“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

“Fix my post-apocalypse”

The speculative horror of civilizational end in Fallout 76

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Jason Wallin is an Associate Professor of Media and Youth Culture Studies in the Department of Secondary Education at the University of Alberta. He was raised by wolves in the hinterlands of British Columbia. For Doug M. Since its release… Continue Reading

Folk-Music, Radical Politics, and Bliss

Far Cry 5’s Music as Western Hymnody

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Music has the unique ability to bring people together and speak to them on a fundamental, subconscious level (for more on this, see Ehrenberg and From Lullabies). This aspect of music plays an important role in the narrative of Far Cry 5 (Ubisoft, 2018), as Joseph Seed, the game’s primary antagonist, uses music as a powerful tool for recruiting people into his doomsday cult, the Project at Eden’s Gate. Indeed, Far Cry 5’s music ties more closely with its narrative than any previous game in the series; by exploring its music, we may better understand the populist belief system that underlies Joseph’s “fringe” doomsday preaching. Continue Reading

“The Cavalry’s Here!”

Transmedia Storytelling in Overwatch

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During its reveal at the 2014 BlizzCon, Overwatch introduced players to its vibrant and colourful world with the character Tracer announcing that “the cavalry’s here!” (“The Exhibit”). This line now functions as her signature phrase, perhaps reflecting the continuously expanding roster of characters and collection of media that make up Overwatch’s story universe. Continue Reading

A Shack, a House, a Prison

The analogy of the shack and videogame production

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I want to be very careful about how I approach this subject. I do not claim to speak for videogame production writ large, nor do I want to. I am concerned with forming a body of knowledge around certain exploitative practices which occur in much of the videogame industry – an industry to which unfortunately few game scholars have ready access. Like the historical development of television, radio, and film, videogame production is experiencing growing pains that need to be addressed if the conditions are ever going to change. This article utilizes the analogy of the ‘shack’ as developed by Bachelard (1964) and Robertson (2011) to understand one of the struggles that prospective and early-career videogame developers often experience: being recruited for their passion (Kerr and Kelleher, 2015; Bulut, 2014 and 2015; Johnson, 2013a, 2013b, 2019), then having that passion used against them. In other words, appealing to the ‘passion’ of employees allows for exploitative working conditions and work culture, all under the auspices of someday “making it” in videogames (O’Donnell, 2014, 153). Continue Reading

The Musical Narrative of JRPGs

“The Melodies of Life” in Final Fantasy IX

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Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs) have come to be known for their sometimes-formulaic plots, as is beautifully lampooned by this CollegeHumor video. Typical plot-points include: a great evil slowly taking over the world (often by collecting powerful crystals), a small team of unlikely heroes, playable characters that have secret past lives, sudden and unavoidable deaths of important main characters, and numerous side-quests (or minigames) that have largely nothing to do with the main plot of the game. Nonetheless, fans of JRPGs have come to love and expect these narrative devices as key elements, and some of video game’s most successful and acclaimed franchises, including Fire Emblem (Nintendo, 1990-ongoing) and Final Fantasy (Square Enix, 1987-ongoing) series, fall into this genre. Continue Reading