On the second Ontological Geek podcast episode, Aaron and I are joined by Amsel von Spreckelsen and Rowan Noel Stokvis to discuss the portrayal of mental health asylums in videogames, as well as some other related topics. Among the games discussed are Amnesia: the Dark Descent, the Thief games, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dark Souls, Outlast, Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons, and To the Moon.
[From a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, I received the original version of the message below, which was picked up using radio observation of signals from outer space. For the reader’s convenience, I have rendered it in contemporary English, rather than the early modern English in which it was written.]
Archive: Desbaresdes belt > Giraud γ > Orbit of Giraud γ 3 > Wreckage of Sigil, orbital torus space station
File: Anonymous journal entry, textual, untitled, dated 2321/12/16
Description: This log entry, retrieved during the salvage of Sigil station in 2456, appears to be an assessment of a particular type of interactive experience available to users of the station at the time through use of holocommunication transmitters. Remnants of the software which is referred to in the entry have been found in the data logs of Sigil station, and various other stations throughout the galaxy; see > T. Beach Projector.
My latest blog post on games is my third for The Ontological Geek, and my first as a regular contributor to that fine collective. In it, I explore some of the ways in which games can tap into the tools and trappings of the horror genre. I use the theory of art horror as posited by Noël Carroll and discuss how games can evoke fear and disgust in players, not just by using monsters, but also light, darkness, and spaces. The article is part of a series of articles on horror in games, and connects to many other recent and older writings on the genre, so there’s a lot to read.
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.
Few novels compelled me as much to immediately write my thoughts down as The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Usually I enjoy novels a lot while reading them (or not), but quickly dive into a new one afterwards. In this case, I felt the need to spend some words on it before moving on. I’m pretty sure this means that the book has some sort of clarity and compactness of style that brings across its messages very directly.
I sure wasn’t the only one reading The Wasp Factory this month. Banks passed away after a battle with cancer on June 9th, and a number of my online friends and acquaintances made a grab towards his debut novel, like I did.
Communication is the weirdest thing. It just kinda works, unless it doesn’t. In practice, it works not because the connection between thought, intention, and language is perfect. It isn’t. It works because we usually share large parts of our worldview and knowledge with the people we’re speaking with, and because our minds are really good at filling in conceptual gaps wherever we see them. In cases where there are minor hitches in communication, we’re also very good at pretending there aren’t any. We ignore them, or we aren’t even aware that someone else might not understand exactly what we’re saying in the same way that we do.
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.
Videogames can sometimes be a very arcane medium, and it can often be difficult to comprehend what they’re all about for people who never or seldom play them. Of course entertainment is often the main ‘use’ of a video game, but many of them have elaborate themes and stories, and the way in which video games deliver those narratives and themes is often unique to the medium. Today my own piece on Planescape: Torment was published, and I try to explain how the game uses exploration and conversation to allow you to reconstruct the protagonist’s tortured past.
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.
Throughout human history, in art and religion, we find a longing for deliverance, the view of a promised land just out of our current reach, whether somewhere else on some part of (mythologised) Earth, or in a world beyond.