Video Games and Literary Criticism

In this lesson, students engage with their favorite video games as literary works and write literary analysis essays critiquing and dissecting the literary aspects of their chosen games.

Can a Zombie Outbreak be Caused by a Fungus? The very real science behind The Last of Us

The lesson explores the very real and scary science of Cordyceps, the fungi responsible for the zombie outbreak in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us video game. This award winning video game has taken a very plausible approach to the zombie genre rooted in biology. The mutated bodies of the zombies known as Clickers come from invasive fungi like Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is the closest real-world comparison to the zombie mutations in The Last of Us. This parasitic spore feeds off of ant and spider species until there’s nothing left but the exoskeleton. Spores emerge from the zombified ant and is infectious to other ants.

Students will:

Examine and analyze evidence that explains the occurrence of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

Observe representative examples of Cordyceps

Identify the distinguishing features of parasitic Fungi

Research and present information about a particular manifestation of the cordyceps fungi

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What If? Writing Alternate Histories in Pop Culture

 

 

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By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. 

There seem to be more and more video games, TV shows, movies, and other media about alternate histories—these are “what if?” style stories that imagine how changes in the past would affect the future. From comic book series like East of West to TV shows like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (adapted from a Philip K. Dick story), many authors imagine how history would have turned out differently if important events hadn’t happened or had turned out differently. These authors use counterfactuals, a way of thinking that goes against known facts and events, to develop intriguing stories that are somewhat similar to our world but different in important ways.

Alternate histories, works of fiction, still tell us a lot about the world we live in. By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. Some things we take for granted—our government, the way our society works, or our everyday lives—might have been very different with some key changes in the past. In The Man in the High Castle, the Axis Powers won World War II and divided up America under fascist rule. In video games like Fallout, you have a first-person look at how the future might change as a result of changes in the past. Even comedies like the classic Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine series find creative storytelling opportunities in alternate histories.

 

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In this lesson, you will learn more about alternate histories and will use your solid grounding in historical fact to write creative historical fiction about recent events in pop culture and society. What happens when you follow the chain of consequences from one tiny change in the past to a new, exciting, and possibly frightening future?

 

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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

Super Smash Physics

Students explore the connection between momentum and mass while examining the physics of the popular video game Super Smash Bros.

Natural Selection of Pokemon Part 2

Using pokemon, students will be able to understand the concept of evolution, and how it is influenced mainly by the environment of the population.

Technical Foul! Should video games penalize you for cursing in the privacy of your own home?

Have your students share in a discussion and respond to what players of the new XBox One and the PS4 quickly discovered, that if you dont watch your language, these new state of the art gaming consoles will watch it for you.

Both new consoles contain advanced sensory technology that recognize verbal communications and physical actions and incorporates your behavior into the gameplay. The latest discovery that caused quite a stir amongst the gaming community is the feature that penalizes players for using foul language over multiplayer communications and spoken into the headset microphone. Developers of the 2K franchise released a statement, This was a feature we incorporated to NBA 2K13 that we felt brought both realism to the game, and a more civilized online environment for our players…The result was so positive we have continued it in NBA 2K14.

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The Economics of Downloadable Content (DLC) in Video Games

 

The video game Evolve just launched with a $70 base game, $100 premium edition, and $60 of additional downloadable content (DLC) features. That’s right, to get the full version of the game, you have to pay more than twice its base cost. Evolve is not alone.

 

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Batman: Arkham Knight will launch later this year as a $60 game with $140 of DLC, going so far as to make the Batmobile an extra. Even smartphone games have this problem. Clash of Clans costs $5 but has $12,000 of extras. We don’t even want to delve into the money traps that are Plants versus Zombies 2 and Candy Crush Saga. For players, these extras are new and strange. Many people think video game companies are not being reasonable. But are they? Let’s look at the economics of the video game industry.

Destiny, currently the most expensive game ever made, had a budget higher than $500 million.

 

The industry takes in over $46 billion a year, about twice as much as Hollywood. However, that number represents revenue, not profit. Profit is the money left over after all expenses have been paid. These expenses are called overheads. Although revenues are increasing, so are overheads. Around the year 2000, when The Sims and Deus Ex hit the market, most major games cost about $1-4 million to produce. In 2014, smaller games cost around $20 million, major titles cost a lot more. Destiny, currently the most expensive game ever made, had a budget higher than $500 million. It’s not only development costs that are increasing. Video games are also getting more expensive per unit, due to the costs of supporting multiplayer. This cost per unit is called a marginal cost. So, the overheads for game studios have increased between 400% and 49,900% in just 15 years. A product could cost up to 500 times as much to make.

 

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When overheads increase, profits decrease. Many businesses try to increase prices to keep profits up. For example, a Ferrari costs a lot more to make than a Chevrolet Spark, so it is priced much higher. Strangely, the same is not true for video games. A $1 million project like Super Smash Brothers sold 18 years ago for $60, and the $500 million Destiny juggernaut hit the stores for $55. Why do game prices always stay the same?

For this, we have to look at something called “elasticity.” Elasticity means the amount that demand is affected by price. Elastic demand means that small changes in price affect sales. Inelastic demand means that most changes in price don’t affect sales. For example, nobody needs to buy Destiny. If Destiny’s creators increased the price to $200, then everyone would just buy Wild Star or Borderlands 2 or the zillion other multiplayer sci-fi action RPGs. This means that Destiny’s demand is elastic. By contrast, the tap water you drink while playing Destiny so you do not die from dehydration after a 15 hour raid is inelastic. Houses need a lot of tap water and have no alternatives. The price of tap water could double, and it would not really affect sales. So, what do you do if your overheads are increasing, but you cannot raise prices because demand is too elastic? You find money wherever you can.

 

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The result, video game companies break up their products into several pieces to turn a profit. Although elasticity controls the price, it does not control the features of the game. By removing features from the game and selling them as DLC, game producers have a way to generate more money for the same product. It is annoying to be sold a product with some features deliberately removed. But is there a solution that works for both consumers and producers?