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Thursday, Oct 4, 2012
What happens when a production company stages an interactive theater experiment? It starts to resemble a video game.

Believe it or not, I do listen to podcasts about subjects other than video games.  For example, the Freakonomics podcast is one of my regularly weekly downloads.  However, this isn’t to say that I’m not still thinking about games while listening to a supposedly unrelated topic.  Case in point: the recent episode called “Fear Thy Nature”.


The show, like all Freakonomics episodes, was about trying to figure out what influences human behavior.  This particular episode looked at how our social environments impact our actions and devoted a significant chunk of time to discussing an interactive theater production called Sleep No More.  Freakonomics framed Sleep No More as a bold experiment in socialization and storytelling, and I have no doubt it is very impressive both as a piece of theater and in its relation to social science tests like the Stanford Prison Experiment.  However, as someone familiar with video games, many of the statements made in the podcast (some of which I’ve included here) sounded very familiar.


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Thursday, Sep 27, 2012
If you really want to enjoy the systems of Borderlands 2, play Maya, play support, and absolutely play with friends.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: to really understand the nuance of class-based game systems, play support. The healers and strategists are the unsung heroes of multiplayer games. To play a support class is to embed yourself into deep system analysis out of simple necessity. While exclusively reinforcing your teammates can be a burden, support classes remain one of the most compelling roles in games. Until recently, Team Fortress 2’s Medic class held the title for best support class in a first-person shooter. Now, with the release of Gearbox’sBorderlands 2, Maya the Siren handily deserves our praise as an incredibly well-designed support character.


Like the rest of Borderlands 2’s cast of playable characters, Maya can actually level up, in the traditional RPG manner, three different skill trees. The Cataclysm tree focuses primarily on elemental effects, increasing her offensive capabilities. The Motion tree emphasizes crowd control and, coupled with Maya’s healing-focused Harmony trees, creates a very satisfying support-focused Maya.


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Thursday, Sep 20, 2012
Papo & Yo demonstrates that a kid's story in a video game doesn't need to be childish.

The following post contains spoilers for Papo & Yo.


Video games are often criticized as being childish and obsessed with power fantasies.  It’s an understandable sentiment.  Whether it is an uninspired cartoonish aesthetic or a simplistic plot in which a 90-pound weakling becomes the master of the universe, many games come off as immature.  In games in which kids are the main characters, it’s easy to find a combination of these two tropes: shallow child characters that somehow manage to get caught up in a grand conflict in which they become the hero.  It’s a fun daydream, but not especially representative of the real challenges that youths face.


Papo & Yo got me thinking about the topic of children in games, largely because its child-protagonist has modest abilities and its story is grounded in reality.  Quico is the main character, but he’s not the world’s savior.  He makes use of unique abilities, but he is by no means invulnerable to harm nor totally in control of his situation.  Quico’s journey of personal growth serves as a metaphor for the private battles that people face every day, rather than a literal war for control of the universe.


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Thursday, Sep 13, 2012
Deciding who dies has far less meaning than deciding how we move forward with those left behind.

Warning: The post contains spoilers for Episode 3, “Long Road Ahead”, of The Walking Dead.


Over on the massive The Walking Dead Wiki, a poll asks visitors whether they liked the three character deaths in the recently released third Episode of The Walking Dead video game. The overwhelming majority of respondents selected “No! I wasn’t given the choice of letting them live or die.” While I traditionally side with players who want to see game stories affected by their decisions, this negative response completely misses a crucial theme in the series: death and the construction of meaning are processes, not singular events.


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Thursday, Sep 6, 2012
How smart games criticism, a need for structure, and zen gardens rekindled my interest in JRPGs.

Pay attention to the video game scene for long enough, and you start to notice cycles.  Certain genres, art styles, and mechanics gain popularity, fade away, and then re-emerge.  We’ve all seen examples of this: fighting games, cel shading, experience point systems, etc.  More difficult to see are the cycles that happen in our own lives. Everything from personal milestones, to work schedules, and even your day-to-day mindset ebb and flow along with the video game landscape, thereby influencing the kinds of games that grab you.


This subject has been on my mind recently thanks to a renewed interest in a genre I nearly abandoned: the JRPG.


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