Monthly Archives: September 2013

Catachresis: A Way Too Scary Game (2013)

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After “Where is the Citizen Kane of video games?” and “Who is the Roger Ebert of games criticism?”, the third most cliche question to ask about the critical state of games is, “Where is gaming’s Cahiers du Cinema?” The implication of this quandary is that gaming’s smartest thinkers should get together and create a coherent language and theory through which one can discuss games. While I agree it’d be beneficial to see a coherent critical community that was more willing to build on the work of its own members, I also can’t help but think the longing for a united manifesto ignores some of the great, singular work going on in the gaming underbelly. What truly fascinates about the original Cahiers collective is that so many of its luminaries articulated what they thought to be the language and meaning of cinema, then built upon it and experimented with those values in their own work. I’ve barely begun delving into the budding indie games scene — and I’m talking about the truly independent games, made by starving experimentalists programming largely alone — but one thing I’ve already noticed is that most of these fringe critics are also avid game designers. Writers as diverse as Tim Rogers and Anna Anthropy aren’t afraid to put their principles into practice when designing games, and going forward, I’d like to devote time to these works along with more mainstream titles. Continue reading

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Canabalt (2009)

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Canabalt’s backdrop is apocalyptic, appropriate for a game intent on annihilating its genre’s core design tenets.

The platformer is largely the designer’s playground; little is left to chance in most of these worlds of bottomless pits and perfectly situated enemies. Reflexes and memorization are just as important as exploration, and the secrets that exist feel as deliberately placed as Moses’ burning bush. An impressive Mario speedrunner has more in common with a virtuoso concert pianist — hitting every note with an obsessive, passionate dedication to the act — than with an adventurer launching off into the unknown. The road maps of Mario and Sonic are so immaculate and unchanging that the dedicated, record-seeking champs spend months of their lives plotting and re-plotting the perfect route. (This fascinating Gameological profile of a Mario 64 speedrunner by Peter Malamud Smith showcases how these fanatics know the game’s rhythms down to the millisecond.) Continue reading

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What Review Scores Really Mean to Gamers

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In the year and change I’ve been writing about games, I’ve never had to deal with an angry commenter.

Plenty of factors smoke-screen me from the internet’s most brutish trolls. I’m a white, straight, twenty-something male writing for a relatively unknown personal blog, for one. But still, I’ve never written a game review that didn’t include its share of critiques, even when discussing my most personal of sacred cows. I’ve called out misogyny and violence when I felt they hampered or muddled a mechanically enjoyable experience. The fear that this will be the time some unlucky Googler stumbles upon me talking smack about his favorite game plagues me every time I click the “Publish” button. I don’t even really know why; I stand by my opinions, and usually feel I do an adequete-to-darn-good job expressing them. But the outraged internet commenter is an unpredictable beast. He doesn’t care about logic, or crossing the aisle, or really much of anything you have to say once the first shot’s been fired. From that moment on, he exists purely to make you feel awful and upset about disagreeing with him. This reaction frightens me because I value my blog as a space to work out well-reasoned, multifaceted opinions. I can go embarrassingly nuclear in internet arguments with the right sort of cretins, and I’d hate for a wrong-headed, over-the-top insult on my part to betray the thoughtful and level-headed discourse I’ve had thus far with my commenters. (Fair warning to libertarians: just go ahead and skip my BioShock review, whenever I end up getting to it.) Continue reading

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