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by L.B. Jeffries

17 Dec 2008

Whenever someone tells me that video games are superficial or generic it always feels a bit like having someone who only watches MTV tell you that all music is shallow and commercialized. Yes, if you only pay attention to AAA games made by companies who want to appease the largest set of consumers possible, you will probably notice that there is rarely much experimentation or issue pushing. They never totally make you happy nor do they totally piss you off, they just get the job done.

A lot of funny things start to happen to video games once you ditch the desire to make money, make people happy, or care about review scores. You start seeing games that are using the player to protest a trend in games. You start to see games that spoof their history. And sometimes you see a painting of Mega Man made out of a woman’s menstrual fluids. All signs indicate the rabbit hole keeps going after this.

Which is why Jason Nelson’s latest game I Made This. You Play This. We Are Enemies. is a welcome addition to the scene. Mixing a bit of social commentary with basic gameplay and massive amounts of abstraction, the game runs very similar to his last project game, game, game, and again game. As noted in the interview with Nelson that Popmatters did about a year ago, the principle purpose of the game design is to get the player to engage with the art. Not rack up a score, not make you feel pleasure at beating the level, and certainly not at figuring out the solution to Nelson’s nebulous art. There are a couple of basic elements that anyone playing will quickly notice. Your avatar moves in a pattern that is very similar to how your eyes travel when viewing each of the different websites being spoofed. The Yahoo News site moves up and down on platforms like one reads the columns, the Fark website moves in horizontal lines as you traverse down the page. Although being sent back to the level only mildly figured into game, game, etc., here it plays a massive role in communicating how a website sucks you in by constantly dragging you to the start. The mental trap of being stuck in ‘F5’ mode expresses itself throughout the game. Layered throughout all of these levels are Nelson’s signature eccentric videos, scribbles, and cryptic poetry.

I’m as late to the party as ever with this game, if only because watching it make the rounds is almost more interesting than yammering about my own analysis. The principle thing most websites looking at it seemed to struggle with was whether it was gibberish or something really clever that they didn’t quite understand. Which might be one of the most interesting new developments in video games outside the mainstream. While it’s certainly true that player input is what makes these things video games, there is still quite a bit of room to explore in regards to how exactly one should be treating the player. Perhaps the thing that wears people out so much about AAA titles is that they are always treating the player like royalty and rolling everything out in a nice, neat package. One doesn’t have to drag themselves through a film like Vanilla Sky to know that part of how people define their pleasure from an experience is by contrasting it to the things that they didn’t enjoy. In Nelson’s case, chucking the player into the chaotic confusion these websites manifest through an abstract video game interpretation is not really about being clever or using gibberish as an obstacle. It’s just a part of the grander experience of not always understanding what’s going on around you.

by Rob Horning

17 Dec 2008

In the wake of the Fed’s moves yesterday, the word of the day in the econoblogosphere today is ZIRP: zero interest rate policy. (This is also known as “quantitative easing”—what happens when Fed rates can’t be cut any further, but the Federal Reserve still wants to influence them in the wild.) In other words, the Fed has made its last rate cut. The technical terminology and wonkery involved here may make this seem like something ordinary people can safely ignore, but to judge by the reaction among Fed watchers, it’s as though one of the four horseman of financial apocalypse has rode onto the scene.

By pushing the rates to zero, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is, in effect, making good on his suggestion in 2002 that central banks can drop money from helicopters in the event of deflation. Martin Wolf, in this FT editorial, puts a dark spin on this turn of events.

As Robert Mugabe has shown, anybody can run a printing press successfully. Once the interest rate hits zero, the Fed can perform much further easing. Indeed, it can create money without limit. Imagine what would happen if an alchemist could transform lead into gold, at no cost. Gold would not be worth much. Central banks can create infinite quantities of money, at no cost. So they can reduce its value to nothing without difficulty. Curing deflation is child’s play in a “fiat money” – a man-made money – system.

The upshot: If we keep printing money, it eventually becomes worthless. Wolf doesn’t predict Weimar-style hyperinflation for the U.S., but does expect acute inflation years down the road.

Whether or not ZIRP will work to get more money into the system and narrow credit spreads between Treasurys and commercial rates seems to be a matter of some debate thus far—Yves Smith rounds up some opinions here, noting the disquieting air of desperation in the Fed’s moves. Calculated Risk notes that money-market funds may be induced to give negative returns—rather akin to the calamity that helped spark the mayhem in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ collapse.

Basically, the Fed is done now with anything resembling the conventional monetary policy of the past few decades and is in terra incognita. We can only hope the atmosphere is hospitable.

by Mike Schiller

17 Dec 2008

All dolled up for the holidays, too.

All dolled up for the holidays, too.

All right, I suppose it’s possible that the title up there is insulting your intelligence, and you’re already fully aware of the great game writing and tightly-knit forum scene going on over at The Escapist.  Truly, it’s become one of the most essential gaming sites out there, and if you’re still just going there to look for the video with the yellow background and the guy with the sweet hat, get your weekly dose of profanity-laced insight, and leave, you’re missing out.

Combining a set of weekly features that all revolve around a common theme with daily editorials and reviews, The Escapist is one of a growing number of sites that are treating games as something more than simple diversions.  Founded by Alexander Macris (himself a Harvard Law grad), The Escapist has a way of finding angles at which to look at games that we didn’t even know existed.

As it so happens, L.B. Jeffries has the cover story over there this week, which obviously makes this the perfect time to check it out.

by Sarah Zupko

17 Dec 2008

London is a sumptuous limited edition book of revealing and engaging photography of one of the world’s great cities. Taking in the high spots as well as capturing the pulse of life in the metropolis, this is what the coffee table was designed for. Bryant’s photography captures the full range of life and expression in this iconic city: from the quiet lanes, private gardens and architectural detail of beautiful old buildings to industrial zones, marketplaces, pubs, galleries, parks and the tube. It’s an illuminating and stunning look at the grand old city. As an extra bonus, this book is a limited to an edition of 5,000 and comes with a numbered photographic print of Tower Bridge signed by the photographer.

AMAZON

by Karen Zarker

17 Dec 2008

Part travel literature, part cultural criticism, part humor chronicle, part graphic art, the reputable Guy Delisle (Pyongyang (2007) and Shenzhen (2006) –- English language versions) has done it again: capturing the entire experience of expat life –- complete with family –- in a region far from home. While his wife works in Pyongyang (formerly Burma) for Doctors Without Borders (her work being the catalyst for his far flung travels), Delisle takes his artful view of everyday life (and the baby, too) for daily strolls into cultural and physical environs far different from his own. His natural curiosity, respect and ease with people transcends difference. Upon return to wherever he’s staying -– often without electricity and other luxuries –- he applies intellectual compassion to the stories conveyed in pictures with words, here and there, as needed. People who like travel writing and cultural reporting will find themselves surprisingly taken by this and all of Delisle’s graphic fiction books, wherein panel after panel conveys a wealth of meaning and provides valid documentation of a time and place.

AMAZON

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Moving Pixels Podcast: Our Own Points of View on 'Hardcore Henry'

// Moving Pixels

"Hardcore Henry gives us a chance to consider not how well a video game translates to film, but how well a video game point of view translates to film.

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