Tag Archives: video games

“Arcane” is a Staggering Animation and Adaptation

We’ve waited for the first great adaptation of a video game. I mean the first honest-to-goodness, heart-in-throat kind of artistry that stands toe-to-toe with more traditional entries. The first three episodes of “Arcane” are out, and I think it’s safe to say that moment is finally here. We have an artistically stunning series adaptation of a video game that proves it can be done.

People who don’t play video games or who aren’t familiar with the source material might already be starting to zone out, so let me say this first. I’m not familiar with the lore of “League of Legends”, on which “Arcane” is based. It’s still a brilliant series. Have you ever seen a great movie without having read the book? It’s the same thing; it doesn’t matter if you’ve played the game or not. Great storytelling is great storytelling.

“Arcane” tells a tale of two sisters growing up in the neglected undercity of a shining steampunk metropolis. Vi and Powder lost their parents in an act of resistance years ago, and have taken up as thieves. “Arcane” shifts back and forth between the haves and the have-nots. The slightest provocation will send Piltover’s militarized police force flooding into the undercity; the slightest resistance is met with police brutality en masse.

Of course, the first job we see Vi and Powder pull off with their crew goes wrong, and sends Piltover combing through the undercity for them. “Arcane” is an action series, but it earns its action. The tension of watching police escalate a violent, occupying force is all too relevant today.

The storytelling here is phenomenal. Some elements in its universe will feel familiar, but the presentation feels genuinely new. How often do you get to say something feels new in a series? “Arcane” uses a gorgeously evocative presentation that feels like watching oil paintings move. More traditional elements of animation are used for the world itself, such as a sudden burst of dust, or drops of rain cascading down an umbrella at a lower frame rate.

The mixture of those familiar animated visual markers and that oil painting style gives “Arcane” a jaw-dropping range. Piltover is defined by its sun, pastels, and straight lines, while the undercity is a mass of neon colors, jumbled angles, and gradiated shadows. “Arcane” uses its quiet moments to staggering effect, relying on the atmosphere, blocking, and slowly developed visual metaphor to describe its characters’ internal lives.

Adaptations of video games into movies or series often fail because studios feel gamers want constant action. Yet gameplay is often defined by large moments of quiet that highlight those sudden moments where muscle memory kicks in and decisions have to be made instinctively. In MOBA games like “League of Legends”, a large amount of the gameplay relies on strategy, speculation, and team communication that can veer from orderly to panicked at a moment’s notice. Conflicts are chosen, and when they’re not, running away is often the wiser choice.

What makes games unique as a medium is the amount of player agency to explore spaces and gameplay loops however the player wants. The most memorable parts of even the most action-heavy FPS games tend to be quiet moments, the atmosphere that defines a game, or action where the player is forced to come up with a creative alternate plan after their first doesn’t work.

Some might pale at a player being proud when they rack up kills, but it’s no different from a chess player being proud when they amass material by knocking off the opposition’s pieces. The pride in either isn’t that of the bloodshed it represents. It’s pride at getting knowledgeable enough about a gameplay system that you understand it faster and translate that understanding into creative play.

Movie adaptations of video games often think they’re adapting the bloodshed or the violence. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of a player’s experience. What’s being adapted is the creative experience that results from the player agency that video games as a medium uniquely provide.

Adapting games to films and series needs to reflect these experiences. “Arcane” takes its time showing you a space, how it moves, and how its characters move through, see, and hear it – the same thing players directly connect with when they play a game. That echoes the agency to explore space. Its characters bicker about teammates’ capabilities and what role they can play, echoing the same MOBA element. Initial conflicts are told through sacrifice or running away, reflecting the strategic nature of engagement in a game like “League of Legends”.

When video games are adapted to films or series, they don’t need to be faster or more brutal or anything like that. They need to be like “Arcane”, focused on how characters each understand and move through a space, and by extension how different characters each come to understand the larger world that opens.

I don’t come to “League of Legends” with any knowledge of its lore. I do know it features more than 140 characters, each with their own backstories, each of which threads through the backstories of multiple other characters. That paints an intricate world full of conflicting motivations. The days of dismissing video games as narratively simple are over when many paint some of the most detailed worlds in any medium. You can feel “Arcane” take all these things seriously, as a real adaptation of a complex world told through various perspectives. There’s a genuine care in how this story is told, the kind of care we’re used to seeing when a cherished novel is adapted.

We’ve seen enough bad adaptations of video games to know by now that the same care, effort, and precision that makes any other kind of adaptation good is also needed here. In the first three episodes of “Arcane” that are now available, we finally get to see what that approach delivers, and it’s staggeringly beautiful.

The first three hourlong episodes of “Arcane” are available on Netflix. The second three will arrive on Saturday, November 13, and the final three on Saturday, November 20.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write articles like this one.

Virtual Tourism Where You Least Expect It — “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare”

CoD Nigeria warning

by Vanessa Tottle

My life is like a Doom painting right now. Don’t confuse that with a Doom painting. Sometimes field work is being hunched over a 70 million year-old skeleton before going back to camp, fighting the elements around a campfire, and telling a story you’ve told a thousand times before as if for the very first time while you drink hot coffee like it’s Ambrosia of the gods. It’s that feeling you get in a book when you exist in a world that isn’t anything like the four walls around you.

And sometimes field work is taking an ancient jeep back to port, fixing the jeep because it breaks down halfway there, getting told your associate’s boat is delayed a week, which is great cause he has all the petty cash, going back to camp, fixing the jeep because it breaks halfway back, getting a call that says your associate is in town and where are you, fixing the jeep again so you can go back to town the next morning and get him, finding out once you get there he got his own ride instead, and stopping on the road as you pass him trying to fix his driver’s truck, which looks like the result of an unholy union between a dump truck and a VW bus, and has a flatbed filled with the only kind of goat in the world to which you’re allergic. Maybe it is more like a Doom painting.

The point is, sometimes I come back from the field content to nest in bed with a good book about fairies getting along splendidly, and sometimes I come back from the field clawing open the latest technological marvel that lets me headshot 10,000 bad guys who deserve it because they wear uniforms that have green instead of blue and drive trucks that look like VW dump buses. Call of Duty waffles back and forth between being a franchise about reinforcing patriarchy by eliminating third-world nobodies who look at us funny and reinforcing military-industrialism by saving the world from megalomaniacal dictators who now look like Kevin Spacey but don’t even come close to existing in the real world.

It’s a bad franchise, but it scratches an itch, and I probably got that itch from those fucking goats. Something funny happens in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, though. Call of Duty exists in an awkward valley between gameplay mechanics that tell you “shoot everything” and artists who want to make social statements by how they design the locales you’re about to blow up. Whenever they have a good message about who you’re shooting and why, they undermine it by having you shoot everybody by the end anyway.

Luke Plunkett at Kotaku details one moment in a sequence in Nigeria, where you’ll see, “This house is not for sale beware of 419,” scrawled across the sides of houses. This references real-life tactics used in Nigeria designed to warn and organize against local scammers.

It’s a brief instance that will be overlooked by most players, since many don’t even play the single-player component, but artists in games make statements just like artists in any other medium. It’s up to players to recognize these moments and echo them, so that artists in a medium at war this very moment realize making social statements – no matter how small – can be a good use of time and resources that paying customers appreciate, understand, and support.

Now go read Plunkett’s piece. I’m very tired, so I’m going to finish out the single-player before going online, hearing, “You’re a girl, how big are your tits??!?!!” a million times from other players and saying, “Not as big as my score,” as I shoot them in the face, which carries its own metaphorical value.

Gird Your Overrated Loins — Vanessa Tottle, Creative Director

Gird Your Overrated Loins

by Vanessa Tottle

How do you introduce a writer? Gabe wants us all to write something about ourselves, and I told him that was stupid. You get to know your writers by what they write, not by who they’ve been. I don’t choose any book by its author description. I wouldn’t choose a critic by her bio. If you’ve been following here, you know I’m getting my PhD in vertebrate paleontology with a special focus in geochemistry. What does that tell you about my ability to review movies, aside from I’m really annoying to watch Jurassic Park with?

I put a lot of myself into what I write. I think we all do. It’s what this site demands. It’s the one thing that sets us apart from every other film site I have read. We want criticism based on empathy, not judgment. And empathy is not always the easiest thing for me.

I can’t empathize with bullies because I lived in fear for my life in my own house. I can’t empathize with the poor because I never wanted for anything material. I can’t empathize with the wealthy because my family treated us like boxes on an estate checklist, things to forget when not presenting us glimmering at parties between the art and name-dropping the private chef. I can’t empathize with the strong because of their power and I can’t empathize with the weak because they’re so powerless. I’m 25, the child left alive because the one lesson I learned early in life is to remain.

I’m a funny person to take over as creative director, yet I wasn’t asked. I created the job until it was there for me to take. That’s how I know the world. I’m not often a nice person. I try very hard to be, but there’s an inescapable foundation built inside of me – I will always value hardness and isolation as my greatest strengths.

Why do I write about feminism? Because I want it to be OK to be full of edges, to have “unwomanly” traits, to possess instead of need, to be a woman who can be cold and arrogant and difficult like a man because – who cares why? Because I have the right to be.

As I’ve gotten to know the writers here, there appears to be a common thread. We are people who have each bounced off the world in our own way. We keep on coming back because we don’t look at this as a fault in ourselves. We look at this as a fault in the world.

One of the things I take the most pride in is my Portuguese heritage, even though I was exposed to none of it as a child. Perhaps because I was exposed to none of it as a child. I cosplay because it allows me to live out the only cultural heritage I really do know – video games, movies, books. I don’t do cosplay as often as I used to because I’ve found other outlets – climbing, krav maga, belly dancing – but that media heritage was the only resource I had from which to draw strength, and I needed strength because the one lesson I learned early in life is to remain.

I’ve been accused of having an agenda because I write about women on film and I want to see MORE women on film, but what’s an agenda? I’m the only one in class who can turn new cladistics in my head faster than the computer models them, but I’m still asked out by the professor. I can be the best Aerith at the con and my dedication and artistry gets me groped that much faster. I can detour up a V, 5.8 and the most strenuous task is informing male climbers, “No, I don’t need any help,” as I pass them. I don’t go to krav maga to be asked out on dates but because I want to learn, and I don’t belly dance for you to stuff a dollar bill in my clothes.

If I’m to write something about myself, it is this: I was raised in a physically abusive family, from which I was thankfully taken away by a kinder relative. My brother was not removed, in part because he had learned to dole out abuse. Taking him would have put me at risk again. He did not get the psychiatric assistance he needed and he later killed himself. The few things I do in life to cope with this, to try to be human, to do anything other than just remain, are often treated by others as opportunities to sleep with me. Yet by saying no and slapping hands away and informing deans, I’m the one who’s rude. I’m the one “with an agenda.”

Saying there’s a problem with representation in film, or video games, or music, isn’t having an agenda. It’s loving something enough to be honest about it. It’s looking at the things that made me strong and saying, “I can return the favor. I can make them stronger.” Having high expectations of art isn’t hating something. It’s not a fault in me, or Anita Sarkeesian, or Laurie Penny. It’s giving back to the art that shaped us, that gave each of us strength to remain in big, dramatic ways and small, everyday ways.

I’ll repeat that: It’s not an agenda. It’s giving back.

It’s also doing our jobs. For those who can’t handle a few women doing their jobs and having an opinion, then gird your overrated loins because the world’s changing, and I’m just one of many more women looking forward to doing her job.

I created this position – creative director – not to have an agenda, but because this is one of the few places where I feel free of needing one; not because I’m very good at empathy, but because the writers I work with here have no limit of it; not because I always believe the world can be changed, but because these five people relentlessly do:

Staff Writer S.L. Fevre
Editor Eden O’Nuallain
Staff Writer Cleopatra Parnell
Research Lead Amanda Smith
Lead Writer Gabriel Valdez

(And because they’re all hopeless at organizing themselves.)

Thank you and enjoy,

Vanessa Tottle
Creative Director

Gabe here: As Creative Director, Vanessa Tottle will be shaping the regular features and overall direction of this site. She will also write Silent All These Years a feature about women in film – every other Thursday, as well as contribute standalone articles about movies and music videos. In addition to collaborative articles, she has previously written the following on this site.

Silent All These Years – Why Scarlett Johansson Needs to Play Hannibal Lecter

E3 Reactions – Vanessa Tottle’s Top 3

Their Desperate Arsenal: Isla Vista and the War at Hand

Ranking Every Superhero Movie Since 2000

Wednesday Collective – All About Games

Happy Birthday, Kristen Stewart, But You Still Can’t Work Here

Bits & Pieces – Production Design, Curse of the Golden Flower

Thursday’s Child — Friends of the Blog Day

We’re highlighting a couple articles coming from friends today, including a superb piece on photography by John Schell, an article on misogyny in the gaming industry by Elizabeth Tobey, and an article on the Slender Man murder and how much media is or isn’t to blame by folklorist Joseph Laycock.

But first, we’re required to include a David Bowie song in every Thursday’s Child article. It’s in the charter or something. Given our subjects of fashion photography, gender dynamics, and the folkore of memes, I can’t think of anything more appropriate than Floria Sigismondi’s weird, Tilda Swinton-inhabited music video for Bowie’s “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”

Now, on with the show:

CO-ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Terrance Malick’s Darkest Film
Rob Turner

To the Wonder

When I write a review, I’m limited to 700 words. My responsibilities are to translate the experience of watching a particular movie and to clarify in what ways it’s valuable. The bulk of the work is in my editing.

When I write a film essay, there’s no limit save the reader’s attention span. My responsibilities vary because the bulk of the work is in the research. It’s like a science experiment – you start with the seed of a theory or message and then you learn everything you can. Either the research proves out or you’re proven wrong. Either way, you’ve got an article.

Nowhere is the bulk of the work in the writing – that’s the fun part, that’s the part that you can’t get onto a page fast enough. You can sense when someone needs to write, absolutely needs it like breathing, and when someone is obligated to write. When someone needs to write, you’ll put everything else to the side and read them for pages. You want to know where their emotional journey as a writer takes you. When someone is obligated to write, you’ll look at three paragraphs as an eternity that deserves skimming at best. Research sits awkwardly; the seams in their editing are apparent.

Rob Turner needs to write about To the Wonder. It seeps through every word of his article. His research is considerable, yet hidden. His structure is exacting, yet elegant. That’s how you translate the experience of a film – you hide all the work behind it but the passion, the awe of being a witness to it. If that’s what Malick can achieve as a director in To the Wonder, that’s what a writer who needs to write can achieve in writing about it. Rob Turner does just that.

Anti-Strobism and Using Natural Light in Photography
John Schell

Schnell article lead

I know we have some photographers and models who read here, and John Schell’s article is an absolute must-read for them. Natural styles of shooting are often overlooked in film, and that’s doubly true in photography. There’s some superb advice here on how to shoot with natural light and play with over- and under-exposures. We’re used to everything being overly strobed and photoshopped and little details being blended out in fashion photography, whereas natural light brings out dimples, smile lines, and other imperfections.

We’re becoming somewhat resistant to excessively perfected photos, at least insofar as fashion photography goes. (Landscape, nature, and commercial photography are frustratingly different stories.) The imperfections that are so regularly hidden from us are what people remember best and most appreciate about each others’ appearances. They can make a photograph recapture a ‘day in the life’ feeling instead of a day in the studio feeling. They bring back a warmth and glow that glamor and fashion photography have lately abandoned in favor of antiseptic tones and clean lines.

Ditching strobes and learning to shoot naturally is a big step in the right direction. For another example of this, I do prefer the natural light style of Holly Parker, a photographer and the model in many of John’s shots. Look to Holly’s work for color composition, framing, focus, and very smart use of focal points. She’s got a cinematographer’s eye for composition. Look to John’s work for how he uses shadow, exposure, contrast/blow-outs, and especially implied motion. His work is more classically commercial.

Thanks to Holly Parker for pointing this article out.

Sexism and Misogyny in Gaming
Elizabeth Tobey

Mario

I know a few folks who work in the video games industry. Both women and men I know assert it’s their dream job, but for women it usually comes with a hesitation and a caveat about the online community. And by caveat I mean quoting threats of death and rape they receive on a weekly basis.

Elizabeth gives several examples from her own experience in the industry, as well as suggestions for how the community needs to change. Because of the inherently online nature of many games and their platforms, I believe what’s taught and reinforced about women through that medium has a far greater effect on youth culture than what’s taught even on film or television.

For the kind of response women in this industry regularly have to put up with, look no further than the first post in response to Elizabeth’s article, from anonymous poster Blah Blah: “Genders will never be equal, a woman could only take this viewpoint. Women have what most men want, a wet hole. Equal, so no more ladies nights, we won’t pay for your dinner on a date, you can open the door for us. Etc. You’re a woman that is employed as a public relations person…do you really think you’d have gotten that first job if you didn’t have boobs?”

I don’t know, Blah Blah, but plenty of men magically get jobs in the industry without having breasts. Also, ladies’ nights are not a treat for women, they’re an advertising plug for bars looking to drum up more business. Also also, try splitting the check if you can’t pay for dinner without expectations attached. Also also also, try buying a friend dinner with no expectations outside of having a nice dinner with someone. Also also also also, I’d like to suggest the mind-blowing notion that holding the door open for someone does not automatically mean they owe you sex. Controversial, I know. Five alsos in a row: try holding the door open for everyone who needs it, and not just the people you want to sleep with. Six alsos in a row: someone buy Blah Blah a copy of Strunk & White; I had to correct the punctuation while quoting him and I can’t be around for him all the time; I might accidentally hold the door open for him, and then he’d owe me sex.

Thanks to Elizabeth Tobey for letting us know about the article.

Media Algorithms and Bad Reporting
Erin Biba

Volcano

I once saw a program titled Top 10 Deadliest Things About Volcanoes. I thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure number 1 is going to be volcanoes.” It was actually a decent program about the history of volcanic eruptions and their effects at different eras in our history, but the countdown approach was simply one made to entice viewers – “I can only think of 5 deadly things about volcanoes; I wonder what the others will be,” that sort of crap.

We have a sense that attention spans are shorter and that it’s everyone else’s fault but a writer’s or publisher’s. It’s the effect of technology, it’s the effect of movies, it’s the effect of 37 hours of TV a day. Yes, it is. That doesn’t change anything.

It’s still the responsibility of the writer to capture that attention span and the responsibility of the publisher to prize it. The poetry community whines that it’s all but extinct save for a few intellectual circles while the organizations that define what poetry is reject slam and hip-hop as too commercial and performance-based. The literary community holds up drama while acting as if genre and young adult fiction – which still sells like hotcakes – is beneath it. Conversely, the studio system shoves money down the throat of genre fiction – a $200 million movie that makes $300 million will get sequels, while repeatedly making $20 million narratives that make $100 million (see Steven Soderbergh) will get a director run out of the system.

The point is that people are still interested in those things that demand our attention. Yes, technology’s to blame for the deficit in our attention spans, but so are the poetry and literary communities, studios, and publishers that are too afraid to demand their readers’ and viewers’ attention. Those communities and companies have as much of a hand in training readers and viewers how to read and watch as any technology does. If we don’t make demands of readers and invest in good reporting and good writing, then we’re just training those readers to reject us in a generation’s time.

There’s a reason people are coming to this site and others like it. It’s not the presentation; lord knows I need to clean that up. It’s because we have high standards for our articles and, honestly, for our readers, too. I’ll make top 10 lists here and there, but only if the list has a good reason to highlight something more important than a subjective ranking that’s likely to change tomorrow. I can’t even highlight others’ articles without writing commentaries that are just as long as the article. Readers have read, shared, and argued (oh god, have they argued) Russ’s and Vanessa’s work because people still want to think and be challenged when they read and they watch and they listen.

The only thing we teach readers by dumbing ourselves down is to learn to ignore us. The less you demand of your readers, the less they value you. And you cannot demand something of your readers unless you demand something of your writers first. That means prizing the ability to write, and that starts with publishers and publications both online and off.

“’Slender Man’ Murder Attempt Wasn’t Media or Madness”
Joseph Laycock

Slender Man doctored meme

And finally, concluding with a consideration of the power of media in contrast to the power of community. How much is one to blame for violence versus the other?

I remember thinking after Columbine that, while those kids listened to Marilyn Manson and played Doom, neither of those things taught them Hitler’s birthday. Someone around them taught them that, and taught them that violence was a viable way of celebrating it.

The difference now is that community isn’t as immediate as it was even 15 years back. We’ve seen this with the Slender Man attempted murder, and we saw it two weeks ago in Isla Vista – your primary community may be an online one, and what you’re taught there isn’t as easy to monitor or put in context. As Laycock writes, it has nothing to do with an inability to differentiate reality from the internet – that’s a myth, and children are perfectly capable of that differentiation. Let’s not evolve a new Twinkie Defense.

It has everything to do with community, education, and social environment, three things that are now often conveyed through a less immediate and answerable medium than we’ve learned to deal with at this point. But read Joe’s article – he elucidates these and other ideas in far greater detail.

Thanks to Joseph Laycock for letting us know about the article.

Wednesday Collective — All About Games

by Vanessa Tottle

Guess who’s running Wednesday Collective this week! Gabe just had his birthday. He’s 31, which is ancient. Please everybody, wish him well while you still can. He wanted time off to climb into his final repose and breathe one last breath in a futile attempt to blow out an incredibly high number of candles, so I demanded to take over the rest of the week. I can’t destroy the whole thing in a few days, can I? Maybe, maybe not, but I can try.

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
“Striptease”
Cara Ellison

Striptease

Gabe asked me to write a second opinion for Under the Skin. It’s all about how I want to see Scarlett Johansson play Hannibal Lecter one day. “Can you still hear them, Jesse Eisenberg? Can you hear the silence of the lambs?” He ended his first opinion by saying Under the Skin does something no other movie has – it tricks you into trying to inhabit the perspective of a sexual predator. I think he’s right.

But to video games, someone else’s perspective is the starting point. In video games, you have agency over character actions; in movies, you don’t. To progress in video games, you have to follow instructions. A few developers have been brave enough to give us some pretty nasty instructions, seeing how far we’re willing to go past our own moral boundaries. Sometimes you get a choice in the narrative – good path or bad – but sometimes the only moral path is to turn off your rig.

When I fly overseas, there’s nothing I love better than to spend the entire flight playing The Walking Dead or Papers, Please, or something else mega-depressing. If the plane crashes on my way there, I’ll be playing selfishly, divesting myself of the last of my American-dream pursuing greed and self-interest. If the plane crashes on the way back, I’ll be selflessly sacrificing my own needs for those around me, girding myself with as much selflessness as I can for my L.A. transfer.

I used to have panic attacks and need a sick bag. I grew up having agency taken away from me, and there’s nothing worse for that than flying 30,000 feet over the Pacific in a tin can for 12 hours. Just ask William Shatner. But when I’m deciding the fate of Clem or the immigrants of Arstotzka or, if it’s really bad, zoning on Civilization 5 or Endless Space for the entire trip, I’m the most powerful person on the plane. While you’re watching the in-flight, I’m saving nations, building wonders, and expanding colonies into space.

So Gabe’s big “look what this movie just did” is where many video games start by forcing you into another person’s perspective. Suck it, movies! (I’m kidding. I really don’t want to take away from the power and grace of Under the Skin. It’s an incredible work of art.) But today we’re here for video games, and no other form of art gives us the kind of agency they do.

And when it comes to writing about games, Cara Ellison is the future. Observe her recurring S.EXE column at Rock Paper Shotgun: Her latest article is on the game “Striptease,” which tricks you into the perspective of a sexual predator. (Before anyone starts yelling about how it’s going to turn young’uns into perverts, please observe that after Silence of the Lambs, teenagers didn’t start eating their mailman’s liver. Besides, the game is intended for adults.) “Striptease” is an indie game that forces players to confront some uncomfortable realities about gender dynamics through dissociating puzzle-based gameplay, a forcefully goal-oriented rewards system, and art design that suggests at the behind-the-scenes results of your actions.

“Cancer, the Video Game”
Jenn Frank

That Dragon 2

This was my favorite article from last year. The game That Dragon, Cancer seems to ask: if video games are about agency, what happens when that agency is taken away from you in the ways that matter most? It’s a question I’ll have to begin facing as my aunt and uncle get older and their health begins to fail, as the people who once showed me the world can be a place of kindness and who taught me I could have agency in my own life begin to lose the agency in theirs. It’s already started; they seem like worn versions of their younger selves, bright and energetic yet with the edges frayed.

If poetry, movies, and books can investigate how we face death emotionally, what will the one art form that gives us true agency have to teach? I fear I’ll be graceless and incompetent when facing the deaths of my loved ones; but maybe there’s something out there where I can practice, learn, and gird myself for it the same way I save the world in order to gird myself to land in L.A.

Gamers with Disabilities
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Quantum of Solace

The most overlooked benefit of video games is how they give agency to people who lack it. If running all over Hyrule or Ferelden or Tamriel feels empowering to you, imagine how it feels to someone who can’t use their arms or legs. It’s why I play games on planes. I might not have control over whether the plane crashes or not, but I can still lead the Iroquois to be the first empire to reach the information age, or maybe just save a family from aliens if it’s a shorter flight.

Edwin’s brother Euan has down syndrome. He struggles with fine motor control and will never be able to do some of the things that able-bodied Edwin will. But anytime they like, the two can throw down in an evenly matched fight, Euan can rescue Edwin from a horde of zombies, or they can heroically jump through time to save the world. How awesome is it that a young man with down syndrome can heroically save the world? I don’t see Hollywood making that movie, but every day, in homes across our humble, little planet, men and women who are depressed, or face severe disabilities, or cope with trauma, or maybe just had a really, really shitty day get to strap in, save the world, and make a difference.

I know it puts a little pep in my step when I land. You want to knock my name off a study I put months into? I wouldn’t have taken this crap ten minutes ago when I was upgrading my armor to prepare for battle. You have a ten thousand dollar suit, a corner table, and you only order top shelf? Big deal. I just saved the universe. If Commander Shepard wouldn’t fall for that laundry list, why should I? What else you got?

Euan may have down syndrome, but it doesn’t mean he’s any different from the rest of us. Everyone lacks agency in some way. Play hero enough and you may learn to act the part.

The Evolution of Final Fantasy
Kevin Kryah

Final Fantasy 7

It might not be the most respected franchise anymore, but Final Fantasy is one of the longest running in video games. There was an era that lasted several games in which it told emotionally complex stories and could do no wrong. Many games (and movies and books) struggle to do that just the one time. The Artifice recounts the history of Final Fantasy and analyzes the evolution of the series’ storytelling practices.

The Evolution of BioShock
Simon Parkin

BioShock

Gabe told me about this article: the games industry is still very young. This talks about the crazy path Irrational Games took in developing BioShock. The company itself ran as if they learned management straight out of The Office, firing employees on their first day for practical jokes and overhauling the entire development because of a single focus group. It’s fascinating because it took the newer employees who thought video games could be something more, the company could work in a different way, and the game could make a tougher social statement to pull the career developers out of a design that would have been redundant to everything else coming out at the time. Instead, they came up with something that changed the industry.

“Johnny Express”

And finally a short movie, because there need to be more rad movies about astronauts accidentally destroying entire cultures now that Futurama is off the air.