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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for walking the North York Moors and going to see Dylan Moran. Maybe I’ll read more of the best writing about video games from the past week on the train.

Everywhere I looked this week, I found people questioning the value of power fantasies in games. I don’t agree with any of them. Let’s kick off with Vicky Osterweil’s analysis of how socio-economic structures are driving the mainstream success of games. There’s some clever stuff here about how all industries mould themselves around not just producing profit, but creating the conditions for future profit – though I find depth in experiences that Osterweil considers empty.

Video games emerge as workers need to engage creatively in the most mundane of tasks to get an edge over fellow workers, glamorizing the violence of competition and the otherwise mundane process of learning arbitrary information and gestures through play. The arc of most games involves getting better and better at recognizing a particular set of patterns and deploying a particular set of skills — activated by button presses — to the point where the actual controls become second nature and the player experiences the fantasy of seamlessly inhabiting the character or scenario she plays with.

In an article for Quartz, Waypoint editor Austin Walker argues that the pursuit of power fantasies with mass appeal is bound up with the exploitative labour practices often involved in their creation, and the only way to sort that mess out is to rebuild the games industry around different conditions for its workers. I’m on board with most of the piece, though I don’t share Walker’s aversion to power fantasies – they’re an element of too many games I adore. (Including Motion Twin’s Dead Cells, and Austin using that as a positive example kinda demonstrates his broader point doesn’t depend on their rejection.)

There was a shared belief that this moment proved that games could do more. This is what games could be, we seemed to say. It wasn’t just a good thing that more mature, experimental, and diverse games were making a splash: It was a blueprint for how gaming could help shape the broader cultural landscape. Games, the argument went, could save us.

Soon enough, we realized that we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Liz Ryerson makes some of the same arguments as Walker in her rebuke to anyone who claims that there are too many video games. There are too many games for even good ones to be profitable, is what’s meant by that – and one of Ryerson’s points is that profitability and good art don’t go hand in hand. Again, this highlights many legitimate problems within the industry while dismissing the joy of feeling powerful within a game world. I don’t think that experience is fundamentally empty or destructive.

There is a fanatical desire among many who work in videogames to find new facets of a person’s life to create and exploit markets inside. This is an extension of the tech startup venture capitalist mindset, which has created and pushed apps for virtually every human purpose imaginable. It also partly has to do with the hyper-specificity of the hyper-male hardcore gaming demographic alienating a lot of potential consumers who don’t fit into that category.

Jillian Capewell explored some delightful perspectives on the whys and hows of Sim killing in an article for the Huffington Post. (You might say I’m shooting my earlier statements in the foot by including a quote that compares power fantasies to drawing pleasure from killing insects. I’d say something smart about sublimation and catharsis.)

Our penchant for serial killing has not gone unnoticed at “Sims” headquarters. According to “The Sims 4” senior producer Grant Rodiek, who’s been with the company since 2005, the latest version of the game registers around 28,000 Sim deaths per day.

“I think [killing Sims is] a way players can express ultimate control over a thing. It’s funny, mischievous, dark, without being grotesque,” Rodiek said. “It’s a kinder, gentler method of using a magnifying glass to burn insects.”

Over at cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer, Andy Kelly took a look at Control. That’s Remedy’s surreal upcoming shooter, which turns out to be even weirder than you thought. I am now very interested in Control.

A scientist sits in a glass cell, staring at a fridge. He’s been there for hours, maybe days. But he can’t look away from the fridge. If he does, he says it’ll ‘diverge’, and from the sheer terror in his voice, I can only assume that’s a bad thing.

That Too Many Cooks video took a year to make, and originally had a section where you saw a different view of reality where all the characters got puppeted by lizard people. These facts and more can be found in Jake Kleinman’s interview with its creators.

Shane Morton: I knew it was gonna be weird and fun, but I had no idea it would have this effect on you when you watched it. Watching that thing, it makes you feel like time and space are distorting, and your whole reality is affected. A lot of that is weird editing and smashing through fourth walls that aren’t there.

Why IS Steve Bannon giving a keynote speech about nationalism at an academic tech conference? Matthew Gault investigates.

While Bannon does have a background running World of Warcraft gold farms for a startup and has been involved in a wide variety of peculiar tech projects, in the recent past he’s been known primarily for being involved in politics and media, not the topics that ACE generally talks about, making the choice stranger.

Here’s a neat podcast about the neuroscience behind creative flow states. It features Heather Berlin, a scientist who sticks rappers in MRI machines – including her husband. I went to see their duo show at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years back, it was great.

Music this week is Bullets by Tunng.

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Matt Cox

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Matt is the founding member of RPS's youth contingent. He's played more games of Dota than you've had hot dinners.

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