The Microecology of a Single Game

Bogost talks about a microecology of the entire medium of video games, which got me thinking that we’ve reached a point in gaming where individual games have their own microecologies, and this has been the case for a while even before How to Do Things was published in 2011.

Let’s take Bioware’s big franchises, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, as examples, just because they sprang to mind first.  Bogost mentions Mass Effect in the chapter on games as titillation, specifically its romantic component, which factors into the series’ mission statement about player choice.  Mass Effect 2 in particular presents you with the option to talk to party members and develop bonds with them, eventually prompting a “loyalty mission” that will determine if they survive the end-game “suicide mission.”  You aren’t required to perform all of the loyalty missions, do all of the preparation sidequests, or even collect all of the party members to play the final mission and fight the final boss, but you should if you want your character to survive into Mass Effect 3.  The Mass Effect games offer so much choice that it’s extremely unlikely any two players will have exactly the same experience, even if it’s a difference as simple as choice of weapon or whether or not one player opted to buy all the fish and/or spaceship models.

The point is, people play games differently.  In a game with romantic subplots guided by the player like Dragon Age, certain players will tend to be most interested in the romances, while others may find themselves more compelled with the most effective character builds (I know people who focus on the romance and other people who are interested in both the romance and optimizing mechanics).

In Pokemon, you have subcultures of shiny hunting, EV and IV training, and catching ’em all.  Capturing a shiny Pokemon isn’t a necessary component of any Pokemon game, nor are you required to capture every single Pokemon.  You can beat the game without touching the complicated metagaming involved in optimizing the EVs and IVs underlying your Pokemon’s stats, which can require intensive capturing and breeding.  Similarly to both this and Bioware’s offerings, in Fire Emblem Awakening, you can pair units romantically because you want them to be a couple or because the stats they give to their children would be beneficial to the child’s class.

I’d be surprised if Bogost hasn’t written anything on how players can utilize auxiliary content in games, and I’d be very interested to know if and how he applies his media ecology to specific games.

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One Response to The Microecology of a Single Game

  1. cso9 says:

    You make a good point here, as though games have sub-microecologies that could be meticulously delved into.

    I think it’s more than that people play games differently, it’s also that games can be constructed very diversely from one another. Bogost does elaborate on this throughout his chapters. Some games, like “lean-forward” games, are created to impose a challenge for the gamer, forcing them to employ concentrated consciousness throughout playing, strategizing, and analyzing. Casual games are intended to occupy, such as for apps and online gaming, but are generally short-lived for this reason. There are games invented for titillation, exercise, and even for simply the decision-making/cause&effect such as The Sims or The Stanley Parable.

    With that said, I completely agree that it is a bit odd to group different games to a particular category. While I understand why Bogost chose to set the book up like this, applying various examples of video games to specific purposes they serve, I feel there is definitely room to discuss how they can envelope each other.

    A game can be interpreted entirely differently depending on what options are available to the player and how they choose to utilize them. I, too, would be interested in knowing more about the application of microecology to individual games (the games within the game!)


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