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Tuesday, Jul 1, 2014
Papers, Please is a game where actions do have consequences, but most of it relies on the emotional state and investment of the player.

Choices in video games are often given to us in a moment. The game slows down, highlighting that what is being presented to us right now is a choice. Most games effectively pause during these moments to give the player the chance to consider the scenario. Some, like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, up the pressure to choose by adding a timer. Still, though, the event is highlighted as a choice.


For choices to matter, they need consequences. But within the safe boundaries of a video game, creating a consequence by external means is an ineffective measure of making them matter, as the rewards in terms of the game itself often end up being considered more than the moral or narrative implications of the choice. Last week, I left off by asking if the player’s own emotional state should be the measure by which we understand a game’s consequences. Yet, such an attempt would have to be outside of those special moments. The player’s emotional state is a continuous thing that is affected by the moment to moment play of the game. One game that was mentioned in response to the original post, in what has now become a series, that has created a real sense of emotional consequence to the player’s action was Papers, Please.


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Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014
When we talk about video games, we don't seem to have the same understanding of "choice" as we do in other media or even in real life.

Morality is conditional. There is no way to determine ahead of time what the appropriate moral decision is for a given situation. A truly complex decision is woven with so many thread and contains so many competing needs that a truly right path may be too difficult to follow through or may not even exist. When we go through life, we are confronted by thousands if not millions of choices every day. Most end up being choices of no consequence. For instance, walking down the sidewalk and observing an insect on the path, the choice to step on it or not presents itself. So small is the choice that it probably doesn’t even enter the person’s mind.


Generally when we call something a choice, we speak of those moments that seem to possess potential consequences and that require conscious thought when considering it. They may be small things, like what to order off the menu or (along the same lines) what car to buy. What we call a choice are things that we stop and think about, weighing whatever considerations we feel necessary and then picking an option that seems reasonable.


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Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014
Despite how it may look on the surface, The Wolf Among Us doesn't follow standard approach to morality in games exactly, but instead builds on the idea of options not being built on a binary system at all.

Up until very recently, one of the ideas that was getting all the buzz in video games was the concept of offering “moral choices” to players. Games built around such offerings nearly always boiled down to whether you wanted to play a good, traditionally heroic character or one who was a bit of a prick. Those who tried to play as a character with some amount of complexity were summarily punished because the game system required the player to maximize one side or the other in order to get access to the best items, abilities, or what have you. In fact, most games boiled down to a single choice that the player was forced to make over and over. These weren’t moral choices at all, but mathematical problems hidden behind a thin veil of fiction.


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Thursday, Jun 12, 2014
Myst is a much smaller world than it was 21 years ago.

Myst is a lot smaller than I remember. Recently I went back and played the Cyan Worlds classic from 1993 and couldn’t help but notice that simple fact. I originally played it in 1993. My dad had just gotten a new CD-ROM drive for his self-built PC and Myst apparently came with all PC CD-ROM drives back then. For all intents and purposes, it was the first video game that we played together, and it took us months to get through.


I played it to completion the other day in an afternoon. Maybe it’s that I’m older or more experienced with adventure games. Maybe it had something to do with how I remembered how the world of Myst worked. In any case, the essential fact remains that Myst was a much smaller world than it was 21 years ago.


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Thursday, Jun 5, 2014

Since the recording of our podcast episode on Hearthstone, I’ve been playing the game pretty much every single day and have yet to spend a dime on it. I was a huge Magic: The Gathering player for a good many years, but I eventually had to give up as I could no longer afford the constant influx of new sets and the need to buy the new cards for the new metagame that would arise as a result. And I’ve lamented having given up the game ever since. I still get that itch to play a card game, and I’m grateful for Hearthstone‘s free-to-play set up because of this. I can scratch much of the same card flopping, spell slinging itch with Hearthstone that I did with Magic for free. Economically, Hearthstone makes a lot of sense for a player like me.


Comparing the prices of packs is never going to be an exact science. While Hearthstone packs are cheaper than Magic packs, they come with fewer cards. Yet there is a smaller maximum of any specific card that one can put in a deck in Hearthstone and duplicates can be unmade for crafting dust. You can’t trade Hearthstone cards like you can Magic cards, but packs can be bought with in-game gold earned by winning games. In the end, though, it’s not about comparing these prices but what the effect each model has on the flow of play. I feel that there is a trade off in strategic depth that comes along with the free-to-play model—even one as well done as Hearthstone‘s.


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