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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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Wednesday, May 14, 2014
We don't want utopia. We already have that. We need dystopia, something less familiar, something challenging, something painful.

I’ve never really been into zombie movies. I mean 28 Days Later is pretty good, Shaun of the Dead makes me laugh, and I can see the importance of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. But, yeah, they’re fine, nothing I am salivating to see over and over again on a big screen or even a small one.

It’s the monster. Sure, the zombie produces tension with its slow approach, the terror of being overwhelmed by numbers, acting as some kind of representative of being assimilated into the herd.  But I just don’t get the last decade’s fascination with them in film and books and comics and video games.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Sometimes to get a positive result, you need to appeal to people's baser instincts, not their better angels. Is Dawngate's karma system a better solution to changing player behavior than League of Legends's honor system?

Last week, my colleague Jorge Albor wrote about the problem of sportsmanship in multiplayer games like League of Legends (“‘Duel Me, Noob’: Salvaging Honor in Games”, PopMatters, 1 May 2014). And it is true that League has an unfortunate (albeit accurate) reputation for having a community who struggles a great deal with sportsmanship. Since MOBAs are games that rely heavily on an economy based on performance (killing opponents gains players gold that can then be used to buy equipment that will give them an advantage as a game progresses), one of the chief causes of trash talking is people chastising their own teammates for “helping the other team” by getting themselves killed.

Albor was less focused on that specific issue, though, and more on addressing the problem of general bad behavior in League of Legends‘s matches and how to develop a sense of honor in players of the game to offset bad sportsmanship of all stripes. Riot Games themselves have taken steps to discourage bad behavior (via a reporting system that can lead to a banned account) and to encourage good behavior by allowing players to honor one another for good teamwork, friendliness, and helpfulness, though there is no tangible reward for earning accolades from teammates beyond a ribbon that is affixed to one’s avatar before matches that indicates that you are an “honorable” player.

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Monday, May 5, 2014
by Erik Kersting
While it is possible for a roguelike to tell a story, textually based narratives are a burden to the genre.

The roguelike genre has a sort of inherent problem with narrative and plot, one that is similar to the problem of arcade games. The focus of Pac-Man or Donkey Kong is less on the story and more on the gameplay, and roguelikes are no different. The genre, which is characterized by randomly generated levels and many short, failed playthroughs at an often ruthless difficulty defies typical storytelling conventions. While there is always a beginning to a roguelike playthrough, its ending is usually just the point in which the player dies, not some narrative conclusion. There isn’t much room for catharsis in death, and therefore most roguelikes, like The Binding of Isaac, tend to be light on plot because if the games were plot heavy, the player would relive the same introductory chapters over and over again and become bored with them.

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