Interview – Brendan Keogh

On Candy Box, Spec Ops, & the future of Game Studies

In the second installment in our feature interview series, we chat with game critic, author, and PhD student Brendan Keogh. We cover a wide range of topics, from Aniwey’s Candy Box, to Spec Ops: The Line and the future of Game Studies. We reached Brendan via Skype last Thursday [May 9th, 2013]. Continue Reading

The Greatest Victory

Ernest Becker, Lara Croft, & Death in Tomb Raider

As Tadhg Kelly wrote in 2011, All games are about death. I tend to agree with Kelly, though I’d say that all games are partially about death, and some more than others. After all, some of the earliest games (e.g. 1962’s Spacewar!) framed success and failure within thanatological terms, and even games without anthropomorphized/organic avatars tend to do the same. For example, why does a game like Brickbreaker, which features only inanimate objects, frame success and failure within thanatological terms? Why do I start with 3 lives, and whose lives are lost when I fail to hit the ball? Is Brickbreaker perhaps exploring non-organic modes of being, a la Object Oriented Ontology? I don’t think so. I think life and death are just the clearest indications of success and failure we have. At a very basic level, to die is to fail, and we understand this at a primordial level. Thus, this thanatological shorthand simply lends itself very well to videogames, which are often concerned with success and failure. But death is a very unpleasant subject, so why is it such a prevalent ludic metaphor? Continue Reading

The Heroic Medium

Chris Dorner, Heroism, and Spec Ops: The Line.

This is more of a thought experiment than a carefully crafted essay, so please bear with me. My research looks at how conceptions of heroism are negotiated across various media forms, with a particular emphasis on videogames. Videogames are teeming with heroes of all sorts, and they’re becoming an increasingly important space for defining who is, and who isn’t a hero. So when I saw that alleged murderer and cop-killer Chris Dorner had been hailed a “hero” by a surprising number of people, I couldn’t help but think – Could you make a videogame about Chris Dorner? If so, what would it look like? And if not, then why not? Continue Reading

Where Games Take Place

Street Songs from the Soundplay Game Jam

If you’re like me, a videogame’s music is a big part of the overall play experience. I remember games like Fallout 3 (Bethesda, 2008) and Bastion (Supergiant Games, 2011) for their soundtracks as much as for their gameplay. Sometimes I would stop “playing” these games just to enjoy the atmosphere created by the music, even when it meant certain death. I’m always on the lookout for games which utilize music in some new or interesting ways, so I was excited when a friend pointed me towards Street Song, developed by Pietro Righi Riva and Nicolò Tedeschi of Santa Ragione games… Continue Reading

Reality Is Broken

Why Games Make Us Better & How They Can Change the World

Reality is Broken has become a bit of a big deal in gaming, both in the academic and popular presses. Ian Bogost wrote that it “is destined to be one of the most influential works about videogames ever published,” and it has become a New York Times Bestseller. McGonigal is writing to a very broad audience – designers, theorists, academics, the public – and so it is a very readable, lucid text. It is divided into fourteen chapters under three main sections – “Why Games Make Us Happy,” Reinventing Reality,” and “How Very Big Games Can Change the World,” which I’ll summarize below. Each chapter is essentially centered around a ludic “fix” for reality, such as the one for Chapter 2: “Emotional Activation: Compared with games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we’re good at and enjoy” (p. 38)… Continue Reading

Über Other

Mortality, Morality, and the Nazi Zombie

In her 2011 book Reality is Broken (2011), Jane McGonigal argues that videogames can in fact be used for “good:” through harnessing the countless hours gamers spend solving puzzles in videogames, we may be able to solve “real world” problems, such as inequality, sickness and conflict. I really like this idea, and though I’m not sure I quite share all of McGonigal’s optimism, I do think that videogames serve some vital functions – cultural and psychological – outside of particular play experiences… Continue Reading

In Defense of Procedurality

Procedural Rhetoric, Civilization, and “You Didn’t Build That!”

I want to write a bit of a defense of Bogost’s “procedural rhetoric,” which he defines as “the practice of persuading through processes in general and computational processes in particular” (Persuasive, 3). I particularly want to counter the claims that procedural rhetoric a) ignores the player, and b) neglects the importance of other representative modes like narrative and aesthetics. I’ll use Miguel Sicart’s “Against Procedurality” article from (11:3, 2011) as a dialectical counterpart, since it’s easily available and I think representative of the “nay” camp… Continue Reading