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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2015
I'm not especially bothered by violence in media, but the rich-on-poor violence seen in American Psycho and suggested by White Night seem exceptionally detestable.

I’m not especially bothered by violence in media. I’m a huge fan of the films of Quentin Tarantino. I play a lot of video games. Hell, I teach a course every few years called “Violence in Literature & Film.”


However, I find watching the movie American Psycho uncomfortable. There’s something I find upsetting about Christian Bale’s performance of the psychotic yuppie killer Patrick Bateman .I think it has to do with the posing and preening that he does when in contact with his victims. The way that he fawns over himself while taking advantage of his underprivileged victims makes the violence that he perpetrates against them seem all the more detestable.


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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2015
Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. However, there are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.

Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.


Here’s three of them.


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Friday, Mar 20, 2015
The Cat Lady is a horror game, but it’s not about the horror of supernatural beings or serial killers or anything as flashy and shocking as that. It's about the horror of normal life.

There’s an episode of South Park in which one of the boys, Stan, starts an anti-bullying campaign. He needs a face for his commercial, so he starts to pressure another one of his friends to be in it. The joke is, of course, that he becomes a bully himself, highlighted by his appropriately inappropriate anti-bullying slogan: “Let’s make bullying kill itself!”


I had that song stuck in my head (oh yea, it was a musical number) as I played through the first few chapters of The Cat Lady, a point-and-click horror game by Harvester Games. In it, a suicidal loner named Susan Ashworth is forced back to life by a supernatural being in order to bring righteous justice to five “parasites,” i.e. serial killers. I knew nothing of the game going in, but I saw the entire arc of the game in those opening moments. Susan would see people die, kill others, and through her close encounters with death she would come to see the value of her own life. It’s a plan to cure depression through violence, not unlike Stan’s approach to bullying.


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Thursday, Mar 19, 2015
In which I learn something new while traversing the desert and getting lost in Twoson.

Thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences, I’m revisiting several of my favorite games. It’s been enjoyable because replaying story-driven games is something I don’t do very often. It’s partly because life is just plain busy, but there’s also some faulty logic at play. It’s easy for me to think of a story-driven game as a static experience.


While the structured plot points might be the same in such games, though, the way that you get to them is always slightly unique (just watch two different people play the same Halo level). Even in the most linear game, there are new things to notice about the art or the music. For me, it’s not only about catching the things I missed but also about re-experiencing games in the wake of other experiences. I’ve played Journey and Earthbound before, but each time that I do, my mindset and my interpretations of these games are different.


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Wednesday, Mar 18, 2015
In White Night, it is not a shotgun, but light itself, that is your only ally, and light in in this game is in terrifyingly short supply.

White Night is not the only horror game of recent years to use light and darkness as inspiration for its game mechanics. Both Shadows of the Damned (an action-horror game with more emphasis on the action portion of the equation) and Alan Wake (also probably more of an action-horror game, though probably with more emphasis on provoking scares than on pure combat) used light and darkness to drive their combat mechanics.


Since both games concern confronting supernatural horrors, it seems reasonable to associate darkness, and the terror that it presents by making things unknowable and obscure, with evil, and light, with its ability to make knowable and to clarify, as a means to combat evil. In both instances, darkness within the environment signals a lack of safety and security in the world, and darkness is also intrinsic to the nature of the enemies in the game—along with the need to purge that darkness with some form of light before making those enemies vulnerable to mundane weapons. In other words, light needs to make the dark things into something that can be combated with things we know and understand, firearms and ammunition.


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