On The Game Design of the Political-Economy (and Chicken Dinners)

TL;DR – Degamify the world, because vegan cookies are actually way better than you expected.

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This picture will make more sense in the future

For a while there, I had a fever, and the only medicine was more game design (this is known as setting the comedic bar low, so you might later think I’m funny). I had a fever for game design as a subject, mind you, not me actually doing design. Yet, it’s not only me that has been sneaking furtive sidelong glances with heart-shaped eyes in the direction of games. Video games as an industry has surpassed other “traditional media”, like movies, books and such, in how much cash money it’s making. They’re making heaps upon heaps, as Ricky Baker might say. And underneath the towering tree of the games industry are an ecosystem of cottage industries popping up like mushrooms from the [ ? ]. There’s games journalism, youtube channels, websites, and even them academics looking for that sweet sweet money and that sweet sweet data. Now more than ever the difference between the two are hardly noticeable, right Zuckie old sport? Oh! and remember that whole trend of gamification? Gamify your workplace! Gamify the classroom! Gamify you chores, your sex life, your finances! Game game GAAAMMEEE! It was quite the storm to weather through.

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Falling head-over-heels into the rabbit hole of game design, I’m Super Bummed, Man, about the limits of games. I still enjoy games, but I don’t like them everywhere. The last place I want competitive games are in the real world. You know, that place where we live or die depending on what happens. Yeah, that real world. And funny enough, aren’t there a ton of dystopian books and movies out there that show the dangers of gamifying life? Before there were hungry games and runners of mazes, there was the Japanese cult hit Battle Royale (2000). Kids on an island with a bunch of weapons have to survive by killing each other until only one is left! If you go back, practically to ancient times, you might recall, totally, the 1987 movie The Running Man, starring California’s governor-to-be, Schwarzenegger where he was pitted in a competition of life and death in some sort of maze with obstacles and other people. Hmm governor… game, game… governor, movies, games, money, rules…, whoops! Sorry, I was letting my thoughts get away from me…

Okay get it together Tony…, *ahem* Right! So let’s actually reminisce to real ancient times, when ancient people would fight and die for glory, money and freedom! Wasn’t there something that happened, in a tiny country in Europe, with stone pillars, princes, armor, tigers and junk? That’s right, gladiators used to gladiate in Rome! Indeed, men (and sometimes women too) would be pitted against each other in Mortal Combatt™, and the people of that tiny country had the voyeuristic opportunity to marvel at all the rule-bound violence. For more info see Russell Crowe in The Gladiator where he played a Spanish schizophrenic that sailed around the globe challenging pirates to duels to the death. Great stuff!

Image result for russell crowe and ryan gosling movieAre you not entertained? 

Come to think of it, two of the most popular games out right now, like at 2:25pm, are Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (still in ‘early release’, not that it matters) and the oh-so-creatively named Fortnite Battle Royale. Both of these games are pretty much the same thing as those movies mentioned earlier (and each other). Take players and pit them against each other in a survival scenario where only the strong survive. But golly, wouldn’t that be crazy to think about doing this in real life? Nobody in their right mind would put their life on the line in such a system, especially when they haven’t even finished the second season of Stranger Things! Better to do something with no relation to competition or real world ramifications on you or your loved one’s survival, like being productive members of society and going to work. That is unless, of course, your boss is trying to gamify your workplace, or if you live anywhere in the world.

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This image makes sense in the past

Unless you aren’t alive right now, you are in a competition for survival against everybody else, whether you like it or not. You are The Running Man! Yes, you are a giant bulky spandex-bedecked Austrian governor-to-be in his prime trying to survive in a competition of life or death! The political-economic theory of capitalism is founded on competition, just like games are, and this world is kinda in the throes of it right now. It’s a system invented by a certain group of people wherein players/citizens must make their livelihood by out-competing others in a game of economic athleticism. No doping, you hear! There are indeed other systems out there, but there is one that is dominating the others and it isn’t that intelligent starry-eyed sexy socialism that wants to own them means of production and take care of its people. No sirs and madams, much like certain people in power here at 2:43pm, its good old hot-blooded capitalism and its gropey-ass, not-so-invisible hand.

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This sucks though right? Nobody wants to wake up every day and join a game of Monopoly, where all the real estate is owned by the same people who run the bank , who write the instruction book and who frickin’ enforce the rules. Right?! Unless of course you have a little piece of the pie, which I’m saying you don’t, because I’m writing the rules now!

The truth is, in competition, that zero-sum game, there must be losers if there are to be winners. Economic competition necessitates that some people will be in poverty and of frickin course it will be the less able and those with the least access to means of becoming competitive. Like poor and/or marginalized people/peoples. People like you or me, or perhaps people you know and love. All of this is starting to sound like the premise of a stupid movie starring some super hot actress named Jennifer who we now have to not like because she was a punk for messing with a Hawaiian sacred site.

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I’ll be honest, I ❤ competitive games. I play Tekken 7, I even play the new Call of Duty, but I like to keep my competitiveness in the game, not outside of it. Do not gamify the real world. Gozer will not be destroyed by crossing the streams because she was created by crossing them! When I turn off the PS4, or close Steam out, I’m usually all Lorax and shit, with rose-tinted glasses in legal weed Washington with my liberal arts degrees, hugging people, laughing at the man, and having shared potluck lunches with vegan cookies and crap. Do yourself a favor and take your part in degamifying your life and the world, especially if you love games.

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Harada WHY!?

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My SNES Classic Mini Experience

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Scrappy, the oracle dog, predicting my experience before it even happened

The night before it released, I realized that I was a bit behind the curve when it comes to knowing when and where to get a SNES Classic. As I struggle as an adjunct faculty to keep my head above water and try to meet the daily demands of life while reading a ton of articles and books, the release date seemed to have slipped my mind. As the buzz came through I realized I better dust off the credit card, kick into gear and see if there are any available. It was about 11pm and the only place that I could find open was Walmart, so I gave the closest two a call only to find out there were already waiting lines longer than they had SNES consoles. My game plan switched to finding which place opened up first in the morning and then maybe, going to try to get one there. Target opened first at 7am and so that’s where I set my sights.

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Waking up around 6am, I was feeling mildly hopeless about getting one seeing how it was so obvious to everybody else of how to get one last night. But my wife encouraged me to go there just a bit early (I was just going to arrive at 7am), so I went. Good thing because there were 32 people in line before me. I knew this because they handed out numbers for how many they had. Had I waited any longer, I’m not sure I would have gotten one. **Voluntary “my wife was right” statement** The manager was nice enough to get everybody a free sample of hot chocolate while we waited in the foggy twilight musing about the game/s we most looked forward to playing. I was most excited to play Super Metroid. Or was it Super Castlevania?

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Blurry example of the slips and games from the interwebs

You see, I am a 37-year-old man who was waiting in line to buy a gaming console that I originally got when I was a twelve-year-old. My mom bought it for me at Toys R’ Us, where it was recently announced that they were closing down in the near future. People were getting nostalgic on Reddit about it and I saw a little comic strip pop up describing the process of buying games at that store back in the day. You would look for your game behind a plastic case on the left side of the store and below your game you would find a paper slip in a plastic pouch with your game of choice and its price written on it. Then you would take the slip to a window in the wall and there would be a clerk that would grab it from the back so you could buy it. Reading that little comic gave me nostalgia chills and I realized that, oh my goodness, I really am a ‘Toys R’ Us kid’! For a child, shopping there truly was a magical experience. Then again, I’d never gone to Disney World or anything like that.

We got let into the doors and they corralled us mindless consumers around to the registers where we handed our slip over to a teller , promptly and pleasurably paid for our game and left. Well, not exactly the kind of pleasure of my childhood, but at least with some excitement. The first thing I noticed about it was that it is way smaller than I had anticipated, knowing full well it was mini-sized. As it sits still on my TV stand, it still looks awkward to me. It’s like going to a place you haven’t been since childhood, only to realize its much smaller than you remember it, but then multiplying that feeling by 10. For me, it is uncomfortably tiny.

I drove home excited and plugged it in. It worked perfectly well. There are some games that I have no interest in, like Super Punch Out and all the Kirby Games, but as I tested other games that I previously couldn’t wait to try, an overwhelming feeling came over me. I had turned on Super Castlevania, and when prompted to put in a name, I unconsciously, like a Ouija board or something, put in the initials of my best friend of my early-mid teens, whom I played SNES with almost religiously. The thought occurred to me… I don’t even know if he’s alive! Every single game I tried out after that only reminded me of the fact that one of the main reasons these games meant so much to me was that I had played most of them with a friend. We had beaten Super Mario World, Final Fantasy 3 (6), Super Metroid and more, as a team. We played countless hours of Street Fighter 2 together as well.

Sometime in high school he moved away to another town. I visited him by taking the bus across a couple towns here and there, but our friendship had faded with time as we both found new friends. I hadn’t thought about all that in years.

My wife wanted to play it too that morning, but we quickly realized it wasn’t her style. She grew up in Korea where consoles never were a standard fixture in the Korean household. She wanted to play Final Fight, which I can’t find any reason why they didn’t include it. I played on the new console a bit that day after she had left to do her thing, but the feels were too much for me. I haven’t turned it on since the day I got it, which admittedly is only just a couple days ago.

The original SNES came into my life at a time when some of the most traumatic events of my life happened. My step-dad went to prison for life, my real father was living on the streets and killing himself with alcohol and who knows what else. And now as the classic edition comes out, ironic perhaps, my step-dad will be having a clemency hearing after, what, almost 25 years. I will be gladly (and nervously, I’m sure) speaking on his behalf in the state capitol in hopes that he does get out. As I play this game, the vulnerability and memories just came flooding in.

I’m not sure it was worth $80 to have such an emotional experience, but as I write this  I hope that by getting all this out I can enjoy the console that I’ve been eager to get for some time now. Yesterday my wife did say that she’d give it another try when I mentioned I should just pack it up instead of leaving it out in the living room. She said I can’t play though when she’s playing, because she doesn’t want to feel like a bad player by comparison. haha. That will be fun. Perhaps also a new friend will come along that I can enjoy it with? Or with any luck I can find my old friend from way back when. I looked him up on Facebook, but he was nowhere to be found.

Through it all, the SNES was probably the most therapeutic device that helped me through what was probably the most challenging and traumatic part of my life, when there was no-one else around to comfort me. And when there was someone there, it was the thing that helped solidify one of my most memorable and cherished friendships of my childhood.

So thanks –  ummmm –  Dr. Mario?

NaCl?

Sometimes, in my dreams and certainly not reality, I hear video game makers say the most fundamental part of a video game is code. It’s all just math really, they might say when you ask them what a video game is. There are others that say that games are just a set of rules that people play by. Designers. Learn how to manipulate these rules and you’re golden. According to them, these semi-imaginary people, most video games that come out don’t have any unique rule sets that do interesting things and are pretty worthless. Their eyes roll into infinity (I just stole this phrase from someone) when they see yet another video game without any new mechanic being brought to the table. All the story, all the characters, all that ‘whatever’, is just merely a primitive qualitative layer on top of the mechanical skeleton. Like chocolate-covered grasshoppers. Like chasing silkworm larvae down with a shot of soju. Like yyyyyonly wanting to watch you bathe in the Purple Rain.

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Oh my god, this art is, like, so deep!

But let’s step away from video games for just un momento. Would a painter say that the most important part of the painting is the chemical composition of the paint? A painter would, wouldn’t they?! Painters! 

This person, if there ever was one that said this, is the equivalent of the “game as just math” person. Sure a painter knows how to manipulate paint, but does he or she claim that their painting is just… well, paint? Is the color burnt umber simply SiO2+Al2O3+Fe2O3+Fe3O4? Is The Color Purple just a bunch of lies made up by Alice Walker? Or, would a film director claim, “Meh, these movies I make, they are just a bunch of celluloid”? No, because people don’t make analog films anymore, right? Its all digital… “Meh, these movies I make, they’re just a bunch of lonely electrons looking to make an atomic connection”… Again, some director out there, some contrarian dingle-slapper, said that too, …and they are probably still alive actually… but we won’t listen to him/her because

Because artists don’t tend to be materialists, they less often utter such odd-sounding explanations of their works in the language of ‘hard science’, yet video game makers, SOME -and I don’t know any FYI, so take everything I say as a giant grain of salt – see the world from a materialist view point, or from the mythological vantage point of objective mathematics. They went through the -and I realize right now that I’m repeating a lot of what Chris Crawford has said a zillion times – gauntlet of learning discrete mathematics (whatever that is), computer science, which indeed is hard shit, and the underlying objectivisticallistical philosophies that underswaddleboot them. Its like joining the army, it reworks their minds to think that anything produced on a computer is somehow less art and more mechano-electrical-mathsy engineering. But the line between illusion and reality, between meaningless mechanics and artsy-poopsy meaninfullity aren’t so simple. Firsthumously, because Morgan Freeman is narrating the universe into existence.

Sure the characters in video games are like puppets and have no life to them. They move their arms, often times like robots do… and yes, the ‘uncanny valley’ is strong in a ton of video games. Yet us plebs keep playing. Seeing it as a conglomeration of a bunch of lifeless automatons is a sure way to make you feel like a dupe. And from this point you can triumphantly return your keyboard to its full functionality and have the self-serving attitude that the swath of humanity that play games are all just a bunch of ignormauses -ignoramii?- if you’re that much of a meany. “Look at them foolishly spending their time with inert lifeless objects. They should get out there and do something with their life, like read a book or something!”

Yet, if you claim that video games are just silly frivolity without any magic or the capacity for meaningfulness to them because its all just chemicals and math, then the same has to apply to all the arts. Even your favorite band! Its all just molecules in the air bouncing off each other. Sorry, not sorry. When you watch a Pixar movie, you are watching silly, digitally-created, lifeless, extremely cute puppets rigged to appear like they have anthropomorphic qualities to them, and “live action” films are a bunch of overpaid actors, pretending to be people they aren’t, with shots and scenes sewn together to give the appearance of continuity.

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Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman

According to this view, in the above picture, that you should give careful attention to, Morgan Freeman is not gently appreciating the shape of your soul. Its just zero’s and ones, zero and one-ing. Its a digital reproduction of a photograph, which is just the reaction of photo-paper to the exposure of certain pattern of light for a set amount of time before it receives its final chemical bath that stops it from being receptive to photoplasmatrons.

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“Look at these brushstrokes. Not real. Sad.”

So if art is just stupid trickery… why do we cling to it? Someone who thinks they have pulled the curtain back and started to make art through a medium built upon objective mathematics and code might believe they are justified in thinking digital art is just a bunch of algorithmics playing the same old song on repeat. “Sweet memes are made of these…”, but if you look at Morgan Freeman’s picture, I mean really look into it, you are having a real experience, of a strange kind of intimacy, whether you like it or not. Its like his eyes are massaging your soul with the warming comfort of a stove. Paintings create profound and real experiences via so-called illusions no less equitably than computer screens, and they can be just as stirring.

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Stir your spirit with babalities! 

If a bird builds its nest inside a computer case, is it less alive?… and when people nest within digital worlds, no matter the attitude of their creators, aren’t they still living? Surely you can pull out the old escapism axe and start chopping away at poor people’s non-stoic coping strategies, but you have to admit, the world does tend to suck sometimes, for billions and billions of people… so why not have a little refuge? Quoth the description of the forthcoming book by Alfie Brown, The PlayStation Dreamworld:  “We can no longer escape our fantasies but rather live inside their digital reality.” Yummmm, food for thought!

Nothing like a walk in the wasteland to get the blood pumping!

I can imagine that some people, back when paintings weren’t simply made of paint, when people could suspend their disbelief still, …they looked into them and saw a place that they wanted to be. They could sit there for hours, dreaming of what it would be like… like I sat for a great deal of hours gleefully wandering, picking and poking around in the dust and grime of the worlds of the Fallout series.

Three cheers for apocalypse! Three, two, one!

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Blog Update (or um, Downdate)

Hi readers/friends,

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog post. A lot has been going on in my personal life, as I’m sure there’s been a lot going on in yours as well. As things get real over here, I’m going to have to suspend this blog… indefinitely, although I hope to continue to enjoy the writing of those in this friendly community. I may restart it, who knows, but it’s basically the amount of real life shit that I gotta do is just too damn high!

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Nothing like memes to make you sound super credible, right? 

It’s been fun though. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about games/video games as media, on game development, and of course game design, over the past year. I’ve read tons of articles, books, listened to podcasts and watched seemingly countless videos on the topic of games. For the most part now though, the fire of my intellectual curiosity has been doused and that was my true motivating factor.

Games are fascinating, video games are too. They’re an interesting medium that can do a great deal of things. There’s art, magic and humanity in them, as well as having their more formal and mechanical aspects. They are objects of interest, and they are also mirrors that reflect our values back at us, like any good art does. They show us who we are as we interact with them, they can likewise provide hours to years of entertainment. People have been playing games for millennia, really. Take that, books! 

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I’m sure the powers that be, will agree

Honestly at times, this passion for digging deeper and deeper into games felt more like a curse.. I would wake up with a new fresh idea to write on and wouldn’t be able to get to my normal life until I sat down and put it onto the page. I have a ‘blog ideas to write on document’ on my desktop, that no matter how many topics I wrote about, only more ideas would come, seemingly exponentially, and I’d have to shovel them there. It wanted to eat up my life as I let the leash go longer and longer. Now, regardless of whatever precipitated my change, it’s nice to wake up and not feel utterly compelled to have to write on these blasted things.

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The rabbit hole is deep, yes yes indeed

In the end, looking back at my goals for this blog… I never made a game, but I did a lot of writing, I did a lot of personal exploration of the question, “what is gaminess?” and met some great people. It’s been fun, it’s been real, and it’s been a great place to learn and grow.

Thanks to all who stopped by, and best of luck to you in your future endeavors. Hit me up @wakalapi on the privatized corporate social networking site known as Twitter.

Until next time,

Wakalapi

Thoughts on ep. 23 of No Cartridge Audio

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Are video games the  new and improved ‘opiate of the masses?’

Recently I’ve come across the relatively recently created podcast called “No Catridge Audio“. It’s good, go listen to it. It was created by Hegelbon (I can’t find his first name as I swim in his pseudonyms), a PhD in literature fellow, wherein he talks about games with or without someone else. The ones that are the most interesting, for me at least, are where he brings in a guest. The other ones are interesting too, don’t get me wrong, keep at ’em Hegelbon. Anyhow, this week in episode 23 he brought a guy by the name of Matt Christman to the show, and Matt markedly does not play games, for reasons. First off, this is refreshing, to have a show to listen to that has a diversity of perspectives on video games. Secondly, I like Matt’s argument, and …here I want to write my take on some of what they touched on.

Basically, and this is going to be a terrible summary of his argument, Matt says that games, due to their unique level of interactivity, are especially attuned to giving people who play them the sense of accomplishment that would otherwise only be available in the real world. With a generation weaned on video games, comes a class, ‘the gamer class’, who identify themselves as gamers, and who, due to their lack of real world experience, often end up being a mob of people with strong opinions, but who’s maturity is defined by an unrefelective state of arrested development. This gamer class seems to often lack concern for social issues and feels entitled in many ways, leading to things such as ‘gamer gate’.

As the conversation continued, and to Hegelbon’s credit, it was broadened to an issue of art and technology, in more general terms.  What I would like to add to the conversation is that I agree, but I want it to go further into more realms than just video games and then open it up to thinking about how ideological and/or spiritual frameworks can play a part in all this. Overall, Matt’s argument would fare well when looking at social media too, and yes they did touch on it in the podcast, but I think we can give this realm just a bit more of its due.

Video games, first, aren’t easy to categorize. Raph Koster, one of the more famous and outspoken designers of early MMO’s, thinks that they aren’t really games, but sees them more as virtual social worlds. Here’s a link to an amazing talk of his that I also came across recently.  I don’t want to steal his thunder really, but I kinda am with this post because a lot of what I’m arguing for, he really is arguing for, in his talk. He’s saying there can be some serious social consequences when it comes to designing virtual worlds, like MMO’s and Facebook, and virtual reality tech could take it to a whole new dangerous level.

Some video games are more worlds than games, and some are more like sports. Some video games are more like stories, whereas others are more akin to walking through the park, a park with ummm a bunch of logic puzzles, and odd statues… and meta-puzzles, like The Witness. Traditional games, like Baduk or Chess, are different from many video games, but many video games fit into the traditional game category, like Tetris. For Raph, there’s not that much of a difference between Facebook and MMO’s on a basic level, but Raph doesn’t go so far to discuss issues like ‘gamer class’, I mean, you can only say so much in one talk. But that’s where Matt takes it, and that’s super cool. What I’m getting at is not all video games are the same and that’s an important difference to note for a stronger argument. And throwing VR, as defined by Raph as straddling some video games and social networks, in there, only adds more fuel to Matt’s argument.

All interactive technology whether social or not, has the potential to isolate people and create little basement monsters. Now when looking at it from the social media side, it’s not just about opinionated middle class white boys, but for Moms and uncles and whoever else with a political opinion that has figured out the tweets and the likes. Raph talks about virtual reality and it is clear to me from not just him, but many others, that VR headset tech is even more captivating than the boogeyman of video games. Facebook wants to own this shit, right? See where we are going by putting Matt and Raph’s arguments together? If this is the case, then we are in for a wild ride and I don’t mean this in a fun ‘video game’ way, but giant swathes of humanity who don’t have a clue of how the world works. If you want to be snarky, you could say that I’m just putting 20 and 20 together when looking back to the last presidential election.

Where do I come at this though? Frameworks and such? I don’t consider myself a gamer, as I said in my first post. My identity is Native American, and this comes with some important differences from most Americans, one where I’m happy to meet Matt halfway from. Maybe he’d love it, for all I know, because I don’t know the guy. Anyway, when it comes to knowledge, what we would call the ‘Indigenous Knowledge Framework’ assumes not only objectivity to be a way to gain knowledge, but what some might call relationality (not a stand in for subjectivity). So it’s an equitable system of knowledge compared to the scientific system of knowledge.

Taking relationality as an onto-epistemological sort of axiom (please don’t let me put those words together again), guides my ethical viewpoint. So when I hear Matt’s argument, I agree in general, not because of my political ideology, but because of my relational-oriented worldview. Isolation, as opposed to connection, breeds crazy. As for communists and Indigenous people, what happened with the Zapatista movement of the 90’s until now, from the Indigenous people’s perspective will stand as a case worth digging into before let’s say, jumping the gun, and saying spirituality is not a big issue in discussions of political ideologies, technology and games. But who’s saying that anyway?

And games… I see that some are, more or less, designed to be Skinner-boxes, and people should not be socialized by poor stand-ins for real-life experience. I’ve probably spent way too much time playing video games myself. However, there are so many things that we call games, and many of them aren’t as nefarious as Matt argues them to be. For me, ideally, we wouldn’t even need video games, at all, but here we are in what looks like the gosh-darn age of computers. I just think that there are many ways to fight against consciousness traps, and not-playing games is just one. Playing games can be another, depending on what you are playing and what you got going around it, like making a super cool podcast with interesting people.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. Wow, a podcast made me get a bit soap-boxey. Cheers and hats off to Hegelbon and Matt Christman. I’m now a sub for both of the podcasts they are a part of. Can’t wait to learn and hear more interesting things from interesting places. 🙂

Hollow Knight (2017)

Check out my review of Hollow Knight over at the Well-Red Mage’s blog!

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“If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a minotaur.”
-Pablo Picasso

ff3-nes-sage2 Heyo. Wakalapi, aka. Evergreen Sage Mage, here.

A bit about myself… I’m a metroidvaniac, as Well-Red calls it, going way back into the 80’s. I beat the original Metroid before I beat 3rd grade. My heart has also been burnt a deep searing charcoal black from playing and beating the entirety of the Soulsborne games. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you will absolutely love Hollow Knight. If you’re nothing like me, you will still love it 😉 …because this game is insanely good.

It’s my pleasure to be here again at the Well-Red blog to bring you another review, this time on the absolutely gorgeous, hand-drawn, labyrinthine world called Hollow Knight. It’s been classified as a metroidvania, but really, it’s so much more than…

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Fort Worden: Probably Why I love Exploration Games So Much

Inspired by Kim’s post @Later Level’s, I’m posting some photos of a trip my wife and I  (and Scrappy) went to recently. It’s a place called Fort Worden, a naval base in Port Townsend, WA,  that was built in the early 1900’s, but never saw any action. My Great Uncle Red would take me on walks through here each summer since before I went to elementary school. It is one of my favorite places ever and I was thrilled to be able to share this place with my wife not too long ago, when the weather wasn’t too bad. I mean, it was super windy, but it was also bright and beautiful.

The fort is pretty much a big labyrinth of bunkers overgrown, out by the ocean. The city has taken to turn the barracks part of the fort into a public place with a community center and all sorts of musical and arts activities going on. I’m glad to see it has the love and attention it deserves, but there is a part of me that longs for the times when we could walk through the entire place and not see a single soul.

I was happy to find out that Scrappy loved this place as much as I do

Directly underneath this placid field is an underground lair, seriously.

 

This particular building is now inaccessable, and is being fixed up. Yep, this is like a little pyramid underneath all the grass and ferns.

The battery, where large ship destroying cannons were located

This is connected to many buildings like it through tunnels and is just the best thing to be able to explore

Seems like there was some filming about to happen at this particular spot, maybe for a live-action game? Or a survival horror film? We didn’t bother them, aside from taking a picture of course.

I totally love the r/abandoned subreddit BTW, and it’s no wonder why

Well that’s about it. I wasn’t planning on blogging about this adventure, so I didn’t take a ton of photos, but hope you enjoyed. It’s a wonderful place to visit!

Game design thoughts: Surveying the foothills

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Wait, this mountain doesn’t have any foothills!

Since camping out in what I referred to as “Game Design Mountain“, I’ve spent some time doing a bit of work, and a bit of navel gazing as well. I’ve approached this mountain a bit like a cartographer and also a bit like an ecologist and an anthropologist. I’ve been trying to get a good lay of the land as well as to see who is here and what their worldviews are. I’ve only scratched the surface of the realm of game design, but I thought I’d take some time to pool some thoughts into more of a coherent blog piece than simply allowing my heart to continue to grow this congealing anxious need to communicate.

There is a profession that didn’t exist 50 years ago, I’ve heard stated more than a couple times, called the ‘game designer’. This person specifically designs games. Games have been designed in the past, but they might have just come about through historical iteration, like ancient board games, or they might have just been done by people who were in some other profession. Abstract strategy games have existed for a long time, as we can archaeologically provide evidence of, if people were playing sports games in ancient times, it is hard to tell. If I were to make a bet, it would be on the side that sports existed alongside board games and most likely other children’s games of imagination. Cool, we live in an interesting time because now there’s game designers! But what of some of the stuff people talk about when it comes to game design?

The perennially arising and ritualistically stamped out question of “what is a game?” is something of interest to me. Like a weed that just won’t go away, or perhaps a nagging pain in tooth. If one gets the aching tooth checked out, it just might have to be plucked. There is one point that I’d like to say on this issue, and it’s probably been said a million times elsewhere by far more intelligent beings than myself, that video games although historically newer, are much broader than what one might refer to as a “classic” game. Video games can be ‘classic games’ and they are often a whole lot more than just that. Personally, I enjoy both ‘classic games’ and other kinds of ‘games’ as well. On one hand, I really enjoy sports and strategy. Since I was a kid I love playing games like Basketball, Pool, Backgammon and Chess as well as card games like Spades, Rummy and Poker (and later as a teenager, Magic The Gathering). I’ve also enjoyed video games that I would say are strategic (or tactical), particularly fighting games and multiplayer shooting games.

On the other hand, we have games like Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, Dead Space, Zelda, Metroid, etc. that are more linear, in that they have interactive worlds, with story endings. I greatly enjoy these and hands down, my favorite game I played last year was Inside. I can’t give it more praise. 10 out of 10. I digress,… both classic games and ‘story games’ are interactive and have been shown that they can be more on a spectrum than in a dichotomy, but sometimes can be a two-in-one. Call of Duty Black Ops, the last CoD game that I actually enjoyed the story of, and Dan Cooke does a good job talking about this, is basically two games in one. It’s both what he calls a “hobby” (the multiplayer aspect) and a “content game” (the campaign), but one chooses either or in the main menu. What does one do when faced with a dilemma of two audiences? You grab the bull by the horns and build something for both. For a while the CoD series were the biggest grossing media content pieces in American history.

Demon’s & Dark Souls were a strange and twisted marriage between multiplayer classic game (of fighting) and of narrative and world exploration. Dark Souls is almost a quintessential example of what happens when sport, computers and story are mixed in a complementary way. If I were to diagnose the cause of the problem of ‘game vs story’, I would agree with Raph Koster that it is the two-culture problem and  just the continuing case of Western history, where the romantics split with the scientists. Perhaps because Japan (and everywhere else) just don’t have the same history, it’s easy to ignore this and keep on crafting category busting works.

Game design theorists, though seem to, tend to, from my limited surveying, lean more towards being interested in the classic game side as opposed to all the other stuff we call games these days. If I were to make another bet, it might be because they tend to come from a more objectivist approach, paralleling empiricist methods of “discovering” natural laws (scientific method) and then applying those theories in practice (engineering). They are searching for objective truths about games, game laws?, and then want to apply them by creating interesting dynamic systems of play. They tend to be abstract, strategic games and this is a valid endeavor.

There is another kind of objectivist approach to game design, not mutually exclusive to other approaches, I noticed, that draw heavily on traditional scientific theoretical models of human psychology. They attempt to utilize understandings, particularly from behavioralism, cognitive psychology, and a smidgen of social psychology, to craft games (or interactive media) that fits into the objectivist models of ‘human nature’. The point is, game design appears to be within an objectivist paradigm. But isn’t that really like me pointing out that the sky is blue?

All of this is fine, the paradigm is here, but the game design talk is often a bit too mechanistic and limiting for my tastes. A bit tinny really. I won’t argue with them when it comes to defining games, (Keith Burgun has an interesting set of definitions that are actually pretty useful), but that doesn’t mean that the pursuit of monastic truth is my thing. The Western, theoretical side of game design mountain is now probably a lesser interesting side for me, unless it diversifies its overall framework. I will say that I do see that many people who talk about game design to be interested in the more humanities side and that is pretty cool. I think perhaps the revitalization of game design discussion is coming back with a bit less sharper corners from what I understand of its short but scattered history. Still, it tends to be heavily Eurocentric. That might be because I’m doing all my research in English.

If I had to differentiate myself, I would say that I take more of a pluralistic approach to game design, as I do with philosophy. I don’t have any reason to believe in objective truth, so don’t think there can be objective truths about games either. I think truths are evolving and diverse, much like languages. I appreciate the mechanical side of game design (although my skills aren’t developed in this realm), yet I don’t see the humanities side of games as being opposed to the mechanics side, nor is it simply a qualitative “layer” on a mechanical object. Many video games may not be games, but they aren’t not games either. Many so-called abstract games might not simply be cold mechanics as well, but can be infused with different worldviews too. The ancient game Ur was played in hopes that the god Marduk was on your side. For Mesopotamians, playing this game was a way to engage in the grandiose and the cosmic. It just depends on what myth you ascribe to and whether you are open to acknowledging this plurality.