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

 
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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Mar 1, 2011
I'm not very traditionally girly, and I like it when a video game character is able to communicate that mixture of gendered ideals without becoming a caricature. I found that in Dragon Age.

As is the case with about half of the Moving Pixels blog’s writers, I’ve been replaying Dragon Age: Origins and its accompanying DLC recently in anticipation of the sequel’s release. Admittedly, this is as deeply as I’ve ever gotten into it, and I was surprised at the extent to which the writing emphasizes the female warrior as not secondary or conditional.


It’s important to not conflate the idea of “woman warrior” with “feminine strength” because strength and femininity both take a variety of forms. That being said, I’m not very traditionally girly, and I like it when a video game character is able to communicate that mixture of gendered ideals without becoming a caricature. I found that in Dragon Age.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011
Somewhere in me still resides the bitter Sega orphan that, like a Firefly Browncoat or a Justin Bieber fan at the Grammys, wishes history had turned out differently.

It’s about time I came clean with you all: I know next to nothing about Nintendo.


My first gaming console as a child was a Sega CD, and I say that specifically because it took 24 hours or so for my father to realize that he needed to go out and buy a Genesis for it to work. He’s been enamored with computers for as long as I can remember and was especially interested in CD technologies of that time period. He couldn’t really care less about games, but full motion video cutscenes, that excited him. Fortunately, it excited his four children as well.


I couldn’t tell you the specific rationale for it now (though it was probably monetary), but my family remained a single-brand household for a long time after that. We got a lot of use out of that Genesis. We even had a 32x! And though no American child can grow up completely without exposure to Nintendo products thanks to classmates and popular media, my siblings and I were all squarely and firmly in Sega camp, back when there indeed were such camps and a blue hedgehog led one of them.


Tagged as: sonic, sega
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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 15, 2011
Gamer culture is marked by a sort of box fixation.

There’s something about game boxes that makes them fascinating as objects.


I’ve habitually held onto all my console boxes since childhood, in part because my family were frequent movers, but also largely because I was fixated on their uniqueness and their role as signifiers. As a kid, there was something almost religious about them, as though they’d literally given birth to the fat collection of plastic and computer chips sitting underneath my TV. The fact that game devices were most typically a Christmas gift only enhanced the quasi-Catholicism with which these boxes were silently revered.


Maybe I’m just weird.


Nevertheless, gamer culture is indeed marked by a sort of box fixation. On the one hand, it relates to collectorship—boxes connote not just protection but also completion, which is the main reason that two equally unblemished discs will go for different prices on eBay. On the other hand, they also act as indexes to what the machine or software is as well as what it can potentially be in the user’s hands.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011
Most video games celebrate the state of the present. However, the JRPG, with its arduous focus on the task at hand, reveals that that is rarely the goal or even pleasurable in the moment, but bearable only because of the knowledge that once it ends, the player will be rewarded with more story.

Video games celebrate the state of the present. They’re always centered on the immediate action the player can take: where and how he moves and what result this brings. Games do not cue us to their pasts easily or frequently. Maybe the blank space will tell the player where he’s already moved in a Pac-Man maze or maybe finding a broken crate where a health pack should be reminds him that he’s already been past this area in Tomb Raider, but there is very little sense of an archived human history in these spaces. If nothing else, the past is hard if not impossible to access, seeing as the state of play resides in conflict with the immutable record.


Some games do indeed play with time, like Metal Gear Solid 3‘s unconventional game overs when you create a time paradox or many of Braid‘s platforming mechanics. But for the most part, video games are experienced in the present tense. Yet, I would argue, there are some games that strongly privilege the future state over the player’s current action, and these are usually the games that we find most difficult to talk about in conventional ludological terms.


I’m speaking, of course, of the Japanese role-playing genre.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011
In LittleBigPlanet 2 you can be anything you want, as long as you're a boy or you don't actually expect anyone to respect or acknowledge you as being anything else.

LittleBigPlanet 2 might have unintentionally oriented itself toward a more elite playerbase than it realized, but you can’t mistake the good pedagogical intentions of its developers. These games are meant as Western child-rearing in a nutshell, deliberately multicultural and gender-inclusive, actively encouraging self discovery and mutable identification.


There’s just the little problem of its execution. Or rather, how it sets up and fails to deliver where it counts.


Let’s begin by considering LittleBigPlanet 2‘s approach to character design compared to more “mature” titles, like a BioWare RPG. If gender isn’t the very first item that you select, it’s certainly up there near the top. By contrast, LittleBigPlanet 2‘s character customization (which has not been altered terribly much from the original) stresses a sort of free play with gender and expression. Certainly you can gender yourself and dominant references to the series mascot as “Sackboy” enforce a specific interpretation, but there is nothing in the text itself that says a player can’t freely decide to be one thing, then another, then both, then neither. She can add an afro to her wedding dress, give the Raiden outfit Meryl Silverburgh’s wig, or whatever else she fancies. Not only can the player do this, the game wants her to do it. Experiment is what it encourages. Be playful with your identity.


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