“The World Could Always Use More Heroes”

Why Overwatch Matters

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Earlier this year, I presented my dissertation research in the Game Studies area of the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference; the community among these interdisciplinary scholars was so great that I ended up sticking around for almost every panel on games for the rest of the weekend. And I was struck by a common theme: Blizzard Entertainment’s team-based first-person shooter Overwatch (2016) came up in almost every one! Continue Reading

We Gotta Get Out of This Place (If it’s the Last Thing We Ever Do)

Horizons of Expectation in The Room Three

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If there’s one trait of videogame series about which I’ve always been certain, it’s that sequels in a series are essentially the same game as the original but with a different story. Though the odd sequel is truly innovative, more often than not, the key principles of gameplay in a sequel will be roughly the same as in its precursors. Whether I’m playing Halo or Halo 5, I will always massacre aliens; whether I’m playing Assassin’s Creed or Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, I will eventually leap from a height to stab a Templar in the head; and whether I am playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or Uncharted: A Thief’s End, I will inevitably end up hurling my controller through the drywall when I die during a mission involving riding a jet-ski or a boat for the forty-fifth time in ten minutes. Continue Reading

Everything Is Dying and It’s All Our Fault

Post-Apocalyptic Videogames as a Necropastoral Space

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With 2017 smouldering around us, let’s talk about the apocalypse!

Many readings of post-apocalyptic media present the genre as inherently judgemental of humanity’s violent effects on the world, and on each other. It’s sometimes argued that the genre should foster empathy, responsibility and (possibly) change. Hyong-Jun Moon suggests that the genre possesses ‘the bold desire to imagine a totally different world by questioning the current order of things’ (Moon, 2014). In a video game, we might suggest that we have the opportunity to live through apocalypse and roleplay survival in a way that helps us cope with the fear of apocalypse occurring. Back in the 80s, Greenberg and colleagues suggested the idea of ‘terror management activities,’ that mitigate our fear of death. Continue Reading

Friendship, Intimacy, and Play-by-Post Roleplaying

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Earlier this year, Shawn Dorey (2017) wrote a piece for First Person Scholar on play-by-post roleplaying (PBPRP), which is broadly defined as a form of text-based online roleplaying. In this activity, participants take on the role of specific characters and take turns contributing to the creation of a fictional world through narrative storytelling. Sometimes the world and characters are based on existing media, but all the writing is expected to be original. In her article on Livejournal roleplaying, Sarah Wanenchak (2010) provides a detailed description of PBPRP and observes that this kind of activity “is not a ‘game’ by the most traditional definition: there is no ultimate goal and no system of points, and the focus is on the creation and development of an ongoing story” (para. 18). Since, as she states, “[g]ameplay takes the form of written narrative in the style of traditional fiction[,]” this activity is often thought of as “collaborative writing” rather than playing a game (para. 18). However, Dorey sees the socialization involved in this type of roleplaying “as a form of metagaming” and argues that navigating through the rules, plot, and social hierarchies “functioned a lot more like playing a game than simply participating in collaborative writing” (para. 3). In short, Dorey argues that PBPRP is a game and that the contributors are players. Continue Reading

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