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The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for picking the shredded remains of the previous week from your teeth, and thinking about the battles that lie ahead. Never surrender, readers.

  • Ah, damn. This was an essay I should have written, and knew I should have written, but didn’t because I am weak and old. I am so glad someone else seized it, because it’s obvious and important. Geoff Dyer’s book Zona, which is about The Zone of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (and also Chernobyl) had a vast and glaring omission. For all its cultural literacy, it entirely ignored the game. Perhaps with good reason, but still. The New York Review Of Books (of all places!) takes up this topic: “The Zone in the video games is a beautifully dangerous place, bigger and grimmer than Tarkovsky’s, but somehow still appropriate. There are plenty of long, tense walks through damp weather or empty, creaking tunnels. Packs of dogs wander the landscape, ruined farmhouses give shelter from the rain; here and there the ground ripples strangely. Stalkers gather around campfires, bandits take potshots at passersby, and a man lies wounded in a ditch, begging for help. Watching Stalker, one is occasionally brought up short by remembering that it was not filmed in Chernobyl, so perfect an analogue does that event seem for the film’s images of technology and nature, beauty and danger in strange alliance. The games, at their best, can seem like a sort of miracle: a dead man’s masterpiece, come home at last.” Not sure I agree with “subpar graphics”, but then I suppose that’s partly a matter of taste and hardware (and modding.)
  • This is a big and complicated topic. Weirdly, it’s something I have been mulling over from a completely different angle following various debates on RPS: whether we can keep politics out of our games. (I think it’s a lie to even attempt to do so, but that will require a lost of its own.) Anyway, coming from this topic from another direction, that of designer’s intentions rather than critical commentary, Raph “A Theory Of Fun” Koster responds to tweets made by journalist Leigh Alexander, addressing the kinds of emotional understanding conveyed by numerous expressive and experimental games over the past few years. Koster seems to argue that the most important aspect of games is when they provide dialogue between designer and player, rather than allowing the designer a one-way broadcast of their own feelings and intentions. That seems agreeable up to a point, but as RPS chum Robert Yang responds in his own letter to Raph’s argument, it’s logical suggest that suggest a division cannot be possible, precisely because some (if not all) games take their mechanics from their politics: “You were right when you said that the authors of “personal games” would probably take you the wrong way… It’s hard not to. It’s impossible to divorce the politics from the forms of these games, which, yes, makes them difficult to critique as formal designed objects without appearing to attack their politics.” The comments following Yang’s piece are worth reading, too.
  • Joe Martin’s Unlimited Hyperbole podcast features Introversion’s Mark Morris this week, and it covers a lot of ground. Followers of the Introversion story will be a familiar with a lot of the material here, but it – like so much of the series – is worth a listen.
  • Rick Lane talks about why there are so few games that involve climbing, and what has been required to create the few that do exist: “With the powered ragdoll system you can have a library of pre-defined stances that you want to move between,” says Mark Judd, the creator of Vertigo. “If you change your mind about which target stance you want the ragdoll to be aiming for midway through a movement, there’s no jump or stutter, the limbs smoothly head for the new target positions from wherever they happened to be.”
  • Will asking questions about the games you play improve your thinking? Hmm. “Training our subconscious minds to question will strengthen analytical skills for real-world applications, build up sometimes neglected mental-muscle, heighten our enjoyment of games, and ultimately help us internalize the parts of games that make us who we want to become. We can digest and mirror our heroes; we can understand and reject our villains. When we take games seriously, we don’t just give developers more room to explore games as art: we enrich our exploration of just what it means for us to be good humans.” In related news: Will games journalism turn you into a Jedi? (Yes.)
  • Simon Parkin – he’s writing for the New Yorker now! – provides us with a profile of the post-wealth, post-fame Notch: “With his expansive following, Persson is able to spread the wealth, too, at least indirectly. Getting “notched”—whereby Persson directs his followers towards a new game—can result in tens of thousands of sales for an indie game maker. Minecraft’s maker is a kingmaker in the video-game realm. “There are so many sides to that,” he says. “I try to tweet about the games I love and feel passionate about. But it got to the stage where I could ‘make’ a small studio, and so it began to feel like a duty. I started promoting games that I wasn’t so enthusiastic about.””
  • Bioshock Infinite meta-commentary stuff. (Spoilers.)
  • True PC Gaming remember Escape From Butcher Bay: “The voice acting is provided by many veteran screen actors. Riddick is, of course, voiced by Vin Diesel. This gives the in game Riddick all the same dark suave as the film version. Cole Houser reprises his role as Johns, the bounty hunter who captured Riddick. The warden Hoxie is voiced by Dwight Shultz, who maintains a perfect air of faux refinement mixed with self contempt. Rapper Xzibit brings the right amount of attitude and believability as a low life thug who is suddenly given too much power in his portrayal of Abbott. When talking to your fellow inmates you will hear the voices of Ron Perlman, Michael Rooker and John DiMaggio among others you may recognize. It also helps that there is a lot of well written dialogue. There are many times when I will stop what I’m doing just to listen to some random conversations between characters.”

Music this week is Ólafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter. Not a big fan of the vocals, but the rest of it is near perfect.

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Jim Rossignol

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