There’s a little event called E3 going on this week, and with it comes plenty of new games and rapid-fire discourse. Yet we stand firm in our mission to curate the internet’s most intriguing critical writing and challenging media. This week you’ll find musings on design and narrative exploring emotional labor, trauma, blindness and, for good measure, even amphetamines. Enjoy!
Rime and Reason
There’s plenty to be said of Rime, a small indie game with a lot of heart:
- Beauty From Ashes: Unpacking Grief in Rime | Gamechurch
Joey Thurmond discusses grief in Rime, which communicates the stages of mourning through its stage design, puzzles and sound, which “demonstrates [that] emotion shouldn’t be suppressed or reveled in alone, but honestly and cathartically expressed.”
- The Old Man and the Sea: Searching for reason in Rime|Thumbsticks (Spoiler Alert)
Josh Wise takes a critical look at Rime through the lens of poetry, art and film in his third discussion on the game, as he sees it invoking the metaphysical by “[blurring] the boundary between realism and magic.”
“Rime is like a painting, not just in its visual splendour, but in its narrative. Sparse, beautiful, and suggestive, its brush strokes inform a rich tradition of fairy-tale and tragedy, of the real and the illusory, and the homes we build in-between. The way our eyes move over a painting, from focal point to focal point in a circular swirl, is the same way in which Rime’s story unfurls. Its flatness is not linear, its imparted understanding rounded, gradual. A flat circle.”
Experience and Interaction
How we experience games can be physical, intellectual, emotional and as a dialogue with the developers.
- The McMaster Files – Stimulants and Gaming|Unwinnable
Jason McMaster eschews nutritional value and burns through the myriad substances that may help with late-night gaming sessions, discussing the benefits and pitfalls of everything from sugar to amphetamines.
- Emotional Labour, and the Games Industry|Gamasutra
Steve Bailey examines the lack of “intellectual comfort” as occupational hazard for creatives and critics working in games:
“I quit games journalism back in 2008. Up until that point, I’d been writing exclusively for print publications. Back then, gaming forums featured some hostility toward the specialist games media: I could reliably click on a thread discussing a new issue of a magazine I’d contributed to and find comments that called my very existence into question, with varying degrees of acidity, because I’d given the ‘wrong’ review score to a game that the person was yet to play themselves.”
- Trauma & Majora’s Mask|Zeal
Chris Russo illustrates how Majora’s Mask traumatizes and asks the player to confront anger and anxiety behind masks of happiness and hatred.
- Nothing Will Ever Compare With the First Level of a New Game|Eurogamer
Christian Donlan finds nothing like the “bewildered” experience of starting a new game:
“More than anything, I think I love this opening-moments feeling because it always reminds me that games are, in a weird way, a dialogue – even singleplayer games in which everything is scripted down to the last cutscene. They’re dialogues because you are in some manner learning to understand the way that the designers like to think: the way they stage set-pieces, the places they tend to hide collectables, the rhythms and tricks they use to move you from one sequence to the next.”
A Narrative Apart
Whether you agree with Bogost, there’s plenty to be said on narrative and story in games.
- The Tragedy of ‘The Order: 1886’ and Its Wasted Setting|Vice Waypoint
Rob Zacny revisits The Order: 1886 and its treatment of history that is “seductive for all the wrong reasons.”
- A Curated List of Recent Writings on Games and Narrative|Gamasutra
Pietro Polsinelli culls together a list of narrative, dialogue and story design in games as he works on his own “unlikely narrative” football game.
- In the Shadow of the Holodeck|Medium
Charles J Pratt recalls Ian Bogost’s controversial article for The Atlantic, including a round table of responses, interpreting Bogost’s piece to mean that “even the successful cases of storytelling in video games are, formally speaking, extremely unambitious.”
- The Garden Ages | Myst series|Heterotopias
Sam Zucchi reopens Myst literature, unpacking how the world of Myst forces the player to experience it in a “horizontal” manner similar to book reading:
“At first the experience is linear: you start at the beginning and click-flip-click through still images, turning each like a successive page; in that vein, there is a direct relationship between the amount of time spent unlocking an age, and the space that is available for exploration.”
What’s good storytelling without design? These writers explain how design influences everything from problem solving to aesthetic to autonomy.
- The Illusion of Ease|Gamasutra
Abigail Corfman uses the illusion of ease to discuss how unintuitive puzzle design happens:
“Closely related to the illusion of transparency is the Illusion of Ease. This is when the developer of a puzzle thinks their puzzle is straightforward and fair, while meanwhile the players find it impossibly difficult. The developer is hobbled by having all of the information about their puzzle. What they think is obvious is only obvious because they already have the answer. Clues they think should be helpful are too vague, or put in places where the player does not notice them. They cannot comprehend the player’s perspective.”
- The Art & Visual Language of Ikenfell | Gamasutra
Chevy Johnston talks his approach to the aesthetic of Ikenfell, a turn-based RPG slated for release on Steam in 2018. Johnston talks the impact The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Pokemon had on his design process.
- How Will The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Change the Open-World Paradigm?|Games Industry Biz
Oliver Milne looks at how Breath of the Wild will influence open-world games to come:
“The last element underlying the player’s sense of autonomy in Breath of the Wild is the game’s willingness to let go their hand and allow them to discover its possibilities on their own. Its tutorial is relatively desultory, introducing the player to the fundamental mechanics of the game, but not much else. This allows the player to explore the subtleties of the game’s systems on their own, giving them an authentic sense of achievement when they discover something unexpected which wouldn’t be possible if every interaction was explicitly introduced.”
A Gentler Approach
Violence is often a go-to mechanic in games, but it doesn’t have to be.
- The Oppressive Violence of Ghost Recon: Wildlands|Gamechurch
Jonathan Campoverde grapples with violence as a central mechanic in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, invoking the differences between Malcolm X’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s views on violence.
- A Warm Place|Real Life
Zach Budgor writes about altgames, which can be cathartic, meditative, and provide a “space that makes no demands on you.”
- How Prey Succeeds in Giving Players Space to Tell Their Own Stories|Gamasutra
Alex Wawro writes on “kipple,” the Philip K. Dick word to describe rubbish, and how Prey weaponizes it.
- Double Blind|Intermittent Mechanism
Ian Bryce Jones comparatively investigates Perception and Beyond Eyes, both of which utilize blindness but varying aesthetics to communicate:
“Rejecting Perception‘s ‘tap your cane and you’ll see an accurate picture of the world around you for a moment’ logic, Beyond Eyes posits perception as a kind of hypothesis-testing … Sometimes, Rae makes mistakes. She might hear what she assumes to be linens flapping in the breeze, and the game’s GUI will happily indulge in that assumption, illustrating a laundry line for the game’s players. When we move Rae closer to the fabric in question, however, filling out the landscape with the game’s gorgeous watercolor imagery, she—and we—might discover that it actually emanates from a scarecrow.”
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