A Call to Arms

A Review of Playing War by Matthew Thomas Payne

Playing War

Despite its growing cultural legitimation, for some, gaming still begins and ends with a man-child screaming into a headset while he fires round after virtual round into digital insurgents in vaguely Middle-Eastern locales. The spectacular and seemingly escapist nature of many military themed first-person shooters make them less tempting for critique, especially in a field full of unexamined experiments in critical and self-reflexive play. Perhaps this is why scholarship on the subject has been somewhat lacking, finding niches in game studies anthologies or as minor parts of larger projects on Empire despite the genre’s extreme popularity and gaming’s already troubling connection to contemporary technologies of war. Luckily, Matthew Thomas Payne’s Playing War: Military Video Games after 9/11 provides an excellently researched (and long overdue) book-length examination of the military video game and its relationship to cultural mythologies surrounding the ongoing War on Terror. Perhaps more importantly, Payne’s accessible methodology and emphasis on the political stakes of gaming make his project one worth emulating. Continue Reading

“Hold on to the center”

Hyper Light Drifter, the Tao Te Ching, and the Process of Mastery

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According to Lao Tzu, the Master never forces desire but abandons it, flowing constantly like water in between the passive and active, the soft and hard, the dark and bright. This passage, if it is to be good, requires a letting go; holding onto outcomes one desires inevitably makes them impossible to achieve. Rather, goodness is found in the processes of becoming master over one’s body and mind, not the final results. There’s something compelling in this notion, which implies the beautiful balance between yin and yang, the relaxing feeling when you flow down the river and let go of intention and desire. But there’s also something fiercely pleasing about mastering your body too, of defeating opponents, of accruing skills and being the best. I’d like to think it’s not as simple as choosing between immediate, short-term pleasure and the more gratifying, harder-to-find peace that comes with a lifetime of virtue, but I can’t say for certain. It’s a difficult, gnawing kind of question—one that takes ages to answer. Continue Reading

Should You Pull?

Gachapon, Risk, and Reward in Mobile Gaming

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Most players of mobile games intimately understand the economic model of the Japanese “gachapon” (ガチャポン), even if they are not familiar with the term. Generally speaking, a “gachapon,” (or gashapon ガシャポン, gacha ガチャ, or gachagacha ガチャガチャ) is a coin-operated toy vending machine. Many of us have likely spent our quarters in similar machines as children, accumulating an eclectic array of bouncy balls, stickers, and other cheap goods in the lobbies of supermarkets around the world. The Japanese term derives from onomatopoeia for two distinct sounds: the “gacha,” or the sound of turning the crank of the machine, followed by the “pon,” or the sound of the toy dropping down into the receptacle. Continue Reading

Joysticks & Killing Joy

A Game Scholar’s Take on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life

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Content Notification: gendered violence, sexism, racism

I imagine an academy filled with feminist killjoys, showing off our scars and canes and mohawks and afros and ponytails, wearing dresses and t-shirts and crop tops and bowties and hijabs. We may or may not have vaginas— that doesn’t matter— and we identify as queer, bi, lesbian, straight, two-spirited, genderqueer, butch, femme, non-binary. We have depression, anxiety, PTSD, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and chronic pain. We play Candy Crush, Resident Evil, Mario Kart, Settlers of Catan, solitaire, and LARP. We keep talking and playing and writing and we can’t be shut up or shut out. We are here. Continue Reading

Nancy Drew and the Case of the Neoliberal College

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A disillusioned professor desperate for tangible research results. An ambitious new Ph.D. angling for a tenure-track position. Research assistants performing rote and menial tasks. Contract staff bound by restrictive agreements. Research teams dependent on the benevolence of corporate sponsors. College students angry that their campus is increasingly devoted to commercial enterprise. Continue Reading

The Paratext of Video Games

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A compelling but often overlooked part of video games is what we call the ‘paratext.’ The term was coined in literary studies to discuss the pieces of information which appear outside of the text (the main body of writing), but which nonetheless participate in and influence our reception of the text. For instance, the paratext of a novel would be the novel’s title, the author’s name, the synopsis on the back cover, chapter titles, publication details, or the cover art. It appears marginal to the experience of the text, but actually provides a significant network of ideas around which our approach to the text is shaped. Continue Reading

What We Do in the Darkness

Exploring the Trauma of Town of Light's Renée

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Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of trauma and sexual assault.

Darkness is often synonymous with fear; where things go bump in the night, where monsters live. But what could make someone fear the light?

For Renée T., the protagonist of the LKA’s The Town of Light, the light bathed her with hellish attention, turning her inside-out. The game’s title, which initially strikes one as pious and placid, is actually a description of terror. The town is a mental asylum where young Renée is confined, in an Italian village at the height of the Second World War. Women couldn’t vote in Italy; lobotomies were all the rage; ‘hysteria’ was a diagnosis. Continue Reading