Decisive Book Reviews
The Study of Play
A First Person Video Essay: The Spectres of P.T. by Braydon Beaulieu, University of Calgary.
This month on the First Person Podcast four editors fan out in our ALL ZELDA ALL THE TIME episode. We play Zelda trivia, we wax nostalgic about our favorite Zelda games, we hard-core rag on our least favorite Zelda games, we talk timelines and aesthetics, and speculate on what’s to come.
A principle of game design theory is that constant feedback from the game-system is critical for a particular design to be ‘good’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005). From a usability standpoint, I agree, but problems arise when narrative information is conveyed with the same rigidity and specificity as an ammo count. This is one of the reasons that ludonarrative dissonance occurs in modern video games, which is broadly defined as the phenomenon in videogames where narrative elements stand in contrast to the interactive elements (Hocking, 2007; Yap, 2014:13). As a result, the story presented can become incoherent.
In the above comment on hackaday.com, commenter “matt” is referring to [Masterjun]’s (going by “true” on this message thread) hack, Total Control. In it, the games Pong and Snake were recreated within Super Mario World (1990), using what appeared to be random controller commands. In fact, they were frame-specific inputs exploiting various bugs to alter the source code on an original SNES running an unaltered game cartridge, all done live at the Awesome Games Done Quick 2013 event. Taking into account the very limited resources available, [Masterjun]’s effort in highlighting the flexibility of this medium is remarkable; simply by manipulating known input glitches, [Masterjun] changed the game as we know it.
Austin Walker is everywhere these days. As a game scholar, an independent critic, an occasional game designer, a Twitch streamer, news editor at Giant Bomb, and soon as editor-in-chief of Vice’s recently-announced gaming portal, Austin has been a paragon of thoughtful, incisive commentary and discussion in gaming culture. He also makes a podcast about tabletop roleplaying games called Friends at the Table.
When I told a friend that I was reviewing The Video Game Debate, I was asked, “What debate?” I briefly explained––perhaps too generally––that the “debate” in the title referred to all that talk about whether or not video games are good for us. You know, whether video games make us lazy or prone to committing violence or are rotting our brains or making us antisocial weirdos, etcetera, etcetera, that kind of stuff. My friend responded, “I thought that debate was over.”
As cliché as it may sound, the first moments of a video game tend to be among the most important. They’re when the game foreshadows the journey to come, or when they give you a small taste of the ideas that later parts of the story are going to develop. System Shock 2 stands apart from this: while its early moments achieve their goal of setting up the themes the game is going to explore, they also fully develop their own ideas within that brief span of time. More specifically, the opening to System Shock 2 engages with and deflates the sort of fantasies we expect from first person shooters. Where its peers use military themes to make the player feel powerful and reinforce ideas of self-betterment, System Shock 2 denies both by remaining true to the mundane realities of military life.