This entry is about my gaming experience with Undertale and its unique characteristics that make for an especially satisfying experience. Despite my inconsistent and somewhat diminishing video-gaming habits, I have always had a fondness for role-playing video games (RPGs) and spent significant amounts of time playing them with my brother after elementary school. I discovered Undertale through social media in 2016 and felt determined to give it a try. Although I had an enjoyable experience, I was forced to abandon the game due to increasing professional and academic responsibilities and made a mental note to try it again when the opportunity arose. After an extremely positive experience playing Undertale in the past week, I noticed several aspects that made for such excellent gameplay. The Undertale is a welcoming, encouraging, and individualized experience that captivates and motivates the player towards success.
In order to understand how Undertale captivates and motivates players, it is important to understand the ways in which it stands apart from other video games. The story and gameplay ensure that “the individual, social, and cultural motivations of any player affect what is experienced through play,” (Salen, 2008, p.10). Undertale is a video RPG with a top-down perspective in which the player sees everything from above on the screen (other examples include The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, etc.). The protagonist frequently encounters monsters in the underworld and can choose to fight, avoid, give mercy, and even comfort them. When fighting monsters, the player is taken to the “battle” screen and has to move the heart away from the white bullets (pictured below):
After deciding on Undertale, I decided to download and play it on my laptop. This process required me to install Steam software and then purchase the game for $20. Overall, I had little difficulty setting it up, but I was immediately aware of how my experience might differ had I found access to the game on a console. Upon starting the game, I encountered the backstory of a world in which humans and monsters were once living amongst each other but were separated into two worlds. The human protagonist (I named mine “Olivia”) falls into the “underworld” of monsters and must complete the journey to remerge the two worlds. The first monster I encountered was “Flowey” who immediately switches from amiable to belligerent, teaches the player how to “fight” in battle mode, and threatens to harm you. However, I was immediately saved by “Toriel” (a central figure in the game).
Toriel introduces the ruins (the first stage of the game) and gives the protagonist a cell phone to stay in contact. Using the cell phone, Toriel frequently contacts the protagonist with seemingly banal questions such as “Do you like butterscotch or cinnamon” and serves as a guide. Despite being told by Toriel to stay put, I decided to wander around and start the game. I As I progressed through the ruins, I encountered other beings such as frogs, dummies, ghosts, and more. I declined to join the “Spider Bake Sale”, found plenty of “Monster Candy”, and completed several puzzles. In the process, I grew more adept at using each option (fight, act, flee, mercy) in battle and found that I had been playing for over two hours.
When I finally encountered Toriel again, I was told that I was not allowed to leave the ruins and had to fight her. I did not complete the fight successfully and was immediately encouraged by the game with a “don’t give up” message. Since so much time had passed, I was unable to continue but looked forward to my next session. According to Gee & Hayes (2012), high quality games inspire the player to “persist past failure, thereby engaging in a good deal of practice and time on task,” (p.2). In playing Undertale, I definitely felt a strong sense of encouragement and was motivated to continue.
The fact that player actions influence the conclusion of the game reveals a strong degree of player autonomy. At the end of the game (after several monsters and puzzles), the player reaches one of three endings: neutral, genocide, and pacifist. The ending reached depends on whether the player fights monsters, befriends other characters in the game, and has played the game before. However, there are several endings within the “neutral” category that depend on actions taken during the game (Undertale Wiki, n.d.). These nonviolent aspects of Undertale appear as a strong departure from the violent content of many other games. By providing nonviolent options, the game allows the user to chart their own path to the end.
The impact of video gameplay on children and adults is a complex and controversial topic. For over two decades, opponents have cited research claiming that video games promote aggression and antisocial behavior (Funk et al., 2002) despite other research that suggests it strengthens numerous skills (Bavelier et al., 2012). Despite these broad generalizations (i.e. all video games are good/bad), it is an unsettled topic with varying scientific perspectives (Koenig, 2014). Despite the conflicting points of view, I feel that Undertale has the potential to promote effective and non-violent problem solving. By displaying the benevolent and malevolent aspects of different characters, the game allows the user to think for themselves and chart their own path. I will definitely play again.
Bavelier, D., Green, C. S., Pouget, A., & Schrater, P. (2012). Brain plasticity through the life span: Learning to learn and action video games. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 391. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-060909–152832
Funk, J. B., Hagan, J., Schimming, J., Bullock, W. A., Buchman, D. D. and Myers, M. (2002), Aggression and psychopathology in adolescents with a preference for violent electronic games. Aggr. Behav., 28: 134–144. doi:10.1002/ab.90015
Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2012). Nurturing affinity spaces and game-based learning. Games, learning, and society: Learning and meaning in the digital age, 123, 1-40. Retrieved from http://emilysmayy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Gee-Hayes-2012.pdf
Koenig, R. (2014, December 17). Do ‘brain training’ games work? It depends on which scientists you ask. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/do-brain-training-games-work-it-depends-on-which-scientists-you-ask/
Salen, Katie. “Toward an Ecology of Gaming.” The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 1–20. doi:10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.001
Undertale Wiki (n.d.). In Wikia. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://undertale.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page