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Thursday, Jul 19, 2012
How might game designers exploit our hidden vulnerability to spatial-inspired psychosis? The good news is that many already do.

Every year, 50 to 100 tourists visiting Israel, the vast majority devout Christians, succumb to what is colloquially known as Jerusalem syndrome. Awed by the ostensibly holy nature of their surroundings, they begin to exhibit strange behavior. Many perform acts of spiritual and physical cleansing before taking to the streets and becoming ad-hoc prophets and messiahs. Seemingly normal individuals begin delivering sermons to passers by. Others partake in daily activities to prep the world for the second coming of Christ. Yet others genuinely believe that they are Jesus reborn.


This phenomenon is not localized to Jerusalem. Stendhal syndrome is the name of a similar psychosomatic illness in which sufferers may succumb to dizziness, fainting, confusion, and hallucinations when surrounded by art, particularly in Florence, Italy. Similarly, Paris Syndrome describes the psychological disorders of predominantly Japanese tourists that every year experience temporary psychosis partially brought on by the disconnect between their idealized perception of Paris and reality. While Jerusalem syndrome is engendered by the city strongly matching cultural and in this case religious expectations, Paris syndrome is evoked by the disjuncture between expectations and truth.


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2012
The strongest part of the Smithsonian's "The Art of Video Games" is its potential to involve visitors in the process of promoting the medium.

Last week I visited “The Art of Video Games” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.  It’s an ambitious attempt to give an overview of the medium’s development from it’s inception to the present day.  It’s difficult to do justice to an entire medium in the space of a few galleries.  Major blindspots exist (like the arcade and handheld scenes) and philosophical questions (such as the difference between narrative and ludic storytelling approaches) get flattened out in the interest of making the exhibit approachable for a wide audience.  Regardless, it’s pretty neat to see a video game exhibit in the same building as Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington portrait.


Most of the exhibit used video and static artwork to demonstrate the featured games, but my favorite gallery was the one with playable games.  I don’t think I’ll blow anyone’s mind by saying that the best way to understand video games is to play them, and I think the chosen titles served as a good sample of the best the medium has to offer: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.  Visitors weren’t simply playing these games, they were experiencing the interactivity that makes games unique and taking part in the generational and social dynamics that have risen up around the medium.


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Thursday, Jun 28, 2012
In Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy calls on YOU to revolutionize the video game industry.

In her book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, game designer and critic Anna Anthropy argues in favor of a simple, yet radical change to the video game landscape.  Her mission is refreshingly straightforward, as is her prose: “What I want from videogames is for creation to be open to everyone, not just to publishers and programmers.  I want games to be personal and meaningful, not just pulp for an established audience.  I want game creation to be decentralized.  I want open access to the creative act for everyone.  I want games as zines” (Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Seven Stories Press, 2012, p. 10).  She admits that it’s a daunting order, but then spends the rest of the book enthusiastically and convincingly showing that such a change is well within our grasp.  Her book, which could have easily been a simple polemic against entrenched publishers, instead becomes an optimistic guide for people of non-traditional backgrounds to take ownership of the medium.


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Thursday, Jun 21, 2012
King Kong and movie tie-in games like it seldom aim high, but they may yet provide an added value -- intentionally or otherwise -- to media communities.

There was a palpable excitement about King Kong shortly before its release in 2005. Peter Jackson had just come off the amazingly successful and Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unless Jackson pulls an “M. Night Shyamalan,” his name will forever carry with it instant notoriety, drawing a community towards his work eager to participate in whatever artistic endeavor he chooses to create. Like many other media properties of this sort, this built in community makes a natural target for cross-media promotions and transmedia storytelling. Remember that King Kong video game that—much to everyone’s surprise—was actually decent? King Kong and movie tie-in games like it seldom aim high, but they may yet provide an added value—intentionally or otherwise—to media communities.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2012
Part Dr. Seuss and part popup book, Botanicula presents a world that is both natural and fantastical.

I spent a good chunk of last week at E3, where I was inundated by games striving for authenticity.  Most of these were shooters, most of them boasted impressive motion capture and textures, and most of them started to blend together after a while.  In between explosions, I kept thinking about Botanicula (a humble point and click adventure game from Amanita Design) and how much more alive it seems than many of these photorealistic spectacles.


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