Archive for category Gamiary

The Last of Us, Chaos, and Control

Flood DamageApocalypse stories are as old as humanity itself. From the Norse Ragnarok and Sumerian flood myths to the centuries of religious doomsday watchers, people from across the world have long maintained an obsession with the end of days. In the postwar era, these stories have only become more common. The incredible destruction of the First World War, the nuclear detonations that obliterated Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the impending devastation threatened by the Cold War standoff not only demonstrated that the annihilation of entire national populations was possible, but also that it was–and still is–downright probable in the event of renewed global conflict.

It isn’t surprising, then, that the last sixty-odd years have seen a widespread revival of fiction centred on the end of the world. Our species has attempted to come to terms with the inescapable possibility of our complete destruction–something that could happen, really, at just about any moment–by doing the only thing humans can be counted on to do: rationalizing an idea too large and frightening for us to easily comprehend. Rather than lose ourselves in existential despair at the incredible notion of the complete breakdown of our world, we compartmentalize this overwhelming anxiety through art. Post-apocalyptic fiction, probably the most popular example of this tendency, allows us to cope with enormity in the same way that apocalyptic myths helped our ancestors force narrative order on the unknowable vastness of a mysterious reality not yet made sensible through scientific discovery.

This attempt to impose logic on essentially disordered concepts is at the centre of all of these stories. The dramatic tension always results from this very struggle between control and chaos; order and the complete absence of it. It is especially clear in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, a game that uses its ruined world and two main characters to explore these themes.

[This article discusses plot details from the entire game, including the ending.]

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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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Hey Dark Souls, We Need to Talk

Dear Dark SoulsHey Dark Souls, there’s something I need to talk to you about.  It’s just . . . Oh man, I don’t know how to say this. Can I sit down? No, no, no. Relax. It’s okay. Aw geez. Okay, no, I’m just going to cut right to the chase here . . . I don’t think things are working between us, Dark Souls. It’s been bothering me for a while.

I think . . . . I think we need to take a break.

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Metro: Last Light Has a Problem with Women

Metro Scared Woman***Includes plot details***

There are women living in the ramshackle settlements of Metro: Last Light‘s post-apocalyptic subway system. There may not be quite as many of them as there are men, but they are there. Unfortunately, they are characterized in a drastically different manner than the male population of the Moscow ruins. Aside from the stray soldier, developer 4A Games portrays the women and girls of their world as either mothers or whores — or some combination of both.

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Guacamelee! is a Very Original Bunch of References

04Guacamelee! is, from top to bottom, a pastiche. A truly postmodern game, it is in love with the kind of cultural shorthands that have long since replaced first-hand interpretations of real people, places and even game design principles. Nothing in it seems like it comes from a place of total originality. Instead, the various elements of Guacamelee! come from both archetypal videogames and depictions of the game’s Mexican setting.

Why, then, does it somehow feel like its own worthwhile creation?

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Booker DeWitt and the Guilt of a Nation

Wounded Knee

Please finish playing Bioshock Infinite before reading. This article contains plot details.

“Our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilizations, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”

- L. Frank Baum, Editor of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer/author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on January 3, 1891

In the last days of the year 1890 the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army massacred approximately 300 unarmed Lakota Natives (including some 200 women and children) in what would be one of the last in a long line of violent encounters between colonial and Native Americans. The Wounded Knee Massacre, in its encapsulation of the nascent U.S’ historic racism and unchecked brutality toward the land’s Native population, is one of the most indelible stains on the complicated tapestry of American identity.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Irrational Games, after exploring the inevitable horrors of unregulated capitalism in Bioshock, would come to another such instrumental aspect of the American psyche in their latest release, Bioshock Infinite.

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Tonal Confusion and Hitman: Absolution

Hitman Rubber Duck2The view shifts to “instinct mode” and everything is rendered in slow motion. As I was trained to do in an instinct mode tutorial, I make Agent 47 line up a series of careful head shots that include the assassination target. Two seconds later the game jumps to a pre-rendered cinematic. Agent 47, scowling like someone on the toilet who has only ever eaten cheese, loses sight of the girl he means to rescue. He punches his victim and takes his car keys. The wounded man, having just been shot through the skull a second ago, is bleeding from a chest wound. The game has had me tracking this man for quite a while and, despite the setback of the kidnapping, I might be about to receive some valuable information about 47 and the story as a whole. I am meant to feel like all of this is part of an important moment in the game’s grand tale of redemption.

“I’ve got wood,” the target coughs out.

47 turns away and as the screen fades to black the dying man finishes the last sentences he will ever speak before shuffling free this mortal coil.

“Why do I have wood?”

Jesus fucking Christ, IO Interactive. What are you doing?

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