July Roundup: ‘Spectacle’

The lights dim and the crowd roars and I shuffle to the edge of my seat for another thrilling edition of Blogs of the Round Table! This past month we asked you to share your thoughts on the subject of ‘Spectacle’:

What is the role of spectacle in games? Is there an experience of public awe that goes into the games you play or design? Are there any games you’d rather watch then play? This month we want to hear about the overblown special effects you can’t help but marvel at, the most hype you’ve been at an esports event, the most ridiculous glitch run that got you into speed running. Tell us the joy that comes from a game as a public spectacle!

Robert What kicks us off with an article on Pokemon Go as public spectacle.

Next, Guerric Haché discusses French developer, Amplitude’s contributions to the 4X subgenre of strategy games. While others in the genre emphasize micromanaging military activity, games in Amplitude’s library turn combat into passive spectacles interrupting the player’s larger objective: “Battle as spectacle reinforces the same message as many of the game’s other features: you’re not here just to stomp all over everything. You have other things to think about.”

It’s a compelling piece with a rounded look at how war mechanics can be subversive, entertaining, and contribute to a larger theme all at the same time.

Over at Kill Screen, Reed Underwood takes a look at how multiplayer games are increasingly developed to enhance an audience’s experience along with the players’. In fact, Underwood is bold enough to claim that gathering around something like a game is more significant than the thing itself:

Ours is an era that likes to talk about art more than it likes looking at art.

And why not? Wasn’t art always meant to be a vehicle to socialization, to creating cultural cohesion and/or dislocation? If I expand the definition of non-participatory gaming to include not just Let’s Plays and livecasting but the whole empire of discussion and commentary about a game, it’s clear that playing without playing has become the real cultural site of gaming.

Touche, Mr. Underwood. Touche.

Next on stage is developer and educator Alistair Aitcheson, who shares his experience demoing his games with improv actors at a local theatre. Aitcheson describes how each game was played and performed by different “players” in sync while also making me really wish that I could have been there. It’s okay, I’m not bitter or anything.

Next, Miguel Penabella takes to his blog Invalid Memory to examine how different modes of spectacle can convey different meanings. Penabella enjoys the blockbuster bombast of Call of Duty‘s gunfights but he also notes how well spectacle in games like Kentucky Route Zero can invoke mood and characterization even when indifferent to the movement of plot: “Such works broaden the parameters for videogame spectacle beyond explosive blockbuster action, pinpointing how human drama can be just as electrifying and affecting.”

The honour of our mic drop goes to Owen Ketillson, who describes how he played Shh, a game about being a snob at the opera shushing people who just want to enjoy themselves. Ketillson identified with the game’s purse-lipped anti-hero and reflects on his own shushing practices in light of the game:

Shh is a game about making the player aware of their assholeness. Especially when they realize that none of the sounds were even really voluntary. There is no talking or other overly disrespectful behaviour. The player can only shush sounds that the perpetrators likely wish they had not made.

For what it’s worth, Owen, we’ll never try to shush you.

And there you have it. Feel free to stick around but the show’s over. Please be sure to discard all trash in its proper receptacle and be sure to come back soon for another thrilling edition of Blogs of the Round Table!

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