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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for thinking that maybe you could set up a Twitter bot to write these introductions. Would that be a markov chain? I don’t know. Let’s round up the week’s writing about videogames while we think about it. A good selection this week.

Amr Al-Aaser writes about cyberpunk, its rise in popularity as an aesthetic, and why games which fail to acknowledge the ideas and context of the genre rob it of “humanity and complexity.”

Cyperpunk carries no less meaning in its iconography. Westerns carry the violence of masculinity and imperialism, cyberpunk carries the anxiety of living in a globalized society where progress has outpaced humanity. Cyborgs reflected the anxieties of a world that was becoming increasingly mechanized and technology driven, where corporations were beginning to increase dramatically in control. It was an atmosphere where the importance of the individual disappeared, and questions of personal identity became muddled.

Jim Trinca writes at Eurogamer about the new Elder Scrolls Online expansion, which is set in Morrowind, and whether it can appeal to someone who loved Morrowind but hates MMOs.

What I’m obsessed with is the idea of Morrowind, as it exists in my head. The Morrowind that bestrides the BC to AD transition in my personal gaming history. I already loved and craved it before it even existed, when as a strange 11-year-old boy I developed a comparable obsession with David Braben’s Frontier: Elite II. The two games couldn’t be more different on the surface, but they conjure much the same magic; a portal to a different reality, a chance to live another life in another world. (Braben is also to blame for my lifelong Grand Theft Auto fixation. He’s probably directly responsible for several thousand divorces.)

For how long can I keep linking to every post Robert Yang writes? Let’s find out. This past week he blogged about first-person one-roomers and grass games.

I specifically set my games in small man-made domestic spaces instead of trying to build huge sweeping landscapes. And even if I did attempt to build a huge landscape, my shabby default Unity 2 tri indie grass will never be able to compare with photoreal translucent Unreal grass, or Breath of the Wild’s lush Miyazaki grass, so maybe that’s why I don’t bother. As much as I enjoy and admire all these grass games, I recognize that it’s out of my wheelhouse and capability. Instead of trying to build a giant grassy forest landscape, I can rest with a decently crafted urinal and lean on that.

Rob Fearon is feeling boxed in by recommendation algorithms and digital stores. I know the feeling, though I don’t think there’s an easy solution.

I would know that if it was a Monday, there would be people in early in the afternoon and that they’d be getting a new release to watch before the kids came home and stuff like that. This stuff, despite the beliefs of the tech sector is not stuff you can replace easily with an algorithm because it’s a constant two way process, it would take an algorithm six months to get even close to what I (or any other good counter assistant, really) could nail in a week. And crucially, I would never be boxing customers in and making just looking round the shop difficult.

Henrique Antero writes about how videogame gardens can be a place for contemplation, which, yeah, but there’s lots of good stuff in here.

I’m no gardener, but I learned this when I was little, about six, when my father took me fishing for the first time. He woke me up at 4 in the morning, and said that first we had to go to my grandmother’s house. I didn’t understand what our purpose there was until my father pointed me the flower bed, handed me an empty can, and asked me to dig gently. We needed bait. He warned me not to take too many worms, or the flowers would miss them, and grandmother would be mad. I had passed by this flower bed many times before, but it was by sticking my hand into it that I was able to consider the relationship between the flowers, the soil, the earthworms; even the fish, my grandmother, and myself (it was a particularly gross experience overall).

Thomas Grip, founder of Frictional and designer of Amnesia and SOMA, wrote about creating the illusion of an analog world. That’s “analog” as it relates to decision making, where the opposite is the kind of binary/digital yes/no that most games offer.

The best example of this sort of design is a scene from Spec Ops: The Line. Late in the game the player finds themselves surrounded by civilians. These people are not too happy that you are here and start throwing rocks at you. It is a very dangerous situation and it is clear that you need to get out of there. At this point, the player basically only has a single verb at their disposal: “shoot”. So what can you do? You really don’t want to shoot civilians, but you also don’t want to die. The player really has two options here. One is to shoot at the civilians, killing a few of them and making the others run away. The other option is to simply shoot in the air and scare them off, killing nobody.

Did everyone everywhere link to this on Twitter, and you’ve already seen it? I don’t care. Jon Bois returns at SB Nation with 17776, a story about what American football will look like in the (distant) future. No, you don’t need to care about or understand American football to enjoy the story – I sure don’t. There’s no good way to quote from it, so just go along for the ride til at least the end of the first chapter, yeah? Jon Bois is also the author of Breaking Madden, which I’ve linked before and which was actually videogame relevant.

Music this week is still Lorde’s new album, Melodrama, and still Grimes. Take REALiTi and Green Light.

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Graham Smith

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