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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for recovering from a week of games, crowds, and humidity at Gamescom. Let’s re-calibrate our frazzled brains by listing the week’s best games writing.

  • Death By Video Game, Simon Parkin’s book on the unusual phenomena of people dying while playing, is out next week. The Guardian have published an intriguing excerpt as well as an interview with Simon.
  • Chen Rong-yu died in two places at once. At 10pm on Tuesday, 31 January 2012, the 23-year-old took a seat in a corner of an internet cafe on the outskirts of New Taipei City, Taiwan. He lit a cigarette and logged on to an online video game. He played almost continuously for 23 hours, stopping occasionally only to rest his head on the table in front of his monitor and sleep for a little while. Each time that he woke he picked up his game where he had left off. Then, one time, he did not raise his head. It was nine hours before a member of the cafe’s staff tried to rouse the motionless man, in order to tell him that his time was up, only to find his body stiff and cold.

  • On Offworld, Laura Hudson writes about a women’s pinball league in Oakland and the surrounding culture. This is very good.
  • The tournament is titled “Welcome to Xenon,” after the 1980 pinball game Xenon—one of the few machines designed around a female character, albeit a robot one. It’s women’s history month, and Schneider printed up a series of posters about women who participated in pinball through its history: as mechanical and software engineers, artists, voice actors and composers, even assembly line workers.

  • The Guardian started their own Cities: Skylines challenge, attempting to build cities in the game according to self-imposed rules. Here’s their attempt at trying to build the world’s greenest city, and their attempt to make a truly anti-capitalist city. Related: our own attempt to create a self-contained arcology.
  • I wanted to use Cities: Skylines to test an alternative economic model which challenges the assumption that growth is only good. In a world of finite resources, is it sensible, or even possible, to plan for infinite growth? Or as Tim Jackson asks, is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth? Could the game be bent to build a post-growth city where the economy is based on social exchange rather than consumption?

  • Someone simulated a 1000 years of Football Manager 2015 and wrote about it on Reddit; an idea so simple and compelling I can’t believe I didn’t fucking do it first. The thread linked above links off to spreadsheets with a frightening amount of information, so here’s The Guardian’s summary.
  • I enjoyed Paul Dean’s review of Carcassonne a great deal, although I feel bad for his sunburnt skin.
  • Bea Malsky at The New Inquiry wrote this past week about casual games such as Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and how their blurring of work and play depicts affective or emotional labour as often experienced by women.
  • Paralleling the way affective labor troubles traditional boundaries between labor and leisure, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Diner Dash make the categories of work and play vulnerable to confusion. Both are casual games, meaning they can be learned in less than a minute, are forgiving of mistakes, are short but highly replayable, and are inexpensive or free. The form is as popular as it is profitable: in 2010, according to the Casual Games Association, the industry had revenues of nearly $6 billion on mobile, iPhone, social networks, PC, Mac, and Xbox platforms and an estimated player base of 200 million. The games are distinguished by low time commitment, easy access, and a return of the video game to mass culture and its origins in the arcades of the early 1980s. Casual games, like affective labor itself, are historically and deliberately coded as feminine in opposition to hardcore games, their masculine counterpart.

  • Last week, Japanese financial newspaper The Nikkei published a report on the working conditions at Konami, the publisher’s of Metal Gear Solid. It is bizarre and disturbing, as this Giant Bomb story details.
  • And when management at Konami decides that a developer isn’t as “useful” as they could be, they lose their position as a developer. I don’t mean that they’re fired, either. The Nikkei reports that these workers are reassigned to roles in security at company offices, to the cleaning staff at one of Konami’s many fitness clubs, or to the assembly line of a pachislot factory. This reassignment isn’t just a punishment reserved for underperforming entry-level workers, either. Even experienced developers who have shipped numerous games are at risk of finding themselves reassigned.

  • Jon Blyth played Clicker Heroes, and if you’ve read Jon’s work you should already be excited about reading the result.
  • I feel like I should hate something. Myself or Clicker Heroes seem like the most obvious candidates. But there’s also every video game ever, for providing the Clicker genre with such a wealth of fatuous progress to parody. And there’s always humanity and evolution, for making me this way. The invention of candles and electric lighting sent moths’ navigation systems suicidally haywire. These are my candles – a pat on the head, a shiny medal, and a tightening of the screw.

  • I saw Fallout 4 at Gamescom and I am still wondering what to write about it, but in the meantime Kate Gray made a succinct video with more facts than I’d have offered. Maybe all my articles can just be YouTube embeds in future.
  • Tom Jubert, one of the writers of The Talos Principle, recently gave a talk titled How Video Games Will Destroy Humanity. It’s about…
  • Recently I gave a little talk to games dev audiences at Subotron in Vienna, and Gamelab in Barcelona. The idea of the talk was to first establish some strong design rules I learnt from authors like Terry Pratchett and George Orwell – keep it simple, make it speak – and then to develop a science fiction world using those principles which might form the basis of a future game. As I did this I realised that video games were going to destroy humanity.

  • This video.

Thanks to all those who sent in links to games blogs last week. Unfortunately, I then flew to Germany, and haven’t had time to properly read them. I will do so next week and link as appropriate in the next papers.

Music this week is pretty much anything that Telefuture put out on Bandcamp. Soundtracks to high speed hover car chases.

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Graham Smith

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