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The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for continuing to continue continuing staying at home. Here’s the best writing about videogames from the past week.

For her blog, Emilie M. Reed took apart Western assumptions about visual novels. It’s a cracking piece, examining the central tenets of the genre in the context of people’s uncharitable interpretations. It’s also a review of Hashihime Of The Old Book Town.

The truth is that visual novels and dating sims have always had a structurally innovative and experimental streak, and this is obvious even to a dabbler like myself. The way that a lot of Western devs assume they all have to be is a sort of projection that seems based on problems that are extremely common in Western games as well. Sexist, tropey, with a rudimentary and transactional understanding of subtler topics like sex and romance… Am I talking about the latest AAA game or the imagined model that Doki Doki Literature Club “improves” on? Beyond characters and themes, its core structural tension is that it is a game that remembers, that you can’t just blithely reset and perfect the routes of each girl to “beat.” But is that much of a twist? I have never (never!!) played a Japanese visual novel or dating sim that had that structure.

For Vice, Emanuel Maiberg wrote about the comfort of Call Of Duty: Warzone during Covid. I like how he latches on to the way winning or losing is secondary to battling royalley, and how the real joy can be found in self-contained adventures.

You think you know your coworker, but then you see them fall from the sky at terminal velocity while firing a submachine gun at a common enemy, not because it’s necessarily a wise strategy, but because Joe is just apparently wild like that. Such is the magic of Call of Duty Warzone, a free, “battle royale” game that is playing a surprisingly important role in my life during a crisis and teaching me things I never knew about my friends and coworkers.

For VG247, Griff Griffin spoke to Fallout 76 players about how they’re reacting to the pandemic. They are reacting strangely, and also exactly as you’d expect.

While some create, others panic buy. Scores of Fallout 76 players are looting toilet rolls in a bizarre re-enacting of scenes found in supermarkets across the globe. Reasons for this are varied. Some want to showcase them in extravagant settlement displays, locking them in cabinets or hanging them off a mounted moose’s horns. Others are selling them at exorbitant prices in shops, jacking up costs to gouge consumers. It’s not unusual to see a single bit of bum tissue going for 25000 caps, which is a markup of 2500%.

For Eurogamer, Emma Kent tracked down a Red Dead Redemption 2 storm chaser. I’ll always enjoying reading about people who dedicate themselves to unusual and hyper-specific videogame hobbies, especially when they’re this romantic.

“It’s pretty easy once you’re in the epilogue,” MC_Ulfric said. “The two most difficult things are figuring out what direction to move to keep the storm ‘alive’ and avoiding trees and rocks while still keeping an eye out for the lightning. It makes for some strange controller grip finger combinations.

“[Storms] are predictable and in a way, guideable. Just gotta figure out how to read them. You’ll ride one direction and the clouds will get lighter, another and they’ll get darker. Gotta keep them dark and eventually they won’t go away.”

For his blog, Game Discoverability Now!, Simon Carless ran through his five deadly sins of game attractiveness. Much of this advice is simple and obvious, but also necessary, based on the number of games in my inbox that my eyes glaze over.

This is, obviously, hideously subjective. But, no matter whether it’s in 2D or 3D (or 4D!), there’s a minimum level of quality for UI, animation and art that you need to pass in order for someone to be interested to play your game.

I can’t tell you what that bar is. But in addition to getting people to play early versions of your game, I recommend trying to get your friends & fellow devs to give you honest feedback on: ‘Does this game look good, visually?’ You’re competing against, for example, Industries Of Titan. Be a little scared.

For Aeon, professor of cognitive robotics Murray Shanahan attempted to puzzle out how we might understand exotic consciousness. It is 8,300 words and includes graphs, but it’s fascinating and I haven’t slapped an indulgent Aeon link here for ages.

Consider the following thought experiment. Suppose I turn up to the lab one morning to discover that a white box has been delivered containing an immensely complex dynamical system whose workings are entirely open to view. Perhaps it is the gift of a visiting extraterrestrial, or the unwanted product of some rival AI lab that has let its evolutionary algorithms run amok and is unsure what to do with the results. Suppose I have to decide whether or not to destroy the box. How can I know whether that would be a morally acceptable action? Is there any method or procedure by means of which I could determine whether or not consciousness was, in some sense, present in the box?

Music this week is In Dreams by Ben Howard.

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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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