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

 
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Monday, Dec 8, 2014
Spec Ops: The Line is rife with atrocities and tragedies, and challenges us to consider the choices we make in video games and in the real life "game" of war.

We have written a bit about Spec-Ops: The Line here at PopMatters, but we have never explored this 2012 game on our podcast.


It’s hard to understand why as The Line may be the best antiwar war game ever made, rife as it is with atrocities, tragedies, and a thoughtful approach to considering the choices we make in video games and in those more impactful real life “games,” wars themselves.


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Friday, Dec 5, 2014
In its attempt to be minimalist, Stranded removes all the things that drive an interest in atmosphere, mystery, and exploration.

Personally, I love a game with any kind of minimalist aesthetic. I still feel haunted by Metrolith and Home, I’m still mocked by Blackbar, I still go gamble in Tower of Fortune, and I think One Finger Death Punch and A Dark Room are two of the best games of the year. However, that said, Stranded is an example of everything that could go wrong when a game tries too hard to be “minimalist.”


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Thursday, Dec 4, 2014
From fan fiction to theorycrafting, sharing in the spectacle of a film or game’s release is a great opportunity to engage with art, even before release.

“There’s been an awakening, have you felt it?” Because everyone else has. The internet is abuzz with rampant speculation, arguments, and lengthy screeds about the first reveal for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The teaser, released last week, speeds past in a mere 88 seconds with short but chilling voice over and a few brief images from a galaxy, far, far away. Even so, the glimpse at the franchise’s rebirth has stirred up a storm of chatter and for those willing to dive in and all those hopping aboard the hype train, a year of shared excitement and conversation.


I love these types of shared cultural experiences. I remember intimately the first time that I saw Bungie’s teaser for Halo 3. I was in a packed room at PAX Prime. The teaser had already been shown at E3 earlier that year, but I don’t remember having heard about it until the moment that Martin O’Donnell’s amazing score started to play. The crowd instantly reacted as a chill passed through the room. Cortana speaks: ““I have defied gods and demons. I am your shield. I am your sword.” Even now the teaser gives me goosebumps. It recalls a shared excitement between fans, something similar to the ripple of excitement stirred up by Star Wars.


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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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