Sundays are for playing blummin' loads of Ass Creed Odyssey. And for reading the best writing about video games from the past week.
I'm a sucker for articles that explore a juicy question, and 'what will people make of today's games in 1,000 years' is an excellent one. Andreas Inderwildi asks just that on Eurogamer, approaching it with the right combination of considered angles and wild speculation.
If we take another step back to see the bigger picture, it becomes clear that even the fundamental logic that underlies games may one day become a puzzle, especially if we consider that human nature isn't quite as fixed or "natural" as we often pretend it is. If one day our distant descendants are all connected in a collective hive-mind, perhaps games driven by competition and the clash between the motivations of individuals will make no sense at all.
Also on Eurogamer, Malindy Hetfeld called out various games that fallback on stereotypes when depicting black characters. She also celebrates those that do better, which is equally important.
As much as I enjoy character who can just "be", it's not a bad thing to use a minority as a cultural learning opportunity. Through the amount of investment I often only achieve through interactivity, I've learned about cultures I previously had no idea of.
Take Mexican developer Lienzo's Mulaka, for example. The game itself, which plays a bit like Zelda, is based on the culture of the indigenous Mexican Tarahumana tribe. Everything in its vibrant world, from your shaman protagonist to the monsters you encounter, seeks to accurately introduce a foreign culture to a wider audience.
Robert Yang's post-mortem on his game about controlling a home-brewed Australian Football League video by fondling a male blow-up sex doll is wild, and introduces the only acceptable use of the term 'game feel'.
Originally I had planned to directly incorporate clips from explicit gay porn videos themed after the AFL, but it was surprisingly difficult to find AFL-themed porn. (When you search for "football", you get soccer or American football. Also, porn search engines are terrible and constantly lying to you.) When I eventually did happen to find something, it felt wrong to appropriate the footage from the "mom and pop" amateur Australian gay porn website, and I ran out of time to figure out strategies for respectfully presenting it. So in the end, I decided to cut out those uncut jocks, and only kept the massage foreplay clips.
Over at PC Gamer, Alex Wiltshire quizzed devs about how they track player behaviour to improve their games. He also spoke to Red Shell, a company that develops software that was recently pulled from various games. The software tracks which ads you've seen without telling you it's collecting data. The problematic part is that lack of transparency, which it's important to recognise while not denying that smart use of metrics can make stuff better. I'm glad to see Wiltshire does both.
Barth can see how many players reached every one of the levels in his games, and how many succeeded. He can see how long they took and how many got stuck and never come back. He can see where the difficulty spikes are and do something about them, and he can take what he learns from one game and apply it to the next. As the lead of a very small studio making, frankly, niche games, metrics mean he doesn't need to spend enormous amounts of time and money he doesn't have on testers and marketing, and instead spend it on fascinating, clever game design.
On Kotaku, ex-RPSer Nathan Grayson reviewed "Moving". He does not recommend Moving.
See, the central goal of Moving’s first portion is to empty an apartment or house—depending on which difficulty setting you choose—of every object that’s not nailed down. It’s an interesting use of a game environment that forces you to consider every minute level design choice, but if you run out of these items (especially boxes), the entire experience comes screeching to a halt—as I learned multiple times over the course of my time with the game. And not one of these items can be acquired through gameplay. In fact, there’s only one useful resource you can pick up without opening your wallet—friends—and even then, you’ll need to have done a good job playing Moving’s prequel, The Rest Of Your Life Up To That Point, to have any friends populating your Friend Dungeon.
I was drawn into Hettie Judah’s Guardian article by the headline about generating art using telepathic AI, but Pierre Huyghe’s more ‘mundane’ work is just as interesting.
Huyghe worked with a man to whom he gave a set of interlinked images to visualise, some based on physical images, others that he invited him to imagine. The man pictured them one by one as his brain activity was monitored. What we see on the screens in the gallery is the AI moving through its exemplar images, sifting for echoes: we are looking not at the final result of the image reconstruction but a visible manifestation of the process of machine learning. Huyghe won’t disclose what the original images were: it’s up to us to decipher in turn what they might have been, and how they may be linked to one another.
Linking this is a little indulgent, but I really liked this debate about free will between Daniel Dennett and Gregg Caruso. Dennett used to be one of my favourite philosophers because his intentional stance makes so much sense to me, but I've since seen him talk about free will in a way that didn't. I'm in Caruso's corner.
The system of desert keeps alive the belief that if you end up in poverty or prison, this is ‘just’ because you deserve it. Likewise, if you end up succeeding in life, you and you alone are responsible for that success. This way of thinking keeps us locked in the system of blame and shame, and prevents us from addressing the systemic causes of poverty, wealth-inequality, racism, sexism, educational inequity and the like. My suggestion is that we move beyond this, and acknowledge that the lottery of life is not always fair, that luck does not average out in the long run, and that who we are and what we do is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control.
In celebration of Autumn, music this week is Long Hot Summer Days by Sara Watkins.