Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Sep 24, 2010
Dead Rising understands an important fact about zombies that most other zombie games forget, deny, or ignore. Zombies make boring bad guys.

I only beat Dead Rising: Case Zero on my third attempt. In Case Zero, Chuck Green and his zombie-bitten daughter, Katey, get stranded in a small town overrun by the undead. In 12 hours, the military will arrive to wipe them all out, and in that time, Chuck must get Katey a dose of Zombrex to stop her from turning zombie and build a motorcycle to escape the small town.


Zombies play a big role in Dead Rising, but they’re not your main antagonist, which is a good thing because by themselves zombies are boring. They’re slow, stupid, and easy to kill. They may be disgusting, but they’re not particularly scary unless they’re in a horde. The two most popular zombie games, Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, use zombies as a starting point for horror.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Sep 23, 2010
I have a propensity for losing many a potentially productive day to turn-based strategy games.

It’s no doubt telling that two of my clearest memories from my first attempt at graduate school are getting into a fight with my advisor and spending a whole snow-bound winter week sealed away in my dorm room playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms on my Sega Genesis. As you might expect, neither one was conducive to getting a master’s degree, and I didn’t. But I didn’t go down without a fight and part of that fight involved swearing off any more computer strategy games. I unplugged the Genesis and got out of the dorm room. Instead of the library I went to play tabletop RPGs with some new friends, resulting in my first paid writing gig and a nice career despite that final blow up with my prof. But that’s another story. The important take away here is that I have a propensity for losing many a potentially productive day to turn-based strategy games.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010
Successful video game comedy often depends on whether the player is willing to be the butt of the joke.

Mel Brooks doesn’t strike me as an avid video game player, but his famous description of comedy does a great job of describing how many games approach humor: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”


In video games, even the most linear scenarios require a relatively high amount of participation from people who in other media would be considered the “audience.”  For a game to use comedy in a way that truly utilizes the medium’s strength, it needs to include more than passive dialogue jokes and amusing sight gags.  Just as an adventure game gives the player control over the hero’s actions, a comedy thrusts them into a situation where they actively participate in creating humorous situations.


It’s difficult to create the smooth, yet improvisational feel of a stand-up routine or sketch comedy bit within a game.  Whether it is players working with other players or humans working with AI routines, creating the spontaneity integral to effective comedy is challenging the confines of most games’ rules.  To circumvent this, many games approach humor through digital slapstick or virtual practical jokes.  In doing so, they practice the odd habit of inviting the player to participate in pranking themselves.


Tagged as: comedy, deathspank
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010
An underappreciated strategy title from 1998, Bullfrog's third Populous game is thick with references to religion and spirituality.

Spirituality and gaming: surely a toxic combination if ever there was one? The former is—however broadly defined—about the serious task of attempting to engage with forces beyond the material realm, while the latter is often about sitting on a sofa, bashing bad guys and notching up high scores. What links the two pursuits is that arguably they are both concerned on some level with escapism, defined as the search for experiences outside the norm. Whatever their reasons, games developers have from time to time included religious and spiritual references in their games, resulting in the crossing over of these two usually disparate worlds. One particularly fascinating example that I’ve recently been reacquainted with is Bullfrog’s 1998 strategy game Populous: The Beginning.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010
When an author constructs an entire world, they tend to want to show it off as much as possible and provide explanations to game players. That's when games get stuck, especially if borrowing from sci-fi or fantasy literature.

Every video game is fundamentally about creating a world. Sometimes it’s a very small, linear world that’s a series of paths with nice scenery. Other times it’s a broad, open landscape that leaves you free to roam. What makes these things represent a world is that there is always a rule system or logic guiding everything. In the same way that Harry Potter’s magical world has a series of principles that guides the character’s conduct, any game has rules that govern the player’s conduct. To fill in the details and perceptions of those rules, video games tend to borrow from a wide variety of mediums. Books, with their wide selection of science fiction and fantasy novels, are very adept at creating fictional worlds. What ideas can be borrowed from them?


An article at Wikipedia explains that for most writers you either start at the top or work from the bottom. That is, you plan the entire world out on paper, or you just create as much room as you need for the story. The space can be expanded as your characters move on to new areas and you have to think up new stuff for them to do. You can generally tell which one an author is doing by how much extraneous crap they shovel into the plot. When an author constructs an entire world, they tend to want to show it off as much as possible. An article by Heather Massey listing off unnecessary details in science fiction stories mostly consists of authors insisting on rattling off all of the technical details of the world. How does the ship deal with gravity, flight, the vacuum of space, pew effects, etc.? All of these are details that people don’t really need explained to them. Readers are familiar with the concepts and don’t require explanation to maintain a suspension of disbelief (“7 Unnecessary Science Fiction Details”, The Galaxy Express, 10 May 2009). It’s when figuring out these ways to plausibly have elements of the world discussed (without becoming tedious) that games get stuck, especially when borrowing from sci-fi or fantasy literature.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.