Friday, November 23, 2012

Gaming Bonanza with Wreck It Ralph Explained

I just posted three screen shots of me playing the three games mentioned in the recent Disney film, "Wreck It Ralph". I've seen this film twice already and loved it both times. Most people are already familiar with the basic plot of the movie, so I won't reiterate it here. Besides the many real-life video games and game characters that have cameos in this film, there are three games invented specifically for the movie's story:
  1. Fix It Felix Jr.
  2. Hero's Duty
  3. Sugar Rush
Disney is a clever marketing machine and they created versions of these games to play, both for free online and a purchasable version for the Wii. I tried out all three free online games for fun. Here's some of what I discovered about the games and myself.

A) I'm an old-timer at heart
The game I played the best and enjoyed the most was Fix It Felix Jr., an homage to old games like Donkey Kong. It was the only game that would run on my school computers because the other two needed a special plug-in. The graphics on Felix were appropriately simple. The game isn't easy - dodging Ralph's bricks and the geese can be tricky, especially when there are obstacles to prevent you from taking the most direct route to fix the windows. Felix reminded me of some of the games I used to enjoy playing as a kid on my old Vic 20 computer (with tapes!), such as Froggee.

B) I have terrible visual-spatial sense
Although I made it to level 10 in the story mode of Hero's Duty, shooting isn't a talent of mine. Despite the convenience of having my reticule turn into a red triangle when the cy-bugs were in my sight lines, I often missed the menaces because it was dark and my aim stunk. I'd occasionally lose track of my weapon completely (and had to wave the mouse around wildly to find it again). I think I enjoy watching someone else play these kinds of games more than I do running the controls myself. (Side note: sometimes when young people talk about playing certain games, they count watching other players perform as "playing" themselves. I can't recall where I heard or read that, but I should follow up on it.)

C) The controls make a difference
I've played racing games before, especially Mario Kart, and I'm definitely not a pro. On the Rainbow Road track, I can barely finish, and only if I use the accelerator just enough to power the car forward slightly so I can creep slowly along the path. In Sugar Rush, the racing game, I actually did even worse than I usually do in Mario Kart, and I want to blame my controls, like many poor players do. (Look up the Simpsons clip where Homer and Bart play a boxing video game and you'll know exactly what I mean.) I had to use the arrow keys for steering and speed, so my hands were all on top of each other. I'd love to borrow the Wii version of Sugar Rush to see if I'm any better at it.

D) You can like the aesthetics without being talented at the game
When my daughter heard that there was an actual Sugar Rush game you could play, she rushed down to the computer to try. She's been trying to teach herself all the Japanese words to the song from the film and doing well. However, she didn't do so well playing the game - like mother, like daughter, in this respect. However, the game itself (as well as the sountrack) are gorgeous. Maybe I'm now starting to understand why my son spends SO much time watching play-throughs of games he never intends to play!

E) Even a movie about video games scorns badges and achievements
SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - Major plot revelations below!
Wreck It Ralph originally believes that for him to become a good guy and earn the respect and admiration of the other characters in his game, he needs to obtain a medal. He "earns" one from a different video game, Hero's Duty, but loses it in Sugar Rush. Vanellope seizes his medal and uses it as payment to enter her in the race she's been barred from participating in for a variety of reasons. Vanellope and Ralph work together to have her get a car and win the race (initially so Ralph can get his medal back), and as they work together, Ralph grows to care for her. Even when Ralph smashes Vanellope's car, it is in a mistaken believe that this move will save her life. Ralph gets his medal back but his temporary defection from his own game does not bring him the accolades he seeks. He's got the medal but he's all alone. He eventually learns that a good guy isn't made by the medals he earns, but by his deeds and his compassion for his fellow characters. In the very last line of the movie, Ralph is talking with his fellow video game bad guys at their support group, and Ralph says (with thanks to Rotten Tomatoes for the quote search feature):

Turns out I don't need a medal to tell me I'm a good guy. Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?
I teared up when I heard that final line.The "medal" that means the most to him, the one he gazes at as he makes the ultimate sacrifice, is the cookie one that Vanellope makes as a thank you for all he's done teaching her to drive, creating her vehicle, and believing in her. I was thinking about this message both in terms of gamification (kids will love to learn if we make badges!) and in terms of education itself (what does an "A+" really give you?). It's the things that are difficult to measure that mean the most - that's a pretty deep and surprising lesson from a movie about video games. The irony may be lost on many of us, as playing all three of these online games offered me rewards for my performance (high score board / unlocked achievements / etc.) but that's what I got out of playing these games and reflecting on a really great movie.

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