What strategies and techniques do people use to navigate the systems of industry, politics, and computers? This week has brought us some fantastic articles about power structures, business, and justice, all in connection with games and play.
“It was just business”
Some great articles this week look at how creatives working in games have seen themselves, their own practice, and their response to power structures over the past couple of decades.
- How We Design Games Now and Why – Medium
This is the most important piece of writing on games to come out for a while, in my opinion. Katherine Neil’s history of game design and the discourses surrounding it is absolutely essential reading. It is almost impossible to find this kind of combination of industry insights with meaningful analysis of what’s at stake.
- The Long, Strange History of Street Fighter and Hip-Hop – Waypoint
Stephen Kearse’s research into how a game series from Japan became associated with rap music surfaces some refreshing honesty about business strategy.
“this wasn’t the product of an innate synergy. Not only had the two previous versions of Street Fighter III worked fine without being hip-hop-centric, but Infinite readily tells me that he was mostly in it for the opportunity. ‘It was just business,’ he says. Because he had grown up playing Street Fighter, Infinite did have some attachment to the series, but he can’t front. ‘I probably [still] would have did it if it was a game that I never really messed with like that,’ he admits.”
Looking more directly at certain techniques at work in game development, this week we have one article on mathematical systems and one article on visual effects.
- Gamasutra: Anthony Pecorella’s Blog – The Math of Idle Games, Part II
Anthony Pecorella’s unique work investigating Idle Games continues in this piece on the calculus of having “generators” generating other generators.
- Hyper Light Drifter blended past and present to become 2016’s most beautiful game · Special Topics In Gameology · The A.V. Club
Nick Wanserski actually goes beyond the idea of retro nostalgia here, providing a brief taste of some much-needed in-depth visual analysis of pixel art as technique.
“For Hyper Light Drifter, the strict rules of primitive pixel art are bent to allow the incorporation of modern techniques. Broad swaths of soft gradient offer a subtle depth and color change that would be impossible through “dithering,” the term used to describe the way different colored pixels blend to create the semblance of color transition and shading.”
After the spectacle
I’ve grouped the pieces in this section together because they deal with storytelling in some way, but none of them simply interpret a game’s overall plot or characterisation; each does something slightly different to look at the interactive and spatial qualities that affect how a game tells a story.
- Colonial Power in ‘Dishonored 2’ | PopMatters
Jorge Albor uses ecological history – specifically, the story of white colonists’ encounters with mosquitoes – to talk about the narrative worldbuilding of Dishonored 2.
- “In Hitman, Death is Hilarious,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter focuses on how particular interactions are set up by designers, and argues for a reading of the Hitman games as comedies.
- Working at Play – First Person Scholar
David Leblanc shares some thoughts about how Brecht’s anticapitalist ideas about theatre can manifest in game design.
“Ultimately, Brecht would have us believe that the often alienating social phenomena are in fact well within our grasp, and therefore changeable. He concludes “A Short Organum” by claiming, “when the rules emerging from this life in society are treated as imperfect and provisional…the theatre leaves its spectators productively disposed even after the spectacle is over” (135).”
What can games criticism teach us about justice? Critics are turning their experience studying systems contrived for play toward writing about the systems that determine material outcomes for people living in the US.
Content warning: discussions about Donald Trump; mass incarceration
- Phoenix Wright & Aviary Attorney – AFA – YouTube
Youtuber “Lord Faust” contextualizes the narrative style of attorney games in midcentury television procedurals, and discusses how these narratives reflected social changes in the perception of the criminal justice system.
- ace attorney – spirit of justice | malvasia bianca
David Carlton shares the pleasure of spending time with fictional characters who value the search for truth.
“[…]maybe Phoenix Wright is the hero that we need right now. Spirit of Justice shows a government that is so insistent on its unique right to present accepted truth that it sets up a courtroom system where arguing against the government’s version of truth is a life-or-death matter for a lawyer. And Phoenix Wright wades into that system, and argues away; he wins his cases.”
The end of the 2016 fundraiser
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!