BG 40 – Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation

Futurismic have my latest Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column is about the various attempts by game-designers to emulate the cut and thrust of human social interaction.  I begin by taking and in-depth look at L.A. Noire‘s attempts to climb out of the uncanny valley before widening the aperture a touch and taking a look at some of the theoretical challenges that need to be overcome before games become capable of modelling conversation as well as they model shooting people in the face and slicing them up with great big swords:

Phelps’ capacity to be inhuman to his fellow man helps him to understand his fellow humans better… thereby raising the possibility that Phelps is in fact a sort of autistic Colonel Kurtz whose willingness to commit acts of terrible violence is a form of spiritual strength. The road to Nirvana is easy to walk when you are wearing jack-boots.

However, in the interest of full disclosure I do feel obliged to make clear the fact that I did not come up with the term ‘pixel-bitching’ all by myself. The term used to be bandied about on the RPGnet forums as a means of referring to a mode of adventure design whereby games masters will not allow the game to progress until the players have uncovered a single specific (and usually well-hidden) clue.  I’ve also heard the phenomenon referred to as a ‘plot bottleneck’ but I think that term fails to capture how irritating it can be to find yourself hunting for a single pixel in a digital landscape.

BG 39 – Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story: High School, Privacy and Blended Identity

Futurismic have my latest Blasphemous Geometries column.

This month’s column is about Christina Love’s latest indie game Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story, which can be downloaded for free on a variety of platforms.

Set in a weirdly Japan-ised American Highschool in 2027, the game explores issues of identity and social media.  As I suggest in the column, the game is best played as a companion piece to Love’s previous game, the equally excellent Digital: A Love Story, which I wrote about a little while ago. Together, the two games tackle the process of putting oneself online and interacting with other online souls from quite starkly diffing perspectives.

PS: In the article, I mention a paper by Andrea Baker called “Mick or Keith: blended identity of online rock fans”, it can be downloaded (for free) HERE.

BG 38 – Sucker Punch: Video Games and The Future of the Blockbuster

Futurismic have my 38th Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column is one part review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch to one part examination of the nature of blockbusters to one part analysis of trends in popular culture and the way in which video games are coming to replace super heroes as the blockbuster genre medium of choice (hence the length):

Sucker Punch mirrors the growing intertextuality of the video game experience by having Baby Doll shift seamlessly between the reality of the game, the reality of the brothel and the reality of the insane asylum. However, what makes Sucker Punch such an interesting film is not the fact that it displays an impressively detailed understanding of video game aesthetics, but rather the way in which it uses these images and techniques to attempt to create a cinematic effect.

BG 37 – The American Dream is SPENT

Futurismic have my thirty seventh Blasphemous Geometries column.

Entitled “The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism”, the column looks at two different browser-based business simulation games and shows how, despite both operating on the assumption that capitalism is a functional rules-based system, the games use their different depictions of that system to produce withering critiques of contemporary capitalism.

BG 36 – Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths

Futurismic have my thirty sixth Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column argues that the reason why we tend to swing to the right when we play games is because the video game interface changes the way we perceive the world.  Strategy games effectively make us see like a state and when we see like a state certain human values (like the cost of grand strategies in individual human lives) and concerns disappear but other values and concerns (such as stability of the international system and efficiency of government) appear to take their place.

The column draws quite heavily on the work of James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998) but I am much more willing to lend the state an agency of its own than Scott was in the context of that book.  One reason why I did this is because I read and wrote about Scott’s more recent book The Art of Not Being Governed (2010), which really does present the state as a class of  entity in its own right.

BG 31 – Paying Attention is Not Fun : Crackdown 2

Futurismic have just put up my latest (and somewhat delayed) Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column looks at Crackdown 2 and wonders why its main narrative is so utterly incapable of maintaining our interest.  Is the problem bad writing?  Have our brains been re-wired by the internet as suggested by Susan Greenfield and Nicholas Carr?  And if it has, should we care?

BG 30 – Roleplaying Games and The Cluttered Self

Futurisimc have my thirtieth Blasphemous Geometries column entitled “Roleplaying Games and The Cluttered Self”.

The column is both a defence of Consumerism and an examination of the ways in which we express, formulate and find ourselves through the process of playing games.  It is also the longest piece of writing I have ever published, clocking in at over 6,500 words.  It is also the first piece of writing for which I took photos (the photos in question are of my old room at my mum’s house, which I have been clearing out over the past few months).

Aside from these minor formal experiments, the piece also marks something of a departure from my traditional critical stomping grounds and towards something a good deal more personal in that I try to use my thinking about games to shed some light on some thinking I have recently been doing about myself.  I’m not entirely sure how effective the experiment has been, but it was certainly an interesting experience trying something so different.

BG 29 – Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb

Futurismic have my 29th (!) Blasphemous Geometries column entitled “Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb”

The Kinect is really nothing new, much like the Playstation Move it is a rather blatant attempt to tap into the market for casual gamers uncovered by the Nintendo Wii and its much vaunted non-standard controller.  However, while Sony were busy Me-Too-ing in a way that is weirdly unconvincing (if I wanted that kind of play experience, I would still buy a Wii despite the fact that I’m sure that Playstation Move can and will do everything the Wii can do and more), Microsoft decided to renew their long-standing desire to use their games console as a means of securing complete dominion over a house’s entertainment media.

Again, this is nothing new as it is arguably what the original XBox was designed to do, but there is something incredibly bleak in Microsoft’s vision of a future in which everyone socialises through a games console.  Something so bleak that I had to write about it.

The column taps into some of the recurring themes of my writing but it is particularly linked to themes explored in other columns I have written including the banal and unpleasant nature of our escapist fantasies and our desire to have a group gaming experience without actually gaming with other people.

BG 27 – Fantasies of Mere Competence : Football Manager 2010

Futurismic have my latest Blasphemous Geometries column.

It is a development of some of the idea expressed in this column from a few months ago but rather than looking at Fantasy as an avenue for escapism, I decided to look at the more modest and mundane ways in which people aspire and escape.  A trend embodied in TV programmes like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and games like Football Manager 2010.

I’ve also decided to take a slightly different approach with next month’s column.  Recently, I have been using games as springboards to look at wider issues.  This is partly a result of my own game-laying experience of late which has seen me bouncing out of new games and returning again and again to games I have already written about like GTA IV, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age.  However, I think that it would be good for me to keep my feet on the ground with regards to writing about games so I have decided that next month at least will herald a return to a closer examination of one particular game.