Current Times 27

This is a post of links to interesting things surrounding games and comics across the internet–think of it as a poor individual’s Critical Distance or “The Sunday Papers” over at RPS. Click here to see past “Current Times.”

1. Marcus Iwinski of CD Projekt, in interview with Nathan Grayson at RPS, talked a little about sex in The Witcher series. I have always found the sex in the games, especially the first one, to be really weird–there were multiple instances where I was “tricked” into having sex with female characters when I was simply choosing the nicest dialogue choice. In the interview, Iwinski talks about the media culture surrounding games and suggests that certain games, as objects, necessitate a certain kind of expression of their content.

Yes, it could alienate audiences, but you have to look at it from the quality of the product perspective. If it’s overused [in marketing], it probably won’t be a big product anyway. Really, I think the market is eliminating all the weaknesses and all the cheap tricks. But, at the end of the day, males are making certain decisions through hormones. People are paid to take care of the market and know it very well. Am I offended in some of these cases? Sure.

The “product perspective” sounds an awful like the product has a way of being in the world that is politically oriented (paging Ben Abraham).

2. The Gameological Society has an interview up with Rhianna Pratchett, a writer who works/has worked in video games, and she has some really smart things to say about the state of narrative in video games (side note: this is what we need instead of people decrying how dumb games are all the time. This is a prime lesson in how to criticize video game stories.)

There isn’t a great deal of understanding about what writers actually do, how they do it, and why. At the moment, we don’t have enough experienced storytellers calling the shots in the industry. Consequently, our narrative literacy is still low. Writers are treated as typists of other people’s ideas, rather than professionals with a specific set of skills, gained over many years of living and breathing stories. In fairness, this is a two-way street, and writers themselves need to be more proactive about the best way to utilize their skills and experience. They need to be prepared to fight for the space and agency they need to do their job.

3. JS1k is finished. The gist of it is to create a cool little tech demo, game, or something like it in Java with the stipulation that the file size is 1kb or smaller. Yeah, you heard that right. Check it out.

4. Ethan Gach has a post up at Nightmare Mode that raises some questions about the question of ownership in a digital age. It is worth reading, and my own answer is pretty flippant–any belief that an internet user has any existence outside of their commodification is wrong. At the moment when you subscribe to a service that directly controls your rights and access to a space of being, you have changed your basic ontological conditions; an agreement with Comcast is a new kind of social contract. Digital worlds, and the experiences of people in them, are really cool. But those people do not own their own means of production. They also don’t own the means of driving their own desires. World of Warcraft subscribers are as much bound to the ideology and whims of their digital DM masters as United States citizens were when the newspaper industry created the Spanish American War. Read the article here.

5.  Robert Yang posted the text of his “Gay Rant” from Games for Change 2012. Most of what I saw come out of that conference is incredibly frustrating, but this is really some gold in a barren field (the video game world looks more and more like the comics industry every year). There is also a video, if you want Robert Yang to visually stimulate you. Here is a little bit:

I think me and Anna Anthropy usually treat identity as the subject, as the pervasive context, as identity embodied within the world itself. Take a game about, I don’t know, about zooming in and staring at crotch bulges — saying that game is gay is like saying water is wet. It’s the most redundant thing you can say. Instead, these games are more interested in HOW we express / perform gayness, and HOW we live as lesbians, not WHETHER you’re closeted with this typical coming out story — which is important, but we do need more types of narratives.

6. This article by Patrick Elliot at Kill Screen approaches a similar topic to Gach’s: what do we do when the servers that have our lives written on them shut down? It is a difficult question, but it comes down to this: when you play an online game, you hitch your wagon to a terrible dragon called “a corporation,” which sees the individual as a complex chemical equivalence of dollar signs, desires, and addictive chemicals. The only thing you own when you play an online game is your memories. Do we need ways out of this? Yep. Is it going to come in the current system of giant game publishers that have to meet a bottom line? Never.

7. Lana Polansky has an article about satire in games over at Kill Screen Daily where she goes through several smart examples of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to the method in our favorite interactive medium.

8. Robert Washington, who passed away recently, was interviewed by CBR a few months before his death and really praised The Hero Initiative. You should read it here and think about making a small donation. It goes to a really great cause. (Side bar: precarity is the name of the game in the current economy, and comic book creators and artists have it worst than a lot of others in that their specific skills aren’t easily adaptable to other economically viable areas.)

9. In a final, additional nod to Robert Yang, I love his analysis of Games for Change. A tidbit:

Only on the third and last day, however, did I sense an actual ideological tension here: between this strangely cynical Oprah-style new age motivational tech fetishism that dominates most of the “festival”, and an actual research agenda that isn’t motivated by an investor.

I will end this post with my own experience with Games for Change: I was looking at the hashtag on Twitter during the McGonigal keynote and kept seeing quotes that she has written in her book and in various articles over the past year nearly verbatim.

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2 Responses to Current Times 27

  1. Ethan Gach says:

    Great list Cameron, and thanks for the nod (your I agree with your outlook almost completely).

    Also, I abhor Ms. McGonigal. I’m have way through her book and forcing myself to complete it–it’s not easy going. Few things are as tiresome as reading a book that is so uncritical, it requires all of the reflection, questioning, contemplation to come from the reader.

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