In 2012 I realized videogames were holding me back, artistically speaking. Or rather: my tunnel vision focus on videogames as "my" medium was holding me back.
Every medium is imbued with the exact same amount of possibility: it’s like the density of the Real Line. The density of the Real Line between 0 and 1 is infinite, as is the density between 0.2 and 0.4, which is the same as between 0 and 100, etc.
You can always drill down, and there will always be more to discover about a medium.
Chess has problems.
Not for most of us, perhaps - not for the bluffers and the fudgers and the seat-of-the-pants players who prod a path through matchups in which each side's strategy is a winsome, wobbling comedy of errors. No, chess has problems at the grandmaster level. Those people who really love chess, that devoted few who have given their lives to it and for whom chess really should be a great game? They're not getting a great game - and they haven't been getting one for a while.
Chess, it turns out, has been in a bit of a rut for some time.
Extra Credits: Affordances
DOET [Design of Everyday Things] judges the user’s needs most important, and her perspective most valuable. It is about the apotheosis of the user; it makes her into God, and with holy might it strikes the fear of Her into objects and those who make them.
DOET, alongside all the important research around it, culminated in something called User Centered Design, a philosophy in which “user error” does not exist and programmers are sad.
This school teaches that if it’s not fun (or at the very least quick and painless) to be taught about some feature, we shouldn’t include it; that clarity is better than complexity; that elegance is better than messiness; that one button is better than two. It teaches that the purpose of a game is to explain itself to you, and that somewhere in the act of explaining lies that game’s intrinsic value. We have thereby converted the scariest, most contentious question of all (what should this thing be?) from an artistic decision into a design decision.
Our belief in clarity and elegance, though it has yielded spectacular results, is not the very best way to make videogames; it may not even be a particularly good way. We suffer from the bar we’ve set for ourselves and the burdens we place upon designers. We are wrongly convinced, even in the critical community, that works like Problem Attic are unworthy of attention solely because they prioritize different features and challenge players in a way we deem to be unfashionable.
I plan on thinking much harder about how I evaluate potential game features. “Because then the user doesn’t have to think” or “but how do we teach that?” should not be trump cards in every single argument about whether to include stuff. It’s easy to turn everything into a neat little design decision, but making a few more artistic ones would be better in the long term for users and for my sanity
At its worst a backstory driven piece can seem soulless and lonely, as the player wanders desolate locations from which all the other humans have already fled.
But there’s also an argument to be made that the backstory mystery is one of the most natural possible shapes for interactive literature.
The problem I have with it in Gone Home is that this interaction style enforces the distance and lack of agency that is backstory’s chief defect, and it does so without offering much of value in exchange. The player’s task is purely ergodic, methodically working through every explorable space, even though this is a story about understanding and insight, not about effort and dedication.
Hypothetical reading is most interesting if the reader is likely at first to form incorrect hypotheses.
Gone Home misguides the player initially, but it does so in a way that is completely orthogonal to the actual substance of its story.
Nor does Gone Home let the reader take an active role in guessing and testing the guesses. One may form hypotheses about the relationships between the people in the house, why they are absent now, and where they have gone. But there is nothing the player can do that can either ask additional questions about these issues or hazard a guess at the answer. The exploration can’t be directed by the player in such a way that it elicits more information of the kind the player is most interested in; it can only be performed systematically and with a greater or lesser degree of thoroughness. Where in the house would you go to express, or investigate, the suspicion that the mother is having an affair?
The house, I felt, was a distraction, the 3D exploration a red herring.
Gone Home tells a great romance story, but it tells a particularly brilliant video game romance story because it finds a way around all these problems; you’re not part of the romance. By placing the player outside that relationship, Gone Home can develop a romance that feels realistically nuanced.
Half the men who got the number of the girl on the scary bridge tried to call her up. Only about 12 percent of the ones on the blase bridge in the control group made use of those same digits. Also, remember those stories the subjects were asked to make up about the ambiguous picture? Those who did so while swaying slightly back and forth over the Capilano River were much more likely to come up with narratives involving sex.
I think this explains why certain games get overrated.
Or at least certain aspects of games. Take the first season of The Walking Dead for example.
The Importance of Quiet Time
Fast-paced choices and moral quandaries are the most prominent feature of The Walking Dead, but they seem to have no real consequences. Why did this game receive approximately all of the awards in 2012 if its main selling point is used so inconsequentially? I suggest that the most important aspect about this game is not the many difficult choices it offers the player – it’s the illusion of choice the game constructs
The decisions you make in The Walking Dead don’t change what happens, they change how it happens.
Your actions determine what kind of person Lee is, how he reacts to certain situations, and how the other characters see him. You could almost say The Walking Dead is an RPG: Is Lee a failed family-man who sees Clementine as his second chance? Is he short-tempered and violent? Or does he keep a clear head and talks his way out of hairy situations? Does he regret what he did? Is he a cynic or a wide-eyed idealist? Will the other characters be his friends, or just his companions? Is there even any coherence between what he does and what he says? Maybe he doesn’t talk at all, which is really stupid but really funny. It doesn’t change the overarching story, but all of this and much more is up to you.
The Walking Dead is not about choices, it’s about decisions. It’s about making the right decision in a world where everything goes wrong. It’s about doing what you think is right, even when faced with absolute despair, even though all hope seems lost, and even though this bleak world doesn’t give a single fuck about your decision. But you have to do it. For Clementine.
Diary of a Western Videogame Protagonist:
Day 1 – I got
a haircut today. It’s a lot shorter now but not working class short,
not army short. Back at home, Sarah said that she liked it, that she
could see herself playfully gripping tufts of my hair during sex. I
said, “Why don’t we test that hypothesis?” and she obliged. God, I love
her so much. If anything were to happen to her, I swear…
Day 2 -
Sarah’s dead. And just one day after our scene of mildly erotic domestic
bliss, too. To mark my loss, I refused to shave today. Shaving would
somehow cheapen her passing. And besides, revenge is a dish best served
could read in Shadow a sexual politics in which the innate goodness of
human-born-humans is counterpointed with the monstering of a man-made,
non-human person. Without the involvement of sexual reproduction in
their creation, gender becomes irrelevant precisely because the creature
is unnatural. That this character became a villain is unfortunate,
because it supports a conservative idea that morality relies on a
heteronormative reproductive context. I prefer to see Homunculus as a
queer anti-hero: a person who has very limited survival strategies, and
opts to fight for their own existence at the expense of other people.
Queer anti-heroes are unable to solve their problems using brute force
or economic privilege, and must manipulate what advantages they do have
with skill in order to get what they want. The hero must, in response,
do the same.
Histories of gender & sexual diversity in games, Issue three June 2013, Gender in the shadows, Zoya Street
why do all but one of the females need to be warriors? The problem for
me is, in the context of this whimsical game, I can’t really identify
with a warrior-type character. The female characters in Rayman Legends
simply aren’t as fun for me because they aren’t as whimsical and fun as
their male counterparts are allowed to be. Not that there is
anything wrong with playing a warrior in certain games or contexts (or, I
guess, with playing a lovesick fool), but it just doesn’t work for me
in this particular game. I would rather play a character like Rayman who
is described as “always raring for a fresh adventure to save the
world;” or Sir Gilbrax, “a very famous knight.” Out of the thirteen
playable male characters only one, Raynesis, is described in a
threatening manner similar to the warrior princesses: “A desperate case
in need of serious anger management.” But, one threatening male
character still leaves me twelve whimsical male characters to choose
the first part of this study of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, I
questioned whether the Bechdel Test was the best benchmark for judging
whether or not a piece of media had something to offer in terms of good
female characterization. Is the Bechdel Test enough, or does even this bare minimum set the bar too low?
this second part, I’ll be looking at some of the games’ other
character, particularly Clementine, in an effort to delve deeper into
the presentation of women in a game praised for its characterization and
Long story short, I can see genre and contextual reasons that lead
designers in some areas (like fighting games) to make broad-brush design
choices that engage ethnic, gender, and sexual stereotypes. http://www.chaoticblue.com/blog/2014/01/shes-got-the-look/
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Errant Signal - The Novelist
Tim Schafer didn’t really give us what we said we wanted, which was an old school point-and-click adventure game. He gave us something better, a modern LucasArts game. He looked past our words to our intent and gave us a game that represents what we really wanted, not just what we thought we wanted.
Ice Pick Lodge seems to be reaching back into childhood to seek a resolution to very adult problems, the problems of memories that we don’t want to confront or that we think that we can simply hide out long enough from.
At some point, the game seems to argue, we need to be brave like children and make a run for it—even if that run might allow us to to be seen, to be found out for what we truly are.
Knock Knock is primarily an intellectual experience not an emotional one, which already makes it a poor horror game, but then it also fails to express anything intellectual because its central means of communication, the hide and seek puzzle mechanics, are awful.
Thoughts on Games Writing and Community Involvement
Among the many elephants in the games criticism room, our relationship to academia is one that threatens to stomp on others the most often. It’s presence comes out in numerous ways, but most usually on methods of analyzing games and the craft of writing criticism. This month there seems to be a resurgence of it, so I want to spill some thoughts on how it effects me and some things I’d like to see develop.
In the coming year, I want to see discussion and experiments on constructive, passionate uses of anger for social justice and change. I want people to express themselves honestly and without the degradation of others. We have our journals, our personal friends who understand us to be petty with. This doesn’t need to be an artificially happy place, but I’d like it to be somewhere no one is afraid to speak their mind and learn. I hope people who disagree with me contact me and let me know what they think, because I am ready for a change for the better, whatever it is we decide, as a community.
What I want to dig into, and outline to respect, is the experience that Kim Delicious describes here in response to anti-toxicity articles. It’s a conflict between legit anger, anger that is cathartic and deserved, and understanding that it will wall off communication and education to another person. It shows where being an activist and simply existing as a minority identity blur.
The Arcade Review: Issue 1
I first encountered the unmistakable style of Stephen
Murphy, aka thecatamites, back in 2009 with the hand-drawn adventure
game Paul Moose in Space. Since then you may well have stumbled
across any one of the otherworldly experience that he has provided on
tap, like Space Funeral, Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog, and The
Pleasuredromes of Kubla Khan.