Most of Metro 2033 takes place underground in the dilapidated tunnels of Russia’s metro system. Normally this would be a poor setting for a game since metro tunnels are by necessity a repetitive environment. However, while many big budget games take great pains to send the player all over the world during their single player story—to the snow level, the desert level, or the jungle level—Metro 2033 proves that such grand gestures aren’t necessary. Repetitive scenery isn’t repetitive if handled correctly, and Metro 2033 handles it correctly: The tunnels may stay the same but what fills those tunnels is very different; by contrasting the overpopulated metro stations with the desolate tunnels, the game creates a world that feels both claustrophobic and frighteningly empty.
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Math Blaster counts as an educational game, right? So does Oregon Trail, and probably Foldit, that shockingly addictive protein folding game. These games foster a particular type of narrow learning, emphasizing isolated details and contexts. Some game developers, however, are working on creating civic learning games, an entirely different class of educational game, one that fosters civic involvement and ethical thinking. According to a conceptual framework put forward by Chad Raphael, Christine Bachen, Kathleen-M. Lynn, Jessica Baldwin-Philippi, and Kristen McKee, Bioware might be on the forefront of educational game designer. This is why—with well over two million sales in its opening week—Mass Effect 2 is one of the most successful educational games of all time.
I’m excited for the Tron: Legacy movie tomorrow, and in my fervor I convinced myself it was a good idea to go buy and play the Tron: Evolution game since it acts as a bridging story between the first and second movies. At the checkout counter in Best Buy, the young man at the register aksed me, “Cool, is this about riding around on motorcycles and shooting people?” He’d never seen the original Tron and knew nothing about it. I didn’t know where to begin, so I just left it at, “It’s more complicated than that . . .” and paid for my game. On my way to dinner with a friend later that night, I was telling the story and he (who’s my age) asked, “Where does Tron happen? In a computer or a bunch of them?” I had no idea. We talked through it some, combining our memories of the movie with my couple of hours spent with the new game. The end result was just another question. What the hell is Tron anyway?
Didn’t video games used to be about saving the world or at least a princess or something?
I ask this question as I consider the sorts of games that I have been playing lately. Sure, Fable III, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood all contain elements that concern a civilization on the brink of disaster and the player’s role in providing a solution to that threat to the world or region or city-state. However, I have been noticing a tendency on my part when playing these games (especially Fable III and Brotherhood) to get much more involved in the economics of these games and my own investment in them than in paying attention to the noble goal (the common good) of the main plot.
Note: this article deals specifically with elements of Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer that involve torture and sexual assault. It may be troubling for some readers.
Today marks my third and final article on Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, the controversial independent game released earlier this year by psychotherapist Nicolau Chaud. I tend not to spend more than a couple weeks devoted to any one subject, but the swirling back-and-forth discussion surrounding the game in recent weeks has been exciting, thoughtful, and highly rewarding if you wish to read more about it. The designer himself has compiled a roundup of his favorite reviews, interviews and in-depth articles over at the game’s main site, which I would recommend.
In the course of writing about the game, I’ve refrained from lingering too much on my personal feelings regarding it—with the exception of remarks that I’ve made about the quality of the writing, but I attribute that not so much to the gamer side of my personality as it is that parasitic twin in the back of my mind who never got to be an English major. As a calculated metatextual counterpoint, it’s become quite effective. No one could argue that. But interpersonally, when friends and colleagues ask me about the game, my final line of the game comes down to something like this: “Don’t play it. Really. It’s not worth your time. I wish I’d never played it.”