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Thursday, Jun 10, 2010
Video games as an art can be almost uniquely frustrating.

Lots of people are tired of the “are video games art?” debate, and I get that. Because in the real world, very few people care whether or not something is art. My assumption is then that, if you’re one of the few who actually asks or offers an answer to the question, then you should be interested in what other people are saying. One of the nice things about being a contrarian of sorts, as I am, is that you’re never much surprised when people that you admire say things that are clearly wrong. So Roger Ebert and PZ Myers have both not only stated that games aren’t art, they’ve argued those positions with more than a little stubbornness. I like what Ebert has to say about movies and what Myers has to say about biology and atheism, but they’re both just wrong here.


What’s missing from most of these debates is a firm definition of what art actually is, and I think the “anti-games as art” folks try not to be pinned down here because it’s impossible to pen a definition of art that games wouldn’t fit comfortably within. They tend then to go with the porn-like definition of: I know it when I see it. I’ll argue using any definition anyone chooses, but for now, I’m going with my own: “a creative expression designed to provoke an emotional or intellectual reaction from the audience.” Obviously all the heavy work in my definition is being done by the words “creative expression” and “reaction,” which are open to many interpretations. I include within the spectrum of creative creations: music, painting, illustration, prose, poetry, drama (staged or filmed), dance, sculpture, architecture, games (video and otherwise), and, well, I know I’m forgetting some things.


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Wednesday, Jun 9, 2010
If you have to draw the line concerning virtual misdeeds somewhere, I guess mine is at the railroad tracks.

Like you, I had heard about the “Dastardly” Achievement, and I thought that it was all kinds of clever. I mean, even the name of the achievement is great.


Of course, how I heard it (several times mind you) was that you unlocked an achievement for tying up a woman in Red Dead Redemption and placing her on railroad tracks.


Horrible? Sure. Over the top? It is Rockstar we’re talking about here.


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Tuesday, Jun 8, 2010
"I think a site where it's just a raptor trying to eat Octomom would be boring. With Michael Buble, you don't really know what the raptor wants or why he wants it."

Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to mean an idea that is spread by writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The most common example of this is a joke like the LOLcatz speaking in baby language, but with the advent of YouTube and photoshopping, the practice has continued to expand into ever more bizarre territory. You can find a great collection of the biggest ones on the web here. The formula and means of broadcasting memes has continued to develop to the point that now there are even blogs devoted to single memes. What’s interesting about them is how they have begun to incorporate game elements as a way to keep people engaged. The most obvious example would be the Rick Roll, where you trick someone into clicking on a link that promises something too good to be true. It’s a game in the most basic sense and probably more fun for the person posting than the one being tricked, but other memes have adopted game elements with great results. Michael Buble Being Stalked by a Velociraptor borrows a cue from the hidden object game by taking a photo of Michael Buble and hiding a velociraptor somewhere in it.


In an e-mail interview with creator Mike Lacher, who posts his work at Wonder Tonic, Lacher explains how he got the idea, “For some reason Michael Buble struck me as a funny thing, I think because he’s a fairly major celebrity, but he exists entirely outside the usual sphere of frequently-lampooned or satirized pop stars. When I started doing a few searches, I noticed his publicity photographs were pretty hilarious. All his photos show him lonely and brooding. He’s all alone in cars, phone booths, dressing rooms, and diners. Since the photos are engineered to project this loneliness, I thought it would be funny to have someone/something else there. I guess a velociraptor struck me as the thing least likely to be found in an empty diner at dawn with a Canadian crooner.” The combination of a raptor and the curious celebrity status of Buble are what drives the appeal of the blog because there is a weird amount of abstraction to the exchange. Lacher notes, “There’s definitely some draw from the meme-ness of veclociraptors (Raptor Jesus and XKCD and such) and public bemusement/irritation toward Buble, but I think the chief enjoyment people get is from the randomness. Many of the initial reactions people had when the site was getting tweeted a whole bunch was “this is the next Selleck Waterfall Sandwich” and “another hilarious random tumblr.”


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Monday, Jun 7, 2010
This week's podcast considers how the imaginations of both Alan Wake and the player bring the horrors of Bright Falls to life.

The town of Bright Falls is a pretty creepy place made creepier by the imagination of author, Alan Wake, but also by the player’s own fears.


This week we discuss how effectively terror and fear are generated in the game Alan Wake and how the player is complicit in authoring such horror as well.


Tagged as: alan wake
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Friday, Jun 4, 2010
When a game asks us to “Press Start", we get a glimpse of its aesthetics.

When a game asks us to “Press Start”, we can do as we’re instructed or immediately begin testing the limits of the game by hitting the A button (or X, depending on your console of choice). Like a linear game suddenly expanding into an open world, we come to the main menu, our first real taste of the game. We get a glimpse of its aesthetics (does it want to be charming or frightening?) and its priorities (does it value style over simple organization?), and through these details, the menu sets our expectations for the rest of the game.


Some menus do this better than others, and here are three of my personal favorites:


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