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

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010
Escape From Butcher Bay is a simple story with simple mechanics, but it works with what it has elegantly.

Starbreeze’s The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is one of the most competently organized and coherent games ever made. While nothing particularly dramatic or life changing will happen while playing, like Star Wars: Republic Commando it sticks with the basics and hits all the right notes. There are numerous things that the average action game screws up that Butcher Bay gets right. The setting makes sense with the way that the levels are setup. The game effectively makes you feel like you’re in prison through small details and interactions. While I don’t expect Butcher Bay to radically change the way that people think about games, I think it solidly establishes the bare minimum of what a “good” plot driven game is supposed to do.


The plot is divided into three coherent segments that are matched with proper variation in design to mirror what’s going on. Each segment is basically the same conceptually but varies in length. Riddick is placed in a low security portion of the prison where he talks with prisoners and sneaks around. After mucking about for a bit, you eventually establish a way to escape. The game then switches from stealth and dialogue to action as you tear the place apart while making your exit. Something goes wrong, you get caught, and you get dumped in another part of the prison. It holds together thematically because despite the fact that you will meet dozens of characters there is still only one overarching goal: escape from Butcher Bay. This leaves room for the dialogue to establish character instead of constantly explaining why this person is bad or why the player should care. All missions and side-missions build towards escaping, so you don’t have to worry about what the player is thinking. As Mitch Krpata puts it, “You always understand what your character is doing, and why. Riddick has to accomplish fetch missions, but they’re not burdened with a bunch of useless filler” (“The Chronic-what-cles of Riddick”, Insult Swordfighting, 29 April 2009).


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Aug 16, 2010
How initial character creation as well as ways of modifying characters, like buying clothing in a game world, affects our sense of the characters that we inhabit when we play games.

We have been focusing on discussions of individual games for a number of weeks. This week we decided to consider some broader interests in games once again. In this case, we decided to talk about how character customization effects our experience of a game world.


As a result, our discussion considers how initial character creation as well as ways of modifying characters, like buying clothing in a game world, affects our sense of the characters that we inhabit when we play games.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 13, 2010
Max Payne accomplished something unique with its mood and narration, creating a journey into the unraveling psyche of one man pushed to a ragged edge.

On last week’s Moving Pixels podcast, I talked about why I liked Max Payne better than its sequel, despite the fact that Max Payne 2 is a clearly better game, and I’d like to flesh out that reasoning a little more. I think the first game accomplished something truly unique with its mood and narration, something that no other game has come close to replicating. While many may remember it as the game to popularize “bullet time”, I’ll always remember it as a journey into the mind of one man.


At one point fairly early in the game, Max says, “There were only personal apocalypses. Nothing is cliché when it’s happening to you.” This seemingly throwaway line explains why the mood of Max Payne is so unique. The game revolves around Max’s own personal apocalypse, the end of his world. Everything reinforces this one intimate idea: the environment, the dialogue, the forced metaphors, the meta humor, the mythical references, and even the medium itself.


Tagged as: max payne
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010
What is interesting about the way that Chun-Li has been eroticized is that her thighs violate typical beauty standards.

I like Chun Li.  However, I am hard pressed to initially tell you why.  Certainly, I know next to nothing about her as a character.  After all, she is a part of a fighting game, not a genre known for its excessive interest in plot and character development.  While I have beaten Street Fighter II as Chun-Li numerous times, I don’t remember what her ending was all about (then again, I can’t recall any of the endings of the various characters in the Street Fighter series).  Mostly, all I know about her is what she looks like.


Chun-Li is an attractive enough character in my estimation.  However, I wouldn’t say that I have the hots for her, though I know that there is a fan base that clearly does, especially (it would seem) because of a particular physical trait of hers (but more on that in a moment).  However, if you asked me to name the more iconic female characters in video game history, I would likely include Chun-Li amongst characters that I tend to know something more about because they have been given at least slightly more personality than a fighting game character, women like Lara Croft, Samus Aran, Zelda, and even Princess Peach.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010
“In the final analysis, a critique of performance practices must ask: Who gets to play?"

One of the reasons that Johan Huzinga’s book Homo Ludens has such an important place in gaming culture is that it writes a blank check for game studies. If the play element can potentially be found in any part of culture, then any part of culture can be discussed from a gaming perspective. Mary Flanagan’s book Critical Play is an examination of that concept from the perspective of social activism. Often involving artists and poets, it outlines the play element of several cultural movements and how they used games to raise awareness and accelerate social change. Like many games today, a lot of the games that Flanagan discusses are difficult to understand unless you’re playing them. I picked out examples that I thought I could communicate effectively, but it is a massive topic that can’t be fully accommodated on a blog. So, bear with me here.


Flanagan proposes several overarching guidelines for critical play and how it works. She writes, “Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life . . . . Criticality in play can be fostered in order to question an aspect of a game’s ‘content,’ or an aspect of a play scenario’s function that might otherwise be considered a given or necessary” (6). A basic example of this process occurring naturally is playing with dolls. Often used to enforce gender roles and stereotypes, many young girls today and in the early days of the doll industry would use dolls to subvert social roles. Violent fantasies, macabre funerals, and other forms of changing the way play worked with dolls provides a striking example of critical play in its natural form. Flanagan writes, “The enactment of critical play exhibits at least three kinds of action: unplaying, re-dressing or reskinning, and rewriting” (32). “Unplaying” is acting out forbidden scenes with the doll. “Re-dressing” is changing the doll’s appearance or items for darker play, like making funeral items and caskets. “Rewriting” is fan fiction and the proliferation of people writing stories about the doll funerals.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.