Traversing the Anxious, Dreamlike Architecture of Within

Within’s barren environment silently shifts and reforms, revealing fresh apertures or subtle dips in topography with which to lose oneself in again. The introduction of the game locates the player in a small chamber without exit, awaiting change and a chance to escape. No objective marker directs the player. Rather, as in a dream, one simply scours the area for answers in nonsensical spaces that do not physically make sense. Circling back to familiar rooms is to be expected, and substantial progression feels non-existent.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.

Death and Form

André Breton, living amidst the eccentric artistic scene of Paris in 1929, wrote in his Second Manifesto of Surrealism, “The simplest surrealist act consists of running down into the street, pistols in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”

I kept this passage in the back of my mind while stomaching IO Interactive’s 2010 game Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, a repellent game that nonetheless boasts expressive moments of artistic provocation.

Read the full text in Unwinnable Weekly Issue 8.

Why Don’t Videogames Have Their Own Criterion Collection?

Preserving and redistributing videogames demands navigation through knotty copyright laws and even more difficult problems restoring, marketing, and operating games from outdated technologies. The question in the title of this article, then, can be reworked as such: Why isn’t there a widespread effort to maintain videogames worthy of preservation and artistic consideration given these mounting problems that this medium inevitably faces with each passing generation? Why are we as gamers quick to forgo our rich artistic history and rely on convoluted and bootleg emulators or face steep prices for videogame titles on the brink of extinction?

Read the full text at PopMatters.

Sculpting in Time: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes & The Cinematic Videogame

Like Hideo Kojima’s prior work, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes opens with a claim to videogame auteurism, confidently assuming the artistic import of the introductory text “A Hideo Kojima Game.” Videogames frequently invoke the auteur temperament of cinema, placing credence in the authorial vision of a singular author and further bridging the influence of one medium on another. Occasionally, opponents levy criticism against the increasing cinematic influence on videogames and against cutscenes in particular, charging that this passive storytelling device robs the inherently interactive quality of the medium. Such a claim, of course, severely limits what videogames can do and blatantly ignores the reality that all artistic mediums borrow from and are in constant conversation with one another. Moreover, the criticism disregards the artistic wealth of videogame authorship, because cutscenes shift the storytelling agency away from the player and back to the developer’s unrivaled vision of the narrative. The cutscene’s vacillating control over narrative agency remains a fundamental tension unique in videogames, building upon – and not simply borrowing from – the work of cinema.

Read the full text at Gameranx.

Just Can’t Get Enough: Money, Pleasure, and American Dream

American Dream boasts 1980s retro styling and stripped-down gameplay, deceptively simple and harmless elements that nonetheless cloak the deeper lampoon of consumer culture and the trappings of a stock trader simulator and home furnishing game. The game also takes a distanced irony atop its seemingly outmoded aesthetic yet remains bitingly droll in its satirical jabs. American Dream portrays capitalism as infantile, fleeting, and haphazard, transforming iconic figures of 1980s celebrity culture into literal commodities to be bought low and sold high. Thus, the game warps cultural figures like Blondie or Arnold Schwarzenegger into calculable numbers to be easily consumed, evoking the wild funhouse distortion of modernity of a J.G. Ballard novel.

Read the full text at The Ontological Geek.

Limited Videogame Heroism or: What Games Can Learn from Noir

I once heard that videogames embody the very essence of noir storytelling, perfecting the genre’s constricting narrative voice. In filtering the audience to a narrow, singularly focalized perspective, videogames evoke the joy of noir storytelling and its deft ability to hold back narrative information through a first-person point of view. An omnipresent camera makes us privy to the intimate affectations and actions of a single character. We follow Commander Shepard in Mass Effect from start to finish, sharing both the knowledge he gains throughout his campaign and the informational holes that drive his endless pursuit of truth. Obviously, there exist counterexamples in which audiences’ experiences aren’t focalized through a limited, single perspective. Games like Final Fantasy XIII or Grand Theft Auto V provide a myriad of viewpoints in the service of broadening the audiences’ narrative scope and understanding of the world. But the particular ability of videogame storytelling centering around a single character remains the most interesting tool in the medium’s arsenal. Curtailing information conveyed to the player by virtue of a finite perspective keeps audiences guessing about the duplicity of characters and the indeterminate circumstances of protagonists locked in constant danger.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.

Enter the Void: The Grimy Playfulness of No Wave

Like its titular artistic zeitgeist, No Wave places emphasis on jagged textural substance over narrative and stylistic fluidity. In lieu of offering a clearly marked trail of narrative breadcrumbs, No Wave invites players to tease out meaning from its maniacal imagery and sparse gameplay. Jim, like the player, enters an underground no wave club as a stranger open to new experiences even it means slipping into the kind of sordid back alley venue that promises a night of sinful recklessness. The bouncer offers red or green “candy,” hallucinogens that alter your experience interacting with the handful of things within the club and informing the overall aesthetic in a feverish trance of effervescent lights and color.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.