Sundays are for visiting the Novelty Cinema in Newbury, only you can't because that's actually what we call my friend's house when we watch nice films together. Don't turn up, it would be weird. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week.
Over on Vice, I enjoyed Patrick Klepek's thoughtful interrogation of Nintendo's inconsistent approach to deliberately glitchy player-created Mario Maker levels. Unsurprisingly I'm entirely on the side of players who revel in pushing Nintendo's pristine building blocks to breaking point. Why ban levels like that when you could just flag them as weird?
What people like Psycrow find legitimately frustrating, however, is the inconsistency. Why can you use a P-Switch as a platform? Why can someone publish a level where you’d need to toss a shell in the air, grab a second shell, then toss that second shell against the wall, use it as a platform when it jumps back, grab the first shell in the air, toss that first shell against the wall, and again use it as a platform? That’s not player-friendly. It’s ridiculous!
For PC Gamer, Alex Wiltshere asked psycologists how old his kids should be before he lets them play Fortnite. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that very little research has been done into the adverse effects of extensive playing time - research money is often put towards debunking the link between violence and videogames instead.
Loot boxes are only one reflection of the power modern games have over your kids' time and attention. For Kourosh Dini, a psychiatrist and author of Video Game Play and Addiction: A Guide for Parents, games are among many other digital services that hammer notifications to their users. Fortnite's notifications for invites and friend requests are also reminders that their friends are playing without them, keeping the game close, even when it's not running. It's this aspect of Fortnite which has provided many flashpoints in my household.
For the Verge, Megan Farokhmanes spoke to American college professors dealing with the impact of Gamergate in their classrooms. The opening anecdote about fake students refusing to stop filming one of them in the middle of a lecture is downright sinister.
Now educators face new challenges: teaching responsibly, while also safeguarding themselves from the very kids they hope to help. “You develop this self-preservation intuition,” Ruberg tells The Verge. “You have to know what’s happening so that you know how to protect yourself.” As misinformation and hate continues to radicalize young people online, teachers are also grappling with helping their students unlearn incorrect, dangerous information. “It has made a lot of us teachers more cautious,” they say. “We want to challenge our students to explore new ways of thinking, to see the cultural meaning and power of video games, but we’re understandably anxious and even scared about the possible results.”
I liked Virginia Paine's round up of the top 7 columnar basalt columns in games over on Fanbyte. More people need to be talking about columnar basalt, a term that gets mysteriously more funny each time I read it. Columnar basalt.
Columnar basalt is uncanny because it straddles the line between natural and artificial. We associate clean, sharp lines with built structures, and the hexagonal appearance of basalt formations is thus unnerving. It blurs the line between the natural and the human-made, serving as a kind of sinister seasoning, a visual shorthand for “this area’s weird!”
Rachael Scarborough King's article for Aeon is ostensibly about how the first newspapers were more akin to Reddit than modern broadsheets, but the best bits are about the handwritten letters that preceded them. People played around with the knowledge that their letters were only semi-private, with one bloke writing "proto-fiction" consisting of 500 letters stolen by "gentlemen engaged in a ‘frolick’". Delightful.
The common practice would have been to read letters aloud upon receipt rather than to retire for silent, solitary perusal. Letters were also frequently written in groups with multiple correspondents adding notes or commentary. They were a kind of public property, conveying news from one place to another. They were also crucial to the functioning of business, dispatching orders and receipts, and would have been filed with other documents as general commercial papers. Writers knew this and did not presume the privacy of their letters when they were in transit. The English government had an entire office, the ‘private’ or ‘secret’ office, dedicated to opening and surveilling correspondence.
Chris Bratt and Annie Sayers have spoken to more people who have made games. Their latest vid is about a Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory gun that had to have its bass toned down for balance reasons. Wonderful.
Music this week is Morning Blues by Parker Millsap.