What strategies and techniques do people use to navigate the systems of industry, politics, and computers? This week has brought us some fantastic articles about power structures, business, and justice, all in connection with games and play.

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“It was just business”

Some great articles this week look at how creatives working in games have seen themselves, their own practice, and their response to power structures over the past couple of decades.

  • How We Design Games Now and Why – Medium
    This is the most important piece of writing on games to come out for a while, in my opinion. Katherine Neil’s history of game design and the discourses surrounding it is absolutely essential reading. It is almost impossible to find this kind of combination of industry insights with meaningful analysis of what’s at stake.
  • The Long, Strange History of Street Fighter and Hip-Hop – Waypoint
    Stephen Kearse’s research into how a game series from Japan became associated with rap music surfaces some refreshing honesty about business strategy.

“this wasn’t the product of an innate synergy. Not only had the two previous versions of Street Fighter III worked fine without being hip-hop-centric, but Infinite readily tells me that he was mostly in it for the opportunity. ‘It was just business,’ he says. Because he had grown up playing Street Fighter, Infinite did have some attachment to the series, but he can’t front. ‘I probably [still] would have did it if it was a game that I never really messed with like that,’ he admits.”

Subtle depth

Looking more directly at certain techniques at work in game development, this week we have one article on mathematical systems and one article on visual effects.

“For Hyper Light Drifter, the strict rules of primitive pixel art are bent to allow the incorporation of modern techniques. Broad swaths of soft gradient offer a subtle depth and color change that would be impossible through “dithering,” the term used to describe the way different colored pixels blend to create the semblance of color transition and shading.”

After the spectacle

I’ve grouped the pieces in this section together because they deal with storytelling in some way, but none of them simply interpret a game’s overall plot or characterisation; each does something slightly different to look at the interactive and spatial qualities that affect how a game tells a story.

“Ultimately, Brecht would have us believe that the often alienating social phenomena are in fact well within our grasp, and therefore changeable. He concludes “A Short Organum” by claiming, “when the rules emerging from this life in society are treated as imperfect and provisional…the theatre leaves its spectators productively disposed even after the spectacle is over” (135).”

Power structures

What can games criticism teach us about justice? Critics are turning their experience studying systems contrived for play toward writing about the systems that determine material outcomes for people living in the US.

Content warning: discussions about Donald Trump; mass incarceration

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  • Donald Trump Won Because Of Bad Game Design | DESIGNER NOTES
    Soren Johnson uses the kind of systems analysis employed by game designers to make sense of Trump’s victory – read here as a player using “exploits” to score points despite working against the spirit of the game.
  • ‘Prison Architect’ Has No Room for Political Action – Waypoint
    Predictably, there has been a lot of criticism of Prison Architect’s portrayal of the corrections industry over the past year. Yussef Cole’s argument runs a little differently to most, suggesting that the problem is not simply the reproduction of oppression, but the fact that prisoners cannot express themselves through anything other than violence.

“What the simulation lacks, though, is any explicit modeling of coercion and power structures. The prisoners are either 100% fine with working or they revolt and burn everything. There is no hint of the massive organizational capacity that allowed thousands of prisoners in dozens of prisons across the country to reach out, despite repressive conditions, and coordinate the time and method of a nationwide strike […]”

Phoenix Wright

“[…]maybe Phoenix Wright is the hero that we need right now. Spirit of Justice shows a government that is so insistent on its unique right to present accepted truth that it sets up a courtroom system where arguing against the government’s version of truth is a life-or-death matter for a lawyer. And Phoenix Wright wades into that system, and argues away; he wins his cases.”

The end of the 2016 fundraiser

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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!