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Social behavior and mental illness in the walking dead published by telltale games

Gameplay in TWD is driven by the increasingly vexing moral and mortal dilemmas of Lee Everett, survivor of a zombie epidemic, as he travels through Georgia with Clementine, the young girl he is tasked with caring for, and a small group of survivors. Borrowing extensively from both graphic novel and cinema conventions in its narrative structure and representations, gameplay is based around the point-and click style of adventure games, with an emphasis on verbal interactions and moments of crisis in which the player must make consequential and often split-second decisions, sometimes dictating the fate of other characters.

While conducting observations and interviews with TWD players, we noticed that, despite playing the same game, their described experiences had fundamentally different focuses: Beginning from this central insight, we offer a micro-analysis of TWD players' experiences that documents these shifting affiliations within a single given moment of play.

Our account develops a provisional theoretical toolset for understanding the choreography of agencies that inform whether and how players identify with particular game elements. Overview To address these questions, we first outline how questions of identification have been taken up in studies of digital play. From there, we turn to a discussion of the research session itself, in which we showed participants key moments of their play through the first two episodes of the TWD and solicited their reflection.

Attractors represent particular tendencies sedimented over time rather than concrete things DeLanda, 2011 ; beginning from the recognition that affiliation is a dynamic performance rather than a singular state of identification with an avatar Giddings and Kennedy, 2008; Linderoth, 2005our framework allows us to better understand how this performance is influenced at different times by different forces.

Identification in Play We begin by sketching current research on the relationship between players and in-game avatars. The ways in which players come to identify with in-game avatars has been addressed from a range of disciplines including film and theatre studies, education, social psychology, and ethnography, each varying widely from the other in terms of how it sees identification play out through gaming.

We examine each of these in turn. This work is informed by theories that position film protagonists as the vessels through which audiences engage with of cinematic texts. These studies tend to focus on avatar appearance and behavior in massively multiplayer online game MMOGS such as World of Warcraft WoW; Blizzard, 2004which allow for fairly extensive avatar customization and alteration.

In this view, avatars are agents whose specialized abilities offer players the chance to act out different roles, orientations and outlooks.

  • Beginning from this central insight, we offer a micro-analysis of TWD players' experiences that documents these shifting affiliations within a single given moment of play;
  • Simulation and Gaming 36 4 , 464-482;
  • Overview To address these questions, we first outline how questions of identification have been taken up in studies of digital play;
  • By focusing on characteristics, we idealize the process and blind ourselves to instances that deviate tremendously from this norm.

In a similar vein, both Klevjer 2012 Newman 2012 describe avatars in prosthetic terms: Similar notions appear in studies examining how players use avatars to explore subjectivities and personalities different from their everyday identity. Altered Affiliations While each of these studies offers a productive theorization of a specific way in which a player might relate to her avatar s under certain circumstances, the understanding we seek here is driven by our observations of players enacting and describing multiple affiliative states over the course of a single TWD session.

The game compels these shifting identificatory states, providing a number of different objects, processes and entities to identify with at any given point. When and how players identify with avatars largely depends on what the game is doing to them at any given moment.

Our study extends this line of exploration by not only acknowledging, but accounting for the shifting, messy and contingent sets of relationships that inform how we interact with and interpret in-game characters. In doing so, we seek to better understand how players shift from one affiliative mode to the next, and how this shapes their decision-making processes—particularly in morally fraught and emotionally challenging games such as TWD. First, we describe our study and the microethnographic methods employed.

Description of Study Our case study was conducted over ten weeks in the summer of 2013. Participants 8 in total included 4 males and 4 females, ranging from age 20 to 35. After expressing interest in the study, potential participants were invited to come in pairs to a research studio on our university campus for three separate sessions over a 2 to 4 week period. We encouraged participants to pair up with friends or loved ones so as to make them feel more comfortable. In the first session, participants were invited to undergo an intake interview in which they were asked about their basic demographic information, their prior experience with gaming, and the extent of their familiarity with the TWD franchise whether the graphic novel, television series, or games.

Following this, participants were invited to play through Episode 1 of the five-episode game. Participants returned to the studio after one to two weeks to play Episode 2, involving the same recording process. For each session, at least one and usually two researchers were present, facilitating the session and generating fieldnotes. After the two gameplay sessions, we asked the participants to send social behavior and mental illness in the walking dead published by telltale games list of moments that were particularly important to them during their gameplay.

  1. Here, we use the same instance described above, in which players must decide whether to kill Larry, thereby preventing him from rising as a zombie, or to try to save him.
  2. Qualitative Health Research, 10 3 , 378-395. In the middle of our interview, we asked WD5 which of the female figures she identified with the most; she responded.
  3. To demonstrate these shifts, we turn to a particular incident in Episode 2. In the first session, participants were invited to undergo an intake interview in which they were asked about their basic demographic information, their prior experience with gaming, and the extent of their familiarity with the TWD franchise whether the graphic novel, television series, or games.
  4. This is exemplified by in-game actions which are purposed towards achieving out-game effects.

We invited them to discuss their reactions to these moments, their rationale for making particular in-game decisions, and their theories regarding the motives and actions of non-player characters.

As we argue below, this format engaged participants in a process of microethnographically analyzing their own play. As such, this work is largely situated within the interpretive tradition Angen, 2000in that the understandings we develop result from observations, reflection, and dialogue with our participants.

The particular analysis we offer here is built on a combination of semi-scripted interview and microethnographic techniques.

Themes: Depression

We did not engage participants in conversation during play — primarily out of a concern that doing so would distract them from the fraught and often time-delineated decisions the game demands — instead eliciting reflections from participants by showing them highlights of their recorded gameplay. The data we draw from was recorded during the third and final session for two study participants, WD5 and WD6, as they shared their insights and perspectives on clips from their play through the first two episodes.

Microethnographers build off of these sociological traditions, working with recordings of short segments of data - paradigmatically, audio-visual recordings Erickson, 1982; Streek and Mehus, 2005 - to document how realities and relations are enacted through localized interactions.

Video-based microethnographic analyses have been employed to explore nonverbal interactions between Second Life avatars Antonijevic, 2008 ; kinaesthetic play in school-based gaming clubs de Castell, Boschman and Jenson, 2008 ; the performance of masculine subjectivities at e-sports tournaments Taylor, 2011 ; and, the circuits of pleasure and agency produced through co-operative gameplay Giddings and Kennedy, 2008.

Each of these studies generates novel insights into the human and machinic apparatuses of digital play in different contexts, and each relies on microanalyses of particular gameplay moments in order to generate these insights. The process we describe here involved participants analyzing their own minute decisions in, and reactions to, game-based scenarios.

It is the outcomes of this engagement are what we report on here. Both participants are female graduate students in their mid-20s.

WD6 was born in northern India and recently moved from New Delhi. WD5 professed enjoyment of console-based role-playing and adventure games such as Okami Clover, 2006while WD6 said she plays mobile games.

Neither expressed much familiarity with the point-and-click style of adventure games on which much of the action in TWD is based, although WD6 claimed she used to play many horror games as a child, stopping when she became more serious about school. In terms of their interest in zombie-based media more generally, the women diverge.

Observations We have opted to look closely at the third, highlight reel session involving these two participants because of the compelling mixture of similarities and differences we noticed as they recounted their rationales and reactions to moments in their TWD play. On one hand, they made many of the same decisions at key moments in the game, and thus from the perspective of the software and the data on player decisions it automatically logsthe play experiences of these two women were quite alike.

On the other hand, the rationales they offered for these decisions, and the dispositions towards the playable character, the game, and indeed, the study itself reflected in these rationales, were striking. The experiences of these two participants therefore offer a rich terrain on which to explore the different kinds of relationships players are enacting to digital games even when playing the same game, in seemingly similar ways.

In other instances they described Lee and themselves as wholly distinctive entities. To demonstrate these social behavior and mental illness in the walking dead published by telltale games, we turn to a particular incident in Episode 2: Lee and his party are all locked in room when Larry, the antagonistic father of another party member Lillyappears to suffer a heart attack and falls to the ground.

If Larry dies, he will rise as a zombie — putting the group in danger. In the moments that follow, Lee is asked to make a decision: WD6 decided to save Larry; whereas, WD5 decided to kill him. What follows is the justification WD6 provided to account for her decision. Admittedly, this account came after the occurrence itself, so it does not speak to what the participant felt in the moment — only her understanding of that moment after being asked to reflect upon it.

Her description of the occurrence suggests that she did not operate within a single mode of identification; rather, as shown through her account, she moves freely between multiple perspectives.

Embedded in that same sentence there is a momentary departure in which the player frames her identity differently: The player speaks from outside of the game world, critically appraising the value system she chooses to employ while making decisions in the game.

Her final description further emphasizes this fluidity: In the first movement the player again refers to this more removed perspective as an observer of what transpired. Following the description of events, she refers to the decision as leaving Lee in a good position to manage group dynamics — here Lee is referred to as a separate entity.

  1. For each session, at least one and usually two researchers were present, facilitating the session and generating fieldnotes.
  2. Player character engagement in computer games.
  3. Jenner goes through a deep state of depression after the loss of his wife , his work, and all that he cares about.
  4. Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 15, 309-329. Both participants are female graduate students in their mid-20s.

WD6 does not seem to confine her perspective to that of the avatar, but there are moments in which she takes up his perspective intimately, just as there are moments where she applies her will upon the situation, without suggesting that this belief is embedded in his character. Forces of Attraction We begin with the premise that when playing a videogame, identification is a fluid, ongoing process; the player does not occupy a stable subject position, nor is that subject position guided by a single social behavior and mental illness in the walking dead published by telltale games.

By focusing on characteristics, we idealize the process and blind ourselves to instances that deviate tremendously from this norm. In their most abstract sense, attractors are the indefinite origin of a force that explains the tendencies in observed processes to move toward predictable states; they can be more accurately understood as fields of attraction. Attractors do not represent singular objects, nor can the processes they influence ever ultimately collide with them.

However, we can infer their existence because they have measurable effects on a process that is being analyzed. This force appears in the tendency to empower or constrain a way of interpreting a situation with relation to all other available ways. From the highly specific context of this study, in which we both observed players and invited them to account for their actions during play, we infer the presence of four recurrent, attractive forces that affected their decisions and rationalizations.

The attractors that we articulate are large and vague: Simulated The simulated attractor derives from textual, visual, audible, mechanical, and procedural cues given by the specific game being played. This force becomes apparent when players act in response to or justify actions with reference to diegetic elements of the game world e.

In order to illustrate this force, consider this evaluation offered by WD5: The participant responds to the diegetic rendering of a character, but that does not appear to be the only force guiding her response. The participant personalizes the experience, suggesting a second force of attraction: Lived The lived attractor derives from understandings of life outside of the diegetic gameworld: Participants invoke lived experience because they perceive it has having bearing on the decisions made in the simulated moment.

Turning to a reflection from WD6, when explaining why she chose not to kill Larry: This is noteworthy, in part, because it is inaccurate: In this instance, this stronger force exerted by the lived attractor causes the player to respond more to her lived experiences than the behaviors simulated by the game.

Conventional The conventional attractor derives from past experiences with representational type i. This force comes from observances of past, believed to be fictional signs or behaviors that are perceived as having bearing on the decisions made in the simulated moment. Situated The situated attractor derives from mental or bodily responses resulting from or concurrent with the physical context of play. This is exemplified by in-game actions which are purposed towards achieving out-game effects.

A pronounced example of this force came from exchange between the interviewer and WD5. The two episodes when we were playing, like one I was playing on a Saturday afternoon when I was relaxed, the other I was playing after working for about nine hours. So you probably played differently? Definitely — so it was like, as soon as I can finish it.

  • Avatars as roles, tools and props;
  • In a similar vein, both Klevjer 2012 Newman 2012 describe avatars in prosthetic terms:

Here, the player indicates that her bodily state fatigue caused her to play Episodes 1 and 2 in a fundamentally different manner: The Situated attractor can be inferred when external factors present in a play-space noise, observation, etc. The interplay between these forces of attraction will vary from case to case: Here, we use the same instance described above, in which players must decide whether to kill Larry, thereby preventing him from rising as a zombie, or to try to save him.

In the middle of our interview, we asked WD5 which of the female figures she identified with the most; she responded: I really admire her loyalty to her father, and I don't think that ever really came out in any way in the game, but just me personally like you know you can't choose your family. Despite this remorse, she never indicated a desire to go back and change what happened.