The Good Human and the Evil Koopa: Designing Friends and Foes in Video Games

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1 Samantha Chen The Good Human and the Evil Koopa: Designing Friends and Foes in Video Games ABSTRACT Like movies, books, and other forms of entertainment, video games tailor their design to the age of the desired audience. This study focuses on the design of friendly and aggressive game characters as a function of the target player s age. Since children are sensitive to salient physical features and are likely to imitate aggressive human models, E -rated games tend to contain human-like allies and animal-like enemies. This difference in the design of friends and foes results in greater physical differences between and consequently easier identification of friendly and aggressive characters. The choice of animallike enemies may arguably prevent young players from committing acts of aggression against human or human-like characters. In contrast, since older players can identify less obvious enemies and understand the justification for killing human characters, M -rated games tend to contain more human-like enemies. Race and Gender in Character Design One of the skills most basic to human survival is the identification of friends and foes. By observing the body language, expressions, and appearance of others, humans are able to distinguish between the safe and the dangerous. As approximations or reflections of life, stories trigger our ability to perform friend-versus-foe categorizations. Video gaming comes the closest to reenacting life: realistic, highly contingent interactions between players and game characters have overridden the label of science fiction. Video-gaming has become real-life fiction. Frank Rose (2010) eloquently reveals the inherent narrative features of stories and games as cognitively functional rehearsals for life : 135

2 Like games, stories are rehearsals for life. We create a world in microcosm, an alternate reality, a world we wish were true or fear could become so. And then we immerse ourselves in it. This much never changes. But our ability to indulge that impulse grows with each new medium, and with it, the stakes we are playing for. (Rose, 2010) Photo Cyril Edward Power British, Whence and Whither?, ca Color linocut Gift of Isabel and William Berley, Classes of 1947 and Photograph courtesy of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University 136 Sophisticated video games come with high stakes: die and pay or kill and play. In video gaming, therefore, players must also be able to differentiate between friendly and aggressive game characters. The identification of enemies and allies is vital for adequate gameplay as numerous games involve some form of combat with non-friendly characters. Therefore, game creators must design characters in such a way that players can efficiently extract character information in other words, determine whether a character is friendly or aggressive. Leonard (2003) claims that the racial profile of characters is one determinant of whether characters are good or evil. In Grand Theft Auto III, many of the good characters appear to be Caucasian. Claude, the protagonist and playable character of the game, is Caucasian-looking. And so are the cops and the innocent citizens of Liberty City. The Leone family, a gang organization which only takes justified actions, also shares the Caucasian appearance. In contrast, most of the enemy characters are people of color. As a member of the Leone family, Claude fights against the Triads (Chinese), Yakuza (Japanese), Diablos (Hispanic), South Side Hoods (Africans), the Columbian Cartel, and the Uptown Yardies (Jamaican). Whereas the Leone family s actions are justified by valid, upright reasons, the actions of these evil colored families only contribute to the violence and crime of Liberty City (Leonard, 2003). Supporting David Leonard s claim, a Children Now study found that out of 53 video game protagonists, 86% were white, 8% were Asian/Pacific Islanders, 4% were African Americans, and 2% were Latinos. Clearly, white characters are almost always associated with being the good guy. On the other hand, it was also found that 18% of antagonists were Asian/Pacific Islanders, 8% were whites, 3% were Latinos, and 2% were African Americans. Since the number of all Latino and African American characters (2% and 22% respectively) is low compared to the number of all white characters (56%), it is expected that the percentage of antagonists who are white is greater than the percentage of those who are Latinos and African Americans. However, 137

3 the percentage of antagonists who are Asian/Pacific Islander is 18%, the highest out of all the racial groups, even though all Asian/Pacific Islander characters only make up 9% of all the characters. In this study, three fourths of all Asian/Pacific Islander characters are associated with being the bad guy (Glaubke, Miller, Parker & Espejo, 2001). That people of colored races are more commonly depicted as the antagonists suggests that players identify enemy characters in games as they would identify dangerous people in real life: based on stereotypes. White people are usually viewed as good, law-abiding citizens in the real world and therefore, are portrayed and perceived similarly in video games. Other types of portrayals of races confirm the use of stereotypes in video games. According to the same Children Now study, 69% of Asian/Pacific Islanders video game characters were wrestlers or fighters, following the stereotype of the Asian martial artists. African-American male characters were sport players 83% of the time, following the stereotype of the African-American athlete (Glaubke, Miller, Parker & Espejo, 2001). Video game creators seem to design characters according to racial stereotypes, and video game players seem to infer character information through racial stereotypes as well. Not only racial but also gender stereotypes help to define good and evil in video games. According to Tracy L. Dietz, out of the thirty three games in her sample, ten of them (or 30%) did not contain one single female character. Of the ones that did, seven of them portrayed females as damsels in distress that need to be rescued. Although some of the games did contain female antagonists such as Rita Repulsa in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Elmyra in Tiny Toon, most female characters in video games serve either as supporters of the male protagonist (such as the female spectators and cheerleaders in sports games) or as objectives of the game (such as saving the princess in Super Mario 2 and in Zelda). Hardly ever are women the main protagonists of video games (Dietz, 1998). Conforming to gender stereotypes, female characters tend to be associated with good, innocence, and helplessness and therefore, tend to be friendly, unthreatening, and crucially non-playable characters. As summarized above, race and gender in video-game character design have received considerable empirical attention. Game creators, however, take into account many other character qualities when designing friendly and aggressive characters. One would intuitively claim that the species of the characters in video games, for instance, is most salient and thus should be the target of empirical research. Correlations between character species and aggressive game behaviors are, however, underrepresented in the available studies. As players of all different ages partake in video gaming, it is reasonable to assume that game creators design friendly and aggressive characters differently to suit the capabilities of both the young and the adult player. After briefly surveying the dimensions of race and gender in character design, the present study focuses mainly on character species, its relationship to the friendliness or aggressiveness of the characters, and the effect of the target player age on that relationship. From research about children, role models, and imitation, we expect that enemies in games for younger players will tend to be creature-like and nonhuman, while enemies in games for older players will tend to be more humanoid. Age of Player and Character Species We use the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating of the game to determine the game s target player age. The target players for E -rated games are younger children under 10, for E+10 -rated games are children over 10, for T -rated games are teenagers under 17, and for M -rated games are those 17 years old or older. By looking at and comparing the characters on the opposite sides of the age spectrum (i.e., in E - and M -rated games), we can understand how the species of both friendly and aggressive characters change across age. In this study, we chose five E -rated games and five M -rated games with scores of at least 9.0 or above from the ratings list on ign.com. We intentionally look at the characters in highly rated video games rather than in poorly rated ones because games with good review scores are more likely to contain well-considered character design. For each of these ten video games, we counted the total number of enemy characters and divided them into two groups, one consisting of humans and humanoids and the other of creatures and animals. When counting enemy characters, we are in actuality counting enemy character designs, disregarding the number of times that character appears in the game. We would count a zombie knight monster as a single character even if the player must face five of these monsters throughout the game. In our study, we define a humanoid as any creature that has

4 two arms, two legs, and face resembling that of a human. For example, a zombie with a mutated tentacle arm would still count as humanoid whereas a creature with a human-shaped body but a bird-like head and wings would not. In order to examine these figures, we obtain a list of enemies for each game, usually from an online wiki or guide for that game. However, as these sources are not official walkthroughs but only guides posted and continuously edited by site users, their lists of enemies may not be entirely accurate (e.g., a list may omit one or two enemies found in the game). Therefore, they only provide rough estimates of the number of humanoid and non-humanoid enemies. Although these character numbers may not be precise (e.g., character totals may be off by one or two enemies), a major difference in the number of humanoid and non-humanoid enemies in a game will still show whether enemies in that game tend to be human-like or creature-like. younger players tend to be animals and non-humanoid fantasy creatures. Although the connection between M -rated games and the percentage of humanoid enemies is not as strong as the connection between E -rated games and the percentage of non-humanoid enemies, a weaker correlation still exists. In these five M -rated games, the average percentage of humanoid enemies is 73% and the average percentage of non-humanoid enemies is 27%. Therefore, also as predicted, the enemies in games geared towards older players tend to be humans and humanoid creatures. The majority of foes in all five E -rated games were listed as non-humanoids. In fact, the percentage of non-humanoid enemies in the five games were also all above or equal to 75%. Since at least three fourths of the enemies in these games is creature-like, character species whether the character is human-like or creature-like becomes an accurate indicator for character friendliness or aggressiveness in these games. Across all five of these games, the average percentage of non-humanoid enemies is 87%, and the average percentage of human and humanoid enemies is 13%. Although these results are only rough estimates obtained through imperfect sources, this difference between the percentages of humanoid and non-humanoid enemies is major enough to show that species is indeed a factor in the design of enemies. As predicted, the enemy characters in games geared towards Real Violence and Virtual Friendliness in the Player s Worlds According to the percentages presented above, characters in E -rated games are generally designed so that they clearly delineate the human-like allies and animal-like enemies (see FIGURE 1)

5 FIGURE 1. Enemies from E -rated games, from left to right: Bowser Jr. (the Koopa King s heir) and Blooper from Super Mario Sunshine, Aecytosaur from Chrono Trigger and Real Bombchu from The Legend of Zelda: Majora s Mask. Therefore, in E -rated games, human-like characteristics often signify the friendliness of a game character and animal-like characteristics the aggressiveness of a game character, thus enhancing category formation in young players: Humanoids become unambiguously categorized as friendly characters and non-humanoids as aggressive characters. Such clear divide assists the young player in efficiently recognizing the good human and the evil Koopa. Designing physical appearances of good and bad characters along different species makes the two categories highly distinguishable. Sensitive to perceptually salient features, young players rapidly spot the friendly conspecific. In the E -rated game Super Mario Sunshine, for instance, children can effortlessly distinguish between friends and foes. Almost all friendly characters are Toads, Piantas, or Nokis, all of which are fictional civilized species that possess human-like qualities (see FIGURE 2). On the other hand, almost all aggressive characters are nonhuman-like species. Therefore, young players can easily use the species of each character, whether it is human-like or not, to identify that character as a helpful ally or a harmful enemy. Enemy characters also share certain key features among them which identify them as harmful. Many of Mario s enemies such as Boos, Chain Chomps, Pokeys, Piranha Plants, Bowser Junior, and Bowser possess spikes and fangs, reinforcing the idea of threat. Other enemies such as Bullet Bills and Bob-ombs are cartoonized, living versions of dangerous items in the real world (bullets and bombs), suggesting that they are also dangerous. Although in this study we focus on friend and foe identification through character species, any common features within a group likely assist in category formation and therefore, aligning player behaviors with friends or foes clusters. 142 FIGURE 2. Friendly species from an E -rated game, from left to right, Toad, Pianta, Noki from Super Mario Sunshine. In another popular children s game, Pokemon Silver, similar design techniques are used to differentiate good characters from evil characters. The antagonists of this game are Team Rocket, an organization dedicated to the stealing of Pokemon. Young players can easily identify members of Team Rocket because many of them are dressed similarly. In fact, only four different sprites are used to represent the majority of Team Rocket. Even then, these four sprites include female and male versions wearing similar uniforms all labeled with the red letter R. It should be noted that in this game, an aggressive character is not equivalent to an evil character; although other trainers may challenge the player to a battle, only Team Rocket is considered as evil. Players can easily distinguish trainers from non-trainers mainly from their location as aggressive characters share similar locations, the areas outside of towns and cities. It should also be noted that although members of Team Rocket are the player s enemies, the player never fights them directly, but rather the player s Pokemon fight their Pokemon. Generally, E -rated games (with the exception of sports games) seem to avoid human enemy characters in order to avoid human-tohuman combat and human killing. The shunning of human murder in E -rated games is clearly demonstrated in The Legend of Zelda: Majora s Mask. The Gerudo Pirates are the only human enemies and only exist in a single level of the game. In this one level, Link, the playable character, can only knock them unconscious or defeat them in battle, each of which ends with a cut scene where the pirate escapes. In this E -rated game (as in many others), the player cannot kill human enemies (if any) but only fantasy creatures. As E -rated games tend to contain none or very limited human enemies, human characters in these games become associated, again, with good and non-human characters 143

6 with evil. Although these associations result in easier friend and foe identification, game creators seem to avoid adding enemy human characters to E -rated games for another reason. Both game designers and parents are concerned about the effects of human-directed violence in video games on children. Research on imitation suggests that children are likely to imitate what they see and therefore, fighting and killing human enemies is likely to affect them negatively (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963). In one experiment about the effects of exposure to aggression, Bandura and colleagues (1963) separated children participants into four groups, one that watched aggressive models in real life, one that watched aggressive models on television, one that watched aggressive cartoon characters, and one that watched no aggressive models. Afterwards, the children were given toys, which were then taken away with the experimental goal of inducing frustration. The children were led to another room with another set of toys where they would play while judges observed them from a one-way mirror. Results revealed that the frustrated children who were exposed to aggressive models played with the toys more violently, imitating the actions of the aggressive models as well. These findings suggest that not only do children imitate real life violence but that they also may imitate realistic violence watched on television and therefore, perhaps also the violence in video games. Video games are interactive and, as such, have the children not only watch but also engage in and act out violence. Video games are highly immersive and realistic due to the contingent and immediate interactions they afford. These features may make the video game a good candidate for virtual behavior that leads to greater chances of imitation in real life. Real violence in the young player s world: Is harming the koopa really better? Children may be as sensitive to harming animals as to harming humans. Independent of the character species of the enemies, video game violence in general may have a negative impact on children. Game designers, therefore, may choose to depict violent characters as non-human for a different rationale and with a different agenda in mind. It is probable that the avoidance of human enemies stems from incidents of school violence. The two students responsible for the Columbine High 144 School massacre were believed to have played Doom, a first-person shooter video game in which the player kills humanoid demons, for many hours per day (Layton, 2008). The adult responsible for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was believed to be an avid gamer who played Call of Duty, a first-person shooter game in which the player plays as a soldier who kills other humans (Fisher, 2013). Although there is much debate and controversy regarding the influence of violent video games on the aggressive actions of these people, these infamous school shootings likely discouraged human-directed violence in video games, especially those directed towards easily-influenced younger players. Even if animal allies and human enemies can provide the same category formation in young players as the reversed human allies and animal enemies, the latter choice in character design is preferred as society finds harming humans potentially more impactful than harming animals. Violence and the adult player: Targeting the human Many video games geared towards older players contain more humanoid enemies (see FIGURE 3) than non-humanoid enemies. As the age requirement to purchase M -rated games is 17 or older, the players of these games are most likely adults and therefore, expected to be able to make responsible choices regarding the video games they play. FIGURE 3. Enemies from M -rated games, from left to right, Motorized Patriot from Bioshock Infinite, Combat Engineer from Mass Effect 3, Zombie from Dark Souls, and Dr. Salvador from Resident Evil 4. Older players in general are also not as easily influenced as younger players and can better understand the justification for fighting enemies, allowing game creators to design enemies that are more humanoid or completely human without worry. For example, in the M -rated 145

7 game Resident Evil 5, nearly all of the enemies the player must fight against are human or at least partially human because many enemies are parasite-infested people. However, in order to survive and to rescue the president s daughter, the player must kill them. The creators of this game expect players to be at least seventeen years old and therefore expect players to have the ability to understand the reasons for their killings. However, since many M -rated games contain human enemies in addition to human allies, game creators must use other methods so that players can still properly identify friends and foes. For example, the game creators of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim designed human enemies such as bandits so that they have stereotypical bad guy faces. While the clothing and appearances of the bandits in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (see FIGURE 4) are different from each other and do not as clearly identify them as enemies as do the uniforms with the letter R identify members of Team Rocket in Pokemon Silver (see FIGURE 5), their faces and other factors help identify them as enemies. In a manner similar to E -rated games, location is also a key factor in identification of friends and foes in M -rated games. The area near the bonfires in Dark Souls and the cities in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are almost always free of enemies, whereas other areas of the map in these two games are full of enemies. In general, video games tend to divide up the map into safe zones and danger zones. FIGURE 4. Enemy bandits in the M -rated game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. FIGURE 5. Enemy Team Rocket in the E -rated game Pokemon Silver. For these games played by older gamers, a new category of character emerged: the versatile character who responds in a friendly or aggressive manner based on the players actions. Because the target player age for M -rated games is older than for E -rated games, game creators not only have more flexibility in the species of the characters but also in other areas of character design such as character personality and backstory. Whereas characters in games geared toward younger players tend to be completely good or evil, in games for older players, some characters are more in the gray area of the moral scale with the ability to display context-based friendly or aggressive behaviors. Because older players can better comprehend the reasons behind the actions of characters, game creators can design more morally ambiguous characters. In the M -rated game Dark Souls, the player plays as an Undead making a pilgrimage to the kingdom of Lordran, where there resides not a single friendly character but instead several neutral characters and many aggressive characters. The game creators probably intended for all nonaggressive characters to be neutral characters so that players have the choice to fight and kill them for their items in exchange for the loss of their services (some neutral characters function shopkeepers, blacksmiths, and covenant leaders). Creating an M -rated game, the makers of Dark Souls expected players to be 17 years old or older and able to make judgment calls. Therefore, they designed characters differently from how characters are designed in an E -rated game, making all the characters killable. Similarly, in the M -rated game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, there are numerous human enemies such as bandits and thugs, and numerous neutral characters. Mercenaries, who will fight for the player if given gold, and city guards, who attack the player if the player resists an arrest, are considered neutral characters because the player can influence their actions. The makers of

8 M -rated games give the player the power to make these decisions because the target player is seventeen years of age or older, and thus the players of these games have the comprehension skills to understand the consequences of their choices. Are game designers truly familiar with relevant psychological research? Whether they are or not, they seem to apply it in designing characters based on the cognitive abilities and maturity of the players. When conceiving a game, game designers also seem to responsibly factor in societal sensitivities to violent incidents witnessed by young students. A question, however, still lingers: How young should a young video gamer be? Z References Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S.A. (January 01, 1963). Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66, 1, Bosses. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Dark Souls Wiki: darksoulswiki.wikispaces.com/bosses. Dietz, T.L. (March 01, 1998). An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 38, Enemies. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Dark Souls Wiki: darksoulswiki.wikispaces.com/enemies. Enemies Bioshock Infinite Wiki Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from IGN: Enemies Mass Effect 3 Wiki Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from IGN: Fisher, Marc. (2013 April 8). Game creators are in the eye of the video game storm. Retrieved from com/national/game-creators-are-in-the-eye-of-the-video-gamestorm/013/04/08/16e2c976-8cd3-11e d62f083ba93f_story. html. Game Reviews. (n.d). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from IGN: ign.com/games/reviews?score=9.0. Glaubke, C.R., Miller, P., Parker, M.C.A., Espejo, E. (2001). Fair play? Violence, gender and race in video games. Children NOW, 121 Broadway, 5th Floor, Oakland, CA Web site: childrennow.org. Layton, J. (2008). Do violent video games lead to real violence? Retrieved from video-game-violence.htm. Leonard, D. (November 01, 2003). Live in Your World, Play in Ours : Race, video games, and consuming the other. Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, 3, 4, 1 9. Majora s Mask: Enemies. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Zelda Dungeon: Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal: Trainer Sprites. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from PokemonElite2000: com/gsctrainerpics.html. Resident Evil 4/Enemies. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Strategy Wiki: Super Mario Sunshine. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Super Mario Wiki: Super Mario Sunshine/Characters. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2013 from Strategy Wiki: Characters

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