November 19, 2012 by sczaja200
Halo 4 is a first-person futuristic shooter developed by 343 Industries for the Xbox 360. Released on November 6, 2012, the game is the eighth installment in the critically-acclaimed Halo franchise. There are many game modes that can be played in Halo 4, including a campaign designed for either a single player or two players working cooperatively, as well as a variety of online and offline multiplayer scenarios. During our lab we played about forty-five minutes of the co-op campaign where we received an introduction to the game’s story. Taking place four years after the events of Halo 3, protagonist Master Chief, defender and savior of the human race, is awoken from a cryogenic slumber to begin a new confrontation against a never-before-seen alien race called the Prometheans.
Much can be said to relate Halo 4 to our recent class discussions. For example, on the topic of the first-person perspective provided by FPS games, we could discuss the effectiveness of the heads up display (HUD) and curved glass representation that is always displayed on the screen in providing both helpful data (health, ammo and map) and diegetic immersion (simulation of the glass visor that sits in front of the protagonist’s face) to the player (see screenshots below, which show both sides of the mask). While the topic of immersion is going to play an important role in the following discussion, what I am going to focus on here instead, however, is the more general idea of flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as a state of concentration and satisfaction where time is transformed and a loss of self is experienced during an activity. I think this more or less describes the experience well for me (although I would suggest that the phenomenon might differ from person to person). In the case of video games, flow appears to come from either practice, a state of immersion, or both. Practice leads to flow when the player has already experienced a certain section of the game before so they are prepared for the events that are about to happen. Immersion causes flow when a game allows such a connection to occur between player and action on the screen so that their level of focus is high and their ability to react to new obstacles and move through a gamespace is heightened. Sometimes the two come together, and this is when highly competitive and efficient play occurs.
Reflecting on my brief experience playing Halo 4, I can say that each of the aforementioned events happened to me, and in some brief moments both occurred at the same time. There were times in the game when I felt very little flow and no immersion in the game, however. Such events occurred when I did not know where to travel next in the gameworld or when I was having difficulty with the controls. Such is the challenge with which video game designers are faced. The game’s environment and controls need to have complexity so interacting with them does not become boring, but these two elements cannot be confusing and subsequently disruptive to flow. For me, I achieve a sense of flow more readily when playing against individuals online in first-person shooter games, rather than in a single player campaign mode. This happens for two reasons.
The first reason is that I rarely play through single-player modes more than once so I do not have knowledge of the world prior to playing, whereas I will often play on the same multiplayer maps many, many times and eventually memorize key landmarks. Possessing knowledge about, for instance, the location of places in which cover can be achieved or choke points/bottlenecks where combat is likely to occur is integral for my ability to flow while gaming. In the video “Making Halo 4: Infinity Multiplayer”, this idea is supported. “Whenever we [design a new multiplayer level], we need to concentrate on a few key things. One is that there are distinct landmarks everywhere you look so you can orientate yourself and never get lost while you’re playing,” says Kynan Pearson, Lead Multiplayer Level Designer for Halo 4. Such a focus on providing landmarks shows that the designers of the game were concerned with designing maps that facilitate flow.
The second reason is that competitive play increases my ability to become immersed with the action that is happening on the screen. While playing the single player mode with the class, interacting with the game almost seemed like a chore. I simply wanted to get to the next part of the game so we could see more of the story. Because of this focus, getting lost and dying became incredibly frustrating because they acted as barriers to the rest of the narrative content. Playing against other people, however, makes every action I take more purposeful to me. There is a scoreboard, a kill/death ratio, and other players with which to compare and evaluate my performance. Sometimes graphics and gameplay enhance the level of immersion individuals achieve while playing video games, but for me the element of competition immerses me the most.
Before this class I did not have a name for the state I was achieving while performing near my fullest potential in the activities of my life, such as competing in sports, writing papers, or playing video games. Now I know that the state of mind I so desperately crave can be called flow. By placing an entire world and experience literally in front of an individual’s face and at their fingertips, I think so many people enjoy video games because these games facilitate flow better than other activities that exist in life. Flow almost appears to be a kind of transcendence into an quasi-omnipotent state, and the god-like control video game players can possess over a given virtual situation supports the appearance of such a state.
“Making Halo 4: Infinity Multiplayer”