In The Last of Us, between killing zombies and finding enough items to fashion a shiv and other weapons, there’s Joel and Ellie’s deepening relationship.
Perhaps the reason The Last of Us forced us to play as a burly white dude connects to our overall attitude towards zombie apocalypse in
The Last of Us was developed by Naughty Dog and released by Sony for the Playstation 4. It has been awarded 122 times, including GameSpot‘s Best of
I started up this game of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and I felt unsure. I was unsure of how this game would be after a four year hiatus from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Would I get the same product I got time and time again from this franchise: a slightly different “cool” hooded protagonist with … Continue reading “Assassin’s Creed: Pirate Simulator”
I started up this game of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and I felt unsure. I was unsure of how this game would be after a four year hiatus from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Would I get the same product I got time and time again from this franchise: a slightly different “cool” hooded protagonist with slightly different weapons in a slightly different plot loosely grounded in somewhat historically accurate characters? Probably. I knew what I would get when I played this game; this is a series whose successes are built on slight tweaks of a recycled formula. However, the location and characters would be brand new for me to free run tall buildings, assassinate nameless guards, and take in the virtual views of an old famous city. In a way, each Assassin’s Creed game is a mod of the previous one: changed visuals with mostly unchanged game mechanics.
(top: Assassin’s Creed III; bottom: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)
Though with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the game doesn’t immediately place the player in an old city or futuristic hideaway. It immediately introduces us to our protagonist, Edward Kenway, who is a pirate because he wants to be free from an oppressive class-based economy and naval structure. The designers smartly encouraged me to align with this pirate character as soon as possible. Who doesn’t want to be a rebellious pirate? Then, the game cut to a battle at sea between pirate ships. I was suddenly firing cannons at 18th century ships and steering a pirate ship. Then, the ships exploded, and I was washed up on an island chasing an assassin, who I ended up murdering. I have to commend Ubisoft for knowing what gamers want out of Black Flag: to be a pirate and assassinate people as soon as possible.
However, the new pirate pleasures do not really justify passing this game off as anything new. This begs the question of why these games keep getting made and bought? Why do people basically want a nicer version of a game they already have? I suppose it makes sense for players new to the franchise to play this game, but if I already have Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed III, why do I need this game? Why don’t I just play those games again if I really want to instead of shilling another $60 to Ubisoft? Ultimately, I was unsure about playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag because I had hope amidst my cynicism. I had hope that this game could be potentially something different and interesting, especially after the series abandoned Desmond Miles’s weird alien-unveiling story arc. My hope was not really met; instead, I got the same game but with pirates. Don’t get me wrong, Caribbean pirates are awesome. Yet, even that different style choice is not new or fresh. It’s a safe bet on what the popular conscience deems cool. Which is all this game series will ever be: a series of safe bets siphoning ideas from popular culture and movies, inhibiting what could be a one-of-a-kind game experience.
Cloud_imperium. “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review; ARRR !!!” Gamespot, 31 Jul. 2014, http://www.gamespot.com/assassins-creed-iv-black-flag/user-reviews/2200-12602699/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
“Featured Video.” Disney, http://pirates.disney.com/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
“Screen 621262.” Assassin’s Creed III Gallery, gamershell.com, 8 Apr. 2012,http://www.gamershell.com/ps3/assassin_s_creed_iii/screenshots.html?id=621262. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
Usher, William. “Assassin’s Creed 4 PS4 Gameplay Trailer Seeks Out Hidden Treasure.” CinemaBlend, 2013, http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Assassin-Creed-4-PS4-Gameplay-Trailer-Seeks-Out-Hidden-Treasure-57742.html. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
When I got Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire from my parents last Christmas, I was surprised. I didn’t ask for it; in fact, I hadn’t picked up a Gameboy of any kind in at least 5 years. Davidson’s time-draining combination of a rigorous workload and a buzzing social life makes playing videogames an inefficient, occasional luxury (except when you … Continue reading “The Nostalgic World of Pokémon (Ryan Rotella)”
When I got Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire from my parents last Christmas, I was surprised. I didn’t ask for it; in fact, I hadn’t picked up a Gameboy of any kind in at least 5 years. Davidson’s time-draining combination of a rigorous workload and a buzzing social life makes playing videogames an inefficient, occasional luxury (except when you play for them class, thanks Dr. Sample). I decided to dedicate time to this Pokemon game because I wanted to re-examine a series that took up so much time in my childhood. I am not exaggerating when I say that I played Pokemon everywhere growing up. I played it when I ate breakfast, waited on the bus, sat on the bus, sat at dinner while eating too much bread, you name it, I was playing a Pokemon game (usually Blue or Sapphire). I had to be pried away from my GameBoy Advance SP often, just so my parents could socially interact with me. I inhabited the world of Pikachus, Caterpies, and Gyradoses daily, trying so hard to be the very best like no one ever was. So, with any video game HD remake, I wanted to step back into that world through a nostalgia-filled commodity and find out why this game took such a strong hold on my young life.
But then I got bored pretty quickly into this game. I remembered that literally every mainline Pokemon game (that is, ones made for Gameboys that weren’t dungeon explorers) is essentially the same thing. I choose a character that’s either a boy or a girl, I have a rival, I choose a starter, I say goodbye to my mom, and I venture off into the world of Pokemon and gym battles. The only differences in the games are different items, different Pokemon, and better graphics. There are some competitive stats that get added throughout the series for the serious, online competitive players, but I never cared about that when I played. In this remake, there are no new Pokemon at all. By definition, it’s the same Pokemon from the original Sapphire in an updated game. I moved through a prettier, 3D animated Hoenn region with running shoes automatically on this time around, and it was nice…for like 20 minutes. I was walking around and playing the same game I already knew. I will say the turn-based mechanic of fighting and managing Pokemon is still addictively fun. Pokemon, with its customizable four move set and item management, has a very unique take on combat. That and its art design have made it into the success it is today and might be the reasons I loved these games so much. Each battle was an achievement in strategy and management with cool creatures, even if it was essentially animal fighting. I, nor most other 10 year-olds, typically don’t pick up on the animal-fighting bit because we didn’t know it existed and the cute fantasy of Pokemon masks the gruesome reality of animals maimed and killed for idle sport. So you could say the nostalgia has worn off greatly, but I still appreciate the fun I had in this weird, uber popular game. As with most media rooted and marketed in nostalgia, I don’t regret playing the remake of a game that made me happy, but I’m really glad I don’t anymore. I can’t really enjoy making wild creatures my possessions and fighting for my glory and image as a masterful trainer while sitting isolated staring at a screen for hours on end anymore. Thanks, Davidson, for giving me a life and making sure I never see the world the same way again.
The most striking moment of Portal, for me, was the final scene after the destruction of its AI character and an explosion. But it wasn’t striking simply because it was the culmination of the game, or the drama of the firey finale — it was striking because it was the first time in the game in which I saw trees, dirt, and green. This “back to nature” moment worked because it reinforced, and appeared in dialogue with, the setting of the game…
The most striking moment of Portal, for me, was the final scene after the destruction of its AI character and an explosion. But it wasn’t striking simply because it was the culmination of the game, or the drama of the firey finale — it was striking because it was the first time in the game in which I saw trees, dirt, and green.
This “back to nature” moment worked because it reinforced, and appeared in dialogue with, the setting of the game up until that point: the windowless chambers within the cavernous Aperture Science Center. In Narrative Architectures, Henry Jenkins argues that games sculpt worlds that contain informative landscapes. Portal’s landscape is a sterile lab environment, and every visual detail is carefully constructed to evoke this technologically-based testing chamber atmosphere, from the color scheme of white, muted greys, and dark colors to the eerie, empty surveillance rooms and cameras in each room. This is why, in the final scene of the game, those glimpses of an organic landscape were so important. It shows that the Aperture Science Center is not the totality of the gameworld — outside the total institution of the center exists a different world.
I use total institution as Erving Goffman defines it: with a total institution, “enforced activities are brought together as parts of a single overall rational plan purportedly designed to fulfill the official aims of the institution…All aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same single authority…all phases of the day’s activities are tightly scheduled.” Visually, Portal presents the player with claustrophobic, sterile rooms with high walls, artificial lights, metal grates — all reminiscent of a laboratory cum prison (both of which, actually, Goffman does define as total institutions). But the power dynamic between Chell and the AI, GLaDOS, also evokes the feel of Goffman’s total institution. She is the directive authority, with the institutional goal of “doing science” (as she puts it in her roll-credits song appearance), propelling Chell through regimented chamber after chamber and keeping constant watch and making sure she stays on “schedule.”
Indeed, as soon as Chell challenges this power differential by escaping the incinerator and entering “unsanctioned” areas, GLaDOS is certainly less than happy (and even starts to panic a bit). Even as the Center burns eventually around Chell, I feel much of the plot is still a mystery to me: what group formed the Aperture Science Center, and at what point and how did they loose control of GLaDOS? Does GLaDOS’ control extend beyond the Center, or was it encapsulated within? It’s hard to know what the gameworld beyond the Center walls is like, but it is different than the world presented on the inside, as evidenced by that simple appearance of trees.
Because we get relatively little plot detail, it seems the game less so made an argument about technology specific to the gameworld, but rather presented a narrative that can be loosely applied to various institutions in our world. We don’t know the complete picture of why Chell is the only one left and her specific reasons for attempting to destroy GLaDOS — but we do know that it was worth it to her. It was worth it to strip away the total institution, to burn a technology-heavy, constructed, lab based world that prioritizes science, progress, efficiency at all costs, and to try to break into a world beyond it.
When so many aspects of our lives are controlled by similar institutions (capitalist rat race! big data social media! hyper-consumption! prison-industrial complex! transnational corporations force feeding liberalization and privatization that only concentrates power and wealth to the few while the rest of us burn!) is it important to remember it is worth chipping away at their control, and to try to break into a world beyond it.
(less optimism can be drawn from the other final cut scenes, wherein Chell is dragged back into the remnants of the Center and GLaDOS personality cores light up and she sings “Still Alive.” The struggle against the institutional never does end, after all?)