Sundays are for hearing echoes of some new internet controversy and being glad that we are all of us here, away from such distractions. Let's read the week's best games writing and rejoice.
- Networked gaming is the new social media, and it's a boys' club, writes Mimi Ito, Professor in Residence at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of California. The article has some interesting statistics and some positive things to say about videogames and what needs addressing about them.
- This week's fighty Cliff Harris post is asking for government regulation of videogames to stop the psychological tricks they use to compel people into paying and paying and playing and paying. Given what some of those tricks entail, that's a reasonable response.
- I haven't played Undertale, but I am enjoying the way it divides certain kinds of game players. I imagine people who like the game would say Jed Pressgrove is missing the point in this review, which focuses on what the game might be saying, accidentally or purposefully, through its mechanics and depiction of morality and violence.
- I am interested in what Hideo Kojima does next, now that he and Konami and Metal Gear Solid have parted ways. Simon Parkin spoke to Kojima about what happens now.
- Also at The New Yorker, Simon Parkin writes about the best videogames of 2015.
- For some reason I stumbled across Quintin's old Journey of Saga series, in which he sets off on a world-spanning adventure in search of the Citizen Kane of games. A good, long read for this rainy Sunday in England.
- Cool Ghosts' Subterfuge diaries have come to an end. A brilliant video series.
- I haven't read all of this Quentin Tarantino interview, because I'm not sure it can live up to this one quote.
Plenty of folks are concerned about videogames promoting violence and antisocial behavior, but we need to pay more attention to what kids miss out on by not engaging in the positive social aspects of gaming. For example, while investigating links between videogames and violence, Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson discovered that boys who don't game at all showed the highest risk of getting into fights. These days, video games are what boys do together, so if they aren't gaming, it means they might not be part of the boys' club. While it's not exactly basketball or football, being a great League of Legends player or Minecrafter can be a source of peer status. In Silicon Valley, coders bond on weekends through the After Hours Gaming League and the angst over who gets invited to high status Settlers of Catan games is reminiscent of elite old boys' networks' bonding over golf and tennis.
Lets think about this for a minute. A company hires people to stalk its customers and befriend them so they can build up a psychological profile of each customer to allow them to extract more money. This is not market research, this is not game design. This is psychological warfare. Lines have been crossed so much we cannot even see them behind us with binoculars. We need to reign this stuff in. Its not just psychological warfare, but warfare where you, the customer, are woefully outgunned, and losing. Some people are losing catastrophically.
The off-putting vacancy in Undertale’s main face is especially puzzling given Fox’s schmaltzy attempt to undercut typical turn-based combat. Almost jokingly, you dodge the attacks of enemies in real time as a heart avatar. Does Fox think the mere shape of a heart can be a stand-in for human depth? If the little snot you play as is supposed to comment on a hollowness about previous role-playing games, Fox takes the lazy route. The silent protagonist cliche, already parodied well by Super Mario RPG, does not complement any inventiveness Fox squeezes out of the monster encounters. And if the hero is meant to resemble a dead fish to show that “anyone can be a hero,” Undertale should come with a bucket to vomit in.
Now that his employment contract has expired, Kojima is able to speak freely about what he describes as a “new start”—a relaunched, independent Kojima Productions. (He remains, however, contractually forbidden from talking about the prior split.) The studio currently comprises four staff members, including Yoji Shinkawa, the artist with whom Kojima has collaborated since Shinkawa left college, and Kenichiro Imaizumi, a former producer at Konami. There is, as yet, no office, but there is a contract in place with Sony Computer Entertainment, which is partnering with Kojima on his next title. The details of that game, if they are settled, have yet to emerge, but the arduous months at Konami have apparently done nothing to dull Kojima’s interest in making the kind of filmic, lavish productions for which he is best known. “Every time I create a game, I think it’s going to be the last time,” he told me. “In much the same way that a mother isn’t thinking about her next pregnancy during childbirth, I can’t think of the next game till the one I’m working on is out.”
The democratization of game development, hastened by the availability of tools such as Unity and GameMaker, has swelled the number of annual releases to unchartable proportions. This is theoretically positive, in that it encourages a diversity of both creators and creations, broadening the medium’s scope and variety. And yet video games remain, principally, conservative and iterative. They advance mainly along the narrow axes of graphics and technology, rarely in theme. Expanding bulk has not been matched with expanding variety. Critics and players, in the main, go along with the pretense of progress. Here, instead, are what I consider the year’s truly inventive offerings.
At least the guesthouse I found was cool. The owner didn’t seem to have grasped the nuances of his job yet (“You want a room? For money?” And the milky eyes would roll completely around, like watching the sudsy contents of two washing machines), but the sheets were clean and the Eastern European man I shared a room with had a size and demeanor which broadcast that he ate thieves like breadsticks. This guy cracked his knuckles in his sleep. Three times I woke up from a dream that I was a chicken being boned.
I want to have more original-screenplay Oscars than anybody who’s ever lived! So much, I want to have so many that—four is enough. And do it within ten ﬁlms, all right, so that when I die, they rename the original-screenplay Oscar “the Quentin.” And everybody’s down with that.
Tarantino’s girlfriend emerges from the house: “You are insane. I just heard that. That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said.”
This will likely be the last Sunday Papers of the year, as RPS winds down for Christmas and I spend next weekend eating leftover Christmas cake and pudding. Thanks for your reading and commenting over the past twelve months.
Music this week is a pick 'n' mix. 40 Watt by ELEL (YT); Glitter by Say Lou Lou (Spotify); Bad Place For A Good Time by Kate Tempest (YT); and Cornerstone by Benjamin Clementine (YT). Happy Christmas, everyone.