East of the Key Sword (and West of the Triforce)

Rethinking Cultural Influence in Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda: Japanese Videogames in Global Contexts

atari to zelda

It seems impossible to discuss the history of videogames without considering Japan. Specific events, like Namco’s development of Pac-Man — the most successful arcade game of all time — or Nintendo’s revival of the North American game console business with the release of its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the mid-1980s, have become celebrated milestones in the story of Japan’s role in videogames. Continue Reading

Dimensions of Identity in Games

A Review of Gaming at the Edge by Adrienne Shaw

gaming at the edge

I have never identified as a ‘gamer’. I transitioned from casual to serious player in the months just prior to the drastic increase of online harassment campaigns, and the fierce attacks against diversity that characterized them. The toxic, sexist rhetoric that spread across gaming communities seems to have tainted the label of ‘gamer’ in my eyes. Of course, this movement did not go unopposed, and the calls for increased representations of diversity in video games have been numerous and vehement. An essential addition to this conversation is Adrienne Shaw’s book Gaming at the Edge: Sexuality and Gender at the Margins of Gamer Culture. Gaming at the Edge offers an ethnographic study that explores the ways members of marginalized groups engage with video games, how the ability to identify with the characters represented in games shapes this engagement, and argues that ongoing conversations about diversity in games should be reframed to account for the intersectional nature of identity. Continue Reading

Adult Supervision Encouraged

A review of Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Games

rated m for mature

Over the past few years, games have begun to feature sexual content that is increasingly nuanced, and which moves away from the conspicuous treatments that have fueled political outcries in the past. Rated M for Mature seeks to offer a sustained scholarly response to these developments, to foster critical debates of sex in video games, and to push for new considerations and even implementations of sexuality in games. The collection of essays is categorized into three distinct sections: the first, “The (r)evolution of video games and sex”, examines the history of sexual content in video games and the varying political and social responses; the second, “Video games and sexual (dis)embodiment”, explores the use of sex and sexuality in both video game play and practice; the third, “Systems/spaces of sexual (im)possibilities”, considers the interplay between sexual content and game design. Continue Reading

A Different Kind of Game Feel

A Review of How Games Move Us

how games move us

We often talk about emotions in terms of a spectrum. Certain films, games, and other cultural texts are said to run the gamut of the emotional spectrum, making us laugh and cry. But very few analyses or explanations actually go beyond the binary oscillation of happy/sad to look at the full range of emotions on display in a particular work of art. Katherine Isbister seeks to identify both the emotions at play in games and how designers can seek to achieve them in her book How Games Moves Us: Emotion by Design. Instead of targeting the commonsensical notions of games making players angry or joyful, she looks at social emotions such as pride, guilt, and complicity to understand the special power of games. Continue Reading

More Than Affordances

Limitations and the Systems They Create: A Review of Ian Bogost's Play Anything

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Throughout my time in Grad School, I have been intensely curious about the word play and increasingly disenchanted by the idea of game studies. If play and culture are inexorably intertwined then it seems to me that studying games does little, whereas studying play in things that are not games can give unique insight into culture itself. However, in order to really get at this concept one would have to embrace the work of Johan Huizinga in a way that is often overlooked, discarded, avoided, or reduced to absurdity – the magic circle. When I found out that Ian Bogost was writing a book specifically about this concept of play, I was excited to see what he had to say on the subject. To that end, Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, & The Secret of Games may be one of the important books on the study of play I have found. Unfortunately, the book will most likely remain largely ignored because it is nearly impossible to pin down what the book exactly is. Continue Reading

Designer Lenses

A Review of Jennifer deWinter’s Shigeru Miyamoto

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“Beware of Heroes.”

Frank Herbert offers these words as an overarching thesis for his novel Dune, which chronicles the exploits of Paul Atreides as he rises, unwittingly, to his destiny as an intergalactic messiah, fuelled by prophecies of genocide he can foresee, but can no longer forestall. Continue Reading

Book Review

8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

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The word “Interactive” is a much abused and rarely defined buzzword. Espen Aarseth notes this in his 1996 book Cybertext where he observes how the word “Interactive” is more of a marketing term with little academic depth, a slogan that brings to mind “computer screens, user freedom, and personalized media, while denoting nothing”.1 More recently, Miguel Sicart in Against Procedurality has criticised a trend within game studies to unduly fetishize the digital and structural aspect of games. 2 Nowhere are these trends more apparent than in the recently published conference proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling. The term “Interactive Digital Storytelling” is supposed to tie the papers together, but does so with little definitional cohesiveness: signifying branching paths, collaborative fiction, digital spaces, authoring tools and simulation games all at once. This reflects a worrying trend in game studies, a trend which fetishizes the digital while neglecting to explore the theoretical implications of the games that are actually being discussed. Continue Reading