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Friday, Apr 24, 2015
Silent protagonists will always be awkward in video games, but there’s one easy way to avoid a lot of that awkwardness. Don’t make them a leader.

Much has been written about silent protagonists in games, and whether or not their silence really aids in our immersion. However, regardless of what you think of them, they almost always share a certain important personality trait. They’re followers. From Gordon Freeman to Link to the amnesiac hero of Bioshock, the silent protagonist is one who takes orders. They’re told what to do and how to do it. This makes perfect sense. If we can’t talk, we certainly can’t give orders, so we may as well be the one taking them instead.


Battlefield 4 breaks this mold, giving us a silent protagonist that others often turn to for advice. It’s awkward, bizarre, and unintentionally funny, but also kind of fascinating when you try to piece together what exactly makes it so awkward and bizarre and unintentionally funny.


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Thursday, Apr 23, 2015
Playing Bloodborne is like willingly partaking in a rite of passage, an individualized ritual imbued with social meaning.

Last week here on PopMatters, Scott Juster compared playing Bloodborne to exercising. He’s right. Playing the game can feel like a gradual and painful investment towards self-improvement. But what of the social elements of Bloodborne? How do the in-game and meta social interactions surrounding the game contribute to the experience of play? To me, Bloodborne is a lot like walking on flaming hot coals.


It sounds strange, but hear me out. Firewalking and and playing Bloodborne really are quite similar, and not just because both sound excruciatingly painful. If you want to compare the two, you can pretty easily create your own firewalking experience at home. First create a small bonfire, traditionally made of hardwood. After a few hours, rake the coals into a rectangular bed of about eight or so feet in length if you’re looking to take a short stroll or upwards of twenty feet for a longer jaunt. Now step onto the coals and walk as briskly as possible without losing your dignity.


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Wednesday, Apr 22, 2015
The Charnel House is a fascinating narrative experiment in video game storytelling, attempting to tell a story not by moving from point A to point B, but by starting at the center of a story and moving outwards.

Mark Danielski’s novel House of Leaves is a horror story that begins with one of the novel’s protagonists, Will Navidson, discovering that his house is slightly larger on the inside than it is on the outside. This off putting detail, a bending of the laws of the physical universe, signals that which provokes fear, that which we can’t know or fully understand. As the novel’s story expands, of course, so too does the interior of the house, leading to a seemingly endless labyrinth that is undetectable from the outside of Navidson’s home, a space that defies the rules governing architecture and thus what we understand about spatial laws and mathematics.


Of course, the clever thing about the novel is that its title, which alludes only in part to Navidson’s house, is also a description of the thing held in its readers’ hands. The physical space of a book is defined by an architecture of its own. A book is two walls wrapped around a series of leaves (“leaves” being the term that bibliographers use to describe the front and backside of a page within a book), a house of leaves of a different sort. A book, then, metaphorically parallels Navidson’s house. Its interior (since it contains a whole world, its characters, its objects, etc.) is indeed “larger on the inside than it is on the outside.”


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Friday, Apr 17, 2015
We grow over the course of Battlefield: Hardline, not so much as a character, but as a performer.

Battlefield: Hardline opens with a brief shootout in a tiny room, and a frantic car chase that ends when the fleeing suspect crashes his car. Battlefield 4 opens with your team jumping/falling out of a building as a helicopter shoots it to pieces, and a frantic car chase that ends with you hanging out an open door and blowing up said helicopter with a grenade launcher before the car flips off the crashing wreckage and into the ocean.


One of these openings feels like an introduction, a brief tease of action that leaves plenty of room for escalation throughout the rest of the game. The other feels like a climax within itself.


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Thursday, Apr 16, 2015
Next time you think about eating an entire tub of ice cream, try taking a stroll to Oedon Chapel.

Unless you’re some sort of professional video game savant, you’ll be spending a lot of time staring at Bloodborne‘s logo. Surprise attacks, traps, one-shot kills, and just plain sloppy play means that you’ll have plenty of time to consider your actions while staring at the Game Over text and subsequent loading screen. Bloodborne‘s unusually long load times enforce this period of reflection. Apparently From Software is trying to cut these times down, but during the last few weeks if you have played Bloodborne, you may have been staring (and seething) at the loading screen for the better part of a minute.


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