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by Eric Swain

24 Mar 2015


Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.

Here’s three of them.

by Nick Dinicola

20 Mar 2015


There’s an episode of South Park in which one of the boys, Stan, starts an anti-bullying campaign. He needs a face for his commercial, so he starts to pressure another one of his friends to be in it. The joke is, of course, that he becomes a bully himself, highlighted by his appropriately inappropriate anti-bullying slogan: “Let’s make bullying kill itself!”

I had that song stuck in my head (oh yea, it was a musical number) as I played through the first few chapters of The Cat Lady, a point-and-click horror game by Harvester Games. In it, a suicidal loner named Susan Ashworth is forced back to life by a supernatural being in order to bring righteous justice to five “parasites,” i.e. serial killers. I knew nothing of the game going in, but I saw the entire arc of the game in those opening moments. Susan would see people die, kill others, and through her close encounters with death she would come to see the value of her own life. It’s a plan to cure depression through violence, not unlike Stan’s approach to bullying.

by Scott Juster

19 Mar 2015


Thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences, I’m revisiting several of my favorite games. It’s been enjoyable because replaying story-driven games is something I don’t do very often. It’s partly because life is just plain busy, but there’s also some faulty logic at play. It’s easy for me to think of a story-driven game as a static experience.

While the structured plot points might be the same in such games, though, the way that you get to them is always slightly unique (just watch two different people play the same Halo level). Even in the most linear game, there are new things to notice about the art or the music. For me, it’s not only about catching the things I missed but also about re-experiencing games in the wake of other experiences. I’ve played Journey and Earthbound before, but each time that I do, my mindset and my interpretations of these games are different.

by G. Christopher Williams

18 Mar 2015


White Night is not the only horror game of recent years to use light and darkness as inspiration for its game mechanics. Both Shadows of the Damned (an action-horror game with more emphasis on the action portion of the equation) and Alan Wake (also probably more of an action-horror game, though probably with more emphasis on provoking scares than on pure combat) used light and darkness to drive their combat mechanics.

Since both games concern confronting supernatural horrors, it seems reasonable to associate darkness, and the terror that it presents by making things unknowable and obscure, with evil, and light, with its ability to make knowable and to clarify, as a means to combat evil. In both instances, darkness within the environment signals a lack of safety and security in the world, and darkness is also intrinsic to the nature of the enemies in the game—along with the need to purge that darkness with some form of light before making those enemies vulnerable to mundane weapons. In other words, light needs to make the dark things into something that can be combated with things we know and understand, firearms and ammunition.

by Eric Swain

17 Mar 2015


If you take a step back from the insular culture of video games, the collective construct of what video games are supposed to looks like is actually rather strange. Maybe not so much strange in and of themselves, but strange in how narrow the mental construct conjured at the mention of video games is. Not just ontologically, but historically as well.

I could bring up how we are living in an era where the boundaries of what a video game can be about and how it can function are changing to a much broader spectrum of ideas and design implementation. Instead, I’m going to bring up how it’s not so much a broadening, phrased like this is a new thing, but rather as a return to the freedom of the “anything goes” model of the early life of video games as a medium. The narrow idea of shooting, jumping, and other types of action based conflict being the main harbinger of the medium’s identity is a relatively new phenomenon. With that in mind, here are some games that are definitely outside that scope.

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