Magic: the Gathering and Gay Representation Through Play

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“Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis” (henceforth referred to as ‘K&T’) is the only representation of a living, explicitly gay couple on a MtG card, ever. Thanks to heteronormativity, most players will assume that people shown on other cards are probably cisgender and heterosexual, so this puts pressure on K&T to represent gay people. While the effectiveness of representation as a tool of activism is not the focus of this essay, and I do not claim that positive representation is a cure-all for prejudice, the way K&T is represented in MtG is important to and for queer folks in terms of normalization, acceptance, and empowerment. Unfortunately, K&T is not our panacea. Its mechanics invite awkward interpretations and practices by MtG’s community of players despite initially looking successful. To explain, I’ll cover how procedurality works in MtG, then discuss how the various aspects of this card are implicit in the discourse it engenders. Continue Reading

Strategic Ambiguity

Papers Please and The Virtues of Silence

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A principle of game design theory is that constant feedback from the game-system is critical for a particular design to be ‘good’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005). From a usability standpoint, I agree, but problems arise when narrative information is conveyed with the same rigidity and specificity as an ammo count. This is one of the reasons that ludonarrative dissonance occurs in modern video games, which is broadly defined as the phenomenon in videogames where narrative elements stand in contrast to the interactive elements (Hocking, 2007; Yap, 2014:13). As a result, the story presented can become incoherent. Continue Reading

Free to Be Useless

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It was a huge encouragement to read Luca Morini’s wonderful article on play as the “bulwark of uselessness” on May 4th. Having a deep understanding of and appreciation for play is a crucial part of human culture and society, and as Luca notes the freedom to be playful–to enjoy things for their own sake–is often sacrificed on the altar of “usefulness”, leading not to the enhancement of human culture but to its diminishment. To echo Luca’s use of Huizinga: “The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation…We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, because play is irrational.” Continue Reading

Miguel Sicart’s “Beyond Choices”

The Design of Ethical Gameplay

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It’s no stretch to say that many videogames are viewed as an avenue for posing ethical questions to modern players. “Morality points” and “moral choices” are well-publicized features of various types of games, such as the Renegade/Paragon bar in Bioware’s Mass Effect RPGs or Dishonored’s (Arkane Studios, 2012) options to deal with major targets via murder or various sinister yet non-lethal responses. Yet as the title of Miguel Sicart’s book Beyond Choices suggests, perhaps merely focusing on presenting choices fails to reach games’ true potential for raising ethical questions in an interactive medium. His book instead urges players, developers, and academics alike to embrace not just the possibility that games can address deep ethical questions, but to explore the ways that the medium is especially well suited to do so.
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Procedural Ethics

Expanding the Scope of Procedures in Games

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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

Real Soccer

Strategy & Realism in FIFA 14

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In recent years, authenticity has also meant a commitment to FIFA accurately modeling the on field action of modern soccer, moving closer towards realistic simulation. However, FIFA is a necessarily incomplete version of soccer and can only prioritize some aspects of the sport it seeks to adapt. This article examines the priorities of FIFA’s simulation, how they shape the game and underpin its ambitions for realism. I will suggest that, while FIFA models many aspects of real soccer well, that which it does not adapt–complex strategy and teamwork– undermines its authenticity and contributes to significant gameplay problems. Continue Reading

From Monopoly to Metal Gear

A Survey of Ludic Satire

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Let’s talk about satire and games for a moment. Where these two intersect successfully we find critical, thought-provoking works that challenge contemporary social, cultural, political, or ideological beliefs. For this article I’ll adopt a rather loose definition of satire as an attempt to critique accepted beliefs through “irony, derision, or wit.” And while there are a wide range of beliefs worthy of criticism, I’m interested here primarily in accepted notions of violence and aggression as a means of resolution in mainstream videogames. The argument put forward here is that games provide a new form of criticism, ludic satire, that emanates from choice. Continue Reading