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

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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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Thursday, Jan 10, 2013
Who needs physical media? Some of the year's best games were digitally published.

2012 was great for gamers who adhere to a minimalist lifestyle or who are just running out of shelf space. Some of the year’s best games were digitally published. PopMatters’ upcoming top games of 2012 list already includes some of my favorites (e.g., Journey and The Walking Dead), but there were too many to fit all on one list. Here are five of my additional favorites:

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Thursday, Dec 20, 2012
When depicting history and modern political realities, what stories do we want to tell?

Games are, above all else, forms of storytelling. And in that act of play, we commit ourselves to enacting narratives not entirely of our own design. Kiri Miller, in her article Grove Street Grimm: Grand Theft Auto and Digital Folklore, identifies games as performative folklore, navigable culturally significant experience. Like all folklore, she states, video games can “inculcate values, demonstrate behaviors, and transmit beliefs, thereby creating and perpetuating social formations and actions.” This same process appears mirrored, sometimes grotesquely so, in the processes by which narratives of both peace and conflict appear in media - propaganda and otherwise - in war zones. Appropriate, then, that the recent Gaza Missile Crisis, another event in a long and intractable conflict, should find a board game created in its image.

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Thursday, Dec 13, 2012
The pursuit of extreme challenges and endless level progression makes sense for skill-based games with an arcade heritage, but The Unfinished Swan is after something else.

I admire a developer who gives their game a name that lends itself to snide remarks.  For example, take Giant Sparrow’s game, The Unfinished Swan.  if the game turned out poorly, the pithy one-liners would almost write themselves: “Unfinished Swan?  More like Unfinished Game!”  Thankfully, the game gracefully delivers a complete, cohesive experience.

Like other outstanding games, The Unfinished Swan’s major achievement lies in the way it links its authored story to its interactive systems.  The game is about a young boy becoming a more complete person, and the game’s mechanics reflect this journey while also inviting us to think about what constitutes a “complete” game.

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