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Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Deadly Premonition makes the idea clear that the player serves as the voice in the head of the schizophrenic, and these moments remind one that all input in a video game is fundamentally like this.

Amnesia is an oft used (and overused) trope of video game narrative.  Certainly, one can understand the allure of introducing a character unfamiliar with the world and himself as the basis for an avatar for the player just loading up a video game.  This state is more or less the state of the player, and, thus, introducing the player to the world and the character that he will be inhabiting over the course of the game makes practical sense.  It is about as similarly useful as the old chestnut in fantasy literature of introducing main characters from another world into a fantasy landscape (a la Narnia) or the country bumpkin into the larger fantasy world (The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), which likewise allows the reader to be introduced alongside such inexperienced characters to the workings of an unfamiliar world.


While Access Games’s Deadly Premonition falls back on this idea of the player being familiarized with a world through an “outsider” to that world (in this case, a reversal of the usual “country bumpkin” model, as Francis York Morgan is an experienced, urban dwelling FBI agent who finds himself on assignment in the weird world of small town America), it suggests a much more interesting way of defining the relationship between the player and this character in another way.  Rather than creating a parallel between the amnesiac and the newbie player, the schizophrenic becomes the metaphor in Deadly Premonition for the relationship between the player and the character.  That metaphor is a fairly compelling one.


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Why did the frog cross the road? Well, for many of the same reasons that Odysseus did.

In observing some fundamental patterns in stories, myth critics, like Joseph Campbell, have observed that one common element that leads to closure in epic journeys is the story of the return home.


The classic example of the story of the return home is, of course, Homer’s The Odyssey. Having participated in the war with Troy, Homer commits an entire epic poem to the story of just getting from the conflict back to the place where Odysseus started, the island of Ithaca.  Essential to this particular story (and other stories like it) seems to be the need for a hero who has spent an awful lot of time gallivanting recklessly in wild and foreign lands to get his shit together and get back where he belongs.


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Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010
Clothing puts flesh on the avatar.

I’m with Tim Gunn on this one (and really in a sense anthropologists and sociologists before him, like Erving Goffman), fashion is a form of rhetoric.  What you put on tends to communicate, be your desire to align yourself with your favorite sports team or with a musical subculture, advertise your competence for a job or political office, or make clear that you are available to the opposite sex (or maybe just for sex).  What we put on is emblematic.  Even the slob who just throws on whatever is in his closet this morning is inadvertently telling us something.


Thus, as games have grown more mature and more interested in communicating messages, stories, and ideas in a more complex way, it seems to me inevitable that the virtual closets of our avatars have expanded.  In a medium where the visual plays a big role in speaking to its audience, understanding characters through their physical appearance is important.  Character customization additionally plays to the medium’s strengths as it allows the player the opportunity to participate in how a story is told and how their virtual self is supposed to be understood in the context of the virtual performance that they are taking part in.


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Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010
Man of action or man of inaction? Inaction, but in this case, that's a good thing.

Hamlet, or the last game without MMORPG features, shaders and product placement is by no means an effort to directly adapt Shakespeare’s play.  Instead, the game is a point and click adventure set in a surreal landscape that might be Denmark.  But it probably doesn’t matter too much.


Indeed, the game begins when a nameless, bean-shaped time traveler accidentally injures the Prince of Denmark, and in order to set things aright, that same traveler finds himself playing the surrogate role of hero in Hamlet‘s ostensible tale.  I say ostensible because the plot here merely derives from its literary inspiration some loose semblance of the original’s plot.  Here our traveler must stop the evil Claudius from absconding with Hamlet’s girlfriend Ophelia.  You know, like the original Hamlet, sort of.


Tagged as: alawar, hamlet, mif2000
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Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010
It is a pleasure to bask in the delightfully awful glory of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Game.

Finally, a video game adapted from another work that does justice to its source material.  Okay, well, it isn’t really a game, but it looks like one.


Doctor Octoroc’s adaptation of Joss Wheedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog into an 8-bit video game is really only a video itself (but that’s okay, the “blog” was really just a video as well).  Nevertheless, the “game” is a clever re-imagining of Wheedon’s successful experiment in transforming his televisual sensibilities into web video.


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