It’s time for me to finally explain two topics that I have offhandedly mentioned on multiple occasions (and will talk about a whole lot more in the future): ludonarrative dissonance and ludonarrative interference. But before we talk about them, let’s talk about Bioshock. Bioshock’s release in 2007 was a milestone for video game narratives. It was a console shooter that said things and made points. It had choices (even if the black and white nature of the Little Sister harvesting decisions wasn’t all that compelling) and it commented on the nature of player interaction with a game. Plus, it was basically the sequel to Atlas Shrugged (if John Galt’s weird pure-capitalist society hidden in the mountain was a modern-ish Atlantis). And since it was critiquing Ayn Rand’s philosophies, it had to be smart. (I mean, not really. A monkey pointing to 2008 on a calendar would be making a pretty compelling argument for some regulation of industry, although Bioshock was released before the economy blew up but that’s not the point. I digress.) It also received some serious academic-style criticism in a way that few games before (or after, to be honest) had.
And I find it ironic that one of the most enduring critical analyses of the game also missed the game’s most interesting hook. Read More
Last week, I discussed the final episode of True Detective, specifically the fact that creator Nic Pizzolatto hadn’t made a show that was trying to outsmart the viewer. From start to finish, True Detective follows a logical progression and who followed it from week to week would get to the end and never feel like they had been tricked. And in that way, Gone Home feels like the True Detective of video games. It’s not trying to trick anybody. It’s just a simple story about why a girl who goes home and finds that her family has disappeared and/or left her alone. The narrative path that leads the player from beginning to end is much more linear than I expected (though not in a bad way), and the ultimate answer to the driving question (where is her sister, Samantha?) can be answered within half an hour of booting the game up, even though it takes four or five times as long to actually see it through.
And in a way, I found that somewhat disappointing. As the actual reveal appears, the game fades to black, and I was shocked that it was over. It seemed so sudden, but the reason it seemed sudden was because I had been expecting it the whole time. For the narrative that’s being told, it was the only way to end. It’s not like the family was going to come home and suddenly it’s something else. It’s a game about solitude and loneliness. (That being said, Gone Home is canon with the Bioshock franchise, and if Booker DeWitt time-warped and destroyed the house or something, that would have been kind of amazing.)
But still. Read More
The True Detective finale rendered me speechless, but not for the reason I expected. I expected the internet’s theories of horrific depravity to come true and the final hour to be one final spiral down into a pit of hopelessness. I wasn’t sure it was the last thing I wanted to see before I fell asleep, but I needed to know what happened to Rust and Marty.
And then… it wasn’t that. The opening minutes were uncomfortable (and stylistically odd, since I believe that was the longest period of time the show had gone without either of its protagonists being onscreen), and the big climactic chase was tense, but when everything came down to it, the episode isn’t about the darkness. The final line makes that pretty explicit, as Rust, the guy who has thus far spoken exclusively in long-winded metaphors filled with doom and gloom, thinks that maybe the glass is half full. Or at least not quite so empty.
That’s interesting. Read More
My original idea for this essay was about the lack of surprise in the videogame Gone Home’s narrative. That would probably have been much more interesting than this (and I will undoubtedly be writing about it in the near future), but it was the Oscars this past Sunday, so I figure now is as good a time as any to talk about that. But more specifically, the award for Best Actor.
When I look back at 2013 in cinema, I’ll think about two things: 1) How many different Korean directors tried their hand at English language productions (it was a lot), and 2) How many amazing male performances there were. Seriously. Look at what the Academy considered the five best performances of the Year: Read More
The single worst decision made in the development of Super Mario 3D World was whatever it was that led to pooling together everybody’s lives in the multiplayer mode. In the various co-op New Super Mario Bros. games, each player had their own number of lives, and that was that. Nobody's failings hurt any other players. I liked that, because I am significantly better at Mario games than all of my friends (the majority of whom don’t play video games and none of whom play platformers). So I would build up my store of lives to use for the later levels where having a store of lives matters and playing with others wouldn’t do affect that (unless they jumped on my head over a pit, but while that’s rage-inducing, it’s also kind of funny). That’s not the case in Super Mario 3D World, and it’s awful. For anyone interested in actually finishing that game, playing with a bunch of non-game players will actively impede your progress. It’ll be fun for the most part, because players with others is an inherently joyful thing, but when the difficult levels come up, their cute inability to land even basic jumps becomes maddening, because every time they die, you watch your own ability to progress drop down. Read More
I’m upset at myself. When I finally booted up The Last of Us, I did so under unfair circumstances. Since getting a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in November, I have been spending a lot of my gaming time on the current gen systems. Although the Wii U has comparable power to the Xbox 360 and PS3, I would argue that nothing on either system compares to Super Mario 3D World from an artistic standpoint, and that has been my go-to game lately (well, that and Rayman Legends, another game that is just mind-blowingly gorgeous). I also recently built a computer that is capable of running games like Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite on very high/ultra settings.
I’ve been spoiled by the high end. Read More
As I’m writing this, The Last of Us has just been given yet another award, this time from the Writer’s Guild of America. The last award on the list is the “Videogame Winner” for “Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing.” Impressive, right? Not really.
The problem with the WGA awards is that they can only be given to scripts written under the jurisdiction of the WGA. With film, this isn’t a major problem since there are a lot of fantastic written works being produced under that umbrella, and even if Before Midnight should have crushed the “Adapted Screenplay” category, Her was as well written as anything that came out in 2013.
Not so in the land of video games. The Last of Us was up against four other games, each of them well into their respective franchises: Read More
In the past week, I have seen three movies that push past the 150-minute mark: American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Of them, American Hustle is the only one that doesn’t drag, but The Hobbit is the only one that feels as long as it is.
Last year, it struck me as a trend that films were getting longer and longer. Many of the biggest films stretched well past the two-hour mark, and while I don’t have a problem with long films, I do find myself less attracted to them. There’s something alluring about a film that’s less than 100 minutes, even more so if it’s less than 90. I see those runtimes and I think, “I can do that right now. What else am I doing? Nothing important, probably.” Television is the same way. I can marathon three hour-long episodes of an HBO show more easily than I can sit down to watch a movie more than 100 minutes. It’s just a quirk I’ve got.
(Admittedly, as films grow bigger, so do their credits, and most big films nowadays seem to be about ten minutes shorter than their runtime would indicate. So 100-minute movies may actually more like 95 minute ones.) Read More
I have a tendency to start off articles with uncontroversial statements. I’m only realizing this now, but it’s important to let people know where you’re coming from. And sometimes I have to start off with controversial statements or I’m making controversial claims. (And by controversial, I mean something irrelevant like “This popular movie is silly!” and not like “Censorship is awesome!” But I digress.)
I like Ridiculous Fishing. Read More
The only people who like the Motion Picture Association of American are the people whose livelihoods depend on the success of the Motion Picture Association of America, and I expect that a fair number of them aren’t entirely fond of it either. I understand the reason for the MPAA, and I have no problem whatsoever with rating systems in general, but it’s not controversial to say that the MPAA’s rating system is broken. But while the basic point about how ridiculous it is that sexuality is considered more grotesque than horrible violence has been made countless times, I don’t think enough attention has been paid to just how horrible that violence has become. In November, a study was released that showed that the amount of gun violence in PG-13 films has now exceeded the amount in R-rated films.
Seriously, though. What? Read More