Monochroma is an Interactive Monument

MonochromaThere are enormous moments in every medium that fundamentally change its future. The Cubists start painting in a style that reinterprets visual perception; Woolf and Joyce defy grammatical rules to allow readers inside the minds of their characters; Bebe and Louis Barron compose a film score made entirely with electronic components. In most cases the birth of new movements is incremental, the process of one artist influencing another taking place gradually until, before anyone has really realized it, everything has changed. Videogames, though, are an intrinsically technological medium that has seen its greatest leap forward come as the result of widespread internet connectivity. All of us–players and developers alike–can pretty much pin down when the zeitgeist started to shift–when digital distribution made it possible for smaller and weirder games to hit the mainstream. It’s easy to forget just how much of shake-up this time was, and how massively a handful of hyper-successful indie titles from the late aughts influenced developers-to-be.

Basically, this is all just a roundabout way of getting to Nowhere Studios’ Monochroma, one of the clearest examples of a game made in the shadows of giants like Playdead’s Limbo and Jonathan Blow’s Braid.

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Titanfall Diaries: Part Two

NewsHomeDear Mom and Dad,

I am sad to hear that Robert has enlisted as well. This is no place for him. He should have stayed at home and continued apprenticing for Mr. Dylan. I believe Robert’s time would be better served in crafting homemade cabinets than in contributing to this failing and pointless war. My only hope is that we do not end up fighting against one another in the future. I do not think I could bear to rodeo his Titan or to have my Titan rodeoed by him. It is all so awful now that the sheen has worn away. We spend so much time admiring the surface thrill of war here–the gleaming metal of the robots, the extra-sleek cut of our pilot uniforms–that I almost never find time to think about what we’re doing. It disturbs me when I do. We are simply killing each other over and over again for no real reason, hoping for just one more taste of combat to fill the empty hours of the day.

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Titanfall Diaries: Part One

Letters Home“Dearest Robert,

It has been nearly one week since I enlisted with the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation in their fight against the Militia. I paid my $60 recruitment fee (thanks again for the 20% off coupon code) and set out to do my part for whatever planet it is we are from. Things have been happening very quickly since then. It is hard to believe that in such a short period of time I’ve learned to run along walls and pilot giant robots. Or that I’ve killed so many in pursuit of such an unclear goal. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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An Actual Discussion About Actual Sunlight

ActualSunWill O’Neill’s Actual Sunlight is a dark, troubling, and fascinating game. Through its focus on disenchanted 30-something protagonist Evan Winter, O’Neill’s work chronicles a dramatic descent into utter hopelessness that manages to communicate the deeply personal experience of depression to a wider audience. It’s a strange game, one that paints a grim picture of the intersection of modern capitalism and mental health without coming off as overwrought or pandering. Playing it left me with a lot of thoughts on Actual Sunlight‘s story, its treatment of depression, and what its release means for the–if you’ll excuse the grand terminology–future of videogames.

After finishing the game I talked with Patrick Lindsey, co-creator of Depression Quest and Pixels or Death head honcho, to compare notes on the experience and to hear what a developer behind one interactive take on mental illness thought about another.

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Missing Representation and Infamous: Second Son

Infamous AkomishVideogames are fond of constructing imaginary versions of real world locales. The Grand Theft Auto series invites open comparisons between its Vice City and the actual Miami; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation that is Iraq in everything but name;  The Banner Saga‘s faux-Scandanavian setting is meant to evoke Viking era Northern Europe. Everyone who plays these games knows that the fictional places they’re exploring are only stand-ins for somewhere that really exists in the world. Because of this, it’s possible to, say, offer a new spin on the Norse sagas by breaking away from what we already know about them. It’s even possible to make commentary about the legitimacy of Coalition forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan by abstracting elements of these nations into a single imagined one. That being said, an unwillingness to set fiction in real locations isn’t always motivated by a desire to make interesting art. In some games it may serve as nothing more than cultural cowardice.

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On Guns, Real and Virtual

PileofGunsI shot a gun for the first time about two weeks ago. I mean, I shot a real, physical gun for the first time– I’ve been shooting digital ones for years now. It was an interesting experience: one that has stuck in my head, and has made me think about my relationship with the many, many firearms found in videogames a bit differently.

I was nervous to head to the range, but I was going with a cousin who has been hunting since he was young, has a gun license, and knows how to teach an anxious novice how to shoot. Just the same, I felt like a visitor to an alien world when we bought our day passes from the front office and headed through a shop stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of ammunition. Hearing shotguns blasting at clay pigeons and rifle shots crack in uneven intervals had me stifling flinches as we drove down the path to the firing range. The body’s instinctual reaction to gunfire is probably to hit the ground or run like a maniac, but this is obviously discouraged at a professional shooting venue so I tried to keep as calm as possible. Still, while my cousin unzipped his two rifles from their carrying bags and took off their trigger locks, I was transfixed by the row of people to our left. They seemed so relaxed–maybe a bit excited, but still relaxed–as they unloaded rounds from the sort of high-powered weaponry I’d only seen in movies and games before.

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Lane of My Existence: Why Dota 2?

Dota 2 LogoI’ve tried to make sense of Dota 2 before, honest. I’ve worked through the tutorials, spent half an hour browsing the different heroes, and played a handful of games against real people. After putting in an actual effort to figure out its appeal, though, I still find Valve’s take on Massively Online Battles Arenas (MOBAs) almost completely impenetrable. Some people feel the same way I do, but there are many others who click with  Dota 2 (and other titles from its genre) to such an extent that they’re willing to invest untold amounts of time and mental energy into the game. MOBAs are a legitimate, honest to goodness Big Deal in videogames and, because of this, are pretty hard to dismiss out of hand for those of us interested in the medium.

I couldn’t let 2014 — henceforth referred to as Year of the Dota — kick off without talking to someone who gets this game. I’ve played Dota 2 with Forbes’/Pixels or Death‘s Ethan Gach when both of us were pretty new to it. Since then I’ve seen it embrace him in the spiderwebs of its meticulous design, changing him from average person to the kind of guy who can use the word “gank” without  attaching a sarcastic “LOL” to its end. He seemed like the best person to talk to about the Dota 2 phenomenon.

Here’s our discussion: 

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