Lunch or Lose

Emergent Language in an Online Game Design Community

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Since the Mafia social deception games were created in the mid-1980s by Dmitry Davidoff and students at Moscow State University, they have been played everywhere from conventions to television shows and films to classrooms. Over the years, robust online communities across hundreds of forums dedicated to the games have grown as well. These communities have adapted the games to a play-by-post system suitable for online forums, where players conduct the game via asynchronous text posts which can also incorporate gifs, emoji, links, and other media. Continue Reading

Thinking Globally at the Microbial Level

Plague Inc. and the Cultivation of Systems Literacy in a Globalist Era

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Originally released for iOS and Android devices in 2012 by developer Ndemic Creations, Plague Inc. is a simulation video game wherein players design a lethal disease in hopes of eradicating all human life on Earth. This game was praised for its unique mechanics, which allow players to customize their disease in order to account for varying geographical climates, the socio-economic conditions of different regions, and even international trade routes. However, Plague Inc. also received attention for its pedagogical potential in the sense that this game introduces players to complex global public health issues in an accessible, streamlined, and entertaining manner. Continue Reading

Agniq Suaŋŋaktuq and Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone)

‘Cause Gaia likes it cold’

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Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone) is a side-scrolling, cooperative adventure-puzzle game set in the Iñupiaq landscape amidst a blizzard. Players are placed into the northern setting as a young girl, Nuna, and an arctic fox. The duo embark on an adventure to solve the mystery of the destruction of Nuna’s village. The design of the game, as well as how players interact with it, demonstrates a fundamentally different understanding of, and relationship to, the natural world than most mainstream AAA games. The land is both a challenge to overcome, as well as a support system. Blizzard winds hinder movement, but they can also aid the characters cross large chasms. Bears may try to eat Nuna, but her trusty arctic fox companion helps players solve puzzles. Continue Reading

“We Must Be Better”

Hegemonic Masculinity and Dadification in God of War (2018)

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In an interview with Polygon, Cory Barlog, director of God of War (Sony Santa Monica 2018; hereafter GoW4), notes that the studio’s explicit goal is to address the underlying social implications of the franchise in order to “pull [Kratos] back from the brink” and make him “whole” (Plante, pars. 8 and 9). The interview’s headline says it all: “God of War’s director on toxic masculinity and why Kratos had to change.” Barlog attributes this impulse to redeem Kratos to his own experiences with fatherhood and a desire to prevent the continued dominance of problematic notions of masculinity: “This lesson that I hoped to pass on to [my son]: that the concepts of strength and emotional vulnerability and the ability to sort of be free to feel the range of emotions, that these are not two warring or diametrically opposed concepts” (qtd. in Plante, par. 7). Continue Reading

Unforgotten Fantasies

Romantic Play within the Game Art of Angela Washko and Nina Freeman

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Within the last twenty years, the discussion around whether videogames are art has been in a state of rapid flux, with prominent debates focusing on topics of cultural legitimation and identifying relations to various historical avant-garde movements. Many of these conversations have relied on positioning videogames as a novel medium which needs to be both defined and defended, often in relation to other media forms with longer, established histories such as film and literature. As Aubrey Anable (2018) states, throughout much of gaming history a common assumption about what obstructed videogames from achieving the status of fine art was their apparent inability to “affect our feelings” with the recurring question as to whether or not they can make us cry (location 34). Continue Reading

“You Turned Left”

How Transistor Plays with Agency

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Indie developer Supergiant Games’ Transistor (2014) is a brooding yet beautiful cyberpunk-noir story that features Red, a woman struck mute by a shady elite organization, and her companion, the disembodied voice of a man emanating from a futuristic USB-drive-slash-broadsword.

Red’s muteness places her squarely in a long tradition of silent video game player characters who exist less as integral parts of their personal stories, and more as hollow interfaces for players to project their will into the game’s world and narrative. Continue Reading

Not a Mimic

Deception as a Rhetorical Device in Survival Horror Games

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Samantha Webb holds a Master’s degree in Game Design from Brunel University, London. She is a freelance games writer and narrative designer, working with both AAA and indie studios to develop games. She has an interest in second-level storytelling and… Continue Reading