Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
One of Anthony John Agnello’s major complaints in his review of the first episode of République, the stealthy iOS game from developer Camouflaj, was the lack of characterization given to its hero, a young lady named Hope. “Hope is pretty much a blank slate as well, a teenage girl with a crush on the quiet boy in her classes,” he wrote. A few commenters found this disappointing, as well. Don Marz led the charge:
I thought this was supposed to be a game with a well-rounded female lead, but that sounds like the silent 3 a.m. fantasy of a male nerd who never got over high school. I know it’s par for the course in male nerd culture, the action-fantasy-girl who inexplicably picks the passive male classmate to pursue because his lack of presence is just insanely compelling to her for some reason, but I guess I expected something more.
Even lesbian lead characters seem to be more common than strong female leads with strong male love interests. That’s probably, in part, because lesbian lead characters often (but not always!) fulfill male fantasies just as much as the bikini-clad Amazon who pines away for the quiet kid. Whether the designer intends it or not, both types of characters remove the male gamer’s dreaded competition from the arena and allow him to inhabit a self-centered fantasy.
Teach Them Well
In an entirely welcome tangent from the Out This Month matters at hand, boardgameguy mentioned that he spent some of his holiday vacation playing an innovative iOS game, Simogo’s Device 6. This prompted Mr. Martini to share some thoughts on the efficacy of more literary games like Device 6 as educational tools:
I strongly recommend Device 6 as a tool for the technique called “close reading.” It’s an educational strategy that is in vogue in English language education. Basically, it involves students reading a short but challenging text over and over again, each time focusing on a different element of the text (things like authorial intent, tone, sentence structure, etc.). Like so many educational mandates, the technique itself can be really valuable, but it is often implemented poorly. The problem is that students aren’t presented with new ideas or challenges when returning to the text, so multiple readings quickly become a dreadful slog.
Device 6 solves this problem beautifully. Its puzzle structure creates a genuine incentive for re-reading each chapter, and many puzzles force the player to reconsider their interpretation of the text before they can move forward. The novel layout of the onscreen text also challenges readers expectations of page layouts and the meaning associated with paragraph breaks and text orientation. I really wish we had more texts designed like this. And I wish we could broaden our institutionalized concept of “texts” to include things like Device 6.
Gotta Go Fast
We highlighted the Awesome Games Done Quick charity speedrun marathon, which continues until Saturday night, in a Great Job, Internet! piece earlier this week. Down in the comments, Gentilman laid out a case for more leisurely strolls through favorite video games:
I’ve always liked taking my time on games. As much as I like it, I’ve never wanted to speedrun Portal, for example. I like seeing the secret rooms with “The Cake Is A Lie” messages written on the walls. In fact, I really love the quiet moments in games where you get a sense that someone has been there before, like the abandoned houses along Highway 17 in Half-Life 2. I always feel bad for the families that no longer live in there.
But Roswulf argues that this more observant and thoughtful approach is a close cousin to speedrunning:
I think there is more similarity between your embrace of the quiet secret room and the mentality of speedrunning than you realize. I am emphatically not a speedrunner (I suck at games!), but it seems like there are three distinct stages of speedrunning:
1. Exploration—The speedrunner has to fully understand the capabilities of the player in a game. This takes the form of a massive collaborative effort to test the limits of every aspect of the game, a quiet, slow, communal exercise wholly in keeping with poking your nose into every side room.
2. Calculation—The speedrunning community has to determine how these various capabilities and tricks are arranged to maximize speed. It seems like for some games this is a dizzyingly complex problem, especially when the theoretically optimal route requires perfect, minute moves and timing that no human being can pull off with absolute consistency.
3. Execution—Then there’s putting the strategy into action. This is what you watch at the marathon stream, and is, at least for me, the least interesting part of the process. It’s so much less about puzzle-solving or pushing the limits of game design and so much more about brunt force twitch capacity.
I can get lost watching speedruns with commentaries that focus on stages one and two. I think my favorite was a speedrun of the first Fallout from one of these charity events, a game where the execution is almost entirely incidental, but the strategies for subverting the normal storyline path with the greatest efficiency are fascinating. Watching that speedrun, I discovered metaphorical secret rooms I never knew existed.
Knock It Off
Listen, nobody’s perfect. Mistakes happen, but sometimes those mistakes are hilarious. Earlier this week, I wrote about Sega’s newly announced Alien: Isolation. In editing the article’s very last sentence, someone (there’s no way to know for sure who) accidentally wrote “Xbox 350.” Predictably, commenters took notice and started riffing on this accidental Xbox 360 doppelgänger in a lovely little thread. neshcorn kicked things off:
“Xbox 350”? Sounds like a Russian knockoff. “You want Xbox 350? Is just as a good!”
Bull Shannon threw in:
“Is just 10 less. You won’t even notice where other 10 went.”
And Narrator added:
“You want we throw in GameStation 4? It very good!”
Things just got wackier from there, so check out the whole thread.
Happy 2014! That’s all for this week, folks. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!