Assignment 1, Reflective Journal Summary
My aim for the project was to explore the area of video games, more specifically the interaction with the game and it’s player. In my contextual essay I addressed the idea of the slippage between the real and the simulated game world. I explored a variety of different issues that I felt needed to be explored further, the one point that was made and relates directly back to my practical work is the idea of immersion. The fact that this form of media takes you past the stage of just watching something, it allows you to take the role of someone or something in a simulate world the majority of the time completely different from the world we live in. Maybe this is the reason why so many countless hours are spent in these worlds.
My practical began by looking into the MMORPG, massive multiplayer online role-playing game. I explored what one of these things was and the different elements that could lead me onto other ideas.
“… a type of game genre. MMORPGs are online role-playing multiplayer games which allow thousands of gamers to play in the game's evolving virtual world at the same time via the Internet.” (http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/M/MMORPG.html, 20/05/2009)
The idea of the avatar surfaced very early as I looked into the online game, the avatar is the name given to the role/character you play in these online worlds. The idea of online game identity has been addressed many times before, one artist in particular who explored this issue was Robbie Cooper, he created a piece of work entitled ‘Alter Egos’. For the project he produced a series of photographs taken of gamers from all over the world. He asked each of the gamers to supply him with a screenshot of their online character; then positioned both images next to each other to make a comparison between the gamer and the online character.
Not only does this simple idea work but all the images tell a different story. From the project he created a book which is a must have because you are limited to the amount of images shown on the internet. On the bottom of each comparison double page spread he has a short paragraph about the gamer and how they represent themselves in games. In many of the photographs he has got the gamer to mimic the pose of their alter ego, this really adds to the comparison because it gives you a clear picture if any similarities exist. The one image that sticks out in my mind is that of a young man called Jason Rowe, clearly from his photograph he has some form of disability, in the comparative shot he looks to be some kind of warrior. In his text he explains his disability and that how in game no one can judge him on the way he looks, he goes on to say that this is the only way he really socialises with people in the outside world, so the game for him is a social platform.
I recreated this piece by taking screenshots of my online alter egos, the result looking at all the characters over the years is that the majority look nothing like me, in fact the majority are female. In my case there is no link between the visual look of my alter egos and myself.
Following on from the theme of the MMORPG About the time I was starting this project the biggest MMORPG ‘World of Warcraft’ was holding a midnight event in London, the official launch of the newest game in the series. Having spent the last couple of years playing the game and experiencing life inside the game, I thought it would be interesting to experience what happened when all the players meet in the real world. The event was held at HMV Oxford Street London. The event consisted of a three-hour queue just to get into the store to buy the game. What was great about the event was several people came dressed in costume, linking back to the idea of alter egos, these people in the queue came dressed as their character in game, the roles have been reversed. Also the fact that over one thousand players came out for the event was overwhelming, another issue that got me involved in the project was the perception of gamers, the common identity associated with the gamer is a teenage boy sitting in his bedroom not leaving the house for days at a time. The people at this event were a huge mix of different people.
A big issue associated with gaming is the amount of time spent playing these games, and the idea that they are a waste of time.
To address the idea of time practically I began to use long exposure photography hoping to capture the change in time over a period of time. The first set of shots I created using long exposure were several photographs of myself sitting in front of the computer playing games. The camera set on the bulb function was sat on a tripod next to the monitor and controlled by a remote trigger. Bulb allowed me to control the exposure period precisely so all the shots had the same exposure so I could make a comparison between them. During the shoot I tried a variety of different shots, as I had no idea how each one of the shots were going to come out. Each of the photographs were taken with an exposure time of ten to fifteen minutes.
All the shots in this shoot were of my head but from slightly different angles. Overall I’m very pleased with the outcome. As I played the game the camera recorded all my little movements so my face appears a blur. As this was my first attempted at these shots, a lot more development was needed. These areas of development include the background of my shot, in all the images the background behind me is very busy, full of unnecessary objects, this can easily be corrected by either moving to a different shooting location or just putting up some kind of black screen. Also the camera angle needs to be decided on, when shooting the shot I stuck to three different levels of height, looking down, straight on and from below. For me the shot looking down seems to work the best because it has the feeling that someone is watching you from above. The height of the camera is about the height of the average person standing up. Thinking about the composition I have to be in the centre of the image because I am the focal point and as I move my head I have to allow enough space in frame to capture all my movements. For me capturing the movement is the key as it directly relates back to the idea of time. In post production I experimented with colour and trying to really bring out the paths of movement in the photograph. Desaturating the image and adjusting the contrast darkened the background and really brought out blur lines what shows the movement of my head.
Long Exposure Two
Moving on with the idea of time and long exposures I experimented with different angles and the time recorded within the frame. My idea this time was to move the camera behind my head facing the screen. I wanted to continue with the idea of someone watching me rather than a well composited photograph.
The camera was set up as before using the bulb function controlled by a remote trigger giving complete control over the time the shot was exposed. The aperture was set at f22 allowing me to have long exposures without the trouble of over exposing the frame. Overall the first shot turned out very successful, for me what made the shot successful was that the game being played is visible on the screen. My head in this shot is just a blur just able to make out the edges. Much development is needed in this shot, what is distracting is the amount of light coming from the LEDS inside the PC tower. This could be fixed by just turning them off, having the screen as the only object in the room admitting light.
Already having the camera set up in position I tried the same shot again this time using an exposure of 32 minutes, hoping this would give me some indication of how the shot would look without the lights from the tower. The strange thing about this shot was, it looks more exposed than the first, this shot having thirteen less minutes of exposure, the same aperture was used. The lights in the tower seemed to look the same but the screen is just washed out and over exposed. I think this may be down to my head movements, my head was in the middle of the monitor and the camera, my head must of just moved to far for too long causing a massive amount of light to reach the shutter.
The downside to using just long exposures is the amount of processing time needed once you have taken the shot. It took about thirty minutes after each shot to see the results. Although the technique is interesting in my opinion the shots are not visually pleasing to look at. It is just a blurred head in the foreground, with a monitor in the background.
The idea of documenting the playing of a game has stuck from the earlier points of the project to the making of my final piece. The idea came from me visiting ‘Stuff Live’ a gadget exhibition held at Earls Court, London. One of the main areas within the exhibition was the unveiling of the newest game in the ‘Guitar Hero’ franchise. In the game ‘Guitar Hero’ you use instrument peripherals to play along to a variety of different songs, this newest game allowed you to take the role as a drummer or a singer. After watching people play this game you start to see a change from when there playing the game and how they are afterwards. The game allows you to become something, in this case play an instrument that you may not be able to play. You become immersed in the game, this is what the videogame is all about, it allows you to experience things you would not expect to do in the real world.
Having noticed these changes in people when they were playing games. I decided to take images of people playing a variety of games. Very similar to karaoke it allows the player to play or sing along to something that they would normally listen to, it allows the player to take on the role of the artist. Experimenting with both long shutter speed trying to capture the movement of the player and still photography, I began to look at the body posture of the person and how they mimic other people’s actions.
Immersion, deep mental involvement.
The idea of becoming immersed in a game has both good and bad points. Yes the player is breaking the barrier between the screen and the virtual world. Something that is intended to happen and does happen when we watch television, but video games have that added interactivity which in turn to leads to addiction. Although my contextual essay is not directly related to this subject over the course of the research I have seen many examples of how games have in some cases destroyed lives. With all things in life we have a chance of becoming addicted to something. Some people seem to live their lives day in day out in virtual worlds. Could it be the fact that in these simulated worlds we are able to experience things we would not be able to in real life. Looking back at alter egos in game your character can be whatever you want it to be. Not only can these games be a visual pleasure they now have the capability of making the player a lot of money in the real world. The example used in my essay was “Second Life’ a virtual world in which you sell objects in game for profit in the real world. Please refer to my contextual essay on the topic of real world trading and it’s impact both in game and in the real.
Robbie Cooper the creator of the ‘Alter Ego’ series also created ‘Immersion’ a set of videos documenting gameplay. In his video he went round schools in London and recorded several different children all different ages playing some of their favourite games. He recorded a closeup of each child as they played the games. In the accompanying text Robbie writes about how he asked each child a set of questions and that the children’s eyes never left the screen, some cases just ignoring the questions. The videos are amazing; beautifully shot, keeping the player the only focus point; he did this by using just a plane background. The child is looking straight into the lens, a technique perfected by Errol Morris and his early videos interviewing people. The idea at first seems quite dull, to watch someone playing a video game, but once you watch the video and hear the soundtrack playing from the game, you see the emotion in the kids’ faces, as they become this character in game.
The Call of Duty Kid
Following on from watching Robbie’s videos I tried out the technique myself, creating a set of videos entitled ‘The Call of Duty Kid’ Using from what I learnt in the early long exposure shot I kept the high camera angle and placed a black background behind me hiding all the unnecessary objects. The reasoning behind the video was to discover how immersed in the game I become. Watching the video back I discovered that every now and then through the video it looked as if I ducked as the virtual bullets flew over my virtual characters head. What really worked for me in this first video was the only light in the room was coming from the monitor. As the gunshots were fired in game it created flashes revealing my face out of the darkness. Some development is needed in this video, the video is far to dark, its only when flashes appear on the screen that my face is seen. The point of the video was to capture every moment of gameplay looking at facial expressions and body language as I played.
In the next video I increased the amount of light in the room so my face is always seen, not fading into the darkness. Even though the light was increased in the room the flashes from the gunshots were still present and for me adds that little bit more connection between the viewer and the video. Something else, which really adds to this connection, is that I’m wearing glasses and you are able to see a reflection of the screen.
The next shot I recorded was a close up focusing on the emotion shown on my face. Really hoping the glasses would act as the main focal point making the connection between you watching me and me watching the screen, but you can also see the screen by watching me.
By just focusing on the face the viewer is left wondering what they are doing, although the viewer may guess it is something to do with games, you can’t be quite sure. Focusing on the head took away all the body language and focused on the emotion in the face. Moving on with the idea of mystery I created one more shot, this time I recorded my hand movements. The video was just me clicking now and then, and for me was not really that interesting. Maybe I gave too much away, as soon as the mouse it shown you can instantly see it’s something to do with a computer, plus the soundtrack and you know exactly what’s going on.
The Portrait of a Gamer
An on going set of videos and photographs focusing on the different play styles of each person and the type of people that play games. In this set of videos the plan was to isolate the player. I was going to use a blue screen to create a black background. I got a screen from the media store and it turned out to be portrait background, I decided to try out the background. The results were fantastic; it isolated the player but also added something to the video. I asked each person I filmed to play a series of maths challenges on the Nintendo DS, a portable game device. This background reminds me of something quite academic, it reminds me very much of the photographs that are taken at school, which works quite well with these brain challenges. The viewer of the photograph or video does not know what the person is actually doing so I hope the background suggests that.
The inspiration for creating these sets of videos of many people performing the same task came from Candice Breitz and her work ‘Karaoke’. She asked a number of people to sing along to a track while she filmed them. What was really interesting about the piece was the way she presented it. She had several televisions going round in a circle, each television playing a different person singing along to the same track. The viewer was asked to enter the circle and be surrounded by a wall of sound.
As I did not have the resources to gather several televisions at that moment in time, I began to create single screen video collages. For each person I took a portrait style shot with the DS in shot and a close up of the face. I felt the wider shot worked well because it showed more of the body and the tiny swifts in movement they played the game. Even though I have included the DS in shot, I feel like the viewer would still not know what is actually happening apart from these people are all hold a white brick in their hands.
The first video created had four people each taking a quarter of the square frame. Though it seemed to work very well I wanted to know what would happen if more people were added so a greater comparison of players could be seen. The last shot of this small project was of eight people, 4x2 on a 6:9 ratio screen. To peruse this idea further I would need to think about the models I had, because I was trying out the technique I used the people that were around me, they all had that student look to them. Part of the reasoning behind the project was looking at the diversity of people that play these games.
The simulation of this activity first came up when I visited the ‘Stuff Live exhibition’ in which the players were simulating the activity of playing instruments and playing in a band. Simulation would allow you to perform a task, which you may not be able to perform in the real or even train you to perform that action without any real risk.
I began to create videos using the game showcased at the ‘Stuff’ event, ‘Guitar Hero World Tour’. I filmed a close-up of a player as she played a track from the game using the drum peripheral. I used enough light in the room so her face was constantly illuminated. I decided on the close-up because I felt I did not give too much away to the viewer. I want the viewer to sit and watch the video so over time they might figure out what’s going on.
Continuing with the drumming and ‘Guitar Hero’ I went back to the collage idea and created some comparison shots between two people playing the game. I used three different camera angles exploring which would work, mid shot, body shot and a close-up. The close-up worked because it had some strangeness to it, you sit and watch a couple of heads as they bob up and down to track being played.
In my opinion this was the turning point for quality in my videos. For the earlier videos I made, I used a small handycam with some exposure functions, this worked fine until you wanted to control the focus and work in low light. The Sony Z1 allowed me to have complete control over the focus and exposure as well as giving a superb image quality. An extra to using the camera was being able to use an external microphone allowing me to capture specific areas of sound. Testing out the camera I reshot some of my earlier experiments testing out what the camera was capable of. Some of the new shots I took, included experimenting with the ‘Nintendo Wii’, and the game ‘Wii Fit’, a game that helps you exercise by using a balance board and a variety of different games. The activity I recorded being played was Hula Hoop. I decided to go for close-up of the face, as this type of shot had always been successful throughout the project.
As the player simulated the activity of hula hooping the models head continually went out of frame. For my other videos I made the point of always keeping the action inside the frame because I wanted to approach each shot as if it was a documentary allowing the viewer to see everything.
In the case of the hula hoop it just worked, when the model disappears out of frame it implies to me that something else is going on. Not only is the action mesmerising it seems quite sexual. The player seems to be just standing there bobbing up and down for one minute. As part of the video I have also included the soundtrack, it’s not until you have listened to the soundtrack for a while that you may begin to figure out what’s going on in the shot. Development to the shot would include lighting and background. The video as a whole is quite dark, next time I will have to think about the exposure a bit more. As for the background, I filmed the shot in a living room so there is a clock and a bookshelf in the background. The shot has great potential once the issues have been addressed.
Drumming, as part of the experimentation process with the HD camera, I went back and filmed the same shots again using the drumming from ‘Guitar Hero’. This time I focused on the illumination coming from the screen. Throughout the project I have always commented on how the illumination from the screen and lights up areas of the face at key points of game play. In the first shot all the lights in the room had been turned off so much of the video at the beginning is dark, just beging able to see the outline of the face over time flashes would appear revealing the face. I then moved on to the next stage developing the shot, in all my videos before this point I had kept the soundtrack from the game. In the latest video I totally removed the game noise and recorded the sound made when hitting the wooden drumsticks onto the plastic drum peripheral. The result from the video was you felt very detached at first because not a lot is happening, as the video plays on the flashes and the screen come in and make the connection between the television some kind of interaction to it.
At this point I had two directions I could have gone, Wii Fit or Guitar Hero. I went with the Hula Hoop because it was far more thought provoking than someone sitting there with drumsticks playing along to a song in silence.
Taking into account what worked and what didn’t over the course of the project I decided to go with using close-ups in all my final shots and to create some kind of video collage comparing different play styles. For my final videos I have filmed eight different people both male and female with a variety of different ages. Something that came to my attention in the developing shots was the background. All my shots were filmed in front of some plain wallpaper so nothing could distract you from the models movements. As for my presentation strategy I have taken what I have learnt from looking at Candice Breitz’s videos and decided to make a multi screen video installation involving the viewer in my piece of art.
I have decided upon a living room environment, inviting the viewers to sit down on a sofa and watch several screens. The reasoning behind this decision is looking at the type of place the game is played. This game is usually played in a living room by just yourself. For me this action would be quite embarrassing to perform in front of people I have never met before. By showing these screens like this I am breaking the barrier and letting people in on this action. The act of playing looks so strange, that’s what drew me to it. I want the viewer to make their own mind up, as to what the player is actually doing.
The premise for my final piece is commenting on the action of simulation, no longer are we expected to leave our house to play these sports, we can now simulate the activity in the comfort of our homes in front of the TV.
This has been a reflective summary of my work to date, please refer to my workbooks and journals for more examples of artist research and more details on the development process.
References Used in Essay
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Under the Mask Papers 2008, Under the Mask University of Bedfordshire