Asked to test a feature in the alpha stages of a game, the player takes on the role of a blue square that can move and jump in Jonas Kyratzes’s Alphaland, and I’m going to stop right there. To discuss the game any further is to spoil essentially the whole plot. However, it isn’t the plot that I am really all that concerned with spoiling but with the experience of that plot. So, I’m just going to stop right here and suggest that if you have not played Alphaland that you do so before reading any further. You can find the game at New Grounds, and it will probably only take 10-15 minutes to play.
Latest Blog Posts
This discussion does contain spoilers for Portal 2
While the first Portal has certainly interested critics with its tendency to highlight gender dynamics, especially because it is one of the few games that puts women exclusively in its leading roles (in its case, featuring a female character in both the role of protagonist and antagonist), Portal 2 moves beyond simply considering the power relationships among women themselves to consider more broadly how gender plays a role in games of power.
This discussion contains major spoilers of the plot of the single player campaign of Portal 2.
The original Portal is in part a performance of (and, thus, a consideration of) the mechanisms of power. The relationship between the protagonist, Chell, and the supercomputer, GLaDOS, reflects also the relationship between players and rule systems in games in general. Playing the role of lab rat within the boundaries of computer-defined rule sets is the heart of playing a video game and speaks directly to the complexity of negotiating between the freedom of play and the imposition of regulation necessary to “game,” given especially that embedded in gameplay is a negotiation that is a constant movement between giving up control to authority and then resisting voices of authority.
Thus, given that such similarities exist between the structure and narrative of the sequel and the original title, it is unsurprising that once again another Portal raises the issue of why we submit to rule systems, accept their challenges, and follow their orders in order to enjoy ourselves. In the sequel, though, I drew a rather hasty conclusion early on in my playthrough that, perhaps, this iteration of the series was going to critique politics and power in a more specific way than the more philosophical and abstract approach that the previous game had taken when merely acknowledging this theme through its gameplay.
Designed by indie developer Anna Anthropy, Adult Swim’s latest flash game, Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars, is punishing.
The punitive nature of the game is derived from two sources, both of which appear to be clear inspirations for the game. The first influence is obviously a retro game aesthetic. Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars apes ‘80s arcade retro gaming in its low res graphics, simple gameplay, and even down to its pre-game splash screens that describe the point values of the slaves that you will be “reacquiring” throughout the game. And, oh yeah, it also borrows from the punishing difficulty of 1980s-style quarter eating masochism.
Which is all well and good, given that the other influence that the game is obviously borrowing heavily upon is a kind of 1970s exploitation theme, more specifically Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars is more or less a “women in prison” movie ported to game form.
Nearly a year ago, the Moving Pixels podcast considered why so many video games are preoccupied with war as a central topic. One of the more obvious answers is that war is one of the simplest ways of representing recognizable conflict. Games, like stories, thrive on conflict in order to justify the meaningfuless of narrative or—in the case of games more specifically—to create stakes for plot (or play) itself.
Death seems a pretty high stake, even if it is just a virtual representation of such. But that may be the point of games.