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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for recovering after another Saturday wedding. Before we slip into another long Phantom Pain session, best spend a couple of hours rounding up the week’s best words about games from around the internet.

  • The New York Review of Books looks at Michael Clune’s Gamelife, a memoir which looks at the author’s childhood through the prism of the videogames he was playing at the time. It sounds great.
  • Clune’s book shows just how intense and intimate an engagement with video games can be. The book’s structure equates the passage of time with the passage from game to game—seven chapters cover both seven games and seven years of his life, from Suspended (1983), a text-only adventure Clune plays as a seven-year-old, to Might and Magic II (1988), a fantasy role-playing game with 3-D graphics in which he takes refuge at thirteen, during the final months of middle school. The events of these years—friendships made and betrayed, conflicts with teachers and schoolmates, the divorce of his parents, a move from one suburb of Chicago to another—are mostly familiar in kind; but as Clune describes them, the games let him burrow beneath, to depict the fraught, ever-changing mental life that underlies these childhood incidents, all the time spent alone, staring inward, becoming himself.

  • The author of that article, Gabriel Winslow-Yost, wrote another piece for the NYROB a few years ago, on the Stalker series. Also worth a read – although it’s currently behind a paywall, so I suspect few here can do so.
  • It may at first seem improbable that a decades-old art film in which very little happens could be embellished with firefights and mutant psychics and converted into violent video games. Originally adapted from the popular Russian science-fiction novel Roadside Picnic (1971) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Stalker depicts three men (“Writer,” “Professor,” and “Stalker,” their guide and the film’s protagonist) journeying into the deadly “Zone,” with its mysterious “Room.” This fraught, high-stakes quest consists mainly of the three men walking a couple hundred yards in a grassy, abandoned landscape and talking (with a break for a nap); the film ends after 163 minutes without anyone entering the Room and with no wishes apparently made or granted.

  • Nathan Ditum does a difficult thing at the New Statesman, by writing about popular YouTube personality KSI – who is often rightly derided – and admitting that he likes him, or parts of him. He explains why in detail, without forgetting or ignoring the uglier parts of KSI’s work.
  • But – and this is a dangerous but – I like him. Not entirely or unambiguously, but I like him. Aside from the talent agents and publicists who occasionally try to translate his online following into TV or promotional appearances, it’s rare to hear people other than young fans acknowledge how good he is. Olatunji output is funny, and sly. He still edits his own videos, which have a very particular style – abrupt and caustic, undercutting expectation as if bored with the video it thinks you might be watching – that hide intelligence in clumsiness.

  • This isn’t about videogames, but it’s hard not to see the relevance: is Bridge a sport or a game? Funding body Sport England recently ruled it was the latter, but there’s a judicial review underway to decide whether that was fair. Keep in mind: this is more than a semantic argument, as there’s funding at stake. Fascinating.
  • Lawyers for the English Bridge Union (EBU), which has 55,000 members, told the High Court bridge was based on rules, fairness and competition – just like other activities classified as sports.

    Richard Clayton QC argued that the meaning of “sport” in the 1996 Royal Charter which established Sport England was sufficiently broad not necessarily to require physical activity.

    He also said bridge was one of a smaller number of sports available to older people, to whom it brought a vital sense of inclusion and community.

  • This has little to do with videogames, either – or esports or LoL, for that matter – but you might have heard the story this past week about the CEO of company Turing Pharmaceuticals who was deemed responsible for dramatically increasing the price of a decades-old drug used to fight infections. As Eurogamer write, the same CEO is also the founder of competitive League of Legends team Odyssey.
  • While the team’s results have been solid enough, Shkreli has gained infamy for his role as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Within a short period of acquiring the rights to Daraprim, a decades-old drug used to treat diseases such as malaria and toxoplasmosis, the price of the tablet was quickly increased from $13.50 to $750.

    The response to the price increase was predictable enough, with reaction pieces from the likes of the New York Times and Forbes. More vocal criticism was found on social media platforms, and some have even asked if developer Riot should step in and investigate whether Shrekli should be considered fit to control a League of Legends team.

  • Quinns and Leigh recently attended a Netrunner tournament in the UK, and they’ve combined their considerable talents to write about it over at Shut Up & Sit Down.
  • Ruination is a hallmark of Netrunner tournaments.

    It’s partially to do with how they’re structured. The first phase of any tournament is swiss pairings, where you and your opponent play both sides of a match of Netrunner (your corp vs. their runner, and vice versa). You play further rounds against people who’ve won as many games as you, so success only ever means tougher opponents.

  • At The Guardian, the ever productive Simon Parkin writes about how Twitch is helping disabled gamers to earn a living, when ordinary jobs would be unavailable to them.
  • Around the time she was dismissed, Mackenzie had started watching Twitch.tv, the online video streaming service on which you can log in to watch so-called “streamers” present live TV broadcasts. She’d heard that some of these presenters, who usually played video games on air, were popular enough that they were able to earn a living from their broadcasts. Moreover, many of these streamers were unable to work other jobs. There was NoHandsKen, a quadriplegic streamer who is dependent on a ventilator to breathe; Brolylegs, who, despite having no arms, is an expert player of Street Fighter, a game that requires immense dexterity (he describes himself as the “best Chun-Li with no hands”); DHHGamers, which stands for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers, a Twitch community for hearing-impaired gamers who stream and play a variety of online games; and a slew of others. Sensing a problem-solving opportunity, Mackenzie set up an account. Rather than trying to disguise her illness, she instead decided to advertise it via the droll handle Mackenseize.

  • Newsgrounds is still alive and kicking, but Paste recently ran a retrospective of the site. It’s about more than games – there’s animations, too – but it might still scratch a nostalgic itch for anyone who was wasting time on school computers in the early ’00s.
  • Newgrounds, which began as a way for creator Tom Fulp to host his own games back in 1996, was probably not the first site to allow users to submit their Macromedia Flash works—but it was certainly the first to have such an organized and popular system for both submitting creations and allowing users to play or view them. The Portal, as it was known then (and is known to this day), keeps tabs on the latest submissions, allowing users not only to access them but also to rate them as well. If a Flash submission is particularly awful, it can be BLAMMED into oblivion by enough negative user votes. Submissions that the community becomes enamored with can rise up through the ranks to a spot on the Best of the Week box and maybe even a coveted position on The Best of All Time rankings, guaranteeing that a huge number of users will play it.

  • Chris Donlan over at Eurogamer writes about the Ubisoft division where accountants and HR managers make games. I wanted to write about this and now I don’t have to.
  • There becomes a point, then, when a company becomes so big that it must hire people to shortcircuit parts of it. This is where Plourde’s current job comes in, as the boss of Fun House, a new Ubisoft initiative run out of Ubisoft Montreal. Fun House is weird. The best description I’ve heard is that it operates a bit like an internal venture capitalist organisation: it draws in strange new ideas that might take off, and it speculates on them, investing time and effort and people.

  • Also at Eurogamer, Simon Parkin writes about Zach Gage’s attempt at redesigning “the world’s most played PC game”, which is supposedly Solitaire. Gage is the co-creator of Ridiculous Fishing and this is an interesting read.
  • Gage believes that modern variants of Solitaire have dumbed down much of the intricacy that gave the original variation its near-mystical appeal. “We’re used to modern video games which trade out the raw complexity for simpler things like score, animation, and level design,” he says. Popular solitaire variants have devolved into mutant forms of their original selves, he argues, most notably Klondike, which in many cases lost its requirement that the deck is gone through three cards at a time in favour of the simpler one card at a time, or which allows you to opt to be dealt a winning deal that’s guaranteed to be solvable.

  • Everything Is A Remix was a good, serialised video series about how ideas spread through media, first released between 2010 and 2012. To celebrate its fifth year anniversary, its creator has released a polished version that rolls all parts into one.

Music this week is Erroll Garner, who I heard for the first time via this recent episode of Geoffrey Smith’s jazz programme on BBC Radio 3. Worth a listen.

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