Sundays are for relaxing into your week off, potentially with a huge RPG or three. I’ll be busy playing cowboy, space cowboy or detective, but there’s always room to read the best writing about videogames from the past week.
For Vice, Matthew Gault wrote about how Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare blurs distinctions between the wars it’s based on, rewriting history for the benefit of people who can’t countenance their country being in the wrong.
But back home, all those wars are Over There. Iraq is Afghanistan is Libya is Syria. It’s all “Sand and death,” as the President said. The distinctions between the fight against al-Shabab in Africa and the Taliban in Afghanistan don’t exist. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare exploits these historical moments and turns them into high quality entertainment for the people back home, who don’t want to think about Over There unless it’s about How We’re Winning or How It’s Not Our Fault. The distinctions between the conflicts, the countries and their people, are lost. It’s all Over There. It’s all the War.
For Paste, Dia Lacina wrote about how a horror game finally got her to start closing cupboard doors. I love the question I’ve quoted below. I once found myself eating a sloppy pizza too recklessly after playing Oblivion for seven hours and half-believing I could quicksave.
Has a game ever shifted how you act outside of it?
When I was five or six, I took the message of Sierra graphic adventures into my heart: Pick up everything that isn’t nailed down. I stuffed my pockets with anything vaguely attention-getting. After all, you never know when a scrap of copper wire, a gummy eraser, or discarded cassette tape might come in handy. It’s a habit I was quickly disabused of. My mother could only deal with me bringing home a bent ski pole or questionable toaster from an alleyway so many times.
For Unwinnable, Jeremy Signor wrote about the relationship between work and play. Or rather, work as play. I think I disagree with most of it, partly because a key element Signor ignores is labor being involuntary. That’s why most of us associate work with drudgery, surely. Every now and then I remember the time I overheard someone saying “well of course a job involves doing stuff you don’t want to do, that’s why it’s called a job”, which is both nonsensical and depressing.
A misnomer exists in the collective unconsciousness that labor automatically means drudgery when that just isn’t the case, and Wilmot’s Warehouse is the proof of that. Yes, the things you’re doing in the game are repeatable actions that iterate on themselves in ways that appear monotonous on paper. But there’s something about the labor of sorting that just lights up our brains. We’re conditioned to find patterns in the world, which in turn makes us feel like we’re making sense of it. Wilmot’s Warehouse is a perfect game for that, especially with its little touches. When you move a good and place it next to other goods, they all light up for a second, which I would like to think is in unison with how your brain lights up as you’ve sorted one more thing.
For The Washington Post, Hawken Miller spoke to people who moonlight as videogame coaches. It’s a surprisingly wholesome scene, though I did guffaw at this bit. Deep insight there, Mr cop man.
A typical coach-student relationship starts with setting goals the player wants to achieve. Then, the coaches help students tinker with their computer settings, watch their gameplay, share strategies and tips and eventually play with the student. Frankfurt native Benjamin Delibegovic, who studied eight semesters to be an educator and now works full-time as a police officer, is a part-time Apex Legends coach. He applies what he learned in police training — use cover, watch line of sight and try to approach threats from behind — in game. Apart from strategy, Delibegovic said having a positive mind-set is important, not only for the success of the student but his success as a teacher.
For Polygon, Colin Campbell rounded up decade-old predictions about the games of 2020. I’m enjoying how plausible it seems to me that we’ll be holding convincing, dynamically-generated conversations with NPCs by 2030, even though I’m currently chuckling at someone who thought that might be possible right now. I’d hope this page will still be around in a decade, so I look forward to looking back and laughing at myself. Anyone else wanna take a punt?
MMOs were still seen as somehow replacing single-player games, or games for small numbers of players. A leading exec at an MMO house predicted: “I think potentially you’ll look back on the idea of connecting to small numbers of players like we have right now as kind of quaint. I’m a big believer in the ‘everyone playing together’ kind of model and there will be more games that come along that are everyone playing together.”
Emmanuel Carrère’s Guardian long read about Dice Man is genuinely one of the most intriguing articles I’ve ever read. Basically: someone wrote a book posing as an autobiography about a man who lives his life based on dice rolls, and this eventually pushes him towards murder. There are real people who have been profoundly influenced by the idea, which is partly what makes Carrère’s meeting with author Luke Rhinehart so riveting. The other part is that I can totally see myself trying it.
He has three rules. The first is to always obey. But obeying the dice is ultimately obeying yourself, since you set your options. Hence the second rule, concerning the decisive moment when you list the six possibilities. You have to examine yourself and try to find out what you want. It is a spiritual exercise, aimed both at getting to know yourself and getting a better grasp of the infinite possibilities that reality offers. The options you select have to be pleasant, but at least one – the third – has to be something you would not normally do. It has to make you overcome resistance and break with habit. When you throw the dice, your desire has to be tinged with fear.
Hamish Black’s Writing On Games videos fell off my radar for a while, but he’s still doing them and they’re still very good. Here’s his latest on John Wick Hex and the problems of adaptation.
Music this week is Vlad The Inhaler by Sheelanagig.