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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for finally going on one of the nice walks you told yourself you’d do when you moved to Brighton. The South Downs are lovely. I will be there, rather than reading the best writing about videogames from the past week (and beyond). I’m sure that’s lovely too.

Here’s an interesting bag of thoughts from Michael Heron over at Meeples Like Us. They concern accessibility, the value thereof, and how Heron differentiates the term from “learnability”. He covers a lot of ground, and mostly comes to conclusions I agree with while hitting a few I don’t along the way. Dark Souls on easy mode may not ‘be’ Dark Souls, but it would still include a lot of what makes it great, designer intent be damned. I’d rather live in a world where we have both.

This then is the learnability school of accessibility discussion. It acknowledges that some games are simply designed to be built around a call and response of challenge and mastery. Dark Souls with an easy mode just wouldn’t be Dark Souls. Magic Maze without enforced silence wouldn’t be Magic Maze. I don’t know what Scrabble would be without letters and mastery of word placement but it certainly wouldn’t be Scrabble. The balance of inaccessibility versus skill is drawn from a particular philosophy and that cannot be easily undermined. As such, to implement ‘accessibility’ in such a game is to break it for everyone because fun is intricately bound up in its negation.

For the Guardian, Emily Gera spoke to exhibitors at Sundance festival’s New Frontier, an “incubator for artists and technologists experimenting on the boundaries of narrative”. I doubt interactive mixed reality is the future of storytelling, but I’m still pretty excited to try it.

Painter’s newest project, Embody, developed in partnership with the Canadian sports wear company Lululemon’s Innovation Lab, is a co-operative VR experience influenced by body practices from yoga to aikido. It starts with two strangers entering a small office. Behind the door is an even smaller white room bathed in a pale blue light – a kind of Kubrickian mudroom where my fellow stranger and I are asked to take off our shoes. We shuffle in our socks as we are led into the same room, but through different doors. My Embody-mate disappears behind a curtain and I sock-shuffle over to a mat and slide on a VR headset.

Over on RPS fanzine PC Gamer, Jody Macgregor argued that the pressure to constantly update games is pushing the industry to breaking point. He is probably correct, and I’m going to try to bear his points in mind when my brain demands more Apex Legends toys.

The obsession with momentum hasn’t just changed how games are made; it’s changed how we perceive them, how we talk about them, and how they’re designed.

It’s changed how we perceive them because accounts with thousands of hours of playtime are investments, and a disappointing update (or no updates at all) can seem like a hit to the value of that investment. We’ve put in the hours and we feel we deserve to be rewarded for that—when the latest patch doesn’t fix the bug we saw or change the ability we keep getting killed by, it makes it plain how one-sided the relationship is. It’s an absurd way to think but that’s what sunk costs do to us.

On Unwinnable, freelance games journalist Malindy Hetfeld (sometimes of this parish) wrote about her own experiences of burnout. I am not putting this link after the other by accident.

I didn’t realize that it was burnout, not simply tiredness, when the job I job I love and everything associated with it, feedback from colleagues and friends, the feeling of achievement, the fun, simply meant nothing to me. Not once had I stopped and asked myself “what am I doing this for?” not even at times when the question was justified, among hate mail and the fleeting nature of writing something and watching it disappear into the ether, unacknowledged. I became a cynic, something I actively avoid, damning the videogame industry and everyone that tried to highlight good parts of it when damning it was an understandable response. I peered enviously at the work of colleagues, people with ideas, theories and a genuine joy for playing. Lastly, I looked at my work and hated all of it. I’ve always been my own worst critic, lately when you tell me something nice, I’m either completely unwilling to accept it, or accept it disbelievingly, just to not seem ungrateful.

On his blog, Robert Yang encouraged game designers to preserve their own history. There are all sorts of reasons for why that’s a good idea, it turns out, but the one below seems damn important.

Take the example of the LGBTQ Video Game Archive headed by Adrienne Shaw. Homophobic transphobic conservative forces in games often argue that LGBTQ people don’t belong in games; but what if you found a video game called Caper In The Castro from 1989, a plucky adventure game about a lesbian detective trying to rescue a kidnapped drag queen? It proves that our concerns have been in games for decades, and unearthing this heritage affirms the importance of representation and supporting LGBTQ artists.

But this history is also very fragile. What if the developer C.M. Ralph had died before anyone could talk to her? What if no one preserved a copy of the game, what if no one even remembered it? Imagine all the other gay games history that we’ve already lost. It’s up to us to do this work and to do it now, or else it will be too late.

I immensely enjoyed this video of a terrifying rabbit.

Music this week is still mostly King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. I didn’t make a big deal out of their new album last week and now regret that. Here’s Fishing for Fishies.

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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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