For someone who writes about games for a living, I don’t read much writing about them. The pieces that do filter into my free time get shared here, and are often far from traditional review and preview pieces. It’s not a slight against my colleagues, but a realization that I only have so much time, and that time should be spent with outside perspectives.
That’s why I’ve highlighted a piece from GQ about PAX East, that’s why I featured Chris Dahlen’s dive into Dark Souls, and that’s why you shouldn’t be surprised if most articles here aren’t from traditional sources. I can't play everything, and even when I do, I'm not an expert. I need others to those gaps, and help broaden my understanding.
8-4 Play is the only other gaming-related podcast that I regularly listen to, and while it’s nice that my friends are the hosts, my real interest comes from learning anything I can about the Japanese gaming market. The rest of my iPhone is filled up with podcasts about politics, economics, sports, and anywhere that’s telling interesting stories (see: Radiolab, This American Life). It’s nice whenever those places do a piece on games, but that’s not very often, and I think it’s important to listen to how reporters present stories on other subjects, and see if it it can inform my own.
If you’re curious, here are all the podcasts I’m currently listening to:
- Brainy Gamer
- Chicago Football Talk
- The B.S. Report
- Idle Thumbs
- Irrational Podcasts (Irrational Interviews/Irrational Behavior)
- Mysterious Universe
- New Yorker: Out Loud
- New Yorker: The Political Scene
- NPR: It’s All Politics
- NPR: Planet Money
- NPR: Snap Judgement
- On the Media
- The Rich Eisen Podcast
- Slate’s Political Gabfest
- Talk of the Nation
- This American Life
- WNYC’s Radiolab
- 8-4 Play
Hey, You Should Play This:
You think you know where this is going, but you don’t. I’ll remain purposely vague to maintain the surprise, and I’ll admit I’m getting a little tired of "minimalism" (and, uh, piano soundtracks) as a means of emotionally connecting with the player. It feels a little cheap, and so many other games have used the same trick. I say this while also claiming that Pretentious Game does it pretty well, which perhaps says more about my inability to avoid getting suckered into piano soundtracks. Pretentious Game comes from the most recent Ludum Dare, and the theme this year was “Tiny World.” If you’ve found any other worthwhile Ludum Dare entries, leave a note in the comments or PM me.
And You Should Also Read These:
- Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form by Anna Anthropy
One of the arguments Anna Anthropy lays out in Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is how we need more games made by people who’ve never thought about making games before. Those without the ability to understand programming languages need to have the tools to make a video game. Have you seen Valve’s level design tool for Portal 2? That’s a step in the right direction. Toolset expansion is not the only point Anthropy makes, but it is the one that feels like it’s gaining real traction. Secret Dad was a Molyjam game made by a wanna be designer who used Game Salad, a piece of software squarely focused as non-programmers. It’s fascinating to play games that feel like they were authored by a single person, and maybe more of that would be possible if more outsiders could join the party.
As game storytellers, we are not directing static stories take-by-take but rather arranging the scenes that will comprise the shape of our story. We can begin to think of the player as someone performing a role we've written rather than as an audience who experiences our story without any input as to its outcome. We allow room for improvisation, room for the player to make a role her own. The audience of a game can be more usefully compared to the audience for a play than the audience in the movie theater. In videogames, the audience is there, live, with the actors -- or as the actors -- experiencing a single performance that is unique, despite the story having been performed and continuing to be performed many times.
- “Get Him to the Geek” by Dennis Tang for GQ
It’s fascinating when publications assign writers who don’t know much about games to write about games. When you’re used to talking about games with people who know everything about them, it’s dangerously easy to lose perspective. The audience at PAX encompasses some of the best parts of the gaming community, and the event's a safe place to enjoy your niche. But it's still a gaming convention, and have you thought about how this looks to the outside world? The author of the GQ piece isn’t exactly new to games, but he hasn’t touched them in ages, and his real-time reaction results in some not particularly kind commentary. It hurts because it's kind of true.
Cosplay is short for "costume play." Good cosplayers get photographed here a lot. It's a common courtesy extended by everyone who comes here in costume, and probably a substantial reason they dressed up in the first place. When it comes to the scantily-clad female costumers, it's customary put your arm around them without actually touching them, thus the comically hands-off "hover arm" that's a bit of a sexually frustrated geek trope in itself. There's a lot of hover arm going on right in front of me, in fact, as a tall, gawky guy having his photo taken with Catherine is treating the girl's pale bare shoulders like the surface of the sun. Female objectification and titillation is a fact of life here, pretty much guaranteed by the decreasingly so but still predominantly male audience that gaming draws. The weird, anesthetized sexualization that persists here often goes unmentioned. Many female characters in gaming are strong figures, after all, even if they have to navigate their bare midriffs and enormous, heaving chest plates while fighting the forces of darkness. One woman, who'd in fact been paid to show by the maker of the game she was cosplaying, was asked to leave the exhibition grounds, on account of her character's outfit being a jumpsuit that opened at her cleavage and closed just short of the wrong hairline. Of course, when you consider that the game's main character is named Lollipop Chainshaw, the problem begins long before a paid performer and her choice of source-material-faithful dress. Who knows if that is something that can be helped in an industry that, while it grows broader, older, and more female by the day, would still probably call the ten-percent female attendance at PAX (just eyeballing) a healthy turnout.