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Thursday, Jun 13, 2013
Proteus shows that chasing a single definition of "video game" distracts us from more important things.

I suppose this post has spoilers for Proteus.  It’s hard to know, as it’s not a traditional game when it comes to its story or systems.  In fact, popular opinion is split on whether this Proteus is a game at all.  If something has no clear faiure or win states and no in-game actions besides simple locomotion, is it a game?


The question has re-spawned a labyrinthian debate around the nature of medium: the philosophies, semantics, and hurt feelings are quite hard to untangle.  Because of this, I admire Matthew Burns’s Alexandrian response: the idea of video games as a unified medium has become intractable.  In his words, trying to reconcile experimental design with the mainstream publishing scene is akin to “a faculty member from Juilliard express[ing] a desire for ‘a dialogue’ with Sid Vicious about chord progressions.  It’s not that these two don’t see eye to eye on matters of music theory ... it’s that the punks have arrived on the scene with such a completely different set of values that they might as well be from different planets” (“Our Immiscible Future”, Magical Wasteland, 27 April 2013) It’s sad that we cannot return to “the prelapsarian niceness of thinking that everyone should hang out with everyone else ... but there is an element to defining the self that is made out of forsaking something else.”  Things change, but that’s okay.


Tagged as: proteus
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Thursday, Jun 6, 2013
Quandary might actually make children less confident in the ability of authority figures to make decisions in their best interest or to mediate issues on their behalf.

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.


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Thursday, May 30, 2013
There's no doubt about it: many of things touted at Sony and Microsoft's announcements were solutions to "first-world problems" that are only tangentially related to games. But that's because those are the only types of problems the companies are in a position to address.

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.


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Thursday, May 23, 2013
I have never been so struck by a combined effort of console makers to construct the very future they profess to herald. These conferences are framed as though they have some answer to a solution for a problem that has never existed. They seek to create the audience they want to sell this to.

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?


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Thursday, May 16, 2013
I don't know what's in the cube, but I do know that what's outside of it offers valuable insight into the current state of video games.

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:


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