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The Sunday Papers

Word Magic

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Sundays are for sheltering from the harsh weather and cursing the time lords who stole an hour from your sleep. Better hunker down with a particularly fine selection of the week’s best (mostly) writing about games.

  • After the end of Saturday Crapshoot around six months ago, Richard Cobbett started a new PC Gamer column on story and writing in games. That sadly ended yesterday with this excellent piece on representations of depression in games, with Life Is Strange’s display of contact information for a suicide hotline as the starting point. No spoilers inside.
  • Again, I won’t go into the plot details behind why Life is Strange felt the need to display what it did, but it’s worth addressing a very important reason why such things are entirely worth doing – not that players are likely to jump out of a window while the credits are rolling, not that the moment is so emotive that they’ll need to speak to someone… though if either of those facts are true, I of course hope that it helps. Instead, its benefit and all the justification needed for its inclusion is to push the single most important, most life-saving message in mental health: You are not alone.

  • This went up a little too late for me to read it before last week’s Sunday Papers, but Keith Stuart at the Guardian asks: why don’t we feel guilty in videogames? Obviously he’s never read the conclusion of our Neptune’s Pride playthrough.
  • What’s really interesting about this is that players complain about how moral systems in games are too systematic. In games with morality gauges, like Fallout and the Fable series, players often find themselves thinking not “what is the morally correct thing to do in this situation?” but “what does the game require me to do in order to ‘win’?”. This is often seen as a failure of game mechanics: it’s not a true moral conundrum if there’s a victory state dependent on our choice. But then, is this really a failure? There’s a whole branch of moral philosophy, deontology, which considers how much our ethical systems are based on external sociocultural rules and duty. Do we avoid doing bad things because we’re inherently moral, or because we have laws? What’s the true imperative behind moral behaviour? Perhaps morality is just a rule system.

  • Keza MacDonald over at Kotaku UK did the thankless work of explaining why everyone should want politics in their videogames. Although I guess this is my way of saying thanks.
  • Why would anyone be against this? It makes no sense. Upcoming PS4 exclusive The Tomorrow Children plays with Communist imagery and concepts of communal betterment, and this is precisely what makes it interesting. Developers are very often keen to deflect questions about their games’ political context, or to downplay its significance – witness the developers of The Saboteur turning the rich and troubling setting of WWII occupied Paris into a wilfully stupid Nazi kill-a-thon – but it’s when games embrace their political context that the most interesting work gets done. Metal Gear is inseparable from the Japanese anti-nuclear sentiment post-WWII and from its creator’s view on American military dominance. Fable III alludes closely to the distressing politics of real-world revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, making you think about them in a new light. Why wouldn’t you want this?

  • I will remove the space from every “video games” till I win. Meanwhile, Don’t Die is “a videogame confessional” that alternately interviews people who make games and people who used to play games. Sometimes the two cross, as I’ll quote below. The articles are a little hit and miss, but unusually human.
  • Is this going to cause any trouble for you at work, having a conversation about people losing interest in games, acknowledging this is a thing that happens, or acknowledging this is a thing that has happened to you?

    No, I mean, I’m not talking about the industry as a whole. I’m talking about myself more than anything else, and again, my opinions are my own and do not represent Nintendo’s. They’re all completely mine.

  • Sometimes the age of the internet frightens me more than my own, as when I read Offworld’s Laura Hudson on Jason Shiga, a comic artist whose work I’ve been reading online since 2003. Offworld naturally focuses on his interactive (though physical) comics, but I’m currently reading Demon and first encountered him via Fleep, which always seemed like it would make a tight, interesting adventure game.
  • Over time, his interactive comics grew more even more complex, including stacks of panels that you read by locking and unlocking different sections with pegs, and others where moveable parts shifted images around in troughs. Although these comics were incredibly clever and unique, each had to be created by hand, turning them into boutique items that were impossible to digitize and difficult to mass-produce. Shiga sometimes created less than a hundred copies of each, limiting their audience to the several dozen readers lucky enough to stumble across his table at a comic book convention.

    His experiments reached their apex with a comic called Theater Eroika, which involved a series of five overlapping wheels that would spin together to reveal different sequential images. “That one was so crazy that I only made one copy of it,” says Shiga. “I was like, I’ve reached the pinnacle of complexity. This is just insane. This is too nuts.”

    Brendan Vance writes about The Ghosts of BioShock, tracing the inspirations of the game to their root in historical events and relating those events back to the game’s own creation. This is long, but you’ll learn something – if not about games, then about American history. Here is Black Elk, survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

    “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

  • Eskil Steenberg is working on a strategy game and writes about what that means. The developer of Love is a smart cookie, and I like seeing the mental arithmetic behind design decisions.
  • When a sports team does poorly the question of replacing the coach inevitably gets raised long before anyone talks about booting out the players. Why is this? Its because the Coach has knowledge not skill, and everybody things they have or at least can have knowledge too. It is clear to most of us that we will never be able to kick, run or throw like a professional athlete, so when they fail we tend to be forgiving, but we all think we can do the job of the coach since it is purely intellectual. If a coach has to decide what player switch out, its a decision any of us can make, so when the coaches gets it wrong its easy to label them incompetent, no matter how many factors they considered internally.

  • I meant to give this its own post earlier in the week, because it’s a delight: a DayZ player, made to sing for his life, surprises his captors with his performance. It’s worth watching the whole video from the beginning, for the tension.
  • Paul Dean’s Greatest Gaming Memory over at Shut Up & Sit Down.
  • I like numbers that contextualize game successes, because it’s hard otherwise to get a sense of what it means to release a liked, profitable game. Here’s Failbetter on the numbers behind Sunless Sea, and there are valuable links to similar stories at the end.
  • In the first 31 days, we sold 54,210 copies across all distributors – more than during the entire seven months of early access. Once again, most sales happened during the first week: 70% of the total, compared with 72% during early access.

  • Why do I like numbers? Because as Bryant Francis at Gamasutra writes, let’s get real about the financial expectations of ‘going indie’.
  • Hartman and other developers speak fondly of their time at the Indie Megabooth at PAX, a fixture that might best describe public perception of the indie game scene: A well-stocked group of independent developers crammed together with a carnival of small games and bright ideas. Their budgets may be low, but everyone’s either showing off a recently launched game, launching something on a crowdfunding platform, or showing final builds in the months or weeks before release. Everyone talks about features, art assets, but no one talks about the anxiety of budgeting for next month’s rent. Or the creeping dread of pacing out how long your those student loans are set to last. But the anxieties are there, and most independent developers are well aware of the social and financial ecosystem they must navigate in order to thrive and survive.

  • That Simon Parkin writes about the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, which has been established by the organisers of GameCity as a permanent representation of videogames’ contribution to culture. I need to get out of the house more.
  • Britain’s video game arcades, having been at last evicted from our cities, are now mostly found chirruping on piers in lonesome seaside towns. It’s been a lingering decline. Once upon a time the arcade was the only place in which the video game could be encountered (aside from, perhaps, a date with a squatter on one of the room-sized mainframe computers found on affluent university campuses in the 1970s). But today the video game is ubiquitous, both in homes and in pockets (where a smartphone filled with Angry Birds, Crossy Road and all the Adjective-y others provides a miniature, on-board arcade for the contemporary human). We don’t, in other words, get out so much these days, when it comes to video games. Ergo, the arcade has become a defunct entertainment venue, like Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, the hanging gallows, or the increasingly forsaken cinema.

  • Margaret Atwood geeking out at Game of Thrones is fun.
  • Russel Davies on the internet of rest.
  • Music this week is Qrion. After months of electronic music, I am starting to crave warmth and guitars.

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