The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for doing a quick spot of gardening, if the weather permits, or building prisons in Prison Architect if it doesn’t. Sun or hail though, you can always count on a round-up of the week’s best (mostly) games writing.

  • This is a fabulous piece of writing. Over at Shut Up & Sit Down, Brendan Caldwell writes about ‘dumb games’ – games fueled by aggression that children play – and how they stretch towards adulthood.
  • Yet ‘Butt Comin’ at Ye’ was new to me, even in my mid-twenties. I pondered why it had passed me by. I didn’t smoke, that was one reason. But it also straddled the line between a game and a custom, a unpredictable and fundamentally violent childish ritual. Like holding your hand beneath your waist and making a circle with your fingers, and if your friend looks at it, you get to punch them once “for free”. These were the proto-games. Expressions of an aggressive energy too mundane or instinctive to redirect into anything productive. In the testosterone-infused hallways of my all-boys school these half-games were proliferated to extreme levels and they mutated, like cyberweapons, as they passed from class to class.

  • Everyone is writing manifestos and not-manifestos these days. None are more worth reading than Robert Yang’s, who has taken his experiences making smart, critical ‘sex games’ and turned it into a set of ideas about “game development as cultural work“.
  • To “consume” a game, it is no longer necessary to play it. Rather, the most important thing about a game is that it exists, because that means you can think about it. (Or maybe, games don’t even have to exist? Consider the endless press previews and unreleased games that engross so many people. These are purely hypothetical games that are often better than playing the actual finished product.)

  • Prison Architect exited its early access cell this past week to a life of full release freedom. That’s prompted new reviews and articles, none more interesting than Will Partin’s long look at the history and design of prisons and the areas where Prison Architect might fail its subject matter.
  • Understanding architecture, in other words, is a crucial for understanding prisons. Leon Battista Alberti, the Renaissance’s most celebrated art theorist, wrote a treatise on prison design, while the engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi is best remembered for his carceri d’Invenzione, a series of Kafkaesque penal vaults. Prison Architect might belong in this long tradition of real and imaginary prison design were it not for the puzzling fact that architecture is nearly absent from the game. Yes, much of the player’s time is spent planning and erecting new cell blocks, facilities, and fences. But Prison Architect never asks its players to think outside of two dimensions, minus subterranean escape tunnels. If this seems like a capricious line of criticism, consider this: in the 1970s and 1980s, as the focus of incarceration shifted from rehabilitation to retribution, prison architecture was altered in stride. The monumental (vertical and horizontal) size of new prisons served not only to house a rapidly growing population, but to annihilate any sense of human scale. Case in point: ADX Florence, the pinnacle of late 20th century American prison design, uses architecture to disorient, isolate, and overpower its inmates. Its window slits—four inches by four feet—prevent inmates from orienting themselves in space; the exercise pit (walled on all sides, again, to prevent orientation) is sized to restrict natural movement. It is, in a former warden’s words, “a cleaner version of hell.”

  • A new iteration of Football Manager is almost upon us, but long before Sports Interactive’s series began, there was another game with the same name. Released in 1982, Football Manager was the first football management game – and this article wraps up (briefly) what made it interesting and remarkable at the time, while giving you a window to play it in your browser right now.
  • I have a distant fascination with wrestling, born of the obsession it has inspired in my friends. I never had Sky television at the age when it might have got its claws into me, but I did enjoy a bunch of PSone era wrestling games. This article by Andy Manson at The Game Jar, titled Rock of Ages, collects the depictions of The Rock throughout the many different licensed WWF/WWE games.
  • …what the actual f**k? Acclaim’s WWF games – Attitude and Warzone – had many, many issues. Stiff, crappy gameplay, bizarre commentary (that well-known announcing dream team of Shane McMahon and Jerry Lawler), lack of modes. But, oh my, the faces. Those goddamn faces. Look at this picture of The Rock. No, really, that’s The Rock. I know, I know. It actually looks like they took the face of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite and pasted it onto a papier mache head, then glued it onto Snoop Dogg’s body. But it’s actually The Rock. Acclaim said so.

  • I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about 80 Days, a review and feature about which we’ll have up on the site shortly. Lots of other people have been doing the same, since it just came to PC. Here’s Cool Ghosts take on it, but you might also enjoy this audio interview about interactive narrative with its writers or this talk at VideoBrains by one of its writers, Meg Jayanth, about the failed romances of Dragon Age.
  • Over at PC Gamer, Tom Senior writes about the satisfying weight and heft of objects and machinery in Soma. This has been my favourite thing about Frictional Games games since Penumbra.
  • It took me a while to make it out of Soma’s first room. Not because of monsters or scary noises—Soma starts in an ordinary apartment—but because your first task encourages you to rummage through the place using Frictional’s delightful click-and-drag interactions. Instead of pressing the open button on a cupboard, you ‘grab’ it with left click, and drag it open. Let go of the mouse and the cupboard door drifts a little under its own momentum.

  • This week I watched, and cried, at the Great British Bake Off Final. If that seems odd, this Radio Times article by does a good job of explaining its appeal. Warning: spoilers. And no spoilers in the comments please, for those who haven’t watched it yet.
  • But if you still don’t know why people love the Bake Off, let me try to sum it up: it’s nice people under mad pressure doing something that involves a lot of skill, and who want to share that skill but who also want to win a contest, but manage to feel that way without wanting others to fail. As they do so they reveal something of themselves, often to themselves, and this is beautiful.

    Music this week is Distant Past by Everything Everything. I am slightly worried I have linked this before though, so here’s also a newish song by someone previously featured, Cream on Chrome by Ratatat.

    49 Comments

    1. daphne says:

      “…where Prison Architect might fail its subject matter.”

      Implying, of course, that the game actually aims to live up to such a representation of prisons. Prison Architect is not intended to be a critical work and this has been stated — clarified, to be more exact — previously by Introversion. That article and its author conveniently ignores this. Disappointing to see that drivel featured here.

      • Bull0 says:

        …what? Did you read it? It’s basically just pointing out that a prison designing game that is purely 2D can’t capture a lot of what designing a prison is all about. It’s right on the money, PA could be improved by having the shape of its spaces affect the prisoners’ mental state more profoundly.

        • daphne says:

          I did actually read it. That’s not what it’s “basically pointing out.” Here’s one tidbit where the author misrepresents Introversion:

          “Introversion has been transparent about its desire for Prison Architect to provoke reflection about the American prison industrial complex.”

          This has been explicitly rejected by Introversion in a previous video where they respond to a Kotaku article that voice similar criticisms.

          • Bull0 says:

            Well the featured quote is totally about what I said it was about, unless I basically can’t read.

      • Premium User Badge

        Graham Smith says:

        I felt the same way you do, Daphne, after having read and conducted interviews with Introversion about the game. But I still think the article has merit for the reasons I outlined above. The information on the the history and design of prisons is interesting, and although it’s wrong to call it a failure of intent, the way the game ignores race is arguably a problem.

      • kwyjibo says:

        Paolo Pedercini’s 2014 critique of Prison Architect (mentioned in the comments above) is really good – link to kotaku.com

        Whether or not Introversion meant for the game to be seen as a reflection of the US prison system, it is seen as a reflection of the US prison system.

        Here’s another take on the game – link to motherboard.vice.com

      • Michael Fogg says:

        Say Prison Architect actually featured a mechanic where guards would treat coloured inmates worse – beatings, more solitary, insults. I’m not sure this would be well accepted, especially by the non-white segment of gamers and games press. I’m pretty sure Introversion in that case would be accused of perpetuating or at worst promoting racial oppresion. Makes me think how some journo wrote that Witcher 3 is enabling real-world domestic abuse due to the fact that the player may say ‘it was not your fault’ to the Red Baron.

        • JohnnyPanzer says:

          I absolutely agree, and it also ties into the way the article tries to paint a picture of Introversions intent for the game that clashes with their actual intent.

          They’ve been very clear about the fact that gameplay comes first, while trying to steer clear of downright exploatiation of incarcerated people and the situation they are in. They wanted a game that was fun to play first, avoid being insensitive second and make you think third.

          Considering the flak they’ve taken for even making a game of the subject matter, I fail to see how they could’ve included blatant racism as a game mechanic and gotten away with it. Had their primary intent been to make a commentary on the prison system, then yes, they would have HAD to include the race factor. But it would not have been pretty, nor fun, nor sellable. At all.

          I’d like to hear someone explain how race, and the impact it has on the penal system, could have been included without making it downright disgusting. It’s like blaming Paradox for refusing to include concentration camps in Hearts of Iron. The reason they don’t include it is not because they want to pretend like it never happened, it’s because there is no way of including a game mechanic in a game primarily meant to entertain that allows you to engineer a goddamn final solution.

          • Cederic says:

            Oh hell. Now you’ve made me ponder..

            How fast would Germany ban the Dachau mod for Prison Architect?

      • Twitchity says:

        If true, I find Introversion’s attitude odd and rather disquieting; to make a game simulating the actual immiseration of human beings, and then explicitly disclaim any desire for players to think about the real-world inspiration of that game, is … ethically troubling.

        • Distec says:

          You’re free to do that on your own. Don’t be a shit warden, ffs.

    2. ventricule says:

      This Prison Architect piece is fascinating indeed — not least for the comments, my favorite one being “And what the hell is a Foucault?”.

    3. HotSoapyBeard says:

      I love you Robert Yang!!!!!!

      • Geebs says:

        I take issue with two of his points – that something needs to exist to be thought of, or vice versa, and that a mashup of Nirvana and Beyoncé wouldn’t sound like something which would inspire the average person to call the RSPCA. Otherwise a very provocative and interesting piece!

        • Michael Fogg says:

          I find his theories self-serving and self-aggrandizing. If you make games that have little or no traditional gameplay then OF COURSE you want people just to talk about them instead of playing. Even better, you want to benefit from their the popularity with streamers and youtubers.

          • HotSoapyBeard says:

            It’s a little strange to pull this up on being self-serving when it’s basically an explanation of his personal design philosophy. Also I’d say self-aggrandizing is a tad unfair when he actively encourages seeing your game as “a piece of interconnected culture”. His sex games are free and although I understand it’s still worth his while promoting his work, he instigates important discussion about games as an art form and his work has interesting things to say, it’s not just viral clickbait.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          There already is an officially released Nirvana/Beyonce (Destiny’s Child) mashup. It’s pretty good.

          • Geebs says:

            Solo Beyoncé is to Destiny’s Child as Yngwie Malmsteen is to Ritchie Blackmore.

      • Consumatopia says:

        If you think of games as simulated worlds, then it’s perfectly natural that we would consume them–by viewing them or talking about them–without playing them. Someday we’ll see a AAA “game” that isn’t meant to be played by humans at all.

        Yang’s suggestion that the game doesn’t even have to “exist”–that no human or machine ever has to go through the motions of following the rules–to be consumed is interesting, but there are already lots of examples of this. Think about all those philosophy or game theory thought experiments, like those Trolley Problems or the Prisoner’s Dilemma–they don’t exist to be played at all, but barrels of ink and pixels have been spilled on them.

    4. TillEulenspiegel says:

      I really don’t understand the ongoing fascination with 80 Days. Is it just the old-timey English flavor, or what?

      It’s a non-terrible mobile game, which I guess is still remarkable. But it doesn’t do much as a game, and there’s very little reason to play it more than once or twice.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I’ve finished it 5 or 6 times, and each time has been sufficiently different to grip me throughout. The key to the appeal for me is the writing, which is utterly superb.

      • mouton says:

        Yeah, the game mechanics are quite basic. Its strength lies in the interactive fiction part.

      • Sin Vega says:

        A single circuit in 80 Days, whether you succeed or fail, contains more adventure than any 500 hour open world RPG snoozefest.

      • Turkey says:

        It’s the best Oregon Trail style game since FTL, imo. A little light on the resource management side, but the writing more than makes up for it.

      • Geebs says:

        I confess that RNG-based games make me feel more Phineas Gage than Phileas Fogg. I progress from initial RNGnosticism to a state of total learned helplessness. Having finished it a few of times on Easy, I stopped in the middle of a playthrough with a profound sense that nothing I did mattered one whit. I don’t think I can ever bear to try it, or any other RNG game, again because frankly I don’t have so much time left on this planet that I can waste half an hour on a coin toss.

        • Geebs says:

          (It == FTL)

        • mouton says:

          Myself, I think FTL’s RNG influence is greatly overrated. Yeah, it can destroy you, but you are rarely entirely without options.

    5. Premium User Badge

      Nianox says:

      Very good article in The Guardian this week about GBBO:

      link to theguardian.com

      • LionsPhil says:

        Of the one RPS quoted:

        It’s nice people under mad pressure doing something that involves a lot of skill, and who want to share that skill but who also want to win a contest, but manage to feel that way without wanting others to fail.

        Abso-bloody-loutely this. The show is a breath of fresh air after all the misery-formula ones trading on the sensationlist harshness of rude critics, and ruthless, cutthroat cull-the-weakest-member dynamics. There’s very little of the usual overdramatization, pairing it back to a few pauses with stock tense music. It’s nice. It’s a deeply, deeply nice thing to have on when 90% of television is trying to stir up some kind of hate, fear or distrust.

        …I have no idea how to relate this to videogames.

        • GWOP says:

          I’m not familiar with GBBO, but I’m rather fond of Masterchef ‘Straya. Sure, they tend to ramp things up to keep it interesting, but all the drama is in the challenges; no manufacturerd drama amongst the competitors/judges, who are generally nice to each.
          It’s nice to watch a reality show every once in a while that isn’t ugly.

    6. sendmark says:

      Oh boy Kevin Toms and Football Manager, I’ve not forgotten you. It was great when SI got the name.

    7. Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      Brendy’s article’s a cracker, thanks for that Graham.
      It took me back to the dumb games we’d play, such as:

      Mercy:
      Interlock fingers then twist until one of you cries “Mercy”; how fingers were never broken I’ll never know.

      British Bulldogs:
      My primary school version of British Bulldogs took place in an old brick shelter about 30 yards long, with a metal girder halfway along the outside edge. Dunno about anyone else, but our version consisted of rounding up as many kids as possible, splitting them into two teams, assigning each team a side of the shelter, then trying to reach the other team’s side all at once. Once you got to the other side, you’d repeat it until you were the last kid standing. Many kids ran in that metal girder by mistake.

      And our crowning achievement, Ball Tag:
      This revolved around one of those small, plastic, hard as buggery “Footballs” that seem to be an essential part of any British school’s gym kit.
      One person would start. The rule was simple (and solitary):
      Whoever touched the ball joined you.
      You’d start off going after your mates. The more kids you had on your team, the quicker the ball was picked up and chucked at another kid.
      The day the teachers banned ball-tag, we’d successfully hit almost every last kid in the school with the ball, and the end result was the one remaining kid locking himself in the loo. The cause of the ban was kids climbing over the toilet stall partition and eventually breaking the toilet stall door in order to twat the last kid with the ball.
      Good times.

      Then there were the other things we did which couldn’t even be called games, more like proto-games. Things like “Spam”, which could happen at any time, without warning. Someone would simply slam the palm of their hand into your forehead and yell “SPAM!”. I’m sure other kids elsewhere played “Spam”, and it probably even had rules, but by the time it got to us, it was simply a malevolently sadistic ritual. Pride was taken in the snappiness of the smack, but really it was just a good excuse to hurt each other.

      Or the whole gesture and sound associated with the insult “Knob ‘ead”, which involved moving an open fist in front of your forehead, saying the insult in a particularly insulting tone, and proceeding to make a noise by pressing your tongue against the inside of your bottom lip to make a sound not unlike that made when masturbating vigorously. Only a few of us mastered this sound effect, and to this day, I pride myself on being able to gross people out simply by making the sound. Of course, no longer being a kid, I more accurately know that the sound is much more similar to the sound of sex, which has led me to ponder if we didn’t pick this ritual up from some older kids or maybe even an adult.

      • LionsPhil says:

        In conclusion, children are terrible and should be banned.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Kid games are almost dystopian in their brutality. Our street, a beacon to dozens of kids (seriously, there were loads of us, completely unsupervised, all summer. It was chaos), invented a game called “Hack It!”, the primary objective of which was to avoid getting hit by cars.

        I still remember the day I heard the next generation of kids in our street shout “Hack it!” at an approaching car. Weirdest passing of the torch ever.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        You’ve reminded me of a game my cousins once told me about that I thankfully missed out on: Bag Tag. This was a “game” in which you gave eachother “tippers”, essentially floppy-fingered whacks to the goolies. By the sounds of it, it was a form of the game of tag, but maybe that’s just the theory.

        The worst I had were bloody knuckles (mentioned in the article), punch buggy (a bit like the article’s “FH”, but triggered by the sight of a VW Beetle), and padiddle (same idea, but with any vehicle with one headlight out), but I mostly managed to escape involvement in those.

        However, we also had the much more justifiable and of course hilarious Doorknob, where you got to punch whoever broke wind until they touched a doorknob, unless they announced their outgassing with a proclamation of “Safety”. It’s a particularly evil game to play on a car ride or in a place with only door latches or whatever, so my cousin made up yelling “safety bombs” to escape the infinite pain. To this day, I can’t even slip a stealthy without muttering “safety” under my breath, and I still offer a token violence-free “doorknob” when a childhood friend (or sibling) busts one. Not sure if I’m proud of that, but it makes me smile, at any rate.

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          particlese says:

          Lots of these have been around for a while in various forms. In the case of Doorknob, my dad said his childhood version of it was “no-slug safety, knock on wood”, and you had to knock on something wooden. If I remember correctly, failure to do so after letting one out would result in a single punch, leaving out the doorknob-calling and doorknob-touching parts.

      • DrollRemark says:

        In my school, there was a game where, at the bell sounding the end of our break/lunch, whoever had a football would kick it into the air. If you were hit by that football, you got rushed by everyone else in the playground (who was paying attention), until you made it into your classroom.

        I don’t know if it actually had a name. I didn’t stick around at the end of breaks to find out.

    8. rapchee says:

      an experiment about the placebo effect in a game
      link to newscientist.com

    9. medanku123 says:

      Kid games are almost dystopian in their brutality. Our street, a beacon to dozens of kids (seriously, there were loads of us, completely unsupervised, all summer. It was chaos), invented a game called “Hack It!”, the primary objective of which was to avoid getting hit by cars.

      I still remember the day I heard the next generation of kids in our street shout “Hack it!” at an approaching car. Jual Dildo Weirdest passing of the torch ever.