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

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Monday, Mar 24, 2014
by Erik Kersting
Donkey Kong's representation as a character and his success as a hero is important because it keys into what we want in an avatar, someone who is responsible, who puts on a tie in the morning, and does the selfless dirty work necessary to get by.

Mario has always been a hero. Since his first appearance in Donkey Kong, he’s been known as a sort of short and stocky Italian plumber with a will to do good and a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong, now one of the most beloved of Nintendo’s characters, began as the angry villain atop the tower throwing barrels at the lovable “Jumpman” and endlessly taking “Pauline” away. It’s interesting how, as time has changed, so has the appearance of the kindly ape and what that appearance tells us about our perception of our heroes.

There has always been something deeper to Donkey Kong, and considering the extremely obvious reference to King Kong present in his character is a great first step in this regard. Nintendo wanted to create in its audience an immediate feeling of nostalgia and familiarity with the villain of its new game, so they emulated a successful monster from film. Yet this also reveals something about Donkey Kong’s character as a misunderstood beast. King Kong is a tragic figure, misunderstood and tortured, who relies on his instincts, which are all he has, until his fatal fall. Similarly, we can assume that Donkey Kong is a misunderstood tragic figure in Donkey Kong, though the plot is so loose we may never fully understand his motives. Yet, just as King Kong is the main character of King Kong and more interesting than any of the film’s human characters, Donkey Kong is obviously a stronger character than Jumpman, which is why Nintendo had to bring him back for his own game.

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Friday, Mar 21, 2014
It’s easy to be great when no one expects anything. It’s harder to live up to greatness mired in nostalgia.

I’ve been tough on Need for Speed: Rivals in the past (see Need for Speed: Rivals Is at War with Itself” and Need for Speed: Rivals Is at War with Its Soundtrack”). Part of the reason for that criticism is because I really do think the open world concept in the game is stupid, even if Rivals does it better than any other racing games so far, but it is also partly because when I think back on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I think of this one transcendent moment of gaming that would render any comparison pointless.

It’s pretty unfair, especially because that transcendent moment is just as much a fiction as it is a reality. It is partly a result of all the mechanics of the game coming together, part dumb luck, and part foggy nostalgic love. It is less of a single memorable moment and more of a series of great moments that I’ve unconsciously combined into something singularly transcendent. Or so I assume.

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Thursday, Mar 20, 2014
Is Titanfall catering to me or just acting condescending?

I don’t play competitive first-person shooters very often. I dip into Call of Duty every once in a while, but (as ludicrous as this might sound) it’s more for the story than anything. The sad, brutal facts are that I no longer have the twitch skills nor the time to be very competitive. I have a good time, but bump my head on the skill ceiling quickly.

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Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014
Games seem like the medium that might best challenge the authority of the author, given as they are to allowing the player to manipulate their “texts", to build within their systems, and potentially to break, rearrange, or reorder them in some personally satisfying way. Games seem like that.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous – 
Almost, at times, the Fool.
—T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Having described a painting of two pears in rather minute detail in Wallace Stevens’s poem, “Study of Two Pears,” the narrator of that poem completes his observations by saying, “The pears are not seen / As the observer wills.”

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Monday, Mar 17, 2014
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons manages to create a unique and seemingly paradoxical game style, a single-player cooperative game in which your right hand has to cooperate with your left.

With its unique control scheme, I like to think of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as a “rubbing your belly, while patting you head” simulator.

A kind of co-operative single player game, Brothers manages to represent a sibling relationship through the controller itself. Two characters can be controlled using each half of a controller, thus creating both a sense of unity between the brothers at the same time as representing the autonomy of each character simply through the act of controlling them as individuals and as a unit.

This week we explore how this 2-in-1 control scheme plays out mechanically and narratively in this indie darling from last year.

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