On Kill Screen #4: The Public Play Issue

As you should know, I love Kill Screen Magazine. I pay a fairly high subscription cost for thoughtful magazine about video games, and I am always happy when it comes in the mail. You can see my review of issue #3 here, if you are so inclined.

The newest issue of the magazine is all about Public Play, and that means that this issue covers nearly everything game related. As Jamin Warren says in the introduction, this issue is concerned with what is “out of reach of the all-seeing eyes of our Xboxes and PS3s.” And that’s super-goddamn interesting. When we talk about games these days, we’re almost always talking about video games. More than that, when I think about multiplayer, I think about performance. For me, that sets up a weird dichotomy between gaming on my 360 and playing something like Minecraft  with a group of friends.

On the 360, my team is an abstract entity outside me. Most often it is a group of 13-40 year old men calling each other “fag.” I really fucking wish that I was kidding. In those instances, I am playing simply to play. I like to play Black Ops multiplayer because it is a nice way to just calm down at night. I have nothing invested in the game. I don’t care if I do well, though I don’t like to do poorly, because I fundamentally don’t give a fuck about any long-term win-loss, kill-death, or whatever ratio. But in Minecraft, I’m partially performing. I’m building things for my friends to come see. I’m knocking my friends to the ground from a great height and laughing maniacally. It’s the same with most PC games where I can talk and play with my friends: I’m performing with them.

But that isn’t really public play. Public play is doing something for the open public, like playing in an arcade or in a park, so I’m going to give a quick run down of the stuff I liked in this issue of Kill Screen.

1. Jon Irwin writes “Seeing Red,” a history of the Virtual Boy, a terribly shitty device that existed for the blink of an eye. I remember playing one in Toys R’ Us one time. In any case, it’s a wonderful little piece about the nature of optimism and the creation of video games. It’s strange to see that the tech behind the Virtual Boy was meant to improve the world.

2. Filipe Salgado writes “Permanent Collection,” which is ostensibly about libraries introducing digital content, but I think the idea that comes along at the end of the article is really, really intriguing: libraries should become keepers of a culture. They should be discerning, should pick things that are both popular and “art,” and attempt to pull in new people all the time. And I think this is so true, especially in the wake of Western nations cutting library funding over the past twenty years. If we think of libraries as publicly accessible art collections, I think they will do much better over the next twenty years. At the same time, I’m sure this is really difficult to make work, especially because library staff are famously boring old codgers.

3. The talk/article by Tracy Fullerton called “Masterful Play” is about an audience’s enjoyment of so-called masterful play, which she loosely defines as play that is both excellent and risky, seemingly only logical to the mind that makes the play. And that’s true, but I feel like this could be the most “no duh” article I’ve read in a while. It doesn’t surprise me that there are people who have deeper insight into the systems of their chosen games than other people. It also doesn’t surprise me that people are in awe of those master players–we like watching people be good at things. We like watching Jordan play basketball. We like watching painters paint.

4. Kirk Hamilton’s “Ready, Set,” about The Go Game, a real-world teambuilding game put on by a company of the same name, is phenomenal. Essentially, groups of people run around an urban locale and complete “quests,” take pictures of their completions, and then meet up in a bar later to watch everyone being silly. The article needs to be read, honestly, and nothing I write here will do justice to the beautiful way that Hamilton describes it. The game is designed to include all types of people, so eventually everyone will be needed; Hamilton describes how quickly the group becomes a team: “Andy is our communication man, Steven our scrapper and camera jockey, and despite his initial insistence to the contrary, Geoff has become our leader. Bev and the others help out with whatever they can. Only Diana–she of the scarf–remains uncommitted.” Spoiler alert: Diana becomes committed by completing a mission to pick up a woman in a bar. In any case, all of the people become involved, and I think it makes games like Final Fantasy make so much sense from the perspective of the mind. These people could have been Black Mage, White Mage, Fighter, generic people, Lone Wolf character. Games are just simulations of the way we like to think, even down to composition of social groups, and it’s really cool to see that reflected back into the real world.

I have only written about less than half of the articles in the magazine, so there’s a lot more for you to read. I like the magazine. It does good things. It encourages being smart, which is so much better than most of the goddamn world that we live in. BUY IT.

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