Slouching Towards Los Santos: On the Terrible, Beautiful Mess of Grand Theft Auto V

Sunlight catches the desert haze, sifting light through the veil as dusty coughs emanate from the tailpipes of rusty jalopies and broken machinery. Worn signs tell of faded histories, the accumulating dust covering up vivid memory with barren apathy in a forgotten desert watering hole. A vulture squawks in the distance, foretelling death’s harsh presence in a land seemingly outside time’s grasp. A simulacrum of Salton Sea and abandonment, colossal mountain panoramas frame the trailer trash and gasoline truck stops nestled in a lonesome Californian valley.

There’s beauty in the disheveled Californian landscapes that define San Andreas in Rockstar Games’ herculean effort Grand Theft Auto V. Under the shade of towering palm trees and tattered Googie signage, this beauty lives in the breathing, flourishing world of the city and surrounding countryside. Too bad so many missteps spoil the hushed tranquility of Rockstar Games’ triumphant landscapes.

Read the full text at Haywire Magazine.

Better Beans and Bacon: Notes on Skyrim

When stepping into one of the many taverns and inns after journeying across the windswept plains and peaks of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, all I want for my protagonist is to retire to a comfortable corner of the room and tuck into a satisfying dinner. One of the most fulfilling pleasures of the wintertime follows from here: to return from a frigid, exhausting day and welcome the cozy warmth and dimly lit familiarity of homespun lodging. In Skyrim, these taverns present an approximation of this nostalgia. Rustic wooden interiors softly lit with candlelight and populated with a scattering of fatigued travellers express a comfy space suitable for respite. Tables laden with Skyrim’s savory cuisine – pheasant roast, sliced goat cheese, Honningbrew mead, beef stew, spiced wine, grilled leaks, salmon steak, apple pie – surround an open hearth that breathes light and vitality to the setting. The stage is set and snug; my player-character hunkers down amidst the fire.

Read the full text at Thumbsticks.

Living the Dream: An Allegory for Breaking Procedure

What happens when videogames frustrate narrative lucidity and the expected norms of play? Every Day the Same Dream, a 2009 short game authored by Paolo Pedercini and his Italian collective Molleindustria, resists the formulaic patterns of videogame composition to produce new meaning. Gaming essayist Braxton Soderman points to Molleindustria’s penchant for disruptive play, recounting the developers’ ability to “…confront a variety of political, economic, and social issues, embracing a form of design ‘that aims at starting a serious discussion about social and political implications of videogames’” (Soderman). This critical analysis of Every Day the Same Dream locates not only the social and political objectives of the game but also its buried critique of videogame form itself. In offering cyclical patterns of gameplay and monotonous imagery, Pedercini emboldens the ability to break videogame procedure, evoking McKenzie Wark’s notion of allegorical play and destabilizing the procedural rhetoric that Ian Bogost longs to agitate. Moreover, Every Day the Same Dream affirms the expressive capacity of videogame language, antagonizing the generic conventions recycled by familiar algorithms and prosaic authorship.

Read the full text with a discussant’s reply by James Paul Gee at First Person Scholar.

Pseudo Game Jam 2014 – Speechless

Speechless is a first person suitor game, or a meet ‘em up, though it challenges the generic framework of both. Specifically, Speechless aims to resist the conventions of dating sims or romance visual novels that objectify women as merely sexual “goals” in the service of heterosexual male fantasy.

The player assumes the role of an employee who works for a company that relays break-up messages for clients unwilling to face their own loved ones directly. Think of it as a romance text-based game without the love.

Read my first place-winning entry at First Person Scholar.

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.