January 15th

We all participate in constructing social structures, though in the real world most people don’t have a whole lot of institutional power. As many look at 2017 as a year that will demand strong resistance, some writers consider how games teach us to relate to governance.

This roundup would be better titled “This Fortnight in Videogames”. If you’re American and you don’t know what a “fortnight” is, then to oversimplify, it’s a kind of time dilation effect that occurs in buildings with retrofitted plumbing that used to have outdoor toilets.

If you nominated something and it hasn’t showed up, don’t despair (just yet) – there are a couple dozen pieces that I wasn’t able to get to this week, so I’ll be looking at them next week instead. This kind of can-kicking is not something I would normally do for TWIVGB, but so much great work happened over the holidays that it took considerably longer to get through everything that it normally would. So look forward to another great selection next week!

Nothing and everything

In this rather fortuitous pairing, writers consider wholeness and emptiness in game design.

“A lot of people will say Kentucky Route Zero is “minimalist”… but I think that label is pretty misleading. It packs every single scene with countless details and thoughtfully executes each of those gestures. Every playthrough you’ll read tens of thousands of words, much of it expended on long evocative description — this isn’t actually a “minimalist” game, in terms of literary tradition nor in terms of what it demands from its players. Every scene is lush with history, detail, and allusion, and KRZ never patronizes you if you don’t really get it. Instead, it patiently pushes you to grasp it as a whole. “

Ports in a Storm

How is a game made local? These three pieces consider very different ways that a game can be given a place.

Uprising44, Little Insurgents and Enemy Front are examples of games that aim both at reinforcing national identity through propagating a certain vision of history and achieving success as commercial products of interactive entertainment. […] Sometimes, as in the case of comparing the levels related to the Warsaw uprising in Enemy Front to the rest of the game, it can be observed how genre conventions change possibly because of ideological ambitions tied to them.”

Institutionality

This great little selection provides some perspectives on systems of power, management, governance, and people misbehaving within them for good and for ill.

“‘Mini Metro has proven one very important thing,’ said Walker in an email interview with Waypoint. ‘Until it came along, the assumption was that transportation games had to have a rich user-interface with pictures of trains and cars and trees and so on. In fact, you can have a game that strips a problem down to its underlying structure, which is what a metro network is.'”

Propose another world

In pieces that reflect on how the mind works when at play, these writers consider motivation, momentum, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

“Games are not simulations of a physical world. They might contain elements that refer to a physicality, but they are not a transposition of elements from a natural world to a virtual one. They are not a mirror of our reality, for when we play, games are our reality. For the phenomenal body there is not really a difference between being in a game and being in life, because games are a part of life. What games do is propose another world for one’s own body to exist in. I do not play a video game as much as I play in a video game.”

Stubborn AI

From how we come to be who we are, to how AI characters come to be who they are, these pieces on subjectivity in games provide some fascinating insights.

“Videogames are a medium where players have come to expect direct consequences for their actions, and a lack of feedback is often cause for complaint that gameplay is “unresponsive” or that an AI is “stubborn” or even “broken” without considering the possibility for deeper meaning. Instead of straightforwardly criticizing these systems, perhaps they can play into broader themes of the game. In The Last Guardian, the lack of feedback reflects the characterization of Trico.”

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