Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Now the Official "On again, off again" Blog

I'm going to start blogging again.

I'm going to because I need a place to place my writings, to demonstrate my capacity as a writer and designer, to PRACTICE my skills as a writer and designer, and to supplement all the other projects that I'm doing and what I .

But more importantly, I can't simply put all my writings down as 15 page pdfs on my portfolio, I have to also put a place for those grammatically incorrect, spur of the moment thoughts about game design. And yes, they are not constant, and yes, that means that my blog will disappear for about a month or so at a time. But when it does happen, it needs to go somewhere I can share it. So welcome back S0dk to s0dk, Grad School edition!

Friday, February 27, 2009

New Email, New Post, Ressurect!


So yeah, I'm back. Kind of awkward.

Hopefully, someone will stumble across this blog and some of my past musings (that I still find interesting!), but really, I should stick to my guns about these things. Grad School Apps, Job Apps, projects, and general school though tends to kill projects like this pretty fast. Well, when it becomes my god-given JOB to blog once I leave the Brown Bubble (ew, nasty imagery btw), I'll need this baby to keep my academic smarmy pants self from floundering in a real world of inapplicable ideas.


Tarot - My attitude falls between interesting semiotic exercise and weird mystic premonition. I've got no qualms about something being two things at once (like existence being everything and nothing at the same time), and if anything it impresses the girls ;D

Hellblazer - John Constantine is my new passion since film noir. And he almost is film noir. I mean, he's got the rat bastard, the smoking, the trenchcoat, and the attitude all down pat. All we need is to add some demons to Chinatown, and maybe we'll have something comporable to this great comic book.

RPGs - Yup, the tabletop kind. I like to think RPG almost as "improv for geeks", or perhaps a weird mutation of tribal storytelling. In any case, someday I would like to overanalyze (with maybe a little bit of my tongue in my cheek) some of the implications of a bunch of sweaty, out of shape, and single coca cola addicts* rolling dice together and arguing about Magic Missle. Except cut the Magic Missles, Stupid Tolkien-rip off high fantasy crap, and add a lot of Zombies and Tophats.

Maybe one day I'll update more than Dresden Codak, but until then see you all on the flip side

*note that this actually doesn't describe my current gaming group at all, except for maybe me?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

OMG Mirror's Edge is coming out tomorrow!

I'm gonna get it I'm gonna get it. I AM GOING TO GET IT!


So between my fever dream hallucinations, my split attention between various online convos, and my rushing to get this post in ASAP so I can meet the sweet warm embrace of sleep I just want to lay out what I'm expecting from Mirror's Edge in terms of thought food.

So to start with one interesting excerpt from a reviewer:

We see Faith in the third-person during the animated cut-scenes, and she always seems slightly unhappy and worried, weighed down by the sheer fact of being in her skin. Hers isn't the easiest life, and, while stationary, she has time to wonder about these things. When she's running, however, when we look at the world through her eyes, it all makes sense. As long as she can make the next jump, she'll be fine. If she can lose the police by sliding under a series of pipes and crashing through a door, she has fixed a very immediate problem. It's easy to live when your existence is counted a rooftop at a time; everything else falls away.
So the premise is that all the worlds information media is being tapped, regulated, and controlled etc. by an Evil totalitarian government, so it takes an organic human message carrier, free from the constraints of technology, to pass private messages across the city that would otherwise be intercepted by the police-state. I haven't gotten around to playing or seeing it yet, so this is all being gleaned from reviews and such I've read. Still, this much heavily intruiges me in that we've got a narrative contrast set up between technology, order, patriarchical society, and progress against the organic female body. An organic female body that serves as a space where the player's identity is projected onto, which is something that again resonates with a lot of writing about Cyborg theory and degendering (or transgendering) possibilities via technological extension. So does it make sense that Faith, in being presented in the 3rd person, feels uncomfortable as an object of the gaze, as an objectified fetish of pleasure in a cinematic cutscene? Only when the game jumps back into the "gamic" 1st person does everything make sense again, does she suddenly spring into action not as a cinematic object but as a gamic subject, one that is constantly moving and bounding through gamic space.

Here's a short quote from a 1-up review:
Mirror's Edge is ultimately a game about love, not violence -- and considering how refreshing it was to play from a first-person vantage point without the barrel of a gun bobbing along, I wanted to keep it that way as often as possible.
Again, just like Portal Mirror's Edge is a 1st person female game not about killing but space manipulation, reinforcing a trend that's happening in "feminized" hardcore 1st-person games. And I want to call Mirror's Edge a feminized game because that's what it seems to be, and I really hope it is because if it is as exciting and influential and innovative and ground breaking as I'm hoping it is, it'll push the industry into creating more thoughtful and sophisticated games in general. In the past 5-10 years in gaming it was the "casual games" that were marked as distinctly feminine, and both Mirror's Edge and Portal definitely fall in the "hardcore" realm. Does this mean that these games are encouraging more gender crossover into serious gaming, trying to unlabel itself off of being a "boys only" zone?

On another note, I'm troubled by the advertising of this game, with Faith being made into a sexual selling point. Portal didn't have Chell plastered across Orange Boxes everywhere, and the above image of Faith knocking out a stormtrooper is certainly not jumping away from all the typical male fantasy imagery floating around Lara Croft, Bloodrayne, or most 3rd-person action games with female protagonists. This seems to work against the work the actual game is doing in expanding on gender portrayals in games. Well, anything to sell it though, right?

More on when I actually get some game time with this little wonder.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sorry Nobody

Hello Imaginary Audience!

For anyone looking at the blog and noticing the lack of updates, I'm just letting you all know it's not dead, just sad and neglected. I'm still involved, but grad school apps and work in general have been distracting me from posting about things. And oh boy, are there things to post about. A brief rundown of my ideas so I don't forget:

-Movement vs. Genre Part II: how modes of address (that define genre) entail certain . Pretty much I want to see if there's a sort of "male gaze" equivalent or analog from Mulvey's film theory in something like a FPS in the way it addresses the player, and how a game like Portal might subvert the "classic male gaze" of a game.

-Park Chan Wook's JSA has a few things going on I wanted to discuss, primarily . These are two different ideas (and possibly two different posts)

-Was going to upload a revised and "bloggy" version of one of my papers for class analyzing the scene from Modern Times in which Charlie Chaplin dances, make it less academic-y and more tied to cyber-digital age stuff I want to talk about.

-Finally, I've had this idea for a long time, and I haven't really been going out of my way to do this but I want to put up some beer recommendations and some reviews of what I find to be good brews.

There, that's a lot on my plate but a load off my mind.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Genre vs. Movement (Part I)

I'll open this post with two definitions pulled from Janey Place's essay "Women in Film Noir"*:

"Film movements occur in specific historical periods - at times of national stress and focus of energy. They express a consistency of both thematic and formal elements which makes them particularly expressive of those times, and are uniquely able to express the homogeneous hopes (Soviet Socialist Realism and Italian Neo-Realism) and fears (German Expressionism and film noir) brought to the fore by, for example, the upheaval of war."

"Genres, on the other hand, exist through time: we have had Westerns since the early 1900s and, in spite of rise and falls in their popularity, Westerns are with us today. Genres are characterized more by their subject matter and their iconography than movements, and they can express a wide and changing range of ideologies."

There's been a lot of discussion in new media academics and thoughtful gamers on the topic of genre and categorization (him, her, and this other dude come to mind) and I thought I'd try to attempt to create some definitions and also point out some of the problems involved with genre and gaming. Because if we are going to talk about genre across the internet, we better define it as Janey Place so eloquently did when she discussed film noir.
First of all, games are not film. They are a completely different medium. I almost feel like a fool for using an essay on film to structure any argument on games. Except that games can't seem to escape cinematic portrayals, cutscene, narrative, and pretty much this specter of the medium haunting it from it's inception**. I'd also argue that like cinema games are going through a "classical cinema" phase where the market is primarily industry and commodity driven, where people are trying to sell (virtual) stars and "the next big FPS" or "the next big RTS". Still, there's something even more disruptive about video games as a medium than say, television was to film. So my discussion of genre in terms of video games must be understood as something not INHERENT TO the medium (the medium is not the genre, even if it is the message), but rather it is something adopted from it's influence from other (mostly narrative) forms.***


Let's go back to Janey's comment on genre:

"Genres, on the other hand, exist through time...genres are characterized more by their subject matter and their iconography than movements, and they can express a wide and changing range of ideologies."

What is it in games that remains consistent, that once established defines the game yet is not tied to any sort of ideology? Certainly not the same cinematic genre's categorizations of horror, action, western, etc. But if we look at how people talk about games, how they label and categorize them, we first see that this categorization works along the lines of a consistent mode of address in any given genre. Note that I did not say "gameplay", since within a genre gameplay can be tinkered, bent, and politicized within a genre. Rather, it is the way in the almost McLuhan-esque level where we look at what message is being sent by this culmination of digital multimedia. The FPS will always consistently address the player as collapsed within the viewpoint of the heroic subject, an ultra exaggerated instance of "taking up the male gaze" (or female if you're playing Portal), while the Strategy game will address the player from a top to bottom bird's-eye camera angle. An FPS that addresses the player from the POV of Starcraft is an impossibility. However, gameplay changes within any given mode of address drastically over the (short) history of gaming, and as Ian Bogost explains (albeit I think his arguement has a few holes) gameplay has politicizing and social ideas backing them, and in fact do change when ideologies change.

I'm going to use FPS as the case study to solidify my definition, because I think it's precisely because it's the genre that's been bent and played with so extensively by the industry while still being recognized as "FPS" it works so well at cementing what I really mean by genre. The two shooters that established the genre, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, presented games with a new mode of address, a totally new innovation.**** That genre creation paved the way for Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal, Half Life, Deus Ex...and so forth. Yet as that genre expanded, new gameplay possibilities emerged, people suddenly thought "within this mode of address, we don't have to have people running around shooting each other, we can create alternative modes of gameplay". Thief is also part of the FPS genre, but doesn't encompass the same . The same mode address is used (self positioned and identified at Garret, seeing one's "own arms" holding the weapon), the gameplay encompasses different ideologies (suddenly, killing is not only unnecessary but undesirable). Deus Ex again changed gameplay (added 'RPG elements', which were essentially gameplay elements), but the mode of address is consistent again with all other FPS games. Even Activision's 1998 Battlezone that claimed to "merge" two genres of FPS and RTS merely merged two gameplays that were heavily associated with the two genre's, but ultimately had to resort to the FPS mode of address.

With that said, genre follows a drastically different criteria than film does. While cinema cuts its genres through specific subjects (horror, western, comedy, action, drama), the game cuts its genres through what is specific to games, which is the mode of address (FPS, RTS, RPG, JRPG, Simulation, Sports, Adventure, other acronyms and non-acronyms). Still, the purpose of genre fulfills the same role, to (mostly inadequately) outline what the consumer can expect from the media text. So when we label Thief as a "stealth based FPS", there's a very clear expectation of what we can get out of that game (where "stealth based" is merely a description of gameplay). So far so good, right?

Onwards to movement!


"Film movements occur in specific historical periods - at times of national stress and focus of energy. They express a consistency of both thematic and formal elements which makes them particularly expressive of those times..."

If the genre is a-historical and the movement historical, then movements are certainly tied not just to gameplay, but iconography, ideology, and depiction (graphics, sounds, portrayal). Consider FPS games again, and in particular the "military simulation FPS". America's Army, The Call of Duty series, the Battlefield games, even Counterstrike all are part of the same movement that are tied to a technological, social, and political setting. All these military simulation FPS games are tied by "thematic and formal elements" located primarily in their gameplay that "make them particularly expressive of [their] time." Each of these games stress "realism" in their use of localized damage, lethal bullet system, "real guns", and more recently "hyper-realistic graphics". These games are coming out of a context of a much more militarized America, part of what I consider to be part of the conservative national discourse that is (or in the case of the World War 2 simulators, a reaction to a time where war was in fact patriotic and necessary). When America's war climate changes, so will the production of these games. But these games are first influence by society/politics, and then also by technology; that we are at a current point in time where we can create localized bullet damage, algorithms for recoil, and also a level of texture realism that "resembles" the Middle East
(Or rather a portrayal of the Middle East we all experience as citizens through our exposure to TV, film, print, and images). The reason this movement didn't exist back in 1993 was not just because of the social/political setting, but also because that technology just could not enable that.

Movements also cut across genres, and in today's modern times movements are heavily driven by capitalism. Deus Ex took the FPS genre and 'introduced' (like System Shock 2 before it) RPG gameplay elements of levelling up and increasing skills. Now we're caught in the middle of a movement where we see 'RPG gamplay elements' everywhere in all genres of games, from puzzle games (Puzzle Quest) to RTS (Warcraft III) to the platformer (Iji) to whatever. The levelling system is a gameplay movement that's being imitated off of a canonical success and has worked into the minds of many that a good game must have levelling and 'RPG elements'.


There's a real amorphousness to the way we categorize games, and I think any discussion of genre requires to some degree how we approach the terms we use. For example, the way I've defined the terms and how they are used in industry, journalism, marketing, and everyday conversation are conflicting; Tony Hawk Pro Skater is labeled as a "sports game", yet that genre labeling is inadequate. It's mode of address, for example, is not the same as Winning Eleven or Madden. The player is positioned in the latter two in a simulation standpoint, shifting identity/control from player to player and at the same time being 'team manager'. Tony Hawk you are positioned into one virtual body, your camera position set apart so you can both simultaneously spectate and inhabit that twirling skateboarder pulling 180 Beihana's (is that what they are called?) and addressed very differently. Should we call the genre "skateboard sports game"?

There's also certainly more to discuss on this topic, but I think it's enough for now that people interrogate the definitions that I've set up. I want to make sure that I'm building a sound basis to catagorize and criticize game division, because hopefully later this month I'll continue these thoughts along in a more interesting way. For ultimately, Janey Place's essay goes on to discuss how this distinction she made between genre and movement ultimately informs how the woman is placed within film noir, and I'd like to tie a parallel arguement into my discussion of games; that is, there are certain game genre's that enable special modes of identification, and different movements complicate or problematize those modes of identification. Also, I plan to delve a little deeper into the complications that arise between different genres creating drastically different relations of interaction with the media/machine, such that the extension of the senses is fundamentally different for each different genre of game. Perhaps differing modes of address in a genre send different messages (the medium is the message), perhaps not (the medium is not the message).

So until then, I'll just leave it to: What do you think?


*Janey Place, "Women in Film Noir" in Kaplan, E. Ann (ed.),
Women in Film Noir, New Edition (London: The British Film Institute, 1998)

**Why is Mario considered the paradigm shift in gaming history? How did it "revolutionize" game design? Because what it essentially did was introduce level iteration, narrative, classic cinema conventions down to the artificially plastered on "damsel-in-distress" MacGuffin. Essentially, it tied it back down to several already familiar media forms, that of the novel, the film, the play, etc.

***Keep in mind that the very first video games, the arcade machine games, had no narrative arc of beginning, middle, or end. Rather, it was merely a beginning, and then a struggle of survival where the ending was written by the machine's eventual conquer of the user (or perhaps the user's own inscribed ending).

****And this is part of the reason why I think no new innovation occurs now. Because people want to change GAMEPLAY, but gameplay isn't what creates the medium of the video game; it only makes the medium "enjoyable" (or not). The Medium is the Message; change the medium, change it's mode of reception, and that is how you create a paradigm shift.

Also, innovation is overrated.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Holy Snapples! Free games!

Not just any free games, but free games of the smartsy academic or socially aware type I really like!


Plus a smart guy talks about them!