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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Games of the Decade: Elegance

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Even those who would reject the idea that videogames are an “art form” could agree that games can exhibit certain traditional aesthetic values. One prominent one is elegance. If we look toward traditional, analogue games, it seems inarguable to me that Go is elegant, and that Chess is elegant. Over the course of centuries, the tumbler of human culture has worn them down to their most perfect, least messy forms. (And they often come in supremely visually pleasing packages, to boot.) Looking to the history of videogames, it seems uncontroversial to propose that Tetris (Alexey Pajitnov, 1984) and Breakout (Atari, 1972) also exhibit this serene mixture of simplicity and grace.

Of course, videogames can also be bloated and unrefined. On the audiovisual level, the public imagination has long associated the medium all that is cacophonous and retina-searing: a ceaseless stream of crude stimulation optimized for goldfish-like attention spans. A peek at the output of PlatinumGames or Treasure over the past decade demonstrates that this conception is not entirely unearned. On the design side of things, games often come packaged with an inordinate amount of mechanical cruft. To boot up a contemporary Ubisoft game is to be assaulted by map icons, as the core activities of the game are augmented with collectibles and minigames and side-challenges and online player “invasions” and microtransactions and and and and and and and and and….

Sometimes, though, you can point to a game and say, “this is exactly what it needs to be, and no more.” Sometime a game stands as a perfectly-cut gem of craft, with every element contributing to an overall sense of balance. Its user interface is a triumph of usability, compact and graceful. Its color scheme is tamped-down and meaningful. Its sound design is minimal and expertly-deployed. It is thematically tight: if there is a narrative involved, it is a lean and coherent one. It is, overall, soothing in its form, even if it might simultaneously be stressful in its challenge.

The first five games of this list all chase this sort of technical perfection. Some are small, and some are large, but they all are careful not to hit one unnecessary note.

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Games of the Decade, 2007–2017

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Wait … what? Who does that? Who makes a decade-long retrospective in a year ending in anything but a 9? And who publishes a retrospective in any month but December?

Well, I do. And I have my reasons for it.

Chief among these is that the true purpose of any “best of” list is to be wrong in fun and provocative ways. What better way to start things out, then, than by choosing an utterly arbitrary set of dates?

But, really, I do have reasons, which you’ll find below the fold, as well as the categories I’ll be announcing the games in. The list itself will start tomorrow, and continue until October 10th. (And there’s a reason for that!)

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Playbor in the Loop: eSports and Athletic Scholarships in Chicago Education

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Ian here—

What follows is my talk from SCMS 2017 in Chicago, IL. It was part of the panel I organized, “Gaming’s Midway Point: Games and Game Culture in Chicago“—and I’d like to thank Julianne GrassoDaniel Johnson, and Chris Carloy for contributing papers and making that panel the success that it was.  You can follow along with my visual presentation here.

This is the website of Collegiate Starleague, a league for competitive, professional-level videogaming, or eSports, on college campuses. Collegiate Starleague holds tournaments for college players of games such as League of Legends (Riot Games, 2009) and Dota 2 (Valve, 2013), two enormously popular games in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre, which has dominated eSports in recent years, as well as the first-person shooters Overwatch (Blizzard, 2016) and Couter-Strike: Global Offensive (Valve, 2012), and the digital collectable card game Hearthstone (Blizzard, 2014).

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Stream Pools: Space and Narrative Pacing in Games

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Ian 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.

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Knowing More Than We Can Tell

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Ian here—

What follows are three quick case studies on a favorite topic of mine: the knowledge differential, or epistemic gap that can sometimes open up within the player-avatar relation. I find all three of them fascinating for the questions they raise about narration in videogames, as well as the alignment between player and player-character.

What follows does not yet qualify as analysis. This is simply a critical appreciation of a few moments that have made me think. Perhaps it will act as a prolegomena to further, more properly analytical, writing.

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Lesson Plan: Point of View, Staging, and Guidance in Cinema & Videogames

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Ian here—

What follows is a two-part post, combining lesson plans from two separate days of my course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames,” which together formed a week I referred to on the syllabus as “Point of View, Staging, and Guidance.”

There are many different entrance points for a class organized around the relationship between cinema and videogames. Contemporary popular genres are an obvious choice—and one that, in fact, formed the backbone of many weeks of the course. This week, though, I stretched past those boundaries, and crafted a lesson plan that was grounded more in a comparative look at each medium’s history.

The first of these lessons is primarily a lecture, which sets up a course screening/play session. The second lesson is a post-play-session discussion.

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