“Thank Goodness you’ve Returned”

Retracing Nostalgia in Diablo

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Working with games, I am often asked an impossible question, one you have probably been asked, too.

“What game do you wish you could play again for the first time?”

My answer varies. I might smile and say Skyrim or Final Fantasy IX. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll say World of Warcraft or Diablo II. Sometimes I shrug and admit, “every single one of them.” Because there’s really nothing like that, the first triumphs and failures of a game. Continue Reading

East of the Key Sword (and West of the Triforce)

Rethinking Cultural Influence in Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda: Japanese Videogames in Global Contexts

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It seems impossible to discuss the history of videogames without considering Japan. Specific events, like Namco’s development of Pac-Man — the most successful arcade game of all time — or Nintendo’s revival of the North American game console business with the release of its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the mid-1980s, have become celebrated milestones in the story of Japan’s role in videogames. Continue Reading

Magic: the Gathering and Gay Representation Through Play

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“Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis” (henceforth referred to as ‘K&T’) is the only representation of a living, explicitly gay couple on a MtG card, ever. Thanks to heteronormativity, most players will assume that people shown on other cards are probably cisgender and heterosexual, so this puts pressure on K&T to represent gay people. While the effectiveness of representation as a tool of activism is not the focus of this essay, and I do not claim that positive representation is a cure-all for prejudice, the way K&T is represented in MtG is important to and for queer folks in terms of normalization, acceptance, and empowerment. Unfortunately, K&T is not our panacea. Its mechanics invite awkward interpretations and practices by MtG’s community of players despite initially looking successful. To explain, I’ll cover how procedurality works in MtG, then discuss how the various aspects of this card are implicit in the discourse it engenders. Continue Reading

Choices Don’t Matter

At Least, the Good Ones Don't

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Let me sell you on my favourite game: Dragon Age: Inquisition.

It’s filled with beautifully rendered landscapes, an engaging but not too intricate combat system, a cast of diverse and well-written characters, and hundreds of fully voiced choices that just do not matter—not even a little.

Well, it really depends on who you ask.

“Matter” is such a nebulous word—so lofty, loaded, and vague. Put it beside the word “choices” and both start to feel awfully important. “Choices that matter.” That’s one of those phrases they like to put on the back of the box. If you want to sell it, though, you need a metric. “How many endings?” is a favourite. “How many branches?” is another. What all these definitions share is a focus on content. “How many permutations of the text are there?” is what they’re all really asking. Moreso, much like our choices in real life, there’s a yearning for decisions that last. Continue Reading

Remodeling the Labyrinth

Player-led Efforts to Update GMT's War on Terror Wargame

“The Sun Rises on the Middle East,” accessed at BoardGameGeek. Labyrinth’s gameplay models real-world current events.

In October and November of 2010, thousands of copies of GMTs Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? made their way from warehouses in California to distributors and customers around the world. Focusing on the contemporary conflict known as the Global War on Terror, Labyrinth stood in contrast to standard historical fare offered to commercial wargame enthusiasts: conflicts in which dozens, if not hundreds, of years spanned the gulf between player and subject. Labyrinth’s subject matter both raised concerns and prompted accolades. Matthew Kirschenbaum, in a nuanced critique at Play the Past, stated that “despite its many aspects that call out for critical scrutiny, I believe Labyrinth has been good for strategy gaming, demonstrating the vitality of board games for exploring material that big-budget computer games can’t or won’t touch.” Continue Reading

Play By Post Roleplay

Where Player Becomes Designer and Designer Becomes Player

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Recently, I have gotten back into the habit of online roleplaying. When I say online roleplaying, I do not mean playing Dungeons and Dragons online or MUDs, MMORPGs, etc. No, I am referring to the natural evolution of playing Pokemon, or Digimon, or various other shows or games on the playground at school. I am talking about the act of taking the role of a character, and implanting them into an imaginary world that may or may not be based on some greater metafiction. I am talking about using the power of prose to bring these worlds to life through lush description and carefully implemented dialogue. I am talking about Play by Post Roleplaying (PBPRP). Continue Reading

Janet Murray on why some players and critics still cannot tolerate narrative in games

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When Hamlet on the Holodeck came out in 1997 it became the catalyst for a foundational debate in Game Studies, the tension between stories and games as distinct genres of human expression. I have never changed my own position on this controversy. I believe that games and stories are both forms of representation (neither one is more “real” than the other) and that they have shared many structural elements from ancient times onward as they continue to do in emerging digital forms. I reviewed the controversy again for the new edition of Hamlet on the Holodeck, updated and reissued from MIT Press this year, noting how the self-described “ludologists” had come to accept narrative strategies as legitimate parts of game design, and how many players had responded enthusiastically to new interactive narrative formats. Continue Reading