewhat tempted but, as per usual, too many games and too little time.

Looking back now, I think one of my main objections was the horrible haircut the protagonist was forced to endure. As someone who had more than his fair share of bad childhood haircuts (from the cheapest place in town), I can both identify, and don’t want to identify, with a poor head of hair while gaming. Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Game Studies: the game

A game about academic game studies; how meta. Or perhaps, recursive. The Kill Screen headline asks if we really need academics to study videogames. Hmmm.

And so we have the game of Game Studies. This simple HTML5/WebGL game is playable in your web browser. The rest of the website is worth a wander around, too.

A series of five short levels, the game is simple: get the man to the goal by clicking on the ground until he walks there. Along the course of each level, the game will lampoon one of five different theories, whether by having the player dive into a pool to demonstrate “immersion”, having them walk into a circle to demonstrate “the magic circle,” having them play baseball while listening to Snow White to demonstrate the conflict between “ludology and narratology,” and the like.

I look forward to “Game Studies: the movie”, and hope Robert De Niro with a convincing beard plays me.

Secret Sartre

Games about human life are often interesting, and for those in academia or who have spent time in there, games about university life specifically can hold a special fascination. From Scandinavia, here’s the introduction to a card-based game (complete with the card designs). Secret Sartre:

In Secret Sartre, the faculty members of an unnamed university department battle for ideological supremacy. A fragile alliance of upstanding rationalists, logical positivists, empiricists, liberal humanists, scientists and other fetishizers of the Enlightenment must work together to stem the rising tide of postmodernism. Watch out, though – there are closet postmodernists among you, and someone is Secret Sartre.

At the beginning of the game, each player is secretly assigned to one of three roles: Science, Postmodernism, or Sartre. Sartre plays for the postmodern team, and the postmodernists know who Sartre is, but most of the time Sartre does not know who his fellow postmodernists are. The Scientists are far out on the autism spectrum and don’t know who anyone is.

The scientists win by enacting five rational policies or having Sartre fired. The postmodernists win by enacting six postmodernist policies, or if Sartre is elected Head of Studies late in the game. As postmodernist policies are enacted, the Department Chair gains new powers. Even scientists may find themselves tempted to enact postmodernist policies that help them control the table and assassinate their enemies.

From the rules, how the cards appear:

Secret Sartre cards

This isn’t a quick game to pick up; the rules need a bit of figuring out, and a familiarity with card games, and academic research philosophy, helps. You also need several players to get the full benefit of Secret Sartre. But even if you don’t play, the description of the rules is amusing, and it’s an interesting way of comparing and contrasting academic and research positions.