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

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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014
At some point, League of Legends champions have become for me toys that are just displayed on a shelf, gathering dust, having never been played with. Smite asks me to tear open the packaging and actually get down on the floor to appreciate all the toys I have again.

I wrote last week about the completion of my two year quest to unlock every League of Legends champion without spending a single dime (”On Having Caught ‘Em All”, PopMatters, 11 June 2014). In doing so, I raised some questions about some tendencies in myself as a gamer towards completing sets for the sake of completing sets. Indeed, I have written in the past about how video games play on a very human (or maybe a very modern) need in ourselves to complete tasks, checking off lists of minor goals to achieve “greater goals,” and how I sometimes love doing so and sometimes loathe doing so (“Post-It Note Gaming, or the White Collar Warriors of Skyrim, PopMatters, 8 January 2012).

Another thing that I noted on having completed my quest was that I had almost immediately taken up with playing another free-to-play MOBA that allows me to scratch my collector’s itch by allowing me to not merely collect “champions,” but to now collect “gods” by playing matches of the game Smite and earning “favor” (the equivalent of League‘s influence points) in, perhaps, a new quest to catch ‘em all. While it seems certain to me that I never got over the mania of action figure and comic book collecting that I did as a kid, playing Smite, though, and attempting to start a new collection from scratch has given me a few new thoughts on the sorts of reasons that motivate one to play the sorts of games that include playable collectibles.

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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014
Am I playing video games or at times merely enduring them?

There are 119 League of Legends champions. As of this week, I own them all, and I have never spent a dime on a single one.

League of Legends is a free-to-play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, in which five players on each team take on the role of five champions for a 30-40 minute match. Riot Games makes money in the game by selling champions and skins for champions, essentially mere aesthetic upgrades for those characters. Skins can only be purchased with real money. However, champions can be purchased with real money or by earning points by playing games and unlocking them one at a time.

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Wednesday, Jun 4, 2014
The tank endures.

It has been a couple of years since Jorge Albor wrote “In Support of Supports,” an essay here at PopMatters written to argue that “the true unsung heroes of class-based games are the support champions and their designers” (“In Support of Supports”, PopMatters, 24 May 2012). In the essay (to my thinking at least), Albor pretty accurately identified that it is typically the damage dealers in class-based games like MOBAs and MMOs that “get all the love,” observing that “their flurry of sword strikes, bestial roars, and shadowy auras give the deadliest avatars an edge in popularity contests.”

Again, I think this is generally true in my experience playing the MOBA League of Legends. It’s that Master Yi who goes 1v5, managing to Pentakill an entire team that his fellow teammates frequently give the accolades for “carrying the game” for the team. That being said, at the time that I read Albor’s defense of the importance and significance of the support classes, the characters that manage to keep those glass cannons safe or buff their team up so that those other “more important” characters can efficiently melt an entire team, I did comment on the fact that these unsung are not entirely unsung and that maybe not all the love goes to the most lethal members of a team.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014
In Transistor, a woman lacking a voice and a man lacking a body manage to complete one another. It is a game of impotent men and potent swords.

Perhaps, the most intimate relationship that is typically developed in most video games is between the player and that player’s weapon. After all in most games, the gun or the sword becomes the dominant way of interacting with the world, one of the few ways that we can “touch” that world or shape it, destructive though that shaping might be.

As a result, in video games, it is props that we become more familiar with than characters, coming to know them and depend on them with only the occasional bit of advice or hint of friendship or camaraderie provided by an NPC or the voice of a tutorial.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014
During the performance of "Too Late to Love You Now" in Kentucky Route Zero: Act III, a slippage is created between fictive spaces and the real world.

The most powerful scene in the recently released Act III of Kentucky Route Zero is the performance of the song “Too Late to Love You Now” by a character named Junebug. The performance is reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and more specifically the performance of “Falling” by Julie Cruise on the show. In Twin Peaks, Cruise’s ethereal voice transforms an otherwise rundown roadhouse into a location seemingly as equally ethereal and otherworldly as the music that fills it. Likewise, when Junebug and her accompanist Johnny take the stage of the dive bar that they perform in in the game, the roof slowly blows off revealing a starlit sky and Junebug herself transforms into some sort of angelic being possessed by a haunting voice.

Unlike that moment in Lynch’s television show, though, this is a performance that is not merely witnessed by the audience. The audience participates in the construction of the song itself. As each new verse is about to begin, the player of Kentucky Route Zero is given an option of one of three opening lines for each verse. Junebug then sings in response to the player’s input.

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