Silent Performers of Myth:

Structuralist and Poststructuralist Approaches to The Stanley Parable

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Released in 2013, The Stanley Parable is a piece of interactive fiction created by independent developer Galactic Café. I introduce the game as an “interactive fiction” to underscore its attentiveness to narrative, because while it can be “beaten,” that is most certainly not its focus; besides, to argue the definition of a game is a topic for another essay entirely. The point is that, rather than focusing on nuanced mechanics and systems, the narrative structure of the game and its interrogation of player agency comprise the heart of The Stanley Parable’s experience.

On the latter point of agency, the game drives home the idea that, though games may afford players with a sense of control over the outcomes of both predetermined and emergent narratives, the range of outputs is limited by virtue of the limitations of assets and coding. In Grand Theft Auto V, for example, players can hold up gas stations, run over pedestrians, and go skydiving, but they cannot attend classes at a university, leave the fictional game-world of Los Santos, or perform any action that would require assets or feedback loops not provided for in the game’s files and programming. Continue Reading

On well-formed fiction

and Her Story

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The presence of meaningful choices or, barring that, the illusion of meaningful choices has long been a considered a solid standard for a successful narrative game. Normally, developers do this by creating multiple possibilities for the story to follow, allowing player actions to alter the course of the story. Instead of creating an enormous amount of possible states, Her Story, a story-based game by Sam Barlow, experiments with allowing players instant access to its entire story, provided players use the right search terms. Her Story’s structure, and how it differs from other narrative games, is the key to understanding how Her Story functions as a successful narrative game. To do so, I’ll have to explain the computational concept of the finite state machine, why it is a good model for narrative games, and how Her Story’s state machine differs from those of interactive fiction. Based on Barlow’s personal work in interactive fiction and the genre’s place as the earliest style of narrative video game, I will stick to comparisons between Her Story and interactive fiction (IF). Continue Reading

Shovel Knight Redug

The Retro Game as Hypertext and as Uchronia

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First, I will use Jean-Marc Limoges’ work on reflexivity and mise en abyme – a figure whereby a work’s structure is self-replicated within itself, i.e., a play in a play, or a film in a film – which he constructed from his predecessor Jacques Gerstenkorn (Gerstenkorn, 1987). I will use his summary table and adapt it briefly to video games, placing the examples of reflexivity in Shovel Knight laid out by David Boffa in his essay (2015). In so doing, we must recognize a kind of difference that Gerstenkorn and Limoges traced in film, between the cinematographic and the filmic. Similarly, we would do well to distinguish between the ludic (referring to playing and games in general, abstract principles and terms), and the gamic (the individual games themselves). From their work, I argue that reflexivity can, broadly, occur in four types in video games: Continue Reading

Flexible Times

need Flexible Game Design

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Since games emerge from and reflect upon culture, it is becoming more and more important to find ways to accommodate the various cultural relationships to games and play that already exist globally. As the barriers to technology drop, accessibility to the tools of games are increasing, but the syntax of game making remains largely unexamined from the context of multi-cultural languages of games and play. Game development is a small world and has not demonstrated a willingness to deal with the cultures of play around the world that are now being reached with new global audiences. Mindful Play is our attempt to investigate the ways in which games are made and find ways to adapt existing game design methodologies to accommodate these emerging forms of play. Continue Reading

Following the Green Light

Designing Inclusion in Game Distribution

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Though personal computers have become more affordable and ubiquitous in the past 30 years, deeming this as a “natural evolution” that lead to an increased technological literacy in America would be simplistic and technologically deterministic, and overlooks the organized efforts performed by companies to expand the use of these technologies to begin with. Steam, for example, had some adoption obstacles in the beginning: unveiled at the 2002 Game Developers Conference and released a year later, the distribution platform was reportedly buggy and unfriendly towards users. 2 years later, though, the video game giant that owns Steam, Valve, decided to release all of its games for PC asking for a compulsory installation of Steam in order to play. Coincidentally, in 2004 one of Valve’s biggest games was released: Half-Life 2, now an industry staple that cost $40 million to make, sold more than 1.7 million copies worldwide. Continue Reading

Simulating Life

Political Game Design

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It is useful for me to think of games as simulations. Although not all games are explicitly simulations, they all come to life by representing some activity as a prerequisite to being able to afford the player to partake in that activity. While this activity implies some sort of closed environment–be it through physical ability or problem solving–it is also possible to use this simulated aspect as a way to open up to the world around us and, as we will take a closer look here, to politics and political systems. This article aims to expose the inherently political aspect of game development. Having gone to school for both political science and game development, I have seen political questions appear over and over in the design and development of both my games and those of my colleagues. By taking the particular topic of political philosophy of the Enlightenment, I hope to show how computer simulations can help us in acknowledging the politics in designing and developing games. Continue Reading

Critical game creation

as intergenerational social participation

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Trying to change education towards a more innovative, creative and game-based learning approach is not a single-player game. There is a need for a huge amount of research and educational innovation projects before making educational actors promote digital games as a learning strategy. Just after my Ph.D, I was lucky to join a research network, a sort of a “research guild” for promoting mutual help, creating joint events and develop academic exchanges. Our “research guild” was funded by the 7th framework of research of the European Commission as a network of excellence, the “Games and Learning Alliance” (GaLA 2009-2013). The GaLA network included nearly 50 researchers in the field of digital games with educational, health, cultural purpose, also called “serious games”. Being part of an international research guild allowed me to access a higher level through collaborations with other scholars worldwide. Being in a guild required me to join efforts in topics and tasks that were out of my reach in an individual or small team perspective. Being part of a research guild is fruitful in terms of networking and outcomes. Continue Reading