July 23rd

The notion of the “possibility space” is important for many of the pieces of writing featured this week: whether that’s the space for creation that’s opened up or shut down by state institutions, the space for imagination that is afforded by visual and narrative techniques, or the vastness of space and time explored in speculative fiction. Let’s go exploring!

The background

This weeks’ writing on spaces in games has been excellent, with open-worlds discussed alongside relatively constrained spaces that still leave open plenty of room for interpretation.

The background muddling with the foreground. There is a word attached to much of this stuff for me, a word that I never actually use in sentences because I don’t really know how to deploy it. Velleity: “A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.” That’s the horizon in games, isn’t it? Cor, that looks nice. That looks nice…

Testing of limits

It’s rare for games writing to skillfully navigate between the magic circle and the socio-political worlds we have to deal with in our immediate surroundings, but this week was relatively rich with perspectives on governance and culture wars.

Here we have questions that impact not just children but us all. Play is, after all, not just a form of development, learning or health, as John Dewey observed, but an expression of freedom and a testing of limits. The architect Rem Koolhaas stated: “If there is to be a ‘new urbanism’, it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence,” and yet almost every smart city proposal suggests embracing these twin fantasies.

Already inside their head

Two different critics addressed the role of non-player characters in videogame storytelling – including one piece that considers how significant characters can be even if they never show up.

“When you get the balance right, when the player does a little work on behalf of the game, it’s easier for them to feel a greater ownership and investment in it,” says Zimonja. “If you give them a little bit to imagine, and the space to do it themselves, then they’ve made their own version of that and they now have a little bit of the story already inside their head. They’re no longer just looking at it. They’ve absorbed it, and it’s a part of them now.”

A line of latitude

Finally, these three pieces look at different possibilities for criticism itself: speculative fiction, auteur theory, and the use of sound design in video let’s plays.

  • Car Boys and Metanarrative – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
    Ceicocat highlights the virtues and fan-culture context of a remarkable Let’s Play series.
  • Opened World: A Living Out of Dying – Haywire Magazine 
    Miguel Penabella looks at Suda51, and argues that auteur theory isn’t just about ignoring the contribution of multiple people in the creation of a game; it is a useful lens in itself.
  • The Future is Play | Unwinnable 
    Jon Bois’s 17776 has captured the imaginations of more than a few games critics, and I’ve been waiting for someone to blog about it so that I can feature their observations here. Levi Rubeck does a great job of capturing the essence of what the multimedia short story does with American football.

Football. Countless variants, mutations making entire states endzones, or a field the length and width of a line of latitude, or a stadium plucked from the crayon ramblings of a hive-mind of virtual toddlers. Plays that pull from natural disasters, defenders snuggled into forgotten caves, and a version of 500 that involves a mountaintop cannon. When you have nothing to fear you must manufacture a motive to exist […]”


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