Art in Play

An Interview with John Sharp about games and art

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Alejandro Lozano: Before getting into details, let’s start with a definitional question. What is your concept of aesthetic and how do you apply it to games when you connect them to art?

John Sharp: Aesthetics means a lot of things. It can refer to having your fingernails painted or to the visual appearance in visual arts. If you talk about it with animation students, they will talk about the aesthetics of a film and what they mean is the visual style. That is one part of aesthetics, but to me, aesthetics is the evaluation of experience and the value of a work of art. By extension that means some philosophical framework underlying and serving as a guide for both the way you focus your attention during the experience and also the things you value and the things you do not. Continue Reading

Dear Boss

Evie Frye and the narrative style of Assassin’s Creed Jack the Ripper DLC

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Following the release of their 2016 title, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Ubisoft released a downloadable companion game in which players are given the opportunity to once again walk the streets of Victorian London with assassin twin siblings, Jacob and Evie Frye, to investigate the unsolved crimes of the famed murderer known as Jack the Ripper. Yet rather than retelling the story about two twins who use cunning and skill to save London, the DLC sets its sights on Evie as the hero of the game. Cool and uncompromising, Evie sets herself apart as a playable protagonist proving that female video game characters do not need to be young, inexperienced, or rely on others in order to succeed and win. Continue Reading

The Blame Game

How Video Game Workers Frame Barriers to Diversity

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The lack of gendered diversity within the video game industry is well documented. Research suggests that only 22% of the video game workforce identifies as female, a figure that declines further to 11% when we look only at core technical positions (Weststar et al., 2016). The issue of women’s underrepresentation, as well as sexism across the industry and culture, has become the subject of heated debate in recent years. The events of GamerGate in 2014, where female games journalists, developers, and critics became the targets of misogynistic abuse, stand out as a poignant example of the polemic nature of this topic. Continue Reading

First Person Podcast Episode 21

Love Live the Queen: Love Nikki and the politics of playing dress-up

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Confession: the subject for this podcast was selected without my having the first clue as to its contents. Before the start of this month I had never heard of Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen (2017), knew almost as little about mobile games (does one go to the Pokemon, or is it that the Pokemon go with you?), and I certainly was unfamiliar with any controversy involving Love Nikki’s procedural dress-up competition mechanics. Continue Reading

Two Months With the Other Switch Launch Title

1-2-Switch, Ubiquitous Computing, and Emergent Augmented Reality

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Much has been made of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Nintendo Switch’s standout launch title. Much less has been made of 1-2-Switch, the ‘other’ launch title for Nintendo’s Switch. Like Wii Sports and (to a lesser extent) Nintendoland, 1-2-Switch offers a tech-demo-as-party-game experience: a simple set of mini games communicating the relationship between software and hardware Nintendo has created for its new console. What is different about 1-2-Switch is that the affordances of these mini games transcend the virtual realm more than perhaps any console up to this point, making the advances of the Switch more subtle, though no less important. The Nintendo Switch advances more of a ubiquitous computing (UbiComp), or calm computing, paradigm wherein computing happens in the background without making intrusive new demands of the user, taking the Switch into an Augmented Reality (AR) paradigm (McCullough 2004, p117, Schmalsteig and Hollerer 2016, loc919). Continue Reading

A Call to Arms

A Review of Playing War by Matthew Thomas Payne

Playing War

Despite its growing cultural legitimation, for some, gaming still begins and ends with a man-child screaming into a headset while he fires round after virtual round into digital insurgents in vaguely Middle-Eastern locales. The spectacular and seemingly escapist nature of many military themed first-person shooters make them less tempting for critique, especially in a field full of unexamined experiments in critical and self-reflexive play. Perhaps this is why scholarship on the subject has been somewhat lacking, finding niches in game studies anthologies or as minor parts of larger projects on Empire despite the genre’s extreme popularity and gaming’s already troubling connection to contemporary technologies of war. Luckily, Matthew Thomas Payne’s Playing War: Military Video Games after 9/11 provides an excellently researched (and long overdue) book-length examination of the military video game and its relationship to cultural mythologies surrounding the ongoing War on Terror. Perhaps more importantly, Payne’s accessible methodology and emphasis on the political stakes of gaming make his project one worth emulating. Continue Reading

“Hold on to the center”

Hyper Light Drifter, the Tao Te Ching, and the Process of Mastery

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According to Lao Tzu, the Master never forces desire but abandons it, flowing constantly like water in between the passive and active, the soft and hard, the dark and bright. This passage, if it is to be good, requires a letting go; holding onto outcomes one desires inevitably makes them impossible to achieve. Rather, goodness is found in the processes of becoming master over one’s body and mind, not the final results. There’s something compelling in this notion, which implies the beautiful balance between yin and yang, the relaxing feeling when you flow down the river and let go of intention and desire. But there’s also something fiercely pleasing about mastering your body too, of defeating opponents, of accruing skills and being the best. I’d like to think it’s not as simple as choosing between immediate, short-term pleasure and the more gratifying, harder-to-find peace that comes with a lifetime of virtue, but I can’t say for certain. It’s a difficult, gnawing kind of question—one that takes ages to answer. Continue Reading