For lots of gamers, the power of the medium is its ability to place us in the shoes of other people, making tough choices that we’d otherwise never need to contemplate.But how does that message of power and opportunity spread outwards, away from the mostly indie games that address serious issues, and the relatively small number of people who celebrate these noble efforts?
The American Dream shines a hilarious light on our digital obsession with guns, but it also poses the question: why are we still obsessed? In 2016, is the ubiquity of guns in video games holding the medium back? In light of several recent AAA titles suffering from ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ – an academic term meaning a conflict between a video game’s narrative and its gameplay – due to their inclusion of guns, it’s surely a question worth asking.
It’s easy to see why Undertale spoke to so many people. It’s rare to find a game that so thoroughly embraces nonviolence not just in mechanics but integral themes (though of course there are plenty of games with pacifist routes, from indie offerings like Iji to big fish like Metal Gear Solid). It’s a truly special game. And yes, I know the wave of praise for this game and the ensuing backlash have already both come and gone. Most people have not only heard of it but either played it or seen all the salient spoilers. As much as I liked it, I’d stopped thinking much about it months ago.
Even at that young age, I was crying myself to sleep, praying to wake up as a girl, with no memory of being a boy. Outwardly, I was just your typical roughhousing little boy, I didn’t ask to play with Barbies, I didn’t insist on being called a girl, I didn’t demand girl’ clothes. Those things were much much too scary to ask for at the time. The only way someone would be able to tell something was amiss was if they paid close attention to the way I used to play Super Mario Bros. 2. I used Princess Peach obsessively. I still have muscle memory for her floaty jumps and the longer length of time to pull up turnips, even to this day.
The videogame industry is bad at reaching mainstream audiences. It sounds like a cocky Buddhist koan, but one need only search the internet for a few Googles to see the game industry has not coexisted with the mainstream scrutiny and journalistic probing other entertainment industries have known for decades. Whereas film writing began in academic journals, videogame “journalism” and criticism began in enthusiast publications like Nintendo Power, where software companies and publishers kept information about products on a strict IV drip as prescribed by marketing plans. The dynamic hasn’t historically existed for picking up phones, chasing down leads, and taking scalpels to big systemic problems in the industry.
Perfect Woman’s main mechanic is body-bending. Standing in front of the Xbox One Kinect, players sync their arms and legs with the poses of a woman on-screen—at one point, a street kid leading a gang, at another, a belly dance teacher. The life choices you make, and how well you sync yourself with their demands, can impede or further new ambitions you have as you age. For example, when a life choice is more difficult, the poses on-screen change more rapidly. It’s fairly exhausting, and quite embarrassing to play, for example, in front of colleagues.
Waves of Grace is the second in a series of short films made in collaboration with VR video app Vrse and filmmaker Chris Milk (and some funding from VICE). It’s an effort to use virtual reality to connect people with real life in the strife-ridden parts of the world that too often remain distant and abstract. Even with the limitations of current VR gear, it’s damn effective, enough that it’s easy to talk about the film as though it were an actual experience. Decontee Davis’s voice was in my ear as I stood at the side of a hospital bed, where she sat with a patient for whom human contact was no longer a part of everyday life. I visited a dusty schoolyard where children sang and glanced warily at me. I stood at the foot of an open grave as anonymous men in white suits lowered a body bag, so close I could almost feel it brush my knees.
The term “PK” (or “Player Kill”) is often used in games like World of Warcraft to describe destroying or killing an online opponent. Although my mom had never played an online role-playing game in her life, the word had somehow made its way into her vocabulary.
Later, I learned that “PK”—like a number of gaming-related terms—had entered more general usage on the Chinese internet, and is now often used to mean “compete against” or “go head-to-head with” in ways that have nothing to do with games. People “PK” their baby photos, recipes, and yes, their karaoke. It’s become such a generalized synonym for competition that this American Idol-esque show refers to itself as a “singing PK”:
Hacknet is being developed for PC and is designed to be more realistic by using real UNIX commands. Also in contrast to its peers, Hacknet does not feature levels or classic game elements, to avoid “breaking the illusion.”
Surprise Attack Games, an indie developer based in Melbourne, says it wanted to move away from the “Hollywood-style” version of hacking we see in terrible movies, and the hacking mini-games we see in games like Deus Ex, which are more like a Rubik’s Cube than anything you’d do with a computer.
The most recent issue of the American Journal of Play (Fall, 2014) includes an article (link is external) by researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier, and C. Shawn Green summarizing recent research demonstrating long-lasting positive effects of video games on basic mental processes–such as perception, attention, memory, and decision-making. Most of the research involves effects of action video games—that is, games that require players to move rapidly, keep track of many items at once, hold a good deal of information in their mind at once, and make split-second decisions. Many of the abilities tapped by such games are precisely those that psychologists consider to be the basic building blocks of intelligence.