The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for feverish last minute packing, and attempts to justify including Cosmic Encounter in your luggage.

On Kotaku, Patrick Redford reviewed the climbing walls in an Overwatch map. It’s a project that’s as daft as it is entertaining, and gave me flashbacks to a climbing centre trip where my own fragile little game journalist arms failed me after half a dozen ascents.

This problem is not realistic, even in a decorative rock gym made for genetically enhanced gorillas to get in shape on the moon before they murder a bunch of humans in a video game where I get owned nightly by 14-year-olds. Working on that dyno would destroy you, and even if you got it, there’s nowhere to put your feet.

Also on Kotaku, Sean McGeady’s explores Bloodborne, catharsis and the Beast Within. I recently read an interesting chapter in a book about the biology of human behaviour that rejects the idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors defaulted to a warlike state, which I think should be acknowledged in any discussion about the darker side of human nature. Still, I agree with much of this – though not the part about the dichotomy between beast and scholar. It’s all about context, both in terms of whether those descriptors are actually incompatible and for how the same person can swap between the two.

Directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and developed under the working title Project Beast, Bloodborne is a heady cocktail of thrilling combat and oblique myth. But beneath its video-game tropes and Victorian Gothic sensibilities lies a delicious meta-narrative about catharsis, horrific violence and horror itself. Miyazaki’s masterpiece is a veritable buffet for the alligators inside.

Over at Eurogamer, Kirk Mckeand spoke to 14 year old Jack Kelley about how playing Firewatch changed his life. It’s always nice to read about a game having such a profound impact on someone, even if I can’t help but be a little baffled Kelley’s fascination with fire towers.

Kelley’s young brain is packed with trivia like this. On his bedroom wall is a board filled with information, including types of towers, what makes them unique, and even a list of the names of the lookouts who were stationed at different towers at certain times. Since he started travelling to visit firewatch towers, he and his father have visited over 140 of them – an average of more than one per week. It is no wonder he knows so much.

Mentioning Derek Parfit and Jean-Paul Sartre is basically a cheat code for inclusion in the Sunday Papers. Malindy Hetfeld does exactly that in her piece about videogame characters that struggle with their identity on Eurogamer, though I’m deducting philosophy points for bringing up Sartre and then not talking about the similarities between Night in the Woods and Nausea. I’m 90% sure I’m not just imagining them.

Existentialists like Sartre believe there is ultimately no meaning to life – there is no higher power holding us accountable, no jurisdiction that couldn’t fail us, no destiny we need to fulfil. Mae struggles with existential questions: she dreams of a god that tells her they don’t care about her and has difficulty going the way society prescribes, leading from school to work to a family and hopefully some kind of legacy.

Waypoint’s Rob Zacny wrote about his attempts to play the Division while ignoring its problematic politics. I haven’t played it, and am now even less likely to – I wasn’t aware of just how insidious the game’s message seems to be.

The narrative justifications deployed through The Division are silly, but its politically-inflected fantasies are much more immediate now than they were in early 2016. The sight of special forces wannabes (in and out of uniform) strutting around in their catalog-ordered kit is a near-daily feature of American life. The belief that there is no greater calling than to maintain order at gunpoint and save the fallen, cosmopolitan American city from itself, is less a fantasy than the animating principle of the various facets of American revanchism.

Jason Rohrer chose sell his latest game, One Hour One Life, through his own website rather than Steam. His thoughts (and graphs) about the game’s increasing sales numbers since its release are interesting, though I was most struck by this opening paragraph about his first game’s release on Steam. These times, they have a-changed.

Back in 2011 when my game Inside a Star-filled Sky launched on Steam, Valve worked with me directly to pick a release date that had no major conflicts. My game was the only game that came out that day on Steam. I’ll repeat that for emphasis: my game was the only game that came out that day on Steam. It remained on the new release list for almost an entire week, sitting there on the front page of Steam for everyone to see.

Chris Hecker, of Spore and SpyParty fame, made an excellent appearance on the Designer Note’s podcast last month. I haven’t listened to part 2 yet, but I bet it’s good.

DoubleFine celebrated International Woman’s Day by interviewing the women that work there, which is neat. I like the blend of origin stories and career advice.

New Cool Ghosts! New Cool Ghosts! New Cool Ghosts!

While I was writing these papers, Adam linked the RPS treehouse to this video of Andy Daly (as Forrest MacNeil) reviewing what it’s like to eat 15 pancakes – “being Daly, it starts gentle and escalates into abject despair and awful insights into the human condition.” Yep. Yep it does.

Music this week is Highway Shoes by Holy Moly and the Crackers, which I’ve cleverly picked because I’m swanning off to New Zealand for the next three weeks. Ta ra!

31 Comments

  1. mac4 says:

    Waypoint’s Rob Zacny wrote about his attempts to play the Division while ignoring its problematic politics. I haven’t played it, and am now even less likely to – I wasn’t aware of just how insidious the game’s message seems to be.

    Well, you know, Tom Clancy.

    Thanks for the Sunday reads again, there’s always something there.

    • Kollega says:

      Fact: I am a big fan of the shoot-and-loot genre (please don’t judge me too harshly for that), but I would never even consider buying Tom Clancy’s The Substraction. Even if the game’s level of crypto-fascism is not higher than in your typical specopsploitation thriller movie… nowadays, I am incapable of putting up even with that.

      I honestly have a genuine problem with games (mostly ones with “Tom Clancy’s” in the title) that lean too heavily on casting me as an example of “hard men making hard decisions” and making me engage in military strongmanship “to ensure national security”. Admittedly, this is very un-entertaining for me because in my country, we barely get any civil rights as-is, and it’s not fun for me to roleplay as a “Tom Clancy’s”-style military goon sent to abolish civil rights of any other group in the world (through use of automatic rifles).

      Still though, some people insist about stuff like The Substraction that “it’s just a game!” and isn’t supposed to be read in connection with reality. And I disagree, because I honestly don’t want to play the role of a warmongering fascist in any setting or story, unless it’s a clear parody. I wonder how consistent/justifiable people at large will find my rejection of straight-faced “tacticool” stories for this reason.

      • napoleonic says:

        What’s your country, out of interest?

        • Kollega says:

          I’m from Kazakhstan, and this country is a classic example of “you can say whatever you want, unless it criticizes the government”. And of course, in cultural terms it’s also not a heaven of tolerance and progressivism, regardless of any attempted reforms trying to make the country more attractive to foreign investment.

          But hey, as dismal as it is, at least it’s not the warmongering delirium of modern-day Russia. That much I am thankful for.

          And honestly? It’s not exactly a horrible dictatorship that I live in (yet), but it sucks enough for me to not want to roleplay Clancyist military strongmen stomping on the face of America’s poor and disenfranchised. I’m so against that in real life that it ceases to function as escapism for me.

      • Babymech says:

        Any activity genre that rhymes is worth your time and attention. I spend most of mine on punch-and-brunch.

        • BryanTrysers says:

          I’m all stab-and-grab, unless I’m feeling non-lethal in which case it’s more stun-gun-and-fun-run.

  2. skeletortoise says:

    So this is about an 8.5 on the eyeroll scale. Granted, I haven’t played the division so I can’t speak to whatever ridiculous or disturbing narrative decisions it makes, but I’m always annoyed by these ludicrously hyperbolic depictions of certain aspects of America. These people do exist, of course, but the idea that they’re more than a very puny proportion of the population that thinks this way is just silly. Based on this paragraph the writer probably thinks everybody wearing a camo rucksack is preparing to ‘take back’ their country.

    Edit: This is directed at the Division article excerpt.

    • Sargonite says:

      These people do exist, of course, but the idea that they’re more than a very puny proportion of the population that thinks this way is just silly.

      Literally nothing in the article suggests these people are anything but a puny proportion of the population.

      Perhaps you’re getting confused by the phrase “near-daily feature of American life”, and have forgotten that things like television and social media exist, where of these people taken in photograph can spread to millions of viewers, such that you don’t need many at all for seeing them to be a regular occurrence.

      Or perhaps you didn’t read the article, and are just knee-jerk reacting to anything that seems to be vaguely critical of the right.

      • skeletortoise says:

        “Perhaps you’re getting confused by the phrase “near-daily feature of American life”, and have forgotten that things like television and social media exist, where of these people taken in photograph can spread to millions of viewers, such that you don’t need many at all for seeing them to be a regular occurrence.”

        Perhaps I was confused by the words that immediately precede the phrase in which the author explicitly says these people are seen in the real world. See: “The sight of special forces wannabes (in and out of uniform) strutting around in their catalog-ordered kit is a near-daily feature of American life.”

        But, y’know, devil’s advocate here, pretend they hadn’t said that. There are two interpretations. a) This ‘movement’ or mindset or whatever has insignificant numbers and is a trivial force in American life. b) This movement can be regularly seen and is everywhere and we should be more than slightly worried about it.

        Option A means that this strain of thinking isn’t worth giving a second thought, hence the suggestion that it’s significant enough to factor in my decision to play a mindless online shooter is a little odd. Option B is patently false based on a any clear eyed assessment of America. Neither reflects super well on the article.

        “Or perhaps you didn’t read the article, and are just knee-jerk reacting to anything that seems to be vaguely critical of the right.”

        I would’ve thought the fact that I consistently referenced the ‘paragraph’ or the ‘excerpt’ would’ve made it clear I didn’t read the article. I don’t often read an excerpt of something, find it particularly stupid, and then proceed to read the entire thing. Context is good, but the paragraph said dumb things on its own, watering it down with the rest of the article would not have changed that.

        As for “the right”, it’s hard to see what relation that has to this. If you view the right as people eager to take back cities with armed force and I’m dismissive of that idea’s value or strength, how could I be a defender of it? FWIW, I don’t consider myself right-leaning, but the suggestion that a non-trivial amount of right leaning folks have the attitude discussed in this excerpt is exactly the reason I don’t care for articles such as this. Treating this stuff like its representative of more than a percent of a percent of a percent of the population just adds more fuel to the fire and turns peoples’ perceptions of those on the opposite side of the political spectrum into more and more ludicrous caricatures, which isn’t good for anyone.

        • KidWithKnife says:

          I was about to post something like this, but I’ll save myself the trouble and just agree. For the record I am pretty far from being a right-winger, and I do think that heavily armed nutjobs should be taken seriously insofar as they are an actual problem that exists. This fantasy idea that the US has militia members and wannabes running around all over the place day in and day out is silly, claiming otherwise just provides actual right wing weirdos with a convenient straw man to beat up on. Those of us who care about such things should be focusing on real problems that actually exist, fussing about exaggerations and fatasies is counterproductive.

      • KidWithKnife says:

        “Perhaps you’re getting confused by the phrase “near-daily feature of American life”, and have forgotten that things like television and social media exist, where of these people taken in photograph can spread to millions of viewers, such that you don’t need many at all for seeing them to be a regular occurrence.”

        No reasonable person would read that quote and assume that it refers to television and the internet. Come on. I see video and pictures of superheros on a near-daily basis as well, shall I write up an article insinuating that Spider-Man exists and is seen on a daily basis by actual people? The only difference is that readers outside the US know for a fact that Spider-Man isn’t real; readers outside the US may or may not know that we do not in fact have faux-paramillitary nutters running around all over the place. People like that do exist, but they are not by any remotely reasonable interpretation a normal, daily sight.

      • napoleonic says:

        I did read the article, and I thought the excerpt did the article a disservice. The article is quite nuanced and thoughtful, with that one excerpt being the only example of hyperbolic nonsense on such a daft scale.

    • Shuck says:

      “The belief that there is no greater calling than to maintain order at gunpoint and save the fallen, cosmopolitan American city from itself, is less a fantasy than the animating principle of the various facets of American revanchism.”

      That’s literally been the rhetoric of the NRA for the last 8+ years and a common sentiment in right-wing media. I’m not sure how one dismisses it as “fringe” these days – the fantasy, at least, is a core element of the Republican party. The president and A.G. frequently say things that indicate that’s part of their worldview. E.g. they’ve lied and inverted the crime trends of the last 20 years to support false claims of “American carnage” that requires federal intervention – and troops – to resolve, they claim. One only has to look at events like Katrina, and how it was talked about, to see that scenario played out in reality. I mean, how can one claim, with a straight face, that it’s only a “a percent of a percent of a percent” that adhere to that worldview? I wish that were true, but wishing doesn’t make it so.

      • skeletortoise says:

        “That’s literally been the rhetoric of the NRA for the last 8+ years and a common sentiment in right-wing media.”

        Has it? The idea that private citizens should take control of America’s cities by armed force? Because that’s what we’re talking about. I think you exaggerate. Certainly they touch on similar, related ideas, but they hardly go nearly that far that often. And that’s ignoring the fact that we’re talking about rhetoric, not reality.

        “I’m not sure how one dismisses it as “fringe” these days – the fantasy, at least, is a core element of the Republican party.”

        This seems more like made up Freudian analysis on the secret dreams of the average republican than much else. Unless I missed the mass insurrection bill going through congress.

        “The president and A.G. frequently say things that indicate that’s part of their worldview. E.g. they’ve lied and inverted the crime trends of the last 20 years to support false claims of “American carnage” that requires federal intervention – and troops – to resolve, they claim.”

        a) The federal government using armed force to create order is the antithesis of what we’re talking about and is exactly the sort of thing that keeps the outliers we’re talking about up at night.
        b) The White House’s worldview has nothing to do with this. Assuming I bought that President and AG actually did buy into this mindset, it wouldn’t make them anything but very famous outliers.

        “One only has to look at events like Katrina, and how it was talked about, to see that scenario played out in reality.”

        I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to here.

        “I mean, how can one claim, with a straight face, that it’s only a “a percent of a percent of a percent” that adhere to that worldview? I wish that were true, but wishing doesn’t make it so.”

        Yeah, I may have exaggerated and set myself up for an easy comeback with the percent thing. Looking back on it, it’s probably more accurate to say percent of a percent. My point still stands, and is reinforced by parts of your rebuttal, that people have a hugely skewed understanding of the amount of fringe wackos there are in the US due to a massively disproportionate representation in the media. The ideas are fairly common, yes, but the actual true believers of them are very far and very few between.

        • jssebastian says:

          >> “That’s literally been the rhetoric of the NRA for the last 8+ years and a common sentiment in right-wing media.”
          > Has it? The idea that private citizens should take control of America’s cities by armed force? Because that’s what we’re talking about.

          no, that’s you using the logical fallacy “reduction ad absurdum” to attack the argument he actually made, which was not at all hyperbolic.

          I don’t know how much you follow US politics, but vigilantism is literally what the NRA promotes every time there’s a shooting: if there were more guns, then the good guys with guns would stop the bad guys with guns. Vigilantism is part of the same violent, fascist fantasy of “maintaining order” that the article is talking about, though obviously it’s not nearly here-and-now as bad as in some future post-apocalyptic videogame dystopia.

          > b) The White House’s worldview has nothing to do with this. Assuming I bought that President and AG actually did buy into this mindset, it wouldn’t make them anything but very famous outliers.

          Sadly, Trump isn’t just a private citizen, and his worldview *matters*. And his response to the latest school shooting was “let’s arm teachers with guns”. That’s just a slightly more institutionalized form of vigilantism. He campaigned for years to get the central park five punished for a crime they did not commit, and continued to slander them after they were proven innocent.

          >> “One only has to look at events like Katrina, and how it was talked about, to see that scenario played out in reality.”
          > I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to here.

          Where to start?.. The way the media covered the events in New Orleans, focusing on looting and rioting (on the part of poor black people of course) that was almost entirely made up? The way actual real-world white vigilantes shot black people in the aftermath? (e.g. link to nytimes.com)

          • skeletortoise says:

            “no, that’s you using the logical fallacy “reduction ad absurdum” to attack the argument he actually made, which was not at all hyperbolic.”

            No, it actually isn’t. If you reply to my comment you’re arguing with me on what I’m talking about. You don’t just get to decide the topic of a conversation you interrupt. Either he didn’t make himself clear or he didn’t understand what was being discussed, which is on him.

            “I don’t know how much you follow US politics, but vigilantism is literally what the NRA promotes every time there’s a shooting: if there were more guns, then the good guys with guns would stop the bad guys with guns. Vigilantism is part of the same violent, fascist fantasy of “maintaining order” that the article is talking about, though obviously it’s not nearly here-and-now as bad as in some future post-apocalyptic videogame dystopia.”

            I’ll concede most of this, as it’s true. Vigilantism is never what I was talking about. I will say, though, that there is a huge different between the ‘maintaining order’ power fantasy (what I was actually discussing) and killing a mass shooter because you happen to be carrying a gun and in their vicinity. I don’t religiously follow the NRA’s marketing, but I believe that’s the NRA’s bread and butter.

            “Sadly, Trump isn’t just a private citizen, and his worldview *matters*. And his response to the latest school shooting was “let’s arm teachers with guns”. That’s just a slightly more institutionalized form of vigilantism. He campaigned for years to get the central park five punished for a crime they did not commit, and continued to slander them after they were proven innocent.”

            a) I don’t agree with the policy, but it strikes me that institutionalized and vigilantism is a bit of an oxymoron. You can’t really take the law into your own hands if an actual law was passed to enable your actions.

            b) These are all true facts, but I don’t see your point. The discussion is whether a significant portion of people really believe in the might-makes-right ‘maintaining order’ power fantasy. Trump holds a ton of fringe views, but he is one person. If your argument is that he’s converting people, there’s probably a case to be made (though I won’t make it for you), but it’s hardly the biggest/most focused on aspect of his “ideology” so it’s hard for me to imagine it’s making too much of a splash.

            “Where to start?.. The way the media covered the events in New Orleans, focusing on looting and rioting (on the part of poor black people of course) that was almost entirely made up?”

            That’s a shame, but… uh, what relevance does it have here?

            “The way actual real-world white vigilantes shot black people in the aftermath? (e.g. link to nytimes.com)”

            First, context matters. I’m not speaking to how people will act in horrendous disaster conditions. Second, that article doesn’t indicate a massive amount of vigilantism so much as give a few anecdotes and hint at, without much data, a broader trend. And that’s in a city of hundreds of thousands of people in the worst imaginable conditions.

          • MajorLag says:

            “I don’t know how much you follow US politics, but vigilantism is literally what the NRA promotes every time there’s a shooting: if there were more guns, then the good guys with guns would stop the bad guys with guns”

            I am not a fan of the NRA, but this quote in no way promotes vigilantism, it promotes the ability for people to self-defend. The NRA’s assertion here is that if more people carried firearms then the ‘bad guys’ wouldn’t have the same free reign over helpless victims that they do now.

        • Shuck says:

          Well you’ve made a good case – that you have no idea what’s been going on in the US. Since I don’t want to spend the rest of my day pulling out links (oh, so many links) to educate you, I can’t argue with it. (jssebastian made a nice start, though.) Although I have to say I raised my eyebrows with bitter amusement at the idea that a former senator and the president of the United States, who has a third of the population in support of his views (which explicitly includes vigilante action against criminals), are somehow not representative of anyone.

          • skeletortoise says:

            “Although I have to say I raised my eyebrows with bitter amusement at the idea that a former senator and the president of the United States, who has a third of the population in support of his views (which explicitly includes vigilante action against criminals), are somehow not representative of anyone.”

            I’m not sure to what poll you’re referring, but if it’s his approval rating, it’s pretty laughable to suggest that indicates broad support for his position on ‘vigilante action against criminals’. It’s common sense that probably a small amount of people care more than one iota about a president’s stance on more than two issues or so, and that’s ignoring the people who don’t care or pay attention to policy at all, which I’d argue is probably at least close to a majority. And then you have to consider where ‘vigilantism’ falls on voters’ prioritization of issues, which I think it’s fair to say is… well, not on the list.

            Anyway, you can see my response to other points in my reply above this one.

  3. shitflap says:

    Abject despair is eating twice as many pancakes, clearly.
    Everyone needs to just stop what they are doing and go watch that episode, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve seen.

  4. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes is possibly the greatest episode of television ever filmed.

    (New Cool Ghosts!)

    • VeniVidiVincent says:

      I’d argue the season finale Quitting, Irish, Last Day is the better episode. Brilliant conclusion, splendidly structured. And this post made me realise I haven’t watched past season 1 – and it seems I can’t watch season 2 easily. What year is it?! Ah well.

      Still, best joke if anyone’s doubting about watching this series is definitely in the opening minute of ‘Forest becomes a racist’. link to youtube.com

  5. woodsey says:

    It is strange that Tom Clancy’s particular brand of militaristic American nationalism has survived the twenty years or so it’s spent with a (sometimes progressive…) French-Canadian studio.

    Even Chaos Theory, which is probably the most self-aware, still features Japan as a villain (from memory, anyway) after the twist with Sam’s American PMC buddy.

    • KenTWOu says:

      It wasn’t Japan, it was Japanese Admiral who even threatened the Japanese government with North Korean nuclear missile. By the way, Sam’s American PMC buddy’s been working with him all along.

  6. Polite Rude Boy says:

    Yeah, one of the key gameplay elements of Dragon’s Dogma is pretty damn ‘problematic’. The Pawns are an entirely separate race from humans, that look just like humans, sound like humans, fight like humans, etc. Except they have no personality (and if it seems like they do they’re just pretending, so says the game), and they are basically a race of mindless mercenaries that exist only to serve the Arisen. And they can’t simply be swapped out for regular people, because the nature of the pawns is entwined with the story as a whole.

    So yeah basically a race of sentient slave people unwaveringly loyal to the Arisen, no matter how many people they throw off a cliff. And judging by the amount of scantily clad, waifish pawns players make (which is partly encouraged by the clothing options for female characters), that unwavering loyalty could potentially be taken advantage of in more ways than one.

    But yeah, I love the game, one of my favs. Fingers still crossed for a localization of DDO or a sequel, hell even a spiritual successor at this point.

  7. Wednesday says:

    I’d already read that identity piece and found it more than a little lukewarm.

    Also, Sarte does not say we are “too free”.

    Radically free! It’s radically free. It’s an important distinction!

  8. LogicalDash says:

    Cool Ghosts ep2 says that Bravely Default’s customizable encounter rates preserve enjoyment but Final Fantasy XII’s don’t.

    The reason given is: Bravely Default has a defined structure of challenges, and the changes in the encounter rates just let you decide when to face them.

    But…this is true of Final Fantasy XII, as well. You don’t get to skip anything in that game just because you’re playing it at 4x speed. It looks sillier than Bravely Default, I suppose?

    I wanted to learn the difference between a well designed cheat and a poorly designed one, but was disappointed.

  9. MattM says:

    I tried the Division recently and in the first few missions your opponents aren’t just looters or rioters. They are an organized group that is attempting to monopolize all the relief supplies in order extort the general populace. It was enough of a justification that I didn’t feel too bad about fighting them. The existence of the division was pretty fascist and I agree with the article that it’s hard to imagine any non-sinister reason for them to exist.
    The part I couldn’t get over was the bullet sponge enemies. Before I played it, I thought I would be ok with the mechanic since I enjoy the borderlands games just fine, but the combination of the realistic guns and enemies made it just feel wrong. When I spray a unarmored person with 15 rounds from an mp5 at close range, I expect them to die.

  10. Josh Grams says:

    It was kind of surreal listening to that Designer Notes podcast with Chris Hecker…eventually I realized that it must have been recorded in 2015 (I think?). Still a great listen, but I wish they would have said that up front…

    • Josh Grams says:

      Gah. I’m sorry, ignore that. Apparently I’m imagining things.

  11. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Night in the Woods is SO inspired by Nausea.