The Cultural Gutter

the cult in your pop culture

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

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 […]

Questing For Answers

The pass came with mardi gras beads, too.

While in New Orleans on a book tour, I noticed a fellow with a t-shirt that read: EverQuest Fan Faire, New Orleans 2004. Aw, I thought as the guy stepped onto the escalator, I wonder when that was? Kind of like seeing a show poster for a gig already passed, I presumed it’d already happened. […]

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  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Mostly Film, Blake Backlash writes about films “mixing of Hollywood’s Grande Dames with Grand Guignol.”  “Such cinematic mixing of Grande Dames and Grand Guignol had its heyday in the second-half of the sixties, and such films are sometimes (more-or-less) affectionately known as psycho-biddy pictures. They tended to feature an actress over 50 in some sort of peril, a melodramatic plot and a title that ends in a question mark.  But there is another, related tradition that goes back further that I think we could place these films in.” (via Dr. Giallo)

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    “I want to tell you about when violent campaigns against harmless bloggers weren’t any halfway decent troll’s idea of a good time—even the then-malicious would’ve found it too easy to be fun. When the punches went up, not down. Before the best players quit or went criminal or were changed by too long a time being angry. When there was cruelty, yes, and palpable strains of sexism and racism and every kind of phobia, sure, but when these things had the character of adolescents pushing the boundaries of cheap shock, disagreeable like that but not criminal. Not because that time was defensible—it wasn’t, not really—but because it was calmer and the rage wasn’t there yet. Because trolling still meant getting a rise for a laugh, not making helpless people fear for their lives because they’re threatening some Redditor’s self-proclaimed monopoly on reason. I want to tell you about it because I want to make sense of how it is now and why it changed.” Emmett Rensin writes more at Vox.

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    At Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Elyse has some things to say about reading Romance. “In the end, it doesn’t matter what I read. It doesn’t even matter that I do read, quite frankly. What matters is that we live in a world where fiction aimed directly at women is perceived as garbage. That doesn’t say anything at all about me, it says a lot about what needs to change.”

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    Brain Pickings looks at the life and work of Tove Jansson and the wisdom of her character, Too-ticky. “Too-ticky, the sage of Moominvalley who solves even the most existential of problems with equal parts practicality and wisdom, was inspired by the love of Jansson’s life — the great Finnish sculptor and graphic arts pioneer Tuulikki “Tooti” Pietilä, Jansson’s spouse. The two women met in art school during their twenties and remained together until Jansson’s death more than six decades later, collaborating on a lifetime of creative projects — all at a time when queer couples were straddling the impossible line between anguishing invisibility and dangerous visibility.” (via Kate Laity)

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    Photographer Kevin Weir uses vintage photographs to create haunting animation in “The Flux Machine.” The Guardian has an interview with Weir and more on his work.

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    At the New Yorker, Jill Lepore considers the intertwining histories of women’s suffrage, feminism, Amazons and Wonder Woman. “It isn’t only that Wonder Woman’s backstory is taken from feminist utopian fiction. It’s that, in creating Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston was profoundly influenced by early-twentieth-century suffragists, feminists, and birth-control advocates and that, shockingly, Wonder Woman was inspired by Margaret Sanger, who, hidden from the world, was a member of Marston’s family.”

     

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