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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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Thursday, Dec 6, 2012
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 touches upon themes of America's economic decline, technological dependencies, and the loss of international political capital in the face of a costly empire.

The modern iterations of the Call of Duty franchise have consistently incorporated real world political facts and themes, albeit not always tactfully. More than mindless military shooters set to a simulacrum of modern politics, each Call of Duty reveals interesting aspects of American social and political fears and psychoses.  Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 continues this trend, touching upon themes of America’s economic decline, technological dependencies, and the loss of international political capital in the face of a costly empire.


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Thursday, Nov 29, 2012
Call of Duty: Black Ops II shrewdly utilizes the trappings of reality while avoiding the murky quagmire of history.

The Call of Duty series has become a kind of shorthand in many circles, many of which I frequent.  It’s often the punchline whenever eggheads like me decry annualized sequels, toxic online communities, overly-scripted gameplay, and jingoistic stories about glorious war heroes.  The latest installment, Black Ops II, doesn’t really refute any of this.


Outside of Madden, Black Ops II is perhaps the most mainstream traditional video game of the season.  It’s the game that gets prime time commercials.  It’s one of the titles that folks who only buy a couple games a year eagerly await.  It’s a summer blockbuster in November, something carefully marketed and crafted to appeal to as large an audience possible.  It would be completely understandable if the search for such a broad appeal led to a bland product; trying to please everyone usually negates a lot of interesting ideas.


And yet, I always look forward to playing a new Call of Duty game.  The foremost reason being that the snappy controls and dopamine-inducing multiplayer progression system create a compelling one-two punch.  However, I’m equally drawn to the bombastic, single player experience campaigns.  Despite being squarely in the mainstream, Black Ops II broaches topics that few other games touch.


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