The Framework (Aesthetics, Affect & Nostalgia)
My Aesthetic analysis was inspired by the A in the MDA Framework (Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics) proposed by Hunicke, Leblanc and Zubek in 2004. This framework breaks aesthetics down into 8 types of fun that the player can experience subsequent to how the game is presented. They include Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression and Submission. A modernised version of this framework, the A.G.E model (Actions, Gameplay, Experience), developed by Roberto Dillion in 2010 also influenced my analysis in my DA.
My second prong of my framework was Affect, but specifically the impact of wearable reward items in RuneScape on player motivation and character customisation. The key academic article I used to aid my analysis was Chris Moore’s 2011 ‘Hats of Affect: A Study of Affect, Achievements and Hats in Team Fortress 2’.
Nostalgia, while being the third part of my framework, it had an overarching theme in the whole digital artefact. I looked at the prevalence of nostalgia among the internet gaming community for RuneScape on Reddit, YouTube and Fan sites. I was influenced mostly by the findings from David S. Heineman in his 2014 paper Public Memory and Gamer Identity: Retrogaming as Nostalgia for this aspect of my analysis.
I initially started this project with the focus of bad graphics in video games. I struggled with this concept mainly due to the construction of the framework; most of the games I was considering were products of their time or amazing graphics were not relevant to the game play. Once I settled on my framework direction, I roughly reframed the question to why players would choose an older game over a newer version. One of the game media texts I wanted to focus on originally was RuneScape, so I decided to centre my project around Old School RuneScape and RuneScape 3. Thus, the idea of comparing Osrs and Rs3 on an analytical level was born. Someone very close to me is a very big advocate of Old School RuneScape, and as a non-player, I wanted to know why he would reach for this version of RS.
What does my project look like?
My digital artefact is a series called ScapeVScape on my portfolio website. It takes form as three multimedia blog posts, with each post being focused on each aspect of the Framework (Aesthetics, Affect and Nostalgia). Each post includes a briefing on the analytical framework being referenced, a comparison of both Old School RuneScape and RuneScape 3 on the topic at hand, images, reddit contributions, and an illustration done by myself.
The Research Behind it
There was a reasonable amount of academic research required to grapple with the analytical framework itself, but also to get to the point of understanding the relevant game industry environment around RuneScape. Aside from the articles above, a significant area of my research was understanding nostalgia. Something key to note was that despite the lust lacker graphics of older games, nostalgia plays a huge part in this as it can be a psychological resource of the players sense of self – a digital time machine to their bygone past (Wulf et al. 2018 p.61). An interesting point of nostalgia is that even those who were not alive to experience the simpler era of gaming, and are accustomed to modernised versions, can still feel nostalgic for things they were not even alive to experience (Gaughen, 2014). This fuelled my understanding of the reason why Old School RuneScape was still immensely popular, and made the rest of the analysis run smoother.
On a less academic note, Reddit was a tremendous support system for my research and myself. I incorporated as many real player opinions, questions, discussions, memes and ideas as I could into my digital artefact. I myself have played RuneScape for perhaps under 30 minutes my entire existence, but that did not diminish my interest. Being inexperienced however meant I had to inform myself from those immersed in the gameplay experience before drawing any conclusions. The 2 most helpful subreddits were r/2007scape and r/runescape, I actually discuss these further in my Nostalgia blog post. The participation culture of the users was featured in all of my blog posts, and they are essentially the reason Osrs is where it is at today.
My curiosity for this topic came from wanting to understand my partner’s very clear amusement (perhaps obsession) with Old School RuneScape. In my eyes, it was a horrifically ugly, very repetitive game that has no end in sight. However, after my initial interest was sparked – I learnt that this area of game media analysis could have wonderful purpose in the gaming world. Retrogaming as a subcomponent of the game industry is booming with remakes and has a high consumer demand, but being able to recall and understand what makes this occur is fundamental to successful game sales, development and marketing. Obviously I am not a professional nor a qualified analyst, but this digital artefact right now could be useful for fans of RuneScape and amateur game makers to understand the phenomenon. If taken into the hands of someone who is qualified, it is a very rich area that should be looked at in better detail.
How have I used feedback?
As mentioned previously, my initial idea looked very different to my end product – which is the name of the digital artefact game. My previous idea was bad game graphics, which was actually quite hard to form an analytical structure for. This unclear direction was also represented in feedback I got on my pitch feedback from my tutor and peers. I then worked on my framework, which I settled on Aesthetics, Modality and Nostalgia. I moved forward with my first blog post on Aesthetics and shared it as much as I could in subreddits, twitter and plastered on my personal university blog. On a reddit post I shared, I actually got indirect feedback on my post from a user on the meme I shared, which was the header image for my blog post. Their thoughts solidified that I went in the right direction for my conclusion on this post.
After my Beta submission, I got very positive feedback from my peers and some recommended sources to check out which is always helpful, but I only had one DA post to show for it. My most formative form of feedback was actually from my in class presentation, the comments I got from my classmates, tutor and subject coordinator suggested that remove modality from the equation and look affect and participatory culture. This inspired me to go down the route of reward items in RuneScape and how it influences the players experience.
I am still sharing my final 2 blog posts in subreddits, but if I could do things again I would space them out over time to allow for outside feedback to apply to the following post.
Where will it lead?
I have finished my 3 blog posts which are live on my blog. I will not be adding anymore to the series, but I am going to continue sharing my work after I submit it. However, this assessment has actually helped me in my digital art journey. I learnt that I quite enjoy more animated styles of drawing, and although it is not a continuation of this specific project, it definitely is a route I want to take on my semester break from the completion of ScapeVScape.
The aim of a digital artefact is to incorporate the FIST principles, but each of my posts were honestly very time consuming. I still love my idea and the area I explored, but there were improvements needed to simplify the end product of my artefact to try and save time. Writing the blog posts and condensing so much information was a long process, and then adding an illustration on top of that made it hard to stick to my timeline. Something I found useful however from the illustration time was making a time lapse!
Overall, I am very proud of ScapeVScape and grateful that I got to explore this area of the game media industry in my degree.
Gaughen, B 2014, ‘Innovation, Imitation, and the Continued Importance of Vintage Video Games’, Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 2
Wulf, T., Bowman, N.D., Rieger, D., Velez, J.A. & Breuer, J. 2018, “Running Head: Video Game Nostalgia and Retro Gaming”, Media and Communication, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 60-68.