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by Jorge Albor

6 Jun 2013

The ethical and moral decisions in the Mass Effect series fundamentally shape the play experience—from beginning to end. Will sparing a race of sentient androids sow distrust among their creators? Will releasing the last member of a potentially hostile species create tomorrow’s ongoing war? Is there justice in destroying information gained by torturing innocents? Answering such questions is seldom made easy. In fact, many of the series’s moral conundrums reflect some of the difficult decisions that we, as a species, confront in our own family circles and on the political stage. There are rarely easy answers and Mass Effect‘s depiction of repercussions create a unique and compelling example of moral systems done right. In many ways, playing Mass Effect is a powerful learning experience.

Even so, the series does not deviate far from the traditional binary decision-making paradigm. However, one recent educational game seeks to experiment more directly with the question of moral and ethical decision making in games and in real life. Quandary, by the Learning Games Network, is a piece of interactive fiction of sorts that targets eight- to fourteen-year-old children, encouraging them to play alone, with family, or in a school environment. Instructors are encouraged to let kids play the game’s scenarios and work through the decision making process as a team. Of course, abstracting any complex issue is no easy task, so naturally the game’s choices lead to several interesting arguments regarding decision making. Quandary also offers some potentially useful strategies for traditional game designers seeking to model decision making in games.

by Scott Juster

30 May 2013

Now that both Sony and Microsoft have made their next generation console announcements, the general consensus seems to be surprise (and disappointment) at the amount of focus on features that seem ancillary to video games. Signficant chunks of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One’s debuts were dedicated to how we’ll get to our games, how we’ll share them, and how our systems will interact with all the other media we enjoy. It’s early yet and E3 is just around the corner, but it’s easy to see why these types of announcements are a bit worrisome. 

There’s no doubt about it: many of things touted at Sony and Microsoft’s announcements were solutions to “first-world problems”. We have so many TV channels, it’s a hassle to remember all of them. Buttons are blasé. I want to log in with facial recognition. Who has the time to wait for a console to boot up? These things are meant to facilitate playing games and line up well with the two companies’ gradual transitions from creators to enablers.

by Jorge Albor

23 May 2013

This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal. We have six identical companies making six identical products. We can say anything we want.
—Don Draper, Mad Men

At last year’s E3, there was a pervasive feeling of a show on the edge of some massive change. We all knew that the following year, 2013, would be the year of the “next-gen” console. The 2012 event was just the vestigial tail of the last console cycle leaving the building. The vague future, at that moment, let us choose to see huge and almost limitless potential.

After this week’s Microsoft press conference, we now know what that future entails. Hell, we all knew it on the show floor in 2012, just no one said it out loud. These consoles will feature shinier graphics, more RAM, and a few new features that tie us closer to our machines. I cannot imagine the expectations of anyone genuinely surprised by the recent console announcements. Were we really waiting with bated breath for a new console to satisfy our unmet gaming and entertainment needs?

by Scott Juster

16 May 2013

The end is in sight. Even as I write this, people are chipping away at 22cans’ Curiosity: What’s Inside the Cube? Block by block, they’re inching towards revealing what Peter Molyneux has described as a potentially life-changing experience for the person that reaches the inside. It’s the type of sentiment so outlandish, so classically Molyneux that it preemptively parodies itself. There has been a lot of talk about Curiosity: whether it’s a game, whether it’s a scam, and (of course) what’s in its center. Maybe I lack faith or imagination, but I think the story around Curiosity is its most interesting feature. Regardless of how you feel about it, Curiosity is a case study of some of today’s most important industry dynamics:

by Jorge Albor

9 May 2013

The Castle Doctrine (Jason Rohrer, 2013)

When I was young, I was convinced armed men would come to our house and kill my father. In my imagination, they would drive up in a white van, machine guns at their side. My dad, who would know their faces, would confront them from the porch, daring them to complete their murderous task before he could pull out his own pistol. Sometimes my dreams would concoct a night-time raid instead, the details similar but painted in more unsettling nocturnal hues. Of course these were delusions, but my sisters believed in them too. Our fears were built on the tall tales my father would share about the drug runs, shoot outs, and machismo-fueled encounteres of his youth. While we had guns in the home (hunting rifles and pistols), they were tools with variable uses. For a variety of reasons, our home was never a place of safety.

The sense of security I grew up with, and lack thereof, remains a compelling force in how I think about the safety of my own home today. Indeed, the perceived need for security is so powerful that it ranks amongst the most valued human rights. The need to “feel” safe, despite how painfully difficult it is to actually measure security, is a driving force in international politics as well. From America’s appropriation of global security to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, notions of security shape both personal and large-scale systems. As crucial components of social and political systems, naturally games offer a particularly unique venue to explore the notions of safety and the cost of security.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

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