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by Jorge Albor

26 Apr 2012


MissionUS, WNET Thirteen, 2011

Mark Sample of Play the Past recently asked an interesting and thought provoking question to his readers: “What are the limits of playing the powerless?” Even more specifically, he asked, “What are the limitations of playing the powerless in videogames about the powerless?”  (“The Limits of Playing the Powerless and the Doomed in Video Games”, Play the Past, 10 April 2012).  Sparked by Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames, Sample goes on to raise and allude to a variety of questions about viewership and participation, player detachment, historical obligations, and developer responsibility.  All games can—and more should—address sensitive issues with tact, including emotional topics and historically significant time periods or events marked by troubling power relations. The only limits to playing the “powerless” are the limits we set when we carry our game design assumptions into the development process.

The concept of fun inevitably arises when discussing serious games and powerlessness in particular. Time and again others have exhaustively argued for “engagement” as a more descriptive ideal than “fun,” which fails to capture why we engage with melancholy media at all. So let’s leave that concept behind entirely.

by Mark Filipowich

25 Apr 2012


In the weeks after the release of Mass Effect 3, the drama around its unsatisfying ending went to some interesting places. After some discussion over whether or not the ending ought to change, the conversation muted into whether or not it should be “allowed” to change. And ultimately, the question became, who makes that decision? Essentially, if games are art, who is the artist?

That’s a question that hasn’t seemed relevant to games until the last decade. After all, who “makes” a video game? There are only a handful of important developers that have individually stood out enough to be recognized by name. Authorship is granted to the conglomeration that distributes the work. When discussing a work or a body of works, our language centers on the development company instead of a single person. We say that Bungie changed the FPS with Halo, we complain that Squaresoft/Square-Enix’s material was much better before the turn of the century, we tap our feet impatiently while we wait for Valve’s next opus. We don’t talk about a individual creators as independent minds that produce a work.

by G. Christopher Williams

23 Apr 2012


We’re all pretty enamored with the simple mechanics and smart reversal of the tower defense genre that serve as the foundations of Anomaly: Warzone Earth.

We decided to attack a discussion of the game from a variety of angles by choosing to play it across platforms in order to see how the game fares as it shifts from bigger to smaller screens.

by Nick Dinicola

20 Apr 2012


Video games are complicated. They didn’t start that way, the rules of Pong should be obvious just by watching, but that simplicity can’t last. People demand more. Compare Doom to Battlefield 3: in one you can’t even look up, the other has more commands than there are buttons on a controller. This demand for increasing complexity is something that affects all entertainment (just compare Die Hard to Live Free or Die Hard), but it’s particularly troubling for games because keeping up with that demand can limit the audience. This is something other people have written about, and I’ve got no interest in repeating their points here. Instead, I’m interested in where a gaming genre goes once it’s reached that tipping point of complexity.

by Scott Juster

19 Apr 2012


This post contains spoilers for Neuromancer, Halo: Reach, Braid, and Red Dead Redemption.

Recently, I’ve been slacking on some projects I’m working on, but I have a good excuse.  Well, at least my editor might think it’s a good excuse: I got caught up reading William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer.  It’s a foundational work in modern science fiction, one I’m proud to now check off of my long list of shamefully neglected cultural blind spots.  There’s a lot to like about Neuromancer, but one of my favorite aspects is the ending—specifically, how depressing it is.  This isn’t to say that it’s bad or flawed, just that it’s not a particularly sunny resolution.  It’s the kind of ending that also appears in some of my favorite video games.

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