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by Scott Juster

5 Sep 2013


A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how roguelikes and other difficult systems-focused games foster the “good death.”  Games like Spelunky are harsh but satisfying.  Their rules are consistent and understandable, so each death is an instructive experience.  Each death is also a clean end to a singular story. You start the game, build up supplies, and eventually your adventure comes to an end. There is no need for mental gymnastics when faced with respawns in story-driven games.

I think these aspects explain much of the current roguelike renaissance, but there’s another phenomenon that is equally important. We’re tackling challenging games in a more socially connected way than ever before.  We don’t mind dying because we’re dying together.

by Jorge Albor

29 Aug 2013


Warning: This article contains spoilers for Gone Home

One of the very first things you touch in Gone Home, a game that almost entirely consists of picking up, reading, moving, opening, or otherwise handling objects, is a plastic Christmas duck. Its presence is a weird little anomaly (What’s a Christmas duck anyway?). Nevertheless, like all of the objects in the Greenbriar home, it illustrates in the physical world the invisible relationships between the story’s family. Playing as Kaitlin Greenbriar, this isn’t any duck. This is your duck, your family’s quirky piece of the holiday season. The trappings of the home map out the outlines of a family remarkably, but it’s your own perspectives that fill them with life.

by Scott Juster

22 Aug 2013


With the recent PC release, I’ve fallen back down the deep, unforgiving chasm that is Spelunky. Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic. I actually love Spelunky and barely need an excuse to play it again. My most recent return to the game coincides with a host of other modern roguelikes (or roguelike-likes, or rogue-lites, if you’re so inclined) that bring with them a philosophy of unapologetically challenging the player. It’s fascinating to me that these games are thriving alongside experiential games like Gone Home as well as broadly accessible blockbusters that are meant to entertain rather than challenge. With that in mind, I wanted to do a little armchair mass-psychoanalysis on why many of us are so entranced by roguelikes.

by Jorge Albor

15 Aug 2013


Uplifted (Channel4, 2011)

No matter how culturally recognizable Mario or Sonic are among non-gamers, no matter how many games of Angry Birds I see played on public transportation, I still see shocked faces when I mention my interest in political games (or social impact games, serious games, whatever you want to call them). Part of this incredulity is the frivolous approach to games that most people take, sure. Conversely, part of this response is founded in how necessarily complex serious issues seem.

Environmental change? Gun violence? Urban poverty? These are big issues with many stakeholders and twice as many opinions. Plenty of people feel uncomfortable discussing these issues around a dinner table among friends. Is it a surprise the idea of games addressing big, systemic concerns, sounds laughable? As simple, playful things, how could games plumb such intricacies?

While I am a professed fan of large systems in games, sometimes it’s the simple things that make compelling and effective serious games. To that end, here are three recent examples of games that offer interesting perspectives through simple means.

by Scott Juster

8 Aug 2013


The other day I did something I normally don’t do. I finished a game for a second time.  It’s not that I want to be a rolling stone when it comes to games. It’s just that the odds (i.e., the realities of life) aren’t stacked in my favor.  The potential number of hours that I can dedicate to games has drastically ebbed, and gone are the days when playing through Final Fantasy VI twice a year was a modest accomplishment.  On the other end of the scarcity spectrum, I could quit my job for a year and still find myself surrounded by great games from 2012’s back catalog.  Finally, it doesn’t help that games often demand a gargantuan time investment. Try to find a blockbuster action movie that lasts as long as an Uncharted campaign, for example.  Dump 100 hours into DotA 2 and you’ll probably be just good enough to be considered “not bad.”

It’s a shame, since playing games multiple times is something I enjoy.  I see things I missed the first time through and get a chance to reconsider my opinions.  This opportunity for reevaluation means that when I do play games again they tend to fall into two categories: the ones I found either especially enjoyable or those that were less than enjoyable.  Anything that provokes a response stronger than “meh” often gets another look, which is why I played through Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery again.

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Mr. Robot: Episode 6 -- "Br4ve-Trave1er.asf

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