Time will tell if I make more of these “Let’s Study” videos. Building up an archive of them could have real pedagogical benefits. The best option when teaching games is, of course, always to have students play things themselves. But one must consider the realities of constraints on access to specific platforms. If students playing a game is a logistical impossibility, it is undoubtedly a better to be able to say, “here, watch this video I uploaded onto YouTube that precisely demonstrates exactly the relevant points of this game,” than it is to say, “go find some footage of it on YouTube recorded by some random let’s play-er.” A strong case can be made that this sort of video essay work is the next best thing to having students play things on their own.
As before, full script below the fold, if for whatever reason that interests you.
So, awhile back I promised further thoughts on Virginia. After mulling it over, I decided to put them in video form. The end result is a sort of let’s play/video essay hybrid, which I’m calling a “let’s study.” (This sounded less presumptuous than “let’s analyze,” which I didn’t want to use because this video isn’t particularly academic. At the same time, though, it sounded more sturdy than “let’s think about,” or some other wishy-washy formation.)
This video is slightly under an hour, and it’s only the first half of what I’m planning on making into a two-video sequence. I’ll update the embedded video above so that it plays the whole playlist rather than just the first video once I’ve finished the second one. [UPDATE 2017-02-28: I’ve updated the embedded video! If it doesn’t auto-play the entire sequence, it should at the very least recommend the second after you finish the first.]
Full transcript of the script below the fold, for those of you who prefer reading things.
In 1982, longtime Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman penned a famous essay entitled “Vulgar Modernism.” In it, he pointed out that medium-specific reflexivity—the use of “art to call attention to art” that Clement Greenberg proposed as the defining feature of modernist painting—was, in fact, everywhere in American mass culture in the 1940s and 1950s.[i] It was in Tex Avery and Chuck Jones’ Daffy Duck cartoons, chock to the brim with distanciation jokes and forthright acknowledgements of film form. It was in Bill Elder’s Mad Magazine cartoons, parodies that sometimes literally broke through their own frame. Hoberman coined the term vulgar modernism to name this “popular, ironic, somewhat dehumanized mode reflexively concerned with the specific properties of its medium or the conditions of its making.”[ii] Vulgar modernist works hold no pretensions toward being anything other than mass culture, but they demonstrate an astute awareness of the history of their own medium, and puckishly call attention to its conventions.
Hoberman’s essay is a helpful reminder that artistic devices don’t come pre-packaged with aesthetic aims. Greenberg observed painters embracing flatness, brushstrokes, and the properties of pigment, and considered such medium-consciousness as a crucial element of modernism in the fine arts. Hoberman observed similar devices employed by Warner Bros. and Mad, bent toward parody rather than Kantian self-criticism.
I offer this opening excursus because I’ve noticed a growing popularity of “modernist” devices in videogames. As in Hoberman’s case studies, these devices aren’t offered up in the spirit of intellectualized self-criticism. Rather, they constitute what I’ll call misty-eyed modernism: reflexive devices used to emphasize the vulnerability of a fictional character, a foregrounding of the specific properties of a medium for the purposes of empathy or tear-jerking.
About a month ago, I professed to not having played enough games from 2016 to name any as among my “favorites.” I have taken decadent advantage of the past 30 days, however, and I’m in a position where, yes, I can actually count the two discussed below as among my “favorite.” And, wouldn’t you know it, they both share misty-eyed modernist tendencies. Significant spoilers for both Oxenfree (Night School Studio, 2016) and OneShot (Team OneShot, 2016) below. If you’re spoiler-averse, then you should just take these above-the-fold recommendations and do with them as you see fit. If you don’t mind spoilers (of if you’ve already played the games in question), continue … but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This post is part of a series that borrows the term process genre from Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky’s work in cinema studies, and explores its utility for videogame analysis. A quick definition: “process genre” films are films about labor, films that focus on processes of doing and making, that are fascinated with seeing tasks through to its completion. They are deliberately paced, meditative, and often political, in that they cast a penetrating eye on labor conditions. Are there games that strike the same notes? Posts in the series so far can be seen here.
In this entry, I turn not to one game, but to a whole slew of them. Particularly, I will be looking at games that have popped up in the wake of Lucas Pope’s lauded Papers, Please (3909, 2013), which I considered earlier in the series, here.
I spent the first week of 2017 catching up on things I hadn’t played from 2016. But all play and no work makes Ian a dull boy, so it’s time to get back to writing, even if it’s of the casual sort.
Fair warning: In this post I’m going to dip into some unapologetic formalism as a way of best expressing some otherwise entirely subjective reactions. Obviously, there are pitfalls to this. Formalism puts off some. Unabashedly subjective attempts at criticism puts off others. But, whatever—this is my blog, and sometimes I like to post things that aren’t lesson plans. (Also, a note: I’m going to have fewer of those posted in the foreseeable future. I’ve posted most of my best lessons from past courses at this point, and I’m only teaching one class this term, one I’ve taught before.)
Below the fold, I play with some vocabulary, and offer thoughts on three more interesting games of 2016. These are short takes, and it is quite likely that I will be writing more on some of these in the near future.
So, I’ve been struck by a fit of mania. Although it’s an arbitrary gesture, I am determined to write up a few of my thoughts on some more interesting games of 2016 before midnight strikes and the calendar year ends.
Below the fold: three games from the past year that do interesting things with perspective, embodiment, and intersubjectivity. Consider this a follow-up to yesterday’s post.
Ah, the game menu. So often in PC games, it is accessed by hitting the “esc” key, and so often it is just that: an escape from the pressures of the game. A place where players can put things on pause, and can retreat into a familiar suite of low-pressure activities. Saving. Loading. Inventory management. Party management. Gamma settings. Resolution settings. Pretending to know the difference between trilinear and anisotropic texture filtering, and then getting up to pee. So calming. So safe.
Except when it’s not. Because sometimes, one encounters a menu that is just a little … off. An “off menu,” shall we say.
Below the fold, an appreciation of two games, including one from 2016. Tis the season for year-end retrospectives and “best of” lists. Unfortunately, I had neither the time nor the budget to expose myself to many of 2016’s releases in the calendar year of 2016, so I’m not well-positioned to mount a case that CALENDULA (Blooming Buds Studios, 2016) is actually one of my “favorite” games to release this year. But I did want to slip in a write-up of it before December gives up the ghost. (Spoiler warning for both games … including one that’s over a decade old.)