“What is Final Fantasy?”

That’s the question with which Luke Karmali begins his recent article on how the franchise will try to stay relevant going forward. And though he doesn’t answer it outright, the response embedded in the piece seems to be something to the effect of: Final Fantasy is nothing…Final Fantasy is everything.

At least that’s what Motomu Toriyama (FFXIII: Lightning Returns director) and Yuji Abe (gameplay director) insinuate in their interview with Karmali. The gaming industry is going through some seismic transformations right now, with new platforms being developed at every turn, genres constantly being redefined, and a new generation of consoles coming just around the corner. As a result, Final Fantasy is in a state of flux as well, trying to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape as best it can. At the end of the day however, the most accurate response to Karmali’s question might end up being: Final Fantasy is dead.

This is another way of saying, “If Final Fantasy is constantly changing, and often in fundamental ways, does it still exist as anything outside of a branding tool?” To think about this more systematically, it’s worth starting as Karmali does with what Final Fantasy once was. Continue reading

Advertisements

4 Things I’m Loving about Arkham Origins

gotham 6

I popped Arkham Origins into my Xbox 360 on Friday and haven’t looked back since. It’s been said before but things this truth always bear repeating: few things have ever been as satisfying in a video game as combat feels in an Arkham game. It’s fluid but bombastic; challenging without being downright frustrating.

There’s a few other things I’m really digging about Origins though and which have left me surprised as to why many other critics have been so harsh on the game. W.B. Games Montreal have done a terrific job with the latest Arkham game, and not just because of how well it emulates the other two titles in the series.

gotham

Let it snow, let it snow

When it was first announced that Origins would take place on Christmas Eve, I wasn’t impressed. It seemed a bit hokey and a further admission that the game was more of a hold-over until Rocksteady completed the series’s next-gen iteration than a true continuation of it.

But the choice turns out to have been the right one. Setting the game on December 24th, in the middle of an early winter blizzard, serves both to convincingly mask some design limitations as well as help set the game’s unique mood. It doesn’t really bother me that people aren’t out in the streets of Gotham because it makes sense to me that on 1.) Christmas Eve and 2.) a big snowstorm few would want to leave their homes.

In addition though, both the holiday and the weather help Origins feel set in a specific place and time. All of which helps to ground the events that take place in a way that neither prior game in the series had been.

gotham 2

Christopher Drake’s music

The game’s soundtrack hews pretty closely to what you’d expect given Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Ron Fish and Nick Arundel who scored both of those games established a mold for the series that any composer would think twice about breaking. Fortunately, Drake tinkers around the edges instead of it instead of making any drastic changes.

The slight shifts Drake does introduce are all for the better. The soundtrack for Origins is more electronic, with synth undertones that help the otherwise traditional orchestral arrangements sound more foreboding and urgent. Drake also borrows inspiration from Die Hard, an action movie that also took place at Christmas, by sprinkling church and jingle bells throughout certain tracks, giving the most wonderful time of year a distinctly sinister tone.

gotham 5

The challenge

I’m playing the game on hard because hard is the new normal. While that means that I’ve had to restart missions more times than I can count (truly), it also means that I feel much more accomplished when I finally do get past a particularly tough battle, or take down an unusually large group of thugs.

The way the game mixes different enemy types, and the way their AIs navigate each encounter, it really feels like I have to be on my toes and get into a rhythm if I’m going to have any chance of making it through alive–which makes sense since, after all, I’m only playing as a guy in a bat suit. The stakes are high, and i feel empowered without being invulnerable. Rather than make the game challenging by arbitrarily pumping up the difficulty, it really feels like whether I’m successful or not comes down to my own skill and focus.

gotham 4

A sense of continuity

Some have been complaining that Origins is only more of the same, accusing the game of not doing enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors. This is kind of like criticizing Batman the comic book for still being about the same character, doing more or less the same things, issue after issue, decade after decade.

While the game certainly has some flaws, it also has its charms, and the only thing I can say to people who are disappointed that Origins doesn’t do anything fundamentally different from Asylum or City is, maybe a quasi-open world game where you play as Batman as he beats up bad guys and searches, for clues just isn’t for you. To its credit, picking up and playing Origins is like coming back home in a way, and the game does an excellent job of making itself feel a direct part of the Batman universe the Arkham series has created, rather than a bastardized spin-off.

From what I’ve played so far, Arkham Origins is in the top tier of games that have come out this year as well as this console generation. Sure, it recycles somewhere between many and most of the same gameplay mechanics and narrative conceits of the earlier games in the franchise, but that’s hardly an issue unique to Origins. Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty are in the same boat, as are many other AAA titles. Welcome to the perils of annualization and an industry full of risk-averse publishers.

At least the Arkham formula is one worth using again, and Origins is (for the most part) as good of an implementation of it as any we’ve seen in the past, or are likely to see again in the future.

You Have the Right to Remain Independent

Fez

The first thing about Tracy Lien’s micro-documentary that caught my attention was the title of the post it accompanied, “How Indie Games Went Mainstream.”

It’s been a common refrain these last couple of years. With the critical and financial success of games like Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Minecraft, “indie” has become increasingly identified as a sub-genre of video game more than a particular philosophy of development or type of political economic circumstance. Steam includes it as a separate category when browsing its digital wares, though how exactly the company decides which games are Indie and which ones aren’t isn’t altogether clear.

But while a certain type of indie game may have gone mainstream, it’s worth pointing out that most are definitely still not. Indeed, the more a certain type of retro-pixelated, chiptune-fetishized, and/or late NES, early SNES era inspired video game comes to represent the genre in the popular imagination, it’s important to remember that indie games, as in >90% of the things made by small, piss-poor, borderline anonymous development teams are nowhere near mainstream, nor (most likely) will they ever be. Continue reading

Things I Think About GTA V (Before Having Played it)

Grand Theft Auto V

With the biggest budget of any video game ever (is that right? More than World of Warcraft even or other games with continuous development? What about adjusted for inflation?), Grand Theft Auto V is bound to be awesome in at least a few ways.

Rockstar has been responsible for some of the best (Red Dead Redemption) and worst (Max Payne 3) moments in a video game. It is an exceedingly competent developer–like that guy or girl in art class who wasn’t always that inspired, or creative, or rebellious, but damn if they weren’t the most diligent person you ever say with a pencil or paint brush. Look at that studious cross-hatching! Wow, they actually took that pointillism project REALLY seriously, and now look how beautiful it turned out!

When I look past all the criticism of GTA V then, and see what people are saying about the amount of detail that went into creating the “world,” and all the dumb things you can do in it, and how it’s kind of like Second Life, but if it were made by the cool kids and populated with all the horrid and tired shit that was in their heads, I’m compelled to nod in measured admiration and quasi-respect.

Because there’s so much in GTA V, we really do need to try and separate all the horrible framing or arrested cultural development from “the craft.”

Really though, while we can distinguish between them, like how a branch is different from the trunk, they still exist together, forming the same thing, which is a tree, and considering either one in a vacuum tells you absolutely nothing about the whole.

Torture is wrong, right? Except in those tedious ticking time bomb scenarios, but fuck them, right?

It’s like revenge, similarly springing from an instinctual urge we can all understand even as we all condemn it as an actual course of action. Like in A Time to Kill, when Samuel L. Jackson’s daughter is brutally raped and maimed by racist white hicks, but they might end up walking free, because “the South,” and so Samuel L. takes his revenge, an act which has multiple consequences including (1) pairing him up with charismatic defense attorney Matthew McConaughey, (2) ending the lives of two men and permanently injuring a third, (3) preventing two of those men from ever brutally raping and maiming anyone else, (4) demonstrating that a skewed justice system will not in and of itself protect rapists from the death penalty and so possibly acting as a future deterrent and (5) potentially provoking retribution from surrounding white supremacist against the local African American population. What Samuel L. did was wrong. We, the audience, know that he wasn’t insane when he did what he did. He should go to jail, but he doesn’t, and we are happy.

So maybe torture is always wrong, but maybe it’s also very complex, and our feelings about it are conflicted and contradictory and inconsistent, and maybe our extreme aversion to it not entirely logical, in the same way that our horror at the injustice which accompanies a couple dozen deaths (Sandy Hook) never quite matches the horror we feel as a result of events which are ongoing, anonymous, and far from home (drone strikes).

Maybe GTA V handles it’s torture scene crudely, or sloppily, or attempts to satirize it, but fails to satirize it, but maybe it’s also a torture scene, and no more or less heinous, in reality, than all of the other heinous things players are able to do in the game, and often do, and often gleefully.

GTA V would have been a better game with at least one female protagonist, or even at least several female characters that were as developed as its main ones. GTA V is also not the problem, in the same way that one person littering is not the problem, and one person making a rape joke is not the problem. The problem is when these things are ubiquitous. The problems stem from a culture of wasteful consumption. Carbon becomes a pollutant when we all release it in the atmosphere en masse. The problems stem from a culture of rape. Any one person’s insensitivity or misogynistic opinion on the issue makes them an asshole, but when a majority or plurality of people operate this way, and a system predicated on them, their views, and their actions, inevitably reflects this, then there’s a problem.

There’s certainly a relationship between one person doing one thing, and most people doing that thing most of the time–but especially when it comes to problematic portrayals of women in media, no single instance is THE problem. If GTA V were the anomaly, or minority instance, it COULD just tell the story its “artists” wanted to tell, and the rest of us could like it or hate it and do whatever.

But it’s not an anomaly. It’s representative of the way most media treats and depicts women, from those on Dancing with the Stars to female news anchors and political analysts to those on MTV and in cartoons and in blockbuster movies and AAA games. And as the most expensive video game ever, that’s going to sell tens of millions, and going to be, rightly or wrongly, employed as a shorthand representation for VIDEO GAMES, the fact that it suffers from so many of the biases, misconceptions, and shortcomings prevalent throughout the medium IS A PROBLEM.

Quite a few women will play and enjoy GTA V. Many already gave it rave reviews. They think that the game can meaningfully be decoupled from whatever cultural issues it has. Doing so then is not on its face a ridiculous thing to try and do.

If you think about American culture and politics a lot, and think about video games a lot, and stories a lot, and played some other GTA games, and some other games that were inspired by GTA, then GTA V probably doesn’t have much to offer you. And so I don’t think GTA V probably has much to offer me.

If you don’t think about these things a lot, perhaps GTA V will provoke you into wondering about them more than  you would have. Or maybe it will give you the wrong impression of them, and so you’ll be mislead. And then we can wonder about whether that’s YOUR fault for being ignorant, or GTA V’s for “not being responsible.” Or we can just not give a shit and run over some fools in a hulking Dodge Challenger.

Do I really want to pay $60 and spend 30+ hours of my life investigating a world and story only so that I can criticize its commentary, mock its cinematic ambitions, and wax philosophical about the existential quandaries of exiting in a world that lets you do almost anything you want, and gives you everything you desire, except a purpose?

Shouldn’t I be Playing the Manifesto for a Ludic Century?

Futurist Manifesto

Re: The Ludic Century Manifesto

In excerpts from an upcoming book that were published at Kotaku, Eric Zimmerman and Heather Chaplin explore a manifesto for the “Ludic Century,” the idea that the 21st century will see “games” come to dominate, well, everything.

I have a bone to pick with a lot of it, not least of all because, understandably or not, so much of what is said is unexplained and unsubstantiated. When the manifesto is not riddled in obscure and vague futurist proclamations, it dances around some potentially interesting claims. To be even distantly interpretable though, any one of the sentences would need to be expanded upon at length. Here are just a few of the questions I have (you’ll have to turn back to the original article to see the specific text that I’m referring to for any given heading). Continue reading

Saving Video Games or Why Should I Care About Kurt Cobain?

hotline

Culture comes from the latin cultura meaning cultivation. Cicero borrowed the agrarian term and applied it to the soul, encouraging individuals to cultivate themselves as they would a garden or farm.

But not all growth is healthy, or beneficial. A culture of e coli can be deadly, an uncontrolled growth on the body can lead to a malignant tumor.

There’s no question that gaming has a culture. In fact, it has many, though not all of them are necessarily growing, or growing in healthy ways.

Perhaps it’s less helpful to talk about gaming culture than the gaming ecosystem: a bustling series of communities full of overlap and discontinuities, with some boundaries that are more hard and fast than others. It’s like a high school cafeteria–there are lots of individual groups, many of which will never interact with one another, but that nevertheless still have some overriding things in common, even if it’s just the fact that they’re all stuck in a building together and need to eat.

My primary criticism of Leigh Alexander’s (admittedly bold and inspired) Nine Worlds Convention speech (which was later reprinted at Gamasutra), is the way it blends manifesto with cultural anthropology.

A manifesto should be strongly worded and socially challenging. A comparison between musical movements and video game development should be nuanced and cautious. And at least in this instance, I think the combination of the two has hindered each more than helped.

While I agree for the most part with Leigh’s world view, and the future of video games she wants to see, I’m not sure I have any better idea now of how to get there, or what will help bring those who don’t already agree along with us.

***

Leigh’s speech is both political and personal. She’s trying push for a sort of counter-cultural maturation of the video game ecosystem, while also sharing her experiences growing up at the cross-roads of the 80s and 90s music scene, and how that has informed her vision for where games need to go next.

But why should it go there? Why are the problems she identifies, the areas of stagnation and malignant growth she believes are diluting and polluting the rest of the gaming media environment, the ones anyone else should be concerned about?

***

“This endless loop of dog-eared geek references and getting mad on the internet isn’t culture. It’s exhausting. While amazing little games and inspiring jams sprout like flowers all the time, the bigger conversations remain static.”

What are the “bigger conversations” though? And in so far as it’s true that little progress ever seems to be made in mainstream debates, is there a time where that ever wasn’t the case? How long has the “big conversation” of global climate changed remained static? If we can’t move that one forward, what hope is there for sub-cultural debates over gaming?

How do you convince someone, who doesn’t think so, that global warming is a future catastrophe that needs to be prevented? Or do you bypass them altogether, and try to move ahead by leaving people like that behind, and/or marginalizing them until they hold little to no sway over the broader course of events?

Those seem like the only real two courses of action. I’m not sure which is more viable or effective. Part of the trouble with Leigh’s proposal though is that it hedges, and doesn’t truly commit to either path.

***

On the one hand, Leigh makes the following point,

“If I’m to call what I’m doing ‘culture journalism,’ I struggle to be content with celebrating and evangelizing the games and ideas I love and believe in only to the relatively-small audience that already likes them.”

On the other, she also says,

“Anyone who tells me they ‘don’t get’ or aren’t interested in the Twine scene, or in what’s being called ‘personal games,’ I’m not sure I even have anything to talk with them about in regards to games culture.”

***

“Games are supposed to be about expressive play, creation and sharing, but often it feels more like it’s about nostalgia and gatekeeping, a competition to see who’s the most insular and obsessed.”

I’m wary of making claims of what games are, or what they are supposed to be. That’s not to say that I don’t have my own ideas about both of those things, but I also know full well that there are many communities within the video game ecosystem who would disagree with me. What it really comes down to is balance and pluralism. Are lots of different approaches to video games thriving? Is there vibrant criticism where necessary?

In other words, is the garden well tended, or are there parts of it that are overgrown, barren, or infested with weeds? There’s a big picture here and a little picture. The garden itself, and the individual plots within it. How much room do the Zinesters have? Is E3 at the center of things (in America), or nudged off to the side where its overall cultural significance has been decoupled from its commercial importance? Is everyone given a patch and allowed to cultivate it in their own way, or is the garden still guarded primarily by straight, white, upper middle class cis men (like myself)?

***

Should the garden “reject complacency, protest commercialism, embrace diversity,” and should those who bother to tend it be rioting and screaming while we do so? Is that even possible? Where are the boundaries of diversity if it means only accepting the things we like? I’m willing to reject that which is harmful (misogyny, racism, bullying of any kind, etc.) and thus necessarily hostile to diversity and pluralism, out of hand. But is commercialism necessarily harmful? Or complacency, i.e. a gaming sub-culture based around nostalgia and geek credentialing?

“Bear with me, though. It’s not all hopeless. Things in the gaming world are not as bad as gamerculture makes them look. We’re standing at the precipice of a moment where we have the power to change everything: To reject complacency, to protest commercialism, to embrace diversity and to riot, screaming, toward our generation’s glorious inheritance. Everything is telling me it’s time.” (Emphasis and italics are mine.)

Who is “we?” Is it everyone in the gaming world, the gamerculture of which seems overly dominated only by a few? Is it a coalition of fringe groups looking to wrest control of the “bigger conversations,” or even what constitutes them, away from the loudest, most traditional, and most economically powerful voices?

I’m not sure if Leigh’s trying to be coy, or was just being sloppy with the pronouns, but even if the phrasing of her message is telling me we can all do this together, the content of it seems to demand a more militant approach. Everyone isn’t on the same page here. “We” are the counter-movement(s). And the things we are most concerned about cannot be negotiated or compromised upon.

***

Your dad was defined by the Business (capital B) he was in, and your mom was at the gym, feverishly climbing a Stairmaster to nowhere.”

My dad was (is) a school bus driver who spends his weekends fixing up his house and playing guitar and my mother was (is) a psychiatric nurse who has been a runner all her life, though not for body-image reasons. Whatever dreams and regrets they had (have), neither of them ever let their days be defined by their day jobs and what society thought of them.

My dad, actually, was a journalist — he wrote about hi-fis, and ended up with a “home technology” column in the Boston Globe, back when the idea you could have technology in the home at all still felt new.”

Then who exactly are we talking about here?

***

“E3 is pure ‘80s: Aging men in tight pants who are still really excited about babes, robots and aliens.”

While I think Leigh’s analogy from the 80s ideals for corporate tech and masculinity to the current excesses swirling around shows like E3 is appropriate, and gets at a lot of important issues, I think it also denies the 80s the same complexity she attributes to other decades. After all, they had their alternative music, underground scenes, and dissenting pop cultural media as well.

And pop notions of masculinity, feminine sexuality, and what was cool didn’t change all that much in the 90s either, or the 2000s, or even the 2010s. Turn on network TV, listen to the radio, or scan the most popular movies from the last 30 years and it’s surprising just how little the basic constructs are the same. Their presentation may have evolved, and the aesthetic tweaked, but the rot is still there.

***

“It was like frontman Kurt Cobain was looking to the hyper-capitalist, superficial excesses of the 1980s that his generation had been handed, and sardonically quipping, ‘now what?'”

It seems like each and every generation has its “now what?’ moment. They happen at different times, maybe even several times. Nirvana’s, whether by accident or the meaningful confluence of various world historical forces, just happened to gain momentum and evolve into something more than a blip, and ended up being worthy of retaining some space in our ever growing shared cultural memory.

Leigh zeroes in on the corporate imperative underlying the most visible aspects of the video game industry. But I can’t imagine that the individuals involved in creating new games, and the technology that would play them, weren’t asking some version of “now what?” Not “how much” or “how many” or “ka-ching, ka-ching.” Some people surely were, but others surely weren’t.  And then they did something like make The Legend of Zelda, or Fallout, or Morrowind, or Second Life, or World of Warcraft, or L.A. Noire.

A Peggy Lee fan probably followed up with, “Is that all there is?” and some player at home in her basement rolled over on the couch, pulling out her hair because all anyone was doing was iterating on the same boring, unrepresentative bag of tricks, and thought “I can’t go, I must go on,” and through all the books in the fire and collected what remained, combining the ashes with something different and bold and personal and told her story and then other people were inspired to tell theirs and haven’t “we” been doing this for a while now–who cares if some old, rich white guy staring at an earnings report or overseeing his digital distribution platform doesn’t care and just can’t get it?

***

Who is the Nirvana of video games?  Who has the luxury to be the Nirvana of anything? Are they fit to be the savior of anything? Fuck saviors.

***

“Interestingly this was also the golden age of Japanese RPGs.”

Golden age for who? For middle class American suburbanites? Post-Berlin Wall Europeans? The Japanese developers who made them and the Japanese audience they primarily made them for?

***

“But that’s because for games, the 1990s are kind of just beginning. We have the opportunity to pioneer and to celebrate and to be welcomed and comforted by a visible, meaningful counterculture.”

What about the people making games in the 80s and 70s? The beginning for video games, or just a particular gaming community, a single strain of video game culture, an individual generation of players?

***

Leigh claims that “Meaningful culture reflects and reacts. It doesn’t hand wave-away discussions or insist on maintaining the status quo.”

What if “meaningful culture” is a dialogue between opposing forces? A Hegelian dialectic? Creation, destruction, and reformulation? “The System” might be broken, but it’s infrastructure can be helpful or even necessary in seeking to rebuild or transform it. The revolution isn’t fought in a vacuum, but along the boulevards originally built to serve the establishment. Meaningful culture reacts because friction clears the way for growth. Sometimes this requires pruning, sometimes it requires razing the land and leaving it fallow for a season or two, and sometimes it preserving the seeds of worthwhile intentions, drives, and values.

***

“And yet video games continue to lavish upon shooting — insistently, while “gamer culture” militantly defends it.”

Which “gamer culture” militantly defends the shooters? The 1% of people who play them religiously and and feel the compulsion to talk, argue, and in many cases verbally or virtually abuse others online or in-game?

“In some circles of “gamer culture,” players are actually motivated to hate speech at the very idea that you might try to take their guns.”

Yes, those circles. What’s to be done with them though? Do you back them further and further into a corner, or simply leave their playground behind for greener pastures? In the real world we’re forced to live along-side people whose infatuation with fire-arms can lead to physical harm, but by its very nature the video game space allows those of us who disapprove and/or feel threatened to leave and form our own communities.

Maybe that’s not enough though. Maybe that psyche that informs “some circles” needs to be handled with extreme prejudice; to be violently dissembled, or shamed out of public view. You can pull the plug on a server or comments thread, but where’s the plug for a sick world-view; a fundamental lack of mutual-respect? Whose going to pull it and how?

***

“It’s not that culture isn’t allowed to include pointless entertainment, silly moments you can live in and then forget; of course it can. But the fervent prizing of ‘fun’ is controlling the commercial game industry, and helping defend the corporate menu of aim-and-shoot is probably the single biggest way to ensure that games will never really mean anything to anyone, will never change lives or create memories. As long as we pretend games exist in some vacuum that has nothing to do with what happens in the rest of the world, we’ll never have a culture worth talking about.”

But what if those point-and-shoot galleries really do mean something to a great many people? What if Gears of War really does mean something because the first time you played it opened up a window into a place where you could play with brutal mutilations and decapitations, explore the power you never head by seeing what it’s like to exercise that power over a distant friend, an anonymous stranger, or a lonely AI?

“But why don’t fans defend the right things, instead of those games that mainly exist to make rich men richer, to exploit them as a market category? Why go to bat for some console brand? You’re creating their business, but not contributing to our culture.”

Right things for who? There’s a lot in Leigh’s piece that urges “us” to police the gaming culture(s) but not much on how to do that, or why others should help “us.”

“Instead of looking at expressive game makers, we’re still stuck trying to prove we’re valid by purchasing whatever marketers say the Hot Title is. We’re so loath to admit we’re stuck in a sad consumer cycle that we argue about console wars and repeat geek in-jokes for fear of having little to talk about among ourselves that isn’t a ‘this is better than that’ argument.”

And yet this is precisely what Leigh seems to be calling on various ideological factions and communities to do, to argue with one another about why our culture, or the kind of culture we want, should take precedence over theirs. To tell the people in “some circles” that we don’t just approve of their lack of civility or abusive behavior, but that the seeds from which that culture sprang are sick, or harmful, or have had their time in the sun and now they’ve got to get out of our way so we can have ours.

***

“Culture means a shift, even temporarily, away from production values to actual values. What are video games if they can be made by ‘just anyone?’ No less than what Nirvana was to me as a child discovering a guitar, creating a memory instead of just one more interaction with a hostile system.”

How are the values of production different from “actual” values? Or are they just values we believe to be harmful or destructive or seemingly unaligned with the ones we’d rather cultivate? Production’s values can destroy a great idea, contorting or perverting it in an attempt to commodity and distribute it. Certain large projects like The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, and Skyrim (in so far as they are interesting, regardless of whether they are “good”) require certain production values. A game like Shadow of the Colussus somehow managed to survive them, and The Last Guardian might have finally reached completion if they were incorporated more dutifully among the ones guiding that project’s development.

Is the goal to supplant one culture with another, or just create room for the other to grow and spread more prodigiously? The first requires raging against a machine, the second only needs us to look for and create alternative ones. The latter is already happening, and has been for some time, perhaps all time, but with more energy and visibility thanks to (interestingly enough) a democratization of capital that market capitalism has itself seemingly made possible.

The former path is bloody and draining; an intercultural black hole with a poorly defined end game, if it even has one. Maybe both paths must be pursued simultaneously. Maybe a multitude of other paths present new opportunities that make this framing obsolete.

Whatever my disagreements with, criticism of, or questions for Leigh’s piece, it presents important challenges and forces the issue. So much of it rings true to me, not on an intellectual level so much as a personal one.  I’m not sure what else to say at this point. You should read it if you haven’t already. If you already have then share it with someone else. Have a conversation. Take a moment to reflect. Revel in your differences.

From Dissonance to Gameisms

Bioshock

Most people who think a lot about video games hate the term “ludo-narrative dissonance.” It’s a mouthful, reeks of pretentiousness, and prone to semantic abuse. And people who don’t think about games almost always have no clue what it could possibly mean (the rabbit hole starts here).

Todd Harper would banish the term altogether. I’m sympathetic to this view. At the very least it would force people to be clearer about what they’re trying to say rather than loosely employing shortcuts like LND and letting things get sloppy. On the other hand though, I do think LND is a problem that actually occurs and really can detract from a game.

It’s not surprising that it’s become more and more of an issue just as games have sought to tell deeper, more complex, and more affecting stories than, hey, this monster stole your (supposed) girlfriend, now go get her back. The last decade in AAA game development has more or less focused on how to strap sitcom-level narratives onto Doom-inspired 3D shooters. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this has led to more than a few contradictions. Continue reading