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January 29th

January 29th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging:

What time is it? … What year?

No… Then we don’t have much time left! We HAVE to release This Week in Videogame Blogging before it’s too late!

Let’s hit the ground running. We start with Jim Rossignol, interviewing Jim Rossignol, with such hard-hitting investigative journalism as:

RPS’s Jim Rossignol: How much are you charging for this deathtrap?

Jim Rossignol: $5. I wanted to charge $7500, but I realise that people need distracting from the basic horror of their existence. I mean we’re all definitely going to die, quite grotesquely in some cases, and anything that can be done to get people to think about colours and pleasant noises instead of the infinite abyss of their own doom is worth doing, I would say.

For a weightier interview, sure to be good reading material while the irradiated Earth cools, we go to Hardcore Gaming 101 and John Szczepaniak’s interview with Agness Kaku, translator for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and the Katamari Damacy franchise. Here is a sample before you head into the vault:

It’s like a molasses [game design has] been caught in all this time. I think in the early days the medium was quite limited, so the language you used, whether it was graphics or game control, or just the actual text, was in line with that. All was kind of good. But very quickly the medium outstripped the language, and in the meantime it’s just continued to gabble in this stuff grabbed from poor movies. Or just arbitrarily stuck-in comic book pieces. I don’t know when it’s going to get out of this. I’m sure some people have experimented, but as long as everyone sits around… A polite way to say it is a mutual congratulations society. As long as this keeps going on it’s not going to get better guys, it’s really not.

Our mutated descendants might not have much use for football when they’re trapped in the still-warm subterranean tunnels near the Earth’s core, but in case we do, two pieces this week have turned their attention to the intersection of sports and games. The first, from Scott Juster, remarks on how much more like sports than board games videogames happened to be. The latter, from the ever-erudite Tom Bissell, suggests that if there is art in games, there is art in sports games as well:

Whatever art is, it must be, in some way, beautiful. Acts of physical beauty performed within rule-set confines are not art, but acts of mental beauty performed within only slightly less rule-set confines (like, say, a sonnet) are. Is that really how we’re going to play this? It doesn’t sit right. Here’s what I just realized: A world in which sport at its best is not seen as some kind of art is a world that doesn’t deserve any art.

Eric Schwarz attempts to take a fine-toothed comb to that infamously nebulous term ‘immersion.’ Sentient machines intent upon enslaving mankind in perpetual simulacra, take note.

And now for a moment, we refer back to a simpler time, a happier time… last week, when Raph Koster asserted that narrative was not a game mechanic. He clarifies further this week: “Narrative Isn’t Usually Content Either“. This may leave some games depending heavily upon what Koster deems “feedback” in a curious position. Take Mafia, or as Joel Goodwin likes to call it, “The Don of Cutscenes“.

And when they excavate our servers from the ruins of bomb-blasted wreckage, I hope it’s Drew Millard’s portrait on 50 Cent, man, icon and game avatar that they uncover first.

[At] the end of the day, he’ll go home to a five-million-dollar mansion and sleep in a hyperbaric chamber fueled by crisp, non-consecutive twenties and the tears of a unicorn. If life is a videogame, 50 Cent has already beaten it. So why does he keep playing?

Alien paleontologists may be more perplexed by Eric Swain’s fixation on the dynamics of Driver: San Francisco, although those of us who hang on to survival in those first lean years after the end might take some comfort in the game’s campy genre logic. But what are they to make of Kirk Battle’s eerie precognition, writing about the wastelands of Bastion and New Vegas?

Clint Hocking coined the term “ludonarrative dissonance” to describe when what you’re doing in the game doesn’t really reflect what the story says is going on. Over the years, this has proved to be a bit of an impossible standard. Inevitably, game mechanics assert themselves, and the game’s story becomes less important as a motivator compared to gaining a level or grabbing that next powerful item. Fallout: New Vegas doesn’t so much solve this problem as it doesn’t really care. [...] Bastion, as the smaller game, has a different solution. It lets the narrator completely diverge from the player and makes its points with that dissonance.

And, who knows? Perhaps rebuilt civilization will have a proper appreciation for Okami, such as that of Jeffrey Matulef’s retrospective and Johannes Koski’s studies on its localization.

Future generations and/or slavers might also appreciate the nuance we game bloggers had in appraising our own cultural creations. Such as Nick Dinicola’s critique of Arkham City, which he argues shows The Man Bat at his most static. Or Bill Coberly, asserting that Catherine‘s portrayal of sexuality and relationships only appears mature next to the alternative:

It is infuriating to constantly talk about the potential for greatness in this medium and play game after game after game which retries the same broken formulae and wallows in the same muck. I can thus understand the desire to seize on anything that seems at all different, anything which tries even a little bit to engage with mature themes. I know I’m guilty of this sort of behavior.

But if anything survives the ruins of our self-destruction, it must be the art. Van Gogh. Banksy. Tracey Lien, who proves once and for all that game journalism can be impressionist painting too.

Soberingly, there might not be time to preserve Suikoden II, especially as it appears likely the Apocalypse will arrive before Konami and Sony get around to putting it on PSN. But perhaps we’ll keep it in our hearts. Jason Schreier will surely keep it in his.

Yes; even as we near the almost-certain twilight of our existence before the Cetacean Uprising, many authors this week also looked to the origins and trajectories of this medium of ours. Rowan Kaiser pays tribute to the origin of the open world system, Ultima, while Lisa Foiles suggests one of gaming’s “literary masterpieces” has been with us for years.

Others cast their gaze further. Sebastian Wuepper contends that gamers must consider “The Outside Perspective“, but have his objections come in time? Or will we be remembered in the same ways as soap opera fans, as John Vanderhoef describes?

[What] we think of as distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate culture, between Mad Men and General Hospital, between Citizen Kane and Call of Duty, is actually just a way to legitimize power of one group over another. And this works in ways beyond class. Taste distinctions are also formed around categories of gender, race, and age, among others.

No, says Rowan Kaiser, the future will not care for our culture or community; they’ll care about our games.

Yes, the business of gaming matters in terms of making more games. Yes, review scores matter in terms of encouraging more honest discussion of video games and possibly making them better. Yes, issues of inclusion on fan sites are related to issues of inclusion in the industry generally. They’re all related, and that’s important to keep in mind. But that these things are related to one another does not mean that they are the same as one another.

Sometimes it’s worth taking a step back and remembering this. Gaming is about the games, and it has to be, otherwise it’s not gaming. Chasing arguments based on perceived intent is a good way to get into arguments, but it’s also tiring and frustrating. It’s not like there’s not plenty to discuss already.

Such as zombie plans. Or, for instance, that many writers cannot simply forget the role communities play in how they engage with their games. Keza MacDonald of IGN: “You may think, so what? Why should sex in videogames matter any more for gay people than straight? But this visibility actually is important, for the same reason as having believable and relatable female characters is important.” Fox Van Allen of Joystiq: “this incident [of implicit and explicit homophobia and transphobia in WoW] should serve as a powerful wake-up call to a company that makes millions of dollars in yearly revenue from the gay community.” (Trigger warning for phobic slurs in the second link.)

My time… it’s almost out. Please, before I go, run your favorite games through the Bechdel Test! Posterity, if there is any, will thank you!

But readers, there is one more article I want you all to see, the one which brought me back in time with only a photo and a mission… This one, by Jenn Frank, “On Death, Motherhood and Creatures“:

One day, when I was visiting my adoptive mother in Texas, I sat at the old computer and shuffled through old floppy disks. I was looking for things I had written as a teenager; I had saved all those stories to disks too.

And this was how I found all of these labeled disks, one after another: a name and a date. A name, a date. A name, a date.

I realized these were all Norns [the A-life in Creatures].

I thought about what I had done to these creatures. I thought about how I had wanted to save them.

I was not looking at save dates. I was looking at epitaphs. I was looking at headstones. This was not suspended animation at all. I had made coffins.

I had been paralyzed by my own fear of mortality, and so, one at a time, I’d paralyzed my Norns.

I had not saved them from their own too-short lives. It was exactly the opposite: I was so frightened of watching them die, I had murdered them instead.

Please, readers… the future, it’s in your hands now.

We will see you next week, if the Calamity can be stopped! Send all zombie plans and your favorite game blogging posts to us here via email or Twitter. And remember, Martha, I hate pears.

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