In 2012, the greatest game developers and journalists in recent memory assembled in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference. Meanwhile, those unfortunate few who did not attend explored the web, discovering the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization known only as the ludodecahedron. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new discourses on games and gaming culture.
They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it…
That’s right. While our own Ben Abraham was having his elbows rubbed at GDC, yours truly has been at home chained to a day job–and a certain game about effecting masses. Let’s get right to it.
Dan Cox leads the way this week with an interesting podcast featuring two of the Critical Distance team, Eric Swain and David Carlton, as well as several other stars in a conversation on the nature of play.
As for the past week’s biggest AAA release, Mass Effect 3, we’re already seeing a host of interesting commentary, but this analysis of the ideological dissonance of the game’s single- and multiplayer takes top billing. From author Taekwan Kim:
[The singleplayer campaign is] a case where mechanics, player assets, and narrative all work in concert to deliver a concentrated and tightly knit message of the need to cooperate, or at the very least, overlook personal and petty issues for the sake of the greater good.
This message comes apart in the multiplayer, mainly as a result of the way it measures player performance. Immediately, the fact that it measures performance at all with respect to other players makes its goals clear: it’s about competition. And in this case, it’s not only performance competition, but also competition for limited resources, which tends to cause selfish play—exactly the kind of experience that is the direct opposite of the authorial message of the singleplayer game.
Two authors took an especially fine-toothed comb to game aesthetics this week. The first article arrives from the endearing Eric Lockaby, who responds to Phil Fish’s GDC remarks with the declaration that the culturally-inscribed aesthetics of games across markets are more important than we realize. Quoth Lockaby:
Western gaming culture’s complete dismissal of another culture’s artistic structure on the grounds that JRPGs are, generally, crap fails to recognize that our culture is otherwise slipping into a loving death-embrace with the cognitively simpler mode of expression–pure, animal-like signification–over the inherent complexity of abstraction.
Meanwhile, Martyn Zachary is at it about The Binding of Isaac again, but he’s moreover interested in dismantling the idea of games as ideologically constant:
That a meaning should exist within the game not as a coherent, harmonic givens, but a function to be performed, construed, and even analysed, can be a puzzling, even angering proposition.
Ultimately, however, reacting negatively to the actual question of meaning is to me a sign of immaturity and wilful ignorance. In choosing explicitly not to entertain the potential emergent meaning(s) of video games, the commentators – players, journalists, developers, critics and researchers alike – are nipping a constructive discussion in the bud.
With that we switch gears to perhaps the most recognized face among narratologists, Janet Murray, who last October delivered a talk at Georgia Tech about her landmark Hamlet on the Holodeck and developments in “interactive storytelling” since its publication. The video from the talk is now available to view here.
Another, albeit newer, recognized voice in the gaming discourse, Bob Chipman aka MovieBob, is back this week with a new video on sexism in nerd culture. In the interests of accessibility, Alex R at The Border House has provided a full transcript along with the video.
Amanda Lange responds to
Commander Shepard Mare Sheppard’s GDC talk on Women in Games initiatives, presenting her misgivings about a game industry “meritocracy”:
[Sheppard] believes that the game industry should be a society where each person is promoted according to her (or his) skill levels, and the best person is always chosen for any given job, whomever that person might be. The problem here:
Who decides what is the best?
And more critically:
Who decides what skills it is most valued to be best at?
We close this short-but-sweet roundup with an Ebert chaser, and why Owen Good thinks we should just collectively agree to ignore the man for good. Sound enough advice, but why are we still writing articles about him, then? Paging Eric Swain…
Have a safe trip home, all you GDCers, and a restful week full of shooting aliens, if you can manage. Remember that all tweeted and emailed links go toward the allied war effort against the Reapers! Reporting for Westerlund News, I’m Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani.
Please not the face. Anywhere but the face.