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by G. Christopher Williams

12 Jan 2011

This discussion of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West contains major plot spoilers.

Quite a number of games in recent years have dealt with the curious exchange that occurs in gaming between player freedom and the submission to authority required by following a game’s rules.  The most obvious example, of course, is Bioshock with its evident concern with considering how a player blindly submits to the will of the game in order to advance in it.  The infamous “Would you kindly?” twist suggests that player freedom is frequently an illusion in a game, as submission to and trust in the direction given by the game is taken for granted by the player who all too quickly assumes that the game’s “direction” exists to merely help the player learn the ropes, but it doesn’t decide for us along the way what is the right and wrong path.

A similarly unsettling revelation of just how authoritarian “the computer” is in directing the player can be found in Portal, in which that voice that we essentially take for granted, the voice of the tutorial, eventually morphs into the antagonist of the game.  While initially GlaDOS is that familiar teacher who explains how to play the game to the player, the series of test chambers that seem to serve as a tutorial for learning how to solve puzzles through the use of a portal gun soon become deadly traps set by a sadistic AI.  The irony of Portal is that this intimate antagonism between the player and the programming of the game is really not unfamiliar at all.  Portal, both figuratively and literally, exposes what is behind the scenes in most video game experiences, a voice that first wants to support us by teaching us the ropes but then just as quickly wants to stymie our efforts to succeed in completing the game by attempting to “kill” us.

I have written before about the strange intimacy that the player has with GlaDOS, an intimacy that is promoted through the authoritarian and submissive relationship that they share (”An Intimate Moment With the Computer”, PopMatters, 31 March 2010).  However, Alexander Ocias’s Loved takes the metaphor a few steps further by creating a game solely predicated on submitting to or defying the authority of a bodiless “tutor” and allowing this exchange to become a metaphor for being “loved.”  In the universe of Loved, love becomes a concept that is based on power relationships.  The more that the player submits, the more that the game grows easier to deal with.  However, the exchange for this form of “care” is to give up one’s own will to that of the AI.

by G. Christopher Williams

6 Jan 2011

In the first few hours of playing the DC Universe Online Beta, I’d KOed Dr. Fate.  Yeah, Dr. Friggin’ Fate.  To those less familiar with reading DC Comics, I promise this is more impressive than it sounds.

by G. Christopher Williams

5 Jan 2011

Yes, 2010 was full of sequels and other extensions of franchises, but it also saw some unique properties, some oddball worlds, and a few indie offerings that rounded out mainstream publishers efforts to refine, rather than innovate this year.  Refinement is probably the major theme of some of the games that my Moving Pixels cohorts and myself chose as some of our top picks for the year.  Games like Mass Effect 2,Super Mario Galaxy 2, Dead Rising 2,  and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (or even Red Dead Redemption if one assumes that Rockstar’s foray into the Old West is a broadly defined refinement of their typical open worlds) were all follow ups that tweaked, added onto, and otherwise built upon the foundations of previous franchise installments.

However, experiment, some smatterings of the avant garde, strong narrative and characterization, and other general weirdness were also present in new intellectual properties like Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition, Enslaved, and Loved.

by G. Christopher Williams

15 Dec 2010

You know the scene in the movie.  Our hero has just left something flammable or explosive behind.  He lights a cigar, enjoys a few puffs, then tosses the cigar over his shoulder.  As he strides slowly and indifferently away, an explosion of flames marks his passing.  Pretty cool, huh?

Countless movies have riffed on this cinematic image.  Richard Rodriguez’s Desperado, for instance, springs instantly to my mind, but there are countless others.  There is a certain cockiness on display in these scenes that develops the hero as a badass in such scenes that seems driven by a number of the details of such a performance.  Part of it is the cool and frequently slow walk away from the scene, part of it is that the hero never looks back at the destruction that he is responsible for.  As a result, we are left with an image of self-assured competence and professionalism on the part of the hero.  He is so certain of the outcome of his actions that he doesn’t even bother to check on his success and has no fear that the flames will reach him.  After all, he understands destruction so intimately and so consummately, why bother?

by G. Christopher Williams

8 Dec 2010

Didn’t video games used to be about saving the world or at least a princess or something?

I ask this question as I consider the sorts of games that I have been playing lately.  Sure, Fable III, Fallout: New Vegas, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood all contain elements that concern a civilization on the brink of disaster and the player’s role in providing a solution to that threat to the world or region or city-state.  However, I have been noticing a tendency on my part when playing these games (especially Fable III and Brotherhood) to get much more involved in the economics of these games and my own investment in them than in paying attention to the noble goal (the common good) of the main plot.

//Mixed media

Notes, Hoaxes, and Jokes: Silkworm's 'Lifestyle' - "Ooh La La"

// Sound Affects

"Lifestyle's penultimate track eases the pace and finds fresh nuance and depth in a rock classic, as Silkworm offer their take on the Faces' "Ooh La La".

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