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

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Tuesday, Sep 4, 2012
Uncharted 2 is not about honor among thieves or no honor among thieves. You are merely "among thieves," left to make up your own mind about the matter.

The title of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, of course, is a play on two well known phrases “Honor among thieves” and “No honor among thieves.” The first is based on the assumption that because both parties are thieves that they are in this together against the law, while the latter is based on the idea that since these individuals are both thieves that they will act out of self interest regardless of any personal connections to one another. Both phrases are well known and have been used a lot in fiction. However, each of these phrases’ uses are wholly dependent on what a work is trying to say as a whole.

Uncharted 2 clearly hints at the phrase by putting two of the familiar words that comprise the phrase together.  However, by omitting the word ‘honor,’ the title refuses to make a statement one way or the other. The game is not about honor among thieves or no honor among thieves. You are merely “among thieves,” left to make up your own mind about the matter.

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Tuesday, Aug 28, 2012
Unfortunately, in Uncharted 3, Drake doesn’t have to live with consequences and the lesson that he learns rings hollow.

Few works wear their themes quite as blatantly on their sleeves like the Uncharted series. Those themes are always part of the title. Deep examinations of character and theme aren’t necessary for blockbuster action titles and don’t often use them as a consequence. But when a work does decide to include them into its fabric, it can be understandable that there might need to be a substantially large neon sign indicating that it is in there in order to show us where to begin looking.

With Drake’s Deception, we immediately ask the questions: What is the deception? , Who is Drake deceiving?, etc., etc. The game starts off with a con that is going to go down with some shady buyers that ends with Drake and crew gaining access to the villain’s secret underground London lair. This isn’t the deception referred to in the title, but it does reinforce the theme while moving the plot forward. The real deception has to do with the question that we are soon asking: Who is Drake?

Tagged as: uncharted 3
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Tuesday, Aug 14, 2012
Setting our expectations about what a story is going to be is important to storytelling. The Uncharted series sometimes fails to meet the expectations that it establishes for its players.

An implicit promise of storytelling is the concept that the beginning of the story sets up the expectations of the audience with regards to tone, basic concept, and generally the broad strokes of the areas that that story will and will not cover. It’s not so much a rule rather than just how things work. It’s why a creator spends so much time with the beginning of a work over the middle. First impressions matter because it tells so much of what is yet to come. It tells us what to expect and puts us in the right frame of mind for what is to come. Works that betray such a promise feel shoddy, unfocused, or an overall mess. Sometimes without anything being technically wrong with anything that comes afterwards.

There is no set amount of material for how long an implicit promise of this sort takes to set up. It can be the first 10 minutes of a movie or the first half hour. Maybe it takes one or two chapters or the first 50 pages in a book.  Some works can get it done in just the first line. The same is true for video games. Maybe our expectations and understanding of what we are going to experience takes only the tutorial level to set up, or it can be several levels before things get going.

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Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012
In its quest to never break the flow, the game has to turn the pacing over to the player. The swiftness and fluidity with which the player can switch from high octane 1970s driving action to serene “leaf on the wind” Zen-like travel to existential goal-oriented, laser-guided focus speaks to a game dedicated to a user interface that not only facilitates play but creates a quality experience in its own right

Driver: San Francisco is a fun game. Fun should always be qualified, but I stand by this. Driver: San Francisco is an exhilarating, enjoyable, fluid experience that doesn’t compromise on its intelligence. I’ve gone on at length in multiple places on the various aspects underpinning the game on a textual and subtextual level that for me make it stand out as one of the best games of last year and the best game that no one seemed to champion. In light of all that and in my delight to dig deep on this racing game, I have skimped on detailing all of the surface level aspects of the game that make Driver worth one’s attention in the first place.

The driving featured in the game is arcade racing at its highest level with the right level of bombast to still feel grounded in the game world. The entire design of the game exists to facilitate the player’s flow. The choice of presenting the player an open world to drive in means that you are never “out of the game” and are always present doing something. The shift ability that allows you to jump from car to car is not only there to help should you crash and wreck a car, but it also exists as a means to get around breaking the flow of the game with time spent in menus. See a car that you want to drive? It is a button press away. Do you need a different car for a challenge or simply want something tighter or faster to suit your style? Go ahead and grab it. Even if you are looking for something specific and it isn’t in the immediate vicinity, the act of flying around the streets checking out each car as you pass it has its own visceral thrill to it.

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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2012
Two men dictated by driving: one driven by an intense focus on the calm precision necessary to master the physical science of it all, the other driven by the raw emotional power that a two ton extension of the self provides.

I watched Drive the other night, a movie that takes place in California about a nigh unstoppable badass, a possible sociopath with an almost supernatural ability regarding cars, whose enemy is a crime lord who will stop at nothing to kill him. Before putting the DVD into the player I was wondering if it would have any thematic connection to a certain video game, namely Driver: San Francisco, a video game that takes place in California about a nigh unstoppable badass, a possible sociopath with an almost supernatural ability regarding cars, whose enemy is a crime lord who will stop at nothing to kill him.

Beyond that superficial comparison of the details, the movie and the game don’t really have much in common. Drive is a mostly slow paced affair concerned with character development and the main character’s relationships with others, punctuated by sudden violence, which brings a grim underworld into the stark light of day. Driver concerns an internal cerebral battle, in which the violence is presented as so over the top that the player is lucky that he doesn’t consider the main bad guy a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Really I could pack it in there and call it a night—save for one thing. Ryan Gosling’s character is solely defined as a person by his most potent ability: driving. He has no name, no past, and all the human contact that he has is filtered through driving. The dates that he goes out on? They’re night drives. The business ventures that serve as his main means of human contact? They are his job at a garage and stock car racing. He meets his “love interest” by helping her with her car. In an action video game, the protagonist is solely defined by the verb that the player uses to interact with the game. In the case of Driver: San Francisco and John Tanner, that verb is “drive.”

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