A few years ago I wrote an essay about nudity and near nudity in the design of various video game characters, both male and female, and what that signified about those characters’ vulnerabilities and strengths. I briefly touched on the very minimal clothing (essentially, a loin cloth) of the protagonist of the God of War series, saying that Kratos’s “near nudity makes him less than vulnerable. His physique communicates power and masculinity. The appearance of a desirable masculine trait, perfect musculature, makes him clearly stronger [than he would seem if he were clothed], not weaker” (“Boys Get Naked Better Than Girls”, PopMatters, 23 June 2011).
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The first time that I played Tharsis, a 10 turn disaster management space sim, I lost the game by turn two. It took me over a dozen games to finally win this brief, but difficult roguelike.
In Tharsis, you are tasked with directing the actions of four astronauts attempting to survive a 10 week trip to Mars. On each of the game’s ten turns, bad things happen in various modules of a spacecraft and the ship’s crew basically needs to do its best to attempt to put out these fires, while, of course, more and more fires erupt each and every turn. Like I said, this is a disaster management sim played out in a brutally short time frame.
I’m looking for more video games that explore ambiguity in their realities and representation. This may seem like a counter-intuitive ambition in a medium in which artists frequently strive for photorealism. Yet beyond recreation, I want more games that challenge and thus grow my imagination. Let me explain.
The greatest worth of video games—as a human endeavor—may be their potential to nurture our imaginations. This is a familiar argument but different proponents seem to assert different things. Let’s first examine a popular version of the argument, and then unpack a second version that may be more interesting.
We’re a tad late to the station when it comes to the hype train that is Undertale.
But this week we discuss the game that every indie fan was talking about last year. It’s one part whimsy, mixed with one part social commentary, mixed with even more whimsy, and to top it off a zany sense of humor and a bucket full of self awareness.
Tharsis is a brutally difficult roguelike of number crunching, risk management, and gambling that can be finished in a scant 20 minutes. The catch is that you’ll lose the game in those 20 minutes. And you’ll likely lose many, many games after that as well. In fact, based on the mixed reviews from critics and users on Steam, I’d wager that the overall win percentage of its player base is less than those of Splunky, The Binding of Isasc, FTL, Darkest Dungeon, etc. As a result, some of those people think that Tharsis is too hard, or broken, or unfair. I think it’s actually the perfect difficulty to keep things casual.