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by Mattie Brice

31 Jan 2012


Narrative is a naughty word. Its appearance in video game discussions trigger froth to arise from corners of mouths and paints internet forums red. This is most likely because of a prevailing insistence on entertaining an old binary argument: video games are just another medium for telling as opposed to narrative being an inconsequential component in games. The latter opinion, along with the ideas of ludology and formalism, mostly won out, and narrative studies maintains its underdog status in the debate. A recent addition to the barrage of anti-narratology essays is Raph Koster’s “Narrative is not a game mechanic,” which further insists on binary thinking in terms of narrative (“Narrative is not a game mechanic”, Raph Koster’s Website, 12 January 2010). Koster’s treatment of narrative as feedback and static information perpetuates a limiting attitude by misrepresenting what narrative actually is. However, it is not only one person or even the more active subscribers to this school of thought, but instead an ingrained perspective on narrative that polarizes the gaming community and stymies expression in the medium.

This discussion often hits a roadblock because most people use the terms “narrative” and “story” interchangeably. From a design perspective, they are separate ideas. Narrative refers to how something is communicated, most often it is used to refer to the way that someone tells a story. We refer to a narrator, not a “storyteller,” because the process of communicating an experience is at the heart of the word. Stories are descriptions using narrative elements, such as characters, plot events, point of view, and other mechanical techniques. Following this line of thought, Koster’s (among many others’) claim that “games can and do exist without narrative” is misleading.

by G. Christopher Williams

30 Jan 2012


Saints Row: The Third is a title that arrived at the close of the year to a surprising amount of fanfare.  Most often seen as a Grand Theft Auto clone, though sometimes admired for some of the polish that it brought to the open-world, crime game, the Saints Row series has often been treated as a competent, but not especially exceptional alternative to GTA.

By ratcheting up the general insanity of its world (way, way up) and embracing extreme stupidity and the extremely puerile, though, Saints Row has seemed to have drawn much acclaim.  Our podcast crew debates the merits of this over-the-top aesthetic and considers the relative value of “just plain fun.”

by Nick Dinicola

27 Jan 2012


Video game controls are complicated. Not just using them, but creating them. Whether or not something controls well can be extremely subjective, but even if a developer creates a universally praised control scheme that everyone else latches onto as a template (I’m looking at you Call of Duty), that doesn’t mean that it’s an ideal control scheme. There is no ideal control scheme, even within a single genre (i.e. Halo to counter Call of Duty).

Amy, a recently released downloadable horror game, has taken a ton of flack for its broken controls. The curious thing is, however, they’re not broken. Not at all. Amy’s controls, being so deliberately derived from classic survival-horror games, aren’t so much broken as they are antiquated. However, old doesn’t mean bad. The mere fact that these antiquated controls are effective at evoking suspense is proof that they’re not broken. Rather, they’re just not player friendly. But isn’t that the point of horror?

by Scott Juster

26 Jan 2012


It was a rough weekend for Bay Area football fans.  It was an especially rough weekend for Kyle Williams, the San Francisco 49ers’ kick returner.  His two unfortunate fumbles were crucial parts of the 49ers’ defeat and the end of their Super Bowl run.  Now that the disappointment is starting to wear off, I find myself able to appreciate the disastrous sequence of events in an academic sense.  There’s something exciting about a game in which the most carefully designed strategies can be dashed by unforeseen events.  Football is a beautiful combination of meticulous planning and implementing those plans under pressure, a description that also apples to most video games.

by Chris Gaerig

25 Jan 2012


Counter Strike version 1.3 was the first video game that I played online in any capacity. In my high school years, I was a Nintendo devotee, which afforded the bare minimum of online gaming experiences. Though I owned Phantasy Star Online: Episodes I & II for the Nintendo Gamecube, the $10-a-month charge to play online was too steep for my part-time, $7 an hour job. So when a friend told me to buy Half-Life in order to play alongside him and millions of others in Counter Strike for free, I was sold.

To this day, I have never played more than 30 minutes of the original Half-Life. After settling into the competitive, online playing field of Counter Strike, I found all other functions of the game superfluous. But Counter Strike is unique, and not only because it revolutionized the first-person shooter. It was a successful online multiplayer experience ostensibly without a single-player accompaniment.

//Mixed media
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