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

 
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Friday, Sep 5, 2014
MIND is a clever, beautiful, well designed game that sadly seems to hate itself for being clever, beautiful, and well designed.

MIND: Path to Thalamus is a first-person puzzle game with a lot going for it. The art and environments are gorgeous, the puzzles are great, and the entire game has an air of confidence to it. This is an exceedingly surreal trip through a dream world, but the game works quietly and effectively to break down your defenses until you’re willing to let go of your demand for rationality, until you’re willing to let its mood wash over you without questioning it, until you’re willing to experience it as if it really were a dream. MIND is a clever, beautiful, well designed game that sadly seems to hate itself for being clever, beautiful, and well designed.


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Thursday, Sep 4, 2014
Don’t let the cute characters fool you. Pikmin 3 is horrifying.

This column contains spoilers for Pikmin 3.


I’ve played all of the Pikmin games and have always been slightly uneasy about the message lurking underneath their playful facades. Maybe it’s revisiting the series almost 10 years later or maybe it’s that the latest game more openly embraces its dark side, but Pikmin 3 has put its more disturbing aspects into focus.


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Wednesday, Sep 3, 2014
Ironically, the rules of McMillen's games are about creating situations in which players are confronted with their own foolish tendencies to follow the rules without thinking about them.

This post contains spoilers for Time Fcuk and for A.V.G.M..


At the conclusion of Edmund McMillen’s Time Fcuk, having completed some thirty odd puzzles to get there, the player is instructed to take a pill in order to “end it.” Doing so leads to one conclusion of the game in which the narrator declares that “You’ve learned nothing.” This declaration is followed by a diatribe about the nature of following directions:


This wall of text means nothing, about as much as the basic rules that others set in place for you. The more you read the more you will follow any direction, regardless of the time spent doing so or eventual outcome. You are simply looking for answers. And even though you have been told there will be no answers here you continue to read. The path you are on will only lead to an end. This text will stop, the game will be concluded, and the curtain will eventually fall. We all follow. We all want instruction and comfort. We [are] all stuck in repetition because it’s simply easier than taking a risk and just not reading the text before you. Please stop reading this, it means nothing… about as much as the basic rules others set in place for you.



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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
The atmosphere of any live sporting event is a unique slice of that sport’s spectator culture. Where does eSports, and specifically League of Legends, fit in?

I’m sitting near the front row at my first live eSports event. It’s the League of Legends North American Regionals quarterfinals featuring Curse vs CLG, and the stakes are high. One of these teams has a chance at attending the World Championship in South Korea. The other is going home. The two teams file into their rows of computers on stage, while a huge screen starts a countdown to this pivotal match. From somewhere in the back row, up in the bleachers, comes the sound of a vuvuzela.


The atmosphere of any live sporting event is a unique slice of that sport’s spectator culture. Baseball might be about hot dogs, cracker jacks, and long breaks between plays. Hockey might be about chants or throwing octopi onto the ice. They can be heated affairs with hostile rivalries between opposing fans, or they can be calmer affairs dedicated to the appreciation of a match well played. Where does eSports, and specifically League of Legends, fit in?


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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
The idea of a video game character that suffers a general decline seems counter to the way in which games are designed. Who wants to get less capable as a character as they progress?

This post contains spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line


Defined in the broadest sense, traditionally comedies are narratives that resolve in a positive way. They are expected to result in a happy ending. The tragedy, however, is a lesson taught via witnessing the ultimate demise of an individual, a demise brought about through steadily declining circumstances. Within this broad context, modern video games could be associated more easily with comedy than they could be with tragedy.


Pac-Man (and maybe all early arcade games) is a tragedy of sorts. It is a “story” about a creature obsessed with consuming dots that will inevitably reach a bad end, since the game cannot be won, cannot be resolved. Modern video games are seldom like Pac-Man, concerned as they are with winning the game and resolving a narrative arc that represents that goal of games, “winning.” Indeed, perhaps games in general, when they take on the trappings of plot, character development, and other aspects of storytelling, are always prone towards comedy because the goal of games in general is to win. A happy outcome (for someone at least) is generally expected in games.


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