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

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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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Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014
The final boss of Grand Theft Auto V is Mitt Romney's 1%.

In Grand Theft Auto‘s past, the “final boss” of any of these games was something relatively expected, a crime boss, perhaps, or maybe a corrupt cop that has been hassling the protagonist throughout the course of the game. Such an antagonist makes sense overall, since essentially what one plays as in a Grand Theft Auto title is a criminal entrepreneur, a street level hustler that has enough ambition to climb the ladder of the American economy through criminal enterprise. Thus, the crime lord or the corrupt cop are his rivals, his competition, interested in acquiring the same dirty money that the protagonist aims his sights on.


Of late, Quentin Tarantino’s films have moved thematically towards the motif of the revenge fantasy (unsurprising, perhaps, as Tarantino seems to be returning to his roots, the films that he was most influenced by growing up, the revenge fantasies that are often the central focus of blaxploitation cinema). First, he made a Jewish revenge fantasy in which a Jewish woman got the opportunity to rewrite history by killing Hitler. Then, came his African American revenge fantasy, in which a former slave got the opportunity to assassinate plantation owners. Grand Theft Auto V would fit nicely into the Tarantino oeuvre, amounting as it does to a populist revenge fantasy.


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Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014
Nobody needs to know when a hobbit goes to the bathroom. Even Tolkien knew that.

Despite my preferred genre of book at the time being largely mystery, somehow I ended up reading The Lord of the Rings when I was fairly young. I want to say that I was somewhere between 12 and 14 when I first journeyed with Frodo from the Shire all the way to the foot of Mount Doom.


The initial part of the journey was a fairly good one. Despite hearing that the prose of The Lord of the Rings is fairly off putting to younger readers, I read through the first book in the trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring, at a pretty good clip. While Tolkien’s pacing is often slow, I found the formation and breakdown of the fellowship to be pretty page turning stuff. Then, I got to The Two Towers.


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