How Multiple Chronotopes Can Define Gameplay

After reading through Bakhtin’s “Time Chronotope” article and the ensuing discussion in class about the distinctions that define each game through chronotopes, I found that of Bayonetta to be an interesting endeavor. Chronotopes are an abstract way to perceive literature and games through the scopes of both time and space, as if time were to intersect with a specific space to create another dimension with its own meaning. Bakhtin describes how “the chronotope in a work always contains within it an evaluating aspect that can be isolated from the whole artistic chronotope only in abstract analysis,” which in turn sheds light on the meaning of the narrative.

This idea got me to thinking about the possibility of a narrative being made up of multiple chronotopes. If this were possible and rather frequent in games, then it would create a more dynamic interactivity leaving the player to decide in which way he wished to perceive the game, if not in multiple ways at the same time. So I turned to Bayonetta to explore my idea, and found that, for the strong themes the space in the game does portray, I would be stretching my argument a tad to say that multiple chronotopes defined the gameplay; nonetheless, it could be done, and certainly for the sake of theory.

The first chronotope, and most clearly seen within Bayonetta, is that of the “Cathedral.” When looking to define this, I had to observe several parts of the game. One aspect of the game that lends to this chronotope is the actual image of Vigrid, with stone buildings and very gothic architecture that take from an era in history that was very centered on cathedrals and divine worship. The Gothic chronotope would be rather to specific and thus off point as this game is never described as existing during a certain era, so the history does not apply to the gameplay. The narrative is furthermore “Cathedral-esque” as the paratext describes the game through divine chapters, while the character Bayonetta is actually a witch fighting the sages, with heavy underlying themes of deity struggles.

In Bakhtin’s essay, he gives the generic Chronotope of the Road as common for movement within a narrative. This chronotope is “the spatial and temporal paths of the most varied people” intersecting “at one spatial and temporal point.” Bakhtin goes on to comment on how “varied and multileveled are the ways in which the road is turned into a metaphor, but its fundmental pivot is the flow of time.” Bayonetta finds herself traveling through a world in which she encounters people such as Luca, a human, and even a child, who she ends up having to protect. Bayonetta moves through a path that sets her encountering witches and sages, but always through relatively familiar territories, which is another characteristic of the chronotope.

By exploring this narrative through the eyes of two chronotopes leaves the player with a bigger role. To look at the character of Bayonetta through the Road, the player experiences more of a witch’s journey to find her answers through the people she meets along the way to the end of the story. In the Chronotope of the Cathedral, the player sees a more religious intent of the game designers, based loosely on the war between Heaven and Hell and universal balance. Because this game can be seen through different lenses, the player must react to the game in his own way to fully interactive with the game.

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 5

“Games do not need to make sense to be fun.”  In the video game I have been playing this quarter, a man travels down to an underwater city, gains super powers (like the ability to shoot swarms of bees out of his hand), and harvests mutated sea slugs out of little girls.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most engaging, interesting, and fun video games I have played.  Granted, my video game experience is limited, but the nonsensical plot line of the game adds to my enjoyment.

However, there is more to Bioshock then a slightly bizarre plotline that contributes to the game ‘not making sense.’  This week’s focus was on time in the video game.  Juul claims that time in a video game is chronological; his argument for this is that:
A) flash forwards presume a player’s actions to be predetermined and thus irrelevant to the narrative
B) flashbacks  only work if they are not interactive, thus avoiding an instance where the player altered the events of the future whilst back in time.
This argument is valid and applicable to Bioshock; when Ryan explains to Jack that he has been conditioned by Atlas, there is a flashback to all of the instances when the phrase “would you kindly” was used.  This is shown via a cutscene.  If the player was able to manipulate Jack during the flashbacks, it would alter the continuity of the game.

While the timeline of a game is fairly chronological, there are many instances in a game in which the game time in manipulated.  One instance that I was very familiar with was that of the save game.  A player may choose to save mid-game and continue, or the player can access a saved game at the main menu.  The save game interrupts the game play, and allows the player to traverse backwards through time.  Unlike interactivity during a flashback, a save game doe s not alter a previously created game future.  It deletes that future and creates a new one.   This is certainly something that I was thankful for in the playing of Bioshock.  Yes, going back and starting over at a previous saved point does  work against the idea of a game providing a complete immersive experience; while I am reminded that I am indeed playing a video game, I am a lot happier with this reminder compared to the alternative: dying (which I did a lot of) and being forced to start over an entire level from the beginning. A second instance of the manipulation of game time is when the player pauses a game.  Pausing can allow the player to access different menus, and gives the player the power to stop time completely.  This can be utilized by the player here as an example of emergent play; while playing Bioshock, I would frequently pause the game in order to access the map, game hints, and the game help screen.  Again, the non-diegetic operator act of the pausing of the game further deteriorates the immersive quality of the video game.  However, there are diegetic operator acts that alter the flow of time in the video game.  One such act is the transition from one game state to another, facilitated by an event trigger.  In Bioshock, actionable objects lead to the transition from the exploration state (wandering around Rapture) to the hacking state.  When the player is hacking one of the security bots or vending machines, time functions in a completely different way.  The player has a time limit that is irrelevant to the exploration state; time in the exploration state has come to a standstill and is only resumed when the player has finished in the hacking state.  Juul concludes his article by stating, “Many of the games mentioned… work against the idea of immersion, because their discontinuous times and worlds point strongly to themselves as being games rather than fictional environments.  This, however, does not make them any less enjoyable.”  In agreement, I say that the goal of the video game is not to produce an entirely accurate simulation of real life; the manipulation of time in the video game can be acknowledged without claiming that this manipulation detracts from the fun factor of the game


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Time And Relative Dimensions In Space

Time is relative, this is not a new concept. In the game of Portal, it is possibly even more relative than one would believe, as it is only what you make of it.

In Portal, there are no clocks, there is no sun, there is nothing that tells you that time is even a reality (until the end of the game). This would be a great way to have the player insert their own idea of time and how it reacts with the environment,  but I think otherwise. I think that time in Portal is specifically used to isolate you further, and not only immerse you in the game, but it is used to make you think about relativity.

Portal is a physics based game, one that highly relies on the player understanding their physical surroundings and how they work both within the game and the outside world. The game also forces the player to understand how to break those conventions of their surroundings. Clearly, no person can simply create portals and move from one part of the room to the exact opposite in less than seconds. This mode of transportation is not unlike teleportation, even if it does require certain aspects (portal gel, and gun) to get it’s main purpose completed. This breaking of the laws of physics we currently adhere to is quite common in Portal (and in fact the point of the game), and when you take a look to the type of time that they use in Portal, it is also very much the same type of breaking of the rules.

Time in Portal is relative to the player; if you move to place A, B will happen, but until then you can very well be occupying the same time frame for as long as you want. This is most apparent to the end boss fights in Portal, specifically Portal 2, and their attempt to break time in order to help you beat the boss. In Portal 2, time is re-set to a set point every time you attach a corrupted core. In Portal you can understand your surroundings for a time before you execute an event trigger to commence the neurotoxin. Time is entirely up to the player to use and abuse as needed, as are all other aspects of the game. The game is set to show the player that they can indeed not only create their relative rules for playing their own games of life, but they can also relatively understand their own times in a different way.

Time is something that often affects the way that we look at our future or our past, but by isolating us from the knowledge of time, we can determine how much we are actually defined by time. Chell may have very well been just some other test subject that happened to have been the only survivor, but her past history with the lab is what makes her story so compelling. The future life she has, or believes that she will have, is all that may be compelling her, and you.

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Bioshock and Space-Time

Like some of the theorists we’ve read, I’ve found Genette’s view of time when broken down into order, duration and frequency to be the most useful approach in viewing games from a temporal perspective. Bioshock can also be easily represented by a graph using Narrative and History just as Genette did for A la recherche du temps perdu, in that as the Narrative timeline progresses, the History presented doesn’t actually follow a linear path. Instead, we get a disjointed historical narrative that uses flashbacks and a main narrative, the story that the player is creating as he/she navigates Jack through 1960’s Rapture, to explain a second, background narrative, the story of Rapture from its inception in Andrew Ryan’s brain, to its construction, through its growth and development into an industrial powerhouse and finally to its unraveling and civil war. To accomplish this, Bioshock uses the scattered radio messages as the player’s window into the secondary storyline, which we discussed before as a great Metaphorically Constructed Artifact as event triggers (like leaving clues like room codes necessary to move into the next level), but in this case the radio messages are used to represent the two Histories of Rapture through a single Narrative time frame.

While Genette’s view reminds me how to generically view Bioshock, I think the game’s narration when viewed temporally actually has more in common with the user-created narrative in that the player experiences a user-created temporal narrative as well as. Some games create a restricted temporal narrative using time limits, but Bioshock uses a false time constraint to create a sense of urgency but without the time limit. Thus, the player can sit there and do nothing even as Atlas urges Jack to hurry and stop the self-destruct countdown. Thus, unique to video games and Bioshock, the temporal narrative is created by the player and is singular for each play-through. In my first play-through, I ran through the game as quickly as possible playing on Easy difficulty, glossing over many of the details including the secondary narrative provided by the radio messages. But in my second play-through, playing on Hard difficulty, I took a lot of time to go through each level, looking at every detail that the developers chose to include, from the environmental design to the characters, and specifically tried to discover all of the radio messages, both to better grasp Rapture’s back story and also to get the Xbox achievement for doing so. My first run gave a very faint temporal experience compared to the second, comparable to a fleeting dream contrasted with a vivid memory. As I view Bioshock and all other game texts, Genette’s view will create the framework for my temporal experience, but that experience will always be user-created.

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Metroid Prime: You must be this tall to enter Tallon IV

In Metroid Prime the world is divided into five major areas. Each one is generally designed to fit some sort of theme independently of each other. The more obvious themes are that of Magmoor Caverns and Phendrana Drifts, representing lava/fire and ice worlds respectively. Chozo Ruins is emblematic of a long lost civilization a la Indiana Jones. Phazon Mines is somewhat more difficult to classify, but it appears as the most sci-fi of the regions with Space Pirate technology strongly integrated into the environment. And then lastly is the Tallon Overworld, a smaller jungle based region that acts as a sort of central hub access to all other places.

Metroid Prime specifically separates regions in terms of themes.

Although the world is presented as supposedly diegetic, none of the major areas overlap and are always specifically connected by elevators. Nothing “exists” in the gaps between them, we never get a sense of the whole of the planet Tallon IV. While at first frustrating to categorize in terms of chronotopes, It occurred to me that this explicit designation of separated regions within a world resembled of all things an amusement park.

Consider how Disneyland is designed. It too has major areas based on various themes. Each region is carefully built to take as much space is needed, never spilling into the next so as to not create conflicting impressions/perceptions. Within Disneyland, people usually explore one area, experiencing attractions specific to it, and then choose another to visit. As long as people aren’t tired, the process continues until boredom occurs. This is quite similar to how the operator explores in Metroid Prime, constantly going between regions to progress the game.

A liberally cropped portion of Disneyland‘s Map

Furthermore, the regions are often exaggerated representations of preexisting physical or conceptual themes. Like how Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland exemplify the most blatant aspects of westerns, fantasy, and sci-fi, Metroid Prime also exploits preconceived notions in its areas. Just look at the most obvious ones, Magmoor Caverns drips lava all over the place while Phendrana Drifts constantly barrages you with ice structures and whatnot. Both of these areas are screaming hot and cold respectively.

This also explains the usage of time, or rather the lack thereof. When in Disneyland, the point of being there is to experience attractions and not care about other issues. The specially designed regions aren’t meant to remind you that time is ticking, attractions exist as constants instead of evolving features. It’s easy to lose track of time, to be focused on discovering new things and ignore everything else. We get a similar result in Metroid Prime, that the game has no temporal focus. One simply does not pay attention to the passage of time, rather instead on the passage of space.

To sum it up then, an amusement park chronotope is one that is strongly spatially angled. It is most clearly defined by thematic regions, areas with unique/distinct differences usually exaggerated. Traveling between these regions is frequent, even encouraged to gain the full experience. Time in this regard is always about the present, on what is currently happening. Through this, one gains a sense of the larger world through smaller extreme representations of it.


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Sunny Wong Hotel Dusk: Room 215 Blog Post #5

Our theme of discussion for this past week of class has been largely concerned with the concept of “Time”. As such, my blog post this week will be dedicated to the task of exploring the greater cultural implications of the function and progression of time with Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

This week, I found M. M. Bakhtin’s article, “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel: Notes toward a Historical Poetics,” to be particularly relevant to my experience of Hotel Dusk: Room 215. Bakhtin complicates the notion of time as he asserts, “In the literary artistic chronotope, spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole” (Bakhtin, 15). This is to say that Bakhtin suggests that the concept of time cannot be considered separate from the space in which it resides—the two are irreversibly entangled with each informing, molding the other. In our own series of class discussions about the subject, we attempted to reconcile Bakhtin’s concept of the literary chronotope with our respective games. When it came to my turn to speak, I was initially flustered—while HD: R 215 drew from some of the qualities characterized by Bakhtin’s list of generic literary chronotopes, e.g. those portrayed by the provincial town, the threshold, it could not be clearly placed into any single specific category. The hotel, to me, seemed into exist in a sort of liminal state between the chronotopes of the “castle” and the “road”. As such, I suggested that the hotel could be considered its own chronotope. I would now like to take the opportunity to refine this assertion and to explore its potential implications.

Hotel Dusk is very much steeped in a sense of the historical past. The player’s objective in Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is fueled by the desire to uncover the secrets of past events, whether it be Kyle’s own murky life prior to becoming a salesman for Red Crown or the respective histories of the various hotel patrons/employees. The structure of the hotel, itself, is antiquated, dilapidated, further contributing to a sense of the “historicity” suggested by Bakhtin in his characterization of the chronotope of the “castle”. At the same time, however, Hotel Dusk can be considered as much “flowing” or “simultaneous” as it can “historical”. As mentioned in class, there is sense of temporary-ness that pervades the hotel. After all, patrons do not check-in to a hotel to live there for eternity, nor, once checked-in, are they content to do no more than sit in their respective rooms waiting for one to interview them. Within the diegesis of HD: R 215, these encounters with hotel guests are largely presented as “events governed by chance” e.g. Kyle realizing that the bellhop of Hotel Dusk is actually Louie, a recently-released criminal (Bakhtin, 17).The hotel, then, is constantly in a state of flux—a state of “simultaneity” and “chance” best characterized by Bakhtin’s example of “the road”.

Now, if we are to understand Hotel Dusk, indeed, as its own original gamic chronotope—one existing between the chronotopes of “the castle” and “the road”—the question must be asked: “What effect does this sense of understanding have upon one’s actual experience of the game?” Bakhtin seems to suggest that “the chronotope, functioning as the primary means for materializing time in space, emerges as a center for concretizing representation” (Bakhtin, 22).  His assertion, however, at least to me, seems eerily similar to the idea of “immersion” in videogames—an idea that I understand to be an unconstructive platitude within the field of game studies. That said, I find myself at a loss when it comes to offering an alternative hypothesis. At the very least, I would agree with Bakhtin’s second assertion, that chronotopes “provide the basis for distinguishing generic types” insofar that the chronotope of Hotel Dusk does seem to distinguish itself from other game “genres” (in ways discussed above).

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Bioshock: Shocking Advances Through the World of Rapture Part 4

“A man chooses… a slave obeys.  A man CHOOSES… a slave OBEYS.”
-The last words of Andrew Ryan.

Playing through Bioshock this week, my focus was on space and its relationship to narrative.  Furthermore, I examined the connection between the journey of the character through space and the amount of choice the player has.

With continued gameplay, the player can discover what sort of space the gameplay simulates.  Manovitch’s text gives rise to the idea that the space is reminiscent of the archetype of the hero’s journey.  In the circular journey, the hero embarks on a journey, encounters trials and tribulations, and emerges a changed man.  Manovitch states,  “…as these heroes move through space, defeating enemies, acquiring resources, and, more importantly, skill, they are ‘building character'” (Manovitch).  We can look at the journey of Jack through Rapture(or rather, the player moving Jack through the fictional world)  as one that reveals the narrative in the game.

Jenkins illustrates the four types of environmental narratives.  The two that are most relevant to the gameplay of Bioshock are  enacted narrative and embedded narrative.  While differing, they both share a close relationship with the movement of the player through space.  Enacted narratives are those that are placed intentionally by the game designers. “”The story itself is structured around the character’s movement though space & the features of the environment may accelerate that plot trajectory” (Jenkins).  As the player moves from one place to another, the narrative progresses.  Jack walks through Rapture, receiving directions from Atlas.  Entering rooms, encountering characters, completing quests,–Jack’s continued exploration leads to the player’s enlightenment regarding the story arc of the game. Without the player moving Jack through the game, the player would not know who Jack is, where he is going, and what his goals are.  Jack comes across certain obstacles that have been laid out by the game designer for a certain purpose.  These obstacles help to ensure  Jack keeps moving along his ‘hero’s journey’.

The embedded narratives hold a different purpose.  The game designers provide the player with clues; returning to Abbot’s text, the embedded narratives are supplementary events, or events that are not required to further the story along.  Instead of space as a facilitator of the narrative, space behaves as data storage.  In this sense, space is used to hold information that allows the player to have a better understanding of the fictional world.  Through gameplay, the player gets to learn about the characters that he or she is unable to control in Bioshock.  For example, the player finds radio recordings that illustrates the perspective of several other characters in Rapture besides Jack.  The information these recordings provide is entirely optional to the player.  The player could, if they chose to do so, ignore all of the recordings.  It would not change the plot trajectory, as the story would continue moving along its plane.

Regarding the rise and fall of the Rapture: the player gradually learns about the creation of the city by Andrew Ryan, and the conflict between Ryan and Fontaine.   Is this knowledge an enacted narrative or an embedded narrative?   I say it is an embedded narrative.  This information is not necessary to guide Jack on his journey from point A to point B.  Sans the back-story that is gradually revealed, the player could still engage in a game, “Move Jack through the city and kill Splicers as you go.”  It is the supplementary information that assists in the creation of the fictional space in which the game takes place.

Returning back to the hero’s journey, can it be applicable to Jack?  Jack is on a journey in the game of Bioshock; it is this journey, as mentioned, that reveals the enacted narrative.  Jack’s call to adventure begins with his plane crash, his transformation  instated by his injection of the EVE hypo at the insistence of his ‘mentor’ Atlas.  Facing the splicers, Jack overcomes various obstacles.  It is with the encounter with the Big Daddy that Jack has arrived at the abyss.  The player is seemingly given a choice.  Jack can continue on his hero’s journey and save the Little Sisters as he refuses to succumb to corruption.  Jack receives  the gift of the ‘goddess’ Dr. Tenenbaum, and returns to the surface world.

The Hero’s Journey

Conversely, Jack can harvest the Little Sisters for ADAM, thus embarking on the journey of the anti-hero.   In an article for “The Writer’s Store,” James Bonnet describes this journey: “The goal of the anti-hero is to take possession of an entity and redirect it toward goals that fulfill its own desires and needs, which is to accumulate, control and enjoy everything it needs to satisfy its insatiable cravings for sense objects, security, wealth and territory” (Bonnet).

It would seem that the player is given the control of Jack’s fate as a hero or anti-hero.  As I mentioned in a previous post: “With a video game, the story line, the sequence of events, has already been created by the video game designers.  The road to this goal is determined by the player, but guided by the event triggers, actionable objects, and the constituent events that move the game forward.”  The player has no choice over the enacted narrative.  When they make the decision to engage in game play, they are drawn in to the world and can either follow the trajectory laid before them, or quit the game.  The split trajectory of Bioshock (saving or harvesting the Little Sisters) is one that has already been created by the game designers.  It is not as if it is imagined by the player; the player is given a choice… but one in which the end result  has already been determined.  The entire point of this is to create the illusion of choice.

So, on a final note: Is the player a man… or a slave to the video game?

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