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by Jorge Albor

19 Jan 2012


The strategy game genre has long featured elements that mirror or model colonization, including many of its inhuman components. The Civilization franchise, for example, explores the process of colonization as players settle foreign lands, occupying territory forcibly from “barbarous” natives. Up until Civilization V, the series also included slavery. Perhaps Firaxis removed human bondage from the series to avoid discussing such a sensitive issue distastefully. Sid Meier’s Colonization does the same, which Trevor Owens of Play The Past rightly criticizes: “If someone wants to play a game where they replay the colonization of the Americas shouldn’t they have to think about the history of slavery as well?” (“Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?”, Play The Past, 23 November 2010). Should we shy away from potentially intriguing and evocative historical systems?

Owens makes a compelling argument that Colonization should actually be more offensive. While I agree, this article is not about Colonization. Yet it is about slavery and what a particular game, a board game in fact, can teach us about the risks and rewards of modeling historical events in games.

by G. Christopher Williams

18 Jan 2012


This isn’t the first time that I have felt this way while playing a Bethesda game.  A couple of years ago I wrote a blog entry about the manner in which the Fallout series felt like some sort of “to do” list simulator (Fallout, the “To Do” List Simulator”, PopMatters, 24 November 2010).

But in a sense, I don’t feel so alone in my feeling this time.  Having spent some amount of time in the world of Skyrim myself, I opened a copy of Game Informer this week to find this description of “experiencing” The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:

At one point, I had 14 main quests and 32 miscellaneous quests active at once.  This huge list turned me into an antisocial outcast; I stopped approaching other characters for fear of getting more quests from them.  Even this strategy didn’t work, as messengers would hand me documents containing new quests, and some NPCs rewarded jobs well done with additional tasks. (Andrew Reiner, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skrim: An RPG Worth Shouting About”, Game Informer, January 2012, p. 80)

Reiner had logged “over 100 hours” of gameplay time having written that, and while I have only spent about 10-12 hours in the game’s world, I already relate to the overwhelming feeling that Skyrim evokes in providing an ever increasing list of things to do for its players.

by Mattie Brice

17 Jan 2012


There is a difference between “mass appeal” and “accessibility,” though some word-slingers and comment fanatics find the terms interchangeable. Who uses them determines a large part of their meaning, as a lot of gaming discussion also determines who belongs to the “in group” and who belongs to the “out group.” Games striving for mass appeal tend to come from a series or lineage of some sort that include conventions that appeal to hardcore gamers but also attempt to broaden their audience by watering down complex features. The phrase is used pejoratively, devaluing other gaming styles while calling out developers with their eye on gaining more customers. Accessibility is a design philosophy that opens up games to more people without changing the experience for the original audience. It also aims to value a plurality of gaming styles instead of “one over all others,” such as higher difficulties being the ultimate vision or true version of a game.

Arguments concerning mass appeal and accessibility frequently occur over RPGs, a genre going through an identity crisis by trying to satisfy the old guard while fighting stagnation by expanding into new territory (the purgatory of the “give us something new but keep everything the same” demand of gamers). A focus on stats or numbers in general is often included in many gamers’ definitions of what an RPG is, but the focus on micromanaging numbers is the only one way to express character progression. It is far more likely that statistical progression is a given and that a game is built around such progression rather than an organic component of what it means to be an RPG.

by G. Christopher Williams

16 Jan 2012


In view of our topic, this episode of the Moving Pixels podcast is expansive.  In other words, this is quite a long episode. 

Nick Dinicola, Mattie Brice, and I found quite a lot to discuss about the open world genre this week.  It is a genre that has become widespread across the medium over the past decade (thanks in no part to a little game called Grand Theft Auto III).  Worlds of all kinds have been built for players to explore, telling stories in genres as diverse as crime, the western, fantasy, science fiction, and even schoolhouse drama.

We talk a little about what the genre means to this last decade in gaming and what kinds of worlds most compel players to explore them.

by Nick Dinicola

13 Jan 2012


Thid discussion contains spoilers for Battlefield 3.

It’s good for a war game to be cynical; in fact it’s necessary. How else can you mow down hundreds of people with a machine gun and blow up global landmarks with glee? Cynicism and pessimism are—and always will be—inherent to war games (at least, as long as they continue to follow their current template), so it’s in such a game’s best interest to just go with that flow, embrace a cynical view of the world, war, and soldiers. Otherwise, you might end up like Battlefield 3.

EA’s and DICE’s latest offering wants to be cynical, it wants to tell a modern military story with an anti-hero fighting impossible odds, but it also wants to be a tale of heroism. It wants the good guys to win in the end without resorting to their own kind of terrorism, like the protagonists (not heroes) of the Modern Warfare trilogy. But by failing to take a stand either way, the story of Battlefield 3 stumbles in every important scene and becomes so inconsistent in tone that it’s more jarring than the shaky first-person camera that provides the player’s perspective.

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