Posts tagged ‘thinking’

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

Quickies: PID the castle levels

PID is a newish indie platformer from a company with the amazing name Might and Delight. Two things I usually like together, however PID suffers a bit from the unity syndrome. The unity syndrome is when an indie game bears such similarity to another unity game that one simply feels one is playing the same game. In the case of PID it bears a resemblance to the equally excellent Rochard. Both are 2d platformers done in Unity only with remarkably different storylines, aesthetics, and play mechanics. PID involves a boy who over sleeps in an intergalactic school bus and finds himself immersed in the politics of an alien world. The game features co-op with both players using the same pc which is cool, but unlikely for someone like me.

PID is the story of various distractions, as the game begins our protagonist is looking for a bus back to his planet, only to be promised one in the first few minutes and then to discover that the old man in question is merely delusional, and a bus can only be caught from in town. From there PID grows into a gravity based platformer. Kurt, the plucky Pixar like protagonist of this surrealist epic, quickly acquires the ability to shoot two little gravity beams that will either send him up or to the side. These abilities aren’t terribly exciting, Rochard for features a gravity mechanic as well, but so far the game has made rather good use of them. You will flip plates, have to time throw to levitate boxes, and occasionally lob one into a tube to deal with an enemy.

And that might be where the game’s problems begin. PID has great surrealist design. It reminds of Windowsill:

But where Windowsill’s joy was the discovery of its surrealist mechanics PID is sadly more mundane in its play style. Kurt will be avoiding a surprisingly mundane group of machines in the castle level (confession I have not made it out of the castle yet). However the later parts of the castle introduce some creepy automatons that stalk Kurt through levels and have to be dealt with bombs, lasers, or other methods. These newer enemies suggest the game gets much more involved later. Truth be told I enjoyed the dining room levels quite a bit, because they reminded me of Mickey mouse in castle of illusion which was a major game for me when I was younger and the sitting room where I now reside is turning out to be wonderful as well. But PID initially in sound track and over all vibe is a bit of downer, propelled by jazz / surf rock bass lines the game’s opening levels seem almost sedate and the world around PID is often standing still.

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Despite this, or maybe due to a love of platformers, I plundered through the first levels in a two hour binge arriving this morning at a really cool boss fight which involved smashing plates. I can only tentatively recommend PID, it’s design is fabulous, but the play mechanics are only now building to something truly exemplary. Might and Delight might have produced a gem, but nearing the end of the first section I am only now starting to get intrigued. The story, which in the trailer sounds awesome, is another problem, while an interesting idea it lacks execution and often falters in places, PID is a great could have been with story. The sound track only gets darker as one plays which is strange because PID is so much a game of surprise, it’s world is fairly original and it’s story book premise have great potential, but hey I haven’t even reached this guy yet: so who knows what is has in store. So to recap: it looks like a unity game, that same ethereal glow resounds around the game’s graphics. The world is greatly realized, but the enemies only become interesting towards the end of the first section. The game’s hook is gravity manipulation which works like lobbing a soft ball, it doesn’t quite have a fast pace to it, but it does lend to some ok puzzles.

Available from their website or Steam.

November 2, 2012 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

Audubon

image

Before there was a dictionary of birds there wasn’t an other rather there were idengious beliefs. What Audubon did was turn the owl from the moon’s twin into a scientfic object. He merely provided the languages of Artitotle and the gaze of math with preemient places in the wild kingdom.

Math, as everyone knows, is a fine hunter. It stuffs splints of certianity in all the wholes mother nature leaves. Math and science built nature a new house, one with circulating abstractions, but when exactly nature was unknown, other, was actually produced by this movement. Up to that point nature was simply a manifestation of divinity, afterwards a mirage of selves and intelligence logic never knows. To understand an owl in categories is to lose the owl in the spirits and sadly its not the mathematical owl that makes owls knowable.

April 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

Simulation

Quite often when we talk about games we discuss the neurocognitive effects of them. The neurocognitive model is the idea that games let us learn with out necessarily being conscious of it. Bioshock for instance requires a lot preplanning for each mission, plasmids need to be swapped, environments take into consideration, things like that.
The neurocognitive everything bad is good for you has a minor problem. It’s called fruits ninja. The game is very simple, you swipe the screen and slice fruit. The game is wonderful, I have never played anything that so vividly makes smell part of the game. If we examine the game from the viewpoint of false consciousness, we are learning some rudimentary hand eye cordination for the reward of a second of that fruit feeling. But, and this is the problem interactive media faces, simulation can addict us to different things and in fruits ninja I don’t think I’m learning very much. Still its gonna stick around on the phone a little while.

April 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm Leave a comment

Other people’s blogs

In koh tao this week snorkeling with sharks. I know… it costs like 20 bucks in Thailand to do these things. Anyway, these are some links from other people’s blogs worth reading.

bldgblog

Bldgblog starts with a technology intended for golf courses and ends up terraforming the world. In other words just another day at bldgblog.

boing boing

Boing Boing excavates the back and forth of gender in children’s toys. Is anyone in the high tech field actually “normally” gendered or is gender malfunction somehow endemic to being a “nerd”?

indie games blog

Indie games blog has found a game that intreprets 5 canonical novels into video games… and then finds a link between. P.s. also check out chewy on indie games hub looks cool.

unicode the movie
Grand text auto links to a movie in which each frame is one character from unicode and given i believe one second. It takes 33 minutes in other words to spend even a second on all the characters that make up our information world. There’s definitely a lot more to this, but sadly I’m not taking jared lanier’s advice and thinking about my post rather I’m thinking as I post… it’s what the jazz dudes do.

One qoute from James Gleick’s The Information:

Language is not  a technology… language is what the mind does.

Thanks for clarifying that James 🙂

Anyway, I have massive sunburn, hang over, exposure, and sea sickness.

April 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Christian Marclay The Clock

If you keep up with the art world you probably already know that Christian Marclay was working on a piece where in a film is a clock. My initial response to the idea was… that sounds stupid, but people far more intelligent than I think it’s sublime. Of course like anything by Marclay the more you think about it, the cleverer it becomes, a film that’s more than a film, it probably has a tie in to Deluezean film theory that it’s to early in the morning for me to see, but anyway people are pirating film works online these days, so enjoy these youtube clips below. As Zadie Smith noted, the film is actually quite good, and that’s perhaps the biggest surprise of The Clock, when I heard about it I thought it would end up like one of Warhol’s experiments conceptually necessary, but boring on the screen, but Ms. Smith is quite correct the work is actually captivating.

I would add some commentary, but click that first link and Zadie Smith will startle you with her commentary, thank you pirates of New York for digi-caming this for us. I had read the film was being streamed online somewhere, but am unable to find that stream… then again I woke up like 3 minutes ago…

p.s. it’s now later in the day and my critical functions are working, but I haven’t come to any conclusions beyond what Smith got to in her article. Essentially the film operates in clock time ala Bergson, but presents us with a variety of subjective time states ala film. I like that for Smith Paul Newman is his own time zone, and that in film a day can last 2 hours or a second, time argues Deleuze is the means that cinema produces meaning, by cutting according to clock time Marclay has cut across subjectivities, but in the resulting work time slows and crawls, speeds up, speeds the time-image decimates clock to the point that one loses track of the work’s functional ability to operate as a clock… maybe clock time is more complicated than Bergson thought?

I love the way it subverts the idea of a clock as an accurate keeper of time in lieu of the reality of how time actually exists, as subjective, varied, differing.

 

p.s. new yoker apparently has a revelation or two watch’n it too, but sadly such content is behind dollar’s bars.

April 8, 2011 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Addictions

I can not recall the first time I ate at McDonalds. I remember my stepsister describing it as mickie dees and my Dad desperately trying to avoid it. The golden arches have travelled the world, a few even exist in Bangkok now, but would anyone describe McDonalds as addictive?
The term adddiction came to my eighties self in after school programs, it was the result of deformed drug dealers, marijuana and cocaine, the large dog detective that dared you to stay off drugs, addiction was limited to chemical substances, the word could not travel outside the criminal underworld. The origins of meaning are frivilous Derrida assures us, but its funny how one definition hijacked by a Reagen drug war can become so enforced, it causes the observer to ignore other symptoms deserving of the term.

Steam is a cloud based gaming service. It sells a virtual good downloads of video games. Steam could not qualify as an addiction under my previous variant of the term, but i wouldn’t hesitate to swoop down and buy a 75% off madness sale at any minute. Steam understands that consumerism is addictive, that if a price point is terribly low, the purhase becomes more compelling, never mind that virtual goods cost almost nothing to copy. When I bought batman arkham asylum for 7 usd i actually felt ripped off when I saw the same deal the next day, part of the purchase was its exclusivity, the fact that I logged in at the right time (side note in class right now and principal of school is talking about mc hammer in thai right now). Steam is addictive, but in ways that drugs aren’t. It is immateril omnipresent, a fix is as simple as a password.

The other night, convinced I needed to do work, i took a cab home. Stuck in traffic a few blocks from my house i got out and walked and boom! In a pc bar letting my batman game download. I even have a little canvas tote bag just for my games addiction. Everyday i get home and can’t wait to put it on. Games have a stopping point though, despite how much I enjoy team fortress 2, i still can’t play more than a few rounds with out a slight case of information overload filling me with dread. I remember in college chain smoking till i vomited, i couldn’t touch marlbro lights for years afterwards.
Addiction is a midddle groud, it exists because other things keep us from getting enough. Addiction is desire’s tumor, the way pleasure makes us sick, the destructive side of joy, but it is also punishment. When we finally got to mickey dees that day, the burger stung my throat, the pepsi burned, the fries were to hot, i cried in a litte yellow booth and was scared by a horribley pleasant clown, i didn’t want to go there again, but the pain persited, and you need another fry to balance the first one.

March 25, 2011 at 3:55 am Leave a comment

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