Decisive Book Reviews
The Study of Play
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.
Liz England is a game designer at Insomniac Games. She has degrees in English Literature and Interactive Media. Over the past six years she has worked on titles such as Saints Row 2, Scribblenauts, and the recently-released Sunset Overdrive. She has also created a number of games for jams such as Ludum Dare & Asylum Jam. Background FPS: On your site, you mention that your have a BA in English and a Masters of Interactive Technology. It’s fairly evident how the latter is useful in a career as a game designer, but how has your English background informed your perspective? Liz England: I obviously came from a background where I had to look very closely at the text to support my points, and that kind…
I confess to having a love-hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed. Every game in the series is beautiful. The stunning landscapes, architectural and historical detail, acrobatic player-character and smooth (for the most part) gameplay are incredibly satisfying. Certainly there were many critiques of the repetitiveness of the first game. The modern-day component of the story and Matrix-esque Animus which acts as the deus ex machina to help explain why, as Desmond’s ancestor, the player can access databases full of historical information is arguably a bit cheesy (though no more so than most game narratives).
What have gardens, graveyards, brothels and videogames in common? What might sound like the beginning of a joke for one, is in fact the introduction of a theoretical approach towards videogames which uses a concept popularized by the French philosopher Michel Foucault: the heterotopia. Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia originated in the 1960s and was – besides a short paragraph in Les Mots et les choses and an article in Architecture, Movement only explored further in a radio report for France Culture on December 7th 1966. Nevertheless it was used extensively by academics in the fields of film, literature and culture studies and there were also some ideas to make it fruitful for Game Studies, for examples look at Keith Challis’ Games as Heterotopias or at Gamereader.net. But I want to start with the basics and show, at least in sections, that the concept of Heterotopia is related with Johan Huizinga’s notion of play.
Many commentators and reporters have ascribed the downfall of BioShock’s Rapture – the Adam addicts, the horrifying cruelty and the shocking race towards self destruction – to the game’s desire to satirise the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. GameSpy summed it up entirely when, in a preview, Li Kuo said “To fully appreciate the storyline of BioShock, you may want to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.” Despite this quick conclusion few, if any, reporters or columnists give any serious thought as to exactly how Rapture falls. The answer, as often as not, boils down to some synonym of greed, selfishness or avarice (Khalil “BioShock Ayn Rand”). Rapture is a place of “philosophies, ideologies, and excess” as described by Aaron Linde of Destructiod with a “relentless desire for more” (Reed “BioShock”).