Posts tagged ‘media’

The Language Problem

Film is such a well versed and analyzed format that we know terms for it that were invented by geeks and nerds who became out auteurs in time. To watch Godard is to learn about film. Can the same be said about architecture or games? Games have primarily grown up as play things. Heavily versed in consumerism and the language around them continues to be the same one used in magazines and advertisements.

I few weeks ago I had the idea of writing reviews of games that didn’t involve recommending a purchase. Similar to the way film theorists can create discourse around a film they might not even like. This proved to be a problem. A lot of what I like about games is their purchasablity and less their their qualities as a piece of art. Try to find the meaning in Kickle Cubicle, the heart of Majora’s Mask? Games are often empty in the ways literature and film are filling. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at the bizarre Marxist truth of Star Wars or the epicenter of an art film like Peter Greenaway, we’re experiencing a textual narrative that’s linearity accentuates the conveying of meaning with in. This is similar to Ebert’s criticism of games in which he notes that meaning is often produced by the linear. Now think about Vito Aconicci or Bernard Tuschumi. Neither produce work with heavy linear storytelling ideas. Rather their work is either in space, social interaction, or performance / identity.

Games don’t exist often in the realm of truth novels can provide. While studios like Naughty Dog are trying, the exclusion of nonlinear mechanics and the inability of the player to realize themselves in the game takes away for the experience of it being a game. On the other hand games which are all mechanics and no storyline often don’t affect their audience in the same way. But the conundrum of meaning in the filmic sense and the experiential is a subject art criticism has longed resolved. No one argues that Joseph Beuys performances didn’t mean anything, the tension of man and wolf or the disgust of audience and masturbator is exactly what makes performance art captivating. The experience is meaningful with out needing the strictures novels and books require.

How does this relate to video game criticism though? When we think about Acconci or Beuys we know them through theory. Their work comes steeped in art criticism that in turn lets us analyze the real world in new and refreshing ways. We’re given a noticing task so we can catch the meaning in an act we would otherwise interrupt as unmeaningful. We begin to think about the tension of self and environment, the acceptability of certain social acts and their pairings in our everyday lives, we become more full because art is exploring subjects pertinent to concerns we face everyday. A psychoanalytic film might provide us with insight into a particularly creepy denizen of our day to day. But how did we arrive at this knowledge? It’s part of the pitch of the medium. Performance art advertises theory that empowers it and helps us. It comes steeped in a set ideas that establish meaning in a fashion previously unused. It makes meaning from space, action, or identity and that’s just to start with.

When we see writing about video games it is often in the form of advertising, when we write about games it is often about purchasing them. We’ve been taught to analyze and think about games in this way. The dissemination of a new language about games is only beginning. We hear critics talking about “mechanics” “ludonarrative dissonance” and other terms. The ability to think about games critically and in turn create meaning with them requires a better populace more informed by key gaming terms, until that happens we’ll all be just turning around pr points, spouting desires that only relate to games as commercial commodities, when we could be thinking about identification, what makes a mechanic compelling, and the other constructions these truly fake worlds provide. In other words if we can’t describe ourselves we can’t improve ourselves. Games don’t mean in ways we’ve been taught to look for, rather their meaning often shuttles by like so many commuters on a Monday train, this doesn’t just for the audience it goes for the creators too.

Wonder Flick creates tensions by introducing the player to an unfair battle field. The player uses up resources to deal damage with only a mild guarantee of similar resources. The result is compelling as each anxiety wave laps over the party as you try to succeed. The game simulates anxiety in a unique way. Already I am coming back around to a pitch buy! Buy! But am I doing that because the game lacks meaning or because the form was created in such a way? It’s the later I think. The mechanics in games, especially triple A games, is often made with markets in mind. Wonder flick is compelling because it sells, not because it means anything. In The Last of Us we’re presented with consistent resource conversation. The protagonist must sneak by hostile in order to save resources to fight more hostiles. The game rests on the idea of prediction, patterns must observed and tactical considerations of where to use set resources. The result however is quite meaningful. The context of the narrative and the story the gameplay shows are almost one in the same. In this sense naughty Dog has captured something, that games have narratives in their ludology as much in their story themselves. This is one of the points in Homo Ludens that games are themselves narrative. Such layers showing up in a triple a game should be celebrated, it shows the teams behind it are taking their job seriously not as providers of entertainment, but as artisans trying to move the medium forward. If pop culture can stomach an art form that uses the consumer’ s own initiative to move the story forward is another matter.

How many reviews of The Last of Us caught this clear quoting of Homo Ludens in its gameplay? How many readers were introduced to the idea of games as representative of / enacting something? Almost none. Do the consistent games of anxiety ridden exploration with resource management and prediction make the plot of The Last of us better? Yes. However, As long as we continue to replicate the market’s terse terminology of enjoyment and recommendations we’ll never truly understand what we want is depth in games and less the fun and consumption we enjoy today. The medium has spawned a player ship commendable in their intelligence, it’s just up to the media to spread the ideas and get the discourse flowing. We need to talk more about mechanics in games and less why we enjoyed them.

December 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Climbing to tales

I finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood today and just a few thoughts. The game’s plot points are the addictions, we play to move the game forward, but doing this requires navigating a city openly hostile the most advantagous route. Rome becomes a surrogate for plot, a place that has to be traversed to get the film rolling. The problem is the fun outside of the movie is there.

As the new york times remarked, the real star of the game is Roma. The city is immersive, full of buildings, pot holes, followers of Romulus in sewers, horse back rides in the midnight hours, clammering over its rooves while avoiding the guards is rewarding in itself, so the film often takes back seat to the side missions, but the side missions add up. This is the fracture that the game can not quite put together: how to really marry plot points to an addictive open world. I want a game that surprises me, one where NPCs hunt me down to deliver plot points and not one where I have to trek huge distances for cinema scenes. The game in other words contains a perfectly sensible film inside what is a pretty awesome medevial parkour sim. I found myself actually driven to burn down all the borgia towers, to finish all of leonardo’s missions in stead of rushing to the next major plot point. Story is so dispersed in the game that one has to actively hunt it. The city becomes a space of mystery, primarily mundane, but occassionally revealing surprises.
Two girls are walking through the stables, sunlight passes over the vaticans bridge, exclamation mark the thieves are on the rooves, the enemy awaits in the castle the guard has noticed you a ministrel gets in your way a throng of prostitutes are on the bridge the guard is closing in you scale a building leonardo is waiting on a bench the countess needs your help, you are dying you need a doctor but the borgia still control this area in front of you are a lot of options the least of which is the countess, but that’s the problem the game lacks clock time, rather leonardo is in his own world physically not seperated, but rather like a quanta, he waits in potentiality for you as does the borgia captain you need to kill to open the medicine shop as is the meeting at headquarters as is thr romulus sanctuary you can invade. Time stands still for Ezio and so the city becomea a demented clock on which action paints progress and not entropy’s slow ticks to absolution. It is this conciet that makes the film less involving, not only are we not forced to linearity, but the game actively competes with the main plot for your attention. Film needs a lot to work and assassin’s creed works by never letting up in tone, we are always in the same setting as the main story, but the game has yet to figure out how to tell a story about a city rather it falls back on the same tried and true elements that made prince of persia work to chug the game along.

May 13, 2011 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

Mach-20 by Laurie Anderson Fragment

This has been sitting in my drafts file for awhile. Made some minor revisions and decided to publish it because it’s 4 a.m. and I have nothing else to do. WordPress doesn’t let me embed you so you can watch Mach-2o here.

Laurie was able to take an idea like information and turn it into a sperm whale race by adopting the conventions of the research paper and folding it into a storybook. Her pieces like Mach-20 aren’t brilliant for their literal conceptual meaning, but the way they shift the topography of our ideas. By simply folding metaphors, changing the track of her thought, and wandering inspiridely through her thinking, she reintroduces wonder into a stale intellectual environment. But it brings me back to Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train, one of Randy Newman’s greater charms according to Marcus is that Newman’s inventive and self-conscious, Laurie Anderson on the other hand is inventive with consciousness. Mach-20 employs a kinda metaphorical thinking similar to the lyrical output of Bob Dylan and Stephen Malkmus, but she is able to move these totemic ideas into constellations that collapse in wonder.  Anyway, she caught a little euraka moment, but even better she manages to share the process of coming to that thought with us.

May 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm Leave a comment

Where disememberment is going

the olde school? (note: wordpress still doesn’t allow youtube videos apparetly despite using code)

Yeah, violence is cool in games, but as games reach out to a new audience through either Nintendo’s innovations i.e. Animal Crossing, the Brain Trainers, or even PS3’s Pixel Junk the audience of games is growing into the spectrum of the population that probably won’t want to play violent games all the time or at all. The people buying games are having a greater say in how games look and feel:

My point being, the era of the shooter as the main avenue of games has pretty much already come (cellphone games outsell the latest pc games these days), but the debate over violence in games could in reality be one of marketplace. The action and horror games that comprise video games major genres don’t appeal to all the people buying Brain Trainers and please note this isn’t entirely a question of gender many women do play FPSes and the survival horror games, it’s that avenues are opening up. How long are we from non-violent games that are bestsellers and will they actually have good stories?

Action games will always sell as much as that science fiction flicks rule the charts, but how will the abundance of different genres and the demands of those viewers effect a previously untouched genre?

July 8, 2008 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

Review: Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

One of the bigger problems of criticism, is that it’s quite easy to decipher the symptoms of a music that will cause its decimation, but it’s harder to write a piece of criticism that can actually make the listener listen anew. Marcus, and for that matter myself, fall into the first category. Mr. Marcus is adept at finding the limits of various American music genres nailing them down to specific mind sets he situates with the experience of American culture, but he’s unable to elaborate where music should go and by extension Americans. Some asides are made to Randy Newman, who breaks with the confessional style of the sixties and seventies, and Sly Stone, but for the most part Marcus sets out to explore a body of music he’s a master at murdering. However, regardless of how Marcus kills his subjects, he does so humanely and with a fondness that merely shows that thinking often leads to music falling flat. Mystery Train is still an essential piece of criticism, because it’s heart lies in a mind-set that bands today don’t just situate themselves around, but actively worship with nostalgia.

The bigger problem with Marcus is that the albums he charts his America through had an entirely different impact when he was writing about them, then as they do now. The Band’s Big Pink coming after their electric period with Dylan was another amoebic growth of the post-sixties generation, a time when the children out numbered the adults and their new found trends didn’t just signal next seasons fashion, but a potential swurve in the hippie majority’s concerns. For someone born in the post-sixties generation the Band is just another way for AT&T’s creative staff to pitch next year’s cellphones with a catchy toon (and no I don’t think that degrades the song).

One of Mystery Train’s greater reasons for infamy is simply that Marcus was living through a time when music critics were important and publications like Rolling Stone really did break with literary conventions, but the groups he’s picked often line up with the shocks that radio gave at the time and the pressing mysteries of who invented rock and roll. Greil is great at finding flaws, but it’s really the critics who invert history, who destroy listening, who can re-imagine the music of their times that are most memorable, many of the sixties generation of critics were engaged in the game of second guessing the history of their music as it happened as if music criticism was a game of deciding who would ultimately become important. In the late nineties music criticism differed, and such questions of epic quality didn’t touch upon us, perhaps someone would argue the merits of the most experimental band at the moment or something, but few seemed to be convinced anyone today was making history. The creative process has been taken apart taught in design courses and dispersed on web-logs to the point that we have exhaustion at the means through which a band is attempting to achieve the new. Mystery Train at the very least caught a creativity of a different sort, one of place and alienation with the only connector being the am radio dial. It is, a testimony to the individual and a totem of them.

June 9, 2008 at 6:49 am Leave a comment

Qoutes from Mystery Train

As a former music critic, I know exactly how he feels:

“the white country music…there was a problem with that music. It so perfectly expressed the acceptance and fatalism of its audience… that the music brought all it had to say to the surface, told no secrets, and had no use for novelty. It was conservative in an almost tragic sense, because it carried no hope of change, only respite. By the early fifties this music was all limits.” Page 17

“Rock ‘n’ roll is suffering from the old progressive school fallacy that says if what you write is about your own feelings, no one can criticize it. Truth telling is beginning to settle into a slough where it is nothing more than a pedestrian autobiography set to placid music framed by a sad smile on the album cover… singers have dispensed with imagination and songs are just pages out of a diary with nothing in them that could give them a life of their own.”  Page 105 This perfectly describes Emo in everyway possible.

All qoutes from Greil Marcus

June 4, 2008 at 5:49 pm Leave a comment

What is the most played space in Video Game history?

Architecture is reliant in the familar, the experienced, the experiences we build up behind it. Video games are mass Architecture, we might all know the Gehry Guggenheim, but how many people have walked in it compared with Super Mario Brothers? Rebuild a scale room model of a level from a video game.

January 15, 2008 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment


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