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Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014
By taking the concept of choice and mapping it onto spatial relativity, The Stanley Parable has created an extended metaphor that comments on the whole concept of choice in video games.

When we think of choices in games, the image we usually imagine is a clearly marked out situation with two or more responses represented by buttons or by on-screen options in the UI. The player then makes a choice by pressing the corresponding button or clicking on the preferred option. These choices then dictate how the plot of the game’s story will unfold. Think of the Mass Effect series in this regard or how it is wonderfully parodied in the walk and talk opening of Saints Row IV. These are generally moments different from the game’s standard style of play and need to be represented by their own system, one that is essentially separate from the rest of the game. It is as if the the characters have been brought into a sort of fugue state outside the normal game space, and in most cases, outside of the passage of time.

The Stanley Parable belongs to that collection of games based on genre minimalism that I’ve been calling the first person walker. While the game does have one click interactions that can open doors (in some cases) or push buttons (to little or no effect), most of the game is spent walking around corridors. Unlike other examples of the genre it doesn’t seek to minimalize a genre, only a certain aspect of it, by turning what was once an outside consideration into a physical aspect of the play space. What were once represented by a button appearing on the user interface now is literally represented as branching paths.

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Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014
The "close-playing" brand of games criticism is a tough sell because it deals mostly with the abstract qualities of games. And that necessitate a subjective reading.

The inaugural issue of The Journal of Games Criticism featured an article by critic and author Brendan Keogh that argues for a more eclectic approach to games criticism, one based more on the feedback loop between the player and the text rather than on a strictly formal approach that attempts to create a “top-down model that attempts to understand all videogame play the same way” (“Across Worlds and Bodies”, The Journal of Games Criticism 1.1, January 2014). According to Keogh, criticism is strongest when it focuses on the shifting sands between player and game, and any model that attempts to understand games purely as isolated texts restricts the depth and variety of discourse about games.

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Monday, Feb 10, 2014
by Erik Kersting
I love Flappy Bird because it isn't easy. I hate Flappy Bird because it isn't easy.

I love Flappy Bird because it isn’t easy. I’m sick of casual games that don’t challenge the player in any feasible way. Flappy Bird, while easy to understand, is not easy and requires muscle memory, quick thinking, and skill in order to succeed. Even better, the difficult gameplay is not a detriment to people playing and enjoying the game. Often a casual gamer will fail and give up, Flappy Bird is fast paced enough that the player doesn’t get sick of failing but rather feels compelled to get better. The game’s difficulty isn’t based on luck, but rather any time that the player dies, it is their own fault and no one else’s.

I hate Flappy Bird because it isn’t easy. It seems all anyone talks about in relation to the game is its supposed “difficulty”. Some even compare it to Dark Souls, one of the harder games of the past generation. Dark Souls is a great game that most critics and gamers reduce to just “being really hard” but it has a fantastic plot, great controls, a great community, and amazing moments. Flappy Bird‘s “amazing moments” come when you top your previous high score. It shouldn’t be compared to Dark Souls just because the games are more difficult than most of today’s games. Flappy Bird may be difficult, but it is difficult in a way that leads to dull, boring, repetitious gameplay.

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Friday, Feb 7, 2014
Plague Inc. knows that we’ll willingly silence our conscience if we’re given the proper mechanics to do so.

I wrote last week that puzzles can be scary, whether they be mechanics-driven puzzles or narrative puzzles. Knock Knock is a game that fails because it approaches an effort to balance tone and mechanics from the wrong direction: It establishes a good, creepy mood, then asks you to puzzle around in it. This diminishes the horror in the game because the puzzle mechanics distance you from the gameplay, asking you to experience the game intellectually rather than emotionally (“Puzzles Aren’t Scary: Intellectualizing Fear in Knock-Knock, PopMatters, 31 January 2014).

The iOS game Plague Inc. takes the opposite approach and succeeds. It presents you with a puzzle to solve, encouraging you to view the game as analytically and unemotionally as possible and only when you win does it allow you time to sit back and absorb the horrifying implications of what victory really means.

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Thursday, Feb 6, 2014
Ever the villainous outsider, Wario may be the hero Nintendo needs.

Nintendo seems to be in a rough spot these days.  Sales of the Wii U are underwhelming, first-party games are slow to arrive, and the usual third-party exodus that has afflicted Nintendo consoles for the better part of two decades is in full swing.  Nintendo hardware is not nearly as powerful as their direct console competitors, and their online infrastructure and eShop approach is not nearly as agile and responsive as Steam or the mobile device app stores.

Judging by the company’s recent public comments, Nintendo seems to know something needs to change, but it’s still uncertain what that change will look like.  I’m still waiting on the company to solicit my opinion (I’m sure they’re just shy), so I’ll throw out an idea inspired by my recent trip through the Wii U’s backlog.  Game & Wario suggests that it would be helpful to embrace the anti-Mario.

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