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
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
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
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
Recently, I have gotten back into the habit of online roleplaying. When I say online roleplaying, I do not mean playing Dungeons and Dragons online or MUDs, MMORPGs, etc. No, I am referring to the natural evolution of playing Pokemon, or Digimon, or various other shows or games on the playground at school. I am talking about the act of taking the role of a character, and implanting them into an imaginary world that may or may not be based on some greater metafiction. I am talking about using the power of prose to bring these worlds to life through lush description and carefully implemented dialogue. I am talking about Play by Post Roleplaying (PBPRP). Continue Reading
When Hamlet on the Holodeck came out in 1997 it became the catalyst for a foundational debate in Game Studies, the tension between stories and games as distinct genres of human expression. I have never changed my own position on this controversy. I believe that games and stories are both forms of representation (neither one is more “real” than the other) and that they have shared many structural elements from ancient times onward as they continue to do in emerging digital forms. I reviewed the controversy again for the new edition of Hamlet on the Holodeck, updated and reissued from MIT Press this year, noting how the self-described “ludologists” had come to accept narrative strategies as legitimate parts of game design, and how many players had responded enthusiastically to new interactive narrative formats. Continue Reading
Last year, my friend convinced me to play Nier for the first time. Upon initially booting up the title, it seemed like a typical grimdark male power fantasy with severely floaty controls and a muted, masculine aesthetic. Today, I consider it the only mainstream video game I have played that embodies the trans experience. Over the course of my time with Nier, what at first seemed to be a weak narrative scaffolding attempting to justify fetishized violence transformed into a subversive work of empathic queerness. The game has a series of endings, each building upon the last, culminating in a nuanced network of meaning-making. Through these multiple playthroughs and endings, a cohesive queering of the text emerged in my player experience, with the intersection of my own lived-in qualia of being a trans person and the game’s transgressive body politics acting as the thematic core. What follows is the result of this—a deeply personal close reading of Nier as a triumph of trans narratives. Continue Reading