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Thursday, Sep 29, 2011
In Gears 3, the series’s iconic gritty brown-grey aesthetic finally couples with narrative and gameplay to actually tell a truly melancholy and sobering war story.

Warning: This article contains significant spoilers for Gears of War 3.


Deified heroes and proud warriors flood the shooter genre. The soldiers of Call of Duty, quite literally answering destiny’s call to fight for freedom, wage a relatively justified battle across the franchise’s many theaters of war. Master Chief (and all the Spartans of Halo for that matter) have become god-like. Their trials and exploits have become legend in their expansive worlds. As players, we vainglorious actors are rewarded with praise through achievements and rewards. It comes as a surprise then when Gears of War 3, the finale to one of the biggest shooter franchises on the market, ignores the trend. While Marcus Fenix and the team do share in macho gloating, the cast of Gears of War 3 share more in common with the ragged and exhausted soldiers of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers. There is no glory for gears, no triumphant chorus to proclaim their deeds, and no exultation at all for a war well fought. In Gears 3, the series’s iconic gritty brown-grey aesthetic finally couples with narrative and gameplay to actually tell a truly melancholy and sobering war story.


Tagged as: gears of war
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Thursday, Sep 22, 2011
What's worse than enduring Catherine's selfish, unlikeable characters? The fact that I found myself relating to them.

Spoiler warning: This post contains details about Catherine’s plot points and ending.


In many ways, Catherine is a game that speaks directly to a social subsection in which I find myself: a group of childless men straddling the divide between Generation X and the Millenials, trying to sort out their personal and professional lives in an uncertain world.  Many folks have written about Vincent’s generally unsympathetic character traits and the game’s clumsy handling of player choice.  I agree with these criticisms, but most of my discomfort with the game stemmed from broader, more personal issues.


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Thursday, Sep 15, 2011
Surely the interactive medium offers wholly unique takes on plagues and pustules? Upon closer inspection, have games upheld the long tradition of exploring social and political issues by horrifying, repulsing, and upsetting us with disease?

Since I was a child, infectious diseases have been one of my most consistent fears. At mere mention of the Ebola virus, my skin crawls while I fight the urge to wash my hands. As PopMatters’s own Dan Dinello rightly points out, “[p]op culture runs rampant” with disease ”and has for some time” (“The Contagious Age”, PopMatters, 8 September 2011). Contagions have long offered potent analogies for the social and political fears of an era. Early zombie films explored the deadening effect of consumerist culture, while more modern takes on the undead have addressed governmental inadequacies and cultures of violence. While Dinello offers a thorough exploration of infections through film and literature, he only briefly touches upon disease in games. Surely the interactive medium offers wholly unique takes on plagues and pustules? Upon closer inspection, have games upheld the long tradition of exploring social and political issues by horrifying, repulsing, and upsetting us with disease?


The single more terrifying element of epidemics and diseases are how they completely and suddenly upset normalcy. From the global context to our own communities, the dread of disease lies in its ability to upend expectations. As Dinello points out, “In our age of global networking and circulation of people and goods, contagion threatens to violate secure borders, invade our society, and proliferate out of control.” Games may have difficulty evoking this menace when interactivity demands players maintain some degree of satisfying control, even in the most dire circumstances.


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Thursday, Sep 8, 2011
Games have not stumbled upon a new way of creating and interacting with art, they have rediscovered an older system.

For the video game community, summer is the season of reflection.  Players are still working through the dense stack of games released during the winter and spring, developers are toiling away on next fall’s big titles, and critics are trying to make sense of the medium as a whole.  Things slow down a little bit, which gives folks time to think about the bigger artistic and philosophical questions facing video games.


One can only stare into the endless abyss of competing philosophies for so long before becoming unhinged.  Thankfully, the changing seasons save us from consuming ourselves.  Mother nature announces the end of summer by turning the leaves gold and brown.  The video game industry does something similar by releasing the annual Madden installment.  Conversations about theory will soon give way to conversations about specific games: Will Gears of War 3 make us cry?  What will Journey teach us about companionship?  Is Apple eating Sony and Nintendo’s lunch?  New grist is added to the mill and converted into fuel for next summer’s existential evaluation.


Grappling with intractable questions of art and meaning is valuable, but exhausting.  Those that do it publicly expose themselves to potentially embarrassing corrections (just ask Roger Ebert).  As a rule, my wariness and caution tend to stop me from writing to much about The Nature of Art With a Capital “A,” but this week I’ll make an exception.  For those wishing to stay topside, here’s the simple version of my argument: notions of what constitute art have changed throughout history.  Because of this, asking whether art will change to accommodate video games is just as valid as asking whether video games can be art.  We would do well to remember that artistic strata are ultimately human constructions and are therefore malleable.


To those of you still with me: let’s talk about Shakespeare.


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Thursday, Sep 1, 2011
Channel 4 Education, the learning arm of the UK television broadcaster, and Preloaded, a London-based game studio, seek to help teens confront their own feelings about mortality with The End, a puzzle-platformer that normalizes death and creates a venue for discussing life, belief systems, and our eventual passing.

What better way to discuss some of the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of death and dying than in a medium rife with demise? Our digital playground is strewn with corpses of both enemies and allies and filled with the memories of our own demise. Even the idea of spiritual transcendence is crudely mirrored by our avatars’ tendencies to revive and carry-on after any casualty. In games, death is commonplace and frequently trivial, and, thus, gaming provides a safe place to dissect some of our beliefs and assumptions about mortality. In real life, managing one’s feelings on such sensitive subjects can be quite difficult, particularly for young-adults. Channel 4 Education, the learning arm of the UK television broadcaster, and Preloaded, a London-based game studio, seek to help teens confront their own feelings about mortality with The End, a puzzle-platformer that normalizes death and creates a venue for discussing life, belief systems, and our eventual passing.


Since venturing into educational media, Channel 4 has shown no hesitation in broaching sensitive and risque subjects, from sex and drugs to the threat of a surveillance society, as they relate to youth. Death is both a biological and a deeply sociocultural phenomenon. The process of dying has long since left the home for the hospital, and as a result, our cultural attitudes towards death have altered drastically. For many, the subject remains taboo, something to be hidden away lest we give it strength. Although some cultural norms arise, belief systems and perceptions about death vary widely. Preloaded describes their interest in the subject as follows: “One debate we were particularly interested in was the approach to death, belief and science. Many children and teens in the UK have a secular upbringing, which can leave them feeling unsupported when trying to make sense of death outside of a religious viewpoint.”


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