Videogame Cat of the Week: The Post-Apocalyptic Cats of Fragile Dreams

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In most Western post-apocalyptic videogames, the broken and ruined remnants of society are populated by bandits, mutants, and Max Max-style ruffians. In the Japanese-developed Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Bandai Namco / tri-Crescendo, 2009), post-apocalyptic Tokyo is populated almost entirely by ghosts, robots, and cats.

Based on what I know about contemporary Japanese society, this seems about right.

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Videogame Cat of the Week: Jeane

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In No More Heroes (Grasshopper Manufacturer, 2007), otaku assassin Travis Touchdown has a kitten named Jeane. In No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Grasshopper Manufacture, 2010), Jeane has is full-grown, and is now fat. These things happen.

Travis’ main interaction with Jeane in Desparate Struggle takes the form of an exercise regimen. He has decided that Jeane could lose some weight, and is determined to meet this goal. The regimen includes both playing and forms of rigorous petting.

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I love that Jeane is chunky, not in just the metaphorical way of being fat, but also in more literal ways. Her model is fairly low-polygon, giving her an odd, thrown-together look. Her movements don’t have very many frames of animation to them.

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Jeane’s exercise regimen in Desparate Struggle is clearly the medium’s greatest representation of goal-setting, persistence, and gradual bonding. Suck on that, Persona-series social links.

Full video of the exercise regimen below the fold, in case you need your day to be delightful.

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Here on My Side of the Screen

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(I’m officially retiring my usual “Ian here” greeting, as, in the absence of student posts, there will be no one but me posting on this blog for the foreseeable future.)

Early in his book Pilgrim in the Microworld, a phenomenological account of videogame expertise that stands as landmark work of first-person game criticism, David Sudnow attempts to describe, to a presumably completely ignorant reader, the experience of playing Breakout (Atari, 1972). “There’s that world space over there, this one over here,” he writes, “and we traverse the wired gap with motions that make us nonetheless feel in a balanced extending touch with things.”[i]

Today, the term “wired gap” is archaic—we sit comfortably in the age of wireless game controllers. But the general logic of this gap, and how it is traversed, nonetheless persists. On the one side, we have the electronic world represented on the screen. On the other side, we have ourselves, cordoned off from the world of the game by virtue of being flesh-and-blood. If we act upon that other world from our side of the screen, it must be by virtue of some sort of electronic input device: keyboard and mouse, DualShock 4, Wii Remote, Jungle Beat bongo drum, what have you. Wired or not, the relationship we have with that world on the other side of the screen is necessarily mediated by technology: sever that particular link, and our involvement with it ceases.

Not all games follow this logic, however. In this post, I’ll be looking at three games, all of which came out around 2012–2014, that ask you to do more, as a player, than simply manipulate an electronic interface. These games have a different sort of contract with their player. They ask you agree to more wide-ranging sets of behaviors over on your side of the screen, which, by their very nature, cannot be regulated in strict procedural terms. These are games that re-map the points of contact between our fleshy, spacious realm and the realm of bits and pixels.

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Videogame Cat of the Week: Hidden Village Cats

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Among home consoles, the library of the Wii is not particularly well-regarded. I consider it to be underrated in several respects. This is especially true in regards to cats. Judged purely on the quality of the cats it offers, the Wii is probably the greatest home console in history.

I’ve chosen three titles from its library as my next three cats of the week. Up first: launch title The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo EAD, 2006).

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Videogame Cat of the Week: Mr. Glembovski

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If you want to read my serious thoughts on Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life (2011), you should go here. For now, though, let us consider Mr. Glembovski, the cat that Andrus keeps in his hotel room, against the wishes of the management.

As a secret cat, Mr. Glembovski’s life is cruelly constrained, consisting of nothing more than a small room, and sometimes even less than that. But, as the GIF above shows, there is clearly so much love between these two. The nose-touching shows that Andrus knows just how to treat a cat. And who couldn’t love Mr. Glembovski, with his adorably desynchronized blinks and affectionate ways?

Don’t be a monster. If you ever play Cart Life, be sure to feed Mr. Glembovski. I don’t know what happens if you don’t (far be it for me to play that way), but I’m sure it’s awful.

Job Change

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Ian here—

This week, I began a new job as a writer for the University of Chicago’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation. In that capacity, I will be writing grants and papers to help fund and publicize the work of its three constituent labs: the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab, the Transmedia Storytelling Lab, and the Design Thinking Lab. I’ve worked with Game Changer before, but this full-time position will represent a fairly significant shift in my career focus.

This will inevitably bring some changes to this site. Originally, it served two purposes: as a way for students to post work for classes, and as an online extension of my teaching portfolio. Since I don’t have any plans to teach in the immediate future, nor to re-enter the academic job market in the fall of 2017, those functions are no longer a priority for me. I am not going to remove anything from the site, but I will likely be re-organizing it a bit, so that the parts of it that highlight my work as a faculty member (and as an academic job applicant) are less prominent.

I’ll also be posting somewhat less. This is my ninety-first post since I first decided to buff up the teaching portfolio aspect of this site and posted my first lesson plan last September. I’ve averaged just under one post every three days, which I am rather happy with. I can’t, however, keep up this pace once I subtract posts that reflect on my teaching. Without classroom experiences to reflect back on, I won’t be able to keep up the same volume.

We’ll see what this actually means in the coming months. If nothing else, I’m going to continue posting my silly little videogame cat of the week posts, to help stave off extended dry spells. Given that I’ll be spending 40 hours a week writing, I might also try to skew blog content further in the direction of video essays, as a way of giving myself some variety in my modes of expression. (I do have a couple planned for the summer.)

Thanks a bunch to everyone who has supported me over these past couple of years adjuncting, whether support has taken the form of reading my work, coming to conference presentations, attending mock job talks, or sharing content from this very site. (My practical pedagogical notes on games have gotten a fair amount of hits!) It’s been a wild ride, and I am happy to have shared it with you.

Double Blind

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Ian here—

I’ve written about synesthetic interfaces before: that is, interfaces that perform a sensory substitution, translating the information normally associated with one sense modality into the phenomenal forms normally associated with another. In my previous work, I’ve usually focused on forms of nonhuman perception and certain modes of perceptual expertise. The release of Perception (The Deep End Games, 2017) yesterday, however, gives me an opportunity to dip into a new topic: disability.

Perception is a horror game about a blind woman exploring a haunted house. Unlike a game such as Papa Sangre (Somethin’ Else, 2010), however—an experiment in audio-only digital game design that has sadly been taken off of the iOS App Store as of this writing—Perception doesn’t court blind and other low-vision players. Rather than featuring robust, binaural sound localization simulation, Perception re-imagines the auditory perception of its blind protagonist Cassie as a kind of sonar vision, thrown up on the player’s screen in spooky, warbly monochrome.

This isn’t the first time games nominally about blindness have been served up to sighted players. In this post, I take up a comparative investigation of Perception alongside Beyond Eyes (Tiger and Squid / Team17 Digital Ltd, 2015), which drops the horror angle in favor of child-friendly, colorful adventure.

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