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Thursday, Feb 26, 2015
If each card in Netrunner is a political cartoon, then each deck is a political paradigm.

Last year I described each card in Android: Netrunner as a sort of “interactive political cartoon.” The card game from Fantasy Flight Games is set in a dystopian cyberpunk world in which mega corporations advance hidden agendas while hackers break into secure servers to steal information. The world of Netrunner is ripe with political themes relevant to its fiction and to the real world alike. If each card is a political cartoon, then each deck is a political paradigm.


Take the Anarch faction of runners (hackers), the most recent recipient of a Netrunner deluxe expansion, aptly named Order and Chaos, featuring three new faction identities and a slew of new cards to add to their arsenal. What is an “anarch”? The term conjures up images of masked protesters inciting violence or punk rockers with mohawks, leather jackets, and an attitude. Indeed, there are in fact people in the real world who identify as anarchists but whose political activism only goes as far as refusing to vote. I think we can safely assume the existence of an anarchist aesthetic at least among some disaffected youth.


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Thursday, Feb 19, 2015
There shouldn’t be any "game over” screens in Westeros. That's too merciful.

Well I knew Essos was dangerous, but this is ridiculous. Five minutes into “The Lost Lords,” the second episode of Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, I’ve seen the game over screen four times. Eventually I make it through the annoyingly deadly bar brawl. I’ve come away irritated but also appreciative of the various evolutionary splits in the adventure game genre. Not all games are like this, and there’s a good chance Game of Thrones can correct its course.


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Thursday, Feb 12, 2015
I expect Max will learn what many of us face as we age, the reality that all of our decisions have consequences, many of them unintended, no matter how empowered we are when we make them.

Knowledge is a super power in Life is Strange. Well, not really, but close enough. Max Caulfield, the protagonist of Dontnod’s Telltale-esque adventure game, can actually rewind time. This lets her prevent a school shooting and avoid being crushed under a falling tree, sure. But more importantly time travel lets Max weigh her options in conversations. It lets her know just the right words to say or the right facts to hide or reveal. Time travel is a means for Life is Strange to address nostalgia, regret, and the social pressures of growing up.


Recently an old friend got in touch to apologize about an interaction we’d had in the distant past. It was strange to revisit a time that I barely remember, and stranger still to think about my life in that particular moment. I am not an old man, I know that, but even I have regrets. There are people who meant too much to me once that I have let slip out of my life, and there are moments where I wish I could have said the right thing, found the courage to put into words the feelings I wanted to share, to say the things I know now to be true. I have a hard time imagining any life lived without regrets.


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Thursday, Feb 5, 2015
Oops! I accidentally became a mass murderer, slaver, and a dark lord.

Sauron and I don’t know each other very well, so I don’t know if he plays video games. If he does, I bet he is pleasantly surprised by Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The game basically turned me into a Nazgûl. To be fair, I was able to escape its influence (for how long, I don’t know), so maybe I’m more of a Gollum than a ring wraith. Whatever the case, I think the game does a better job of promoting the The Dark Lord’s power than it does arguing against it.


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Thursday, Jan 29, 2015
Largely due to its small size and independence from the primary game, First Light is simply better than Second Son, even while it owes its existence to it.

Last week here on PopMatters, Scott Juster described Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker as a “micro-machine”, one of those curious little dioramas that seemed popular when he and I were kids. It is precisely the minute scale but high-quality systems of the game that lets us toss it into the category of games we recently called “Big Small games”. While Captain Toad is a great game, perhaps inFamous First Light is a better example of the experimental value of these impressive, albeit smaller, diversions from the triple A game space.


Like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, inFamous First Light is also an offshoot of a traditional full title. First Light, technically, is actually a piece of DLC for 2014’s inFamous Second Son. However, the game is also a completely stand-alone experience. Players do not need to own or have played the first game to dive into the experience. In this way, First Light is an interesting consumer product. Generally, I always consider DLC as a way for developers to incentivize newcomers and keep devotees busy playing a core game experience. The ultimate goal is to prevent people from selling your game back to Gamestop and into the hands of other players without ever receiving a cut of the profit. Our brave new world of “games as a service” seems built as a futile salvo against the used game market.


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