Is there a lot of nihilism in the subcultures that have grown around videogames? Many of the writers featured in this week’s roundup are considering interactive media in relation to their own feelings of disempowerment and alienation. How do we use this medium to talk about the things that we care about? And how does care change depending on whether it is active or passive?
We start with some writing on passivity in game design, and how it can be used to address questions about the actions that we do attempt to take in the world.
- Game Review The Last Guardian demands patience, but even it seems tired of waiting · Game Review · The A.V. Club
Matt Gerardi raises some interesting challenges to creating game experiences that are about just being, rather than about action.
- Final Fantasy XV’s Quiet Humanity – Writing on Games – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Hamish Black talks about the small details that make characters relatable, and how valuable it is for game design to force the player to pay attention to those details rather than letting them remain always in the background.
- Gamasutra: Pete Ellis’s Blog – How an Environment Layout Affects Difficulty
Pete Ellis explains how to design levels in order to make AI characters act more passively. In the course doing so, he sets out explicitly a lot of the knowledge that first-person shooter fans absorb tacitly, making this article a helpful resource for people learning to critically read games that they are not good at playing.
- DomPam2: Art, politics, and Brecht | squinky.me
Squinky shares some ideas from theatre on player performance and friction in game design.
“Brecht is perhaps best known for creating what he calls a Verfremdungseffekt (often translated as “alienation effect”) in his plays, meaning that he intended for the audience not to experience immersion […] but to look at what was happening on stage with a critical eye. […] In games, you can do similar things, while also making use of play-specific interventions such as interrupting flow.”
Thinking of how people relate to games as a culture and an industry, these writers address the interventions that fans and developers have made into the spaces where play happens.
- What it’s like watching Dear Esther live, in a theater | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
John Brindle takes the performance of a game in a theatre space as a jumping-off point for thinking about how game design is in tension with theatrical conventions.
- A Career Waiter’s Journey To Becoming A Twitch Cooking Star
Gita Jackson reports in-depth on a subcultural cooking show broadcasting on the largest videogame streaming website.
- The archaeologists of Skyrim • Eurogamer.net
Alex Wiltshire interviews an adventurous fan and a bemused developer to find some interesting differences in how the creative process is perceived.
- Radiator Blog: A progressive future for VR: why VR is already getting worse, and how to make it better
Robert Yang’s latest blog post has been inspiring a lot of conversations in the community, and in fact it contains the seeds of multiple different lines of argument about how indie developers create a professional practice, how outsider art relates to the mainstream, and how different media industries relate to one another.
“If we get in early enough, we can define the general public’s first significant impressions of VR, and influence how people value VR experiences. We need to develop the theory, the language, and the touchstones that others will have to adopt in order to seem fluent — we need to be the new normal here, and we could possibly do it, because no one else has defined the norms yet.”
The act of creating a game is itself a critical intervention into the world. These two pieces take close looks at how game design is informed by critical writing.
- Critical Jostling « G|A|M|E
The new issue of one of the more awkwardly-named games studies journals takes on critical game design. Pippin Barr’s essay provides a great overview of the topic and makes strong arguments about what happens when games fail as critiques.
- 2006 Vs. 2016 — Matthew Seiji Burns
Speaking of developers as critics, Matthew Burns talks about the role writing once played in his work, and what it means to let it go.
“It’s often said that writing about something is a good way to determine what you really think about it, and the time I spent hashing out my thoughts on games here helped me find my positions, develop my theory. I know what I think, now, and these days I’m focusing on trying to express that worldview in my works directly.”
A mere player of videogames
In these pieces, writers show how narratives about the agency of player-characters in fictional worlds collide with the agency of the players themselves in the design of a game’s systems.
- Exposition Dumps Don’t Need Dialogue in ‘Virginia’ | PopMatters
Nick Dinicola explores how the silent game could have used its limited play time and lack of dialogue more effectively.
- Controlling Fathers and Devoted Daughters – First Person Scholar
Sarah Stang argues that the daddification of games is not a new valorization of men with emotional maturity, but a disturbing recentering of male agency at the expense of female characters.
- Player as Foiled Detective: Negative Game Mechanics, Attention, and Neoliberalism in Killer7 | The Game Manifesto
Game Manifesto brings us reflections on narrative techniques for undermining the player’s agency.
“Like in many games, the repetition holds the game together, creating its logic[. B]ut in this case it also seems to lock you in, [to] show you the limits and your inability to ever break through, as a mere player of videogames, […] can playing a videogame tell you about politics[,] and the real suffering it causes in the world?”
Life is short
Questions about what our values are come up particularly strongly in these last four pieces, which move swiftly between the sacred and the profane.
- Why Video Games? (Content warning: some discussion of the US election, allusions to violent fantasies)
Adam Dorsey vividly describes the desire to feel strong that arises when you don’t feel like you have any power.
- Slaying Dragons – Haywire Magazine
Jesse Porch opens this piece with the familiar problem of “fun”, but goes on to consider different kinds of emotional authenticity that can be found outside of the search for catchy game concepts.
- 15 years on: The story behind one of Xbox’s most notorious TV ads | GamesIndustry.biz
Christopher Dring brings us a slightly unexpected lesson on the history of nihilism in videogames marketing.
“Microsoft defended its position, insisting the ad was supposed to be a positive statement about life. Yet the ITC dismissed that, and said that the man’s screams suggested a ‘traumatic experience’ which, coupled with the ‘life is short’ tagline, ‘made the final scene more shocking’.”
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