The Sunday Papers

papers2

Sundays are for moaning about hot it is.

I’ve got something a little different to open with this week. Dia Lacina has launched Capsule Crit, a “a monthly online journal dedicated to games criticism, personal essays, reviews, and fan fiction in micro genres”. Any of the articles in the first issue would feel at home here, but I’ve picked out a couple of my favourites. First up is Jackson Tyler’s piece about the hidden earnestness of Metal Gear, which offers a smart and funny deconstruction of storytelling I’d written off as inane.

Somewhere beneath all of Metal Gear’s hypermasculine posturing lies a beating heart of earnestness that it doesn’t even know it has. Seventeen years after Snake’s dogs, the series is shoving bombs in the vaginas of women named Peace, and now starring everyone’s favourite unrepentant fascist from 24. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain even gives you a dog of your own (a wolf, actually), who runs around the battlefield tagging enemies for you. He’s very useful. Nothing but useful. Metal Gear takes its own symbol of a peaceful life and repurposes it to give you a boost to your murder skills.

Yussef Cole wrote about how the post-human world of Subserial Network reflects our own. I adore sci-fi that examines post-human consciousness and post-human society, and Cole makes Subserial Network’s exploration sound particularly intriguing.

The synthetics of Subserial Network live in the shadow of the rigid and impersonal taxonomies that humanity left behind. Yet, in this predawn digital world, synthetics have begun carving out spaces to be messy, corrupted, even confused, to be “weeds pushing through the sidewalk’s cracks,” as one synthetic puts it.

A computer that invents its own category is as rebellious and deleterious to existing power structures as a person who does the same. Behind the bluster of the anonymized hacker coolness of the various synthetics you come across, there’s a bed of doubt, a sputtering core of vulnerability. For anyone who’s spent time on the margins, resisting the confining limitations of mainstream categorization, their anxieties feel deeply familiar.

For as long as Joe Donelly keeps getting up to stuff in a GTA roleplaying server for PC Gamer, I’ll keep linking to it here. This time he assassinated some people who took him hunting, which does seem like a bit of an overreaction. (I don’t normally do this, but the second comment is so stupendously inane it made me laugh out loud, so you should read that too.)

Lifeinvader is GTA’s answer to Facebook. Located in the game’s affluent Rockford Hills area, I pull up outside its headquarters and await my hire. I sound my horn, and a trio of loud and excitable chaps spill from the building into my cab. They direct me to Legion Square—the server’s spawn point and unofficial central hub. They chat for a bit amongst themselves before turning to me.

“Do you like hunting, driver?” one of the men asks.

Patrick Klepek didn’t convince me to play Vampyr in his review for Waypoint, but he did make me consider it. I can see truth in the idea that only playing games at the top of the general critical consensus pile is limiting, but I’m also not interested in devoting time to a game that’s evidently deeply flawed. Fun combat is too important to me, even though I sort of wish it wasn’t.

Still, this B-game muddling is [what] makes recommending games like Vampyr such a hard sell. In a world where there are seemingly infinite good games to play, why spend time (and money) on something that’s clearly missing a few pieces? I’ve made my arguments for playing bad games in the past, but Vampyr isn’t a bad game. It’s much different: missed potential. Just because Vampyr doesn’t fully capitalize on its promise doesn’t mean there isn’t worth in getting what you can out of them. The obsession over a game being “perfect” is misguided, anyway; lots of games have only a handful of standout elements, but those may shine bright enough to make your investment worthwhile.

On Kotaku, Heather Alexandra argued (or rather showed) that queer characters in games don’t usually get to be happy. Her piece was prompted by the “kiss of death” many people suspect a moment in the Last of Us 2 trailer will turn out to be, as now do I.

Ellie seems to have found some of what she’s lost at the outset of The Last of Us Part II, based on the promotional materials released so far. She has found romance again, although it remains to be seen how that relationship will go. Given the series’ tone and track record, and considering the pile of queer corpses in media as a whole, I cannot imagine a scenario where she gets to keep what she has found.

On Game Design Aspect, Sande Chen took a look at research about how VR effects empathy. Turns out VR can be a powerful tool for getting people to empathise with others, though the relationship isn’t as simple as you might think.

In fact, in Archer’s research, the team found that too much familiarity in a subject led to less emotional impact. Oversaturation of refugee news stories resulted in less immersion in the VR setting. Those who weren’t familiar with the stories and said they were not really that interested in the topic had the most empathetic responses.

Music this week is still the Grateful Dead. This time it’s St. Stephen.

21 Comments

  1. Simes says:

    Nah, “inane” is exactly the right word for Metal Gear’s storytelling.

  2. I Got Pineapples says:

    That Metal Gear bit was kind of a trite take and reeks of doggo culture which has gotten to the point where I don’t trust anyone who says they like dogs. It conceals sins and I’m not suggesting gulags but…if there were gulags…well…

    That aside, something that kinda gets missed under his whole film fetish is that one of the unique things about Kojima is that he’s one of the few people working in video games who actually uses them as a storytelling medium, rather than as a sad stunted version of film or literature or undergrad art project. Indie games still get praised for aping stuff he was doing back in 2001. In AAA graphical showcase system seller that almost consisted entirely of screwing with it’s audience. The madness the article listed is a feature rather than a bug.

    • wcq says:

      But doesn’t the “film fetish”, as you put it, put him exactly in that category of people making “sad stunted versions of film”? This is a common criticism of his games, as I recall.

      Also, wait, what was that about dogs and gulags?

      • I Got Pineapples says:

        Well, that’s the thing. As I said, he doesn’t. He actually makes use of the medium. From the ‘trap’ of Metal Gear to the psycho mantis section of metal gear solid to pretty much all of 2 and 3, Kojima aggressively makes use, narratively and thematically of the fact that you are playing a video game in a way no one else does. The guy likes films but he makes some incredibly video gamey video games.

        And yes. My position is dog people aren’t to be trusted and should be sent to the gulags. I am sure this will spark no controversy.

  3. Archonsod says:

    The problem with Alexandra’s argument is pretty much every game she cites as an example would fall into soap opera; a genre in which characters as a rule don’t get to be happy irrespective of sexuality (or indeed when it comes to Bioware, species. I mean even the dog in Dragon Age 1 has been through a fairly traumatic experience before you meet it). Although perhaps the question to ask there is why we only really see queer characters in these works to begin with.

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      It’s one of those things where I can see why you’d make the case I don’t really agree with the central critique because including characters of various sexualities still means they’re characters and hey, your significant other dying is a pretty good plot motivator.

      It is something, however, that’s exacerbated by the lack of lgbt characters in games. If there are only a few notable gay characters in games, it’s going to be a lot more noticable when they die.

    • Cederic says:

      I think most characters you encounter in computer games have a bad time of it. The countless men dead in Battlefield games, the hordes of people you slaughter in RPGs, the entire civilisations you genocide in Civilisation, the poor people with expensive repairs in racing games.

      Basically the player character tends to be the most likely participant to remain actually happy and they’re frequently LGBT. Certainly I primarily play lesbians.

      I think that to approach this topic with integrity you would need a suitable sample of games and assess outcomes for all characters, rather than just cherry picking. Otherwise it comes across as agenda setting rather than an actual critique.

      I haven’t read the article though so don’t assume I’m commenting on the exact critique it provides.

    • Josh W says:

      Yeah good question, I suppose for one thing, if queerness is represented in any substantial way within the course of events, that is because the game is either.

      Using the relationship as a dramatic element – things will go wrong

      Using the relationship as a reward for exploration and progress – things will go well, but in a picturesque or rose tinted way

      Using the relationship as a hook for game mechanics – things will be difficult in some fundamental way, but eventually go well if you play well.

      Or I suppose they could be included as background lore, in the skyrim books/deep conversation trees sense, in which case things will be complicated to consider and give you things to ponder later.

      There is another option though; heterosexuality is often applied in games by metaphor and parallel, using it’s symbolism without explicitly depicting relationships between game characters. The princess is there to be saved because princesses are associated with fairy tale plots etc.

      So you could include queer references into the structure of the games iconography, and support them lightly in how action is framed, so that the game can “be gay”, for example, without actually having to dramatise or reflect on it substantially.

      This is a little more complex (but not much) than the current fashion for just sticking rainbows on things, unless of course there’s someone out there for whom mario-cart doubledash on rainbow road has a particular personal meaning.

    • malkav11 says:

      The Last of Us was a game where literally no one got to be happy and it would feel like a pretty vast cop out for a sequel I’m still not convinced should be happening to switch that up, so I don’t feel like it’s a particularly great highlight for her particular argument.

      I’d certainly like to see a higher degree of non-tragic LGBT relationships in games, though.

  4. woodsey says:

    If no one played 6 or 7/10s then we’d never have had The Witchers 2 or 3, is how I like to think of it.

    Vampyr could so obviously be a jumping off point for a great sequel that I’m glad I played it, even if it is also full of bizarre missteps.

    • Lawlcopt0r says:

      I was thinking exactly the same thing. Dontnod are experimenting with so many interesting ideas, it’s only a matter of time until they nail the execution. And then we’ll have a new masterpiece. Gladly, Vampyr seems to be selling pretty well, or at least I’m hearing a lot about it

  5. malkav11 says:

    I mean, if you want fun combat, the most consistent positivity I’ve heard around Vampyr is that the combat is fun. Lotta Bloodborne comparisons being thrown around, if only in the context of the combat.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    7 or 8 games with flawed elements are often a lot more interesting than 9 or 10 out 10 “It will blow you away! – IGN.COM” blandfests. Many AAA games that have perfectly polished mechanics have very little to nothing going on thematically or have themes that completely clash with what their design is actually saying, which is just annoying. I’ll take the games with rough edges that try something novel.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I totally agree. I love a bit of wonk. Unfortunately I think the current cost of games mostly discourages people from taking a punt on a “flawed but interesting” 7/10 game. I know I’m not paying £49 for Vampyr (my laptop wouldn’t run it, so it would be on PS4), but I’d buy it for £25 for sure.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      I mean I won’t lie: I will also play some of the “big” titles (and some are actually that good), but many if not most of my favourite games are not the highest rated according to whatever scores are supposed to say.

      With pricing my method is basically: do I need to play this *right now* or this is something for the backlog, and how much am I expecting to enjoy it? If it’s a “maybe” I’ll wait for a sale.

  7. Ben King says:

    That PC Gamer GTA RP was a fun read which reminds me I would LOVE another RPS Ride-along if you have the time. Those have always been really enjoyable, and although the Dwarf Fortress series recently was GREAT I feel like i always get some neat insights with the player interviews that are part of the ride along series.

    I’m trying to think of lgbt video game stories with positive endings for the characters, but all I’ve got off hand is the two Fullbright games. Which doesn’t speak highly of my roster of played games. On PS3 MGS4 had the most bizarre yet excellent homoerotic cyborg-ninja vs vampire fight scene that uh- probably ended with the bisexual character getting horribly eviscerated with swords… But Vamp also never seems to die and even though he never gets to hook up with Raiden in the game i always kinda pretend in my imagination that Jack leaves Rose and moves in with Vamp and they have a cool life doing sword stuff and making fun of Snake for being grumpy. I guess that doesn’t count.

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