Branching stories are popular in games, but they sometimes don’t make a lot of sense when the game is taken as a whole. Different endings and different outcomes of a choice reflect different themes, but even if each plot thread is meant to stand on its own, they don’t. By virtue of being in the same game, one plot thread affects our perception and interpretation of the other, and sometimes this can make for inconsistent characters and themes.
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What better way to discuss some of the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of death and dying than in a medium rife with demise? Our digital playground is strewn with corpses of both enemies and allies and filled with the memories of our own demise. Even the idea of spiritual transcendence is crudely mirrored by our avatars’ tendencies to revive and carry-on after any casualty. In games, death is commonplace and frequently trivial, and, thus, gaming provides a safe place to dissect some of our beliefs and assumptions about mortality. In real life, managing one’s feelings on such sensitive subjects can be quite difficult, particularly for young-adults. Channel 4 Education, the learning arm of the UK television broadcaster, and Preloaded, a London-based game studio, seek to help teens confront their own feelings about mortality with The End, a puzzle-platformer that normalizes death and creates a venue for discussing life, belief systems, and our eventual passing.
Since venturing into educational media, Channel 4 has shown no hesitation in broaching sensitive and risque subjects, from sex and drugs to the threat of a surveillance society, as they relate to youth. Death is both a biological and a deeply sociocultural phenomenon. The process of dying has long since left the home for the hospital, and as a result, our cultural attitudes towards death have altered drastically. For many, the subject remains taboo, something to be hidden away lest we give it strength. Although some cultural norms arise, belief systems and perceptions about death vary widely. Preloaded describes their interest in the subject as follows: “One debate we were particularly interested in was the approach to death, belief and science. Many children and teens in the UK have a secular upbringing, which can leave them feeling unsupported when trying to make sense of death outside of a religious viewpoint.”
Coco Chanel is often attributed with the phrase “before you leave the house, take one thing off.” I’ve always felt that this was a sensible idea in fashion, and as someone who writes about various arts: literature, film, video games, etc,, and as someone who practices the art of writing, it also seems a sensible approach to revision and editing in most instances (though it is a tough one to master, as this overly long sentence testifies to). It is, of course, easy enough when you are creating something to get carried away in attempting to add more, more, more and lose a sense that simplicity is sometimes best.
This phrase has come back to me a lot over the week or so that I have spent playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game that (while I admittedly admire an awful lot) I think might do well to listen to Coco.
This week G. Christopher Williams and Nick Dinicola form a dynamic duo of flash game playin’, flash game analyzin’, and flash game discussin’ excitement.
We take a look at three of 2011’s more interesting releases, Jonas Kyratzes’s Alphaland, Thomas Brush’s Skinny, and Sarah Northway’s Rebuild. Two of the titles are platformers and one is a turn-based strategy game, and they feature anxious video game worlds in progress, scary mommy AIs, and, of course, the hungry zombie hordes.
Last week, G. Christopher Williams wrote an article explaining that games may not be art because the interactivity of games mutates the relationship between audience and work. The essay speaks better for itself than I ever could but an interesting point that came up was that those arguing games are “just games” should not be so readily dismissed.
Here at Popmatters we spend a lot of time talking about how games can be considered art or at least the artistic merits of some noteworthy games. However, for all the articles discussing how the relationship between player and game works or how a title uses a certain trope, there are few essays about “just games.” If there’s a modern instance of “just a game,” it’s League of Legends.