Dear Boss

Evie Frye and the narrative style of Assassin’s Creed Jack the Ripper DLC

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Following the release of their 2016 title, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Ubisoft released a downloadable companion game in which players are given the opportunity to once again walk the streets of Victorian London with assassin twin siblings, Jacob and Evie Frye, to investigate the unsolved crimes of the famed murderer known as Jack the Ripper. Yet rather than retelling the story about two twins who use cunning and skill to save London, the DLC sets its sights on Evie as the hero of the game. Cool and uncompromising, Evie sets herself apart as a playable protagonist proving that female video game characters do not need to be young, inexperienced, or rely on others in order to succeed and win. Continue Reading

Two Months With the Other Switch Launch Title

1-2-Switch, Ubiquitous Computing, and Emergent Augmented Reality

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Much has been made of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Nintendo Switch’s standout launch title. Much less has been made of 1-2-Switch, the ‘other’ launch title for Nintendo’s Switch. Like Wii Sports and (to a lesser extent) Nintendoland, 1-2-Switch offers a tech-demo-as-party-game experience: a simple set of mini games communicating the relationship between software and hardware Nintendo has created for its new console. What is different about 1-2-Switch is that the affordances of these mini games transcend the virtual realm more than perhaps any console up to this point, making the advances of the Switch more subtle, though no less important. The Nintendo Switch advances more of a ubiquitous computing (UbiComp), or calm computing, paradigm wherein computing happens in the background without making intrusive new demands of the user, taking the Switch into an Augmented Reality (AR) paradigm (McCullough 2004, p117, Schmalsteig and Hollerer 2016, loc919). 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

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

You’ve Got Wang

Asian Representation in Video Games from Shadow Warrior to Shadow Warrior

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Modern video games owe a lot to the Asian continent, from the revitalization of the industry after the crash of 1983 to the oft-used gimmick of “eastern mysticism,” the idea that being from an Asian country connects a person to a spiritual and/or magical force that conveniently moves a plot along. But despite the large output of video games from Japan, China, and Korea from the 1980s into the 2000s, actual representation of Asian cultures has been fairly minute in games that have either been developed in the west or localized for a western audience. The number of influential games with Asian protagonists is even more limited, especially when considering that a fair number of Asian-developed games don’t see a release in western territories. This is not always true, of course, but the presence of stereotypical portrayals of whole cultures is undeniable. These eastern-developed games focus on generalized concepts of life in the east that appeal to a western market. That is to say that, on face, they feature the same sorts of protagonists and settings the west has already become comfortable with through exposure to years of other media, like movies. Continue Reading

“Thank Goodness you’ve Returned”

Retracing Nostalgia in Diablo

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Working with games, I am often asked an impossible question, one you have probably been asked, too.

“What game do you wish you could play again for the first time?”

My answer varies. I might smile and say Skyrim or Final Fantasy IX. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll say World of Warcraft or Diablo II. Sometimes I shrug and admit, “every single one of them.” Because there’s really nothing like that, the first triumphs and failures of a game. Continue Reading

Choices Don’t Matter

At Least, the Good Ones Don't

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Let me sell you on my favourite game: Dragon Age: Inquisition.

It’s filled with beautifully rendered landscapes, an engaging but not too intricate combat system, a cast of diverse and well-written characters, and hundreds of fully voiced choices that just do not matter—not even a little.

Well, it really depends on who you ask.

“Matter” is such a nebulous word—so lofty, loaded, and vague. Put it beside the word “choices” and both start to feel awfully important. “Choices that matter.” That’s one of those phrases they like to put on the back of the box. If you want to sell it, though, you need a metric. “How many endings?” is a favourite. “How many branches?” is another. What all these definitions share is a focus on content. “How many permutations of the text are there?” is what they’re all really asking. Moreso, much like our choices in real life, there’s a yearning for decisions that last. Continue Reading