Metal Gear Solid, Exile, and Skyrim in my new Five Out of Ten Piece

I have two essays in the new Five Out of Ten, which you can buy for a few dollars.

I’m incredibly happy with them. In the first, I talk about “playing the radar” in Metal Gear Solid. I’m in a weird place right now where what I am writing rides the line between design analysis, criticism, and historical contextualization, so if any of that sounds interesting to you, it is worth your $5-$8 or so to buy those things up.

I also write about hearts, quest hubs, and Jean-Luc Nancy. I’m pretty sure that no one has ever done that before, and if you’re curious about what a heart transplant has to do with Skyrim, you can find out here.

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On Temper


Temper is a game about having a demon inside of you that gets out whether you want it to or not. The only thing you can do is preempt it. You know it is coming. You belch it out. If you vomit this horror onto other people, you get hurt, they get hurt, everything hurts.

Sometimes it isn’t other people. Sometimes they are strange, small animals. Sometimes they will hurt you no matter what.

There’s an obvious allegory going on in Temper. In the middle of this incredibly tight, well-designed, tiny experience there’s an entire narrative about personality and interpersonal communication and what happens to us all (some more than others).

In Temper you always get a do-over.

Play Temper.


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Tim Cain on same-sex marriage in The Temple of Elemental Evil

When we were putting together The Temple of Elemental Evil, we’d put together all kinds of ways you could get involved with nonplayer characters. We had a good-looking woman who a male character could get involved with. We also had a really horrible woman whose father would try to convince you to get married to her so he could get her out of the house. We also had some male characters for female characters. It was Tom Decker [producer/designer] who said, “Hey, we don’t have any male-male or female-female relationships.” And I said, well, write some up! And he did the male character who was a pirate on a ship and a female character who was working at a brothel against her will.

Atari made us take out the brothel, though, so we lost the lesbian relationship–and I though that was a sweeter relationship, because she didn’t want to be working there, and you got to rescue her. The pirate one was kind of sad, because the gay pirate had been kidnapped as a child and forced to work as a cabin boy. It’s a hard luck story, and you felt less like his rescuer and more like you won him from his master. It had a different vibe than the lesbian relationship, but in both you had to work to get them. I remember seeing some people on forums saying, “Hey, I didn’t see this in my game.” Well, you’re not going to see it unless you make it happen. There’s a lot of dialogue paths you have to go down before Bertram is offered to you. It’s no accident that you’re character is married to another man. I like that.

- Tim Cain in Matt Barton’s Honoring the Code

I feel like every single “positive” claim here needs to be deconstructed and really points to why we need an incredibly diverse set of game developers.

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Steve Gaynor on Violence from 2010


Earlier today, Sparky Clarkson tweeted about this article from Steve Gaynor from a few years back. I re-read it and really latched onto this part:

Violence in film, literature or on stage can either be meaningful or meaningless. When it is meaningful, it resonates with the audience; when it is meaningless, it is largely (and rightly) derided. Consider the death of Shakespeare’s Hamlet following a duel, or of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, or of Evelyn Mulwray at the end of Chinatown, versus, say, the nameless mooks mown down in Rambo II or Commando or Hard Boiled. The killing by the protagonist of those without identity devalues human life in the work, and thereby robs the violence of meaning (it being perpetrated upon human forms with no value.)

And so a metric for games comes to mind: violence performed by the player in a video game is only legitimate if the victim is a unique and specific individual.

The metric becomes a constraint on content: don’t remove the violence– remove the faceless masses of “enemies.” If every character the player interacts with is a unique and specific individual, then any act of violence committed by the player is invested with some amount of meaning: individuals have families, homes, jobs, friends, and most importantly, relationships with other characters in the game. The player’s act spiders out from the individual to those that surround them, even if that social web is for the most part only implied. There are no more broad swaths of generic violence, then; there are only discrete acts of specific violence, each of which has the potential to matter.

- “Specific Violence

I think of myself, in my most haughty moments, as someone whose work focuses on nonhuman ethics and how those ethics get parsed out. What does it mean to be ethical toward an inhuman thing? How are specific beings or objects plotted on the human-animal-object spectrum? Why?

Reading Gaynor’s post, I immediately think: when is an enemy faceless? When is an enemy lacking a face? And at what point, narratively or systemically, do we begin to understand a being in a videogame as “legitimate”?

Not foreclosing any possible answers here, but this is definitely part of my larger set of (academic and games criticism) questions.

Very curious about examples of things done well or horribly in games in the comments.

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“amending the ways of nature”

In expert epistemology, nature was messy. Technology was the great orderer. “The real calamity in a thunderstorm,” explained William Crookes, commenting on natural unharnessed electricity, “is not that the lightning may kill a man or a cow, or set barns or stacks on fire. The real calamity consists in the weather being upset.” The practical electrician should aim at “nothing less than the control of the weather” for the sake of agricultural productivity. Practically speaking, Crookes did not wish “to reduce our rainfall in quantity, but to concentrate it in a smaller number of days, so as to be freed from a perennial drizzle.” What he called “amending the ways of Nature” justified an expert, or adversarial, relationship to it.

- Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New p. 114

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Steam Curation and a Group For Readers

Steam Curation was released a few days ago. The gloss on it is pretty simple: groups can now create lists of recommended games in an effort to solve the “there are so many games on Steam” discoverability problem.


With that in mind, I have done two things:

1. Created a Steam group for people who read this blog or generally follow my work around the internet. It seems like there’s no reason NOT to join the group, SO JOIN THAT GROUP.

Here is a link to the Steam group.

2. Created a curated list of games I really like. I will add to this as time goes on. I figure that if you’re reading this blog with any regularity then you might want to know what games I think you MUST PLAY or that are SUPER GOOD.

Here is a link to the Curator page if you want to follow that.


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A war photographer goes to The Last of Us

The Last of Usª Remastered_20140905150653

By the time I finished this assignment, watching the carnage had became easier.

- “A War Photographer Embeds Himself Inside A Video Game

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