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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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Thursday, May 9, 2013
Without ever hammering players with an overt message, Rohrer and Pope have quietly made some of today's most politically relevant games.

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.


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Thursday, May 2, 2013
Papers, Please conveys the insidious weight of bureaucracy, one passport at a time.

I once moved to the U.K. for an extended period of time.  I can recall very few situations more stressful than that customs line: Did I have all my papers?  What questions were they going to ask?  What would happen if I got waived through but my wife didn’t?  In terms of “immigrations,” it was a relatively mild one. We had given up our apartment and jobs in the U.S., but if we got denied, we still had friends and family to help us out.  We weren’t going to be secreted away by fascist goons, and the laws of both the U.S. and the U.K. were fairly navigable in the grand scheme of things.  Still, watching the border officer review all our paperwork was tense.  The seconds it took for her to reach for her stamp felt like years.  What was going through her mind while she looked at our documents? 


Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please offers one possible explanation, albeit one set in a much more dramatic environment.  It’s a game where you play as an immigration inspector who has to process paperwork and make the decision whether to allow people to cross the border.  Your job is simple: grant or deny people passage to the country.  However, as the game goes on, the human cost of of your decision for both you and those you evaluate becomes apparent, leading to some uncomfortable realizations about the power of social structures.


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