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

Acting Social

Prom Week & Performative Authorship

Recently, my research on new media performance has led me to investigate the interface between performativity and video games. Having played the one-act interactive drama game, Façade (2006), whereby the player is invited to salvage the failing marriage between Grace and Trip through a series of dialogical exchanges with them, I am interested in examining the player’s ability to shape the narrative of an interactive drama game that features more than two characters who are engaged in dramatic intrigue. In particular, I want to know how the player can propel the dramatic action of game by performing different relationships with various characters in the virtual game world. Building on the interactive dramatic gameplay in Façade (2006), Prom Week (2012) seeks to test the limits of interactive narrative in game design… Continue Reading

The Binding of Procedure

Procedural Rhetoric and The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac has generated a lot of discussion in blogs and podcasts. It is the discourse surrounding the game, however, that demonstrates the limitations of that view, and, consequently, the limitations of procedural rhetoric. John Teti, at, follows a similar argument to the one I’ve posited, that the game’s random unfairness is, ultimately, what it makes it seem fair (though he characterizes this appearance not as the game being more fair, but more real than one with predetermined events, a definition of videogame realism that perhaps is worth discussing on another day)… Continue Reading