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Thursday, Aug 2, 2012
The Walking Dead is a well told piece of storytelling, regardless of its length, but the short episodic form makes the game's features that much more interesting and engaging.

Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead has earned a bevy of critical praise—and for good reason. Sharp writing, gorgeous artwork, and Robert Kirkman’s compelling source material create a thoroughly entertaining piece of admittedly minimally interactive fiction. Although the episodic game’s completion is far from over, the current releases prove that a well told story told in an episodic format can set itself apart from both epic triple-A titles and one-off indie adventures. Yes, The Walking Dead is a well told piece of storytelling, regardless of its length, but the short episodic form make the game’s features that much more interesting and engaging.


Currently only five games make up the entire collection of Walking Dead episodes. The game follows the story of Lee Everett, a man headed to prison for murder before the zombie infestation changes everything. Early in the first episode, Lee befriends a young girl named Clementine and becomes her guardian. He also meets up with another rag tag group of survivors. As expected in post-apocalyptic fiction, the conflict within the group poses as much of a threat as the undead masses outside their hurriedly assembled shelter.


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Thursday, Jul 26, 2012
I'm immortal, and I'm bored.

In the Twilight Zone episode “Escape Clause,” a hypochondriac named Walter Bedecker strikes a deal with the devil.  Bedecker is granted invulnerability and immortality with the understanding that, should he ever wish to stop living, his soul will become property of Satan.  Confident that he’ll never tire of an infinite life of perfect health, Bedecker happily signs on the dotted line.  Of course, this being the Twilight Zone, things don’t turn out too well for him.  Bedecker’s newfound immortality ushers in a profound sense of boredom.  Without the fear of death, life gets dull.  Bedecker begins committing increasingly dangerous crimes in the hopes of finding some excitement and is ultimately sentenced to life in prison.  Facing an eternity behind bars, he exercises his escape clause and cedes his soul to the devil.


I bring this up both because I love the Twilight Zone and as a way to explain my obsession with consequences in video games.


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Thursday, Jul 19, 2012
How might game designers exploit our hidden vulnerability to spatial-inspired psychosis? The good news is that many already do.

Every year, 50 to 100 tourists visiting Israel, the vast majority devout Christians, succumb to what is colloquially known as Jerusalem syndrome. Awed by the ostensibly holy nature of their surroundings, they begin to exhibit strange behavior. Many perform acts of spiritual and physical cleansing before taking to the streets and becoming ad-hoc prophets and messiahs. Seemingly normal individuals begin delivering sermons to passers by. Others partake in daily activities to prep the world for the second coming of Christ. Yet others genuinely believe that they are Jesus reborn.


This phenomenon is not localized to Jerusalem. Stendhal syndrome is the name of a similar psychosomatic illness in which sufferers may succumb to dizziness, fainting, confusion, and hallucinations when surrounded by art, particularly in Florence, Italy. Similarly, Paris Syndrome describes the psychological disorders of predominantly Japanese tourists that every year experience temporary psychosis partially brought on by the disconnect between their idealized perception of Paris and reality. While Jerusalem syndrome is engendered by the city strongly matching cultural and in this case religious expectations, Paris syndrome is evoked by the disjuncture between expectations and truth.


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2012
The strongest part of the Smithsonian's "The Art of Video Games" is its potential to involve visitors in the process of promoting the medium.

Last week I visited “The Art of Video Games” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.  It’s an ambitious attempt to give an overview of the medium’s development from it’s inception to the present day.  It’s difficult to do justice to an entire medium in the space of a few galleries.  Major blindspots exist (like the arcade and handheld scenes) and philosophical questions (such as the difference between narrative and ludic storytelling approaches) get flattened out in the interest of making the exhibit approachable for a wide audience.  Regardless, it’s pretty neat to see a video game exhibit in the same building as Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington portrait.


Most of the exhibit used video and static artwork to demonstrate the featured games, but my favorite gallery was the one with playable games.  I don’t think I’ll blow anyone’s mind by saying that the best way to understand video games is to play them, and I think the chosen titles served as a good sample of the best the medium has to offer: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.  Visitors weren’t simply playing these games, they were experiencing the interactivity that makes games unique and taking part in the generational and social dynamics that have risen up around the medium.


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Thursday, Jun 28, 2012
In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy calls on YOU to revolutionize the video game industry.

In her book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, game designer and critic Anna Anthropy argues in favor of a simple, yet radical change to the video game landscape.  Her mission is refreshingly straightforward, as is her prose: “What I want from videogames is for creation to be open to everyone, not just to publishers and programmers.  I want games to be personal and meaningful, not just pulp for an established audience.  I want game creation to be decentralized.  I want open access to the creative act for everyone.  I want games as zines” (Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Seven Stories Press, 2012, p. 10).  She admits that it’s a daunting order, but then spends the rest of the book enthusiastically and convincingly showing that such a change is well within our grasp.  Her book, which could have easily been a simple polemic against entrenched publishers, instead becomes an optimistic guide for people of non-traditional backgrounds to take ownership of the medium.


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