Amnesia: The Dark Descent is still a good horror game. Playing it for the first time six years after its initial release, it does feel a little dated, and it certainly doesn’t live up to it’s reputation as a horror masterpiece. However, it still largely succeeds in what it sets out to do. Even by today’s standards it’s an ambitious game, evoking psychological horror through a Lovecraftian story and mechanics of insanity, while also evoking physical horror through the threat of otherworldly monsters and limited survival resources. It wants to make you fear for your life and fear for your soul. It succeeds on both fronts, but ironically those success actually undermine the game as a whole.
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Losing XP for dying is wrong. Game design is often a matter of style and taste. However, this is one area where I see a categorical error, as a gamer and as a psychologist. To share my thinking, I’ll unpack dying in games, describe a human capacity called resilience, and describe the problem with losing experience points (XP).
Dying in games is weird. On the one hand, in many games the death of non-player characters (NPCs) is a near-constant event, including both enemies and computer-controlled allies. This is especially true in hack-n-slash and shooter games that feature the wholesale slaughter of NPCs, such as Diablo 3, Castle Crashers, or Serious Sam. On the other hand, in many games the player-character rarely or never dies. Player-characters are often distinguished in a game world by their extraordinary abilities, including their ability to take damage and rebound from it. Even when my player character does die, I can usually resurrect on the spot or nearby, resurrect back at a recent checkpoint, or reload a recent save. Resurrection or reloading may happen so seamlessly that we could be forgiven for thinking of dying in games as something different than dying in real life.
Shit is basically flying off the hook. It’s like shit wants nothing to do with that hook. The hook filed for divorce from that shit and is now seeking custody of the hook and the shit’s two kids.”
—Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck
If you found the above quote hilarious, I recommend putting your life on hold for the next couple of weeks and heading here. The caffeine-fuelled trance you’ll go through before you’re done with the 8,000-plus pages of Homestuck will be completely worth it. Be warned though, your friendships forged before you become a “homestuck” might not withstand the barrage of references to and praises for the comic that you’ll be compelled to unleash. Such will be the case until those who know you either relent and assimilate with the one true fandom or stop talking to you altogether.
This week we revisit one of our discussions of how difficulty contributes to the pleasure and pain of gaming.
Overwatch fans love their lore. Blizzard has created a completely multiplayer experience yet filled it with unique and vibrant characters, giving each a unique backstory that ties them all together. It’s a testament to Blizzard’s world building that fans have reacted to so strong to these characters, creating amazing fan art and fan fiction that approaches canonicity for some fans. So why are so many of their community members furious about Sombra?
Sombra is, theoretically, the second addition to Overwatch’s stable of playable characters. She comes after Ana released back in July. Many fans actually thought Ana was Sombra at first. Initially, the ardent detectives of all things Overwatch had discovered an in-game folder titled “SOMBRA [CLASIFICADO]” all the way back in the pre-beta days of the game. Attentive players will even catch Reaper saying, “Where’s Sombra when you need her”, occasionally when spawning on the Dorado map. Blizzard seemingly laid the groundwork for a cunning Sombra reveal.