This Week I Read: Finding humanity between mechanics

Second week and already I’m terrible at keeping up with this. I have a terrible memory for some things so developing a method to recount a week’s worth of good reads is beneficial. It’s a learning process.

Unrelated to anything this week, why are there not more games centring around courtroom dramas? It seems a prime genre for mechanical potential, yet the only one I can think of is Phoenix Wright. Anyway…

Articles

First off is this video on game design by the creative mind behind Amnesia. No surprises, and it’s an hour long, but it’s a good watch for anybody interested.

Zoya Street had this great piece on Re/Action regarding ludic models of lying. Recently I’ve found myself growing dissatisfied with modes of lying in games that essentially amount to the checking of a meter. Filling up your lying skill in order to lie more believably does a disservice to the nuance and thrill of such a human habit (as opposed to a habit of mathematics). Board games like Werewolves and Scotland Yard lean on lying as a mechanic far more successfully than, say, The Walking Dead or Mass Effect, since these board games rely on simple mechanics that elicit lying as a legitimate tactic. It’s not woven into Werewolves that a wolf must pretend to be the seer, but the opportunity is available through natural player interaction which makes it a more satisfying play.

While we’re on it, please help fund this sort of games criticism. If by the end of this week funding is still incomplete, Re/Action won’t be able to pay its writers and will go under. And with it, the dreams of maintaining a healthy critical culture for the medium.

Which leads me to Errand Signal’s take on Warren Spector’s call for our very own Roger Ebert. Games criticism will get its mainstream renown when games criticism becomes a sustainable thing. As it is, it’s composed of folk who pour their hearts and souls into the trade only because they love it. The return is pittance. But the interest, both to generate critique and to read it, is most definitely there – it’s just a case of waking people up to the realisation that it warrants a few bob a pop.

This week also saw a surge of interest in Jason Rohrer’s interviews this year and his telling of The Castle Doctrine, his upcoming game. From all the furious twittering, this piece by Cameron Kunzelman astutely pinpointed some of the problems in Rohrer’s personal and professional ideation. I have a lot of problems with TCD and Rohrer himself (it’s a bloody dog, it can’t consent to your bollocks contracts), one of which I wrote about for Gameranx: my distaste  in equivocating value with mechanical function. I used Ico as an example of how this “good” design technique objectifies and dehumanizes, so beware.

As many problems as I have with TCD, I’ll move on for now.

Oh yes, in a macabre way this tumblr is very handy: today’s gaming drama. I don’t know if it’s intended to be dismissive, concise or simply accessible but the wry Irish part of me chooses to interpret it as dark humour, so I’ll be making some use of it later.

There were more, I’m sure, but I can’t for the life of me think of them. I’ll have to be more diligent at keeping track of what retweets I click on in future.

Games

Apropos of this wiki, I had the life frightened out of me by White Finger – a game in which you look around a place and then a scary guy comes after you. I could only play it once before my laptop refused to load it again, but what little I played was enjoyable.

Otherwise I finished Mass Effect and was left un-bewildered by the ending. Tonally, it kept in touch with the rest of the game – Mass Effect’s strength was always in its potential, seldom in the actual event of it. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t outraged, merely unsurprised.

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