This past week was certainly an exciting one. You may be aware that there are folks out there who still dismiss games as being the same mainly lighthearted distractions that once populated the first video arcades. Seems to me that the mere fact that games cause controversy beyond "Pac-Man Fever" is a solid indication that games have moved forward from the days of Centipede
. Growing up isn't just about growing pains, though. At some point, trying to wear the same shoes you wore as a child is going to move from silly sentimentality to actually causing physical injury. Eventually, those old shoes just don't fit anymore and need to be replaced.
Modern Warfare 2 Controversies
Warning: This paragraph and its links contain spoilers regarding Modern Warfare 2. On the other hand, these spoilers may prove crucial to your decision to play the game.
Aaron Miller (Anyway Games) notes that
a leaked game scene shows the player participating in a terrorist slaughter of civilians before the terrorists turn on and kill the player. You can likely understand why this might ruffle some feathers. Keith Stuart (The Guardian's Games Blog) notes that this is worrisome even if the is extenuating context
, while Sean Elliot questions what interactivity adds
in this scenario, especially since the series' history of strong-arm plot and instant-failure response to "friendly fire" make this less an interactive experience than a sort of twisted crucible.
But that may not have been the biggest controversy for the title last week. The game's marketers also put out a video of in-game-animated Cole Hamels (pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, who are currently in the World Series) talking about how it's not cool to randomly throw grenades in games. It was a fake PSA "paid for" by "Fighting Against Grenade Spam" (a group with a less-than-cute initialism
). Add to it that Hamels calls grenade spammers "pussies," and a lot of people (myself included) were beyond displeased. There were likely more, but I read responses from Denis Farr at Vorpal Bunny Ranch
, Michael Abbot at Brainy Gamer
, Matthew Kaplan at Game In Mind
, the Graduate School Gamer
, "mixvio" at Gay Gamer
, "Lono"at Sarcastic Gamer
, Alex Raymond at While !Finished
, and Dierdra Kiai
. Infinity Ward has since pulled the video from YouTube.
Tom Chick (Fidgit) is journaling play in Dragon Age
. Thus far, Tom's pwned ogres
and developed a healthy addiction
Substance abuse dynamics aren't the only things drawing headlines for Dragon Age
, though. Demian Linn (Bitmob) catalogs the various potential sexual relationships in Dragon Age
, and "mixvio" (Gay Gamer) responds
positively. While I appreciate that it's a rarity for any game to allow homosexual male relationships, I also find myself dismayed to read of how relationships work in the game, and how various types of relationships fit disappointing gender stereotypes.
Matthew Kaplan (Game Critics) questions the superiority of ethicality over fun in Sicart's Ethics Of Computer Games
, which is a bit difficult to argue against as a matter of opinion (though I have gotten into such arguments in my younger years, claiming that the "dancability" of "Tip Drill" or the "Thong Song" didn't justify the lyrical content).
Meanwhile, over at Crispy Gamer, David Thomas stuffs up a strawman, complete with pitchfork to protest the message of metal
in order to offer that a game like Brutal Legend
can be left to be fun without necessarily looking at the narrative meaning. Then again, perhaps David's strawman misses the message of moral relativism of setting a game as multiple forces vying for the moral and strategic high ground in Hell. He may further miss that metal is less about Satan than it is about rebellion and questioning mainstream assumptions of power, control and rules. I can hardly blame a strawman for not thinking of those things, though, what with the lack of a proper cerebellum. Plenty of fiber, though.
In writing about Sacrifice
in a new series looking at some of the most important games of the decade, Troy Goodfellow writes, "If I were a New Games Journalist, whatever that is, I could probably make the case that Sacrifice
is one of the best indictments of religion available in the gaming sphere." I'm not entirely sure that Troy and I share the same understanding of New Games Journalism, but even backing into it, Troy still offers the point. Players can enjoy games like Red Faction: Guerrilla
without giving full credence to the fact that the protagonist is a violent insurgent, but that certainly cannot blot out the facts of the narrative. In fact, I believe that one of the most valuable abilities of games' is their ability to allow players to experience different roles and perspectives, especially when those roles pertain to experiences and points of view that I would otherwise have difficulty experiencing.
Keith Stuart (The Guardian's Games Blog) looks at how games are bleeding into our urban environments
, which I take as an indication that games can and do change the way we see the world around us.
Mike Mason at Resolution Magazine is fed up with immature
"mature content" in games. Nick Dinicola (PopMatters' "Moving Pixels" column) notes that too much so-called "mature content" can make a game less realistic
. But Daniel Primed has been reading Raph Koster's Theory Of Fun
and wonders if, due to "chunking," games are subjectively experienced as more real than reality
. Daniel also agrees with Raph that, for games to advance as a medium, they need to move beyond the currently popular subjects and get into looking at the human condition, either directly or through metaphor. (Peter Mawhorter at Expressive Intelligence Studio also recapitulates Koster's book
So let's look at how mainstream games are doing in terms of maturely handling real issues. How are we doing with issues concerning gender, ethnicity and privilege
? I hope you won't be surprised to read that games aren't doing very well.
Evan Stubbs (RedKingsDream) bemoans the atrocious mainstream, masculine demands of gaming culture
on women. To wit:
Depressingly frequently we, as men, seem to want it all ways; we want women to be knowledgeable and “one of the guys”, but at the same time we claim to appreciate “a woman’s perspective” when it comes to games. We don’t want them to call attention to their femininity, as that would be manipulative marketing, but “we’d hit it” and we won’t watch, read, or listen if “she’s fugly”. We like hearing about the things they enjoyed, but we don’t want to hear about all that non-core crap like Peggle and The Sims. Somehow, we want our women to be nurturing and supportive of our interests, to be overtly sexy, and, as impossible as it is, to be pure and virginal.
Perhaps in spite of this view, Nick Lalone (Before Game Design) lays out the structure of an upcoming literature review with a final point of "Feminist Theory or, why it matters
that a video game is transmitting the translated nature of a new cultural proximity." I wish Nick nothing but the best; few fully appreciate the power of games as a medium and the missteps of games in dealing with femininity and females.
But it's not like the world is void of smart, gender-educated thinkers. At Edge Online, Chris Dahlen praises the romance in Brutal Legend
for featuring a woman who is more than a trophy or vending machine
. Also this past week Bonnie Ruberg (Heroine Sheik) does a nice job looking at the loaded points of view
in Beatles: Rock Band
Scott Juster (Experience Points) continues looking at the relationship of haptic interfaces and immersion
, now looking at novel applications of feedback to add new information, including to model disabilities and to aid the disabled and elderly. Matthew Kaplan continues recent writing on race-switching in games by talking about the second-class relegation of elderly characters in games
"Character is what you do when you're in single-player."
(Note: Not a real quote) It's no secret that character design in games is often perfectly suited for the shallowness of characters' cardboard stand-ups at your local GameStop. Jorge Albor at Experience Points looks at recent discussion (which warms my bitter, cold heart) and goes on to state that external appearance shouldn't determine relatability
between players and protagonists. Jorge endorses playing games with customizable characters as characters with differing ethnicities and genders than your own (which I find to be one of the most intriguing abilities of role-playing games). The point is made in the comments that being able to swap character paint-jobs doesn't change voice actors or the cultural background of characters (which I find to be one of the most discouraging parts of role-playing games).
Lyndon Warren (Digital Kicks) is looking at characters in KotOR 2
. This week, Lyndon looks at the nature of Hannarr and the nuances of his unhappy life-debt
to Mira. One of the triumphs of this relationship is that it proved a countervailing force in a trend to portray Wookies as yet another "noble savage" trope.
Bryan Ma (Gamasutra Blogs) compares the central relationships in Fumito Ueda's games
I often skip reviews in my reading, due to the pressures of getting through all the posts I try to read every week and because reviews often simply dash off opinions on component aspects of games (story, graphics, gameplay). But sometimes I stop and read one and am glad I did. Regina Buenaobra ("Brinstar" on Acid For Blood) goes through the usual but also really digs into analysis of Uncharted 2's characters
Also On The Desk
Look, not every pen or paper on my desk is nicely contained in the organizers I picked up from the office supply store, no matter how much I expected those organizers to change the way I work or live my life. Here are some items that didn't fit the main theme, but which are worth saving from the recycling bin.
C.T. Hutt (Press Pause To Reflect) looks at swordplay in games
Matthew Burns (Magical Wasteland) gives a culinary tour of how games have depicted food
Game Design Advance talks to Jesper Juul for their Another Castle
The Blogs Of The Round Table topic for October has concluded. Slip on your narrative cap and dig into thoughts on denouement in games plots
Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) looks at how well Google Wave handles RPGs
as a sort of online kitchen table.
Because Halloween was this past weekend, Big Red Potion
and Gamers With jobs
both look at horror games as a genre and fear in games more generally.
Nels Anderson (Above 49) zooms in on how Left 4 Dead manipulates emotions procedurally
L.B. Jeffries (PopMatters' "Moving Pixels" column) breaks down the main arguments in Espen J. Aarseth's Cybertext
Eric Adams (Gamasutra Blogs) asks if gamers can be expected to read
manuals. Slightly different question: Are manuals part of the game? I suppose where they fall in a paratextual hierarchy would depend on the posture of the manuals themselves. A manual presenting as an in-story diary is certainly different than a completely removed instruction manual.
Ollie Barder (The Escapist) tries to outline the mech genre
Simon Ferrari looks at the political games of the Gotham Gazette
Mariam Asad (News Games at Georgia Tech) looks at the efficacy of education games
by "Knowing The News," with analysis via Bloom's Taxonomy
Eludamos Vol. 3, No. 2
is out. Eludamos is also growing, and has announced
a Call For Papers and the opening of a number of unpaid positions working for the journal.
Auntie Pixelante, Cactus & Messhof are speaking Thursday at NYU
. 5 Nov. 2009
European Innovative Games Award 2009 nominations have been announced
Raph Koster is posting slideshows
from this past weekend's Virtual Goods Summit
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.