Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Queer Game Studies, "On FeministWhorePurna and the Ludo-material Politics of Gendered Damage Power-ups in Open-World RPG Video Games"

For the upcoming book Queer Game Studies (2017), I contributed a chapter on the "FeministWhore" scandal in the game Dead Island. It is a "ludo-material" political analysis, looking at gameplay as expressed by source code, intended for general audiences. Here, I'll talk a bit about the ideas and process behind writing the chapter, and then briefly summarize the main argument.

First, to remind you, here's the reporting on the scandal back in 2011 from Kotaku:
One of the unlockable skills for Dead Island leading lady Purna allows her to deal extra damage against male victims. It's called Gender Wars in the game, but the original skill was named "Feminist Whore."
There's a lot to unpack here, and one goal of my chapter is to expand what we mean by "representation" in games. Currently, whenever we criticize a game character for its politics, such as a racist or sexist stereotype, we tend to focus on the character art, animation, writing, and voice acting. Why not expand representation to encompass the richness of the entire game experience and game engine itself?

My analysis follows Mark Sample's excellent "Criminal Code: Procedural Logic and Rhetorical Excess in Videogames" in focusing on the procedural politics of game mechanics and balance, and comparing that to the systems as intended from the source code. FeministWhorePurna is an ideal case study: it was a contemporary event with modern game engine architecture and a player / modder community that practically did the gameplay and forensic analysis for me already. (I also forced myself to play a bit of Dead Island to verify everything.)

You'll have to checkout the full book from your library, or buy it, or whatever, to see the full essay, but I'll try to briefly summarize the argument here, and in more game developer-y language as appropriate:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Forever BUTT

The cover of BUTT Magazine #18
This doesn't really have anything to do with games, directly, but: I want to talk briefly about a gay mens' magazine called BUTT.

I never realized before how BUTT was such an important influence to me, until a photographer asked me to pick out things from my apartment that informed my work -- so I picked out "Forever BUTT", a best-of compilation book. At first I thought about how funny it would be if the word "BUTT" was literally printed in the photo, but then I realized there was some truth to what BUTT meant to me.

Growing up, my early understanding of gay men consisted mostly of hiding random gay crypto-porn, talking with my mom's fitness instructor, and wondering about Tigger from Winnie The Pooh. I knew abstractly about AIDS, hate crimes, gay bars, musical theater, and mid-century modern art, but I didn't really connect any of those things to my life. All I knew was that I wish Zangief played more like Chun-Li.

And then one fateful day, while walking into an American Apparel store without any intent to ever buy anything, I saw the cover of BUTT issue #18 on the shelf -- a casual portrait of a smirking burly bearded dude printed on milky fuchsia-pink paper. He wasn't a glossy supermodel with perfect cheekbones, he was just some random cute guy somewhere, and so he deserved to be on the cover. It all seemed clearly gay, yet also didn't really fit my young idea of gayness at all.

What... was this... ?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Game Development Studies reading list, Fall 2015

In the vein of "Platform Studies" or "Code Studies", we might consider a "Game Development Studies" ("Console Studies?") -- a field of research investigating the technical and material aspects of video games, from early prototypes to production code to distribution. How have various processes of game development changed over time? How does that influence what games are, or how they are perceived?

Here are six books that, I think, do much of that work:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Videogames for Humans, edited by Merritt Kopas

The first reaction most people had was, "it's bigger than I expected." 575 pages to be exact. But that obfuscates the actual format of Videogames for Humans: 27 different close readings / commentaries on short stories.

What those most people actually meant was that they had no idea that 575 pages of thought on Twine was possible, that they're surprised Twine is this big or that it is worth preserving on a tree carcass.

Preserving! In order to preserve something, it has to be more or less "over", and Merritt Kopas has a lot of feelings and anxiety about how Twine will be remembered. In the introduction, she confesses, "late 2012 and early 2013 was an extraordinarily exciting period for me [...] the 'queer games scene' covered by videogame outlets might not have been as cohesive as some accounts supposed, but for a little under a year, it definitely felt real,"

... then later she argues, "but I don't want Videogames for Humans to be seen as the capstone of the 'Twine revolution,' a kind of historical record of some interesting work done in the early 2010s."

So then, this book is partly an attempt to correct or amend a prior history... but not with more history. It wants to break a cycle.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Quality product": on Jagged Alliance 2 by Darius Kazemi

Much like Anna Anthropy's study of ZZT, Darius Kazemi's study of Jagged Alliance 2 for Boss Fight Books is a quick read but feels very comprehensive, analyzing the game in a holistic interdisciplinary cross-section across history, anthropology, politics, and computer science.

Unlike Anna, Darius adopts a much more academic tone, and rarely inserts himself into his own narrative. And while the result is a convincing, well-written, and well-researched book, it ends up falling prey to certain weaknesses that were irrelevant to Anna's book... which fascinates me, because I want to write my own book on Half-Life 1 that somehow blends both of their sensibilities.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Liner Notes: Intimate, Infinite (part 1)

These are some notes about my process / intent in making my game Intimate, Infinite. Spoiler warning is in effect for this game as well as the 1941 Borges short story that inspired it. This post assumes you've read the story already.

The first time I read the Garden of Forking Paths, it was in a freshman college seminar about literature and games. It was presented as a revolutionary text that predicted early 1990s hypertext literature and branching narratives... but by the time I read it in the late 2000s, the revolution was over, the internet was domesticated, and clicking on a link was one of the most mundane things ever.

Turns out, a lot of theorists agreed. As early or late as 1999, hypertext was declared dead -- long live "cybertext"! Nick Montfort distinguishes between the two types mainly as a matter of computation: a hypertext is a "finite automaton" capable of simple searches, while a cybertext is more like a recursive Turing machine that can compute anything computable. It's the difference between a calculator vs. a laptop. (This isn't to say hypertexts are bad; Twine has revived hypertext in a new age of Javascript and web design, making hypertext more relevant than ever. But it is relevant because of new authorship and new contexts, and not because it is a frontier of computing.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

"I'm young and I love to be young": on ZZT, by Anna Anthropy

Anna Anthropy's book "ZZT" is impressive. In only 129 pages, she gives a robust and accessible technical overview of the game ZZT, a nearly 23 year old text-only DOS game with a built-in game editor. She then explores how that engine design -- combined with nascent internet technologies like dial-up BBS boards, AOL archives, and IRC channels -- afforded several generations of a vibrant creator community. Her analysis effortlessly straddles computer science, design, art history, anthropology, and gender theory, all wrapped in a personal story of her childhood. It is a very easy, enjoyable, and insightful read.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On video game corridors in "Elements of Architecture"

I wrote about video game corridors for the huge expensive hardcover 1000+ page Rem Koolhaas book-set "Elements of Architecture" -- it's part of an entire book about corridors, alongside books about doors, walls, etc.

The bit that I've read has a pretty contemporary approach to things, talking about film geography and nationalism in the same breath as my lonely page that touches on the technical / level design aspects of corridors.

Look mom, I'm a published architecture critic now!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What should you learn in Games 101?

I'm teaching an undergraduate "Games 101" class at Parsons this Fall semester, and putting together the syllabus has been... not easy.

It's supposed to introduce students to a body of game history / game theory, while also letting them dip their toes into non-digital and digital game design. This is like 4 different classes being merged into one, so it's going to be hard to cover all the bases while accommodating everyone's varying experience and fluency in game design.

Many of the students will already be familiar with video games and board games -- but just as many will be taking this class because their advisor said it was good for learning interaction design, or maybe they wanted what sounds like an easy elective -- or maybe they played Temple Run once (a month ago) and they haven't touched any video games since then, but they sure like playing beer pong and basketball and tag, and those are games, right? (In some respects, the "gamers" might have the most to learn.)

Some pillars of my approach to Games 101:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Radiator Book Club: Architecture, design and criticism.

Book Club posts recommend books and approaches to consuming them for today's go-getting game developer / enthusiast.

These are books that I find useful for learning about architecture as design and theory. I've never formally studied architecture; my reading usually has to pass a "can I apply this to video games?" test that is intellectually cynical but like whatever. Fortunately, few things in architecture fail that test.

Grammar of Architecture (Emily Cole)
Every single environment artist should have a copy of this book; it's basically a 300+ page cheat sheet that talks about common decor patterns / floorplan structures of most pre-Neoclassical architectural styles around the world. Cole generally does a good job of balancing discussion of ancient Indian temple ornament with the The Alhambra's mathematical dimensions, trying to explain the history and ideas behind individual elements. It's effective because it doesn't try to be deep and is content to be a general survey, relying heavily on (numerous, small) drawings and pictures. It gives you a fast surface understanding of a style (e.g. a few pages for Gothic, and that's it) -- enough to build it and move on. These are, essentially, 150+ pre-assembled moodboards.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Radiator Book Club: the Game Design Bibles

Several independent parties have asked me for book recommendations and stuff, so now I'm starting a series of posts about books to read, and some notes on how to possibly approach them.

These are core books that establish terminology and basic theory about games and development. If you've played games for a long time, much of this material will seem obvious / simple / not worth saying... but that's only because games are in your blood. A lot of it isn't obvious to everyone. So, it's important to maintain a "greedy" attitude in reading -- pick and choose what you like from these texts, and don't feel obligated to like (or read) the entire book.

Rules of Play (Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman)
I'm pretty sure Rules of Play is taught in, like, every university-level game design class in the world. It's extremely comprehensive in approaching game design as science and culture -- it's pretty much a primer on everything. The problem I'm seeing, though, is in the people who've rarely played games but want to make games as a career: they read this book and think this theory IS games, rather than a tool that sometimes helps you think about games. (see: "the map is not the territory") These "textbook developers" have a strange way of doing things, often wondering aloud how best to satisfy The Five Different Types of Players or how to Teach the Core Mechanic, instead of, uh, talking like a human being. I think game design is really lucky in that the veterans / masters of this field will usually preach against simple fundamentalism like that... well, usually.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Club, level design edition

Here are some books I've been reading, most of them about halfway through. I haven't bought any of these; they're all from my university library. (Pro-Tip: If you're a student, take full advantage of your library.) I'll probably give them more detailed write-ups later...

Myst and Riven, by Mark J. Wolf. (2011). I only picked this up because I saw it on the shelf next to Ian Bogost's "How To Do Things With Videogames." I'm not going to say it's bad -- if you've never played Myst or Riven, this'll give you a decent idea of what that's like, and the various idiosyncrasies involved -- but from my perspective, Wolf seems like a huge fanboy who overestimates the series' significance and place in history. I argue against his account in an upcoming feature on FPS games in May's PC Gamer UK; Myst sold a lot and seemed poised to start a revolution, then it didn't. Instead, Myst (along with Second Life) is "significant" more in the minds of humanities professors. Where are the scholarly monographs on Doom and Quake? (Actually, I think Dan Pinchbeck's in the middle of writing it?)