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Thursday, Jun 17, 2010
The fake killing is old hat. The helping fake people sell fake medicine to other fake people, for whatever reason, that really got to me.

As I mentioned last week, I’m devoting myself to compiling a catalog of moving experiences from video games in aid of adding a few of my own bricks to the mountain-sized edifice of evidence for the obvious fact that video games can be art. After that post, my friend Ben Mack sent me this: “Stephen Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You has great quantitative data to suggest video games as Hegelian art objects, ‘An art object is anything that is a catalyst to an altered state of consciousness from which one never fully returns.’” That’s pretty damn good, and plus it references Hegel, so clearly we’re on solid philosophical ground here. It very much applies to the game that I’ve been playing most of late, Red Dead Redemption.


Next week I’ll talk about the ending of the game, which I view as a clear artistic triumph, but I want to give everyone more time to finish it. Additionally, we talk about it at length over the next two Moving Pixels Podcast episodes. However, Red Dead isn’t a perfect game by any means, even setting aside the bugs and occasional open world weirdness. The narrative is far from tight and focused, and the story is meandering and occasionally self-indulgent to the point where I know that some players were turned off by it. But even in the places where the game takes false steps, it still creates multiple moving moments that very much fit into the above definition.


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Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010
You can’t just tell a player to care about someone because they’re your friend or it will save the world. Spoilers abound.

Of all the things that Indigo Prophecy represents in its contribution to video games, consistency is not one of them. A bold and clever experiment at times, the game’s heavily authored narrative fails to sustain its coherence after one plot twist and bizarre character interaction too many. Yet there are still a lot of interesting moments in the game worth focusing on, including the moment where the game becomes a train wreck.


The game design is basically a subjective adventure game interface with random mini-games. The chief limitation to your actions is what the designer will allow you to do or touch, there is no real agency outside of this conceptual space. Discovering what you can interact with means walking around the room until the options light up. What’s interesting is the game’s willingness to let these normally limited interactions include the mundane. For each character, you can walk around their apartment, fix a drink, play guitar, watch TV, or a variety of other tasks. The fridge and cabinets are all operable along with the bathroom. Iroquis Pliskin points out that these moments, “succeed in communicating this idea that your protagonist is a regular human being who’s trying to cope with the bizarre events that just transpired. It’s the most successful sequence in the entire game” (“In Praise of the Mundane”, Versus Clu Clu Land, 12 February 2009).


Tagged as: indigo prophecy
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Monday, Jun 14, 2010
We consider how Bethesda merges a retro American ideal with their post-apocalyptic vision of an America "after the bomb" in Fallout 3.

This week the Moving Pixels podcast explores the American Nightmare that is the Capital Wasteland.  We consider how Bethesda merges a retro American ideal with their post-apocalyptic vision of an America “after the bomb” in Fallout 3.


From the birth of the player character into this American wilderness to the role of the first person perspective in seeing this new world, our regular podcast contributors analyze the quirks and curiosities of this kind of game world.


Tagged as: bethesda, fallout 3
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Friday, Jun 11, 2010
New Austin is not an open world, not in the purest sense of the word, not at first.

Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3 will always be connected in my mind. I started playing the Western after discussing the Wasteland on the upcoming episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast, so I had Fallout on my mind during my initial exploration of New Austin, and the introduction to these two worlds couldn’t be more different.


At the beginning of Fallout 3, the entire expanse of the Capital Wasteland is open to us. We can literally go anywhere and there will be something to see and do. There are locations to discover, each with their own unique history. Abandoned buildings aren’t just cookie cutter copies of each other. There are quests to discover, hidden in the far corners of the world. I met multiple characters that friends of mine didn’t even know existed. There are items to discover, ranging from the practical (guns, audio journals, computer terminals, schematics) to the pointless (teddy bears, pots, boxes of irradiated food) and being able to pick up every object that we see gives us a powerful sense of interaction with the world. All of this is true from the moment that we leave Vault 101.


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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
Video games as an art can be almost uniquely frustrating.

Lots of people are tired of the “are video games art?” debate, and I get that. Because in the real world, very few people care whether or not something is art. My assumption is then that, if you’re one of the few who actually asks or offers an answer to the question, then you should be interested in what other people are saying. One of the nice things about being a contrarian of sorts, as I am, is that you’re never much surprised when people that you admire say things that are clearly wrong. So Roger Ebert and PZ Myers have both not only stated that games aren’t art, they’ve argued those positions with more than a little stubbornness. I like what Ebert has to say about movies and what Myers has to say about biology and atheism, but they’re both just wrong here.


What’s missing from most of these debates is a firm definition of what art actually is, and I think the “anti-games as art” folks try not to be pinned down here because it’s impossible to pen a definition of art that games wouldn’t fit comfortably within. They tend then to go with the porn-like definition of: I know it when I see it. I’ll argue using any definition anyone chooses, but for now, I’m going with my own: “a creative expression designed to provoke an emotional or intellectual reaction from the audience.” Obviously all the heavy work in my definition is being done by the words “creative expression” and “reaction,” which are open to many interpretations. I include within the spectrum of creative creations: music, painting, illustration, prose, poetry, drama (staged or filmed), dance, sculpture, architecture, games (video and otherwise), and, well, I know I’m forgetting some things.


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