Jamming Econo: The Phenomenon of Perspectival Shifts in Indie Video Games

Jamming Econo: The Phenomenon of Perspectival Shifts in Indie Video Games

Keri Duncan Valentine (West Virginia University, USA) and Lucas John Jensen (Georgia Southern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0261-6.ch015
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By their nature, video games create perspectival relationships between the game space, with its mechanics, characters, etc. and their players. Perspectival mechanics in games like Monument Valley and Fez require one to simultaneously transform the environment, the objects in the environment, and one's egocentric reference frames, illustrating the complex nature intrinsic to video game spaces. The authors seek to investigate the ways perspectival mechanics in video games are both created and experienced using postphenomenological inquiry. This investigation is situated within the indie genre of games in particular, a context where these mechanics are intentionally being explored. In addition, this chapter draws parallels between indie games and indie music, contexts where boundary pushing is the norm. In addition to explicating the phenomenon of perspectival shifts in indie games, the authors review research related to spatial thinking, conjecturing affordances of indie games as geometric gifts, possibly well positioned to support spatial thinking.
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However humble their origins in Tennis for Two (Higinbotham, 1958) and Pong (Atari Inc., 1972), video games have always offered a diverse range of player experiences, ranging from simple motor coordination games like Pong or Asteroids (Atari Inc., 1979) to text adventures like Zork (Infocom, 1977) and social online multi-user dungeons (MUDs), ASCII dungeon-crawling “rogues,” and protean polygonal flight simulators. Over time, the diversity of genre under the rubric of “video games” has expanded. These old models – many of which endure – have been supplanted or modified into a whole host of genres and subgenres, from massive multiplayer online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004) to open-world exploration role-playing games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011). Simulated first person games like the Bard’s Tale (Interplay Productions, 1985) and the Wizardry series begat current high fidelity first person shooters (FPSs) like Far Cry 4 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2014) and Call of Duty (Infinity Ward, 2003). Two-dimensional (2D) side-scrolling platformer series, such as Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985), now exist in three-dimensional (3D) games like the planet-hopping, gravity-defying Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, 2007). Each one of these newer games might have features that were difficult in the early years of gaming: multiple game mechanics, varied challenges and goals, accommodation of flexible play styles, higher-resolution graphics, branching storylines, and mutable perspectives, to name a few. The convergence of these features of newer, complex games form the player’s experience, wherein early games this was often from a mechanical perspective, featuring limited movement, actions, and player goals. For example, an early dungeon crawling shooter like Berserk (Yuke’s Media Creations, 2004) might feature movement in eight directions and a limitation of one bullet at a time. This is quite simple compared to a supposedly simple, newer dungeon-crawler like Diablo III (Blizzard Entertainment, 2012), which features multiple menus and uses an entire keyboard or game controller to play. Obviously this comparison is stilted; this tiny list only scratches the surface of game genres available to current players, but it should serve to demonstrate the varied experiences one might encounter in the video game play space.

In this chapter, we explore perspectival shift in video games as both cultural signifier and video game mechanic, with a particular focus on current experimental and non-dogmatic use within the indie, short for independent, game development space. According to postphenomenologist Don Ihde, a perspectival shift is an ““extension” of perceptual and bodily intentionality into the smaller and larger “worlds” which were revealed through science and its instruments” (1993, p. 3). These traditional instruments and tools might be a microscope, telescope, compass, or a high-speed camera affording viewers alternate glimpses of time. Ihde notes that our perceptions are mediated by these instruments, referring to them as mediating technologies (1993). An example includes looking through a telescope to view the surface of the moon. Although we view the same moon we might see with the naked eye, the telescope shifts both our access to detail and the moon’s size relative to the vast sky. With these technologies, our world becomes embodied differently, affording perspectival shifts.

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