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

 
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Thursday, Oct 21, 2010
Fallout 3 sucked me in all the way. I played all of that game, searching every last corner of the map and then buying all five of the DLC packs.

I’ve been out of touch for a while, stranded in London with the world’s worst internet connection. Please, please, hold back your tears. I managed to survive my ordeal thanks to a seemingly endless battery of amazing sights, wonderful theater, fancy meals, and late night sessions of Civilization V. But now I’m back home and happily reunited with both my couch and my gaming consoles, and I’ve got some catching up to do.


I had a couple days to dip into Enslaved and Comic Jumper and Halo: Reach, but none of them were quite holding my attention the way that I needed. Halo came closest, with its familiar gameplay and exciting action, but I’m playing that online co-op with my brother (We’ve played every Halo game together in co-op. It’s how we show our love), so I can’t dive into it whenever I want. To be honest, I was sort of restlessly flailing around, not quite satisfied.


I didn’t know it at the time, but the cure for my homecoming blues was just around the corner. Tuesday morning, fueled by a morning of coffee-drenched arguments with some nutso’s conspiracy theories about the Bilderberg Group, I marched into Best Buy with a chip on my shoulder and restless trigger fingers. An hour later I was in the Wasteland of the Mojave, searching through ruined buildings for old pilot lights and bottle caps. Fallout: New Vegas, baby. I’m home at last.


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Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010
Most modern versions of fairy tales tend to sanitize the more “questionable” elements of such stories, but David Bae and Nathan Ratcliffe's Gretel and Hansel seems to seek to "moralize" in only the most unsettling of ways.

Many folks are aware that modern fairy tales are frequently sanitized versions of the original tales that they are based on.  Charles Perrault admitted that his version of the story “Little Red Riding Hood” was intended to teach a lesson to children to avoid strangers, especially young women who might be overcome by a predatory male.  Thus, Red Riding Hood is devoured at the close of his tale as a brutal illustration of the lesson to be learned.


The Perrault version is especially disturbing because of its commitment to the potential for the instructional quality of story, as it is a fairy tale willing to not merely put a child at peril but to see consequences for foolishness on the part of the young to a very terrifying and very terminal conclusion.  Even the Brothers Grimm, also not ones to normally shy away from violence in their tales, were unwilling to see their revision of the tale through to this conclusion.  They found a way for a child to ultimately escape despite the errors of her ways.


Most modern versions of fairy tales also revise the more “questionable” elements of such stories, but David Bae and Nathan Ratcliffe’s Gretel and Hansel series returns to the uglier truths of a violent world that is unforgiving of the inexperienced and immature.  Interestingly, the reversal of the protagonist’s names in the title, which signals the developers’ decision to make Gretel the clearly dominant hero in the story, seems to especially beg comparison to Perrault’s type of tale.  It is the female character that is most at risk throughout the games, since that is the character that the player largely controls, making one wonder if there is a similar lesson intended, something about the fragility of children with younger women being made especially vulnerable here.


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Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010
Contextually, multiplayer doesn't make much sense in a game like Dead Space, so the context needs to change.

For a franchise like Dead Space, multiplayer is the logical “next step”. 


Dead Space was a beautifully realized game, a legitimately frightening over-the-shoulder shooter whose technique of punctuating long stretches of quiet with jump scares and panic inducing swarms made for a genuinely satisfying gaming experience.  The lack of multiplayer, while notable, didn’t seem like an omission so much as it did a stylistic decision; the difficulty of putting a believable excuse for multiplayer in a game so focused on isolation was immediately evident.  Dead Space forced us to play single-player, and many of us loved it anyway.


As such, it’s a little surprising to see multiplayer introduced in its sequel.  Without really knowing much about the storyline of Dead Space 2 (given that it won’t be released until January at the earliest), all we have is the first game to go on as a basis for the multiplayer, and the inclination is to think that the focus of the game will have to significantly shift in order to accommodate a multiplayer mode.  It doesn’t make sense, given the context, so the context needs to change.


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Friday, Oct 15, 2010
Project Legacy is the surprisingly fun Assassin's Creed Facebook game.

I’ve never wanted to play a Facebook game. This is probably due to a combination of factors, the two biggest being my indifference to Facebook in general and my dislike of the mouse as a controller. However, in the past few weeks, I’ve logged on to Facebook more times than I have in the past several years, all because of Project Legacy, the Assassin’s Creed Facebook game.


I love the Assassin’s Creed series, so I’m not surprised that it’s the catalyst that got me gaming on Facebook. What is surprising is how the developer managed to translate the Assassin’s Creed experience from an open-world adventure to what feels like a menu-driven RPG.


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Thursday, Oct 14, 2010
The physical presence of a room heightens the overwhelming sense of frustration felt by players who know that all the tools of escape are within their grasp if only they could put together the solution.

Gamers are used to the grandeur of large scale environments. It seems the sheer size of a game world is one measurement of the success of Triple-A titles. The same can be said of many films that aim to enthrall viewers in a vast landscape, fantastical or otherwise. Admittedly, there is a strong visual appeal to enormity. The visual spectacle of Lord of the Rings conveys the magnitude of the film’s quest. Similarly, swooping down over a valley in Dark Void or traversing an open desert in Red Dead Redemption can evoke an overwhelming sense of awe or even solitude.


Conversely, there is an entire sub-genre of adventure games that emphasize small enclosed spaces: “escape the room” puzzles. Most of these are flash based games playable in a browser. They are some of the hardest and most complex gaming experiences available, which have earned them a massive and devoted fan base. These games also have their film counterparts, some of which succeed in many ways that these games have not. These confined experiences, some isolated to just a single room, evoke entirely different sensations than huge and sweeping tales and can teach us a great deal about game design as well.


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