Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Thursday, Feb 14, 2013
The art of designing for horror takes practice. I gladly applaud those not yet willing to surrender defeat.

The release of Dead Space 3 brings with it the well-worn discussion of cooperative horror games. For the first time in the series, Isaac Clarke teams up with Sergeant John Carver to offer players a cooperative xenomorph-killing extravaganza. For a vocal bunch of players, the additional company might be fun, but saps the game of its horror roots. Pushed by popular discourse, I fear we may settle on the false assumption that horror and co-op gaming are simply incompatible. While most conversations pit co-op play against “isolation” and “immersion”, I think we can find a place for multiplayer horror games by balancing vulnerability and mutual reliance in games.


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Thursday, Feb 7, 2013
Can planet-sized explosions ever get boring? Asura's Wrath suggests that the answer involves finding the right dosage.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Dragonball Z series, mainly because I get bored waiting for people to charge up their power levels, hearing people discuss their power levels, and being surprised others’ power levels do not match their expectations.  I like an “over 9000” joke as much as the next Internet denizen, but I prefer a little more interactivity in my melodrama.  Enter: Asura’s Wrath.


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Thursday, Jan 31, 2013
Those willing to take the "Nuzlocke Challenge" may find a difficult yet enriching experience that teaches them as much about pokémon training as it does about system design.

Few game franchises remain so enduring and immutable as the Pokémon series. Every entry into the franchise takes the same fundamental game system, even the same narrative, and transplants them almost entirely into another region. For outsiders looking in, Pokémon‘s steadfast design appears tedious. On the other hand, Pokémon aficionados, particularly those willing to create their own goals and strategies, see not a rigid system, but a flexible world. Those willing to take the “Nuzlocke Challenge” may find a difficult yet enriching experience that teaches them as much about pokémon training as it does about system design.


The Nuzlocke Challenge first appeared in a comic titled “Pokémon: Hard Mode,” written and illustrated by someone named, of course, Nuzlocke. The challenge is simple and has only two core rules. First, players may only catch the first pokémon that they see in a new area. If the pokémon flees or faints, the player is simply out of luck and must continue on regardless. Second, if a pokémon faints in battle, it considered “dead” and must be released or placed into a PC box. Funtionally, the Nuzlocke Challenge is Pokémon with permadeath.


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Thursday, Jan 24, 2013
The proliferation of the Internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity to record and then access past events. Going forward, our memories of the kinds of games we play, how we play them, and the culture surrounding them will routinely bump up against the recorded past, forcing a change in the way we remember our games and ourselves.

Julian Barnes’ novel, The Sense of an Ending, explores the nature of memory and how the documented past often conflicts with our personal recollection of events.  The book is split between two main sections: one in which Tony is a young man who responds to romantic disappointment with a detached dry wit and one in Tony’s retirement years.  With most of his life behind him, he unexpectedly receives a letter that prompts him to reevaluate his memory of those formative college years.  Faced with old writings from both himself and his friends, he struggles to reconcile the immaturity, irresponsibility, and bitterness apparent in the historical record with his personal heroic recollections.


It’s an understated, narrowly-focused story about one person’s life, but the underlying concepts are universal. Our mental notion of the past is a continually shifting concept that can be upset by even the smallest piece of contrary documentation.  It’s probably a good lesson to apply to all facets of life, but in the interest of starting small, let’s focus on video games.  The proliferation of the Internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity to record and then access past events.  Going forward, our memories of the kinds of games we play, how we play them, and the culture surrounding them will routinely bump up against the recorded past.


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Thursday, Jan 17, 2013
Jeff Reichert’s most relevant question for the games industry is one concerning consumers: “Why is it so hard to engage the reader to a more credulous relationship with the moving image?”

There is a social taboo still alive and strong against crossing the critical line between video games and film. Even with the current gun-control climate once again putting both mediums on the hot-seat over our culture’s fascination with violence, the two circles seldom intertwine. Regardless, game players and game critics miss out if they ignore the recent conversations abuzz in the world of film and television entertainment. One recent conversation is particularly worthy of our attention for its critical engagement of content, form, and the wider pop culture discourse.


Kathryn Bigelow, award winning director of The Hurt Locker, stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy recently after the release of the now Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty. The film, which quite explicitly states it is “based on firsthand accounts of actual events”, follows the pursuit and killing of Osama Bin Laden. The issue for many is its handling of torture. To some, Bigelow falsely implies that torture, and waterboarding in particular, played a pivotal and necessary role in acquiring the information that would eventually lead to the discovery of the location of Osama Bin Laden.


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