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

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Friday, Feb 28, 2014
Since a game is interactive, it requires so much more effort on our part to progress through it that we can’t detach ourselves from the experience to enjoy it ironically.

I thought Killzone: Shadowfall had a really dumb story, easily one of worst of any game that I’ve ever played. Yet I can’t bring myself to take the disc out of my console. It calls to me, it begs to be played again, and I find myself drawn to it because of its badness, not in an academic way, but in an ironic appreciation of it—a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. This strikes me as weird because bad games are hard to like, even ironically. That so-bad-it’s-good moniker doesn’t usually apply to games.

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Friday, Feb 21, 2014
Shadowfall rewrites established plot points so often that it feels like it’s being made up as it goes along by an eight-year-old with way too many toys.

Killzone: Shadowfall flirts with some interesting ideas during its first two minutes, but then it turns into a story so poorly written that it has to be a purposeful parody of stupid shooter stories or else a meta commentary on how prejudice causes one to forget the past.

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Friday, Feb 14, 2014
Montague’s Mount has no faith in its audience -- and no faith in itself.

Some time ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an article for Edge about how “less is more” when it comes to storytelling and evoking emotional responses in games (“When it comes to storytelling and getting emotional responses from games sometimes less is more”, Edge Online, 14 October 2013).

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Friday, Feb 7, 2014
Plague Inc. knows that we’ll willingly silence our conscience if we’re given the proper mechanics to do so.

I wrote last week that puzzles can be scary, whether they be mechanics-driven puzzles or narrative puzzles. Knock Knock is a game that fails because it approaches an effort to balance tone and mechanics from the wrong direction: It establishes a good, creepy mood, then asks you to puzzle around in it. This diminishes the horror in the game because the puzzle mechanics distance you from the gameplay, asking you to experience the game intellectually rather than emotionally (“Puzzles Aren’t Scary: Intellectualizing Fear in Knock-Knock, PopMatters, 31 January 2014).

The iOS game Plague Inc. takes the opposite approach and succeeds. It presents you with a puzzle to solve, encouraging you to view the game as analytically and unemotionally as possible and only when you win does it allow you time to sit back and absorb the horrifying implications of what victory really means.

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Friday, Jan 31, 2014
The lack of thematic tension and thematic horror stems from the fact that Knock Knock presents itself as an intellectual puzzle instead of as an emotional story.

Knock Knock purports to be game about hide-and-seek. The player controls The Lodger, a solitary man haunted by insomnia and ghosts. Every night he wakes up several hours before dawn, and you must guide him through his house, turning on lights to make sure everything is still in order while also turning off lights to stay hidden from malevolent spirits. If you find a Lodger-shaped clock, you can speed up time, bringing you closer to the safety of dawn. If a ghost finds you however, the time is set back several hours, extending the night and the game.

Those are the mechanics, in brief. The story, or even any semblance of a story, is purposefully vague at first, but over time, specific mysteries start to take center stage: Who is this lonely Lodger in a cabin in the woods? Who or what are the ghosts? Are they real or imagined? Where did The Lodger’s diary go? Is it even his diary? What can’t he remember? And why/how did he forget it? Who is the little ghost girl? Why are the spirits haunting/hunting him? What is going on here?

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