The Cultural Gutter

taking trash seriously

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

the not-so casual gamer

When knowledge becomes an essential part of play.

As the game industry continues to expand at an alarming rate, the hunt for mindshare continues. Hardware manufacturers and game publishers don’t care about people like me, the guy that buys at least one game a month and considers part of their daily intake of current events visiting sites like Gamespot and Evil Avatar. I’ve […]

Teaching the Value of Human Life

Handcuffs or hand grenades?

When you’re put behind the crosshairs of a gun, do you assume you have to shoot to kill? Better still, do you have to shoot to win? For the majority of First Person Shooters, that is certainly the case. What if you were given the choice to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but still be able to […]

The Time Machines

Appreciating history through games.

I hated studying history in high school. It was as if the curriculum had been designed to leave out everything that impressionable minds could possibly associate with, while making no provisions to seem like it was anything but handed down from an institution. However, in recent years it’s a totally different story. I won’t read […]

A Just War

Scripting the battlefields of World War 2

Every time a new World War 2 First Person Shooter is announced, the collective groans from gamers and game media can be heard for miles, as if nothing more could be possibly done with this setting. The genre receives a bad reputation mainly because of the sheer amount of mediocre copycat titles that seem to […]

Welcome to Azeroth

I am a night elf hunter.

In World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004), I am a night elf hunter. I have a wolf named Meadow (named after my dog in real life). We journey the neighboring continents of Azeroth together, in search of new gear, more quests to complete, and raw meat to keep her happy so I don’t end up losing […]

Civil Engineer

Sad citizens? Buy them some entertainers!

Jeff Chapman started playing Civilization (MicroProse, 1991) when it came out and never stopped. He’s played the strategy turn-based videogame series for the past decade I’ve known him. Far from letting it consume him, he’s balanced his job as editor of History Magazine with a plethora of other projects, and so I thought he would […]

Jim Munroe interviews Sean Stewart and Elan Lee

Jim Munroe interviews Sean Stewart and Elan Lee from 42 Entertainment Game Designers’ Conference in San Francisco, March 10, 2005 Transcribed by Phuong Nguyen Sean:…and so when we were told that we had won this thing, I asked Elan is this a big deal or whatever? And he said yeah, it is a big deal. […]

The Sociable Horde

Jane McGonigal prepares honeyed clues for I Love Bees.

Readers of this column may remember a previous interview with Sean Stewart, who was one of the puppetmasters behind the Alternative Reality Game (ARG) The Beast (“Collective Detective,” Sept. 30, 2004). An example of pull marketing, this innovative, puzzle-based narrative based in the world of Spielberg’s A.I. succeeded in gaining an intense following, independent of […]

Jim Munroe interviews Marc Laidlaw

Game Designers’ Conference in San Francisco, March 10, 2005 Transcribed by Phuong Nguyen Munroe: I’m so glad that you’ve been getting so much deserved kudos for what you’ve been doing, and I’ve told you on many occasions that I think it’s fantastic, but… I’ve been having a crisis of faith as to whether narrative is […]

Rethinking Brain Eating

If you had to deal with Stalkers, you

If he feels vindicated, he doesn’t show it. As Marc Laidlaw waits for his co-workers to finish a talk, we sit down at a table in San Francisco’s cavernous Moscone Center and talk about Half-Life 2 (Valve, 2004). Its 1998 predecessor is legendary for pushing the form both narratively (bringing atmosphere and intelligence to the […]

Pirates of the Pacific

The largest Chinese mall in North America... and a den of pirates. Arr!

This past winter, Bruce and I took the trip out to Pacific Mall to get his PlayStation 2 modded. He was excited that he’d soon be able to play the pirated games he’d downloaded off the net, and I was excited about the amazing dim sum we’d be eating after. It was a pain getting […]

Nightmare Rental

It was like someone was watching me.

For a few weeks, Carma spent most of her free time trying to leave a room. There were massive chains barring the inside of the door, and the apartment’s windows wouldn’t open even if she wanted to risk climbing out. The monotony of the sallow walls was broken by the occasional eerie photograph of someone […]

Rolling Pleasure

Katamari Damacy

In a brief flashback to the hip Queen Street West I remember from the ’80s, I chanced upon a cult-hit videogame there. I was killing time and wandered into Microplay and asked the counter guy if any interesting games had come down the pike lately. “Yeah,” he said, “There’s this Japanese game…” He passed me […]

Indie-meets-industry shindig

Buckets of beer at the GDC.

It might have been the buckets of beer or just the balmy San Francisco night that had me feeling so upbeat after the Game Developers Choice Awards and the Independent Games Festival but even in sober retrospect it was pretty remarkable. On a basic level, it was simply seeing the best videogames of the year […]

Hanging With Heroes

Cold Bob showed me around Paragon City.

When I was 11 or 12, at the variety store near my Grandma’s house, I made a life-changing purchase. It was probably Christmas and I was probably killing time until I had to go back to a room full of adults. When I did return to the festive nest, I went home with the New […]

Pushing Kim Jong-Il’s Buttons

At least your female character isn

I’ve done my share of North Korea mocking. My favourite story? When I was living in the South Korean countryside in 1996, there had been a recent drama aired on South Korea’s KBS network that characterized North Korea in some way they didn’t like. The North Korean radio issued a response: they would kill all […]

Coding Collagers

Pac-Mondrian

The internet is packed with funny. A clever idea, executed well, can move quickly through the blogosphere. So when I first saw Pac-Mondrian, a videogame that juxtaposes the famous mouth against a famous painting, I wasn’t bowled over. I did like the incongruous old-time jazz soundtrack, however, and the text on the website hooked me: […]

When Spheres of Interest Collide

Discussing Starcraft and Spirited Away over a spot of tea.

Why people read what they read and watch what they watch has recently been of interest to me. As a cultural consumer and producer both, I know that advertisements and reviews are hardly the overwhelming factors, just the most reassuringly quantifiable. Recommendations from friends have the advantage of being motivated by passion rather than profits, […]

The Scientist-Hero Returns

They even get the suburbs right.

I was a little nervous as I waited for Half-Life 2 (Vivendi, 2004) to start. The original Half-Life (Sierra, 1998) is one of the reasons this column exists — the game brought atmosphere and intelligence to the first-person shooter without skimping on the visceral kickassocity, and brought me back to videogames after a decade of […]

A Novel Approach to Games

A book about videogames and the cord octopi they spawn.

Lucky Wander Boy (Plume, 2003) is a novel that starts with the protagonist rediscovering the videogames of his youth through the MAME arcade emulator. But the game that he most wants to play, an obscure Japanese game for which the book is named, lies beyond his reach — it can’t be emulated, since its innovations […]

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  • Of Note Elsewhere

    NPR interviews Hank Willis Thomas on his exhibition showcasing images of white women in advertizing. It’s a follow up to his 2008 exhibition, “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America.” “I think what happens with ads — when we put text and logos on them, we do all the heavy lifting of making them make sense to us. But when you see the image naked, or unbranded, you start to really ask questions.”

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    Our friends at Pornokitsch share a 1898 Philadelphia Press article on ghosts of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

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    The Journal of Popular Romance Studies interviewed author Joanna Russ in 2007 about slash fiction: “Her 1985 essay, ‘Pornography By Women For Women, With Love’ helped to set the terms of the discussion for feminist scholars who followed, and it is widely cited in fan studies. Russ argues that fantasy has to be read in more complex ways than simply seeing it as an effort at one-dimensional wish fulfillment. She posits fantasy as something rich and metaphorical. She reads slash as a genre that tells us new things about women’s sexuality and sexual desire, things that—in 1985—weren’t being talked about except in the very divided feminist ‘sex wars,’ where ‘pro-sex’ and ‘anti-porn’ feminists created ever more polarized stances.”

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    At Hyperallergic, Jeremy Polacek writes about the history of Afrofuturism and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s exhibit, “Space Is The Place: AfroFuturism On Film”:  “Afrofuturism is an empowering rubric, an approach and aesthetic that clarifies and connects history and the hope, creativity, and pain there within. Afrofuturism is wry, wise, and leveling — it believes that a brighter, more equal, funkier future is within the realm of possibility. You can be different; this world can be different — self-invention commingles with worldly reinvention; Africa is both glorious past and technocratic future.

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    Sweet Jane shares a 1967 fashion editorial shoot mixing mod fashion and the work of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. (via arabellesicardi.com)

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    BBC Radio 4 is presenting an adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. You can listen to the first episode here. There are also other features, including an interview with Le Guin. (via Pornokitsch)

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