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Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010
Despite featuring a side quest that consists of completing a pornography collection, Mafia II is surprisingly prudish when it comes to featuring nudity in its more serious scenes.

Mafia II features a lot of nudes.  51 of them to be exact.  I know this because the game features 50 collectible Playboy centerfolds that can be viewed (after collection in game) in the main menu.  There is also one nude in the in game sequences themselves.


The inclusion of 1950s Playmates apparently is intended to add an air of authenticity to the period in which the game takes place and to the seaminess of the mob lifestyle of the game’s protagonist.  While the Playmates presence in the game are actually anachronistic if the game were set in a historical United States (since the game’s main action takes place in 1943 and 1951, years prior to the release of Hefner’s magazine in actual history), assumedly the fictional city of Empire Bay resides in an equally fictional alternate timeline of United States history, in which Playboy emerged on the American scene about a decade early.  The authenticity of these nudes is probably derived more from their more demure quality (something that most players would associate with pornography of a period perceived to be more prudish than the current one) than an adherence to real historicity.


In that regard, the nudes featured here are certainly more buttoned up than what one might expect to encounter when performing a Google image search with SafeSearch disabled in 2010.  None of these images feature full frontal nudity (as no Playboy pictorial did prior to the 1970s).  Many of them feature women merely in sheer clothing or often feature a bare bottom rather than bare breasts and are generally less raunchy than contemporary pornography.  Nevertheless, the game makes it abundantly clear that these nudes are here to be viewed.


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Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010
For as often as I died while playing N+, maybe the best compliment that I can pay it is that I didn’t mind a single time.

N+, like its free to play flash predecessor N, is a simple but elegant platformer. The purpose of the game is to get to the exit while collecting as much gold in the room as you like. Obstacles include mines, laser turrets, and heat seeking missiles which make escape more complicated. The ninja is a good abstract avatar that anyone can project on to, and all of your abilities will be familiar to anyone who has played a 2-D platformer. What’s impressive about the game is how much playtime it extracts, given that it is a game in which all you can really do is jump. It instead relies on only a handful of obstacles and shifting goals to make a game that you always want to play just one more time. For the purposes of this post, I played N+ on the DS, which unfortunately means I’m just discussing the levels included with the game in single player mode. They took the servers down a while back for DS owners.


The game is fast paced and you can easily die a dozen times per level. Difficulty is a uniquely layered system because the game challenges you in three ways. The first is the challenge that evry player must complete: get to the exit. The second is for OCD players who want to collect every gold piece on the level. The third is the clock, which keeps tabs on how quickly you can beat the level and will kill you if it runs out. Off the top of my head, I’d say the first 30 levels (there are 156 by my count) were easy in terms of completing all three goals. The next 30 made collecting all of the gold pieces a bit trickier. After 30 or so levels like that, getting to the exit is tougher. The final levels eventually introduce the clock itself as a barrier.  These are levels in which you are hauling ass just to open a gate and get out. After extended play, you can usually spot which of the three challenges that a level is focusing on trying to engage you with. For example, maybe the exit will only require a little careful footwork and hiding behind cover, but the gold is right next to the laser turrets. Or the gold is generally all along your path to the exit, but there are dozens of robots blocking the exit. Or you just have one minute to win. The more challenging levels can take a lot of practice to beat because often you have to figure out the precise sequence of jumps and wall slides needed to win. It’s not unheard of to practice the tougher levels for an hour or two individually before beating them.


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Monday, Aug 30, 2010
Inasmuch as Pilgrim explores the "save the princess" archetype and questions romance as an abstracted end point arrived at through violence, the story then summarily rejects deeper characterization by asking us to forget all that and cheer for the death of the final boss anyway -- simply because he's a bigger jerk than Scott is.

“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.


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Monday, Aug 30, 2010
The female body has been historically exaggerated in video games and questions arise about whether femininity is authentically represented at all in characters that very often appear to be reskinned versions of men.

This week the Moving Pixels podcast is a couple men down, but blogger Kris Ligman fills in as our guest for a discussion of femininity and the female body in video games.


The female body has been historically exaggerated in video games and questions arise about whether femininity is authentically represented at all in characters that very often appear to be reskinned versions of men. We consider why this might be, what sorts of characters might be more positive representations of women, and what messages female representations send to players of video games.


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Friday, Aug 27, 2010
The documentary-like visual style gives the camera, and therefore the player, a physical presence in the world.

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a pretty typical third-person shooter. You take cover behind various objects, some of which can be destroyed, and you shoot a lot of people. The gameplay presents nothing new, but this is still a game worth playing because of its unique visual style. Everything looks like it’s being shot from a handheld digital camera, and all the little flourishes that stem from this stylistic choice enhance the experience, making it something special.


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