Decisive Book Reviews
The Study of Play
It would be safe to assume that I qualify as a horror fanatic. I’ve played a large quantity of games in this genre including: Quake, Doom, F.E.A.R., Penumbra: Overture, Bioshock, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, The Last of Us, Cry of Fear, Nanashi no Game, Dead Space, SCP – Containment Breach, Slender: The Arrival and Slender: The Eight Pages, Clock Tower: The First Fear, Resident Evil, System Shock, and a slew of others (many that I’ve watched but am not brave enough to play). These games share many common elements that solidify their position in the genre such as dim lighting, monsters, disorientation, analogue disruptions, and a thematic narrative wherein the player/avatar is subsumed within a labyrinth of horror that they must navigate through in order to resolve the anxiety and unease of both their environment and the stories they occupy. I think that the most enjoyable of these games combines engaging storylines within an environment that has more monsters and evasion as opposed to jump-scares and continuously present monsters. As time has gone on, however, I’ve noticed that similarities that draw the horror genre games together have become really monotonous.
As 2014 draws to a close, #GamerGate continues. A number of articles have been written in both popular and academic publications attempting to describe, critique, and comprehend GamerGate. What has yet to be discussed is the challenge of undertaking research into this amorphous, self-styled online “movement” — what sociologist Jennifer Allaway has designated a “hate group” (2014) — and its proliferation of avatars and media that have banded together underneath the GamerGate hashtag. GamerGate as an online phenomena is many things, but for the researcher, it is primarily encountered as a toxic space where critical inquiry is nearly always understood as a partisan or biased attack (see Allaway; Cross; Goodchild; Lutz; Straumsheim 2014). Even as it is organised through 8Chan and…
Today First Person Scholar turns two years old! We’d like to take this opportunity to look back on the year that was and to look forward to the years ahead. And so what follows are various ways of looking at FPS circa 2014—there’s a word cloud generated from all of the articles published this past year, stats on hits and popular articles, and thoughts from the FPS team. Before all that, though, we’d like to thank you for being a part of First Person Scholar for the past two years. Your readership, contributions, comments, favourites and retweets have made this site something we’re very proud to be a part of. Thank you!
Game designer Warren Spector once said that well-designed games “provide compelling problems within an overarching narrative, afford creative opportunities for dealing with these problems, and then respond to players’ choices with meaningful consequences” (Jenkins and Squire). The term he chose for this matrix of creative design and player choice was “possibility spaces.” Space is a constant across almost all videogames, and it comes up frequently in videogame discussion in a variety of different ways: stage design, level structure, gameworld, playground, virtual world, sandbox, hub, PvP zones, instances (in an interesting conflation of space and time), arena battles. For all these frequently bandied-about terms, there’s a relative lack of theory surrounding what space in games means. Von Borries, Walz and Böttger’s 2007 anthology Space Time Play does an admirable job displaying the scope of the issue, but the book is more a survey that aims for breadth rather than depth. Michael Nitsche’s Video Game Spaces: Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Game Worlds goes beyond their starting point in order to fully investigate how players and designers orient and narrate journeys through 3D game worlds. While the book can meanderat times, at its best it is a detailed analysis that raises new perspectives and tools for discussing videogames.
In this post I develop the concept of procedural realism in videogames. By procedural realism I mean those game processes that strive to represent real-world systems in a manner deemed accurate or realistic. What I want to explore here is the politics of procedural realism, something I pursue by examining what game developers choose to represent ‘realistically’ and what they choose to represent ‘unrealistically’ or, in certain cases, not at all. These decisions are political in the sense that they have implications for various subjects.
Live Action Role-Play(ing), or LARP, is a type of playful activity incorporating elements from (tabletop) role-playing games, improvisational theatre, historical re-enactment, and performance art, among other things. In the book Nordic LARP, editors Stenros and Montola present an engaging and valuable overview of LARP in the Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland), a tradition and community that has become famous for its experimental and artistic approaches to LARP. The book is filled with accessible sketches of selected LARP games from the Nordic tradition, illustrating the diversity of the LARPing scene, as well as Nordic LARPing communities’ inclination towards exploring the boundaries of the medium itself. As such, it is a book aimed both towards the critical LARP enthusiast and those involved in the study of games in a broad sense.
I’ve long identified as a gamer. First I learned how to program in BASIC and create simple computer games, thrilled that I could influence the action in such a kinesthetic, immediate way. Later I enjoyed playing games on various systems—Frogger and Adventure on my Atari 2600; Bubble Bobble and The Legend of Zelda on that old-school gray Nintendo Entertainment System; Parasite Eve and Silent Hill on my PlayStation; Nintendogs and Animal Crossing on my sweet pink Nintendo DS that accompanied me on many an airplane ride to an academic conference. One thing has remained consistent, despite the changes in hardware, peripherals, and gaming systems over the years: I still gravitate towards games that I can play on my own in sessions as short or as long as I like. I prefer first-person gameplay to massively multiplayer, and I find that I enjoy games with relatively simple rules and controls–games that I can pick up, learn quickly, play for a while, and then put away again for some time if I wish.