Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Philippine Digital Game: An Emerging Art Form

by: Maria Portia Olenka C. Placino

video games philippines

INTRODUCTION

Digital games have always been a part of Philippine culture since home video game technology reached the country around the 70s and 80s. Atari as a home video game console is still remembered fondly by those who played them. “Pong” is a commercial success that inspired many home video games to follow suit (History of Video Games, par. 5-6). The release of “Pong” marks the development of digiral games which affected Filipino sensibilities.

Filipinos continue to play digital games using different platforms such as Family Computer, Brick Game, Game Boy, Tamagochi, Playstation, Xbox, Wii, Personal Computer and even cellphones. Online Gaming is also a big part of Filipino culture. According to a press release by Xinhaunet, the estimated number of online gamers in the Philippines in 2008 is 6.3 million (par. 1). Another recent phenomena is the proliferation of social gaming in social networking sites such as Facebook. Reuters reports that Zynga, a social game developer (Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc.) is valued at between $3 billion to over $5 billion (par. 1). These are largely popular and recurrent in the Filipino digital culture.

Filipinos are big consumers of digital games. But can Filipinos also be producers of such digital games that they largely consume? Is there a Filipino digital game? What kind of digital games do Filipinos produce and what makes them Filipino games? These concerns need to be looked into in the study of a Filipino digital culture.

Background of the Study

The researcher, along with majority of Filipino children during her time up to the present time grew up with the presence and proliferation of various digital games in the country. Aside from its entertainment value, digital games affect the culture where Filipinos currently live in. Aside from consuming foreign-made digital games, the Filipinos also produced digital games. An examination of Filipino digital games must be made to understand, develop and critique the emerging culture of digital gaming which is now a part of everyday Filipino life.

Scope and Limitation

The study focuses on the analysis of the digital games made by Filipinos. Games for various digital platforms such as PC, Playstation, Xbox, Wii, Online and Social Gaming are included. The study is limited to games accessible for home gaming platform. Online games that are accessible in a home gaming platform as well as a public gaming platform (internet cafes) are also included. Digital games solely available in the public sphere such as arcades (Timezone, Worlds of Fun, Quantum etc.) will are not considered in the study.

Significance of the Study

Few studies on the analysis of Filipino digital culture, particularly in digital games have been conducted. Since digital game is still on its first steps of development in the Philippines, the study will contribute to the early chronicling of an emerging culture that affects many of the younger Filipino population. It will also critique digital game as popular new media.

Conceptual Framework

Filipino digital games were analyzed according to Seven Rhetorics of Sutton-Smith, wherein it provides a “highly detailed description of the ways where different accounts and/or understandings of play are refracted through specific frameworks which determined the kinds of meaning and force that are attributed to games and play.” There are various ways in which digital games could be understood and analyzed. Its analysis is much affected by society, religion, cultural beliefs and even academic studies (Dovey and Kennedy, 29-30).

The Seven Rhetorics of Sutton-Smith are rhetoric of play as progress, rhetoric of play as fate, rhetoric of play as identity, rhetoric of play as power, rhetoric of play as the imaginary, rhetoric of the self and rhetoric of play as frivolous. Dovey and Kennedy pointed out that, “Sutton-Smith does not suggest that there is a particular problem with any or all of these rhetorics—each plays its part in determining the enduring ‘ambiguity’ of play. They argue, however, that we have to be attentive to the ways in which we are adopting them in the support of our own positions or understanding of play” (30-1).

Filipino Digital Games were analyzed in term of its interactivity and immersiveness as well as its roles and capabilities as a new media. The games were examined through its modes of production and distribution as a digital media in a digital world and culture.

DIGITAL GAMES

Various terms are currently used in books, publications and popular media to refer to digital games such as computer games, video games and arcade games. For the purpose of this study and to avoid confusion in the numerous interchangeable terms, “digital game” in the paper refers to the computer games, video games and other digital games discussed.

Digital games are games encoded in a digital format that can be accessed in machineries and platforms specifically designed for digital game play and other digital activities. Such platforms include, but are not limited to personal computers, laptops, home consoles (Playstation, Xbox, Wii), handheld consoles (Playstation Portable, Nintentdo DS, Gameboy), cellular phones and tablets. Digital games can be accessed offline (internal memory, external memory, memory sticks, CDs, DVDs) or online (through the internet). It also can be purchased as a solely as a software through online purchasing and downloading or may be bought as a software encoded in a harware such as CDs, DVDs and memory sticks.

Digital game hardware and access is similar to a computer. It needs three basic components—the screen, the processing unit and the control device. It follows the input-process-output pattern. The control device inputs data into the platform, the processing unit analyzes and executes the input and the screen shows the output of the process. Digital games involved the interactive participation of the gamers to induce the process or the movement of the gameplay.

Digital games as a new media involve new ways of thinking, and breaks existing artistic traditions. Aarseth names the nature of new media—society as technologically determined, presence of interactive users, new media as an experience rather that interpretation, immersion rather than spectatorship, simulation rather than representation ubiquitous instead of centralized, participatory instead of consumeristic and it involves play rather than work (qtd in Dovey and Kennedy 3).

Dovey and Kennedy quoted Kline et al on the importance of the study and analysis of digital games as it affect the digital society:

“We examine the ways in which the video game medium is the message, interactively inculcating the skills, rythmns, speeds, and textures of the computerized environment; cultivating digital aptitudes; squuezing out or devaluing other non-electronic capabilities; socializing players as subjects of and for a high-technology society; building cyborg identities of human/ machine identity as gaming pleasure drives successively more sophisticated levels of virtual experience, involving new expectations about verisimilitude and complexity of interaction” (5).

Study of digital games is important to understand the current digital society that exists today. Game is not simply an entertainment apparatus of society. The importance of game studies is pointed out by Aarseth, “Games are not a kind of cinema, or literature, but colonizing attempts from both these fields have already happened, and no doubt will happen again. And again, until computer game studies emerges as a clearly self-sustained academic field (5).”

Interactive and Immersive Gameplay

Digital games are the ultimate realization of digital media wherein there is a combination of a cinematic vision as well as interactivity of the user, not just as an audience but also as a participant. Manovich sees digital media as a realization of Water Benjamin’s concept of “perception in the state of distraction” wherein, “The periodic reappearence of the machinery, the continuous presence of the communication channel in the message, prevent the subject from faliing into the dream world of illusion for very long, make her alternate between concentration and detachment.” Manovich also states that the, “cyclical organization of the user’s experience is the computer games that alternate between FMV (full motion video) segments and segments requiring the user’s input…”(207)

Digital games as a new media provide intervention of the participant as well as the intervention of the mechanism. Darley points out that:

“The ability and expectation that the spectator physically intervene to change or affect what is occuring on the screen does seem to mark a shift which has more significance… One is offered the semblance of control. Although, ultimately, constrained by the game program, nevertheless up to apoint one has control over what is occuring and what will occur—one adapts the mantle of prime mover in a surrogate world. Within the numerous parameters established by the game itself the player has commensurate ‘freedom’ to select options and is permitted, thereby, a certain degree of agency within the world of fiction” (162-163).

The gamer with a sense of control over the game environment not just a spectator makes digital games interactive. In order to control the game environment, a sense of immersion is needed. The amount and quality of control the gamer has over the interactive environment suggests the amount of immersion the gamer is in. Interactivity and immersiveness of digital games are important aspects of its position within digital culture. It makes digital media—digital games in particular, different from previous artisitic expressions. The participatory nature of digital gaming is almost seductive to a gamer who enjoys the ability to control the gaming environment as he immerses himself in the gaming universe.

FILIPINO DIGITAL GAMES

Is there a Filipino digital game? Is the creation of a cultural identity in digital games possible in the digital world and culture? Or is the technicity of digital games hegemonic?

Dovey and Kennedy defines technicity as, “the interconnectedness of identity and technological competence. People’s tasks, aptitudes and propensities towards technology become part of a particular ‘identity’. This identity then becomes basis for affiliations and connections with like-minded others” (64). This shows how technology affects not only the actual technical object but also social relationships and cultural practices.

There is a dominance in technology of digital games. But with this dominance, there would also emerge the marginal, subaltern or oppositional identities in reference to the dominant cultural group. Dovey and Kennedy quote Storey in saying that, “Cultures are both shared and conflicting network of meanings. Cultures are arenas where different ways of articulating the world come into conflict and alliance (64).”

Aside from the dominant and marginal cultures in digital games, there is also the cultural process wherein the games are interpreted. The meanings do not lie in the actual technological object but more on the culture that experience the gameplay. The dominant technicities constantly create an alternate and subversive identities. The hegemony of technicity renders subjectivity only to a point, until a redefinition of the gaming culture is done to draw attention to the constantly created marginal identity (Dover & Kennedy 64-65).

First Wave—Technicity and Cultural Identities

The first wave of Filipino made games are focused on the rhetoric of play as identity. Sutton-Smith says that games as, “applied to traditional and community celebrations and festivals, occurs when the play tradition is seen as a means of confirming, maintaining or advancing the power and identity of the community of players” (qtd. in Dover and Kennedy 30). The creation of the Filipino identity in earlier digital games created in the Philippines also lean towards the rhetoric of play as the imaginary, wherein “playful improvisation of all kinds of literature and elsewhere, idealises the imagination, flexibility and creativity of the animal and human play worlds. This rhetoric is sustained by modern positive attitudes towards creativity and innovation” (Sutton-Smith qtd. in Dover and Kennedy 31).

ANITO: Defend a Land Enraged was developed by Anino Ententainment and was released in 2003. Anito is a single-player a combination of the RPG (role-playing game) and adventure genre. The gamer will take the role of Agila, a twenty-year old warrior, son of a prominent datu and a hunter of Mangatiwala people or the role of Maya, Agila’s sister who is a year younger with both clairvoyant and cynical characterization. The two playable characters will start their quests at different parts of the gaming universe. Each has different quest not available to the other playable character. The end of the game will also vary from the character chosen as well as the thoroughness where the game was played. (Anito 1-2)

The story begins with the disappearance of the Datu Maktan. Agila and Maya start the search. At the same time, a war between their people and Senastille who colonized Maroka, the gaming universe has to stop. For the meantime, a small rebel force was organized to fight the Senastille. Maroka is divided into five towns and Agila starts the game from Siliman forest while Maya starts from the town of Lanuevo. Agila and Maya are placed in both sides of the battlefield for character development and for discovery of clues to move on with the story of the game. Though the game relies heavily on the story, it is non-linear so the gamer can choose the order to explore the gaming universe (Anito 3).

The game has four basic parameters—Strength, Agility, Health and Energy. There is a scoring system to determine how well the gamer finished the game and what ending the gamer will get to see. The control device of Anito is a keyboard—WASD for directional movement and left and right click for attacks similar to many FPS (first person shooting) genre. The gameplay involves both strategy and combat (Anito 4-5).

ANITO: Defend a Land Enraged is one of the first attempts to create a Filipino digital game. It is developed by a Philippine-based game developing company Anito Entertainment. This first attempt follows the gaming mechanism of popular role-playing games already in the market. Unfortunately, Anito did not gain popularity in both local and foreign gamers.

The story is very reminiscent of Filipino history. Maroka and Senastille reverberates the battle of Mactan and the presence of Kastila (Spaniards) in the country. It also present stereotypical gender roles of the Philippines, from the names of the characters to their actual characteristics. Agila, Filipino term for eagle is a strong warrior who usually uses combat in his quests while Maya, a very gentle and small bird is characterized as a clairvoyant and almost magical female that largely uses strategy more that combat in her quests.

The interactivity and immersion of almost reliving part of Philippine history, particularly during the early years of colonization sounds very interesting. It almost gives the gamer the option to go back in time and change what can be changed and alter what can be altered. It also immerses the gamer back into the early times in the Philippines. But, interesting as the story is, it lacks the rewards and collectible items that can be gained. Key to a success of digital games is the need to level-up and gain items. Anito only provides different endings in accordance to the score gained at the end of a level. It lacks the addictive quality of the need to gain a level and gain an item present in almost all role-playing games available in the market.

Anito tries to capture the “Filipino” and literally translates it into digital game. But as mentioned earlier, identity in digital games is dependent on affiliations and connections with the same-mindedness. Anito tends to isolate and not to create a game with various cultures to identify with. Anito also lacks a strong technical support as well as a community that is very strong with other role-playing games. The need to identify with a digital game is a strong factor for a successful gameplay. When a character levels up, the gamer levels up as well, if a character is damaged, then so is the gamer. Such common identification is not observed in Anito, especially with a very localized and exclusive identity in the gameplay.

ANAK BATHALA is another Filipino-made game released in 2005 and developed by Nordenx. Similar to Anito, Anak Bathala is also digital game for the personal computer but it is played online. It belongs to the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) genre. BHM Games is currently working on a re-release of Anak Bathala to other platforms such as Ipad, Ipod touch and Iphone (Anak Bathala FAQ, online).

Anak Bathala’s game universe is set in the Philippines around 1000AD. Mythical characters and creatures are based on Filipino folklore. The in-game language is heavily based on Tagalog where the old Baybayin text is used that needs to be decoded in gameplay. The graphic quality of the game is 2D. It also features six playable characters, 200 pieces of equipment and magic spells with attainable levels up to level 325. Similar to Anito, Anak Bathala has also a non-linear story line but it is also a game world with no specific ending to the gameplay. The gamer may keep on playing as long as necessary or desired. (Anak Bathala FAQ, online)

Anak Bathala, similar to Anito, has a very exclusive gaming universe that does not translate to a common world view which contributed to its commercial failure. Despite the commonality of using myths and legends as basis for a game universe, the unfamiliarity of Anak Bathala resulted to the absence of affinity and same mindedness that are necessary for an initial success of a game, particularly in the role-playing genre.

Anak-Bathala has achievable game levels and collectible objects that are not found in Anito, however the game provides little motivation for a gamer to keep on playing the game because it has no conclusion. The gamerdoes not chase to gain or achieve a resolution to the game, which is important in role-playing games. Character development is good but there should be a goal for the character development, it should not be an end in itself.

Lack of time and budget is partly the reason for the release of Anak Bathala in 2D format rather than the rising 3D format. (Anak Bathala FAQ, online) This causes a problem for the market because of the proliferation of numerous story-based digital games but with better graphic capacity. The re-release of the game into other platforms could be a way to solve many issues that resulted from the lack of time and budget on the part of the developers.

Similar to Anito, Anak Bathala also failed to gain community support, even in the Philippines. As an MMORPG game, Anak Bathala cannot be played alone, it requires people to play with. Hence, Anak Bathala became pointless for the few players who are interested on it. Community support is very important in gameplay as well as in solving some technical issues that may arise during gameplay. A strong community for a game will result to unofficial yet effective technical support, game guides and cheats for the beginners and a strong forum and discussion board for the game—these cannot be found in Anak Bathala and its predecessor, Anito.

TANTRA, a MMORPG published by ABS-CBN Interactive and developed by Hanbitsoft is released on 2004. Unlike Anito and Anak Bathala, it is not based on Filipino culture. Rather, it is loosely based on a combination of Hindu and Buddist mythology. There are eight playable classes—four females and four males. Tantra has also a non-linear story line and is designed for the players to go on a quests and combats in order to level up (Tantra FAQ, online).

The story begins with the chosen character pledging allegiance to one of the three gods—Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva. This action unlocks special skills in accordance to the god pledged to set-up a battle between all the factions. The gameplace is among three factions unlike Anito and Anak Bahala wherein the gameplay is only between two factions. Individual and guild battles are also available on the gameplay (Tantra FAQ, online).

Tantra is the most commercially publicized Filipino game in the Philippines. There were numerous television, radio, print and online advertisement for the online game. Yet, it still did not get the support among the gaming community. Tantra, unlike Anito and Anak Bathala, did not even make the attempt to create an exclusively Filipino gaming universe but loosely based on popular mythologies that are already familiar to various cultures. Though Tantra is much easily identifiable to various cultures, it is still a commercial failure.

Though Tantra almost followed a formula for a standard successful MMORPG, familiar yet with a touch of exoticism, combat variations, numerous quests and attainable levels and objects—it still did not hit to gamers. The lack of a solid back story or even a strong non-linear story is perhaps a factor for the lack of interest gamers had for Tantra. It followed the commercial formula to a point that it did not offer anything new to the gaming community.

Tantra, just like Anito and Anak Bathala failed to have a strong online community. Being an MMORPG, it is assumed that there is a massive online playing community. The absence of anyone to play with; defeats the purpose of an MMORPG. Community support is essential to the development and popularization of games. As mentioned earlier, technical support, guilds and clans, game guides and cheats especially for beginners, forums and debates are created with a strong community support.Its absence results to a very weak online game.

The first wave of Filipino-made digital games are designed for the avid gamer and are focused on creating the “Great Filipino Game.” It attempted to translate culture, mythologies and histories into a playable game. Though there are numerous technical issues, the execution was fair enough, but it failed to meet the taste and sensibilities of numerous gamers. The lack of commonality to a wider point of view contributed to its lack of commercial success. The forced creation of an exclusive gaming universe closed to the hegemonic and dominant identities isolated the gameplay from the majority of gamers.

The rhetoric of play as identity was attempted but fails considerably due to insufficient solid gaming community. Gamers did not enjoy an identity-confirming cultural space significant to their daily lives which is necessary for a successful rhetoric of play as identity. The rhetoric of play as power also fails in the first wave of Filipino-games because despite the presence of combat in the games, its unpopularity resulted to the lack of gamers to combat with. There was no space to “fortify the status of those who control the play.” There was no competition for a higher level in the game play or a more powerful clan of gamers. Gaming community is needed to establish a strong rhetoric of identity and power, which is not found in the first wave. (Sutton-Smith qtd. in Dovey and Kennedy 30-1)

Second Wave—Hegemony and Invisible Identities

A short yet critical time in the development of digital games in the Philippines, is noticeable in 2009. There is no attempt to simulate a Filipino cultural identity, rather, games developed during this time are hegemonic and are devoid of any cultural identity. It is accessible and identifiable to any gaming culture. Unlike the first wave of digital game development in the Philippines, there is no attempt or pretension to put any cultural identity.

The rhetoric of the self is also present in the second wave of Filipino made games as well as the rhetoric of play as frivolous. The casual games of the the second wave plays close attention to the fun, relaxation and escape of its gamers which are the characteristics of the rhetoric of the self. The frivolity of the this second wave is also seen through the carnivalesque ang playful protest against the orders of the ordained world (Sutton-Smith qtd in Dovey and Kennedy 31).

Bangu-Bang Mania is an online casual game developed by Vitas (Virtual Titania Amusement Software) released on 2009. It uses a pay-to-play scheme wherein gemrs need to buy game cards worth 50 pesos for one week play time, 100 pesos for two weeks and 200 for a month of play time (Bangu-Bang Mania, online). Bangu-Bang Mania did not succeed commercially. There were numerous technical issues expressed in its online forum which received no official responses from the game developer. With numerous free casual online games available, it is understandable why Bangu-Bang Mania did not gain popularity among Filipino gamers and even in the international scene.

Circus Games is a game developed by Kuju Manila, former Matahari Studios, creator of Timezone Games and published by Ubisoft, a French Company for the Wii platform in 2009. The gameplay involves the ringmaster wanting to sell the circus so he needs to make sure the circus fails in order to do it. The gamer would then engage into the mini games and make sure that the circus is a success and foil the ringmaster’s plan. IGN gave an overall rating of 2.2 (terrible) based on different aspects of the game in a range of 1-10, one being the lowest and 10 the highest. Circus Games is a collection of 20 mini-games for the Wii platform and was rated 1.0 for presentation, 2.0 for graphics, 3.0 for sound, 2.5 for gameplay and 1.0 for lasting appeal (Circus Games Review, online).

Turbo Subs is the first commercially successful Filipino-made digital game. In 2009, it was one of the 10 Most Downloaded Games in the Apple App Store. Anino Games, a branch of Anino Entertainment (developer of Anito) for portable games developed Turbo Subs for Iphone. It was published by I-play, a division of Oberon Media. Turbo Subs is a strategy and time management casual game that has 60 attainable levels (Techpinas, online).

Though the first two mentioned digital games are commercial failures, Turbo Subs is actually a commercial success. Anino Games deviated from their previous attempt of creating a unique and cultural gameworld and created a more internationally identifiable and familiar gameworld—New York City. Though not everyone has been to New York, almost every person in the world will know what and where New York City is. The gameplay is also familiar—serving hot dog sandwiches to different types of customers. Turbo Subs is very reminiscent of the popular multi-platform digital mini-game Diner Dash. The familiar gameplay, familiar game universe and easy controls of the Iphone contributed to the popularity of Turbo Subs in an international setting.

The year 2009 shows the development of culturally void casual digital games by Filipinos, most of which are published and marketed by foreign companies. The proliferation of casual game deviates largely from the first attempt of digital game development from 2003-2005. The first wave of game development is focused on creating a unique gaming universe, heavily influenced by a mix of Filipino mythologies and histories. Such first attempts are impressive despite the commercial failures.

The rhetoric of play as frivolous is very much present particularly in Circus Games. The premise of a ringmaster wanting the circus performers is very suggestive of a playful rebellion against the established order. Its mere presence in a circus provides the carnivalesque figure characteristic of the rhetoric of game as frivolous. Much of the second wave games are such that they are more focused on the self and frivolity, on the entertainment and fun aspect of the game, rather than getting across a particular message or putting together a unique gameplay or game universe.

The second wave of attempt at game development with Turbo Subs being very notable one shows a slightly higher commercial success. However, they are totally devoid of the best things in the first wave of game development. The game universe and gameplay as a whole are at a hegemonic technicity that creates invisible identities. Two major concers arise: the first is whether there will be anything Filipino in the second wave of game development and the second is whether those developed games be considered as Filipino game with invisible cultural identities when published by foreign companies?

Third Wave—Instruction and Social Awareness

The year 2010 marks a very different movement in the development of digital games in the Philippines. The first wave is all about the the creation of a “Filipino” game, heavily relying upon Philippine mythologies and histories. The second wave is more on a creation of a popular and marketable digital game devoiding of any local identity and culture, placing it in a hegemonic and dominant gaming culture. The third wave of digital game development is towards education, instruction and social awareness. Such a movement is fairly new in the game studies sphere.

Wordtrotter is the first Filipino created, developed, and owned digital game published at the popular social networking site Facebook. Palmagick Entertainment developed Wordtrotter for facebook and risked competing with over 2000 Facebook game applications. Interestingly, there are only five word games within that pool of games, yet it is still competition. The game features three playable characters or wordtrotters, Weegly, Whaagly and Woogly in the game universe of Wordth. The characters were exiled after accidentally freeing the evil witch Grimmar. Upon their return Wordth is under the evil spell of Grimmar and they need to reverse it (Delizo, online).

The gamer will be given clues on the word that he needs to spell. Then, the gamer will capture letterbugs until the correct letter is formed. The letterbugs cannot be captured unless it is in the proper arrangement for the words’ spelling. The game is currently number on in a search for the “world’s coolest word game” online, perhaps due to the support of the Filipino international community. (Delizo, online)

Wordtrotter is very different from the earlier games developed by Filipinos. It is aimsnot only to teach and to instruct but also to entertain. Its presence in the contemporary popular gaming platform of online social networking site gives it an edge to reach a wider audince without losing its functionality not just as an entertainment tool but also as a helpful instructional material.

Paolo’s Journey is another deviation from the usual game developments in the Philippines. It is a 3D digital game for the PC platform. Paolo’s Journey is created by Fr. Maximo Villanueva in cooperation with Studio of Secret 6 and published by the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines. The game was made for the Episcopal Commission of Cathechism and Catholic Education. One thousand copies of the game was initially produced for distribution to the bishops wherein each bishop would be given 10 copies for distribution to public school cathechists in their dioceses (Macairan, online).

The game universe centers on the character of a 10-year old Paolo. He gets lost in a well and meets an angel who tells him that he needs to collect 3 keys in order to get home. As the gamer obtains a key, he advances to the next level in the game. There are 3 attainable levels—easy level consists of questions related to the Sacraments, medium level consists of questions related to the 10 Commandments and the difficult level contains questions on Christian values (Paolo’s Journey, online).

Ironically, it is the very conservative Catholic Church that recognizes the potential of digital games for instructional purposes. The game uses new media to instruct and create a new venue to teach traditional Catholic values. The digital game provides a contemporary and relevant universe which reaches a wider audience. A digital counter-culture is created here wherein the new media, commonly known as a medium for violence and dissension is used by the institution to instill traditional Christian and Catholic values for the consumer (Gere 121-25).

This gameplay suits the rhetoric of game as progress as identified by Sutton-Smith, “Within this account, play is identified as a means of development rather than of enjoyment. Sutton Smith argues that this rhetoric is most frequently applied to the play of children as a way of describing they socialize and achieve moral, social and cognitive development” (Dovey and Kennedy 30).

Wildfire is a digital game developed by By Implication which won them top honors in the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2010 (Game Design Category). The theme of the competition is “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems” and challenged the participants to address the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals. Kenneth Yu, the Project Manager of By Implication states that, “The basis for Wildfire’s gameplay message is the massive outpouring of volunteer support that emerged from the wake of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) last year. We believe that voluneerism is an effective way of tackling big problems, and we wanted to encourage this through out game” (Uymatiao, online).

Wildfire is designed for PC platform and is available for free download. By Implication will consider a commercial release after improvements are made to the game. They are also open to make additional modules for schools and organizations interested in using Wildfire as an educational tool. Yu considers game design as a, “great way to deliver a message and get the story across” (Uymatiao, online).

Wildfire tackles a very relevant issue and concern in the contemporary world. The game is very much a rhetoric of play as progress aimed for development rather than just for entertainment. It also seeks to achieve moral and social development of the gamer. Environmental issues are very much a concern for everyone and the attempt of Wildfire to use game as a new media as a vehicle for social awareness and social change provides a very strong rhetoric (Sutton-Smith qtd in Dovey and Kennedy 29-32).

The year 2010 shows a game rhetoric of play as progress. The gameplay Filipino game makers are producing is trending towards development of culture and society rather than the earlier rhetorics presented such as the creation of identity, play as imaginary or play as a rhetoric of self or frivolity. This idea shows the role of digital games in human development (Sutton-Smith qtd in Dovey and Kennedy 29-32).

The third wave of Filipino game production revolutionizes the game development in the Philippines. From a forced creation of a Filipino game that attempts yet fails to create a rhetoric of play as identity and power of the first wave game development, then a short hegemonic and invisible identities of the second wave that creates a rhetoric of the self and play as frivolous, the Filipino game developers are finally beginning to understand digital games as a vehicle for social change and development and are beginning to create a rhetoric of play as progress. Filipino-made games are quickly maturing into a new digital gameplay that goes beyond entertainment and commercialization into vehicles for a purposeful artistic expression in a digital world.

FILIPINO GAME PRODUCERS

Initially, Anino Games is an independent Philippine game developer. The company started with the development of Anito:Defend a Land Enraged. Despite the lack of commercial success, this proves the Filipino capacity of producing, not just consuming quality digital games. After a few decades of large consumption of foreign-made games, the market opened for a Filipino-made one.

Aside from this, another trend started in the Philippine game production—the BPO or the Business Processing Output. From an independent game developer, Anino Games moved towards a more commercially successful practice of game development outsourcing. According to industry analysis, as of 2009, about 60% of game development and game services budget are outsourced to Europe and Asia and an estimate of 75% of total gaming development will be outsourced in the coming years. The outsourcing will involve pre-production, production and testing of digital games, particularly specific tasks such as artwork development, animation, music scoring, motion capture and programming (Manila Bulletin, online).

Anino Games

From an independent game developing company, Anino Games became a “third party game developer specializing in end-to-end game development for the PC, Nintendo DS and Dsi, Wii, iPhone, iPod Touch, Adobe Flash/ Facebook and mobile phone platforms.” From a group of seven developers who created Anito, Anino Games presently has a full-time staff and more than 40 game developers. They became a commercial success with Turbo Subs along with other outsourced games such as Despicable Me, Big League Sports and Pinball (Anino Games, online).

Flipside Games

“Flipside Game Studios, Inc. is a Manila, Philippines-based company that specializes in full-scale development and outsourcing services for the game industry. Founded in 2005 by Jon Morin, Gabby Dizon and Lennard Garcia, the company plans to help change the game industry’s current business model by allowing small, creative teams to pursue a killer game concept while relying on us to handle the game’s production and management.” The company is also one of the founding members of Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP). (Flipside Games, online)

Lady Luck Digital Media

Ladyluck Digital Media is a Game Asset Outsourcing Company that service publishers and developers in the international gaming industry since 2004. The company included artists, riggers, animators, and software engineers that work full-time and in-house, in the studio which occupies three offices at the Philippine Stock Exchange Building in the Central Business District of Makati. Their clients include Activision, EA, Sony, Ubisoft, Majesco and Sega. (Lady Luck, online)

Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP)

The Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP) is a non-stock non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the game development industry in the Philippines. It is composed of game development studios in the country, both foreign and local, and has strong ties to the government, technology suppliers, education sector and the international community of game developers via the International Game Developers Association (GDAP, online).

GDAP recently concluded the First Philippine Game Development Festival, a three-day convention at the UP Diliman campus. It featured different game-related summits, exhibits, and activities to showcase the world-class work of local developers, and present young gamers with viable career opportunities in the industry. There was also a Summit for Professionals ans Students that were conducted during the festival which featured lectures on Digital Arts, The Life of a Game Developer, and career opportunities in video game development (Tardio,online).

GDAP is a very young organization but it is starting to provide a venue for discussion on the various issues that affect digital game development in the Philippines. This can provide a venue for companies and even individuals to come together and discuss the situation of current game development in the Philippines and what can be done about it.

The organization may also provide the venue to revue of the current state of digital game development in the country. BPO provides a very marketble and lucrative venue yet it limits the production of digital games within the context of foreign publishers and marketers. Filipino produced games are credited to the companies who outsourced to them rather than being owned by the actual developers of the game.

DIGITAL GAME AS FILIPINO ART

Can the current digital games produced by Filipinos be considered as a valid Filipino artistic expression?

There is still an ongoing debate on whether or not digital game can be considered as an art form. Roger Ebert, very controversialy declared that video games can never be an art in his recently published article that was debated by thousands of responders. As of this time, the comments on his blog reached 4720 wherein debates of whether or not video game is an art is thoroughly discussed. He heavily criticizes Kelle Santiago, a designer and producer of video games who declares video games “already ARE art.” His basic premise is that, “No one in or out of the field (video games) has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.” (Ebert, online)

The basic weakness of Ebert’s argument is the comparison of different forms in the qualification of art as an art. There are innumerable definitions of art available. Art can be looked at as an actual art object. It may be also seen in the process of production and consumption. Art can be considered on the point of view of the consumer or the producer. It can also be created or validated by an institution. The traditional division of high art and low art, fine art and decorative art is no longer applicable and relevant in the contemporary world. Neither is there a point in comparing different mediums from one another.

As early as 2001, Ernest W. Adams gave a lecture entitled “Will Computer Games Ever Be A Legitimate Art Form?” On his lecture, he compared movies and games. Understandably, these two new media forms are closely related. He went on defining what art is based on types, philosophies and potential to last through time. He also looked at art as opposed to pop culture and its interactive characteristics (Adams, online). His premise is also uncertain since there has already been a break down of the different typologies of art as. Philosophies of art are also very much varied that there are many opposing views on the subject. Art as something that lasts through time is not true at all cases since there are art forms that are not made to last but are made to be experienced and then deconstructed or disposed of such as Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and other conceptual art pieces.

Both Ebert and Adams agreed that digital games with a goal of winning fails to qualify as an art form since the goal is to win rather than to experience or to appreciate the art of the game (Ebert, online; Adams, online). This is not necessarily true. This premise would reject games with in-play narrative that needs to be won in order for the story to be finished and therefore the narrative played out. This would also reject the games with a clear ending or purpose. That rejection would isolate a large part of existing digital games, particularly story-driven games such as the RPG (role-playing game) genre, adventure genre and many others that except for this premise has a legitimate claim as an art form.

Adams has also looked into the characteristics of art that would legitimize video game as an art form—content, aesthetic, ideas, emotive, non-formulaic, non-utilitarian, non-marketable and most of all, it should be fun. (Adams, online) The application of these qualifications could also be difficult in analyzing digital games as an art form. There are numerous games in the market with a valid content, interesting ideas and inspiring emotions. The aesthetic value of games needs to be re-examined in the context of new media. The necessity of an art form to be non-formulaic, non-utilitarian and non-marketable is also unqualifiable to the new media form. New media may deviate from formula but digital games as something manipulated and operated by for the gamer makes them utilitarian. In the contemporary world, there is the necessity for new media to consider its marketability in order to survive.

The aspect of fun in new media is also new in the examination of art forms. Digital games cannot be separated from enjoyment. Though with the variety of available games in various genres and styles, there seem to be also a varying sense of “fun”. Some games have a very dark, sad premise while others are basically in a fun, light and happy settings. Similar to legitimized art forms, digital games are capable of evoking varying emotions and not just the surface assumption of fun or good time.

Adams also pointed out the necessary aspects of digital games in order to legitimize it as an art form—an aesthetic, experimentation of form and challenge to the gamers. He also recognizes the change in the institutional legitimization such as the artistic awards instead of technical awards and critics instead of reviewers. (Adams, online) Amost a decade after Adams’ lecture, there have been various experimentation in game design and development, making digital games available to various platforms for different gameplays. The challenge to games also widely vary for casual gamers and for serious gamers that needs above average difficulty in the gameplay. Aesthetic values on digital games would also vary and oftentimes be conflicting, as it always is when discussing art.

Adams also recognized the need for legitimization of game as an art by an institution. Numerous art forms already rejected this necessity, yet, perhaps for an emerging art form, there is a necessity for the institution to recognize and legitimize gameplay as an art. Award giving bodies are largely focused on the technical aspects of the game design because digital games rely heavily on the technical qualities to be a viable digital game. The need for criticism and deeper study is also recognized. There already exist legitimate research institutions focusing mainly on game studies. Game Studies, The International Journal of Computer Game Research is a very active web journal that publishes studies and researches conducted about digital games.

Given the following considerations and issues, there are numerous digital games that can be considered as a legitimate art form in the international gaming industry. But for the Philippine gaming industry, the three waves of game development show a legitimate potential to create a new Filipino art form. But the limitations that the digital artists have made it difficult for them to produce an excellent digital game that can be considered as a Filipino art. Anito and Anak Bathala, particularly in their attempt to show Filipino histories and cultures in the gameplay could be a start in a Filipino art movement of digital games, but its many failures in technicity, identity and graphic output make them fall short of an artistic digital game. Though technicity of a digital game is not enough to create an excellent game, failure in technicity means a failure in the medium. If the artistic medium fails to execute, then the artistic form will not materialize. This is the common difficulty in the Filipino game development.

Technical excellence is often achieved in outsourced games to the Filipino game developers. But where then is the artistic thought and concept? Can an outsourced digital game be considered as a Filipino art form if it is designed for and owned by a foreign company? What would make it a verifiable Filipino game in the first place? The issue of ownership that is still undiscussed in outsourcing still needs to be explored in this aspect.

The third wave of Filipino game development shows another attempt to create a Filipino game which is not forced in terms of its themes yet not completely devoid of identity as in the second wave of game development. But can the third wave of game development be considered in the level of a Filipino artistic expression? Again, there is still much failure in its technicity and graphic quality. As mentioned earlier, technicity and graphic quality is not enough to define the artistic expression, but if it fails as a medium of execution, then the message and image will not get across.

Filipino game development is a very young expression. Most still fail in terms of technicity and execution. Yet it shows potential to be a legitimate medium of a new Filipino art. Within the span of less than ten years, Filipino game development has matured in different aspects and perhaps with continued experimentation, exploration and critique, it can develop into a widespread venue of a Filipino artistic expression and experience. Filipinos should not stop in their creation of Filipino games and the researchers and critics should start a study and critique of this emerging digital art form.

Works Cited
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2 comments on “Philippine Digital Game: An Emerging Art Form

  1. online games
    December 30, 2011

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