East of the Key Sword (and West of the Triforce)

Rethinking Cultural Influence in Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda: Japanese Videogames in Global Contexts

It seems impossible to discuss the history of videogames without considering Japan. Specific events, like Namco’s development of Pac-Man — the most successful arcade game of all time — or Nintendo’s revival of the North American game console business with the release of its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the mid-1980s, have become celebrated milestones in the story of Japan’s role in videogames. Continue Reading

High-stakes gamblers, game design, and the meaning of cheating

The word “cheater” exists to define someone responsible for breaking a set of rules. Ordinarily, people use it to refer to transgressing the rules of a game, the expectations of a romantic relationship, or someone otherwise getting ahead, getting recognition, or achieving something with far less effort than it was supposed to require. Such situations seem obvious — it is clear that you should not look at someone else’s test paper or download a piece of software that boosts the strength of your video-game character – and thereby place blame solely upon the individual. But is cheating always that simple? Continue Reading

Procedural Ethics

Expanding the Scope of Procedures in Games

In this article I put forward the idea of procedural ethics. Procedural ethics is a way of studying videogames, videogame culture, and the videogames industry that focuses on both the computational and ethical aspects of gaming. This theory is born from the desire to move beyond some of the limitations of current theories used to study games, making questions of ethics and people central to any study of games. Procedural ethics argues that procedures are not just the in-game algorithms, images, and text that force the player to make a decision or to agree to participate in a particular world. Rather, they are made up of everything that went into that procedure being programmed, including the developer’s history, the community, and the player’s experiences, as well as the socio-cultural context surrounding the game and the player. Continue Reading

Identification or Desire?

Taking the Player-Avatar Relationship to the Next Level

Bringing queer theory and game studies into conversation with each other, I will argue here that queer desire is the fundamental structure of the player-avatar relationship so often mischaracterized by the notion of identification. If we are to accept the argument sketched out below, that sexual attraction is a motivating factor in like-sex player-avatar relationships, then we must also accept that a great deal of digital gameplay is motivated by queer desire. This means that queer sexualities are not simply invited into gameplay and gamespace, but rather that they already occupy, covertly, a critical position within games and game cultures that enables the possible subversion and transgression of the masculinity and heteronormativity that overtly characterize games and gaming. Continue Reading

The Naked Dungeon

Situationist Practice in Warren Robinett's Adventure

In 1979, Atari released the graphical adventure game, Adventure, programmed by Warren Robinett for the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) home gaming console. A remake of the text adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure (1977), Robinett’s Adventure became famous for it’s inclusion of a secret room, containing a message hidden within the game. This form of hidden message soon became known as the Easter egg; rooms, items and areas hidden within games waiting to be discovered by venturous players. While Adventure’s hidden room was not the first instance of the Easter egg created in a game (in 2004, an Easter egg was discovered hidden in a game title for the Fairchild Channel F console, which predated Adventure by several years), it was the first ever discovered by a game player. In time, the Easter egg became commonplace in video games as a means for programmers and designers to place their own embedded authorial markers within a game. Continue Reading

Voluntary Constraints

How Players Can Impose an Ethical Critique

Developers and publishers may seek to define what constitutes gaming capital through engagement with the player community, but it is the players that typically have the final word on what gaming capital is and how best to accrue it. As such, the production of more paratexts through player-authored walkthroughs, popular YouTube channels or mod communities has a sympathetic relationship with the exchange of gaming capital. Consalvo concludes the book by re-articulating the shaky definition of “cheating” in games and how that relates to “cheating” outside of games, where players that would never cheat outside of digital worlds think nothing of tapping out IDDQD for god mode in Doom. She uses this fracture to suggest that “we need a better understanding of how ethics might be expressed in gameplay situations, and how we can study the ethical frameworks that games offer to players.” (187). I’d like to extend some of Consalvo’s work on paratexts and gaming capital into the realm of voluntary or non-coded constraints that players impose upon themselves. Continue Reading