A new kind of conversation about games in culture
Warren, how about this then...
What does the fact that Odysseus kills unarmed, unprepared, men not once, but -twice- in the surviving traditions say about the character of Odysseus? He seems to have no problems laying waste to Rhesus' men while they are asleep (and Rhesus himself) in Book X of the Iliad and taking the spoils along with Diomedes, in the same manner they would have stripped the gear off of a hero they just defeated in single combat. I think you give Odysseus (and the singer of this book) too much credit for trying to defray the kleos gained from slaying the suitors. It is Odysseus' own distinct type of kleos but it is -his- kleos. Of course his aristeia isn't going to be the same type of aristeia that Achilleus gets; he's just not that type of hero. I don't think it is at all out of the question to compare what Odysseus does (i.e., tilt the scales in his favor by attacking Rhesus' men while they sleep or the suitors while unarmed) to say, the lore behind Capt. James T. Kirk modifying the Kobayshi Maru simulation so that it became winnable. It just forces the bard, the audience, and us to rethink the ways that one can gain their kleos.
Just a few random thoughts on what's been said. I really like Warren's analogy about Odysseus saying, "you think that was cool, you should see what I did this morning!" But, if endlessly killing low-level people is grinding, which builds up to a huge fight with a bad-ass guy, than what is Odysseus grinding (killing the suitors) working towards? This is essentially the end, and he never fights one bad-ass guy after this. The narrative goes the opposite way, with him fighting the Polyphemus earlier than he fights the suitors. I guess I have sort of the same question in regards to Club Penguin. I easily see how level-grinding builds up to aristeia in Runescape, but if, as Prof Travis said, there is no aristeia in Club Penguin, than what is the grinding for? What is the point of endlessly catching fish? Plus, if gear is indicative of coolness, than wouldn't pimping out your igloo or buying clothes, (like being able to wear more bad-ass armor in the Iliad) indicate your excellence to other players? Because in that case, the grinding would be working towards this goal, just like in Runescape.
So to me, grinding in video games serves two purposes. Firstly it gives the player a change to learn and develop new skills that are vital in progressing in the game, otherwise you would stand little chance against any strong boss type characters, much in the same way how a soldier would be unlikely to be a hero in battle without training and war experience.
This is another interesting concept. The lack of the perpetual boss. I was trying to address this actually while I was playing call of duty 5 with my friend the other day, and I was able to come up with a loose, and I strongly stress the loose, outline of aristeia for a game where there is no final boss. On call of duty 5, you play online obviously, killing essentially the same soldiers, controlled by different people, over and over. There is a ranking system which goes from levels 1-65, but once you hit level 65 you have the option to enter 'prestige' mode. There are 10 prestige modes. That is a total of 715 levels of hardcore level grinding just by killing the same things over and over. While I was trying to explain to my friend the concept of this module, I immediately noticed hey ... where is the boss. What is the culmination. Weird. Then I asked myself, well what am I working towards. The answer is a 10th prestige level 65. In its own sense, that is my big showdown. Once I have reached that level, I have obtained my perpetual level of being excellent in that game. Its much like receiving an epic mount, but it is in the form of a symbol next to your name. I know it is loose, and hard to understand, but it is a very achieving feeling when you reach that point.
There’s a lot of similarities between video game grinding and its epic counterpart, but for such a huge parallel it seems to me like no one ever makes the connection – except the people in this class, of course! Video game grinding and violence is just discounted as mindless amusement. In epics, on the other hand, the same kind of repetitive violence is excused and explained as an important part of building the story – sinceit was written by the great Homer, after all.
I would say that both are true, for epics and video games. Repetitive violence (grinding) in epics is a way for the bard to develop the character – his aristeia, his excellence, his ability to win, in the audiences’ eyes. Grinding in video games serves the same purpose: gets your character XP (or some equivalent), which increases its ability to win – ariseia. Enemies in video games are also made to seem more excellent – to have more aristeia – when a player has to fight through a bunch of trash to get to the main boss. We can see this same effect in Il.16 when Patrocles and Hecktor have to fight through lesser fighters before finally confronting each other. The “mindless” repetitive violence in video games does indeed serve a purpose, just like in epics: developing the character and its aristeia.
I wonder if the development of bardic epics may have followed a similar pattern, moving from simple entertainment and repetitive violence into an increasingly moral view of its own subject matter.
It seems to me that the concept of aristeia can be applied to video games in more contexts than just the "boss fight." I have no trouble visualizing the boss fight as a character's finest moments, nor do I have problems seeing "grinding" as the baseline that makes the aristeia so extraordinary. However, I think that the aristeia can come from within basic battle/monotonous tasks as well as in a cataclysmic face-off.
Take my recent foray into the vast daedroth-filled wasteland of Oblivion for example. After annoyingly slaughtering goblin after goblin in Cyrodiil (a continent of the Elder Scrolls series), I had attained the rank of Master of Marksman. This rank granted my character a high chance to paralyze his opponent upon letting loose a well-aimed arrow. Now I think that this ability has given me the chance to invoke an aristeia myself, so I took it upon myself to conduct an experiment.
In Oblivion, my character was charged with the task of closing the gate to Oblivion (basically Hell). So, I equipped my dagger (and my blade skill is not very high) and started hacking away at scamps and demons and the like. That is, until I reached the top of the tower, where I was swarmed by minions of the evil Mehrunes Dagon. It was at this point that I decided to equip my bow, and with dextrous fingers paralyzed and then killed all the demons, leaving my character standing alone, victorious.
What I'm trying to say is that although many games provide aristeiai that you cannot avoid performing (e.g. the final boss battle in Ocarina of Time), there are certainly opportunities for the gamer to make his/her own aristeiai. I suppose this hints at a dual bardic role played by both the gamer and the game developer. While there are only so many pre-packaged adventures and boss battles (i.e. aristeia contributed by the game developer), there are myriad situations a gamer might find themselves in where their character exhibits a particular moment of excellence. In a racing game, for example, a corresponding aristeia might be a turbo boost that propels the character many laps ahead of all of his/her competitors. This boost could be invoked at any time, but there are only so many boss races.
I think an interesting consequence of these in-game capabilities is that the aristeiai give us gamers (as an audience) something to look forward to. Everyone has been discussing how boring a game would be without grinding, but of course there would be absolutely no game if it only consisted of grinding (*cough* Left4Dead). In bardic songs, I'll bet the aristeiai where the points during which the people in the audience had their eyes glued to the bard and were sitting on the edge of their seats. Whether the aristeiai in question are battle related or not, I think they are essential components of the song and of the game that help to propel the narrative.
I pretty much agree with everything being said here. The combination of level grinding and aristeia is fundamental to the success of both the Homeric epic and modern gaming. Taking on the 'boss mob' in a game really does seem like a satisfactory climax to the seemingly endless hours of grinding... and in many ways whatever loot that might drop comes secondary to the feeling of accomplishment as a reward.
Then again, there are plenty of games out there that don't have a 'boss' fight... most 1st gen Atari games didn't, neither does computer games like Tetris, and like some have mentioned above, online 1st person shooters don't either. I think in some of these instances the aristeia might still be present - using Tetris as an example: the levels get harder as you move on, and even though you don't 'win' ever, you can still get a thrill by besting the high score. Same goes for a 1st person shooter like Counterstrike or Gears of War... you can demonstrate your heroic-ness by garnering the most headshots or kills or least number of deaths or whatever.
I'd also like to mention that I personally find the 'level grinding' aka body count in the Iliad and the Odyssey absolutely fascinating and hilarious. I mean, there's so many different ways Odysseus kills the suitors! So much originality in the blood and gore and I can just imagine a bard singing this scene and the audience cheering and cringing and laughing. Awesome. I think if game designers could capture this sort of energy and incorporate it into their level-grinding parts of their respective games, they'd be a lot more interesting. Then again, I think a game like Gears of War (where there are so many ways to kill an opponent, including using the chainsaw part of your gun) most closely approaches this.
As for the ariestia in Homer, I would disagree with the assessment that it is all about besting one's opponent with only strength/battle prowess. In book 9 of the Odyssey, Odysseus recounts how he escapes from the Cyclop's lair. He uses smarts and cunning rather than brute force. I like how there's the graphic blood and violence when the Cyclops is blinded which would placate those in the audience who liked those kinds of scenes, but his escape hinged more on fooling the Cyclops first with his name, and then sneaking out with the sheep. I think this illustrates that both intelligence and strength were highly respected attributes in ancient Greece.