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by Scott Juster

25 Aug 2011


Discussions about video games are routinely constrained by “spoilers.”  People go to great lengths to tiptoe around major (usually plot-related) components of games for fear they will negatively impact those yet to play them.  A couple weeks ago, a study conducted by Jonathan Leavitt and Nicholas Christenfeld of UC San Diego was published that suggested this focus on avoiding spoilers may be unnecessary and “giving away surprises makes readers like stories better” (“Story Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories”, Psychological Science, 12 August 2011, p. 2).

In the spirit of the research, I guess I should say this up front: while the study is entertaining and provocative, I think its contention that “Story Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories” is premature.  If anything, the study illustrates the difficulties of trying to empirically measure enjoyment and the dangers of imprecise definitions of pleasure.  Video games, perhaps more so than any other medium, are defined by the exploration, discovery, and the learning process.  Because of this, spoilers often detract from what makes video games special.

by G. Christopher Williams

24 Aug 2011


Okay, so we all know that that the list of launch titles for the Nintendo 3DS failed to provide the most compelling reason to make an early purchase of Nintendo’s most recent handheld. We also know that really no Nintendo hardware should ever be launched without at least one such title (that isn’t a port of an older game) that contains the word “Mario” in that title (or at the very least, “Zelda”).

That being said, what I really don’t understand about the 3DS launch line up is its complete (or near complete) ignorance of the heart and soul of 3-D as a medium: action and salaciousness and, of course, salacious action.  Now, I come to the discussion of this most recent round of the “3-D revival” (a revival that seems to occur at least once a decade, since at least the 1950s) as a skeptic. “They” tell me that this time is different, 3-D is here to stay in general (in the movies, on television, in video games) and this time it will not be a mere novelty. The tech is better, and, thus, it will integrate with various visual media and become a normative part of those media.

Sure.

by Kris Ligman

22 Aug 2011


A new puzzle game from the Atlus Persona Team, Catherine blends surprisingly difficult puzzle platforming with a strong narrative on masculine anxieties and adult relationships. Most interestingly of all, the game asks players to voice their own opinions on love, marriage, and children, but does it really demand a truthful answer?

Moving Pixels podcast regulars G. Christopher Williams and Kris Ligman are joined this week by Skyler Moss from Gamepad Dojo to discuss the game’s mechanics, characterization and gender representation. Disagreements over interpretation abound as we explore Catherine‘s morality system, multiple endings, and structural cohesion in attempting to marry gameplay to a very dissimilar plot—or is marriage even the appropriate metaphor to deploy here?

Secrets are revealed, plot twists are spoiled, and the titular Catherine receives a thorough deconstruction, along with several others of the game’s colorful cast. Can Skyler decide whether to agree with Chris or Kris and escape the podcast unharmed? When the night sky turns to glamor, anything could happen.

by Nick Dinicola

19 Aug 2011


Pixel hunting is considered the bane of adventure gaming. An object you need is only a few pixels in size and it’s hidden within the scenery, so you’re forced to point the mouse cursor at every object onscreen in order to see what you can interact with and what’s just part of the background. It’s the epitome of frustrating, unintuitive, trial-and-error gameplay, a cheap and artificial way of stretching out a game’s length. It’s a system so universally hated that even updates of old adventure titles find ways around pixel hunting: The downloadable special edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge includes a button that highlights all interactive objects on the screen, so players can quickly see what’s interactive and what’s not. There’s no need to hunt anything.

But is pixel hunting really that bad? Or is just poorly implemented in most cases? L.A. Noire argues for the latter point by including its own form of pixel hunting, one that fits so naturally within its world that the hunt becomes an integral part of the game and one of its major selling points.

by Jorge Albor

18 Aug 2011


While playing Catherine the much anticipated erotic-thriller from Atlus, the occasional loading screen will feature a famous quote or saying appropriate to the game’s themes. Most of these quotes pertain to marriage, what it means to be a “man” or a “woman,” or relationships in general. During a particularly trying period for Vincent, the game’s often pathetic protagonist, words by the famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson grace the screen: “We walk alone in the world. Friends, such as we desire, are dreams and fables.” Such an isolating belief, reflected in Vincent’s paranoia and solitude, stand in stark contrast to the game’s persistent references to widespread and shared decisions and mistakes. From the depiction of cursed men as sheep to revealing confessional statistics, Catherine attempts to dismantle individuality, insulting and devaluing the player in the process.

No matter how many minor decisions that I make throughout the game, Vincent will always be a selfish and incompetent boyfriend. I usher Vincent through poorly crafted lies and watch as he tunes out Katherine, his partner of roughly five years (Vincent cannot quite remember how long it has been), to manage one of his many panic attacks about a future he refuses to confront. Rather than deal with his emotional baggage, he drinks with friends and avoids dealing with the growing dilemma that is the coquettish Catherine and his cheating problem.

Numerous other men share Vincent’s deep character flaws. As Michael Abbott rightly points out, “Vincent is one messed up dude, as are nearly all the men present as NPCs. To Catherine’s credit, it shows us male characters that we seldom see in games—vulnerable, damaged, self-loathing—all gathered in a freakish final-exam-nightmare purgatory.” (”The Catherine Masquerade”, The Brainy Gamer, 9 August 2011). Indeed, nearly every NPC wrestles with the causes and consequences of his personal neuroses. Across the board, the cast of Catherine are painfully flawed.

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