Games

Remembering Fun: A Look Back at 'Prince of Persia: Sands of Time'

If games are to be taken seriously, they can't be making serious things "fun." However, infusing darker, edgier, and more serious elements into contemporary design philosophy should still not come at the expense of fun. Fun should not be allowed to become obsolete.

The dog days of summer are to video games what late winter is to film and the 1990s were to literature. For the most part, it's filler between the spring and Christmas release periods. The triple A titles have already come and gone, the arcade lineup has dried up and the indie marketplace is still awaiting the next humble masterpiece. As frustrating as it can be to be staring at the calendar awaiting the fall, the seasonal lull marks an excellent time to go back and (re)play some old gems. Doing so shows one how much games have grown and how much potential they continue to show, but it also shows how changes in design philosophy have changed the way that games are made. And many of this year's releases have lacked the fun that was characteristic of an older generation of games.

This isn't to say that games aren't fun to play anymore, just that the narrative of 2012's major releases have been considerably darker and heavier in tone. Mass Effect 3, Darksiders 2, The Last Story, Diablo 3, and Deadlight could not work if they were more "fun." That isn't a mark against them. They are, after all, approaching mature and complicated themes. If games are to be taken seriously, they can't be making serious things "fun." However, infusing darker, edgier, and more serious elements in contemporary design philosophy should not come at the expense of fun. Fun should not be allowed to become obsolete.

What I mean by fun can be summed up by the game that I've just finished during this year's seasonal slump: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. PoP is brightly coloured, the Arabian Nights aesthetic is almost absurdly bright and beautiful, the levels are structured as much like a jungle gym as a Middle Eastern palace, and the characters are warm and generally likable but they also joke and jokes are made at their expense. The game isn’t silly or even comedic, but it certainly isn’t dark. The sequel, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within shows that, in fact, a grittier, gloomier aesthetic doesn’t work.

In Sands of Time the fate of the world is hanging in the balance, but the lead characters still bust each others' chops. The palace and everyone in it are destroyed, but there's a wondrous grandiosity to it. The game holds stories of death, love, betrayal and a swath of other "serious" matters, but it never forgets how awesome the next series of jumps will be or how funny it is when the Prince asks why he spends so much time talking to himself. Even the use of the Prince as a narrator, telling us "a tale like none you have ever heard" reminds us that this is a story meant to be as entertaining as it is enlightening.

As great as it is to see games tackle more cerebral subject matter, something is lost when a whole year goes by with so few "fun" games. Even those releases that try to be lighter in tone like Lollipop Chainsaw and The Book of Unwritten Tales are so direct and self-referential that they aren't lighthearted adventures so much as they are a jab at the gloomy atmosphere recent games have perpetuated. The crushing weight of Sheperd's burden or the auteurist sensibility of Suda 51's parody have a place, and it's great to see games take on that kind of identity, but recent games have sacrificed fun and delight for grit and depth, almost to their detriment. Serious does not have to be dark, awe inspiring does not have to be gaudy, and goofy does not have to be stupid. Fun does not have to mean shallow.

Granted, games as elegantly designed as Prince of Persia were a rarity even in their own day, but many of the 16-bit Final Fantasy games were able to balance fun with depth, as was The Legend of Zelda was before Ocarina of Time. In a rush to grow up, developers have been quick to shove some of their traditions under the bed and try to forget about them. Growth is good and change is necessary, but I would hate to see it come at the cost of something that brought so many people to games to begin with.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

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On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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