Islands & Worlds

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Not one, but two new art­icles by my hand were pub­lished today in the fourth issue of Five out of Ten, a lovely mag that pays its writers according to a very honest model: the writers split the rev­enue evenly. The first art­icle is a semi-close reading of three games pub­lished recently: Dear Esther, Mias­mata, and Pro­teus. If you’re familiar with the games, you’ll realise they have a common theme, and that is that they are all set on an island. As I try to argue, there are more sim­il­ar­ities between the games than at first appears, but inter­esting dif­fer­ences too. In the art­icle, I try to get at what kind of places the islands in these games are, and what that means for the overall meaning and exper­i­ence of the games. On the way, I cover themes like isol­a­tion (and its ety­mo­logy), memory, and death. The other art­icle con­trib­utes to the issue’s central theme: storytelling in games: how do they do it, and are they any good at it? My per­spective deals with the concept of vir­tual worlds and spa­tial pres­ence, and how that relates to story in a game, and to our exper­i­ence of games in gen­eral. Long story short: I try to rehab­il­itate the concept ‘world’ as occupying a central pos­i­tion in the study of games, with ref­er­ence to some smarter people who’ve written great things about this sub­ject. […Read more…]

The Iterations of Punxsutawney Phil

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Remember Groundhog Day? It’s that 1993 film about Bill Murray’s char­acter, Phil, who keeps reliving the same day, Feb­ruary 2nd, in the Penn­sylvania town of Punx­sutawney, where on that day, the groundhog Punx­sutawney Phil will pre­dict when winter’s going to end. […] It’s an awful lot like the way we tend to play video games these days. Faced with chal­lenges in a game, we have the quick­save and quick­load but­tons close at hand, ready to revert to an earlier point in the game to try again. If you get to replay a sec­tion of a story over and over again, any chal­lenge inherent in the ori­ginal situ­ation quickly morphs into a matter of trial and error. Like Phil in Groundhog Day, we get to try out every inter­action, every conver­sation option the world allows us. More im­por­tantly, in a typ­ical collap­sing together of char­acter and player, Phil – like us – retains (meta)­knowledge of every­thing he did earlier. […Read more…]

Walking The Path

The start screen in 'The Path'.

Through the years I’ve had so many reasons to ignore her, always telling me where I could and couldn’t go… – I was follow­ing a pretty bird, and I got lost. I wanted to go for a walk by the lake. I wanted to pick some flowers that only grow in the forest. I was secretly meeting a boy. I wanted to check out the creepy grave­yard. I needed to get away for a while. Be­sides, the real reason she doesn’t want me to stray is be­cause she doesn’t want me to grow up and make my own de­cisions and not listen to her all the time. That’s why I went off the path and into the for­est. It’s made me who I am. […Read more…]

Mythic Fantasy: Pages of Pain

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What a chi­mera of a book this is. It has one foot in plain old fan­tasy, with quite a few battles, some spell-slinging, and a hero on a quest. The other foot is deep in myth. When I first read this book, around seven years ago, I didn’t quite get it. I was already quite familiar with Plan­es­cape, the Dun­geons & Dragons set­ting that forms the back­drop for this novel. How­ever, in the novel, I found little of the vast vistas and wide-eyed wonder that typ­i­fied the set­ting for me. Instead, the book’s nar­rative is almost com­pletely con­fined to a labyrinth, which offers only a few passing glimpses of all the ima­gin­ative places that make up the Plan­es­cape mul­ti­verse. How­ever, upon a second reading and some brief reflec­tion, I think I now see what Den­ning tried to do here. […Read more…]