In the first few hours of playing the DC Universe Online Beta, I’d KOed Dr. Fate. Yeah, Dr. Friggin’ Fate. To those less familiar with reading DC Comics, I promise this is more impressive than it sounds.
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Yes, 2010 was full of sequels and other extensions of franchises, but it also saw some unique properties, some oddball worlds, and a few indie offerings that rounded out mainstream publishers efforts to refine, rather than innovate this year. Refinement is probably the major theme of some of the games that my Moving Pixels cohorts and myself chose as some of our top picks for the year. Games like Mass Effect 2,Super Mario Galaxy 2, Dead Rising 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (or even Red Dead Redemption if one assumes that Rockstar’s foray into the Old West is a broadly defined refinement of their typical open worlds) were all follow ups that tweaked, added onto, and otherwise built upon the foundations of previous franchise installments.
However, experiment, some smatterings of the avant garde, strong narrative and characterization, and other general weirdness were also present in new intellectual properties like Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition, Enslaved, and Loved.
I’ve always tended towards the idea that Avatar is about the plight of a gamer. The protagonist Sully, caught between a live action world and an animated one, directly experiences a generational and cultural divide that bears far more on the nature of what deserves to be called real (or meaningful) than just simply what happens to be moral at the time. The fact that James Cameron himself refers to the digital system of creating Pandora as “like a video game” only seems to enhance this view—as does my favorite scene in the film, in which Sully reaches out to his surrogate father, the Colonel, explaining the rite of manhood ritual he is undergoing for the Na’Vi tribe. Sully is greeted with a look akin to a father hearing that his son is going on about that damn World of Warcraft again; instead of validation or approval, Sully’s told that the whole thing is just absurd—and worthless.
It’s quite clear that we adore our fictional loves (be they in movies or in games). Avatar, if it is about anything above and beyond Cameron’s environmentalism and noble savage cliches, is most definitely about this romance with the virtual. It’s really no accident that in Cinema 2: The Time-Image Gilles Deleuze defines the “virtual image” as being the nature of the cliche: something represented instead of directly perceived, something that bears on our preconceptions about others before our sense of objectivity about them.
The power of the virtual image is the reason for women like The Matrix‘s Trinity, Tron: Legacy‘s Quorra, Avatar‘s Neytiri, Scott Pilgrim‘s Ramona, and all the other latter 20th and early 21st century “video girls,” reaching through the screen to gratify an abstract (usually male) fantasy in an extension of the titular Video Girl Ai of the early 1990s. It is the reason that in updating the Tron franchise, Disney eliminated the only “real” woman of the canon—Lora—and emphasized Olivia Wilde’s walking, talking, fighting, persistently adorable, virtual girl Quorra instead. She is better than real, you see. The Japanese posters in particular seem to make her grin like a live-action anime girl. Offered just a peripheral glance and you might mistake her for a hidden Final Fantasy XIII character, and why not? Virtual, like sex, sells.
Certainly, it is time to usher in the new, but the Moving Pixels podcast crew decided to pause to reconsider gaming during the cusp of the last decade.
With that in mind, each of us are counting down our five favorite games of the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, and the PC gaming era.
Gaming and politics is not an unusual combination when you think about it. Many games deal with politics, just not real-life politics; politics as a general idea remains oddly popular. Just look at how many games this year revolve around the idea of a revolution:
In BioShock 2, Delta must save Rapture from Sofia Lamb’s perverted collectivism. In God of War 3, Kratos fights to overthrow the monarchy of the gods. In Final Fantasy XIII Lightning and her crew fight against their corrupt government, as does John Marston in Red Dead Redemption. In Fable 3, we’re tasked with violently usurping the throne from our brother, and in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Ezio must economically usurp Rome from the Pope.
But none of these plots play out as a meaningful discussion of modern politics. BioShock 2 at least touches upon some interesting political ideas, but even it stays as far away as it can from current events. These plots are really just narrative shortcuts used to make the hero an underdog because who doesn’t love an underdog? Players want to overcome great obstacles in games, and what obstacle is greater than a king, a president, a Pope, or a god?
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