“Let’s Pah-rty!”: Mario Party 4 Analysis

2

October 18, 2012 by axelordz

Axel Ordonez

Mario Party 4: Video Game Analysis

Mario Party 4 is, as the title explains, the fourth installment of the Mario Party series. Released in 2002, it was the first game in the series (and in general) on the newly released GameCube console. Mario Party 4 is a simulation game, with  a touch of strategy. The game is basically a series of electronic board games, with the universal goal of trying to get as many stars in each game; the player with the most stars at the end of a predetermined set of turns wins. Every person has a turn to roll a dice to determine how many spaces they advance. After everyone has rolled, there are mini-games where every character competes in, sometimes in a team with one or two and sometimes on their own. Mario Party 4 has embraced the theories of James Newman surrounding ergodicity and visuals (and its unimportance) and Gonzalo Frasca’s theory of simulation through its unique gameplay experience.

In Mario Party 4, Newman’s points about ergodicity (and its fragmented nature) in video games are well illustrated. Neman claims “videogames present highly structured and, importantly, highly segmented experiences.” Mario Party 4 is nowhere near to being a solid continuous stream of ergodicity. Every character has to wait their turn and after each mini-game, there is a short “break”; that is, a moment of non-ergodicity that rewards the winner(s) of the mini-game with coins and shows the ranking of the players along with their coin and star count. There are other interruptions to the normal play of a board, like Bowser spaces (where Bowser usually takes things from you), Battle spaces (mini-games where everyone has to bet a universal amount to win), and Happenings spaces (which causes some interaction from the board and your character). This insures that the intense ergodic moments of engagement are scattered and framed by periods of far more limited ergodicity.

 

We can begin to see that the binarism of On-Line and Off-Line is insufficient to capture the variety of states of engagement. For this reason, On-Line and Off-Line engagement should be thought of as the polar extremes of an experiential or ergodic continuum.’

 

Newman states that, in terms of characters, “it doesn’t matter that it’s a burly guy – or even a guy – or even perhaps a human;” but what if a gorilla? Yes, it doesn’t matter what character you choose in Mario Party 4, none have any advantages over the others and this perfectly illustrates Newman’ point of kinesthetics triumph over visuals. The appearance of Donkey Kong or Princess Peach isn’t crucial to the gameplay but the way it feels to be in the Mario Party 4 gameworld is.

 

Most importantly, Mario Party 4’s most defining quality lies in the fact that it is a simulation of a typical board game. Frasca claims that simulation is the “act of modeling a system A by a less complex system B, which retains some of A’s original behavior” and Mario Party 4 is just that, a virtual board game modeled after a real board game, but less complex. Rather than traditionally rolling dice across the playing surface, a spinning dice simply appears above your head when you need it; rather than personally organizing and handling your own items, cards, game pieces, etc. in board games, the computer automatically quantifies and arranges all of your possessions and moves. Because of this, we can assert that Mario Party 4 is hardly a narrative, but simpley a “first hand experience of a dynamic system” (Frasca). That is, after all, why the Mario Party series has reached so many sequels; each new installment changes the dynamic system just enough to cause an renewed interest in the whole game.

 

All in all, Mario Party 4 doesn’t prove to challenge much of any standing game theories, but its unique gameplay and setup actually encourages and empowers the very theories of Newman and Frasca about ergodicity, visuals, and simulation.

 

Works Cited

Frasca, Gonzalo. “SIMULATION 101: Simulation versus Representation.” Ludology.org.
N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ludology.org/articles/sim1/simulation101.html&gt;.

Newman, James. “The Myth of the Ergotic Videogame: Some thoughts on player-character     relationships.” Game Studies 2.1 (July 2002) : n. pag. October 2012

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2 thoughts on ““Let’s Pah-rty!”: Mario Party 4 Analysis

  1. nklempf says:

    Very perceptive analysis. I find the connection you make to Frasca’s claim (simulation is the “act of modeling a system A by a less complex system B, which retains some of A’s original behavior”) particularly interesting. I have a lot experience with Mario Party. In fact, I started with the original one for the Nintendo 64. But, I never thought of the game as a simulation of a “simpler” board game. I agree with your points on the simplified simulation of the dice roll and automatic organization items, cards, game pieces, etc. But, I often thought of Mario Party as a more complex system in many regards. It’s important to remember that there are features that are inherently unique to a video game. For instance, after every player completes his/her turn, a mini-game is initiated. These mini-games have cut-scenes usually introducing the game or its players and acknowledging the winner. Cut-scenes are a complex addition to the game. It is much simpler to not have cut-scenes. These cut-scenes no doubt diminish the ergodicity of the game, and this game would still be functional if they were deleted. So, my point is that cut-scenes are not fundamental to the game, and add a layer of complexity to the video game that’s not found in traditional board games; thereby, contradicting Frasca’s claim. Also, these mini-games require more advanced skills than do those of traditional board games. A lot of the games emphasize hand-eye coordination and reaction time, neither of which can be tested in ordinary board games. In this sense, I really do think it is more complex. So, I think Frasca’s claim is limited, and cannot be applied to Mario Party 4 without some concessions.

  2. eclare138 says:

    Do you think it could be argued that Mario Party isn’t a simulation of a board game, but is just an electronic board game? Though you say that the game managing different forms of minutiae (rolling dice, keeping track of stats, etc) is a way of simplification. But couldn’t it be argued that it’s also streamlining the experience? Or do you think that things like rolling dice add to the board game experience (assuming the game uses true dice rolls at all). To me, even if it is a computerized board game, it can still be a board game. To use an example I’m more familiar with that has both traditional board versions is Clue. Even though there are definite aspects of the board game that the computer can’t match (moving the pieces, rolling the dice, playing with the mini weapons) the computer still has all the rules and mechanics of the board game, and like noted above can add visual elements that the board game cannot have (animations showing the characters moving though the house, cut scenes illustrating different murders). But if they’re the same game in terms of complexity, just with different features, could you say that one is a simulation of the other? Not to mention the different versions of board Clue that have varying levels of complexity in terms of visual style and play (Anniversary Edition VS Classic).

    TL;DR What I’m trying to say is I disagree that it’s a simulation but rather a board game in it’s own right.

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