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

 
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Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010
Kane and Lynch's nudity and wounding isn't funny. This newest Kane & Lynch game makes a genuine effort to embrace a form of realist aesthetic grounded on the idea that life ain't pretty.

This discussion does contain spoilers for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days


Advertisements for Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days currently begin with the declaration that “Real Ain’t Pretty”. This declaration is superimposed over an image of the titular characters looking a bit bruised and beaten and prior to a video featuring a glimpse of the ugly world that Kane and Lynch occupy in the game.


Having been playing the game for review, I can testify to the authenticity of this description of the game. This newest Kane & Lynch game makes a genuine effort to embrace a form of realist aesthetic grounded on the idea that life ain’t pretty. Thus, its representation of that kind of world needs to reflect that idea.


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Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010
The general traits of a video game parodying another video game are simplification of both content and design to show how inane the bare bones interaction of that game really is.

Video games have often been used to parody or satirize social conventions. Whether it’s something as simple as recreating a shoe being thrown at George Bush or a satirical representation of how to operate a Fast Food chain, these games use the power of interaction to make their commentary more tangible. People have been making up games and playing this way for centuries. An excellent book by Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, explores the history of this practice and outlines several criteria for assessing games that are critically engaging an aspect of society. She writes, “Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life . . . Criticality in play can be fostered in order to question an aspect of a game’s “content,” or an aspect of a play scenario’s function that might otherwise be considered a given or necessary” (6).


Something like the McDonald’s Game (cited above) is a good example of both content criticism and a questionable system. It takes a business sim and uses that system to outline the corruption of a corporation. The only way to “win” the game is to be corrupt, and all of the content uses modern examples and recognizable parodies to do so. That’s a unique example though, most games are either criticizing the content placed in their system or criticizing the system itself by inducing absurd behavior. Flanagan goes on to explain critical play through one of the original forms of critical play via doll houses, “The enactment of critical play exhibits at least three kinds of action: unplaying, re-dressing or reskinning, and rewriting” (32). “Unplaying” is acting out forbidden scenes with the doll. “Re-dressing” is changing the doll’s appearance or items for darker play, like making funeral items and caskets. “Rewriting” is fan fiction and the proliferation of people writing stories about the doll funerals.


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Monday, Aug 23, 2010
Our regular contributors discuss varying kinds of co-op style play from the living room to the arcade to multiplayer online and the kinds of dynamics that these experiences create among players.

Like last week, the Moving Pixels podcast crew is focusing on a broader topic in gaming for the week, co-operative gameplay. 


Our regular contributors, G. Christopher Williams, Nick Dinicola, and Thomas Cross, discuss varying kinds of co-op style play from the living room to the arcade to multiplayer online and the kinds of dynamics that these experiences create among players.


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Friday, Aug 20, 2010
No matter how bad a game is, if you can beat it without throwing your controller out a window in anger, then it’s not as bad as it could be.

Lately I’ve been playing a few mediocre games. While they have control issues and bad checkpointing and other flaws, these poor design choices aren’t unbearable in and of themselves. They hamper the experience but don’t destroy it. Rather, it’s when these poor design choices interfere with my progress through the game that it becomes so frustrating that I want to quit.


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Thursday, Aug 19, 2010
There is no way for a player to disavow their agency in the torture scene featured in Hideo Kojima's original Metal Gear Solid.

Last year’s ultraviolent action flick Gamer (2009) is many things, most of them not well-executed, but a few of them are at least interesting to talk about. This is not, however, a review of the film. Instead, it’s a launching point to discuss an idea which lingers in a tiny, oft forgotten corner of the player’s brain: that anxiety that what we are doing to characters on a screen is more than unfair, it’s tantamount to torture.


On a larger scale, Gamer is the latest in a series of films challenging the empathetic disconnect between audience and spectacle. In each of these movies (Running Man, Network, The Truman Show, to name a few), we’re assumedly taught to appreciate that there is a real person on the other side of the screen and that our cynical appetite for entertainment becomes tantamount to sadism the moment that we cease to recognize the characters’ personhood. That’s the idea anyway. Gamer‘s dissonance within this trope of films occurs because the scenario that it proposes is more ludicrous than even the most outlandish of these reality show movie premises: game avatars are not real. They won’t be real. There is no practical, logistical way that games like the ones featured in this film will ever exist. Gamer‘s central idea is so absurd that the prototypical moral message of this subtrope of films is not only absent, it left the building before you even got there.


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