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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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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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