This week Nick and I talk minimally—about minimalism in video games.
What more can we say?
Dead Island is a game I appreciate all the more in retrospect, now that I’ve played its lesser sequel. While it dragged on in its latter half, its first half contains an interesting subtext concerning class warfare that’s only apparent now after playing the subtext-fee Riptide. The first game also subverts the typical zombie origin story as well and again does so in a way that’s only apparent after playing Riptide, which falls back on clichés.
When I was young, I was convinced armed men would come to our house and kill my father. In my imagination, they would drive up in a white van, machine guns at their side. My dad, who would know their faces, would confront them from the porch, daring them to complete their murderous task before he could pull out his own pistol. Sometimes my dreams would concoct a night-time raid instead, the details similar but painted in more unsettling nocturnal hues. Of course these were delusions, but my sisters believed in them too. Our fears were built on the tall tales my father would share about the drug runs, shoot outs, and machismo-fueled encounteres of his youth. While we had guns in the home (hunting rifles and pistols), they were tools with variable uses. For a variety of reasons, our home was never a place of safety.
The sense of security I grew up with, and lack thereof, remains a compelling force in how I think about the safety of my own home today. Indeed, the perceived need for security is so powerful that it ranks amongst the most valued human rights. The need to “feel” safe, despite how painfully difficult it is to actually measure security, is a driving force in international politics as well. From America’s appropriation of global security to the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, notions of security shape both personal and large-scale systems. As crucial components of social and political systems, naturally games offer a particularly unique venue to explore the notions of safety and the cost of security.
This post contains spoilers for Bioshock Infinite.
I did talk at some length on our recent podcast concerning Bioshock Infinite about my general distaste for the game’s heroine, Elizabeth (“The Moving Pixels Podcast Explores the Infinite… Bioshock Infinite”, PopMatters, 29 April 2013). I mean, I get the concept of the character. Elizabeth is a young girl who has spent her whole life, Rapunzel-like, sequestered in a tower, and, thus, her wide-eyed innocence and wonder at the nature of a larger world makes some sense. She also, of course, comes off like other fairy tale characters and (as many have observed) more particularly like a Disney princess in her characterization as a naïve, but spunky young person, full of curiosity and ready to take on that new world. Belle comes to mind, of course, due to her appearance, but the Little Mermaid is not far from this character either. Knowing all this is intentional doesn’t make the cloying qualities of her character any less bearable for me, though.
Gaming is a large and vast medium, and yet game critics tend to only focus on such a narrow margin of that whole medium. Big studio blockbusters and certain types of independent games take up the limelight and the column inches, as it were. Very little gets mentioned outside certain parameters. Even in this more indie friendly climate, so much gets lost or pushed aside.
There are plenty of games not within the normal parameters of the gaming mainstream that don’t get their criticism. They have much smaller and more niche audiences. One of those wells that I’ve been dipping into lately is the world of interactive fiction. The genre is an evolution of the text adventure had the genre never moved past the text parser and into the realms of graphical interfaces. Not limited by what can actually be represented on screen, they can stretch the limits of their creators’ (and players’) imagination as well as create deeper narrative interaction.