Lunch or Lose

Emergent Language in an Online Game Design Community

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Since the Mafia social deception games were created in the mid-1980s by Dmitry Davidoff and students at Moscow State University, they have been played everywhere from conventions to television shows and films to classrooms. Over the years, robust online communities across hundreds of forums dedicated to the games have grown as well. These communities have adapted the games to a play-by-post system suitable for online forums, where players conduct the game via asynchronous text posts which can also incorporate gifs, emoji, links, and other media. Continue Reading

Thinking Globally at the Microbial Level

Plague Inc. and the Cultivation of Systems Literacy in a Globalist Era

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Originally released for iOS and Android devices in 2012 by developer Ndemic Creations, Plague Inc. is a simulation video game wherein players design a lethal disease in hopes of eradicating all human life on Earth. This game was praised for its unique mechanics, which allow players to customize their disease in order to account for varying geographical climates, the socio-economic conditions of different regions, and even international trade routes. However, Plague Inc. also received attention for its pedagogical potential in the sense that this game introduces players to complex global public health issues in an accessible, streamlined, and entertaining manner. Continue Reading

For All the Broken Vessels

Compassion in the Final Moments of Hollow Knight

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At times it can seem as if the world of videogames, just like the raucous meatspace around us, is first and foremost designed with the loudest and fiercest of stories in mind. All too often, and with relative ease, they appear to drown out the quieter moments for which this unique art form can allow; and taken at face value, the somewhat elusive genre of Metroidvanias seems by definition to fit right into this very mold. After all, its guiding principle is growth—be it in the form of deeper understanding, improved skills, or (of course) greater power. Continue Reading

“You Ever Have That Feeling Where You’re Not Sure If You’re Awake or Still Dreaming?”

A Review of Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice

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Born from the ashes of Gamergate and the 2016 US election, Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice (2018) investigates video games from the lens of social justice, discrimination, and domination. Edited by Kishonna Gray and David Leonard and published by the University of Washington Press, Woke Gaming includes the work of scholars from a wide range of disciplines—game design, sociology, and criminal justice among others. Continue Reading

Agniq Suaŋŋaktuq and Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone)

‘Cause Gaia likes it cold’

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Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone) is a side-scrolling, cooperative adventure-puzzle game set in the Iñupiaq landscape amidst a blizzard. Players are placed into the northern setting as a young girl, Nuna, and an arctic fox. The duo embark on an adventure to solve the mystery of the destruction of Nuna’s village. The design of the game, as well as how players interact with it, demonstrates a fundamentally different understanding of, and relationship to, the natural world than most mainstream AAA games. The land is both a challenge to overcome, as well as a support system. Blizzard winds hinder movement, but they can also aid the characters cross large chasms. Bears may try to eat Nuna, but her trusty arctic fox companion helps players solve puzzles. Continue Reading

Spiritual Heritage

The Shared Spiritual Themes of Persona 5 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

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Content Notification: References to sexual violence

After Persona 4 received widespread critical acclaim and built a large, passionate fanbase, Persona 5 (P5) became one of the most anticipated games during the many years it was in development. While the game was exceptional by conventional standards for game releases, the general consensus tended to be slightly underwhelming as a follow-up to one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved games of all time. Continue Reading

“We Must Be Better”

Hegemonic Masculinity and Dadification in God of War (2018)

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In an interview with Polygon, Cory Barlog, director of God of War (Sony Santa Monica 2018; hereafter GoW4), notes that the studio’s explicit goal is to address the underlying social implications of the franchise in order to “pull [Kratos] back from the brink” and make him “whole” (Plante, pars. 8 and 9). The interview’s headline says it all: “God of War’s director on toxic masculinity and why Kratos had to change.” Barlog attributes this impulse to redeem Kratos to his own experiences with fatherhood and a desire to prevent the continued dominance of problematic notions of masculinity: “This lesson that I hoped to pass on to [my son]: that the concepts of strength and emotional vulnerability and the ability to sort of be free to feel the range of emotions, that these are not two warring or diametrically opposed concepts” (qtd. in Plante, par. 7). Continue Reading