I subscribe to a fair number of video game blogs, and I can't help noticing that many of my favorite writers seem to be firing on all cylinders these days, writing insightful posts on a variety of issues related to the medium we know and love.
Maybe the current lull in the game release schedule has given us a chance to stop and reflect a little. Or maybe we're simply all out of money and typing words on a screen is cheaper than buying more games. Whatever the reason, I'm certainly enjoying it, and I'm grateful for the many ways these writers help me think harder and more carefully about video games.
Here are a few of my recent favorites. I'm purposely omitting old standbys like Gamasutra to focus on single-writer blogs. You may not agree with everything you read in these pieces, but they all provoke a considerable amount of thought.
- In an essay titled "What's our mandate?" (and a follow-up post here) Leigh Alexander suggests that game writers and fans have a responsibility to consider games in the context of real-world issues:
Our industry burgeons and swells with money against the backdrop of larger social issues, and on forums everywhere, the majority of the vocal audience wants to know, "does it have multiplayer?" We want to know if the graphics suck or if there will be a sequel.
There is a crisis of conscience here.
Now, in love and war, in sin and grace, humanity's always loved its entertainment, and to place the burdens of the world even in that arena would never be my objective. But I just don't think the schism between our world and the real world needs always be so wide.
- In "Just Call It A Game" Richard Terrell argues that Wii Fit ought to be classified as no less a game than any RPG or fighting game you can name:
For those who still think that WiiFit is the death of gaming, consider that WiiFit is more of a game than most current gen videogames. Taking the primary mechanic "move your body" WiiFit offers more than 40 different challenges with varying degrees of difficulty ... With each activity, the player uses one of the most complex machines on earth: the human body. In this way, WiiFit's mechanics become the mechanics of life reaching beyond the limits most videogames are trapped by.
- As part of his excellent "Design Lesson 101" series, game designer Manveer Heir explains what's so special about a little $10 game called LostWinds:
While there is no gameplay behind making bushes and trees sway and rustle from gusts of wind, it makes the player feel in control and like he is directly affecting the world. I've never felt like I'm really directly affecting the world in Super Mario Bros. Instead, I directly affect the other inhabitants of the world, but not the world itself...
In LostWinds this changes the entire way of traversing and interacting with the world ... Every gust affects trees, enemies, fire, water, and even NPCs. The player truly feels as if he is directly affecting the world around him, something that is isn't found in the standard 2D platform game.
(For a dissenting view on LostWinds, check out Mitch Krpata's review in The Phoenix.)
- In the penultimate essay of his series on video game analysis, L.B. Jeffries considers "Flaws in Criticism Today":
Telling someone they should pay to see a movie is not the same thing as explaining why a movie is important culturally, or even what it adds to cinema. Yet the problem is mostly conceptual; video game critics need to recognize that they are not talking to consumers. Literary critics circumvent this dilemma because they usually have the privilege of assuming you’ve already read the book they’re discussing. There also isn’t much to discuss in terms of whether the reader actually liked the text or not. If you’re reading a thirty page essay on masculinity and feminine authority in Macbeth, it’s a pretty safe bet you already like the play ... The problem with game criticism, then, is that many of us are still subconsciously selling the game to people.
- In "I was a teenage reaper" Michael "Sparky" Clarkson explains how game mechanics and game story come together in The World Ends With You:
The difficulty of combat, the tunability of the game system, and the intricacy of its rules makes it very clear that this will mostly appeal to core gamers. Yet the beneficial aspects of shutting off the DS enforce a schedule more familiar to casual players. The point of the game's story, however, is that keeping to yourself is the wrong way to live. By rewarding the player for turning the game off and hanging out with his (DS-owning) friends, The World Ends With You encourages the same behavior in the player's life that it is suggesting for Neku's. The mechanics are constructed to make the player's actions fit the theme.
- For another useful take on why The World Ends With You works so well, The Quixotic Engineer offers "How Can We Do It Differently?":
One of the coolest things about The World Ends With You is the fact that the designers were not content to follow RPG conventions. It’s as if for every small aspect of the game, they thought to themselves: “How can we do this differently?” Indeed, the sheer number of interesting and strange mechanics they came up with is staggering. Don’t take my word for it, here’s a summarized spoiler-free list: ...
- Dan Bruno contributes another excellent and detailed analysis of game music in "Irregular Meter in Video Games":
Most music theory nerds I know have a certain musical feature that really gets them excited — an unusual harmonic progression, a favorite chord, a particular rhythmic figure. For me, that feature is irregular meter. In my experience irregular meter is fairly uncommon in video game soundtracks, so I thought I’d collect what few examples I’ve come across here.
- Finally, game designer Steve Gaynor's "Call To Arms 2008" asks all of us to create our own design ideas that challenge the status quo (so far, he has received 10 interesting proposals):
The challenge then is to express through interaction an experience that the player will find meaningful-- something novel, poignant, interesting, personal, or enlightening. As video game designers, we've explored a few forms of conflict with great fidelity: mostly direct and violent; mostly expressing the feeling of prevailing over one's rivals.
So, Fullbright proposes a public thought experiment; a decentralized game design symposium; a call for new takes on interactive expression.
I hope you enjoy these posts. If you find something you especially like, I encourage you to post a comment or subscribe to the blog feed. These are the best ways for us to know somebody out there cares. :-)