Microtransactions: Sony’s Achievements

February 27th, 2009

reign-over-me

Achievements or Trophies?

I find it interesting how Microsoft appear to have won the linguistic war of words that describe those thingys you get when you complete fixed goals in games and get rewarded for it, you know those ummm….achievements. As a writer this nuance between trophies and achievements both confuses and discomforts me. Inclusion/disclusion of “trophies” in text has the connotation of 1) attempting to be equally considerate of both platform 2) trying to undermine the audience with subtle PS3 undertones in the writing. Both of these I don’t want to do, I just wish to write generally about this new swish feature and the seemingly best way to do that is by using the world “achievement”.

Obviously the off-shoot victory of word by Microsoft was unintentionally won but won in what must be a satisfying way. They have marked a significant part of territory with the achievement mantra.

Reign Over Me

My brother hired out the 2007 movie Reign Over Me staring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. In the movie the main character, suffering from post traumatic stress of some kind plays Shadow of the Colossus. The game actually shows up several times in the movie and becomes a pretty important set piece used to develop the two main character’s relationship. The interesting thing about this piece of product placement is that Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony Pictures) distributed the film.

KemSmyth Enterprises

I posted this on Twitter a while ago, but figured it was worth bringing here too. Take a look at this website and tell me what is so suspicious about it.

Yakuza 2: Institutional Knowledge and The Virtual Classroom

February 25th, 2009

yakuza-2-header

I want to continue discussing Yakuza 2, but in a different frame of mind. Back in my article titled What I Learnt From A Stone Frog Spitting Coloured Marbles, I took the underlying principles of a post by Iroquois Pliskin regarding the way in which games teach players and adapted it to Zuma’s ball flinging frustration. This time around, I’d like to adapt the same idea (the process of how games teach us things) to Yakuza 2.

You’ll remember that in my previous entry I discussed a certain event in which I went into a bar (of sorts), chose a lady of my choice and then proceeded to eat fruit and drink beer with her while she probed me with cute questions. The whole premise of this place was completely foreign to me, as I mentioned in the post; Australia doesn’t have such places…well at least to bounds of my knowledge*.

As foreign as it was I found the whole excursion to be extremely refreshing in a way that a lot of games aren’t. Obviously the “wow, they do this shit in Japan” factor was in play, but so too was the education of “instiutional knowledge”.

As the name suggests institutional knowledge is the knowledge gained by someone who has interactions with an institution**. For example, I go to work and I know which door I have to enter in, how to swipe my card, how to speak to my superiors, how to avoid them when I want to, which people to suck up to and which people to leave alone etc. Institutional knowledge is something that is rarely taught, rather acquired over time. It’s like street smarts for an institution. Institution then can be define in many ways and not just the ones build on concrete and cement. Institutions can range from banks, restaurants and hotels to group seminars, friend relationships and catching public transport.

In the example of Yakuza 2 the game allows the player to acquire institutional knowledge on multiple instances. In fact, the gamey parts of the institutional interactions (you either select product/service, walk around or leave) to a certain extent ensure that it’s taught. Their choices provide you with some light contextualization. With this said there is enough opportunity for both realization and education of institutional knowledge within these environments.

For instance, at the bar place (it’s called Prime BTW) the game drops you into a situation where you must eat and drink. Your enthusiastic partner will ask you to select what you wish to eat and drink, with your choices affecting how well she likes you – incidentally determining if she’ll want your company again*** . The game turns these activities into smaller games which both teach and allow institutional knowledge to be self-educated. The verbal requests by staff colour the purpose of the institution, the way the staff and your lady friend respond to your requests allows mastery of knowledge to be slowly acquired. You soon figure out that buying the cheapest booze never makes her happy, or that accepting extra time results in a higher bill at the end.

Being a game set in a foreign culture, the cultural aspects layer on top of the institutional knowledge. Each country has institutions and the way that participants operate in those institutional contexts change based on cultural norms. For example; the cultural divide between the get-to-know-you-first Chinese and seal-the-deal Western trade approaches, as documented in this paper.

yakuza-supermarket1

Yakuza 2, being a game set in an overseas, day-to-day commodity environment not only teaches the player institutional knowledge, it shares the wisdom of Japanese institutional knowledge. Everything within Yakuza’s institutions are affected by Japanese culture; the way people react to you, the rules of the institutions etc.

So what’s the point of all this then? Well, consider this. Institutional knowledge is difficult to teach, it’s something gained solely through experience. Think of any company doing business in the increasingly global market, a local business dealing with migrant customers, multiple ethnic types in the work place etc. When dealing with any intercultural context these things matter! If a video game can teach a player not just institutional knowledge, but also that knowledge in an overseas context, then there is clearly more merit here than just entertainment value.

That’s the end of the post. I did just want to include a short ranting post script too, it’s slightly detached from the main piece though.

Within the niche of foreign language and culture, the concept of the virtual classroom has been discussed at lengths with the dominance of references pointing to online life-sim Second Life. From my observations of other people’s experiences, Second Life is quite a rudimentary and troublesome medium which relies on pre-made tools and the online attendance of participants. Particularly with different time zones, the prospect collapses in comparison to the breadth and depth seen in Yakuza 2.

Yakuza 2 in reference to the virtual classroom is by no means a perfectly just relation. The upsides include greater detail and attention to authenticity, the flaws come from the lack of pre-set educational elements. Whatever the case, the argument can be made that Yakuza 2 also succeeds as an educational tool for Japanese context and etiquette.

*If I had Powerpoint installed on my machine I would load it up and dig out some references to justify this nonsense.

**Maybe we do? I do think that if we did, the “after hours service” connotation would perhaps be less discrete, making it a different place. I don’t know, I’m not a Yakuza!

***Yes she gave me her email!

Dealing with Lateness and Self Justification

February 22nd, 2009

I occasionally fall into the trap of beginning articles with a short sub-story justifying why I’m playing whatever game at such a late time. It’s a terrible habit and I really out to kick it already because as you know I’m rarely ever up with “what’s now” in video games.

I write about whatever because I play whatever. Sure I lose my ticket to discussion on the super-fun ferris wheel ride of popular games blogging – that is popular within the niche – but I’d rather discuss the merits of some random game from the past 20 years than limit myself to a 3-5 game quota of popular hits. It doesn’t really work out favourably in my case – I guess my popularity can vouch for that, but isn’t this what we need?

I love the line which loosely goes: “In 20 years time people aren’t going to care what percentage X publication gave X game, what will really matter is the content which extends our understanding of X game”. I honestly couldn’t agree more, which is why I try to serve up content which does just that, well if I can help it.

There’s also the fact that such content is very, very hard to find. I mean honestly with a few exceptions who looks at old games from a design/culture/critique perspective, let alone talk about these games out of a “reviewing” standard? I don’t intend to talk myself up as the God of some super-niche (because if so, I’m a lousy God) but I honestly struggle to find this sort of stuff myself on the net, even within the blogosphere.

On one hand I love writing about what I do, and slowly improving on what I’m doing. Having made some category edits to older articles the other day, I realized how embarrassing some my previous stuff was. But the loneliness of writing in such a way can also feel like a bit of a burden, which is why I appreciate so many of your comments. I don’t know what I hoped to achieve with this article, just wanted to dispel a few thoughts and justify my standing on some issues, some of which I touched upon back here.

Ah, that’s it! I forgot to say, I changed the permalink structure of article so they now look like this:

http://danielprimed.com/2009/02/yakuza-2-the-cultural-dynamite/

and not this:

http://danielprimed.com/gaming/culture/yakuza-2-the-cultural-dynamite/

Since I thought it worked better if I ever had to change categories. What I learnt though was that WordPress automatically redirects to the respective article on URL changes so really it doesn’t matter. I guess that’s what I wanted to say.