Wednesday, 4 June 2014

ibb and obb

Few days ago I bought on Steam the quite new indie game. Created by Sparpweed Games, it is a puzzle platform game strongly oriented to co-op. The graphics are simple and cute and the game is quite relaxing even if sometimes quite hard. The most interesting feature of this game is that it presents a world with a bidirectional gravity: the two players walk on the two sides of the same platform but upside down.
It is more simple to show that to explain, so here the trailer of the game:

This twofold gravitational environment is the basis for pulling together the two players. Cooperation in games is not always so simple to achieve and many co-op games doesn't involve a lot of real cooperation between players. Ibb and obb is different for two reasons.
The first one is that you can play ibb and obb in two with the same keyboard. On-line gaming has the weird feature of making more simple to play with someone far away that with someone near. When you play ibb and obb you are literally sitting aside your friend, and this create a different kind of relationship with the other player.
The second one is that the whole game has been conceived in a way that forces the players to collaborate, to think and care about each other. Even the system of points has been added in a second stage as an additional spur to cooperation.

I've played ibb and obb with my wife and we both loved the way in which it is a awesome metaphor for marriage. I know for sure that this wasn't the idea of the creators (the initial title of the game should have been “brothers”), but nevertheless it's true. While you play at ibb and obb you should always try to see the world from both points of view (e.g. some portals are accessible only for one of the players and not for the other), you have to be ready to help your partner even when it could seem humiliating (e.g. make the other player climb on your head to reach an high step) and most of all you have to trust him of her completely.

Ibb and obb is not an edugame and is frankly fun, but it proves how video-games, so often criticised, can be a valuable human experience and an occasion for personal growth.

Be (more than) Yourself.
The advertising war between EA and the French Army.

Four years ago I used to live in Paris. Living in Paris – along with all the romance – involves a lot of time spent in the Metro the Parisian subway. It is natural, than, that when the Armée de Terre (the French Army) decided to launch a new recruitment campaign they chose the Metro as privileged location for their advertisements. The result was the “” (become yourself) campaign

Since when you didn't push your limits?” Ask the posters to any French teenager waiting for his or her train. With us you'll have the possibility to do it.
The image has strongly material features: it looks like drawn onto an uniform, with buttons and badges. The message is that this is a serious call, if you enlist you will become a real man, you will be challenged every day and you will reach the best that you can achieve trough sweat and effort. The campaign (still active today) its reported to have had a certain amount of success and the military were quite pleased.
Since it happened the unthinkable. I remember laughing ten minutes when I fist saw it, astonished by the bravery and smartness that brought to this:

Electronic Arts with two simple words “more than” had just destroyed the military rhetoric. Why do I have to suffer and work to reach my zenith, when I can be far beyond it comfortably sitting at my computer?
The image follow this antithetical discourse: it is an immaterial picture, without any background, but far more bad-ass than the previous one. It seems to say “Do you think that they will allow you to pilot an helicopter and a tank?”.

The military weren't pleased at all, far from it. They asked and obtained that the new announcements were retired within a week and they paused their campaign too. The général Philippe Pontiès explained that this double advertising was dangerous because it was confusing: “war is not a game” he said “In a video-game, even if rules exist, most of the time you can transgress them without harsh consequences. Our project is to explain that we have to avoid this video-games logic if we want to enter in the real life. In the Army we have codes and rules. If we ignore them we put the life of civilians and soldiers in peril, we can fail the mission”.

It is very interesting to see how the two discourses, the military and the playful, compete in today's society.

On the one hand we have the military that, with its materialistic image, says that the real life is not the digital life. That to accomplish ourselves we have to be trained, fit and strong. Our true self lives in the real world and it is not granted, it is an achievement. What would be better, then, that the soldier life to achieve your true self? You will learn that the world is out there, that you have responsibilities, and we would not pamper you. You will live among the others and according to them. This is reality.

The ludic discourse is exactly the opposite. It propose a model in which the digital world can be your reality, a much better reality, if you want it. Why should you be yourself if you can be better? If you can be an hundred of different selves, living adventures in every historic period and every nation or planet without risking anything? Your true self is in your mind, and if you believe it you can be everyone. What would be better, than, that video-games to be who you want to be? We can sell you perfect illusions, and you can be safely and comfortably home. You can live by yourself and still meet a lot of digital (and nice) people. This is better than reality.

Both discourses, as usual, don't let any space for a middle ground: you can be either a jar-head either a nerd, no other choices. But it is fascinating that games, that so often have been accused to raise violence in teenagers, are, in fact, in open opposition against the military. You can like both, but you can't live according to the two different realities that they propose you.

Professor Ortoleva has written a small but awesome book on gamification entitled “From sex to play: an obsession for the 21th century?”. In his book he reconstruct the history of the perception of sex in modern and post-modern culture, showing how it gained more and more relevance in Western culture. A sort of sexyfication of society that, after reaching is azimuth, is now fading leaving space to the incipient gamification.

If in the sex-centered '70s pacifist's motto was: “Make love, not war”, in the gamificated 21th century it has been replaced by a new motto: “don't make war, play games!”