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I can’t think of a single element in Ys Seven that I haven’t seen reiterated ad nauseum in a dozen of other games in the last ten years—a period in which by any measure the game would still be classified as outdated. We can go back and forth on the merits of game structuralism, the merits of innovation versus convention. Surely, for fans of traditional JRPGs (and I’d count myself among them), the appeal of the familiar is itself a large selling point. But like any creature that’s evolved in relative isolation for one too many generations, there’s a specificity to Ys Seven‘s design the function of which I just cannot understand.

Namely, it is the way that it integrates its silent protagonist.

“You just headbutted my boyfriend so hard he burst.

“Yeah, well… you broke my heart. So I guess that makes us even.”

Somewhere embedded in this summer’s film adaptation of the game-inspired comic Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley is a critique of moral oversimplification, although you have to sift around a bit in order to find it. I will be honest. As someone who has explored the story in three distinct formats by now (comic, movie, and Ubisoft Montreal’s downloadable sidescroller), I do feel that O’Malley’s comic tackles the moral issues of its narrative with slightly more finesse than the others, although all three of them remain rather problematic.

Last year’s ultraviolent action flick Gamer (2009) is many things, most of them not well-executed, but a few of them are at least interesting to talk about. This is not, however, a review of the film. Instead, it’s a launching point to discuss an idea which lingers in a tiny, oft forgotten corner of the player’s brain: that anxiety that what we are doing to characters on a screen is more than unfair, it’s tantamount to torture.

On a larger scale, Gamer is the latest in a series of films challenging the empathetic disconnect between audience and spectacle. In each of these movies (Running Man, Network, The Truman Show, to name a few), we’re assumedly taught to appreciate that there is a real person on the other side of the screen and that our cynical appetite for entertainment becomes tantamount to sadism the moment that we cease to recognize the characters’ personhood. That’s the idea anyway. Gamer‘s dissonance within this trope of films occurs because the scenario that it proposes is more ludicrous than even the most outlandish of these reality show movie premises: game avatars are not real. They won’t be real. There is no practical, logistical way that games like the ones featured in this film will ever exist. Gamer‘s central idea is so absurd that the prototypical moral message of this subtrope of films is not only absent, it left the building before you even got there.

At the outset, the way in which video games typically use the word “genre” seems at odds with its more conventional literary and cinematic usage. However, arguably, by emphasizing a means of delivery, video game genre becomes the format informing emotion, which is not so far from the word’s more thematic meaning at all.

Just as the tropes of film genres train audiences to anticipate certain modes of behavior (we generally expect the action hero to kill to get what he wants, just as we hope that the romantic comedy lead doesn’t), video game genres emphasize the power dynamic between players and events. Players, in turn, develop distinct emotional ranges and expectations within a given genre, and these are continually modified and projected by a game’s content. You expect to exert a greater level of tactile immersion with the full sensory space in a first person shooter than you would a 2-D platformer, so a game like BioShock brings about its emotional reaction in part by violating that very expectation of (albeit illusory) player-character autonomy. Following on that idea, the comparatively high compression of a 2-D platformer’s player-space interaction means that the player’s main dialogue occurs first and foremost with the space’s physical laws, rather than with its social ones. In this way, platformers’ interests tend to fall thematically within two familiar conflicts: man versus nature and man versus himself.

Thus, in one sense, video game genres are more liberating than many others because they allow any number of thematic elements within the same conversational framework. You can have first-person shooter romantic comedies and political thrillers that are also visual novels, and these are acceptable in either case.

//Blogs

The Best and Worst Films of Spring 2015

// Short Ends and Leader

"January through April is a time typically made up of award season leftovers, pre-summer spectacle, and more than a few throwaways. Here are PopMatters' choices for the best and worst of the last four months.

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