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

 
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Thursday, Oct 7, 2010
Minecraft demonstrates how historical approaches to game design interact with modern trends while also offering us a glimpse of things to come.

On every analytical level, Minecraft is a game about building.  While inhabiting the game world, a single player is building tools that are then used to create an environment in which to play. The player concurrently builds a more ephemeral structure in the form of the individual story that they experience. On a broader scope, legions of people are playing (and sometimes fighting) with one another in collaboratively built worlds. Minecraft‘s potential for facilitating player driven stories has helped spawn thriving communities of players who delight in swapping tales. 


If we pull the camera back even further, so that we can see the entirety of the game and its place amidst its peers, we see that Minecraft has also built something else. Because of its unique structure, design, and creation, Minecraft has constructed a snapshot of the medium as a whole. The game’s player driven structure, rigorous difficulty, and rise to popularity represent an amalgamation of historical and contemporary trends in gaming while also offering hints at what the future holds.


Tagged as: minecraft
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Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010
The experience of playing a Professor Layton game reminds me of the experience of playing Diablo. Seriously.

The product that this review is based on was provided by Nintendo of America.


The experience of playing a Professor Layton game reminds me of the experience of playing Diablo.


Seriously.


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Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010
Nukes I've come to expect out of Japanese fantasy, but racism -- even race awareness -- is a rare bird in a Japanese RPG and possibly the aspect of this series that never ceases to intrigue me.

I still can’t decide if I like SEGA’s Valkyria Chronicles series, which is potentially a problem considering I’ve invested over a hundred hours in both the PS3 original and its PSP sequel by this point. Were I still a teenager, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue. I can remember being in high school and sinking whole months into games I found absolutely irredeemable just out of a conviction that I had to finish whatever I started. It was only later in life that I realized I could actually stop if I disliked something and it wasn’t a sign of poor character.


Yet I haven’t stopped playing the Valkyria series. The games occupy this strange place in which I don’t necessarily know if it’s time well-spent, but it keeps pulling me back in anyway. On the one hand, Valkyria is a generally fun turn-based strategy game with memorable characters. On the other, it’s a trite anime-styled melodrama about nuclear weapons and the Holocaust. Nukes I’ve come to expect out of Japanese fantasy, but racism—even race awareness—is a rare bird in a Japananese RPG and possibly the aspect of the series that never ceases to intrigue me.


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Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010
"If you grew up thinking that the stage/arena show is what live music is supposed to be, it’s jarring to be confronted with a band playing two feet in front of you, running into you, spitting in your face, hitting you with their instruments."

For the past several months I’ve been writing about virtual space and how meaning is created in that sort of medium. One of the core principles of space is that your actions partially define its meaning and vice versa. For that reason I think a good capstone to this work would be a discussion of the dynamic of meaning creation through space in a setting that’s familiar for many: your own house.


There’s a great TED talk given by David Byrne on the relationship between architecture and music venues (“David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve”, TED, June 2010). The way people would engage and listen to music has an intrinsic relationship with the space they’re in. It wasn’t until 1872 that the concept of not being drunk and jabbering while someone was playing music became popular. This was mostly because of the changing design of opera houses such as Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus or Carnegie Hall. A quiet audience means that you can have more nuanced and complex music that will actually be heard, the singer does not have to scream. This dynamic exists with technology as well. A small club, before the advent of microphones, meant that you had to play loud and heavy music to be heard. Once the microphone was invented, crooning and much quieter songs became an option. Music in a giant arena typically has to take the form of a ballad to be coherently understood by the audience. An Ipod, on the other hand, allows for extremely nuanced and complicated music but has to always be at a certain volume, or you’ll make the listener go deaf. Since so much of music is defined by the space that it is being performed in, Byrne comments, “The passion is always there, but the vessel is what is created first.”


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Monday, Oct 4, 2010
From the Nazis to the Mafia, we consider the potential consequences of attempting to simulate real life villainy in video games.

Hitler served as the final boss in World War II and also in Castle Wolfenstein, which is weird, right?


This week we consider a number of real life bad guys from the Nazis to the Mafia and the potential consequences of attempting to simulate such real life villainy in video games.


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