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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015
Earthbound is a masterpiece meant for children, complete with all the daring, joyful, and deeply unsettling shards of truth this implies. Earthbound might be the best children’s game ever made.

I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.
—Maurice Sendak


Last week on PopMatters, Scott Juster described Earthbound as “bizarre and melancholy,” an element that he came to appreciate with new eyes playing the game now as an adult. I am playing the game for the first time myself. I have no sense of childhood nostalgia for the game, no memories of understanding its world any differently than I do today. Scott is right. Earthbound is at times sad, surreal, and deeply unsettling. I had no idea before I started playing that Earthbound would be quite so weird or would tackle some very adult themes. My perspective is, of course, that of an adult, but I think Earthbound might be the best children’s game ever made.


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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2015
I'm not especially bothered by violence in media, but the rich-on-poor violence seen in American Psycho and suggested by White Night seem exceptionally detestable.

I’m not especially bothered by violence in media. I’m a huge fan of the films of Quentin Tarantino. I play a lot of video games. Hell, I teach a course every few years called “Violence in Literature & Film.”


However, I find watching the movie American Psycho uncomfortable. There’s something I find upsetting about Christian Bale’s performance of the psychotic yuppie killer Patrick Bateman .I think it has to do with the posing and preening that he does when in contact with his victims. The way that he fawns over himself while taking advantage of his underprivileged victims makes the violence that he perpetrates against them seem all the more detestable.


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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2015
Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. However, there are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.

Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.


Here’s three of them.


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Friday, Mar 20, 2015
The Cat Lady is a horror game, but it’s not about the horror of supernatural beings or serial killers or anything as flashy and shocking as that. It's about the horror of normal life.

There’s an episode of South Park in which one of the boys, Stan, starts an anti-bullying campaign. He needs a face for his commercial, so he starts to pressure another one of his friends to be in it. The joke is, of course, that he becomes a bully himself, highlighted by his appropriately inappropriate anti-bullying slogan: “Let’s make bullying kill itself!”


I had that song stuck in my head (oh yea, it was a musical number) as I played through the first few chapters of The Cat Lady, a point-and-click horror game by Harvester Games. In it, a suicidal loner named Susan Ashworth is forced back to life by a supernatural being in order to bring righteous justice to five “parasites,” i.e. serial killers. I knew nothing of the game going in, but I saw the entire arc of the game in those opening moments. Susan would see people die, kill others, and through her close encounters with death she would come to see the value of her own life. It’s a plan to cure depression through violence, not unlike Stan’s approach to bullying.


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Thursday, Mar 19, 2015
In which I learn something new while traversing the desert and getting lost in Twoson.

Thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences, I’m revisiting several of my favorite games. It’s been enjoyable because replaying story-driven games is something I don’t do very often. It’s partly because life is just plain busy, but there’s also some faulty logic at play. It’s easy for me to think of a story-driven game as a static experience.


While the structured plot points might be the same in such games, though, the way that you get to them is always slightly unique (just watch two different people play the same Halo level). Even in the most linear game, there are new things to notice about the art or the music. For me, it’s not only about catching the things I missed but also about re-experiencing games in the wake of other experiences. I’ve played Journey and Earthbound before, but each time that I do, my mindset and my interpretations of these games are different.


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