Saturday, November 10, 2012

Curiosity: Where idiocy, genius, and opacity converge (and why it's bewildering)

If I had to describe Curiosity, I would say it is a deconstruction of why we play games that has no real point and may or may not be intentional. 

 Curiosity- What's Inside The Cube? tasks players with tapping a gigantic cube. Yes, that's the game. Players all around the world are tapping away at tiny tiles on a gigantic cube. The idea is that slowly but surely players will whittle away at the cube until they have shed all the layers, a process that may take an ungodly amount of time-especially with the servers being such a bad state. One person will then receive a link to a video that shows them what's inside the cube.  There are very few gameplay "hooks" in Curiosity; vaguely satisfying sound effects are tied to the shattering. I can’t think of a way that the game could be described as interesting on its own merit without the help of curiosity and collectivist altruism.  In some ways, Curiosity is the most pure game I've played. All unnecessary personality and gameplay hooks are stripped out and as a result the game oozes sterility. The color palette is bland, the background is white and empty, and the sound design is maddeningly boring and monotonous. The entire game revolves around tapping at cubes for what we can only assume will be an incredibly long time.

 In some ways, it may be a bit of a comment on the fallacies present in an interactive medium, and an explanation of how video games as a specific artistic medium are just as pointless as any other from a non-human perspective.  Some might call the game a parody of games; Ian Bogost has an interesting quote that is relevant here: 

"Satire and earnestness are very close cousins. Maybe they are identical, or even weirder, maybe satire is even more earnest than genuineness. A philosopher friend of mine named Graham Harman has suggested that things never really encounter the true, real versions of other things. Instead they translate, distort, or caricature one another. And if every interaction between anything whatsoever really amounts to a caricature, then maybe it's best to own up to that fact and stop pretending that anything is more than a travesty of its intended subject."                                                                                                           

 Curiosity agitates me because I can't understand the intentions of the creators. There is no authorial preference when it comes to interpretation; Molyneux has been maddeningly cagey about what the "experiment" really is. It’s almost like I’m reading into the game as a sort of justification for the hour or so I spent in the game and the amount of time I spent thinking about it. It almost reminds me of old NES games that we would play constantly regardless of quality because it was all we had and how we would make the most of it- often ascribing quality to games that didn’t deserve it. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Arguing some semantics


Adjective:        Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable: "it was a fun evening".

Halo 4’s Product Description
The Master Chief returns to battle an ancient evil bent on vengeance and annihilation. Shipwrecked on a mysterious world, faced with new enemies and deadly technology, the universe will never be the same. Enlist aboard the UNSC Infinity to experience Halo's original multiplayer and Spartan Ops - episodic fiction-based co-op missions.Key Features·                                 The Reclaimer Saga Begins: Experience the dawn of an epic new Halo adventure, solo or split screen with up to three friends
·                                 Go Beyond the Story: Halo 4's Infinity Multiplayer features a vastly expanded suite of multiplayer modes, weapons, vehicles, armor abilities, a new loadout and Spartan IV player progression system.
·                                 Spartan Ops: Extend your campaign experience in a massive-scale adventure that builds upon the "Halo 4" Campaign. Receive a weekly series of cinematic episodes on Xbox LIVE followed by new game play missions, played solo or cooperatively with up to three friends - effectively delivering two campaign experiences in one game!***
·                                 War Games: Battle the competition in fresh, immersive new game modes and strategies.
·                                 Track your groups, stats and scores on
·                                 Edge-of-your-seat Entertainment: Immerse yourself in Halo 4's graphics, sound and epic game play including a mysterious and deadly new class of enemies**
 Occasionally, I have to wonder if our game writer’s lexicon is gleamed from product descriptions online. I can’t help but cringe every time I hear a critic un-ironically say the word “immersive” or “epic” (luckily these terms have finally left our collective vocabulary as writers, apparently content at their place on the back of a box). This is an industry built upon press releases, of course, but I still feel like people like to box in games and their potential to very simple words and meaningless descriptions. For example, I hate it when people say “video games need to be fun”. (Warning: The following blog is going to essentially be me nit-picking about things you might find unimportant.)

What is fun, exactly? Well, “fun” is a word that means different things to different people, and it means nothing at all. When we are talking about games, we seem to be fans of calling everything fun; Resident Evil 2- it’s fun, Call of Duty- it’s fun, Super Mario Galaxy- it’s fun. In reality, though, the reasons we play these games aren’t to experience some nebulous thing called “fun”. Resident Evil 2 is a game you play to be afraid and helpless, or to experience an interesting world through a unique scope. Call of Duty is a game you play to A) experience a single-player experience (as I do) or B) play with others, or a combination thereof. Perhaps the only comparison between both games is that you shoot things. You might play Super Mario Galaxy to explore a world, be challenged with platforming, listen to music- a variety of reasons. But do you really play all three of these games simply “to have fun”? Do these games really live or die by their ability to be “fun”?
  I am not one of those weird pseudo-intellectual people who say “all language is ultimately meaningless, man”. Language does most certainly have a meaning; all of society is built upon the essentials of language and interpersonal communication. This belief, that language is extremely important- and precise language is doubly so, informs how I discuss art and products. Our reasons for being drawn to pieces of art or products are not simple enough to be described in one word.

Currently, I’m playing Bastion on a borrowed iPad. Bastion is an enjoyable game; I find myself enamored with it and I kind of want to play it right now. But is it “fun”? Maybe I could describe it that way. But if I wanted to make you interested in the game, the only way I could would be by explaining what interests or entertains me. Here’s an example: “Bastion has a large amount of interesting ideas that I enjoy exploring. First of all, the combat in the game is very rewarding, the sound effects associated with using the weapons (especially the dueling pistols) and the sound effects associated with fighting enemies train a part of your brain to want to keep playing- and by extension- fighting. I also think the art style of Bastion is clever; I am a big fan of the concept of a beautiful post-apocalypse, that’s why I’m drawn to shows like Adventure Time. The game is extremely eye-catching, all the colors are vibrant and even the littlest details like the color and texture of tiles you walk across is always different and unique.” Could I say “Bastion is fun”? Yes. But it’s more than fun. 

 Finally, I dislike the notion some people have that games “need to be fun” for a similar reason. Saying that a game needs to have a component as nebulous as fun A) devalues different artistic visions and B) gives off the impression that games are essentially toys, made for the enjoyment of kids and weird adults stuck in childhood. I’m tired of games like Journey for being slammed- not because of anything meaningful about what the game is- but because it isn’t “fun”, like action games, stealth games, or sports games. And, as I said earlier, the buzzword “fun” is about as concise and meaningful as “epic” or “engrossing” or “visceral”; it gives the impression of depth with no further explanation. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The nomadic games journalist interview

There is a certain mystique to the role of the nomad. Many of us, at one time or another, consider the possibilities of a life free of the baggage that comes from living in one place. Sometimes, we would like nothing more than to cast aside bills, work, or school and live a life of constant motion. This romantic idea is only perpetuated in Western society further by the influences of Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and others of their ilk.
 Justin Amirkhani is not your average video game journalist. He has contributed to quite a few publications including Kill Screen, PC Gamer, Official Xbox Magazine, and EDGE. More importantly, Justin is a sort of nomad. He has no home of his own, and little in the way of money. Justin has, since early 2012, been making a trek from Los Angeles, California to Toronto, Canada; he has lived for the last five months off the kindness and donations of strangers.
 The following is an interview I had over email with Justin.

Why did you decide to go on this cross-country trip- what did you think you might be able to gain from visiting various developers before you started?

 Despite having plenty of opportunities to talk to developers during the course of my career as a freelance games journalist, I've always been disappointed by the fact most conversations with them are squarely focused on the product they are releasing at the time. I'm far more curious to find out what sort of person makes a game like Gears of War than learning what sorts of weapons are in the new version. Visiting developers in their natural environments is a way of getting closer to their personal lives, finding out what drives them, and better understanding why they got into this business in the first place.

That's very interesting, actually. I'm assuming that we both view games in a similar way (as a commercial art form). I feel with a lot of art you don't truly appreciate it until you acquire a better understanding of the artists. Does meeting the developers often change how you view their games? Are there any examples where you came away with a whole new respect for a game after meeting the people who made it?

 This may seem to go against what I just said, but I don't think meeting the developers changes my appreciation for the final product. One of the most important things I've learned during my journey was that motivation is often irrelevant when evaluating the end result. It doesn't matter if an indie developer pours their heart and soul into a game if it still sucks, and it doesn't matter if Sequel Shooter 2012 is produced by automatons under the rule of a mega corporation if it's lots of fun.
 If I've gained appreciation for anything, it's how developers balance and live their lives. The most incredible talent I've had the fortune to meet on this trek have also been some of the most incredible people. I have an intense interest in individuals who can devote themselves wholeheartedly to a project and still maintain an active and fulfilled lifestyle outside of their work.

I'm curious about what a cross country trip to video game developers entails from a "living" perspective. On your blog there's a sidebar with ways to donate and ways people can help out. I'm curious in what way (if any) the help of others has played into making your trek possible?

 This trip would be impossible without the donations from my readers, hospitality from strangers, and people just generally being amazing. I'm a writer by trade, that's about as close to perma-broke as you can get. The donations from my readers have funded everything from my bus pass, to basic foods, to medicine when I got sick. People have offered me free places to stay, given me a meal or two, and helped me carry on. Without all of this, I would have had to stop a long time ago.
 The other thing is, these donations really give me a confidence that people are enjoying my work and have similar goals to me. It shows that people are interested in the sorts of stories I want to write, and that makes me feel a whole lot less alone when I think there's no real place for my weird mix of content.

The fact that writers like you and me are almost pre-destined for perma-broke status is one I try to keep in the back of my mind. 
Where are you now, how far have you gone, and where are you going next? 

 I just returned to Toronto for a quick pit stop. My original journey was set to be two months, but I've been living on the road for nearly five now. I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen next - I'm spending some time with family, at least until Thanksgiving - but I've officially got no home of my own and I expect to keep myself that way for at least a little while longer.

(Justin has traveled from Toronto to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to San Diego, San Diego to Raleigh, Raleigh to New York City, New York City to Cleveland and back into Toronto. A distance of roughly 6,500 miles.) 

If you had to name one person or place that has affected you the most on your journey, where would it be? How has this single experience changed you?

 That's an incredibly hard question to answer because there have been so many events, places, and people that have shaped my current mindset. One of the most pivotal experiences though came near the end of my current leg. I met a man named Sam in a hostel in Seattle. He's from Wales and also a writer - not about video games though - and we got along. One day he fell in love with this girl who was cycling from Vancouver to Panama and came home all upset he wasn't going to see her again as his flight left from San Francisco in a few days.
 Rather than let him sulk about the situation, I demanded we go chasing after her. Together we hitched down the Oregon coast to nowhere towns and met some fantastic people on the way. We had an entire small town looking for his dream girl and had the time of our lives doing it. We finally did find her, on a beach at sunset in the middle of nowhere and it was magical. It proved to me that sometimes, injecting life with a little foolishness and romanticism can make it so much better. Reality's what you make of it, chasing lofty ideas should be part of it.

Your project is attracting more than just gamers, obviously. Do you think people might be interested in it because of ideals embedded in Western culture, or is the appeal simpler

 It's true, my audience is now very split. I have the usual video game playing crowd, but now I've also got this group of people who know nothing about games and just like hearing about the travel. My favourite thing though is that these two groups are starting to cross-pollinate, with the gamers learning a little about travel life and the travelers learning a little about gaming.

Do you think that people are attracted to this nomadic, Bob Dylan-y idea of someone that drifts throughout the country taking in the world?

 Absolutely. I know I am. There's no doubt in my mind the likes of Dylan, Kerouac, Thompson, and others have played a role in my decision to give up my stuff and go live on the road, but by no means does it make it any less attractive to me. I can't speak for everyone, but the idea of being absolutely free from all the machinations of life is what draws me in. There's an intense liberation that comes with an open path before you, realizing you can do anything you want, anywhere. It's an incredibly romantic idea, so much so that it's consumed my life. In that way it's easy for me to understand why people like reading about it.

Have you thought about writing a book about your experiences, or something like that? I have never heard of something like this in the industry before, and I imagine a book on it would be a smash-hit among gamers. 

 There is a book in the works. I've written part of it on the road, and now that I'm back in Toronto - at least for a little while - I'll be putting most of my energy into finishing it. There are a lot of stories that I've been itching to tell that just don't work well in blog form and based on the reaction I've received so far from the project, I'm inclined to agree that a lot of gamers would find it interesting.
 The problem for me is finding that sweet balance between my experiences as a gamer and my experience as a nomad. It's harder to find than you'd think, but hopefully there's an audience for it. That, and finding money. Haha. I'm literally down to whatever's in my wallet and nothing more these days.

Just to wrap this up on a game note, have you discovered what you wanted to about game developers? 

 If there's one thing I've learned about game developers, it's that they are the most talented and hard working individuals in the entertainment world. The ones that impress me most though are those that manage to lead unique and interesting lives outside of their work despite game development taking up so much of their time. I've always been a fan of developers because they followed a passion of theirs to its logical conclusion, but truly admire those who don't let that idea stop with their work. It's the ones who pull crazy hours in the office and then still have time for families, hobbies, and adventures of their own when they step away from the keyboard that I wish I could be more like.

(If you want to learn more about Justin's journey, visit his blog:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Why I'm bored of laughing at the mainstream media

 Every now and again, we in the video game brain space need to remind ourselves how pitifully uninformed the 'mainstream media' is about games. Earlier this year, I took it upon myself to write a four-part series of articles analyzing various controversial games and how the media treated them (you can find Part OnePart TwoPart Three, and Part Four here)*1 Needless to say, by the time I finished researching and writing those articles I was as weary of video-game-illiteracy in the mainstream media as anyone.
 This past week, I suppose we decided that we were ready once again to rag on the mainstream media (we just finished being angry at Fox over Bulletstorm's coverage) and we found a great target at the Wall Street Journal. Adam Najberg posted a review of Borderlands 2 that contained plenty of points people on the internet can get mad at. In fact, the article starts out committing one of the Internet's seven deadly sins, comparing it to Black Ops 2, a game that hasn't even come out yet. 

"The sequel to the highly acclaimed 2009 Borderlands game goes on shelves Tuesday in Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions for around $60. At that price point, the first-person shooter, published by 2K Games, inevitably invites comparisons with the Halos and Call of Duty games already out and due to come in the next few weeks and months. Borderlands 2 falls short because it’s missing several key elements you need to have in a 2012 first-person shooter game – most notably, a rich multiplayer online mode. There’s an extremely limited four-player cooperative mode, and if you have an Xbox Live Gold account, you can team up that way, but this isn’t the type of deeply engrossing FPS game the headset-wearing COD crowds gather to play months and months after release. In comparison, I read on several sites that COD: Black Ops 2 will feature up to six teams, for a total of 18 simultaneous players, in multiplayer mode."
 Now, for a moment, I'll play along. If I were to critique this review from the top down, I would first point out that comparing Borderlands 2 to Call of Duty or Halo is a rather obvious folly. Just because you look down the barrel of a gun in both games doesn't make the comparison apt. There would be a clearer tie between RPG games or less-militaristic FPS games. Moving right along is a sentence in the next paragraph that further enforces the rather obvious subplot of this review that the reviewer in question is rather unsure what he's talking about. 

"I played the Xbox version of Borderlands 2 for close to a week, and while the development and upgrades from the original are apparent, the quirk and novelty that made the 2009 game so endearing and popular (according to, combined unit sales of the original topped 4.5 million for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) feel dated and tired in this game."
Rather than simply saying that the quirk and novelty of the game seem dated, he links to the apparently prestigious (though I've never heard of it); there is no fact that needs to be checked in that sentence. It really does seem that this review is written by someone who is grasping at relevance or an air of knowledge. He constantly reinforces the similarities between the same three games: 

 "Borderlands 2’s single-player campaign mode isn’t as good as what you’ll find in games like COD: Black Ops or the Medal of Honor series. There’s too much “feast-or-famine” hunting for tasks, supplies and a good battle for this to be a fun game all the way through."
If you read the review, I'm sure you will find enough criticism of your own. I won't flat-out say that the review is stupid or pointless, since I'd rather not ever be in the "your review is invalid" camp; what I will say is that the review is clearly not very worthwhile and not helpful if you want to talk about or decide on a purchase of Borderlands 2.

All that aside, though, I simply couldn't really get mad at anyone over the review. In all honesty, I just don't expect much from reviews of anything in the mainstream media (whether that be games, books, or films). If you want good, heavy-hitting reviews, news, opinions, go to places you should trust. Go to Joystiq, or Gamasutra, or The Brainy Gamer, or whoever has actual certifications. Don't expect it to get better, because it probably never will.

Once again, I'm sitting on the sidelines asking gamers to please, please calm down.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

You've Got Friends In Them...

I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a hack. No, it’s not because I will compare Beyond Good & Evil to the wars in the Middle East. I love talking about video games, and if it goes into territory of interpretation of political messages- I’m game. I feel like a hack sometimes because of the huge amount of important games I’ve never played. I simply haven’t been around the block enough times to play all the games I should. Slowly, through the miracles of the Internet, I’m cutting down on my backlog. This feeling of ineptitude and self-doubt prompted me to finally play Hideo Kojima’s Playstation One classic Metal Gear Solid. 

"Otacon: Have you ever... loved someone?
Solid Snake: That's what you came to ask?
Otacon: No, I was wondering if even soldiers fall in love.
Solid Snake: What are you trying to say?
Otacon: I want to ask you. Do you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?
Solid Snake: Yeah. I do. I think at any time, any place, people can fall in love with each other. But if you love someone, you have to be able to protect them."

 Metal Gear Solid's story is a Westernized, military-spy-thriller romp fit for popcorn consumption and emphatic bro-high-fives. It's the sort of affair that, in any other medium, would be best enjoyed with friends and drinks (alcoholic and otherwise.) The game is both a campy adventure with a roster of characters that are referred to only by badass-sounding code names (Solid Snake, Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot) and a somewhat long-winded indictment of America's military actions and worldwide politics.  

"Revolver Ocelot: We live in a sad age. Imperialism, totalitarianism, perestroika... 20th century Russia had its share of problems, but at least they had an ideology. Russia today has nothing." 
Humans are social creatures. Generally speaking, we don't do well without each other. Metal Gear Solid recognizes this fact and plays on it to emotionally attach you in ways that you wouldn't expect- if you let it. 

 The main method of communication you have with the outside world on your one-man-Alaskan mission is a device called a Codec. This Codec (tuned to the frequency of your eardrum) is a source of communication between yourself and your allies.  From a mechanical standpoint, the Codec is handy in that it opens up windows that otherwise wouldn't be open (for example, you can get information you might not know about your mission). However, it is not a purely mechanical part of the game. 
 You see, the people on the other end of the Codec aren't cold and heartless military bastards with crewcuts and cigars constantly being crunched.. They aren't as shallow as you might expect from talking heads in a video game. For example the tech girl, Mei Ling, makes a habit of inundating you with information ranging from Chinese proverbs to Shakespearean quotations when you call her. She explains to you in one scene her dreams of being a pilot; dreams that were crushed by a hesitance to kill and poor eyesight. Your commander, Campbell, provides necessary information and support when things get hairy. In a game defined by long-windedness, the brief characterizations of your accomplices are refreshingly concise.
 Metal Gear Solid makes you want to care about fulfilling your mission. The people on the Codec constantly remind you of your importance, your indispensability. You are able to learn more about your allies, if you want to. They aren't just talking heads- they are people, people who care about what happens to you. 

 Metal Gear Solid was a revolutionary game both from a gameplay and storytelling perspective. However, I have the unique (and not entirely pristine) perspective of playing MGS after it revolutionized storytelling in polygonal games. What really stands out to me is the focus the game puts on interpersonal relationships with coadjutors, and the fact that unlike every other focus the game seems to have, it doesn't beat you over the head with it’s existence. I wish more games focused on side character's actual character, not just their gameplay functions. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Was On A Podcast!

My good-Internet-friend (and longtime Armchair Gamer Podcast affiliate) Nick Schneider hosts a podcast called "The 4th Floor". Yesterday, Nick had a Braden-shaped opening on his show- and I accepted an offer to co-host. The result of this is an episode titled "The Atheist Dogg". The show is a discussion of this generation of consoles and why it is awful in many ways. We also talk about Stephen King's The Stand and The Dark Tower, Hideo Kojima's PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid, and George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice And Fire series. 
Enjoy the show. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Armchair Gamer Podcast Season Two Episode Four: There Are No "Right" Choices

On this installment of The Armchair Gamer Podcast I memorialize the recently-deceased Paul Steed. I briefly lament the fact that publishers aren’t marketing hard enough, because I can’t remember when anything is slated to release. Also, I talk with friend of the show Nick Schneider about Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Follow The Show On Twitter At:
Follow Nick On Twitter At :
Also The Episode of “Games Dammit” referenced is here:

The Music

The Walking Dead OST “Alive Inside”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Walking Dead's Abysmal Morality

This post contains spoilers pertaining to Telltale Game's The Walking Dead; I try to withhold any spoilers I find unnecessary to share, but at the same time I have come to the conclusion that proper discussion of this game requires me to reveal some plot points and scenarios. Read at your own discretion. 

 Morality is an elusive subject. Everyone has something to say about it: religion points to dogmatic books as an ultimate moral guide, politicians point to ideals between individualism and societal cohesion as a way to do what's right. Horrific crimes in America, like killing your wife or slicing off a thief’s hand, are hardly out of place in many Middle-Eastern countries. Normal social activity a century or a half-century ago (like lynching people of different ethnicities or beating a non-submissive spouse) is now widely regarded as disgusting and immoral. We debate about gay marriage today, and tomorrow politician's careers might be ruined by merely mentioning a disagreement with marriage equality. Our culture has sanctioned genocide and condemned it in the same era. No one can agree on what's moral.
 Yet so many video games (ex: Mass Effect or inFAMOUS) address issues of morality in extremely childish ways: a moral decision in a standard role-playing-game could have been picked out of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. Somehow, video game designers have managed to take one of humanities most basic questions-how should we treat each other-and bastardized it to the point of silliness and triviality. This is not to say that said designers are childish, of course, many of them have the best intentions. The simple fact of the matter is that the way most games operate isn't conducive to giving players real dilemmas to chew on and real consequences for their actions. To borrow a rather telling quote from a 2009 Gamespot article:
 "Morality is not a black-and-white concept. Reality is very seldom as simple as a choice between good and evil; the spectrum of moral behaviours is as complicated and consequential as our emotions. Instead of mirroring this complexity and including moral choices that lead to genuine in-game consequences, video games often do the opposite--they present a watered-down version of moral choice that ultimately results in players having to choose between good or evil: to harvest or not to harvest (BioShock), to be “paragon” or “renegade” (Mass Effect), to kill innocents or to save them (inFamous), to have a halo or devil horns (Fable II)." 
 There are no "right choices" in The Walking Dead; within half an hour of starting the first episode (of five) your character (Lee) is forced to choose between saving the life of a young man you have just met the night before,or the son of a man you hardly know from an onslaught of "walkers". I saved the son (Ducky) and was forced to leave the farm I had been sheltered in . I would've left the farm anyway, but having the father of the man I let die kick me out under such circumstances really socked me in the gut. And it just gets harder from there.
 There is something very organic about the way that players can affect the narrative with their choices. Each choice you make has an impact, whether it be catastrophic or almost minute. One of the gameplay options The Walking Dead has are little text notifiers that outline how people mentally react to your dialogue options. Please, turn this off; playing the game solely from Lee's perspective and seeing how people respond to you through the story itself is much more satisfying and is a better test of Telltale's narrative chops. 
 Another example from Episode One is a scene where you encounter a survivor of the zombie outbreak who is holed up in a motel. One of your group members finds this woman and enlists your help to get her out of her room. When you do eventually lure the woman out of her sanctuary, it is revealed that the woman is mentally unstable and believes she is infected with whatever makes the “walkers” (read: zombies) what they are. Eventually, it comes down to two choices: one: you voluntarily give her a gun- a means of death on her own terms, or two: you try to keep the gun out of her hands. Regardless of what you do, the woman does kill herself; your decisions don't always matter. What does matter is the fact that how you handle the situation determines what people think of you. I didn't give her the gun, and was properly scrutinized for withholding a chance to let her be free, like she wanted. Not only that, the means she used to get the gun put our group in jeopardy- jeopardy that could have been avoided had I just let her do what she wanted.

 The Walking Dead lets you own your decisions. A central element of the source material is the idea that characters being pushed to their extremes never make the "right" choice. Your actions in the game aren't rewarded by Karma points or some other arbitrary tallying system instituted to constantly remind you that you are the good guy- the branching paths aren't sectioned into "good" and "evil"; you play the game the way that best appeases your conscience. 
 In the aforementioned suicidal-woman scenario there was no clearly good or clearly evil choice to be made. If another human being is in pain and wants an escape- than it is fundamentally hard for me to deny it to them. Trying to stop a suicide may feel morally superior in the moment, but at the same time it's a hard pill to swallow, especially under the specific circumstances in the game. And since the game gives no absolutely positive or absolutely negative feedback, the jury is still out. The Walking Dead toyed with me enough that I'm still mulling over whether or not I make the right decision every time I play the game. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another Video Game Luminary Leaves Us

The video game medium is so young, we are not used to death. Yes, video game creators have died- but it isn't common. That makes every loss even worse. 

According to a report on "The Jace Hall Show" industry figure Paul Steed has passed away. His cause of death is, as of now, unreleased. Paul had a hand in such classics as Quake and Wing Commander. Paul's resume includes positions at EA, Atari, id Software, Microsoft, and many more. In his last years, he established a company called Exigent. 

Like many video game developers, he was a sort of polarizing figure-Paul was fired from id Software after some controversial statements over Quake 3. Despite this, everyone who knew him spoke to his genuine intentions- he wasn't an attention seeker. 

The industry has lost a legend. 

"“The real trick is staying known, staying relevant and staying excited about what you do. Our little ‘game industry that could’ has become the juggernaut that won’t be stopped. Ambition, hard work, perseverance, luck and shameless self-promotion – it’s all part of the deal.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The Articles That Matter" Archive

When I picked up this blog again, and vowed to get semi-weekly posting done, I realized that I needed to do more than just write my own feelings on games and articles I read. So, I started an "Articles That Matter" sidebar featuring thought-provoking, interesting articles. However, to keep the blog clean and orderly, I only archive the important articles up to seven. So, here's all the "Articles That Matter" 

The mirror men of Arkane by Russ Pitts
Alone With The Crunch: How A Video Game Pushed One Man To The Brink by Patrick Stafford
Persuasive Games: Words With Friends Forever by Ian Bogost
On Player Characters and Self-Expression by Tadhg Kelly 
In The Sexism Discussion, Let's Look At Game Culture by Leigh Alexander 
High Noon For Shooters by Michael Abott 
Creating Audio That Matters by Caleb Bridge 
How An Hour With Modern Warfare 2 Made Me Hate Video Games Rowan Kaiser 
1UP's Essential 100 (P1) by 1UP.Com 
Making Violent Games in A Violent Country Eric Caoili 
Systemic Consistency and The Law of Conservation by Brent Gulanowski 
Creative, Compelling, And Cancelled: Lost Games That Could've Changed The System by 1UP.Com 
Cover Story: 1UP's Essential 100, Part Two by 1UP.Com  
It's Die Hard, In A Video Game by Michael Clarkson 

Friday, August 3, 2012

1UP.Com's "Essential 100": An Important Canonical Guide of Important Games

 I would like to be one of the hipsters that takes the non-conformist (and purely vocal) stance that I abhor lists of any kind. Indeed, I would like to proudly trumpet my inspired intellectualism and tell the whole world how absolutely careful I am in media analysis. Taking the stance of "I hate lists" would give me an out, a way to avoid conversations and debates that almost never lead anywhere. Saying that lists are pointless is an ultimate act of pacifism in the nerdy community; you can be a conscientious objector when the debate between Star Trek and Star Wars begins. 
 If I said that lists were always silly, I would be lying. When done right, lists are an interesting manner of chronicling important facts or opinions in a way that makes sense. While I hate "Best Video Games Of All-Time" lists (they are useless and seem to exist solely to start flame wars online) there is a definite place for lists and canons in the video game discussion. 
When I saw that 1UP.Com (an awesome video game website that has spawned some of the great video game writers) was compiling a list entitled "The Essential 100"
I was understandably concerned. However, my concerns were quickly put to rest when I read the Number 100 Pick: M.U.L.E.
The Essential 100 isn't 1UP compiling "the best games of all time"; the list is all about highlighting games that changed the video game-scape. Each entry reads like a love letter to a game of the past: 

"There's nothing quite like a non-violent economic simulation to angry up the blood of an '80s gamer kid. That may sound like smartassery, but in at least one case it held to be completely, unironically true. M.U.L.E. is an odd duck: A game of planetary conquest, full of aliens, robots, and even space pirates, where nary a shot is fired. Nevertheless, it's one of the most ruthless, cutthroat, controller-throwing games ever made. Yes, you will be furious at a friend for manipulating the price of food through artificial scarcity. Also, you will completely ace your economics courses because an old video game taught you what artificial scarcity is without you even realizing it." 
 I always commend 1UP's writing quality, but the skill present in this feature is consistently incredible. Every single article beautifully explains why these video games matter- not only as standalone products, but the shoulder's that other games sit on. 
This list is shaping up to be the most carefully thought-out, lovingly composed canon of unique gaming experiences around. I am eagerly anticipating what will be up next. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beyond Good And Evil: A Game For The Post 9/11 World

It is no surprise that a game named after a Friedrich Nietzsche book has layers of philosophical and political depth. Beyond Good And Evil is a game for the War In The Middle East, post-9/11 world; a game that applies even better to a WikiLeaks world of 2012. in my opinion, than the world of 2003. 

 The Alpha Sections are the primary antagonists in this game. They are can be thought of in various different ways, depending on how you interpret the game. Hillys, the planet the game takes place on, is under an apparent threat of the DomZ, a species of hostile extraterrestrials who appear to be attacking the planet parallel to the activities of the Alpha Sections. The Alpha Sections essentially hijack the planet's political system, taking credit for "holding back" the DomZ. They achieve this through propaganda that is viewable on every street corner in the City that constantly parrots the "success" of the Alpha Sections, and how the opponents (a rebelling network named IRIS) need to be stopped at all costs.
 There are two ways I've thought about this game (which doesn’t mean there aren’t many other possible interpretations). The first is from the view of the Middle Easterners in our world (the Hillyans in their universe.)
 The Alpha Sections may be an analogue for the United States. In the view of some people, America used 9/11 as an opportunity to invade Afghanistan (some people even say America caused it, though those two viewpoints don't necessarily intersect.) The Alpha Sections established power on Hillys because the attacks by the DomZ frightened people to submission, and made people more lenient about the actions of those who defended them. As a result, some people think America only promoted war in Afghanistan because the populace was scared. The Taliban and al-Qaeida might even be represented by the DomZ, a catalyst towards invasion, a scapegoat for people that were lying. 
 However, the game might also be interpreted from the side of America. We might see the Taliban working with al-Qaeida, and want to be the whistle blowers that stop it. Perhaps the IRIS Rebel Network is an analogue to the people who worked with the US and their allies in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban. They exist to promote the truth to Hillys, to bring about freedom. Their only way to break through propaganda was the truth, and the truth was communicated with photographic evidence. 
 Another interesting idea, however you choose to interpret the game, is the optimistic idea that informed citizens will do the right thing. In some ways, the IRIS Network reminds me of organizations like WikiLeaks; they exist only to tell citizens the truth. What Hillyans actually do with the photographic evidence isn't sure until the end of the game where the whole populace is in open defiance of the lying Alpha Sections. Certainly, this view is optimistic; we have people in our world that can easily see the evidence of the truth, but choose not to listen. However, something about it is comforting and romantic; the idea that people will listen to the truth and change their world because of it is a powerful one. 

A Broken System

I, along with the gaming community at large, was shocked by a recent post I saw on The Verge titled "'Fez' developer reposts 'kinda broken' patch with no plans to fix." In this post, it was detailed how the developer of Fez, a highly popular indie game on Xbox Live Arcade, had no plans to fix a bug in the patch of his game. According to the article: 

""We're not going to patch the patch," the developer writes on its official site. "Why not? Because Microsoft would charge us tens of thousands of dollars to re-certify the game."
 I am not usually as interested about writing about the business side of games. In fact, I'd rather write more about them as an art form. However, when a game is potentially broken and will stay that way because of silly Microsoft business practices, it seems to be a problem. This is simply a sad state of affairs.
 In an era where developers working on Steam can patch their software with no fuss, having to pay Microsoft hand over fist to make a game work is ridiculous. It's the sort of silly business problem that would only exist in the video game realm. That's too bad, because at the end of the day the people who get hurt are the creators and the consumers. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Video Game Brain Space Needs YOU!

 Today, Leigh Alexander over at Gamasutra made a characteristically excellent post called "In The Sexism Discussion, Let's Look At Game Culture" a post about handling the issue of sexism in the games industry. In it, she challenged people to work harder on taking down the social constructs and operations that make it so hard for women to be heard in the games industry. My favorite few paragraphs read: 
Despite all the snarking and outrage about booth babes at E3 this year, when I walked the show floor it wasn't the costumed women that let me know I didn't really belong here anymore. It was the content, and the attitude to content. 

Men reciting marketing lines about weapons and explosions. The question every trailer and presentation aimed to answer was who do you kill and how do you kill them. I thought of all the good, smart guys I know on dev teams and struggled to reconcile it with this numb, mean litany, devoid of much aside from the quest for dollars. Shoulder to shoulder, men marched proudly in their studio tees. The more money they have made off of shooters, the higher they held their heads.

We have a mainstream culture that doesn't represent what a mature, progressive audience wants to buy. It's not always a problem when this happens -- interesting, independent creation will always thrive on the fringe of any medium. But here we have a mainstream culture many healthy adults cringe at being associated with. It's not just good dumb fun: There's something sick about it.
 I'd just like to say that we need more women's voices in games. We need women everywhere; we need them at conventions, on podcasts, on Twitter- we need women who have a voice and something important to say. Not only that, we need homosexuals, we need bisexuals, we need African-Americans, Hispanics, Europeans, etc. We need to highlight the people who have something important to say. Don't share articles and content written by bigots because it is inflammatory, share articles that further our discussion and make us think. Stop letting people with important points be marginalized, and let the bigots get off easy. 
 We have some of the most understanding, hip people of any industry in ours; there is no reason why we should be known for marginalization and hatred.