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Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Deadly Premonition makes the idea clear that the player serves as the voice in the head of the schizophrenic, and these moments remind one that all input in a video game is fundamentally like this.

Amnesia is an oft used (and overused) trope of video game narrative.  Certainly, one can understand the allure of introducing a character unfamiliar with the world and himself as the basis for an avatar for the player just loading up a video game.  This state is more or less the state of the player, and, thus, introducing the player to the world and the character that he will be inhabiting over the course of the game makes practical sense.  It is about as similarly useful as the old chestnut in fantasy literature of introducing main characters from another world into a fantasy landscape (a la Narnia) or the country bumpkin into the larger fantasy world (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), which likewise allows the reader to be introduced alongside such inexperienced characters to the workings of an unfamiliar world.


While Access Games’s Deadly Premonition falls back on this idea of the player being familiarized with a world through an “outsider” to that world (in this case, a reversal of the usual “country bumpkin” model, as Francis York Morgan is an experienced, urban dwelling FBI agent who finds himself on assignment in the weird world of small town America), it suggests a much more interesting way of defining the relationship between the player and this character in another way.  Rather than creating a parallel between the amnesiac and the newbie player, the schizophrenic becomes the metaphor in Deadly Premonition for the relationship between the player and the character.  That metaphor is a fairly compelling one.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
"That’s what sampling is all about – hearing something you love, no matter how short, and forming it into something bigger, more inspiring and more enjoyable."

At the Art History of Games Conference in Atlanta, Celia Pearce gave a talk about the history of interactive art before video games became popular. The difficulty that multimedia must always deal with when trying to gain access to something like a museum is that interactivity is an intrinsic part of the art work. While something like a Fluxus exhibit is easily recognized as only working if people can touch it, other forms of interactive media are often confused with their final product. A Jackson Pollock painting, for example, is just as much about the rhythm and flow of splashing the canvas as it is the final picture. For this reason, a lot of his paintings will feature a filming of the actual painting process so that the viewer has a better appreciation of a work that they might otherwise dismiss. This isn’t a concept that works just for painting. It can be relevant to any form of media.


One of the most interesting musicians making the internet rounds these days is Pogo, his music takes samples from films and converts them into unique tracks. Reworking syllables into new phrases and cutting music where there was none before, the video which accompanies the song often becomes intrinsic to enjoying the music. It resembles the need for Pollock’s painting to have an accompanying video because the two forms of media mix to create a greater appreciation in the listener. After flipping through a couple of different interviews that Pogo linked to on his website, I decided to just pick & choose the relevant responses then convert them into a post.


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Monday, May 10, 2010
Would you physically move into the "Mass Effect" world if you could?

This week our discussion of game worlds moves from the claustrophobic halls of the asylum to the vast reaches of space.


Continuing our consideration of game worlds and their effect on our experience playing games, we consider both the broad galatic maps of Mass Effect as well as the narrower confines of intergalatic ports of call and the bridges of starships and how they impact on Bioware’s collection of characters.


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Friday, May 7, 2010
Going after certain achievements teaches new ways to play old games.

Mitch Krpata once tried to describe the different ways that people play games. One of the categories that he came up with was the Completist gamer: “A Completist may be less interested in maximizing his ability to play a game, and more interested in making sure he doesn’t miss anything [. . .] The reward is having no mountains left to climb.” (““A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Skill Players: Drilling Down”, Insult Swordfighting, 10 January 2008).


I’m definitely a Completist. I enjoy exploring every inch of a game world for collectibles and side quests. Normally, achievements appeal directly to this compulsion as they are (essentially) another kind of collectible. However, my Completist nature was recently challenged when I played Mass Effect 2 on the Insane difficulty. There’s an achievement for completing the game on Insane, and it taunted me as the only achievement that I was missing, but I underestimated just how hard the increased difficulty would be. I wanted my whole crew loyal for the end, but there were multiple missions that I avoided because I knew how hard they’d be. My galaxy map soon became so cluttered with so many abandoned side missions that it was hard to read the name of each nebula. I had beaten the game once before, so I knew what was necessary and what wasn’t. I constantly wondered, “Should I complete everything, or should I just complete the achievement?” And I wondered why, exactly, I was playing the game on Insane. Was I playing for the challenge or for the achievement?


Tagged as: achievements
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Why did the frog cross the road? Well, for many of the same reasons that Odysseus did.

In observing some fundamental patterns in stories, myth critics, like Joseph Campbell, have observed that one common element that leads to closure in epic journeys is the story of the return home.


The classic example of the story of the return home is, of course, Homer’s The Odyssey. Having participated in the war with Troy, Homer commits an entire epic poem to the story of just getting from the conflict back to the place where Odysseus started, the island of Ithaca.  Essential to this particular story (and other stories like it) seems to be the need for a hero who has spent an awful lot of time gallivanting recklessly in wild and foreign lands to get his shit together and get back where he belongs.


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