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

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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
In A Dark Room, the player begins with a sense only of the immediacy of the self and its own needs, before becoming aware of a small corner of the world around that self, before then becoming aware of how that corner fits into a larger and larger universe.

This post contains spoilers for A Dark Room.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and while still a young boy, the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, writes on the flyleaf of his geography book:

Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
County Kildare
The World
The Universe
(James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dover, pg. 7-8)

As an exmple of a bildungsroman, a novel about human development, maturation, and growing up, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man uses this moment to emphasize Stephen’s burgeoning awareness of himself and his relationship to and awareness of the world around that self. Indeed, all human deveopment is marked by this exponentially growing sense of the self in relationship to a larger world. We all begin life with a sense only of the immediacy of the self and its own needs, before becoming aware of a small corner of the world around ourselves, before then becoming aware of how that corner fits into a larger and larger universe.

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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014
By regularly releasing new characters, MOBAs like League of Legends reshape expectations about how a character class must look and play.

I respect subtle design. In general, videogames are not subtle in storytelling—which often enough works for them—but I appreciate the visual and sound work that goes into communicating a game’s systems and themes. For instance, if you were to look at the character design of a mage and a tank, it’s easy to tell which is which. Even those without much gaming experience can probably rely on cultural shorthands for “mage” (aged, slender person in robes) or “tank” (massively built person dressed in as much metal as an actual tank), provided they come from a culture with the background to make the association. This is important because many games require different strategic behavior to navigate as or against either a mage or a tank, and subtly indicating which is which without relying on direct communication is a tricky bit of design that (like most things that only work when they aren’t noticed_ often goes unappreciated. That said, once a pattern is made, it doesn’t take long before it gets stale.

It’s easy to fall into old habits. The support class rarely changes between RPGs or shooters, functionally or aesthetically. Again, most players know what a support does, and they know how they act just by looking. It’s a problem if they don’t. However, by regularly releasing new characters, MOBAs like League of Legends reshape expectations about how a class must look and play. There are just five roles split between two five member teams in a game of League of Legends and over a hundred characters to fill them. Naturally, with so many characters and plans to continue releasing them, characters blur lines and deviate from expectations in unique ways. Janna is a slim, elf-eared nudist with shielding and healing powers, but she’s equally viable as the AP carry, a team’s central source of magic damage. Meanwhile, Morgana, a witch shrouded in a dark purple aura and Annie, a prodigal pyromancer, have been popular support characters among professional teams. Even though their designs seem to imply certain roles for them, they’re able to cross barriers into different territories.

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Monday, Jul 7, 2014
This week our podcasters sail the Caribbean with Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Not since Sid Meier’s Pirates! has there been a pirate game as engrossing as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

This week we discuss the most recent Assassin’s Creed, its place in the history of the Assassin’s Creed series, and why sailing the Caribbean with Edward Kenway has reinvigorated our interest in this annual series.

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Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014
A Dark Room withholds the one piece of information that is traditionally the very first thing established in the rulebook of games: the object of the game.

A Dark Room, an iOS and browser based game developed by Doublespeak Games, is an amazing experience, and it is hard to immediately say why.

Beginning in a dark room that is cold, the player is given a single option to interact with the game by lighting a fire. I’m hesitant to say a great deal more about the game at this point, though, as I think a great deal of the experience of playing it has to do with with not knowing what you are getting into. So, if you haven’t played the game and don’t want to have anything spoiled for you, I would recommend that you stop reading right here and go try your hand at it yourself at one of the links above.

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Tuesday, Jul 1, 2014
Papers, Please is a game where actions do have consequences, but most of it relies on the emotional state and investment of the player.

Choices in video games are often given to us in a moment. The game slows down, highlighting that what is being presented to us right now is a choice. Most games effectively pause during these moments to give the player the chance to consider the scenario. Some, like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, up the pressure to choose by adding a timer. Still, though, the event is highlighted as a choice.

For choices to matter, they need consequences. But within the safe boundaries of a video game, creating a consequence by external means is an ineffective measure of making them matter, as the rewards in terms of the game itself often end up being considered more than the moral or narrative implications of the choice. Last week, I left off by asking if the player’s own emotional state should be the measure by which we understand a game’s consequences. Yet, such an attempt would have to be outside of those special moments. The player’s emotional state is a continuous thing that is affected by the moment to moment play of the game. One game that was mentioned in response to the original post, in what has now become a series, that has created a real sense of emotional consequence to the player’s action was Papers, Please.

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