Archive for the ‘Games’ Category


Aesthetics and Mechanics

January 31, 2013

The more I follow this little spur of the digital humanities railroad called game studies, the more I find myself sympathizing–and even collaborating–with art historians. Chris Solarski helps me understand why.

Video games rely on the very same design principles — perspective, form, value, etc. — which classical artists employed to create the illusion that the television (or canvas) is a window into an imagined world. These design techniques also serve a second purpose equally applicable to game design, which is their aesthetic value, and application in visual narratives.

I’ve a bone to pick with Solarski’s notion that games’ interactivity is unique, but I’m increasingly aware that games do configure their interactivity uniquely–even my beloved parallel to homeric epic relies on an analogy of configuration that applies centrally to the bard and much less to his audience, who could never sing the tales the bard sings. The barrier of entry to game-performances is much, much lower, and Solarski’s piece may help us describe the available performances more thickly.


Roger on Rulesets and the Humanities

January 30, 2013

Frankly, my new language is “games precede humanities.” I’ll be trying to take that on the road this summer. From my latest post at Play the Past.

The codification of the essentially humanistic analysis available to every player of BioShock into writing articles for scholarly journals in order to win promotion is a ruleset of its own, but I want to persuade you that if we mistake that ruleset for the essence of humanistic endeavor, the humanities really are doomed.


Gaming culture’s complicity in a lamentable confusion

January 15, 2013

There’s a trend here that’s making me very unhappy, of gaming culture actively perpetuating the lunatics’ conflation of “shooters” with “video games.” Consciously or un-, gaming culture writers are trying to rope Flower, Journey, and Papo & Yo into a conversation in which they don’t belong.

Still, bit by bit, video games are being demonized. And even though no true connection has been made, the more they are deferred in such a manner, the more it will be difficult to convince parties otherwise that games are not the cause of society’s ills.

I think the conversation about violent games, and the one about violent media in general, is one we’re overdue for. I’ll bring my copy of the Iliad. I’ve argued before, and I continue to think the prosocial effects, for adults, of such media far outweigh any adverse effects. But as I say I think that’s a conversation worth having. The one we’re having now, where one person is thinking of Call of Duty and another is thinking of Barbie Horse Adventure isn’t, as far as I can tell.


Game Makers and other Magicians

September 26, 2012

The suggested correspondence between magicians and ideology is intriguing – and makes me cringe. Who doesn’t remember those moments between blissful childhood and cynical adolescence when all of a sudden you realized that the magical performance in front of you, complete with choices that come with the magician’s attention, had turned into a farce and that, all along, you had been led by the nose? And when the broad smiles (feeling special, good choices!) changed to a sneer? Maybe I’m all alone with this; but how can one be oblivious to the manipulations of the game, especially when the initial fun-factor has lost its charm? Channeling Borghes here, somewhat…

Maybe I just read Thomas Mann’s Mario and the Magician (1929) one time too many. Maybe I read the Hunger Games one time too many. Maybe I equate games with just too many rules one has to follow and thus wants to break. What would make games really magical is if they could undermine their own construction and gameness, as in, games get to be changed at the core. Haymitch Abernathy’s discovering the force field and using it as a bouncing device comes to mind. What makes a gamer not feel like a trapped mouse, the eager subject of the game makers’ disciplining layers of tests and competitions? When s/he can outwit the game maker – or is that just part of everyone’s ludic impulse?

Play is fun, games are fun, magic is fun. Especially if the game itself is part of the ludic enterprise – that’s magic. For those interested in ideological game making, how about Europa Universalis III…


The Magic of Interactive Digital Media. . . as ideology?

September 22, 2012

I’m absorbed these days with questions of how ludic artifacts can use their manifest interactivity (the thing that in my view differentiates them from non-ludic artifacts like traditional film and novel) to do new things. The examples are starting to pile up: BioShockNo Russian” in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and the controversial ending of Mass Effect are the examples that stand out for me among mainstream games thus far, but it definitely seems like games that actually use their interactivity in thematic ways are growing more frequent.

As a quirky, but I think very important side note, I found this piece by Alex Stone about the role of choice in the arsenal of a magician’s tricks very revelatory:

Another familiar force is known as Magician’s Choice, the equivoqué. The idea is to set up multiple paths to the same endpoint. In the simplest version, you deal two cards down on the table and ask the spectator to “remove” to one of them. If your volunteer removes to the card you want to force, you say “Ok, that’ll be yours.” If, however, the spectator points to the other card, you eliminate it, saying “Great, we’ll remove that one.” (Here you’re exploiting the ambiguity in the meaning of the word remove.) Either way the spectator winds up with the same card.

Two things spring to mind: “ludic” films like The Usual Suspects (along with ludic epics like, say, the Odyssey, and, more importantly to me at least, every narrative digital game ever that convinced you that you were making real choices. The great frontier of making this illusion of choice manifest to the player is the one I’m excited to think we’re facing, and I take hope that the makers of games will be able to do a very great range of thematic things with it from the incredible variety of forces (of this illusionist type) one finds in traditional works of art: from the different ways Shakespearean comedies end with a marriage to the construction of the forum of Augustus as a traditional Roman family-home.

I’m suggesting that ideology can be viewed as a magician’s force, and that the connection may mean that narrative games have access to the machinery of ideology in a way they’re only beginning to explore. Worth pondering, maybe.


Video Games and Human Values Initiative (School of Athens) Podcast

September 10, 2012

Every two weeks I do a podcast with some other game-thinkers at the Video Games and Human Values Initiative, which is now pretty much defined entirely by our Thursday night sessions. The first Thursday of the month is always a symposium; the third is always a “playversation“; both of those become podcasts like this one.

This one’s a playversation with Dan and Roger piloting their WW I fighters against one another and trying to decide whether there’s anything essentially digital about digital games, while Dan tries to picture what the heck they’re doing up in the analogically virtual skies.


At “Digital Humanities Now”: the New Aesthetic, with reference to game studies

April 19, 2012

I have a cordial dislike of philosophy since Plato, with the possible exception of Nietzsche, but the doyens of game studies are (with mixed results, I think) headed thither. Ian Bogost‘s recent Alien Phenomenology seems destined for some privileged status, claiming as it does to launch a “bold new metaphysics.” This post by David Berry is very helpful in putting these efforts in the perspective of the broader groping towards something called “The New Aesthetic” by digital humanists. Berry writes, for example:

In order to pursue the New Aesthetic further I want to move away from these existential questions and look in more detail at some of the claims advanced by spokespeople for object-oriented ontology (OOO), or what is sometimes called speculative realism (Bogost 2008, 2012; Borenstein 2012; Jackson 2012). More specifically, I want to explore the attempt to critique the New Aesthetic in terms of what they call a misplaced focus on the merely computational. Instead, I want to question the way in which they propose an extension of method (or movement) that takes in, well, everything in the universe.

This makes me heave a sigh, wedded as I still am to Plato’s critique of mimesis as vitiating both metaphysics and aesthetics as practiced since Aristotle, but one should know what the enemy is up to, I suppose.