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by G. Christopher Williams

24 Nov 2010

A few weeks ago I extolled the virtue of the Fallout series as a “scrounging simulator” (Fallout, the Scrounging Simulator”, PopMatters, 27 October 2010).  A weird pleasure can be derived from these games just in poking through the ruins of a wasteland, finding material and evaluating its worth, locating junk to cobble together into useful weapons and apparel, and then bartering with other wasteland inhabitants to get what you really need.

While this odd “game within the games” measures your efficiency and encourages frugality and “traveling light”, it also, of course, strongly parallels the genre interests of the series as an experience of a post-apocalyptic world.  It successfully weds mechanics that promote what I experience as a strangely pleasurable activity with the story of a wasteland traveler.  However, while I enjoy this simulation of a conservative and frugal economics, there are other elements of simulation that Fallout provides that, while perhaps as seemingly authentic as a scrounging simulator, I derive far less pleasure from.

by G. Christopher Williams

10 Nov 2010

When Undead Nightmare was originally announced, I assumed that the game would begin with the resurrection of Red Dead Redemption protagonist, John Marston.  Such a move would take some of the gravitas away from the original title, but it didn’t seem a bad way to extend the Red Dead universe through this particular character’s story.

Undead Nightmare does not in fact begin this way, instead deciding to offer a glimpse of Marston’s New Austin through a plot just slightly outside of the continuity of the original game.  The player, for instance, will witness the death of Uncle for the second time near the beginning of the game in a whole new way.  This “off continuity” follow up then begins somewhat close to what would be the conclusion of Red Dead Redemption‘s plotline with Marston living at home again with his wife, Abigail, and his son, Jack but before the games concluding episodes.  It becomes a play on one of the dominant themes of the first game, the role of fathers as protectors in their family’s lives.  As Abigail and Jack are transformed into the undead, Marston must once again absent himself for the sake of the family.  In other words, to seek out a cure that will allow the family to become whole again (well, and to try to teach them to not eat brains).

by G. Christopher Williams

3 Nov 2010

It isn’t often that one can describe something as “whimsical.”  Maybe the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” scene from Mary Poppins (well, maybe the whole movie) or maybe something from a soundtrack written by Danny Elfman.  Perhaps, there is a magical formula for generating whimsy locked in some secret vault at the Disney or Pixar Studios, but there are few artists able to walk the line between heart warming and insipid to find that sweet spot that is the whimsical or the enchanting.

Peter Molyneaux has been lauded for his innovations in game design.  Often credited as the creator of the “god game” as well as admired for his ability to layer simulation upon simulation upon simulation in the Fable series, the man is a remarkable game designer.  What his team at Lionhead Studios has been able to do beyond merely design unique and innovative titles, though, is to generate a world in the Fable series that is not only ambitious in terms of design but is also able to produce that “lightening in a bottle” quality that one doesn’t usually see except in really masterfully crafted material targeted at younger audiences.  Put simply, Albion is uncompromisingly whimsical.

by G. Christopher Williams

27 Oct 2010

In most games, inventory management is unlikely to be seen as a form of pleasure.  Utilitarian and, perhaps, a necessary evil?  Maybe.  But fun?  Not so much.

While inventory management seems a kind of compliment to the style of play of games like RPGs—after all, a large component of the RPG is collecting bigger and better weapons to compliment one’s steadily increasing power—it tends to be an element of gameplay largely included as a means of creating boundaries for characters (the player shouldn’t have access to everything and anything during their adventure) and authenticity (nor would they literally be able to).  Basically, inventory management forces the player to make choices but very often not especially interesting ones.  Since I have limited room to carry stuff around, should I take the +4 STR sword or the +5 STR sword?  Not the trickiest of puzzles to solve in a gameplay environment.

by G. Christopher Williams

20 Oct 2010

Many folks are aware that modern fairy tales are frequently sanitized versions of the original tales that they are based on.  Charles Perrault admitted that his version of the story “Little Red Riding Hood” was intended to teach a lesson to children to avoid strangers, especially young women who might be overcome by a predatory male.  Thus, Red Riding Hood is devoured at the close of his tale as a brutal illustration of the lesson to be learned.

The Perrault version is especially disturbing because of its commitment to the potential for the instructional quality of story, as it is a fairy tale willing to not merely put a child at peril but to see consequences for foolishness on the part of the young to a very terrifying and very terminal conclusion.  Even the Brothers Grimm, also not ones to normally shy away from violence in their tales, were unwilling to see their revision of the tale through to this conclusion.  They found a way for a child to ultimately escape despite the errors of her ways.

Most modern versions of fairy tales also revise the more “questionable” elements of such stories, but David Bae and Nathan Ratcliffe’s Gretel and Hansel series returns to the uglier truths of a violent world that is unforgiving of the inexperienced and immature.  Interestingly, the reversal of the protagonist’s names in the title, which signals the developers’ decision to make Gretel the clearly dominant hero in the story, seems to especially beg comparison to Perrault’s type of tale.  It is the female character that is most at risk throughout the games, since that is the character that the player largely controls, making one wonder if there is a similar lesson intended, something about the fragility of children with younger women being made especially vulnerable here.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article