Today marks the third of four articles dedicated to fully unpacking my recent paper for Rutgers School of Communication, presented earlier this month at the Game Behind the Video Game conference in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Our previous articles focused on vectors for audience engagement and two of the four major taxonomic categories of Let’s Play walkthroughs, the Expert and the Chronicler. We continue our taxonomies today with discussion of the third major LP type, the Comedian, before concluding next week with our final type and an overarching discussion of Let’s Plays as a fan practice.
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Every once in a while there is a moment in a game which becomes the defining experience for the player. That moment which, if it is good, makes the player forget they are playing a game, and if it is bad, it breaks immersion or proves such a frustrating experience that the rest of the game becomes tainted by association. Mass Effect is a game that is arguably made with these sorts of moments in mind, but a lot of those moments seemed telegraphed—your crew’s disappearance, for example, was clearly supposed to be a Big Deal which would stick in the player’s mind. I knew better, of course, which is why I acknowledged that my crew was missing, yes, but no big deal. I would rescue my crew after I finished all the missions still waiting around for me. The crew could wait. This would prove to be a mistake that would haunt me for the rest of the game, although I didn’t know it.
Sometimes a tech problem requires a little strategy to resolve. With some trouble with a microphone among a few other snafus leaving us potentially unable to discuss our planned topic this week, gamers that we are, our solution was to turn this weeks show into a game by putting a little social media to work for us and treating this podcast as something a little more interactive than usual.
The result is this week’s experiment in podcasting, a show based on utter miscellany about gaming and gaming culture. We sent a “voiceless” Kris Ligman out to Twitter to gather possible mini-topics for discussion this week related to gaming, and then, of course, arbitrarily assigned points to our podcasters ability for improvisationally riffing on said topics in short conversational bursts.
The Conduit feels like an old game. Its simplistic, linear levels are a throwback to early shooters, and the awkward button placement on the controller ensures that you’ll rarely do more than just point and shoot. Ironically, these shortcomings actually help make it fun. It’s a flawed game, but it gets the most important things right—the shooting and the guns—and all of its flaws serve to highlight these successes. This accidental limited focus is what makes it a great “first Wii shooter”.
Of course, this (probably) wasn’t actually the intention of developer High Voltage. The Conduit wants to be a complicated modern day shooter, as demonstrated by the fact that it uses every button on the Wiimote, but the Nintendo controller wasn’t made for that kind of game.
Works that feature traditional narratives often enjoy the distinction of being the most popular, critically acclaimed, and carefully analyzed form of video games. Blockbusters like Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption center around plots reminiscent to those found in film or literature. Popular independent games like Limbo or The Path also adhere to themes that have been explored in other forms. Obviously, video games differ from these traditional media, as players actively collaborate in the story and have at least some control over crafting the character behavior. Thus, game criticism often focuses on the dialectic between the themes a game’s plot conveys and those advanced by its rule systems. The BioShocks of the world elicit a preponderance of essays that parse the ways in which their stories and rules interact, but comparatively little is ever said about about what Gran Turismo tells us about the cultural role of automobiles or whether Madden NFL makes implicit arguments about football’s social value.
I recognize the bulk of my work has (and will probably remain) focused on games with plots, but I thought I would try and mix things up a bit. What kinds of values do games without stories impart? What do they say about the medium and about culture in general? In search of answers, I turned to Picross 3D.