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Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010
It doesn’t matter what you try to force a space into being, people will define that space themselves in connection to other parts. A game designer never truly plays their own game.

Bernard Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction is a collection of his essays on post-structuralism. Overall, they engage with the idea of applying Derrida’s theories about how people interact with meaning in art to architecture and space. If you need a basic rundown on some ways that architecture and video games relate to one another, you can check out my column on the subject. This is a bit more complicated and explores how interaction creates or destroys meaning in a virtual space. I’ve done my best to make this accessible to someone with no background (or interest) in these fields, but it only works for so long.


The first thing that you need to know is that anytime you see the word “post” next to a term for an artistic movement, it means that they’re talking about the artistic reaction to that movement. So, structuralism is a movement that roughly started with Kenzo Tange in 1960 when he was designing the new Tokyo Bay. It was an abandoning of functionalism, or the idea of making a building super-efficient, and instead organizing it around how people engage with one another. Video game design is extremely structuralist in this sense, all spaces are built around playtesting and studying how people respond to them. Changes are made to change the space to fit a designer’s vision for what people should be doing in that area. Post-structuralism, as a branch of post-modernism, is the idea that the meaning of a place comes from events and spaces relationships to other parts of a whole. Meaning is not controlled by any one specific design, person, or action but rather by all of these things working together. Keep in mind that post-modernism in architecture is not the same thing as post-modernism in the arts. To an artist, it means a critical practice. To an architect, it is a visual aesthetic (17).


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Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010
Silence as a character trait is questionable enough in narrative games. When it's completely in conflict with the story, it is just baffling.

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.


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Monday, Sep 13, 2010
The Moving Pixels podcast speaks to Jason Scott, director of Get Lamp, a documentary exploring the history of text-based adventure games.

Most gamers today probably don’t remember that for a while in the 1980s the best-selling, most critically acclaimed computer games didn’t have any graphics at all. They were text adventures and were some of the most innovative and challenging forms of entertainment ever conceived. Historian and documentary filmmaker Jason Scott has spent the last four years interviewing the men and women who created these games. The result is Get Lamp, a fascinating documentary about the history of these games—from the original Adventure, through the rise and fall of Infocom, and up to today’s interactive fiction scene.


Jason Scott is the curator of TextFiles.com and is also the man behind BBS: The Documentary, a look at the computer bulletin board systems that pre-date mass usage of the internet. He’s a regular speaker at hacker and technology conferences and his cat has well over a million followers on Twitter. Really.


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Friday, Sep 10, 2010
'Final Fantasy XIII' feels like a slow paced game because it takes its time developing its characters instead of its plot.

Final Fantasy XIII is a slow burn. It takes about four hours for the story to really get going, and then it stalls. At hour three the cast is branded as l’Cie and must run from the government. By hour 24 they’re still running. I didn’t notice this lack of plot progression as I was playing, only when I went back to the game after setting it aside for a month. Only then did I realize how little the plot had changed over all those hours, and I think the reason I didn’t notice that pause in plot is because during that time the characters were being developed instead.


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Thursday, Sep 9, 2010
Prophesies usually come in two flavors: a hero will rise to defeat the evil whatever or a great evil will arise to consume us all. Most of the time though, they're simply used to add an illusion of gravitas to an otherwise typical situation.

It has been foretold that in the future that when the world needs them most writers of video games will discover the most precious truth of all: putting prophecies in your game is lazy, weak storytelling. But for today at least, this terrible scourge of a tired, worn out trope continues to plague even our most popular, well reviewed games, even hardcore science fiction games that should be above such derivative mush. Yes, I’m looking at you Starcraft 2.


Before I lambast the otherwise solid Starcraft 2 for its laziness, let me lay out the case against prophecy. Prophesies usually come in two flavors: a hero will rise to defeat the evil whatever or a great evil will arise to consume us all. They usually come from one of two sources, an ancient civilzation now long disappeared that has left behind artifacts/codes/bas-reliefs that outline the prophecy or some lone prophet that no one is listening to until it’s too late. Obviously there are exceptions, but most games that I can think of fit into one or the other of these models. The problem with all of these cliches is that most of the time they’re simply used to add an illusion of gravitas to an otherwise typical situation. The world will end if the heroes fail. How do we know? Because of the prophecy. Oh, and only one person, the chosen one, can do it.


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