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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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Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014
The most honest voice of the arcade era is that of Sinistar: "I hunger."

It is pretty easy to take for granted that video games communicate very directly and very deliberately to players. Certainly, there is all that chit chat in story driven games among a game’s characters, but, more significantly, to gameplay itself are the voices in games that guide players, that aid us in discovering the goals in the game, how to play the game, and other tips and useful hints about what we are engaged in.


Sometimes doing double duty as the voice of a narrator, the tutorial voice comes in many forms, sometimes through aural cues (spoken through the voice of some disembodied narrator), sometimes in written text on the screen, sometimes merely as indicators on a map or in the world that indicate where to go and what is important in a game’s world to experience next. For the most part, this voice is a friendly one, as it performs a service to the player in making coherent a game’s systems and controls or simply making sure that the player’s experience is a clear and convenient one. These are voices that guide, almost encouragements suggesting that a game is an experience that anyone and everyone can get through. After all, all you need to do is listen to the instructions and follow the glowing lines and arrows that will move one along towards the end goal.


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Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014
The Blind Swordsman at first might seem like madness, a video game without an essential component of the video game, the video part.

When I was 10-years-old, I fell in love with an issue of G.I. Joe called “Silent Interlude.”


It wasn’t love at first sight.


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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2014
Hearthstone concerns itself with the seemingly small, innocuous, and trivial elements of playing a game in a non-digital medium, and I admire the game for recognizing that these may not be details that are completely innocuous or unimportant in terms of why we take pleasure in the act of play.

I love poker chips. I especially love clay poker chips. They have a weight to them, making them feel significant, which seems to me like a good thing. After all, they represent something, money, the stakes that you’re really willing to put at risk in what is otherwise a very abstract game.


A few months ago, I wrote an article concerning the physicality of some representation in video games (”We’re Not Computers. We’re Physical.”, PopMatters, 7 January 2014). More specifically, I focused on the physical actions required of the player of The Room, the iOS puzzle game that asks players to investigate puzzle boxes by manipulating them via touch screen. Like the weight of poker chips, The Room seems to create a physical interaction that through physical representation limits some of the abstraction and distance that games sometimes feature as a result of their focus on mechanics.


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Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014
Games seem like the medium that might best challenge the authority of the author, given as they are to allowing the player to manipulate their “texts", to build within their systems, and potentially to break, rearrange, or reorder them in some personally satisfying way. Games seem like that.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous – 
Almost, at times, the Fool.
—T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”



Having described a painting of two pears in rather minute detail in Wallace Stevens’s poem, “Study of Two Pears,” the narrator of that poem completes his observations by saying, “The pears are not seen / As the observer wills.”


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