The Game Jam

Creativity and Community

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Game jams are not without controversy. Ostensibly a community-based event that fosters enthusiasm and creativity, game jams do not always reflect these ideals in practice. As the lead organizer of two game jams in Waterloo, Ontario, I’ve had the opportunity to develop a perspective on what this event is—and no, it doesn’t live up to its hype, but jamming is not a terrible idea. The enthusiasm, creativity, and community promised by game jams are important and needed in a performance-obsessed society, and although game jams do not always deliver on these ideals in practice, they have the potential to do so. Continue Reading

Publish or Perish?

Or Publish with Purpose?

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If you are an academic you are probably achingly familiar with the phrase “publish or perish”, which has become the motto of our broken system. Publishing has become a numbers game and as someone in game studies, it’s hard not to see it as a game. If as a grad student you ask someone with a job how to get a tenure track job, they will often tell you the exact same things: “It’s very difficult to get a job but if you publish X many journal articles in journals of X quality and go to conferences X Y and Z and then cast your net wide enough you will get a job.” That is the formula I’ve heard 100 times: publishing along the party line = job. After you get a job, you might have to write a book to get tenure, but that book must be for an academic audience and must be published with a “good” academic publisher. Continue Reading

Conceptualizing Mountain

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On July 01, 2014, Irish artist and filmmaker David OReilly released a video game called Mountain. In this game, there are two roles: “God,” who looks at (and sometimes looks out for) Mountain, and “Mountain” who talks to its God and endures whatever comes its way. Mountain, a mountain ripped up from its roots, hangs within its own atmosphere (weather included) suspended in space. It rotates slowly upon its axis. There are almost no controls. You begin the game by sketching pictures as responses to prompts (such as “Birth” or “Logic”) that purportedly generate (or “seed”) your unique mountain. The keys in the player’s ASDF and ZXCV rows play chimes that can speed up time. You can zoom in and out in order to view Mountain up close or see it as a kind of lonely asteroid against the backdrop of the galaxy. Continue Reading

Interview with Christopher Park

CEO of Arcen Games

About - Year Two

One of the things that frustrates me with a lot of games that I play is when I see somebody have a cool idea and then they kind of nudge the idea, you know? And they’re like, “that’s nifty, now moving on” — it’s like whoa whoa whoa wait a second here. We tend to try not only just to fully explore whatever the idea is, but, if we’re given the chance and there’s a lot of community support and therefore post-release content is a thing that can happen then we’ll just keep on trucking and explore every permutation of that idea. I find that really interesting because those rabbit holes can go, just, I’ve never found the bottom of one. Continue Reading

On well-formed fiction

and Her Story

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The presence of meaningful choices or, barring that, the illusion of meaningful choices has long been a considered a solid standard for a successful narrative game. Normally, developers do this by creating multiple possibilities for the story to follow, allowing player actions to alter the course of the story. Instead of creating an enormous amount of possible states, Her Story, a story-based game by Sam Barlow, experiments with allowing players instant access to its entire story, provided players use the right search terms. Her Story’s structure, and how it differs from other narrative games, is the key to understanding how Her Story functions as a successful narrative game. To do so, I’ll have to explain the computational concept of the finite state machine, why it is a good model for narrative games, and how Her Story’s state machine differs from those of interactive fiction. Based on Barlow’s personal work in interactive fiction and the genre’s place as the earliest style of narrative video game, I will stick to comparisons between Her Story and interactive fiction (IF). Continue Reading

Shovel Knight Redug

The Retro Game as Hypertext and as Uchronia

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First, I will use Jean-Marc Limoges’ work on reflexivity and mise en abyme – a figure whereby a work’s structure is self-replicated within itself, i.e., a play in a play, or a film in a film – which he constructed from his predecessor Jacques Gerstenkorn (Gerstenkorn, 1987). I will use his summary table and adapt it briefly to video games, placing the examples of reflexivity in Shovel Knight laid out by David Boffa in his essay (2015). In so doing, we must recognize a kind of difference that Gerstenkorn and Limoges traced in film, between the cinematographic and the filmic. Similarly, we would do well to distinguish between the ludic (referring to playing and games in general, abstract principles and terms), and the gamic (the individual games themselves). From their work, I argue that reflexivity can, broadly, occur in four types in video games: Continue Reading