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by Kris Ligman

13 Sep 2011

I recently loaned my copy of Catherine to a friend, who has kept me aprised of her progress through text messages. This week she texted to vent that the puzzles were sometimes so difficult that they were driving her insane.

“Switch to a lower difficulty!” I suggested.

In my mind, there was no shame involved in this, as a lot of very accomplished adult gamers had also played on Easy mode, and it was basically the acknowledgement of the game’s designers that they had made the thing too hard. And while I had managed to beat the game twice on Normal, it didn’t mean I expected anyone else to.

But my friend wasn’t having it. She described lowering the difficulty as “giving in.”

by G. Christopher Williams

12 Sep 2011

This week regular podcast contributors G. Christopher Williams and Nick Dinicola are joined by veteran podcaster Scott Juster of for a discussion of auteur theory and how it may or not apply to a discussion of video game development.

Playing fast and loose with the concept of the auteur, we consider both some aesthetic concerns, issues of intentionality in communicating such a “signature” of self in a game, and how marketing and commerce might be affected by the way that game developers present themselves to the public.

by Nick Dinicola

9 Sep 2011

In the last level of From Dust you get more powers than you’d ever thought possible given the strict limitations the rest of the game places on your godhood. You can create land, water, volcanoes, plants, tsunamis, and take them all away. It feels like you’ve finally come into your own. But then some disaster strikes, everything begins to sink, and you have to rush your villagers to the magical exit. Once through to safety, you find yourself back at the beginning, literally. You’re back at the first level with all your new powers stripped away.

It’s an interesting moment, if only because it’s so oddly rare in games: finding yourself back at the start. Many games are meant to be replayed, dangling the carrot of a “new game+” to entice us, but few acknowledge this repetition in their stories, even when it would make perfect sense.

by Scott Juster

8 Sep 2011

For the video game community, summer is the season of reflection.  Players are still working through the dense stack of games released during the winter and spring, developers are toiling away on next fall’s big titles, and critics are trying to make sense of the medium as a whole.  Things slow down a little bit, which gives folks time to think about the bigger artistic and philosophical questions facing video games.

One can only stare into the endless abyss of competing philosophies for so long before becoming unhinged.  Thankfully, the changing seasons save us from consuming ourselves.  Mother nature announces the end of summer by turning the leaves gold and brown.  The video game industry does something similar by releasing the annual Madden installment.  Conversations about theory will soon give way to conversations about specific games: Will Gears of War 3 make us cry?  What will Journey teach us about companionship?  Is Apple eating Sony and Nintendo’s lunch?  New grist is added to the mill and converted into fuel for next summer’s existential evaluation.

Grappling with intractable questions of art and meaning is valuable, but exhausting.  Those that do it publicly expose themselves to potentially embarrassing corrections (just ask Roger Ebert).  As a rule, my wariness and caution tend to stop me from writing to much about The Nature of Art With a Capital “A,” but this week I’ll make an exception.  For those wishing to stay topside, here’s the simple version of my argument: notions of what constitute art have changed throughout history.  Because of this, asking whether art will change to accommodate video games is just as valid as asking whether video games can be art.  We would do well to remember that artistic strata are ultimately human constructions and are therefore malleable.

To those of you still with me: let’s talk about Shakespeare.

by G. Christopher Williams

7 Sep 2011

I’m pretty sure that I am on record (in one of the early episodes of the Moving Pixels podcast) as having said something along the lines of the idea that I believe that any discussions of video games being art really emerged alongside the evolution of more sophisticated storytelling in games.  In other words, no one was really talking about games being art as they were playing Combat on their Atari 2600 or as they were gobbling up ghosts in the arcade.  However, once games like Portal and Bioshock arrived the discussion began in earnest.

That being said, I have heard an insistence from a number of video game critics that it is only games with narratives that can be discussed as being art or as being artful.  After all, stories convey messages about the nature of the human condition or speak to relevant social issues and the like.  Tetris doesn’t say a whole lot about anything, right?

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