Tag Archives: games

The paradox of fun

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

The paradox of fun is this: we think fun is enjoyment, but in practice it often feels like quite the opposite. On the one hand, we’d never think to describe uncomfortable or distressing experience as fun ones, but on the other hand, discomfort or distress often characterize the experiences we later describe as fun. A fun match of soccer might involve physical and emotional injury; a fun trip to the zoo might entail heat exhaustion and stained overalls. And yet fun doesn’t feel like suffering either, exactly, even when it literally involves suffering. Otherwise we’d not call it fun, but hardship.

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We’ve misunderstood fun to mean enjoyment without effort

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

What does it mean for something to be fun? If you wanted to design a fun toaster, or lead a fun classroom, or advertise a fun job, or write a fun book, how would you go about it? If you wanted to find a fun appliance to buy, or a fun course to take, or a fun career to pursue, or a fun book to read, what heuristic would you choose to select one? Most of us have no idea. We don’t even know what fun is, even though we claim to want it in everything. We’ve misunderstood fun to mean enjoyment without effort. Nothing has been spared the cursed attempt to “make it fun”; everything whatsoever hopes to transform itself into a delightful little morsel of sugar in your mouth.

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Under the sail of generosity rather than selfishness

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

My daughter’s mall game illustrates these principles. She saw and acknowledged the tiles, which are separately laid and grouted for the ease of manufacture, transport, installation, and maintenance. But rather than allowing that material distinction to recede into the background, to become mere substrate for our far more urgent pursuit of retail commerce, she made the tile / grout pairing the focus of her attention. She added to them the speed of her gait as pulled along by me, my hand and body as it attached to and pulled her to and fro erratically, the shape and size of her feet, the traction or slipperiness of her shoes, the vectors along which runs counter to our ordinary conception of play as a release of tension and responsibility.

Then, even though I was merely an accessory to her game rather than a party to it, she forced me to recognize and acknowledge the space she’d created. The tiles, the grout, her shoes, and so on—I became newly aware of these things simply by virtue of attending to her indirectly. We must seek to capture that magic everywhere; in everything. Not the pleasure of realizing our own goals—as if we even know that they are or ought to be—but the gratification of meeting the world more than halfway, almost all the way, and reaping the spoils of our new discoveries made under the sail of generosity rather than selfishness.

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The limitations make games fun

Play Anything by Ian Bogost

The lesson that games can teach us is simple. Games aren’t appealing because they are fun, but because they are limited. Because they erect boundaries. Because we must accept their structures in order to play them. Soccer sees two teams of eleven players attempting to use their feet, torsos, and heads to put a ball into a goal. Tetris asks you to position falling arrangements of four orthogonally-connected squares in order to produce and remove horizontal lines. And yet the experiences games like soccer and Tetris create are far larger than those boundaries convey on their own. That bounty results from the deliberate, if absurd, pursuit of soccer and Tetris on their own terms, within the limitations they erect. The limitations make games fun.

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Dark Souls: Remastered Announced for Nintendo Switch

During today’s Nintendo Direct Mini, Nintendo announced Dark Souls: Remastered will be heading to the Switch on May 25, 2018. The title will also be launching on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

This continues a trickle of AAA third-party ports to the hybrid portable/set-top console. In 2017, among other third-party ports, Bethesda released Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and DOOM to the console and will soon to be releasing Wolfenstein 2: New Colossus.

Dark Souls was originally released in 2011 for PS3 and Xbox 360. It spawned two sequels and riff Bloodborne.

I have never played a Souls game. The idea of sitting in front of a TV, beating my head against an insanely difficult boss for hours on end is not a luxury my life can afford. However, doing so on a portable console is a whole different story.

Killing hours traveling, accompanying my wife on the sofa, relaxing in bed, stealing myself away to any place to chip away at a game are the reasons I’ve tucked my consoles away. Furthermore, the ability to quickly put the Switch to sleep and seamlessly launch back into a title make it my ultimate gaming device. For all of these reasons, I feel the Switch will allow me to join the Souls conversation, finally.

While Dark Souls: Remastered is the first of the series, the announcement of another classic PS3/Xbox 360 port to the Switch extends my enthusiasm for the console. I’m reminded of how tickled I was seeing this tweet by Jon Cartwright:

Honestly, it’s remarkable to see a Nintendo console glean so much third-party support. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed for Cuphead.

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Miyamoto: ‘I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans’

Simon Parkin reporting for The New York Times:

Even people like Mr. Miyamoto, 65, a leading figure at Nintendo since the 1980s, is ceding control at the company’s Japanese headquarters.

“More and more I am trying to let the younger generation fully take the reins,” Mr. Miyamoto said.

This younger generation has been carefully chosen; Mr. Miyamoto says he wants people who are more likely to create new kinds of play, rather than merely aim to perfect current ones.

“I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans,” Mr. Miyamoto said. “I make it a point to ensure they’re not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.” Some of the company’s current stars had no experience playing video games when they were hired.

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Traditional Games

Walt Williams in his book ‘Significant Zero’:

A traditional game is a challenge in which a player’s skill comes up again a rigid set of rules. Turn-based strategy, multiplayer death match, platformers—these are traditional. The modern, high-end, blockbuster AAA game is not a skill challenge. If it were, the player might fail and be disappointed, and then we wouldn’t sell as many copies. The rules are fluid. We change them to create tension, surprise, or excitement. Saying yes to the player only goes so far, and that distance is the exact length required to make you feel in control.

Last week, a colleague of mine asked how far I was into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I told him that I was in the middle of the fourth (and possibly last) stage — Lava Pit. (For what it’s worth, I had recommended the game to him.) I also told him that playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the most fun I’d had with a video game in a long time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was great, but the aesthetic doesn’t draw me back. Likewise, Splatoon 2 is lots of fun, but only in casual, Mario Kart-style doses. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battlle has me not only progressing through the main campaign, but backtracking to achieve better, cleaner results in previous battles and optional challenges.

Right now, it seems the “traditional” game is where I find fulfillment. When life feels like a maze, solving simple, zero-stakes problems — in a world you adore — is unbelievably gratifying.

If platformers fit into this bucket, then boy, oh boy am I looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey.

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Binary Notions of Sex and Gender

The newest version of Dungeons & Dragons launched on July 3, 2015.

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition: Basic Rules v0.1:

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

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Re: Video games, art and noise

Re: Video games, art and noise

Finding a voice between pop and counter-culture.


4+ years ago, when I first launched TheStarrList.com as a Tumblr blog, I sought to explain underground and often dismissed media to the average reader. I donned the blog’s subtitle with “Making Sense of the Media Around You” and filled it with weekly album reviews, DVD to Blu-ray comparisons, and “best of” lists.

I poured my energy into a Top 100 Albums of the 2000s post filled with 100 mini album reviews; ripped and analyzed The Sound of Music Blu-ray vs. DVD, projecting the comparison to an audience more concerned with post-hardcore music and Star Wars (though, I compared that too). There were even experiments with video game reviews from Uncharted 3 to Limbo and micro-movie reviews during Oscar season.

In 2012, I switched from Tumblr to WordPress format to focus on longer-form writing with a bit more structure and professionalism. To my surprise, the blog saw incredible growth, at least by my standards. TheStarrList.com was now a much richer and dynamic experience.

Two years later, I find myself wondering what its primary theme is as it’s beginning to feel like a catch-all for my scattered thoughts.

Art and Noise

Required reading: Video games, art and noise | The Guardian

“It matters to me that on Monday morning, seven million Today listeners heard games being dismissed on the basis of a tiny minority of the annual output. It matters how consensus develops around new artistic forms.” – Keith Stuart, The Guardian

When I woke to The Gaurdian’s “Video games, art and noise” by Keith Stuart, a lightbulb switched on. Stuart’s arguments about loud yet uninformed “minority output” broadcasting to millions, discounting entire mediums and genres had my memory zipping back to my Tumblr blog.

Even with grand-scale digital publishing and hashtag/retweet filtration, there still remains a large population not savvy to the cultural trends of millennials and their collective, connected views of technology’s impression on art. Suddenly it became clear why I had written pieces on Blu-ray remasters of classic films and a defensive for Skrillex.

In my line of work, a sliver of my time is spent curating niche content and broadcasting it to a large audience. Though popular consensus informs us that heavy-hitters will continue to rise to the top, I find more validity in the little guy. Generations will always include masses discounting change and evolution (queue Patton Oswalt on home birth), unwilling to invest the time and effort to understand what makes WhatsApp a worthy investment or dismissing replay rules in professional sports. Cultural relevance is the reason I continue to educate myself on topics I don’t fully understand (and hopefully never will). I fear the day I will fail to understand my children.

“You would never debate the artistic potential of cinema by focusing solely on mainstream Hollywood films.” – Keith Stuart, The Guardian

In defense of Sarah Kent, I understand backlash when taking a hard stance on something I have either strong bias for and/or ignorance of. (See my discourse with @ryanruppe regarding Salon writer Jeff Bryant’s “Common Core propaganda fails“) Hopefully Keith’s piece sparks re-evaluation of video games as art; with outreach to millions, simply writing-off an entire medium/stance/genre is extremely damaging. Raise questions. Avoid absolutes.

My Voice

All told, when I read Keith’s piece, I found my voice. I simultaneously felt his passion for a discounted and controversial medium that is globally enjoyed by hundreds of millions (potentially billions) and understood why I feel the need to disperse nuggets of pop culture into pieces about demographically discounted art. (Queue Glenn Close’s “Devil Wears Prada” cerulean sweater monologue)

“The education system is starting to realize, we feel like we’re competing with this barrage of entertainment that’s around kids, nonstop, all the time. I think initially that was shocking to them. TV is the enemy. Heavy metal is the enemy. Video games are the enemy. They’re starting to ask, what if we could harness that instead of making it the enemy? So it’s actually a parallel maturation.” – Erin HoffmanGlassLab

It should go without saying that today’s technology is ripe to educate on topics previously left abandoned in generational gaps succinctly. However, we are shown time and time again that there is need to challenge generational qualms and societal push-back. It is these generational gaps that keep me finely tuned to the video game industry and passionate about explaining its impact and relevance in the pop culture space.

At an early age, unlike sports or academics, I learn that I could best my parents at video games. It was a participatory and wondrous medium imbued with both technology and art that empowered me to level adult vs. child, teacher vs. student playing field. With that, I sign off referencing links to my reviews and opinions on games that may have been overlooked by the larger audience yet are critical to popular culture; the solitary theme that runs through my blog.

Thanks to Keith for opening my eyes to my writing through-line.


Humanity in Hearthstone: How Blizzard is changing the diversity game.

Monument Valley – A Review: The beauty of brevity. The pleasure of paradox.

Why Game?: An ode to the impact of early console gaming.

Journey: 1 Year Later: Celebrating this generation’s most important work of art.


Originally posted on TheStarrList.com

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