Stephen Totilo of Kotaku provided a fascinating look at Zach Gage's Lose/Lose, a curious statement-game (I would call it an "art game," but that label comes with its own baggage and may obfuscate the analysis below) that posits players in a pretty lousy situation: Get "killed" in the game, and the application running the program is deleted from the computer. Destroy "enemies," however, and a file on your computer—represented graphically in the game as a blurry mess of pixels scrolling down the screen in true Galaga fashion—gets deleted. That's right. The game deletes your files. Of course, that's only if you choose to play the game as a game… and not experience it as a question of will and complicity.
Author: Matthew Kaplan
The Brainy Gamer blog featured a terrific post today directed at Infinity Ward's questionable "FAGS" advertising campaign, in which Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels decries grenade spam. It's covert advertising for Modern Warfare 2, of course, although the acronym with which said message is provided is obviously the source of the most worry.
MadWorld comes closer to the kind of inherently "ethical" gameplay that Miguel Sicart (The Ethics of Computer Games) associates with the voyeuristic gorefest Manhunt. Sicart calls Manhunt an exemplary ethical title in the sense that it offers a "closed, mirroring" ethical system of gameplay that compels the player-subject to adhere to rules that become increasingly ghastly and, if fully utilized, so depraved that it causes the "virtuous" player to be self-reflective. This realization, though tied to unethical gameplay, is itself an ethical end-product of the design and the experience of the player.
My favorite game to play on travel recently has been Chessmaster: The Art of Learning for the PlayStation Portable. It's not a great chess game by any means, but it was a digital download for my favorite portable system, and it's good for playing quick sessions just about anywhere.
The odd thing is, I've been playing chess almost rabidly as of late, and not just on the go or in the bathroom. I've enjoyed playing Chessmaster again so much—just sitting around on the couch or playing at my desk for hours on end—that I've encouraged my girlfriend to take part in a few real games of chess now and then, and it's quickly become one of the little joys of our living together.
Many video games are escapist in one sense or another and have to deal with the maximum agency afforded to the player, and in most cases we're talking about agency in the idealized, physical sense. If the protagonist is not physically attractive or physically "able" (and this is to say nothing of the marginalizing of the physically handicapped or disabled in video games… perhaps a topic for future discussion), at the very least he/she is youthful… iconic of the kind of template for change and dynamic narrative-based character shifts we all look for in the classic bildungsroman that forms the basis for games ranging from Braid to Fable 2.
Over the past week or so, it seems like the issue of race in gaming has been picking up steam. I've come across two great posts on the subject, one from Paul Tassi and a sardonic take over at the Play Like a Girl blog. More pertinently, an illuminating study from the USC Annenberg School of Communication revealed that minorities—and particularly Latinos—are woefully underrepresented among protagonists and other characters in leading video games.
The world of video games is no stranger to inconceivable, bizarre, and at times downright irresponsible marketing. Most recently, gamers were shocked by Electronic Arts' reprehensible "Sin to Win" promotion for Dante's Inferno. Now, Namco has decided to unleash a series of odd and, quite frankly, dangerous "viral" advertisements for the upcoming game Tekken 6.
As would be expected of any comic-to-game adaptation, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 does not entirely replicate the storyline, but it does a surprisingly good job of recreating the key allegorical events: the attack on New York City, the atom bomb-like explosion in Stamford, and the escalating violence between the two factions of superheroes. While the game changes much of the end of the storyline, opting to have the two sides unite against a sentient virus and removing Captain America's poignant surrender and subsequent death-by-assassination, it still conveys important truths about what it means to surrender freedom for the sake of fear, and why even the seemingly powerful are so eager to give up their rights.
It's no secret that the Atari Jaguar was a terrible failure—one of gaming's worst. The last dud in the sordid history of Atari's Tramiel family ownership, the Jaguar followed the Lynx's underrated hardware debut in the late 1980s with an early '90s abomination of poorly designed hardware and software that barely competed against its 16-bit forebears, much less the higher-tech Neo Geo, 3DO, CD-I, Sega 32X, and Sega Saturn technologies against which the system was supposedly targeted.
So why bring up this sore spot in 2009, roughly 16 years after the Jaguar's ill-fated launch? Because as an artifact of video game history, the Jaguar speaks volumes about where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.