The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games 03.30.04

Greetings, friends! It’s that Tuesday time once again, and so it’s me and Marvin, here to take in The News.

Yes, a short intro this week. But that’s because there’s lots to cover.

News

Kingdom Hearts on GBA

News has just been released of a new game in Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series. Currently entitled “Chain of Memories”, the game is set for release on the GBA, and takes place in the time period between the end of the first game and the beginning of the up-coming PS2 sequel. Details are sketchy, but the game appears to be based around a card-battling combat system. Interesting to note is that the development is not being done internally by Square Enix, but rather by a company known as Jupiter, whose most famous works in recent years were, or all things, Pokemon Pinball. Screenshots and such can be found at cubed-3.co.uk.

Misha: I can hear the cries of “Holy Crap” echoing across the world… I’ll admit to a fondness for Kindom Hearts (so many references, so little time), and if this game lives up to expectations, I’ll be a very happy geek indeed…

credit: cubed-3.co.uk

Mario vs Donkey Kong: FIGHT!

Well, not exactly. But the new Mario vs Donkey Kong game for GBA looks to be shaping up well, as can be seen from these screenshots, courtesy of gamesradar.co.uk.

Misha: Well, my optomism is holding. I always think fondly of Donkey Kong, especially on the original GB, with all those extra levels…

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

Gundam vs Gundam: FIGHT!

This time, it *is* what it sounds like. Bandai are releasing new versions of their Gundam Battle Assault games franchise. Battle Assault 3 will be appearing on PS2, while the GBA will get Gundam Seed: Battle Assault (which I’m told is a separate spin-off series). All pictures courtesy of The Magic Box.

Marvin: So… More combat. Big mecha fighting. nice. But where’s my Gundam Wing game?

credit: The Magic Box.

Capcom goes to the movies

Clearly somebody at Capcom was readin mine and Marvin’s berating of insufficient promotional footage; this week, there’s a very special movie with footage of not one, but TWO of their upcoming games. The games in question are, of course, Resident Evil 4 and Killer 7. View the movie here thanks to GamesRadar

Marvin: If I had saliva ducts, I’d be drooling right now…
Misha: don’t worry, I’m drooling enough for the both of us…

credit: gamesradar.co.uk

Commentary

Those of you who’ve been paying attention the past few weeks will have noticed a recurring trend in the columns: the occasional reference to one or another more-than-slightly-odd flash animation. Now the reason (other than “I like them”) will become clear, as a delve is taken into the world of that classic aspect of internet subculture, the Meme.

In all things, to begin with a definition is good. The word “meme” (pronounced “meem”, to rhyme with ‘gene’) was originally coined by the prominent geneticist Richard Dawkins in his work, The Selfish Gene. In the book, he defines a meme as a unit of intellectual or cultural information, which can be passed from person to person; the idea being that a meme is merely an idea or concept that is capable of being spread. Recently, the definition has been expanded to more clearly definte the nature of the meme as a ‘replicator’; particularly in the context of their apparent tendencies to proliferate themselves by effectives hijacking human brains to do so. Just as a virus will occupy a host, and use that host to reproduce itself (often causing other untoward side-effects), so the meme occupies a human brain in order to spread itself to other brains via communication1.

Memes, by their definition, have been around since the dawn of time. The earliest memes would have been things like “how to make fire”; ideas that human beings had to retain and proliferate in order to continue the existence of the species. However, in recent times, the whole concept has been turn on its head with the arrival of a very different aspect if memetics; the so-called “Internet Meme”; this is where a random thought/idea/concept/quote/etc somehow manages to spread itself through the massed communication medium that is the internet. Remember “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”? That was a classic Internet Meme. More recently, I’m sure you’ve all been sent the Badgers website Sometimes, people will not even understand why they spread the memes; it’s just something that happens. And it’s not just flash animations or obscure bits of badly-translated video game text that it happens to. Circular emails can also be considered memetic: everything from False Virus Alerts to the Microsoft/Disney Email Tracker Program email are all designed along memetic lines (i.e they are created to propagate themselves across the internet by compelling people to forward them).

One thing that has always fascinated me about memetics: the methods which memes deploy in order to replicate themselves. Important culturally-significant memes (such as the fire example) will propagte themselves out of necessity. Slightly less vital memes may spread via like-minded people attempting to spread their ideas to others (whether it be a political viewpoint, philosophical concept, or whatever). But most internet memes serve no such purpose. By and large, they are werely parasites on the world’s bandwith. So how do they do what they do?

Some will use fear as a motivator (virus alert emails). Others may use greed (Nigerian banking scams, etc). Some may merely take advantage of the paricularly twisted person who actively enjoys infecting other people’s brains with that sort of thing
*Mentioning no names…
Ssssh! Be quiet! I’ll have you know that I only do what I do out of a genuine scientific interest!
*Just keep telling youself that…
Anyway. As I was about to say, from my observations of the subculture, by far the most common way in which online memes are spread is by humour.

The logic behind this is obvious. Somebody sees something they find funny, they laugh, endorphins are released into the brain, and the brain makes a causal link between the meme and the pleasant experience of the endorphins. Thus, a very mild addiction has begun to form. At that point, the person may decide that he/she somehow “owes it to their friends” to share this positive experience. Or they may decide that the joke will be funnier if other people share it with them. There are any number of thought processes that could occur in this instance; it’s all part of the way in which a joke meme spreads itself. Once this decision is mad, the person sends the link to their friends, or logs onto IM/IRC and tells everybody to go to the site. Thus the meme spreads via an exploitation of a loophole in human brain chemistry.

But the other aspect of this which intrigues me is the “wierd” memes. An ordinary joke has a certain humour value attached to it. As does a Photoshop-doctored image. But something like Scampi is just odd. there is no earthly reason for any sane person to spread it. So why does it replicate so readily?

The best explaination I saw about this phenomena was found in Scott Adams’ (writer/artist of Dilbert) book The Joy Of Work. In one chapter, he explains his own formula for creating humour; his idea being that there are six main “dimensions” of what’s funny: these include things like Cuteness, Recognisability and Meanness (his model being that good humour is created when a joke features elements from two of more of these categories). He mentions that the Bizzare is one of those dimensions, and put forward the idea that part of humour can be achieved by taking things that don’t fit, or are strange twists on something else, or are just downright odd (his usual example is animals that walk and talk like humans). Additionally, he mentions the idea of Cleverness as a part of humour: in particular, he refers to the humour of “broken logic”, where something is twisted to that wafer-thin line where all sense is lost
, but the brain will still try to make sense of it all. In those sorts of situations, argues Adams, the brain will mull the problem over, and realise that there’s something not quite right. At this point, the brain experiences something akin to a ‘system crash’, except instead of falling over with a Blue Screen Of Death, it merely thinks “I don’t know what do to with this
, so I’m going to default to a laugh reflex”. At that point, the positive reinforcement I mentioned earlier comes into play again.

To my mind, the best sorts of flash-animations are the ones that work like that: the brain knows deep down that they’re not actually that funny, yet still reacts like they are. And so the humour-trigger sets off the spread.

To finish, I’d like to point you all to a little thing I invited the rest of the Kliq to try: the Human Virus Scanner. Check and see if you’ve been infected with any of a selection of common memetic virii…

1It should be noted, at this point, that part of Dawkins’ original argument was that the spread of memes was analogous to the manner in which genes (metaphorically or literally, depending on your view) exist purely to replicate themselves, even to the point of regarding memes as living (but not intelligent) structures. More on the topic is found in The Selfish Gene, and some of his other works.

Plugging the world

Chuck has something to say. All I have to say is a cliche about the best-laid plans…

Cory berates the world of the Fad. And makes a damn good point about Vapourware

AAAlex (yes, I’m shamelessly stealing it from Cory. It’s too good not to) is suffering from memes on the brain. If he thought Mr Stabby was bad, just wait…

Bryan has his usual mix of news, insight and analysis. This week, Sony comes under the microscope.

The Baxman is (if you forgive the pun) Lee-ving his news spot. Whilst it pleases me that I get two days of Top News Billing, it’s a damn shame to see the end of it all. Keep it Kliq, my friend!

LiquidCross has clearly got the NES-fan meme in a big way… Many columns has he written, with no doubt many more to come.

Well, that was something a bit different. I’d be interested to know what you all think of the whole business of memetics… The feedback address is below. We’ll catch you all next week.