Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Wednesday, Dec 3, 2014
In Unrest, you play a number of characters who all have their own desires and stories, but you play as each of them, and this leads the player into conflict with the game and himself.

There’s a particular phenomenon in tabletop RPGs in which two different types of knowledge are pitted against one another. There is what the player knows as a person in the modern world sitting around a table pretending to be someone else and there is what the character knows about the fictional universe used for play. This is a constant tug-of-war in any tabletop role-playing environment, one that is usually based on players recognizing narrative tropes and what probabilities mean as a result og the die rolls that the characters know nothing of. The tension created is whether or not the player can internally separate these two distinct types of knowledge when making decisions—or even if they want to in the first place.


Such a disparity between what is known is not limited to just RPGs. Any game in which the player can infer more knowledge than what their character should know leads to this disparity. In a video game, it can be as simple as a third person camera granting a view of the hallway around a corner when Metal Gear Solid‘s Snake is pressed against a wall. There can be more direct acknowledgement of the disparity, such as in Telltale’s notification system in its adventure games that lets the player know who will remember what. Snake cannot see what is around that corner, nor can Lee (of The Walking Dead see what is inside other people’s heads. Yet, the game leverages these disparities to its own purposes. Unrest manages to leverage such seemingly contradictory ways of knowing the world as a form of dramatic irony.


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Tuesday, Dec 2, 2014
by Marshall Sandoval
I’m not who I was just one, two, or ten years ago. Yet, old saved games reveal to me a sometimes uncomfortable picture of myself.

It happened somewhere around the Pacific Union Railroad Camp. I was frustrated with failing a finicky mission multiple times. I wanted to break up the monotony. I double-checked that I had saved the game recently and then ran toward the train.I ran onto the train and initiated slow motion. I painted my targets in slow motion and then let fly. The shots rang out in the narrow train car as blood and red viscera sprayed out from two innocent passengers and onto the wooden benches. A third ran at me with his fists up and I easily dropped him with my pump-action shotgun. There was no in-game motivation for John Marsden to be committing a massacre on this train. There was no systemic reward for it in the game’s economy. I was just bored.


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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
In The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the body is wrecked and made ugly for the sake of freedom from fear. Instead, it becomes something fearful in its own right.

Any game of The Binding of Isaac begins with a naked little boy whose eyes are streaming with tears. Every successful ending to a game of The Binding of Isaac ends with a grotesque monstrosity whose eyes are streaming with tears.


The titular protagonist of The Binding of Isaac is like many video game characters, a kind of paperdoll. In this game, though, the bare canvas that the player begins the game with, this naked little boy, perhaps, makes that function of the video game character as a form of dress up doll that much clearer.


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Tuesday, Nov 25, 2014
by Brian Crecente / Tribune News Service (TNS)
More often than not, blockbuster video games tend to ship incomplete.

More often than not, blockbuster video games tend to ship incomplete.


Sometimes that means the game needs an update the minute you pop it into your console; sometimes it means the polish and promise of a game won’t arrive for days or weeks; sometimes it means the game is completely broken until an update can be sent out.


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Monday, Nov 24, 2014
This week we each discuss the Clementine that we have decided will resolve this season of The Walking Dead.

Yes, I know the image above is one of Clementine at the beginning of this season of The Walking Dead. However, this is the episode in which it all comes back to that moment in which Clementine ponders her past and then considers her future.


The final episode of Season Two allows the player to finally decide who they want their Clementine to be by offering multiple paths to conclude this episode. This week we each discuss the Clementine that we have decided will resolve this season of The Walking Dead.


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