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Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013
Much of Crimson Butterfly's tension and horror emerges from the most unexpected place, the way that we interface with the game and its controls.

The horror genre is in part built upon the notion of upending expectations. It’s similar to comedy in that regard. The end goal and therefore methods for achieving it, of course, being somewhat different. In comedy, the interest of the artist is in subverting expectations and changing directions at the last moment. In horror, the interest lies in twisting and prolonging expectations, all the way to their breaking points.


At a more fundamental level, the mediums in which a particular work is a part of have different methods for conveying meaning. One of the less acknowledged forms in games is the feel of play. Video games in particular are tactile in nature due to a constant connection to the controller or other input device that connects the player to the game. It is important both how it feels for the player to input commands as it is to how it feels to receive a response in moment to moment interactions. However, due to the nature of the interactive cycle, there is a limit to how much you can upend the expectations of input and output.


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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013
Most horror games work based on the premise of the protagonist being helpless. We aren't the victim in this scenario. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream instead puts the player in a position of power as the perpetrator of horrific events.

This post contains spoilers for I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.


I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream has been re-released on Good Old Games and Steam, so go check it out if you haven’t already. The writer of the game and the original short story, Harlan Ellison, didn’t think much of video games, but regardless wanted to make a work in the only medium that he hadn’t yet tried his hand at. In doing so he wanted to explore mature, controversial themes like guilt, rape, and the Holocaust. Few games since have really dealt with these as themes as themes. They may be included in them as a historical detail or plot point, but with most games, the focus is never directly on these concerns.


That alone sets I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream apart from everything else. The game also brings another issue to the forefront of my mind. We toss around the term “horror game” rather liberally as a genre, but we don’t often stop and consider what we mean by the “horror” in “horror game.” As a genre we attribute the title to anything we might find that attempts to be scary, but that isn’t what horror means. Often what we mean in context is “terror”—a strong feeling of fear, a cause of anxiety. Whereas ‘horror’  is an intense dislike, an abhorrence or painful feeling of repugnance. We mean the term as a description of how the work makes us feel, yet we use a word that describes the work itself.


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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013
No matter what tricks we use to help us cope, some horror pushes past the logical centers of our brain and grips us at our basest emotional core. It's a fascinating phenomenom to witness in oneself.

Everyone has their limit in terms of what what they can tolerate in the horror genre. There is only so long that a person can play in a world defined by horror before the atmosphere begins to wear on them. Sometimes, the “creepiness factor” is just turned up passed someone’s personal threshold. For others, it is the type of horror that tests their tolerance. For one who can’t stand the site of blood, shlocky slaughter fests are more than they can, though others may find them fairly tame or even uninteresting. For that matter, for some members of an audience the simple inclusion of spiders may be enough for a movie or game to go unfinished.


It’s odd how much power in the moment that the fictional can have over our physical being. We know what is being represented isn’t real. We know that for a fact. We are holding the controller or mouse & keyboard in our hands. We are looking at a screen with borders. The graphics, no matter how realistic, we can see isn’t like the real world. Yet, there comes a point when a person just has to stop. Their limit has been surpassed. Maybe they stop for good or merely to regain their composure. Interestingly, this is the recognition of this need is a dynamic that Amnesia: The Dark Descent adopts in its design.


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Tuesday, Oct 8, 2013
There is no element of Silent Hill that would pass muster nowadays and that hasn’t been infinitely improved upon in the ensuing decade plus since the game's release. And yet, were this game to come out today, instead of twelve years ago, I’d want it to be exactly same as it is.

Silent Hill 2 is one of those games that has entered the gaming canon as not only one of the scariest games ever made, not only one of the best games ever made, but also with the distinction of being one of the most aesthetically resonant games ever made. This last accomplishment is quite an achievement, especially for a game released nearly a decade before a sizable amount of gamers even cared about such things.


Twelve years later, games at all levels of the industry are created with an eye towards art, the discourse surrounding games has advanced quite a bit, and the craftsmanship of virtual game design has likewise advanced. The unspoken question in light of such advances is: “Has Silent Hill 2 held up over time?” Has it held up for newcomers to the title with over a decade of expectations to contend with? Is it only a product of its time and has it therefore aged poorly?


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Tuesday, Sep 24, 2013
We like to root for the underdog. Endgame: Syria is no exception. It’s firmly against the Assad regime, but instead of presenting a righteous cause as motivation for the player, the game instead decides to look at the practical aspects of Syrian rebels trying to fight a ground war.

Given recent events in the news, I figured now was as good a time as any to try out this little app that I had downloaded on my tablet several months ago. Endgame: Syria is a newsgame (a game that seeks to portray the situation of a news story by having the player work through competing systems) created by Tomas Rawlings. The term “newsgames” was coined by academic Ian Bogost in his book of the same name. It’s an exploration of journalism at play and using the grammar of a video game to convey an understanding of complex contemporary scenarios. Probably the most famous newsgame is September 12th, which depicts a Middle Eastern marketplace filled with civilians and terrorists, and the player making choices by clicking on areas to bomb. Bomb civilians and other civilians will turn into terrorists.


It’s a simple set up with a simple point to get across. Bombs cause collateral damage, and collateral damage will create new terrorists. That is what bombs do. Endgame: Syria is trying to explain an even more complex situation. The rebel uprising in Syria against Assad’s dictatorship has a popular analog, that of the Rebel Alliance against the Evil Empire. We like to root for the underdog. Endgame: Syria is no exception. It’s firmly against the regime, but instead of presenting a righteous cause, the game instead decides instead to look at the practical aspects of the Syrian rebels trying to fight a ground war.


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