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

 
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Tuesday, Oct 18, 2011
Kris ran a tabletop campaign! Let's talk about it.

These past two weeks, as part of one of my game studies classes, I’ve been engaged in taking a largely uninitiated party of undergraduates through the paces of a tabletop roleplay campaign. We had just come off a screening of Darkon and a series of readings on the Atari 2600 (including Adventure and the origins thereof) so we were all of a mindset to begin exploring actual game creation and interacting with real systems. Our professor, taking a philosophical approach to the subject that I wish more academics of new media would, divided the class into three groups: gamist, emphasizing combat systems; simulationist, emphasizing ambient world effects and modeling; and narrativist, emphasizing storytelling. I DMed for the last of these.


“But wait, Kris,” I hear you saying, “Aren’t you a ludologist?” I’m glad you asked, dear reader. I actually think of myself as a post-Aarsethian ergodic narrativist/aestheticist, but that is neither here nor there. The Great War of ludology versus narratology is an important conversation but a decidedly dead one, nor does it matter whether anyone won (arguably, the only winners were the ones who didn’t play). What does matter is that my professor suggested that narrativist tabletop roleplay was beset by cliche and was the structurally weakest of play types. That sounded like a thrown gauntlet to me.


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Tuesday, Oct 11, 2011
Beset by sculptures of alien invaders and rampaging teenage zombies, IndieCade manages to be a place of community all but forgotten in mainstream electronic gaming.

Culver City is one of the more curious neighborhoods of the Los Angeles sprawl, a sort of industrial version of Pasadena with much of the filmmaking history of Hollywood but with only a fraction of its tinsel. Despite being wedged between Santa Monica and downtown, it feels distinctly suburban here, even just a tiny bit upscale—but still definitely middle-class, white-collar knowledge labor, not the town of either executives or bohemians. Even having lived almost exclusively in Los Angeles for the last five years, I’ve only visited two, maybe three times, and never before on (what might loosely be defined as) business.


I knew better than to expect anything on the scale of a major expo. The IndieCade independent games festival is only in its fourth year and is very much defined by its outsider status. While it does deliver a slick presentation, it isn’t the audio-visual heart attack of E3. The term “adhocracy”—which Naughty Dog’s Richard Lemarchand used to describe his team’s development process at a Saturday panel—would seem to apply well to the overall structure of IndieCade. Games here exist pervasively and at the margins as much as they do in defined spaces, which well suits some of its featured games’ attempts to deconstruct and reconfigure play and space.


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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011
Ruins exudes a sense not just of a mystical dream setting but also a private one.

It’s hard to play games on my little netbook. Cardboard Computer’s Ruins barely runs, but it still manages to be strikingly beautiful. A brief, branching dreamscape involving several layers of metaphor, there isn’t much I can say about the actual contents without making the game sound more mundane than it is, so I encourage you just to try it.


We have seen several games try to approximate dream logic, and from an aesthetic point of view, Ruins might come the closest to doing so. Set in a tiny space of uncertain dimension and shifting perspectives, the experience is set so much in a perpetual haze and glow that you can’t be sure of where you are going or what you are looking at.


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Tuesday, Sep 20, 2011
The Artist is Present is not much of a game, but it functions brilliantly as a comment on time and patience in media consumption.

I took a stab at The Artist is Present this afternoon, after reading a write-up about it on IndieGames a few days previously. Between the austere Sierra-style graphics and idiosyncratic premise (a “queue simulator,” as IndieGames called it), it seemed like promising blog material.


Unfortunately, 2:30pm on the West coast of the United States is 5:30pm on the East coast, which is where the game is set. Located within the Museum of Modern Art, the game keeps the same hours that the museum does, or so it might appear at first. After squinting at my game for a few minutes, seeing if it was possible to walk around the building (it’s not), and debating the merits of waking up at 7:00 in the morning on my day off just to play a flash game, I tried adjusting my computer’s clock.


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Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011
Is it cheating when the game wants you to seek outside help?

I recently loaned my copy of Catherine to a friend, who has kept me aprised of her progress through text messages. This week she texted to vent that the puzzles were sometimes so difficult that they were driving her insane.


“Switch to a lower difficulty!” I suggested.


In my mind, there was no shame involved in this, as a lot of very accomplished adult gamers had also played on Easy mode, and it was basically the acknowledgement of the game’s designers that they had made the thing too hard. And while I had managed to beat the game twice on Normal, it didn’t mean I expected anyone else to.


But my friend wasn’t having it. She described lowering the difficulty as “giving in.”


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