Let’s Study Tacoma

Hello, dear readers. It’s been a while since my last post, and to make up for the gap, I have come bearing a video. Specifically, another video in my “Let’s Study” series. This one is fairly short, zooming in on the technique of “scrubbable narrative” in Tacoma (The Fullbright Company, 2017).

Special thanks to Amy Stebbins on this one, who directed me Alan Alston’s 2013 article “Audience Participation and Neoliberal Value: Risk, Agency and Responsibility in Immersive Theatre,” which ended up forming the backbone of most of the observations in this one.

As always, transcript below the jump.

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Let’s Study The Witness

This past March, at SCMS, I walked out on a paper being delivered by Oscar Moralde on The Witness (Thekla, Inc, 2016). I did so not out of disinterest. (I’ve enjoyed Moralde’s papers in the past.) Nor did I do so out of rudeness. Rather, I did it because of spoilers. Moralde was kind enough to warn ahead of time that his paper would spoil a small portion of the joy of teasing out the behaviors of The Witness’ world, and advised those who hadn’t played it to leave, lest they deny themselves a rich intellectual—and some would even say emotional—experience of personal discovery. And, in my eternal shame, as of March of 2017, I still had not played The Witness. Even though it had been sitting right there in my Steam library for months. (Ashlyn Sparrow and Whitney Pow can attest to the truth of this story.)

Moralde’s paper was a wake-up call to me that I needed to get better about my gaming backlog, if for none other than purely academic reasons. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up on things in real-time since that moment. (I played Tacoma, already!) I offer this story, though, not (strictly) as a chance to to advertise my newfound dedication to keeping up with recent releases, but also as a warning. Basically, the heads-up Moralde offered in front of his talk also applies here. The pleasures of The Witness are the pleasures of discovering puzzle mechanics, and you will deny yourself a small portion of those if you watch this new video essay I’ve whipped together.

That said, if you don’t mind spoiling such things, or if you’ve played The Witness already, go ahead and dash right in. This video is considerably shorter and more focused than my previous experiments in the “Let’s Study” format. It focuses on the pedagogical aspects of the game’s puzzle design, in particular its fondness for safe failure. Whether it’s encouraging assumptions about its mechanics that quickly get proved wrong, or setting up perceptual bad habits only to nip them in the bud, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle design in the best portions of The Witness front-load failure, so as to hammer home lessons. I hope you enjoy my short tour through this technique!

As before, a full transcript of my narration is below the fold. (I’d love to eventually add these as subtitles to the YouTube upload for accessibility reasons, but that is beyond my abilities, at the moment.)

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Let’s Study Virginia … some more!

Ian here—

It’s done! The second part of my “Let’s Study Virginia” video is now live on YouTube.

If you just want to watch the second part, click the embedded video above. If you want to watch the whole thing from the beginning, click here. (I have also updated my original post so that the embedded video there autoplays the second part.)

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.

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Let’s Study Virginia

Ian here—

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.

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