Category Archives: Games

Power and Freedom: Individuals and Societies

The other day I saw the following quote on a bumper sticker:

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.”
Gerald R. Ford

It got me thinking about the relationship between power and freedom, and how that relationship applies not only to governments but also to businesses, authority figures, laws, programming languages, and even games. Continue reading

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Why I’m Frustrated With 2D Boy’s Games

I’ve expressed unpopular opinions about nerd idols before, but this one is a little harder for me to talk about. My dislike of Terry Pratchett’s books is simple: I don’t like the deconstructionist genre. Easy enough; I can just stick my tongue in my cheek and go on a rant. But my reasons for disliking World of Goo and Little Inferno aren’t so straightforward. Continue reading

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On Games and the Making Thereof

I am almost finished making my first real game! “Real” being a relative term, that is: my first game was an abstract, experimental undergraduate project that no one in their right mind would have voluntarily played.[1] The one I’m working on now is a bit more enjoyable, though technically it is actually simpler. It’s called “Press A to Win.” Can you guess what it’s about?

I am making the game in Pygame, so you will need Pygame installed in order to play it. I know it’s a stretch, but I figure there’s at least a chance that some of you might not be familiar with installing, compiling, and running Pygame files, so as soon as the game is finished I figure my next project will be porting the whole thing to Flash.

At the moment, however, both of those projects will have to wait, as I am busy showing off my fiancé to my extended family in Muenster, Texas. I would say “nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here,” except it’s not even a terribly nice place to visit. The views are great and the weather is (currently) lovely, but the town itself is tiny, the water tastes like sulphur, and taking a shower feels like coating yourself in a thin sheen of silicone. I can never tell for sure if I’ve gotten all the soap off.

Regular posts resume next week with a return to the “Agency and the Inevitable” series, after which I will likely write something about education again. I am a big fan of that topic, it seems! See you all then.


[1] It was called “Clique” and it was about socializing polygons IT’S A GRAPH THEORY PUN GET IT WASN’T I CLEVER

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Agency and the Inevitable: Shadow of the Colossus

This post is part of a series examining the relationship between videogames and the tragic form–today’s topic is the classic atmospheric epic Shadow of the Colossus.

Unmarked SPOILERS for Shadow of the Colossus follow–as before, if you haven’t played it yet I recommend you do so before reading this post. Continue reading

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Agency and the Inevitable: Bastion

This post is part of a series examining the relationship between videogames and the tragic form–today’s topic is the action-RPG Bastion by Supergiant Games.

MAJOR SPOILERS for Bastion follow–as before, if you haven’t played it yet I recommend you do so before reading this post. Continue reading


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Agency and the Inevitable: Don’t Look Back

This post is the first in a series examining the relationship between videogames and the tragic form–today’s topic is Terry Cavanagh’s excellent action-platformer Don’t Look Back.

MAJOR SPOILERS for Don’t Look Back follow–if you haven’t played it before, I recommend you do so before reading this post. Continue reading

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Agency and the Inevitable: Introduction

This post is the introduction to a series examining the relationship between videogames and the tragic form.

The tragic genre, along with comedy, is one of the oldest in Western literature.  Classically speaking, a tragedy is more than just a sad ending–it’s a particular kind of story meant to inspire particular kinds of emotions in the audience.  A story where the protagonist is miserable from start to finish, with no pretensions to changing their fate, isn’t really a tragedy–it’s just depressing.  Similarly, a story that ends in tragedy due to circumstances beyond the protagonist’s control isn’t really tragic, either–that’s just a disaster.  True tragedy, as argued most famously by Aristotle, requires that the protagonist bring the ending upon themselves through some crucial mistake or flaw.  The tragic ending is a direct result of the protagonist’s own actions, which the audience can only sit helplessly and watch–yet this introduces a big problem for the medium of videogames, in which the audience is the protagonist.  The mistake or flaw derives its power from the excruciating if only it leaves in the mind of the audience.  If only Hamlet had killed Claudius when he had the chance!  If only Oedipus had known his true lineage!  If only Eve hadn’t listened to that stupid snake!  Yet when the audience is the protagonist, what’s to stop them from avoiding the mistake altogether?  How can we reconcile a genre that pre-destines the hero’s downfall with a medium in which the audience influences their every decision?  How can we successfully weave together the agency of games with the inevitability of tragedy?

In the following posts, I’ll be taking a look at some games that attempt to do this, analyzing and discussing the various techniques they employ.  Over the course of this series, I hope to show that videogames are no more or less suited to the tragic form than any other medium–they simply require different strategies than most narratives employ.

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Review: To the Moon

To the Moon is a very sweet and often sad story about two doctors—Neil Watts and Eva Rosalene—trying to grant the final wish of a dying man named Johnny. The game’s central plot device is a machine that allows Watts and Rosalene to traverse and modify Johnny’s memories, in an attempt to piece together his past and use that information to grant his last wish: a trip to the moon. Johnny himself doesn’t know why he wants to go to the moon, which makes finding out the game’s ultimate goal. As you make your way through his memories, a number of other mysterious objects and places show up again and again, prompting you to discover how all these elements fit together to form Johnny’s life. All of this information—the context that ties the whole story together—is provided exclusively through dialog and cutscenes. The game contains very few elements that could be called “game-like” at all. So why is it even a game in the first place?

Let’s start with To the Moon’s interactive elements that aren’t essential to the story.

Continue reading

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The Stories People Tell

Working at a printing company that helps produce on-demand custom photobooks, I sometimes get an interesting peek into the lives and interests of a pretty broad range of people.  In my completely anecdotal, thoroughly non-scientific experience, there are a few common patterns in what people take pictures of–and presumably, the parts of their lives that interest them the most.  In approximate order, they are:

  • Sex (including weddings and babies)
  • Food
  • Other people (and their pets)
  • Variety: new places, experiences and activities

It should probably not be surprising that survival and reproduction are at the top–they are, after all, our most fundamental drives, the ones we share with all living things.  What’s a little more interesting is that we seem to value other people and new experiences almost as highly.  Social interaction and curiosity are almost as fundamental to our behavior as basic survival.

Perhaps it also shouldn’t surprise me that I immediately start thinking about how this applies to games.  Most games seem to place a much heavier emphasis on exploration and problem-solving than on social interaction, while more linear media such as films and (especially) literature tend to place more emphasis on characterization and social interaction.  I think it’s no coincidence that the most popular genres in prose fiction are the ones like mystery and romance that derive their interest almost entirely from the characters.  Why do so few games do this?  The popular answer–that social interactions are too complex to easily model–is clearly bogus.  The success of franchises like The Sims and the popularity of the “dating sim” genre in other countries is proof that social interaction in games can still be deeply engaging and successful even when the underlying model is cartoonishly simplified–indeed, perhaps all the more so because of it.

Is it simply because modeling social interaction in a game seems harder?  Perhaps…but I think it’s more likely that the problem lies in trying to reconcile simplified social interactions with the epic, highly-structured narratives we continue to insist on stuffing into our games.  The Mass Effect franchise is perhaps the defining example of this style of storytelling, and it was clearly successful, but it took massive amounts of people and money to (mostly) pull it off.

Are smaller, independent games just doomed when it comes to combining social interaction and narrative realism?  A lot of people seem to think so, but I’m not so sure.  Perhaps the solution lies, not in removing the narratives from our games, but in recognizing that the narrative is not the same thing as the story.  We often forget this due to the ubiquity of literature and film, but non-linear media such as painting, sculpture, and architecture have been telling stories without narratives for centuries.  It may be impossible to fully author the narrative of an interactive work–but that does not necessarily mean that they cannot tell authored stories.

I wonder…what might a non-narrative story look like?  How would you tell one?

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The Free OS

So I recently bought a game I was very exited about playing–I’d hoped to write a review of it here in the next week or two–but when I downloaded it I discovered that I couldn’t play it because my operating system was too old.  “Great,” I’m thinking, “so instead of costing me ten dollars on Humble Bundle, it’ll cost me three hundred or something at a Mac store?”  Having to buy new operating systems every time the one you’re running gets out of date has always been a scam perpetuated largely by Microsoft’s monopoly on the OS market, but I had never felt it so strongly before.  The introduction of alternatives like Chrome OS and the proliferation of always-up-to-date web applications has made this business model seem not only inconvenient and forced, but unnecessary as well.  Then, just as I was thinking I would finally bite the bullet and at least see if I could get a cheaper second-hand copy on Ebay or something, I discover to my delight and surprise that Apple’s newest operating system, OS X Mavericks (guess they finally ran out of cool-sounding cats?) is available to download free on the app store!  All hail the Age of the Internet!  I only hope Microsoft has the courage and intelligence to follow suit with their next operating system.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going off to play Gone Home.  Look forward to a review of it here in the coming weeks!

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