The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for hearing echoes of some new internet controversy and being glad that we are all of us here, away from such distractions. Let’s read the week’s best games writing and rejoice.

  • Networked gaming is the new social media, and it’s a boys’ club, writes Mimi Ito, Professor in Residence at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of California. The article has some interesting statistics and some positive things to say about videogames and what needs addressing about them.
  • Plenty of folks are concerned about videogames promoting violence and antisocial behavior, but we need to pay more attention to what kids miss out on by not engaging in the positive social aspects of gaming. For example, while investigating links between videogames and violence, Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson discovered that boys who don’t game at all showed the highest risk of getting into fights. These days, video games are what boys do together, so if they aren’t gaming, it means they might not be part of the boys’ club. While it’s not exactly basketball or football, being a great League of Legends player or Minecrafter can be a source of peer status. In Silicon Valley, coders bond on weekends through the After Hours Gaming League and the angst over who gets invited to high status Settlers of Catan games is reminiscent of elite old boys’ networks’ bonding over golf and tennis.

  • This week’s fighty Cliff Harris post is asking for government regulation of videogames to stop the psychological tricks they use to compel people into paying and paying and playing and paying. Given what some of those tricks entail, that’s a reasonable response.
  • Lets think about this for a minute. A company hires people to stalk its customers and befriend them so they can build up a psychological profile of each customer to allow them to extract more money. This is not market research, this is not game design. This is psychological warfare. Lines have been crossed so much we cannot even see them behind us with binoculars. We need to reign this stuff in. Its not just psychological warfare, but warfare where you, the customer, are woefully outgunned, and losing. Some people are losing catastrophically.

  • I haven’t played Undertale, but I am enjoying the way it divides certain kinds of game players. I imagine people who like the game would say Jed Pressgrove is missing the point in this review, which focuses on what the game might be saying, accidentally or purposefully, through its mechanics and depiction of morality and violence.
  • The off-putting vacancy in Undertale’s main face is especially puzzling given Fox’s schmaltzy attempt to undercut typical turn-based combat. Almost jokingly, you dodge the attacks of enemies in real time as a heart avatar. Does Fox think the mere shape of a heart can be a stand-in for human depth? If the little snot you play as is supposed to comment on a hollowness about previous role-playing games, Fox takes the lazy route. The silent protagonist cliche, already parodied well by Super Mario RPG, does not complement any inventiveness Fox squeezes out of the monster encounters. And if the hero is meant to resemble a dead fish to show that “anyone can be a hero,” Undertale should come with a bucket to vomit in.

  • I am interested in what Hideo Kojima does next, now that he and Konami and Metal Gear Solid have parted ways. Simon Parkin spoke to Kojima about what happens now.
  • Now that his employment contract has expired, Kojima is able to speak freely about what he describes as a “new start”—a relaunched, independent Kojima Productions. (He remains, however, contractually forbidden from talking about the prior split.) The studio currently comprises four staff members, including Yoji Shinkawa, the artist with whom Kojima has collaborated since Shinkawa left college, and Kenichiro Imaizumi, a former producer at Konami. There is, as yet, no office, but there is a contract in place with Sony Computer Entertainment, which is partnering with Kojima on his next title. The details of that game, if they are settled, have yet to emerge, but the arduous months at Konami have apparently done nothing to dull Kojima’s interest in making the kind of filmic, lavish productions for which he is best known. “Every time I create a game, I think it’s going to be the last time,” he told me. “In much the same way that a mother isn’t thinking about her next pregnancy during childbirth, I can’t think of the next game till the one I’m working on is out.”

  • Also at The New Yorker, Simon Parkin writes about the best videogames of 2015.
  • The democratization of game development, hastened by the availability of tools such as Unity and GameMaker, has swelled the number of annual releases to unchartable proportions. This is theoretically positive, in that it encourages a diversity of both creators and creations, broadening the medium’s scope and variety. And yet video games remain, principally, conservative and iterative. They advance mainly along the narrow axes of graphics and technology, rarely in theme. Expanding bulk has not been matched with expanding variety. Critics and players, in the main, go along with the pretense of progress. Here, instead, are what I consider the year’s truly inventive offerings.

  • For some reason I stumbled across Quintin’s old Journey of Saga series, in which he sets off on a world-spanning adventure in search of the Citizen Kane of games. A good, long read for this rainy Sunday in England.
  • At least the guesthouse I found was cool. The owner didn’t seem to have grasped the nuances of his job yet (“You want a room? For money?” And the milky eyes would roll completely around, like watching the sudsy contents of two washing machines), but the sheets were clean and the Eastern European man I shared a room with had a size and demeanor which broadcast that he ate thieves like breadsticks. This guy cracked his knuckles in his sleep. Three times I woke up from a dream that I was a chicken being boned.

  • Cool Ghosts’ Subterfuge diaries have come to an end. A brilliant video series.
  • I haven’t read all of this Quentin Tarantino interview, because I’m not sure it can live up to this one quote.
  • I want to have more original-screenplay Oscars than anybody who’s ever lived! So much, I want to have so many that—four is enough. And do it within ten films, all right, so that when I die, they rename the original-screenplay Oscar “the Quentin.” And everybody’s down with that.

    Tarantino’s girlfriend emerges from the house: “You are insane. I just heard that. That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said.”

This will likely be the last Sunday Papers of the year, as RPS winds down for Christmas and I spend next weekend eating leftover Christmas cake and pudding. Thanks for your reading and commenting over the past twelve months.

Music this week is a pick ‘n’ mix. 40 Watt by ELEL (YT); Glitter by Say Lou Lou (Spotify); Bad Place For A Good Time by Kate Tempest (YT); and Cornerstone by Benjamin Clementine (YT). Happy Christmas, everyone.

91 Comments

  1. eggy toast says:

    Thank you for warning me which links went to youtube and which to spotify. If I would have had to hover over the links for a microsecond I might have died.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Bear in mind there’s no hovering tooltippery for those on fondleslabs.

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        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        Hold the link and choose to open as a new tab and it will show you where the link is going.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Sure, but for a bunch of links that takes much more time than just reading “YT” or “Spotify” after them, or passing your mouse over them on desktop.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        *adds fondleslab to vocabulary*

  2. eggy toast says:

    All joking aside if there had been a warning that the first link went to Boing Boing I wouldn’t have clicked it. Super regret it.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Should have hovered over the link for a microsecond. :P

    • Pich says:

      What’s wrong with Boing Boing?

      • El Mariachi says:

        I can see not being a rabid fan of the site, but it’s hardly so objectionable as to avoid reading anything at all there on principle. The Offworld games section is solid, and BB is the only place to get any Beschizza since he left RPS.

        • pepperfez says:

          They hired Leigh Alexander to restart Offworld, and she’s on the official Tedious Reactionary Twats’ Shitlist, so now the entire site is off-limits.

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            Phasma Felis says:

            I dislike Boing Boing because several of their writers have taken to reeling off tabloid-esque bullshit as fact, and I say this as someone who agrees entirely with their basic politics. Cory and Xeni in particular will repeat anything negative about anyone they don’t like without fact-checking it. Also, recently they’ve started posting ads as articles–not just intrusive ads or suspiciously-positive product reviews by their regular writers, but actual articles that consist of nothing but back-of-the-box ad copy, usually for shitty/scammy products with wildly inflated prices that are crossed out and “discounted” to make it look like a good deal.

            I actually like Offworld just fine and have nothing bad to say about it. It’s the main site that’s gone to shit.

  3. Pink Gregory says:

    Very pleased to hear that Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa are still working together.

  4. Premium User Badge

    SoundDust says:

    I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading on ye olde games/industry at The Digital Antiquarian . There’s a new piece on the making and impact of Dungeon Master, and plenty more on games of the 80’s and their makers.

  5. daphne says:

    “That’s a perfect encapsulation of how pointless Undertale’s wannabe progressivism is.”

    The brute that wrote this review obviously missed the Toby Fox interview — something he can be held accountable for, as it’s clear the review is influenced by the game’s existing reception — where he makes it very clear that he’s extremely unimpressed by vacuous expressions as “wannabe progressivism” to describe both the game *and* his intent for it:

    link to existentialgamer.com

    TL;DR? “Skip”.

    • Turkey says:

      Yeah, the whole review is pretty much the reviewer arguing with a strawman.

    • Philomelle says:

      To be fair, you can tell the author of the review is not very good with this whole “English language” thing from the first paragraph, where he quotes a message from early into the game to prove that the game is following a strictly pacifist morality, but only reveals that he’s really bad at analyzing what he’s been told.

      It’s true that Undertale promises you a “happy” ending for doing a pacifist playthrough and delivers on it. It’s also true that it only promised a happy ending in exchange for pacifism It said nothing about a fulfilling ending, let alone a true one.

      Oh, and he’s also so awful at experimenting with the tools provided to him by the game that he complains about how you need to mercy the final boss about 12 times to get the “pacifist ending”, even though your treatment of that boss only alters one scene and doesn’t affect the ending you get at all.

      • Geebs says:

        If he’s going to rag on something for being pacifist, coming out swinging does at least add an air of authenticity.

        I thought Undertale was really well made, but I only really enjoyed about a third of it and it does feel like it railroads you into a repeat playthrough. Given how dull the anti-grinding is in a pacifist run, I can’t really be arsed.

        • Philomelle says:

          Yeah, the way he really hates doing the pacifist route but still keeps going at it (presumably because the game promised him a “happy” ending) is really baffling. He’s basically this otter.

          Undertale does expect repeat playthroughs, if only because it remembers everything you’ve done during it. That said, you don’t actually have to do full playthroughs to obtain certain things. For example, there is a secret area in the game that you can access by talking to a certain character during the pacifist ending sequence seven times; the game will unlock said area even if you do so by repeatedly loading the save right before talking to the character. Saving and loading is just as much a narrative mechanic in it as it’s a gameplay one.

          I do understand not feeling like playing through it twice in a row. It is a fairly repetitive game, which is why I’m personally exploring it at a very leisurely pace, only doing a full playthrough once per month or so. The catch with that part is, neither you nor I are trying to post a critical review of the game despite having only seen maybe 30% of it the way this guy did.

    • GWOP says:

      Some of his criticisms are so asinine I don’t even know how to react. I mean…

      ” Almost jokingly, you dodge the attacks of enemies in real time as a heart avatar. Does Fox think the mere shape of a heart can be a stand-in for human depth?”

      Or maybe the mere shape of a heart is nothing but a mere stand in for your videogame life (as it has been since time immemorial), not for ‘human-depth’, however that may be achieved graphically.

      “Either you managed to spare a goofy-looking thing that attacked you or you didn’t. Unlike Jack King-Spooner’s Beeswing and Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2, Undertale pushes make-believe morality — a sort of BioShock bullshit — as opposed to situations that get to the essence of life and struggle.”

      The monsters lash out at you because they are distrustful of humans (and sometimes they even accidentally hurt you when trying to show excited affection), and it’s up to you if you want to feed into the cycle or break it through compassion. How is sparing a goofy-looking make-believe monster in Undertale any different from sparing a goofy-looking make-believe man in Wasteland? You either suspend your disbelief and come to terms with the fiction of the world, or you don’t (for the sake of being a contrarian).

      • ROMhack2 says:

        I recognised his name instantly, but it took me a while to figure out where from. Jed has form for reading games in very strange ways, always with a negative outlook.

        I remember this from his review of Journey @ Slant Mag, which was pretty ridiculous – link to slantmagazine.com

        I’m not sure why RPS is giving him the time of day.

        • PikaBot says:

          With Journey, director Jenova Chen presents intimacy as a mirage in a desert and fits inclusivity into an abstracted model.

          I’ll take ‘word salad thesis statement’ for $500, Alex.

        • RobF says:

          Yeah, I try and avoid his writing these days as it leans more miserable than challenging or interesting.

          Each to their own and all that. Must be exhausting though.

        • anHorse says:

          I’m fine with his aggressive and scattergun approach but I’m not a fan of criticism that just constantly second guesses the author.

          Just talk about the actual game instead of what the creator might have been intending

  6. SuicideKing says:

    There’s an interesting video from Extra Credits on, “Sesame Credit”, a social game being used by the Chinese government for data mining, spying, propaganda and stifling undesirable opinions.

    • GWOP says:

      Fuck. Fuck.

      Fuck.

      • GWOP says:

        Meta social credits leading to crowd-sourced ostracization of dissidence… You can’t make this shit up.

        • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

          Well maybe YOU couldn’t, I’m sure some sci fi writer somewhere had ideas like this, Charlie Stross maybe?

    • Synesthesia says:

      I was wondering why this hadn’t appeared anywhere else. It sounds like it’s pretty big.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Meh. Having a fake public profile is not that uncommon.

    • All is Well says:

      I don’t like that video. They seem to be leaving out all information that doesn’t support their alarmist tone (for instance that Sesame Credit is just one (albeit the largest, I gather) of several pilot projects under evaluation, and that the company responsible for the system disputes the idea that friends’ scores determine yours) which isn’t a good sign.

      Some more credible sources:
      link to bbc.com
      link to newscientist.com
      link to qz.com

      • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

        “more credible sources” More credible than a youtube video starring a chipmunk voiced motherfucker? I doubt such a thing exists good sir!

    • souroldlemon says:

      There’s some truth in that clip but it’s not accurate:
      link to qz.com

  7. Philomelle says:

    The Undertale review reminds me of Joystiq’s review of Nier, where the guy couldn’t figure out how to get through the tutorial to the fishing mini-game that occurs about 2-3 hours into the game, ragequit over it and gave it a 1/10.

    He didn’t actually complete the game or really understand it at all, but boy is he gonna say some big words in hopes that being contrary is gonna make him look smart and impressive anyway.

    • kwyjibo says:

      That Joystiq review sounds like it did the job.

      I’m not going to stay for the main course if I have to sit through a starter of liquidated human excrement, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do it either.

      • Philomelle says:

        So long as you don’t intentionally ignore the directions provided by the game on-screen and don’t attempt to claim that the tutorial to said mini-game must be completed (it actually auto-skips after three attempts) in order to continue, I suppose that’s fair.

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      gritz says:

      Re: the Nier review.

      That “guy” was Justin McElroy and that review is hilarious and not at all about saying fancy words.

  8. Shazbut says:

    Regarding the Undertale review:

    That Undertale may not work as a convincing treatise on the validity of pacifism (as if Toby Fox had officially stated this as his intent) with every gameplay system being a perfect expression of the overarching narrative and a deep understanding of the nature of violence, doesn’t mean that Undertale isn’t brilliant.

    I have no time for backlashes when a game tries to contribute (and we can assume, succeeds, given the general esteem held) something as rare and valuable as this one.

    I’ve read that review twice now and most of the time I can’t make out what point Jed is trying to make. The game is shallow? The kid’s 24! Is the game shallower than GTAV, Portal, Half Life, Deus Ex, Super Mario, Metal Gear Solid V….?

    • Ayslia says:

      Look, I really enjoyed Undertale, but that was because I approached it the same way I do a Pixar movie: with the expectation that it will be first-rate entertainment (as opposed to first-rate art), and that it will likely have some sort of moral that’s palatable to every parent out there, that is a moral that everyone agrees with, that is, a completely pointless moral.

      ‘The kid’s 24!’ I seriously have no patience for this argument. My little brother writes stuff that’s probably impressive for a 10 year old but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hold it up as some kind of great work of art on its own merits. (Admittedly, I might be more impressed if I were older than 19 myself.)

      The game isn’t shallower than those other games, but that doesn’t mean much. Do non-shallow triple-A games even exist? I haven’t seen any. Hell, even non-shallow indie games are extremely rare (I’d cite KR0 as an example of one of those rare games).

      And… what exactly is rare and valuable about Undertale? Again, it’s a good game. Insofar as good games are rare and valuable, sure, I’ll give it that. But to argue that Undertale does anything at all new or revolutionary or even risky just seems wrong to me.

      • Philomelle says:

        Undertale actively uses save/loading as a mechanic that allows you to access new content within the same playthrough, to such a degree that multiple playthroughs of it can feel like a single extended one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember a single game that actually uses save/loading like that instead of resorting to it as a manual checkpoint.

        That aside, you’re right that it’s pointless to argue about whether Undertale is shallow or wrong by comparing it to other games in the context of this review. It’s pointless because the review is an embarrassing mess that attempts to perform an in-depth critical analysis of Undertale, its themes and the author’s intent after playing through it once (while vehemently sticking to a pacifist playthrough because the game told him he’ll get a happy ending that way), not unlocking any side content one can unlock by save/loading, and not even seeing the true ending (or being aware that it exists).

        Would you trust a treatise on level design in Metroid to someone who played Metroid Fusion once, didn’t reach 100% collectibles and never once attempted a speedrun? How about trusting an in-depth analysis of choices and consequences in Witcher, Dishonored or Deus Ex to someone who played any of those games once and never experimented or attempted to research alternative consequences that can arise from player choices? What about a guide to high-level competitive play in Skullgirls written by someone who only completed the story campaign as a couple characters and never accessed online play?

        The reviewer is being mocked on this page because he’s trying to perform an in-depth critical analysis of a game he’d only seen maybe 30% of. It’s more than a little silly to take anything he says as something more than pretentious balderdash.

        • Ayslia says:

          Personally, I don’t care too much for, or about, the review. I agree that it’s not particularly well-written or well-researched. But the reason I posted in response to Shazbut was because I’ve seen people, in this comments section and elsewhere, imply a greatness on the part of Undertale that I just… didn’t notice while playing it. Sure, I’ll admit it has an interesting gimmick in its save file system. But that gimmick, like so many other gimmicks in video games in the past few years, is only used to illustrate the obviously incredibly controversial, especially among the developed-world Westerners that play this stuff, thesis that Violence Might Be Bad, which is the single most common thesis in these popular games that claim to do something new or interesting.

          It seems that ‘innovative’ games either do something interesting with gameplay in service of an obvious or trite thesis (Undertale, Papers Please), or they do absolutely nothing with gameplay in service of a more interesting one (KR0). I’m tired of that. And even if the review is poorly written and researched, I can at least admire Pressgrove for going beyond what everyone else has been saying and writing a different opinion.

          • Philomelle says:

            I imagine the reason you’re stumped about that reaction is because Undertale’s ultimate message has fuck-all to do with the idea that Violence Might Be Bad. It can be read that way if you play only the pacifist route once and pretend that the rest of the game doesn’t exist, but that means you’ve only experienced maybe a third of a complex game with a very big cast who all have different opinions and motivations.

            Not only does Undertale admit that its gameplay systems are ineffective at portraying all the complicated scenarios pertaining to violence, but you can’t really claim it criticizes violence when Undine, the punk mermaid with an explosive temper and a tendency to throw objects at people, is consistently portrayed as a positive character in every single scenario.

            Undertale doesn’t really have a fixed message, neither is it intended to; its creator outright said “Regarding UNDERTALE‘s morality, my opinion is kind of irrelevant”. At most, you could argue that its message is that people should expecting games to have a fixed beginning, ending and message with a predictable gameplay loop, and instead try to take their games at their own pace.

            And that’s why people love it! Because Undertale lets you have a discussion about Undertale, not some political or philosophical topic that might have been referenced in Undertale.

            All that said, it’s still hard to respect Pressgrove because he tried to write an in-depth critical analysis of a game he’d seen maybe 30% of, and made a whole lot of assumptions about the game’s creator that are simply untrue in the process.

          • sfoumatou says:

            To what Philomelle said, I would add that the reason Undertale struck me (us?) this hard is mainly because it tricked me into playing as myself, the human being, instead of playing as some videogame protagonist or another.

            Of the many themes explored by the game, I don’t think you can take one (Violence Is Bad) and say that that’s what the game was really about. What makes Undertale work so well is that it strips away the expectations you have as a player and makes you experience something new. The main lesson I ended up taking away from the game is that I shouldn’t let my assumptions and expectations about people, and life in general, govern my actions; that there’s always a different possibility around the corner. Its story struck a chord with me because by being curious and tenacious, I suddenly ended up being responsible for the characters’ fates a lot more than I expected to at first.

            Of course, all the hype and success does more harm than good to that experience. Something that’s so intimate and surprising can’t be the same if you’re forced into it because a crowd is shouting at you to try it. To anyone baffled by the hype, I would just advise to keep the game for a rainy day a few years from now, so that they can be surprised again.

          • cpt_freakout says:

            This is exactly what ‘great’ pop culture or art does: it creates an ongoing discussion. It might have meant nothing to you, but it means many things to many different others, who have found something key about themselves reflected in something the game does (or doesn’t). All the reviews and the discussions, including the more vitriolic ones, are a consequence of the game hitting some very vital strings with a lot of people, and even if it wasn’t already mechanically interesting (a “good game” in traditional reviewer terms) it would still be significant for the profound relations – of opinions, people, interpretations, analysis, context – it’s created around it, relations that so far seem to go in a direction beyond fandom.

          • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

            “obvious or trite thesis” You people are the worst, if you aren’t going to talk about anything besides your own naval make your own game instead OH WAIT YOU CAN’T BECAUSE YOU’RE PROBABLY EVEN MORE VAPID AND UNINSPIRED HAHAHA.

      • gunny1993 says:

        Hmm what about the way the game uses actual mechanics that pray upon the mindset fo the average gamer, i.e [spoilers] the way it manipulates the user into the genocide playthrough by throwing XP and Gold at people for killing, whilst throwing accusations at the player for doing so with the various characters involved in the game.

        That level of meta manipulation of the mechanics and the player is pretty singular as far as i’m aware.

        • sfoumatou says:

          Singular AND thorough. Games usually focus more on rewarding the player, no matter what path they choose. Undertale is the only game I know where your actions actually lead to their logical conclusion rather than to some narrative-prescribed satisfying ending.

          The complaint that the game “forces” you into the happy ending is a bit weird to me because… well… yeah, that’s the whole point. Life is shitty if you decide to kill and use people. The fact that this is seen as a bold political statement is kind of amusing to me.

          • Philomelle says:

            I find it a dumb complaint because being forced implies that the game somehow held a gun to his head and made him do a pacifist run. All it actually did was promise him a “happy ending” and he went after it like a sheep because he really wanted that happy ending even if it came at the expense of actually enjoying the game.

            It’s not like the game ever punishes you for taking the Genocide route. Taking that route reveals the sides of multiple characters that you wouldn’t otherwise know, the final boss is one of the most brilliantly designed boss encounters in the genre, while the final choice provides you with events in other routes that reveal more about the world and its inhabitants. All of those things sound more like rewards to me.

          • sfoumatou says:

            The guilt caused by your actions do feel like punishment to me, especially since the game goes out of its way to textually chastise the player for choosing this path (or even just watching it online…)

            But I do agree that it’s “rewarding” in that it’s integral to the experience and that you can’t fully understand the story without seeing what lies that way. So no, it’s not “punishment” as in “doing this was pointless, you loser” (which is what lots of games unintentionally do with the more chaotic/violent path).

      • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

        “a moral that everyone agrees with, that is, a completely pointless moral.” LOL you must not play very many video games if you think criticizing senseless violence is pointless.

        “what exactly is rare and valuable about Undertale” HERP DERP ART APPRECIATION

        “to argue that Undertale does anything at all new or revolutionary or even risky just seems wrong to me.” Your feelings about this strawman argument are incorrect.

  9. NathanH says:

    “Expanding bulk has not been matched with expanding variety.”

    This seems false to me. I have played all manner of intriguing games in the last few years. And these are not games that people might call “experimental” or “non-games”, they’re fairly “normal” games, professionally made, just varied.

  10. PikaBot says:

    Does Fox think the mere shape of a heart can be a stand-in for human depth?

    Does the person who wrote this think that bold proclamations can be a stand-in for a sense of self-awareness? That review was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve read all year, and I haven’t even touched Undertale.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Yeah, I skimmed over some of his other writing and I can safely say I don’t need to read anything by this guy.

  11. Stellar Duck says:

    I sometimes 100% agree with Cliffski. This was one of those times.

    I’m frankly sick and tired of games, devs and their shitty practices.

    I don’t know if I should blame Valve or Zynga though. They seem equally bad about this shit.

  12. PancakeWizard says:

    Bit late with this one, but I found it a good read nonetheless: A Chair Is a Video Game (it’s just an article, no video or streaming audio or anything).

    • Sam says:

      Sweeney argues that the category “game” should be kept restricted because its expansion is reducing consumer interest in buying games. No evidence is given for this. Consumer spending on games has only increased during the time in which the definition of games has broadened (I wouldn’t claim that’s evidence for a broad definition increasing sales, but claiming the opposite does require some evidence.) The idea that someone will buy Gone Home expecting a first person shooter and be sufficiently disappointed that they’re put off buying games is absurd. Games are not sold in plain white boxes marked only with the word GAME. We have a whole ecosystem of reviews, media, and marketing to inform consumers on what they’re buying. If somehow you still buy Gone Home expecting to shoot zombies, many stores will offer you a refund.

      He skirts around the possibly interesting topics of how the idea of a game can become more important than the game itself (as discussed a few weeks back by Robert Yang,) as well as how social signalling, political and personal identities get bound up with what media a person supports. But he doesn’t bring any discussion beyond apparently stating that it’s not proper free market behaviour. Plus some unpleasant implications that free market success and worthiness are identical. I enjoyed the cognitive dissonance of exalting the free market while damning the Patreon-based financial support that some niche developers get. That he has his own Patreon linked next to the article makes it a fine piece of conceptual art, and probably a game too.

    • Geebs says:

      That piece comes across as unnecessarily reactionary, and I’m part of the “if we insist that everything can be (word), then we have merely deprived (word) of meaning” crowd.

      It’s odd being an old-school nerd; people in my generation who were into nerdly pursits generally did it because they couldn’t be bothered to engage with the endless popularity contests and social one-upmanship. I can totally relate to being pissed off that the art school kids are now telling us that we’ve been the wrong sort of nerd, and doing it by taking a medium defined by interactivity and removing the interaction in order to build a taller soap box.

      Thing is, I reckon games would be pretty boring by now if it wasn’t for a bit of revolution in the industry. The posers are just the price we have to pay.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        I like you.

      • ffordesoon says:

        I don’t see how “the art school kids” are saying anything about what kind of nerd you are when they get annoyed because they made a videogame and want it recognized as such despite it not meeting wholly arbitrary standards someone came up with before they were born. You and/or your nerdiness have precisely zero to do with whether or not something is a videogame. What a baffling thing to say.

        • aoanla says:

          But, to be fair, you’re also making a fairly indefensible argument here, but in the opposite direction: you’re suggesting that someone merely defining their creation as a videogame is sufficient to unambiguously (and inarguably) make it so, regardless of if anyone else disagrees (or it doesn’t match some or all definitions provided of such). This is just as silly a position as the position you’re attacking.

          • RobF says:

            I’m curious as to how else we’d go about doing this, really.

            If over time, we come to a consensus that thing A isn’t a videogame it’s a whatever, then that’s a thing that’ll happen of its own natural course. In the meantime, it is entirely up to the creator to define what a thing is because there’s no other reasonable way of doing it. You don’t just make a thing and go “I dunno”, shrug and walk away leaving it up to other people to work out.

          • aoanla says:

            I’m not saying creators can’t claim that they’ve made a video game. What I’m saying is that this does not make that claim automatically true, and neither does it mean that people other than the creator can’t make valid statements which disagree with it. (For a example in another field: John Cage’s 4’33 is not unanimously considered music, although Cage himself certainly considered it to be such himself. In fact, there have been several interesting critical conversations about the nature of 4’33, which enriched discussion of the form even though several of them deny 4’33 the status of music.)

      • GWOP says:

        It’s funny how today’s self-professed old school nerds would look at a text-based adventure (written in HTML or otherwise) and is more likely to dismiss it as not-a-game, like the author of the article does, because it lacks some vague fail-state or something.

        • Geebs says:

          The fail-state thing has always been pedantic nonsense. I’m of the opinion that interactivity is what separates a videogame from other pursuits. Being the cameraman doesn’t in itself constitute interactivity.

          To be honest, I never thought chose-your-own-adventure books were worth the crappy paper they were printed on. Likewise, being written in html doesn’t prevent something from being a videogame, but failing to take advantage of the interactive possibilities of html does.

    • RobF says:

      Yeah, that’s rambling nonsense with little to no basis in what’s actually happening in games right now. Well, outside a small portion of folks who talk themselves up as The Consumers whilst happily ignoring that even if you ignore the increasing popularity of artier/empathic works, they’re still a minority of folks who purchase videogames. Their purchases are eclipsed by those who buy casual games a hundred fold.

      Games are doing a million dollars a day right now hence Activision’s move to scoop up King. The games are cheaper to make (but not necessarily to market) and do a magnitude more sales than most big box companies can dream of. See also EA’s move into mobile that they’re only now diversifying away from again. Gameloft existing alongside Ubisoft. Never mind all the folks doing their own thing.

      A handful of core gamers saying they’ll keep their money in their pockets is a shrug and an “OK then”.

      It’s just tired wishful thinking from some corners of the game-o-sphere where they like to assume that because they’ve been marketed to as the core for years, their dollar is the best dollar. Unfortunately, neither sales nor demographics of the folk who buy games back this up. Contrary to the articles assertions, it turns out there’s plenty of people who *do* want games to be more expansive, to be more inclusive and to have a wider spread. Because that’s sort of how it works. More games for more people? More people play games! Hooray.

      This is born out by the sales. Gone Home has sold over half a million copies. Half a million! All this stuff about gamers stopping buying games because they’re not games, it’s not happening. Because it turns out that it’s people who buy games and people want and like different things and that’s just fine.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Exactly this.

      • aoanla says:

        Of course, things being popular, or even good, artistically-valid, or insightful does not make them necessarily games either. (I actually disagree somewhat with the original article, but I do have some sympathy for his base dislike of the “anyone can call anything a game and you’re not allowed to disagree with them” phenomenon. “Games” as a concept existed long before “video games”, and it’s really not clear that some “video games” would be regarded as being “games” via the definitions which people used before 1980, say. They’d definitely be regarded as “entertainments”, though, in the same way that books, films, music, hiking, etc are – luckily, we even have the term “software entertainment” to refer to a wider zone of “things which are entertainments which are implemented in software”!.)

        • sfoumatou says:

          You’re right, the word “game” has existed for a long time now. But you’re wrong about it ever having a clear definition. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia: “A game is structured form of play, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool.[1] Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work (such as professional players of spectator sports or games) or art (such as jigsaw puzzles or games involving an artistic layout such as Mahjong, solitaire, or some video games).”

          Trying to keep a precise grasp on the meaning of the word can only serve corporate interests or some sort of reactionary gate-keeping discourse. There’s no reason to disagree with the label itself because it’s very, very vague and all-encompassing. And the idea of one form threatening another is kind of surprising to me because, well, Gone Home isn’t exactly stealing anybody away from Call Of Duty, is it?

          • aoanla says:

            You’ll notice that I never said that “game” has always, or ever had a clear definition. (In fact, it would be silly of me to suggest as such, given that the meaning of the word “game” is one of the original examples used to show how conventional prescriptive definitions don’t model language use by Wittgenstein).
            You’ll also notice that I never said that Gone Home threatens Call of Duty (or that forms do that in general).

            What I actually said was that the definitions used by people for games before “video games” happened would probably not include all of the things that people now try to call “video games”. I think this is a defensible position – Dear Esther, for example, does not appear to be a game in this sense – I think hypothetical pre-video-games observers might possibly relate it to movies or art installations, but probably not games.
            (To flesh out my position a bit more for you, as it differs from the author of the original piece: I don’t think there’s anything magical about the “software” bit of “video games” – that is, “video games” aren’t a form separate from “games”, they’re just “games which are implemented in software”. I think there’s lots of other interesting software creations, some of which are also kinds of entertainment which might not actually be the specific kind of “entertainment” called “games” (I think there’s quite a lot of software entertainments which are specifically “toys”, for example – including a lot of open-world games, when you deliberately ignore the “game” and do your own messing around).
            I think that’s what actually happened with “video games” as a word is that the concept has undergone a certain amount of semantic shift and broadening, for various reasons, and now is no longer a strict subset of “games”. I do find this a little annoying, as the phrase “software entertainment” has actually existed for as long, almost, as the phrase “video game”, but that seems to be what’s going on.)

          • sfoumatou says:

            I apologize! My point was sort of all over the place and I was more responding to an amalgam of positions than to your post specifically (which I fully recognize is a grumpy and unfair thing to do!)

            That being said, I understand what you mean entirely and I agree that we could definitely use a wider vocabulary to describe “video games”. Unfortunately, the article posted above strays far away from that topic. The author has a grudge against the popularity of these interactive stories, broadly waves them off as tasteless sludge, and he textually bemoans the fact that he even has to be aware of them. So yeah, I was peeved at that guy and ended up splashing that all over your post. Oops!

          • aoanla says:

            No problem – for my part, I should say that I also find these kinds of ranty articles intensely annoying, because they adhere to the more dispassionate “can we just use more words for different things” position which I try to argue, and damage it by association.

    • LionsPhil says:

      If we’re gonna talk games-as-capital-A-Art, honestly I think Penny Arcade pretty much nailed it last week.

      • pepperfez says:

        What…is he saying there, exactly? Who are the people “who literally distribute[] eggshells for other people to walk on” and are also “the negative space around which the exploratory, human work of creativity is allowed to take place”? Is this still about Ebert? Or dickwolves? Or?

        • PancakeWizard says:

          They’re refering to games media.

        • sfoumatou says:

          He is essentially saying that the feeble consumer masses have no right to criticize and belittle the Great Comic Strip Creator Gods who have attained sentience in the fourth dimension.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Hadn’t actually read the blog post that went with it, and that now just leaves me wondering if I completely misinterpreted the comic (“trying to make/argue for games as High Art to appease some nebulous ideal of worthiness is complete bull, not least because gaming has been a mainstream thing that the public at large understand and partake of to varying degrees for years”). Oh well.

    • GWOP says:

      I’m sorry, that article is just reactionary drivel. It’s argument is akin to reading Joyce and then claiming no one is going to read books anymore.

      Nerds are the new conservatives.

      • pepperfez says:

        So much of ‘nerd culture’ is a corporate-backed effort to police the boundaries between in-group and out-groups, it’s not surprising that it would start to resemble ideologies that do the same thing in other spheres.

    • PikaBot says:

      Those who want to turn our arcades into art galleries should take a long look at the percentage of our population that visits galleries at all.

      As opposed to those who visit arcades?

  13. sfoumatou says:

    My favourite thing about 2015 gaming (aside from Undertale) is people getting angry at Undertale.

    Some people just cannot deal with that game’s existence, let alone its success. It’s baffling! I can’t help perceiving that anger as some form of petty jealousy. You’d think there are more important things to get in a froth about than people being enthusiastic about something, especially when said thing is as optimistic, uplifting and harmless as Undertale.

    • mumur says:

      Pretty sure the “backlash” against Undertale comes from people not understanding what’s so great about it. People get angry at what they cannot understand.
      Or maybe that’s just me ;)

    • Wurstwaffel says:

      They’re weirded out by people going on about how great it is, because honestly it looks a bit shit.

      • sfoumatou says:

        There’s quite a few degrees of anger between “being weirded out by something’s success” and “actively bashing said thing on online platforms”. The latter is what I find amusing.

    • aoanla says:

      While I think all of the rants about Undertale being awful are generally horrible overreactions, I actually think it’s the press’ fault as much as anyone else’s here. The amount of gushing praise for Undertale, and exhortations that “everyone should play it”, claims that it’s the best game ever, and that all people will benefit from having it in their life are bound to wind some people up, especially as Undertale is actually something of a marmite-game (the humour/writing style just does not work for some people, myself included, and clicks perfectly for others).
      Inevitably, a small fraction of the people who don’t get Undertale are going to be annoyed enough by the seemingly unanimous critical lauding that they’ll write angry rants in backlash.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      “as optimistic, uplifting and harmless as Undertale.” The worst thing you can do is preach non-violence, they crucify you for being a pretentious hipster that doesn’t live in the real world or some other example of cognitive dissonance.

      Also it’s “furry bait”, remember kids, always love one another but don’t love funny talking animals because that’s embarrassing and nontraditional!

  14. melnificent says:

    Agree 100% with cliffski, these are aimed squarely at those with addictive personalities/teens/young adults. The fact they are games of skill means that they aren’t classed as gambling. They aren’t unhealthy, or dangerous to life. They stalk, but it would be classed as “market research” as it’s a company… so there is no legislation.

    The mobile market seems to be built on these practices and the AAA space is closing in on it fast too. It will get regulated, but most regulated industries seem to have fall backs such as tiny warnings, etc.

    How can we regulate, and legislate against psychological manipulation in games? It’s acceptable in the mainstream media afterall.

    • Cederic says:

      Random crates that you can buy (or that need keys you can buy) are gambling.

      The Secret World has them, Guild Wars 2 has them, TF2 is probably responsible for them, Marvel Heroes has them. All different names, all the same “pay cash for a chance to acquire [item]” mechanic.

      It’s gambling, it’s disreputable and it detracts from the games themselves.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Yes. Yes. Yes. Crates are awful. Every game that has them, has them in such abundance that you can get buckets of them for basically free. Which means there’s no practical difference between opening a crate and spinning a roulette wheel. Except instead of getting nothing when you lose, you get something worthless, and instead of getting a payout when you win, you get a digital knife or hat.