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

 
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Monday, Jul 12, 2010
Arriving in 2001 with stylish bullet time gunplay and an attitude boiled harder than any novel by Dashiell Hammett, Max Payne remains a significant influence on this decade's games. We consider why and whether it holds up nearly a decade after its release.

Turn around, walk away, blow town. That would have been the smart thing to do. Guess I wasn’t that smart.
—Max Payne


I guess the Moving Pixels crew isn’t that smart either. Rather than bask in the warmth of the summer sun, our podcast crew revisits the darkened, snowed-in streets of Noir York City with a discussion of Max Payne.


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Friday, Jul 9, 2010
Leigh Alexander wonders, "Who cheers for war?" As someone who enjoys shooters, I do, but even I recognize the disturbing fact that no matter how gritty, violent, dirty, bloody, or realistic a war game gets if I can respawn it’ll be pure fun.

Recently Leigh Alexander wrote an article for Kotaku questioning the popularity of war games. She asks, “why is our most common gameplay choice the pursuit of war?” but then confesses, “I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience” (“Who Cheers For War?”, Kotaku, 30 June 2010) As someone who enjoys shooters, perhaps I’m in a position to answer her question, though I can only speak for myself. It’s not something that I’ve ever specifically thought about, but I now ask myself—why do I love shooters?


It should be noted that between bouts of Bad Company 2 that I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII and loving it as well. I bought enough point and click adventure games during the recent Steam sale to last me well into next year. I also love the strategy of Risk: Factions, the arcade racing of any Burnout, and the platforming of Prince of Persia. With that said, does my love of shooters stem from some innate tendency towards violence, “maladapted people seeking maladaptive coping” as Leigh puts it, or is my love of the genre just an extension of my greater love of gaming in general?


Tagged as: modern warfare 2
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Wednesday, Jul 7, 2010
The victims of the house in 5 Days a Stranger are both the game’s protagonist, Trilby, and the player himself.

This discussion contains spoilers for 5 Days a Stranger.


Possession would seem an apt metaphor for gaming given the relationship between the player and the protagonist of a game.  I often use the phrase “inhabiting the main character” to imply something like this idea and to distinguish between the way that games differ from other narratives in the way that they relate their audience to the characters in more traditional stories.  The player takes control of the character, imposing his will on that character and ostensibly on the story to be told because the player will seemingly now be complicit in shaping the world.  A little possession goes a long way in a video game world.


Revisiting the award winning, indie adventure game, 5 Days a Stanger, is initially interesting in this regard, the central plotline of the game focuses on possession.  In this case, the classic mystery chestnut of an isolated space occupied by a few characters that keep getting knocked off one by one is complicated when possession becomes the instrument of the murderer, a ghost haunting the house.


The title of the game implies this possession.  The game’s protagonist, Trilby, does spend “5 days as a stranger”, since he is “not entirely himself”.  Thinking about this from the perspective of the player-character in video games is similarly suggestive.  Video game protagonists, like Trilby, are never entirely themselves, as they are always “possessed” by the player.


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Tuesday, Jul 6, 2010
You can describe the characteristics of play and you can define qualities of something that is not play, but it’s always going to be a loose concept.

Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture traces the method by which various cultures develop the notion of play and how play can be seen in almost every facet of civilization. War, religion, politics, sports, and even the arts contain elements of play that drive their production. He is convincing enough in this argument that when he gets to the point where he must establish when something ceases to be play, the answer is more about faith than fact.


There are a variety of scientific and anthropological explanations for play. A child at play is imitating adults, and the reason we engage in sport is to release excess energy. Huizinga points out that the common characteristic of anyone explaining play is that “play must serve something which is not play” (2). Play is an element that merges with something else. Linguistically the word “play” varies drastically from culture to culture. In ancient German, the word for play is an abstract concept that could reference a drinking competition or deciding how to kill someone. In English, i more clearly indicates the exclusion of “seriousness”. In other cultures, the word can be a reference for sexual conduct or a way of expressing laziness (40). Huizinga writes, “All peoples play, and play remarkably alike; but their languages differ widely in their conception of play, conceiving it neither as distinctly nor as broadly as modern European languages do” (28).


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Friday, Jul 2, 2010
My version of a story is bound to be different, but as co-author of my experience, it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.

This post contains spoilers for multiple games.


Red Dead Redemption feels like it has multiple endings, three to be exact, but only after the third one do the credits finally roll. That’s when you’ve reached the end of John Marston’s story, but your story can continue for as long as you want it to. Games have always been fickle with their endings like this, offering multiple endings, secret endings, joke endings, and more, and through all of them there’s a constant disconnect between the developer’s desired ending and the player’s desired ending.


Fallout 3 is a now classic example of this disconnect. The game was released with a fixed ending that forced people to stop playing. There was a backlash against this sudden conclusion to the player’s story, and eventually the ending was changed through DLC to let us keep playing beyond the developer’s intended end. A recent patch for Portal shows this same conflict from a different angle. The original ending was satisfying and critically well regarded, but the patch changed it to set up the sequel. In both instances, the original ending was changed, one at the request of gamers and the other by the developer themselves, but in both cases, it’s worth noting how the change was met with praise. No one seemed bothered by the fact that the original vision for the story was altered, but this makes sense considering that original vision is still just one version of the story. My version of the story is bound to be different, and it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.


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