Context Clues took a rare chance at some time off, so this post will cover main themes of the previous three weeks instead of the usual one-week spread. If you want to read more of what was going on over the break, check out the Context Clues and other VGHVI waves on Google Wave. We’ve got a dedicated wave to discussing and tracking posts on Dragon Age that shouldn’t be missed! (And if you’re still looking for a Wave invite, let us know!) If you can't access Wave for other reasons, there's always the Evernote clip archive
Faith and Violence Addition!
Perhaps the holiday season got people thinking about religion a bit more, but it also seems to have sparked a bit of thought on death and free will.
Religion & Death
Andy Kirchoff at Catholic Video Gamers pointed out
that Catholic priests may be looking more deeply at games. Father Chris Valka, CSB,
said, "I believe we can learn something about the spiritual life from video games." While it's a brief article, it's exciting to note that such thoughts are coming from such a large cultural and religious institution as the Catholic church. I eagerly await the day when spiritual naturalism and ludological interpretation accidentally bump into each other at a cocktail party.
The Three Moves Ahead crew, led this time by Julian Murdoch (who was researching a long-form article on the subject, spent an entire podcast on how games handle religion
, and how some even go so far as to distinguish beliefs in game mechanics. Jonathan Stickles (Preparing for the Apocalypse) points to
a bit by his DigiPen classmate Kye Harris at Emphatic Experiences on the Bible in Games
Kate "Kateri" Simpson dropped more great links in the Dragon Age
wave. One by "Joril" at Bonesnack could spark some good discussion on religion in Dragon Age
. Another link posted by Kate (via Ian Miles Cheong, @stillgray on Twitter) is in Polish, so we'll link the Google-translated version
of Louvette's (Altergranie) post on the Playable Monomyth
. Steve Mallory (Gamasutra blogs) wrote a related piece on Campbellian mythic analysis, titled Machine Minds and the Arthurian Legend
In the absence of really attempting to tackle religious issues via mechanics, games have had to think up their own ideas for how to handle death and what comes afterwards ("Oh my God, he ate Fry! Fry is dead!" "It's OK, I had another guy!"). The Select Button podcast took a good, long look at death in games
, and they weren't alone.
Occasionally games include "death realms" where player-characters go after being killed. Syp at Bio Break looks at the possible inclusion of death realms in MMOs
. Jorge Albor at Experience Points looks at the emotional impact of NPC Death and Family in Assassin's Creed 2
Amy, tend to the Widow Pac-Man.
But death is often little more than a penalty for not piloting the player-character correctly. It's a mechanism to communicate and discourage failure, but it's not the only way games communicate success and failure.
Guiding, Incenting & Pushing Players Forward
Emily Short doesn't write death, but advanced age as a dynamic
. A problem here may be that players are often conditioned to the point where the difficulties of old age feel like the game penalizing the player. Regardless of the accuracy of the dynamics presented, I certainly do feel sometimes like the dynamics of life punish us for living past our physical peak. This was one of the rare cases where I felt moved to comment.
Lately a lot of designers have focused on stringing players along with the promise of rewards, but Radek Koncewicz (Gamasutra blogs) looks at how games can push players forward
as if with a cattle prod. It's all based around--you guessed it--player death.
But games can push players forward by restricting the possibility space, as well. Jonathan Stickles (Preparing for the Apocalypse) presents this in the form of a complaint that so-called
Open Worlds Should Be Open. Similarly, Justin Keverne (Gamasutra blogs) reposts his October piece on how a game such as Uncharted 2
can be a successful game even it's not a game of choices
. And Justin's right that Uncharted 2
is certainly a game that consistently funnels players forward, both with the game's architecture and the game-space's architecture. Borut Pfeifer (The Plush Apocalypse) looks specifically at driving stories via the environment
. Lewis Denby (GameSetWatch's "The Magic Resolution" column) is fascinated with experimental games that intentionally minimize player actions, drawing the question of whether the thrill of exploring a story is enough
to keep players going forward.
But communication with the player is important here. No amount of coaxing or funneling will get a player to progress if that player doesn't notice or understand. Grayson Davis (Beeps & Boops) laments the hard decisions that have to be made when alignment-based RPGs encourage befriending evil NPCs
because they make powerful allies, a move that often conflicts with the role the player was trying to play, but Alfe Clemencio (Gamasutra blogs) twists the screw a bit further to ask what happens when a game lies
about the possible consequences of player choices. Evizaer (That's A Terrible Idea) similarly looks at when the dice are rigged
and the perception of randomness in games.
And of course players can be enticed forward as well as pushed. Josh Bycer (Mind's Eye) notes the importance of tutorials
to communicate and train players in the expectations of a game.
Brice (The Game Prodigy) shows that immediate rewards aren't the only way to encourage players forward; there's also the Long-Term Incentive
BitMob has been running a series called "Generation Video Game," anticipating how future generations will incorporate video games into their lives and cultures. In episode 3, Andrew Hiscock looks at how game elements are at play in Dora
The Explorer, and how game techniques may be incorporated into the future of education.
While puzzle games are great at keeping players striving, they're not known for eliciting other emotions. Ian Bogost (Gamasutra's "Persuasive Games" column) looks at the ability of puzzle to elicit other emotions
Altug Isigan (Gamasutra blogs and The Ludosphere) goes on a tear, posting (among other things) about drawing the player forward in a game. Altug writes about Narrative Probability and Gamer Intelligence
, Combining Reward Structures With Narrative Bits
, and Rewarding Players Over Multiple Narrative Layers
Not all rewards work out, though. David Carlton (Malvasia Bianca), for example, thinks it feels wrong to kill Big Daddies
, the surrogate fathers of Little Sisters in BioShock
, which means the rewards of killing or saving the Little Sisters weren't fully enough to encourage David.
Notable As News
A few other posts that got and/or deserve a lot of attention:
Metacritical: Deutsch, Alienation and Mass Effect
Aon accidentally installed Mass Effect
in German instead of English, and learns about alienation in trying to play through anyway.
The Acagamic: Advent Calendar 2009
Lennart puts together a nice series of linkouts to some good stuff: "As a Christmas special, I will for once update this blog daily for the next 24 days with my favorite presentation slides about games, user experience, game design, emotion, affective and entertainment computing, etc."
Chungking Espresso: Assassin’s Creed 2: 0 out of 5 stars
Simon Ferrari gets a lot of attention for ripping on AC2
Gamasutra: Bryan Ma's Blog--Real Kanojo's Surreal Buggy Imagery
Glitches can be artistic.
News & Events
Closing: Raph Koster breaks the news that Metaplace.com is shutting down
Selected: IGF 2010 Competition finalists were announced
Triumphant return: Corvus Elrod is back and blogging at the Semionaut's Notebook
. Corvus also announced a Honeycomb Engine bot
for Google Wave.
Playing & talking: The Vintage Game Club has chosen BioShock
as the next game to play through and discuss
, hopefully in preparation for the upcoming release of BioShock 2
Packing it in: Lamentably, Aaron Miller (Anyway Games) is packing up the controllers
Published: Coin Opera, a poetry chapbook
of "short poems inspired by computer games" (via Rock, Paper Shotgun
Fellowships: Tiltfactor announcesgame-design fellowships
Blip Fest 2009 report by Matthew Hawkins (GameSetWatch) null
Singapore-MIT GAMBIT lab is accepting summer-program applications
until January 14.
The Atari Museum is reconstructing original Atari chips
This is really only a piece of what was going on last week. You can find more articles and access previously-linked articles in our shared clippings at Evernote. As always, feel free to contact me (here via note or comment, or @erik_a_hanson on Twitter) if you would like to point out something you think I missed, or if you'd like me to check out a site to add to my weekly review. You can also find me in Google's vast virtual empire as Erik Alan Hanson. And be sure to check the VGHVI events section, both as a reference and to add any events you think are worth including. If you'd like to be a part of collecting and sorting through articles for Context Clues, be sure to join the or let me know you'd like to be added to the Wave discussion. We'd love to have you!