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

 
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Friday, Aug 13, 2010
Max Payne accomplished something unique with its mood and narration, creating a journey into the unraveling psyche of one man pushed to a ragged edge.

On last week’s Moving Pixels podcast, I talked about why I liked Max Payne better than its sequel, despite the fact that Max Payne 2 is a clearly better game, and I’d like to flesh out that reasoning a little more. I think the first game accomplished something truly unique with its mood and narration, something that no other game has come close to replicating. While many may remember it as the game to popularize “bullet time”, I’ll always remember it as a journey into the mind of one man.


At one point fairly early in the game, Max says, “There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is cliché when it’s happening to you.” This seemingly throwaway line explains why the mood of Max Payne is so unique. The game revolves around Max’s own personal apocalypse, the end of his world. Everything reinforces this one intimate idea: the environment, the dialogue, the forced metaphors, the meta humor, the mythical references, and even the medium itself.


Tagged as: max payne
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Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010
What is interesting about the way that Chun-Li has been eroticized is that her thighs violate typical beauty standards.

I like Chun Li.  However, I am hard pressed to initially tell you why.  Certainly, I know next to nothing about her as a character.  After all, she is a part of a fighting game, not a genre known for its excessive interest in plot and character development.  While I have beaten Street Fighter II as Chun-Li numerous times, I don’t remember what her ending was all about (then again, I can’t recall any of the endings of the various characters in the Street Fighter series).  Mostly, all I know about her is what she looks like.


Chun-Li is an attractive enough character in my estimation.  However, I wouldn’t say that I have the hots for her, though I know that there is a fan base that clearly does, especially (it would seem) because of a particular physical trait of hers (but more on that in a moment).  However, if you asked me to name the more iconic female characters in video game history, I would likely include Chun-Li amongst characters that I tend to know something more about because they have been given at least slightly more personality than a fighting game character, women like Lara Croft, Samus Aran, Zelda, and even Princess Peach.


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Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010
“In the final analysis, a critique of performance practices must ask: Who gets to play?"

One of the reasons that Johan Huzinga’s book Homo Ludens has such an important place in gaming culture is that it writes a blank check for game studies. If the play element can potentially be found in any part of culture, then any part of culture can be discussed from a gaming perspective. Mary Flanagan’s book Critical Play is an examination of that concept from the perspective of social activism. Often involving artists and poets, it outlines the play element of several cultural movements and how they used games to raise awareness and accelerate social change. Like many games today, a lot of the games that Flanagan discusses are difficult to understand unless you’re playing them. I picked out examples that I thought I could communicate effectively, but it is a massive topic that can’t be fully accommodated on a blog. So, bear with me here.


Flanagan proposes several overarching guidelines for critical play and how it works. 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). A basic example of this process occurring naturally is playing with dolls. Often used to enforce gender roles and stereotypes, many young girls today and in the early days of the doll industry would use dolls to subvert social roles. Violent fantasies, macabre funerals, and other forms of changing the way play worked with dolls provides a striking example of critical play in its natural form. Flanagan writes, “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 9, 2010
The Moving Pixels crew gets lost in the shadows and ambiguities of Limbo's haunting, little world.

Well, if you have been following the Multimedia section of the site for the past few weeks (and if you haven’t there are links below), you know that quite a few of our regular contributors have had a lot to say about Playdead’s Limbo (and we aren’t alone on the Internet).  Having had our chance to have our say individually, the Moving Pixels podcast crew decided to hash out our thinking about the game collectively.


The resulting discussion considers the significance of the game from an artistic perspective, what we feel it gets right and gets wrong, and generally gets lost in the shadows and ambiguities of the game’s haunting, little world.


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Friday, Aug 6, 2010
Limbo is a nightmare. A dark, ethereal, and dangerous world filled with giant spiders, malicious kids, screaming machinery, and by the end, you’re no closer to understanding any of it than when you began.

I love horror games, but too many of them mistake cheap scares and gore for horror. True horror isn’t disgusting, it’s disturbing; it doesn’t make you jump, it makes you think. True horror is subtle, never showing all of its cards because the more that you don’t know, the more frightening it is. In this way, Limbo is the best horror game that I’ve played in a long time.


Limbo is a nightmare. Which is not to say that it’s hard, though some of the puzzles will strain your grey matter. You won’t jump out of your seat at regular intervals. Limbo is a nightmare because it’s disturbing in a way that’s difficult to understand. This is a dark, ethereal, and dangerous world, one filled with giant spiders, malicious older boys, and screaming machinery, and by the end, you’re no closer to understanding any of it than when you began. Limbo is filled with dream-like imagery that might be whimsical in any other context (rotating worlds, levers for rain), but here such images make Limbo feel like a waking nightmare.


Tagged as: limbo
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