Middle Ages: The Video Game

So the book Pillars of the Earth (though I only know the story from the TV miniseries) is coming out in video game format. Specifically it’ll be an interactive novel. It looks like there’s some level of game-like playing in there, judging from the pic below.

A medieval monk stands before another, and at the bottom of the screen two choices are presented: to Lie or to Tell the Truth

But seeing as how it’s based on a book with a definite plot and resolution then I assume you can only change the story so much. Perhaps you’ll be railroaded slightly more than in a typical game from Telltale Studios. And seeing as how it’s set in the Middle Ages, it’ll be full of rape, murder, and irrational persecution, so it’ll feel pretty close to Telltale’s Walking Dead series too.

It’s odd that this is coming out, but the art is interesting. I liked the TV show, so I hope the thing is at least decent.

Cruising

So there’s a video game about anonymous gay sex in public bathrooms of the 1960s. It’s called The Tearoom and yes, it’s based on Laud Humphreys’ landmark study about the exact subject.

In-game screenshot from the player's first person perspective of eye contact with another urinal user

Your goal is to engage in sexual acts with other men, but before that, you must wait for someone to enter, and then engage in a ritual that involves repeated periods of prolonged eye contact, all the while keeping an look out for the police.

“A lot of it is based on this sociological study by Laud Humphreys called Tearoom Trade,” says Yang. “[He] actually calls it a game, and tries to write out what the rules are and stuff, so it’s almost like a game design document. A lot of it is eye contact, so they’ll be peeing and then they might look at you and then you look at them, and then you look away and then they look away . . . stuff like that.”

Sing, O Muse

DOOM's space marine protagonist fighting off an endless wave of demons

I had no idea that the Los Angeles Review of Books was covering video games but it seems obvious in hindsight. Games are texts in a literary theory sense, after all, as Wikipedia explains:

In literary theory, a text is any object that can be “read,” whether this object is a work of literature, a street sign, an arrangement of buildings on a city block, or styles of clothing. It is a coherent set of signs that transmits some kind of informative message. This set of symbols is considered in terms of the informative message’s content, rather than in terms of its physical form or the medium in which it is represented.

As texts, games are open to analysis like any other text. It was inevitable that their analysis would move out of the amateur space of student papers and personal blogs and into the formal world of published reviews after the generation that played video games was old enough to get PhDs in literature.

Anyway, the following article is an excellent analysis of the liberal democratic zeitgeist that’s valuable even if one has not played the video game being reviewed. It’s about the modern politics of rage as mediated through the 2016 reboot of the DOOM game franchise.

It’s all great, but here are some choice bits for the tl;dr brigade:

DOOMguy Knows How You Feel

The Union Aerospace Corporation [UAC] appeared as a futuristic defense contractor in the original game. In some not-too-distant, post-apocalyptic future, it has decided that the only path to a sustainable future for humanity is to literally mine energy from Hell. Shockingly, this path to prosperity goes horribly awry. It is up to the newest incarnation of doomguy to sort it out, mostly through destroying key objects, ignoring proffered advice, and murdering a dizzying assortment first of zombified ex- (post-?) UAC employees and then, well, the demonic legions of Hell itself . . .

Games are machines for producing affect, and the affect the public most fears in games is rage . . . The DOOM Emotion Machine pushes you to move beyond mere expression of rage, not just inchoate, unfathomable rage, not just rage at any old thing or the nearest narratively acceptable target, but to feel free to rage at the people who brought you here, rage at their apologists, rage at the idiocy of HR, rage at the plodding stupidity of looking for one more source of “dead labor” . . . Rage at Hell but rage at who brought you to Hell and why any of this is necessary at all . . .

DOOM wants you to consider that when “they go low,” you will scrape the pits of Inferno to go ever lower. DOOM wants you to feel more. But — and perhaps this is sheer, irrational hope on my part, a shard of redemption in a game of bleak glee — DOOM wants you to remember that it is all so stupid. That all of this is instrumental, that the only way out is through, but that this is brutalizing to the world and to yourself. In my most hopeful moment, I think DOOM has old Spinoza on the mind: learn to feel joy in the world again and yes, learn to feel joy in the pain of enemies but remember that it is just — in a measure of mere magnitude — a lesser joy than in the flourishing of friends.

This is some goddamn top shelf games writing. A thousand aggregated Metacritic scores could not encompass the informativeness of this review.

Also, if you’re keen to peruse the magazine’s other video game essays, I recommend Something is Rotten in the State of Lucis: On “Final Fantasy XV”, which analyses the political philosophy of Final Fantasy XV, with especial regard to Hamlet and Americana. I probably won’t ever get FFXV, but this review is well-written enough to give a non-player much to ruminate on.

Follow the White Rabbit

Man, I was so sure that there was a trailer for the original Nier scored to White Rabbit that I spent twenty minutes this morning looking for it. Turns out it was Lost Odyssey. Also, turns out that game wasn’t that good except for the story in the cutscenes, but those were written by an actual novelist. Anyway, at least we got an okay trailer out of it all.

Haruki Murakami: the video game

Behold Memoranda, a point-and-click adventure game that claims to be a magical realist experience in the vein of a Haruki Murakami novel:

Memoranda is a game about forgetting and being forgotten!

A point and click adventure game with magic realism elements that tells the story of a young lady who gradually realizes she is forgetting her own name. Is she really losing her memory or is there something else that could explain the strange circumstances? The story happens in a quiet little town where a few ordinary and strange characters live together. Including a World War II surviving soldier to an elephant taking shelter in a man’s cottage hoping to become a human. There is one thing all these characters have in common: they are losing something. It could be a name, a husband or even someone’s sanity!

I dunno, it seems rather annoyingly twee. I’d say it’s hard to translate the quiet strangeness of Murakami’s novels into the visual medium, but I rather think the Norwegian Wood movie pulled it off. I’m curious, but not enough to pay $17 and change. I’ll probably buy this if the price drops below $5 since I have an abiding lust for point-and-click adventures, but right now I think I’ll hold off.

Hungry like the wolf

So I’m playing Tales From the Borderlands. I’m already on the third episode. This is in contrast to season 2 of The Walking Dead, which I still haven’t finished, and The Wolf Among Us, which took me most of a year to get through.

I think it’s because Tales From the Borderlands is actually fun. It’s not depressing like The Walking Dead (tap X to avoid catching dysentery) or gruesomely violent like The Wolf Among Us.

I’m not kidding about Wolf Among Us – a lot of the Quicktime fight scenes felt shoehorned in, while the crunching sounds of bones snapping and the copious blood leaking out of various gaping wounds was offputting. And I say this as a connoisseur of graphic violence (I have enjoyed works from Messrs. Miller, Tarantino, and Chiba).

It’s probably the air of seedy fictional hyperreality that pervades the game. Fiction always asks that we not pay attention to how artificial their worlds are, but Wolf Among Us was so grubby and bleak that I kept noticing how my narrative path was always railroaded onto the most noirishly depressing options.

But yeah, Tales From the Borderlands – while also containing violence – is too cartoonish for me to be bothered when someone gets shot through the head. And, you know, it’s fun to play. I’ll probably finish it by the end of this week, which is a record for me as far as Telltale Games properties go.

Kung Fu Fighting

Goodness, what is this Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax? A 2D fighting game with modern anime characters, you say?

And it’s available in English on PSN? And there’s a sequel with even more characters?

Let’s see, in the original game there’s Celty and Shizuo from Durarara, Kirino from Oreimo (not a character you’d expect in a fighting game), Holo from Spice and Wolf, Alicia and Selvaria from Valkyria Chronicles (that was also an anime), Satan from The Devil is a Part-Timer . . . Boy, there’s a lot. Fighting game nerds say it’s more for anime nerds, but if I want hardcore I’ll fire up Tekken. This title looks like a pleasant game to relax to as I make cartoon girls assault each other.

The Near-Final Frontier

I’ve been playing Star Trek Timelines, the new mobile F2P game that’s only been out for a few days. I never play these types of games, but I’ve read about them and I’m aware of all the little psychological tricks it’s using to hook me in. But on the other hand, when I click on Worf he says “Today is a good day to die.” Plus, if I keep playing I’ll get to unlock Odo and Chakotay soon. How am I supposed to resist?

The premise is what you’d expect – some time-space hooey is afoot and Q has dragooned you, nameless Starfleet captain, into flying around fixing the problems when past, present, and alternate timelines collide.

The game’s only been out for a few days, though, so some of the kinks are apparently still being ironed out. For instance, I think the beginning is a bit too complicated to just jump into – Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is noticeably slicker (speaking of another mobile F2P game that I just got into over the holidays) – but zooming around in a Constitution-class starship scanning planets is fun enough by itself.

It’s curious that so far I’ve yet to find a characters from the Bakula Enterprise that’s been voiced, considering that characters from the other series have had voices. Not all of them (Yeoman Rand and Keiko are mute, for instance), but enough that I notice. Perhaps there’s something in the Enterprise actors’ contracts that puts a kibosh on video game adaptations? I do notice that the J.J. Abrams movie versions aren’t included, which I assume is because the game’s contract covers only the TV shows.

Anyway, I’m probably going to keep playing this grindy clickfest until I vomit. It’s Star Trek, how could I not?

The Ones Who Live in the Basement

So someone took The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and turned it into a viable business model in The Sims:

Screencap of a 4chan post describing how to make a
Click to embiggen

Every time I play The Sims, I start my family with a “painting goblin”.

I make him/her morbidly obese with green skin. I make sure to give him the following traits:

  • likes to be alone
  • likes art
  • hates the outdoors

The first thing I do once I have enough money is build a small room in the basement, send him down there, and then remove the stairs. I set him up in a tiny little area with only an easel, a toilet, a refrigerator, a bed, a shower, and a trash bin.

All he does all day is paint. That’s it. He paints and paints and paints and paints.

Eventually his paintings become very good and worth a lot of money. Every few minutes I go downstairs and sell whatever painting he has finished, and then I return to playing the game.

My family always ends up feeling blessed because of their fortune, and they never find out about the horrible secret living beneath their home.

Future Imperfect

I love point-and-click adventure games. I love walking around their worlds and clicking “look” on each piece of background scenery, I love talking to every character I come across, and I even love obtuse inventory puzzles that leave me wondering how the hell a rubber ducky is supposed to help me get on a subway train. This is not a rational love but one born from the nostalgia of a person who played a lot of Sierra adventure games as a kid.

But art does not exist in a vacuum. Audiences always bring their prior experiences with them when encountering a text. Keeping in mind my partiality toward its genre, I must say this: I like Technobabylon.

Said the cyborg bouncer with the mohawk:

Part police procedural, part conspiracy thriller, and wholly a sci-fi cyberpunk journey through a decadent city of sorrow and sin, Technobabylon is a pleasant return to the old adventure and puzzle gaming formula. You play as three main characters: a curmudgeonly police detective hostile to the newfangled AI that governs his city (like a white Bill Cosby, minus the rape), his younger and more enthusiastic post-op (actually post-genetic-engineering) female-to-male partner who’s down with the hacking and the tweeting and the bipping and the bopping, and an unemployed shut-in on welfare addicted to the Internet who subsists on protein sludge extruded from her shitty apartment’s food machine. Also there’s a murderous plot which could lead all the way to the top. Continue reading “Future Imperfect”