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by G. Christopher Williams

9 Jan 2012

This week Nick Dinicola and I are joined by our fellow blogger Mattie Brice to discuss, in part, the games of the year.

However, with PopMatters posting a forthcoming list of the best games of the year, we discuss more specifically that list, our writers’ tastes here at PopMatters, and also what Game of the Year might mean in general to gaming.

by Nick Dinicola

6 Jan 2012

I like collectibles, but I understand why most people do not. When used poorly, they can intrude on a game in frustrating ways, encouraging behavior that contradicts the gameplay, ruining the game’s pace, or just getting in the way in general.

There are some excellent collectibles: the audio logs in Bioshock flesh out the fascinating history of Rapture, the manuscript pages in Alan Wake serve as exposition and foreshadowing, the badges in L.A. Noire demand a kind of meta-detective work that perfectly supplements the game proper. But in my opinion, the best collectible that I’ve ever had to collect has to be the Riddler Trophies in Batman: Arkham City.

by Jorge Albor

5 Jan 2012

After five days trapped between an eight hundred pound boulder and a canyon wall, dying of extreme thirst and malnutrition, Aron Ralston amputated his own arm with a dull two inch pocket knife. Carrying out this impromptu surgery took time and tenacity. Ralston first broke his radius and ulna and then carved and chipped away at his tissue and tendons for about an hour before pulling himself free. Then, in a state of delirium, Ralston rappelled down a 65-foot wall and walked out of the canyon.

Since Ralston’s agonizing ordeal, he has become an inspirational speaker, and for good reason—it takes a uniquely strong person to survive the impossible. Yet according to Ralston, the exact opposite is true. You, yes, you, my humble reader, would chop off your own arm too if you had to. In fact, Ralston’s story is so compelling for this exact reason. It forces us to ask ourselves, would I be capable of such a seemingly inhuman feat? Could I really confront the pain and horror of self-amputation and survive? In his award nominated film 127 Hours, which is based on Ralston’s experience, Danny Boyle answers with a resounding yes. Boyle punctuates Ralston’s escape with a shot of ancient paintings on a canyon wall and a montage of people celebrating, running, swimming, and generally living. Instead of exalting Ralston, he places him within a long history of human accomplishment, a representative of the spirit that we each have to endure and overcome immense challenges. The film is a triumphant celebration of human tenacity.

Since their inception, the sensations of empowerment that games have evoked in their audience only slightly mirror the universal humanity depicted in Boyle’s work. How many millions of player have faced ostensibly insurmountable odds and overcome? How many of us have, at least, defeated the boss or safely navigated a level? Time and again, we have all become heroes. We certainly share that much in common. But too often our heroics are born of something entirely nonhuman. Our champions may possess innate powers, gifts from gods, talking swords, magical incantations, or numerous otherworldly endowments. Few video game characters represent very well both the frailty and fortitude of mankind evidenced in Ralston’s experience.

by G. Christopher Williams

4 Jan 2012

This discussion of Batman: Arkham City contains spoilers.

Rocksteady’s Batman franchise features a very competent Batman by allowing the player systems of play that make playing well very easy.  That ease at which the player can slip into Batman’s skin makes some sense, though, since playing a caped crusader that fumbles about at his job would violate the iconic, nearly inhuman qualities of a character whose stock and trade is supreme competence.

That being said, Batman is not quite the same icon as Superman, nor is either one like their Marvel counterparts.  Emotional vulnerability and self doubt plague the very humanly drawn characters of the Marvel universe.  DC characters most often seem more like gods than men, as they deal not with personal issues but problems of global concern: crime, terror, fear.  A vulnerability in Batman that is not emotional or professional, however, is still present in Rocksteady’s version of this DC character (who most often feels less like a human being than an archetypal force of vengeance).  Batman is still human, and unlike Superman, he can bleed.

by Mattie Brice

3 Jan 2012

“Game of the Year” lists. Everybody’s got one, and they all tend to look the same. This year’s blockbuster hits, sequels to long-standing series, new projects created by popular development teams. After some reflection, I realized there were many gaming experiences that I excluded from my own list because I had some presuppositions of what “should” be on such a list. We expect high profile games that cost us $60, typically rewarding games that improve a formula instead of taking risks. If the recent presence of the indie development scene tells us anything, it’s that high end production and price tags aren’t necessary for making a successful game. What about the free games or the extremely niche titles? I decided to put together a small list in the spirit of rewarding some 2011 games that are unlikely to be featured elsewhere but deserve recognition for the risk taking that they took to advance the medium.

//Mixed media

Tricks or Treats? Ten Halloween Blu-rays That May Disrupt Your Life

// Short Ends and Leader

"The best of this stuff'll kill you.

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