Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Tuesday, Dec 23, 2008

L.B. Jeffries’ column is on break until Tuesday, January 6, when PopMatters has resumed its regular publishing schedule.  In the meantime, you can check out more of L.B.‘s work at the Banana Pepper Martinis blog.


Alternately, you can check out the most recent edition of the Brainy Gamer Podcast, hosted by fellow PopMatters writer Michael Abbott, on which L.B., Michael and I each talk about one of our favorite games of the year (here’s a teaser: three of the four picks on the segment where L.B. and I appear can currently be bought for 15 dollars or less…and the other one’s an expansion).  Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, scope out the rest of Mr. Abbott’s blog while you’re over there—it’s worth a regular visit and then some.


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Thursday, Jun 12, 2008
As requested, a quick run-down of all 10 parts of the ZA with definitions.

You call yourself free? I want to hear your ruling thought, and not that you have escaped from a yoke.


Are you one of those entitled to escape from a yoke? There are many who cast away their final worth when they cast away their servitude.


Free from what? What does that matter! But your eye should clearly show me: free for what?
      - Thus Spoke Zarathustra


I. Introduction and Basic Concepts
What makes a video game different from a movie or a book? Player input. What controls the player input? The game design. What gives meaning to the player input? The plot or backstory. All three need to adjust to a game’s purpose and be judged by their relationship together, not just one or the other.


II. Evaluating Game Design
The most objective gauge of depth in game design would be the number of options it gives a player. A deep game takes a lot more work and can end up only being enjoyed by an elite few. A shallow game needs either a deep story or friends over to pick up the slack. Deep game design should not be considered an inherently good or bad attribute of a game in a proper critical assessment.


III. Evaluating Game Plot
The plot of a game is the part of it you cannot change: backstory, who you’re friends with, etc. Judging a game’s plot boils down to assessing what the designer’s force you to experience and its overall merits. If you cut a player totally free, the game experience will lead towards self-fulfillment. If you shove too many awful experiences on the gamer, the game might be too dark and unpleasant to justify the experience. In either case, it depends on the game.


IV. Evaluating Player-Input
The player input is your connection with the game, your means of interaction, and this piece focuses on the silent protagonist method. A connection with a game requires two elements: you interacting and the game giving you feedback. You’re both actor and audience in a video game. Judging the player input is judging how well a video game establishes and maintains this two-way connection.


V. Four Forms of Video Games
It’s becoming nonsensical to identify a game solely by its design. We should instead identify them by which element is dominate in the game experience. The other two elements still exist in varying degrees, but one factor controls the others.


First Person - The Player Input is dominant. You control both plot and how you play the game. These generally tend to be RPG’s like Mass Effect.


Second Person - The Game Design is dominant. You win the game according to its rules and not by what you or the plot dictate. Peggle is a better example than the one I used in the essay.


Third Person - The Plot is dominant. All of your actions and choices are based on the story and have meaning within it. Zelda and countless others are good examples.


Fourth Person - The three elements balance out. No one element has complete control. A lot of RTS games and some open world games develop this out, like Starcraft.


VI. Exceptions to the Four Forms
These are in no way inferior to any other type of game, we’re just distinguishing their elements and what they consist of.


Simulation - A game without a plot. A game doesn’t have a plot if it doesn’t have an ending. Think Sim City.


Interactive Ficton - A game without any game design. A game doesn’t have a game design if there are zero options for the player besides the one that progresses it.


VII. Application of the New Approach
Three examples of how to approach a game in terms of the experience rather than one individual aspect. The key is to see what kind of experience the game is attempting to create and how all of the elements work towards that goal.


VIII. Factions of Gaming
The terms casual, hardcore, or ex-core are not really consumer groups, they’re philosophies about the purpose of video games. Casual players think a game should be fun. Hardcore think a game should be replayable and ex-core think the experience is what’s important. All 3 views have serious flaws. I probably would’ve been better off calling them something else, a lot of interesting stuff happens in the comments on this one. The point was to criticize the philosophies, not the groups.


IX. Flaws in Criticism Today
The culture of reviews is not the same thing as critically analyzing a game. Making jokes is fine but try to remember they still need to make a point. Most importantly of all, don’t create a bunch of pre-defined rules that inhibit people from experimenting or discovering new games. We need to give good feedback and proper explanations to reviewers so that games can get better.


X. Evaluating Game Experiences
Looking at a game experience means evaluating how the game allows you to express yourself in an experience. We have to ask ourselves what that experience is for and how can it best be used.



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Sunday, Apr 20, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-04-21...

Oh, I liked “TWiG” so much.  The mixed capitalization, the emasculating implications…it was just simple enough to be catchy.  Of course, I can say that now that Kotaku, perhaps the most popular gaming blog out there (and the gaming representative of the Gawker empire), has gone and co-opted it.


Now, I’m sure you could go ahead and find fifty instances of other places that had used “TWiG” as an acronym meaning “The Week in Games” before I did.  That’s not the point.  The point is, that before last night, I didn’t know of any of those, and I was much happier then.  Got any ideas for new acronyms?  FTW (For the Week)?  GTFOA (Games to Find Out About)?  Drop ‘em in the comments.  Bonus points (to be redeemed later) go to something that could be a potential internet meme.


This is the Wii Wheel.  It's so…white.

This is the Wii Wheel.  It’s so…white.


As for this week’s games, well, it looks like a sparse week, but there are so many potential winners here that I hardly know where to go for something to highlight.  The elephant in the room is Mario Kart Wii; of all of the games coming out this week, that one’s bound to sell the most, and it’s surely yet another Nintendo-sponsored reason to own a Wii.  Still, it loses points for a) having been done before, and b) foisting the Wii Wheel upon the world.  I’m a Wii apologist, and I can admit that.  I’ll defend it to the death, insisting it’s “next-gen” (whatever that means) to my bloody death.  The habit that even Nintendo itself has latched onto of releasing plastic shells for their innovative control interface, thus removing the necessity of imagination to go with the waggle?  I taste bile in the back of my throat every time I read about one of these things.  Images in my mind of millions of Wii Wheels in landfills amongst 3rd party plastic bats, rackets, and fishing poles make me die a little bit inside.


As a rhythm game fiend, Battle of the Bands looks like fun (if a little confusing), and Square Enix is at it again, releasing The World Ends With You worldwide, to the rejoicing of millions (or, at least, thousands) who have salivated over the game for the nine months it’s been out in Japan.  Still, it’s impossible to overlook the PS2’s sole release this week: Persona 3: FES Edition.  Why, after two weeks of highlighting old games, would I choose to go that route one more time?  A number of reasons, actually:


1.  It might have the highest quality-to-sales ratio of any game released last year, aside from perhaps Zack & Wiki.  Seriously, almost nobody played this thing, and GameSpot, regardless of what you think of them, still saw fit to name it best RPG of ‘07.


2.  30 hours of brand new content.  Seriously—30 hours.  The “expanded” content of the FES edition is an entire new chapter for the game, along with a tweaked version of the original.  If you hadn’t played the original, there is officially no excuse to miss this unless you break out in hives at the mention of RPGs.


3.  You get this 70-hour beast for $29.99.  This is why the continued vitality of the PS2 is a great thing for gamers.


What are you looking forward to this week?  Are you saving your cash for GTA-day next week?


As always, the full release list can be found by clicking on that handy little “continue” link, right…there:


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Friday, Mar 14, 2008
Today PopMatters launches Moving Pixels, which will analyze gaming in ways that go beyond the product reviews that our multimedia coverage has until now been limited to.

“Friends are helpful not only because they will listen to us, but because they will laugh at us; Through them we learn a little objectivity, a little modesty, a little courtesy; We learn the rules of life and become better players of the game.”
—Will Durant, from The Mansions of Philosophy: A Survey of Human Life and Destiny


Welcome to Moving Pixels, the PopMatters Multimedia blog!


It has been over four years now since PopMatters started writing about games and other multimedia endeavors, a time that has seen the rise of casual gaming, a full console generation’s turnover, and the re-entry of the debate on violence in gaming into mainstream conversation. We have seen a format war fought and won, and we have seen the answer to the question of whether games can also be art shift from “maybe sometimes” to “often, yes”. Perhaps most importantly, we have seen the discussion of such questions expanded into an ongoing international dialogue via the increased prevalence of blogs and message boards as communicative vessels.


The multimedia writers of PopMatters would like to join in the discussion.


The aim of Moving Pixels is to analyze gaming in ways that go beyond the product reviews that our multimedia coverage has until now been limited to. This may include commentary on recent news stories, it may include write-ups on the latest flash games or particularly interesting websites, or it may delve into the state of the industry via the discussion of hot topics. We may even be inclined to provide alternate points of view on whatever game is being reviewed on a given day, or post a video that one of us found hilarious.


Our intent is not to take the place of the venues for gaming and internet discussion that already exist; our hope, rather, is to expand that discussion. Gaming is a part of our world, our culture, the culture of our parents and the culture of our children. A discussion of gaming does not have to exist in an insular world, it can infiltrate our books, our movies, our music. A web site can be an artistic venture, or it can serve to augment one. Most exciting of all, one gets the sense that we have only scratched the surface of possibilities in the realm of interactive entertainment and expression.


Super Smash Bros. Brawl has invaded my home in a big way, and I would be remiss if I were to suggest that, while playing it, I’m thinking of anything broader than disconnected thoughts; a typical Smash session might consist of “Runrunrun / SMASH FORWARD! / SMASH FORWARD! / jump OVER the Bob-omb / down-special / block / block / dodge / SMASH UP! / sayonara, Kirby.” Still, just because a typical game of Smash might not inspire poetry, exactly, doesn’t mean that the Smash Bros. series doesn’t shed light on interesting issues like the goodwill afforded by fanservice or humanity’s need for and gravitation toward competition. These are the types of discussions we hope to start here on Moving Pixels.


Thanks for coming by. Let us know what you think.


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