The Process Genre in Videogames: Walden, a game pt 2

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Today marks the 163rd anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods. I am celebrating the occasion by resurrecting my old “Process Genre in Videogames” blog post series, and turning an eye toward the USC Game Innovation Lab’s recently-released Walden, a game, across two posts.

In this series, I borrow the term process genre from Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky’s work in cinema studies. According to Skvirsky’s definition, “process genre” films are films about labor, films that focus on processes of doing and making, that are fascinated with seeing tasks through to their completion. They are deliberately paced, meditative, and often political. In this series of posts (you can see them all here), I examine games that strike some of the same chords.

Yesterday, I compared and contrasted Walden with Minecraft, including a consideration of the Life in the Woods: Renaissance mod pack, which heightens Minecraft‘s Thoreauvian aspects. Of central concern was each game’s treatment of the natural world as a collection of resources. Today, I turn to the matter of “inspiration,” and how Walden, a game transforms enlightened, deliberate living into a game.

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The Process Genre in Videogames: Walden, a game pt 1

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Tomorrow marks the 163rd anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods. I have decided to celebrate the occasion by resurrecting my old “Process Genre in Videogames” blog post series, turning an eye toward the USC Game Innovation Lab’s recently-released Walden, a game. I ended up having too a bit too much to say about it to fit into a single blog post, so I’ve split up my thoughts across two days.

Just a quick refresher: in this series, I borrow the term process genre from Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky’s work in cinema studies. According to Skvirsky’s definition, “process genre” films are films about labor, films that focus on processes of doing and making, that are fascinated with seeing tasks through to their completion. They are deliberately paced, meditative, and often political. In this series of posts (you can see them all here), I examine games that strike some of the same chords. Today, that means turning to the life and work of everybody’s favorite environmentalist pseudo-hermit, Henry David Thoreau.

The itch.io page for Walden, a game claims that the game is the product of a “very small core team” at the USC Game Innovation Lab working on the project for “the past ten years.” I first became aware of it in November 2011, when Tracy Fullerton sat down and had a wonderful talk with students during a session of the University of Chicago’s New Media Workshop. Back then, Fullerton described the project as a difficult balancing act, balancing the quantitative and systems-heavy “gamey” aspects of games—which are actually right there in Thoreau’s text, making this entire project of adaptation especially tempting—with the need to present nature, and the labor one does when living in it, as a source of unpredictable inspiration, worthy of our respect and wonder.

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“The scariest stuff is like really really boring”: Night in the Woods

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Night in the Woods tells the most vital story of any game in 2017. We’re only halfway through the year, but I doubt very much that it will be bested in this regard. Find out why below the fold, but beware of spoilers if you haven’t played it yet, and plan to. I will be discussing how this very important game’s themes resonate all the way to its ending.

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Interesting Games of 2017: The Year So Far

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My goodness. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a non-silly post. The new job has kept me busy, and on top of that I have made a real push to catch up on games released in 2017, now that we have passed the year’s halfway point. This latter task has given me plenty to mull over, and while I’m not yet prepared to write longer critical thoughts on the games in question, I thought I would collect some “quick takes,” as a way of priming the pump.

I still have a substantial backlog of big releases from 2017. I have not yet played Nier: Automata (PlatinumGames, 2017), or RiME (Tequila Works, 2017). I’m making my way through Resident Evil 7: biohazard (Capcom, 2017) right now. And although I recently bought Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017), I’m afraid that my 2012-built PC might not run it smoothly, and have been putting off installing it.

I have, though, found the time to play over a dozen other games released in the past six months. Thoughts below are listed in order of the release date of the game. I’ll set up links in this page if and when I write fuller pieces on any of these games.

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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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Five Questions About We Are Chicago

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Ian here—

Wow, okay, so, deep breaths. Let me repeat the mantra: “I critique, because I care.”

We Are Chicago (Culture Shock Games, 2017) arrives at very particular time for me. I just finished up with a panel on Chicago game cultures for SCMS 2017, and I have also been working through some ideas on the limits of the concept of “empathy” in games.

Given these two facts, there’s no real way I could get away with not playing it, and not taking a couple of moments to try an translate my thoughts on it into some coherent writing. This task, though, is one that needs to be approached with care. In order to be fair, an acknowledgment of the commendable intentions of Culture Shock games must be balanced with a corresponding acknowledgment of the very real shortcomings of their final product. It does nobody any good to mince words, and to pretend that intention can overcome execution.

So, buckle up. I have five questions to ask about We Are Chicago.

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