October 18, 2012 by axelordz
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.
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>.
Newman, James. “The Myth of the Ergotic Videogame: Some thoughts on player-character relationships.” Game Studies 2.1 (July 2002) : n. pag. October 2012