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Worth Reading: 11/08/2013

A storm is coming. It's full of...consoles. Do you need shelter? Come in.

Even as the audience for games expands, it continues to splinter among those who were already here. Increasingly, more and more games are directed at very specific audiences.

You should probably get that looked at.
You should probably get that looked at.

This is new. One of the more interesting fractures is between those who view games simply as entertainment and those who desire (demand?) the medium to aim higher. For some, I’d imagine the statement itself is bothersome. What is wrong with what games already are? Not everyone wants a game to make them cry, not everyone wants them to get serious. (There are also lots OK with both!)

It’s the source of much of the divide over the increasingly fruitless argument about what “is” and “isn’t” a game. I’ve been thinking about this after a conversation with the game designer Porpentine, a conversation I hope to share with you sometime next week. Porpentine’s work is both incredibly personal and intentionally distant, allowing her to remark and leverage her experiences in a way that provides the player a chance to recognize themselves and acknowledge that what's being described is specific to what Porpentine herself has seen, felt, touched, and observed.

Her games make me uncomfortable. But I want to feel uncomfortable. That’s me, though.

My wife never wants to spend her free time watching sad or depressing movies. It’s why I had to wait until she was on a business trip to finally watch Schindler’s List, a movie I’d, somehow, never seen. I don’t doubt there are many people who feel the same way about video games, and become frustrated at the increased attention “serious” or “emotional” games are receiving, given that it’s not the games they themselves want to play.

Are you one of those people? Would be curious to hear your thoughts here or in PM.

Hey, You Should Play This

And You Should Read These, Too

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Be warned, there are tons of spoilers about Beyond: Two Souls in this link, but if you never plan on playing David Cage and Quantic Dream’s latest interactive concoction, read this immediately. Most video games are very explicit about player choice--in The Walking Dead, every major decision is outlined for reflection at the end of the chapter--but not Beyond: Two Souls. No, no, no. In fact, Beyond: Two Souls goes so far out of its way to prevent the player from picking up on moments where the player is making a choice that it makes it tough to know what is and isn’t an important moment in the game. It’s a very deliberate design decision, one that’s carried forward up until the game’s final moments, at which it’s happy to ask the player to make stark choices.

“David Cage's design philosophy sticks to the notion that if players don't know when they make a choice, and the ramifications aren't obvious, their experience becomes more akin to real life. The flow of the story is more organic. You don't "choose" between option A or B with reassurance of what will happen. Your decisions speak for themselves. When you don't think of alternate paths, the story feels more like your own, it feels more real, as opposed to just ‘one of the branches.’”

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There is a specific exchange at the end of this interview that had me howling, and it’s quoted below. Metro reporter David Jenkins wanted Call of Duty: Ghosts executive producer Mark Rubin to explain the technical differences between Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and he refuses to weigh in. The whole interview between Jenkins and Rubin is good, especially since it provides the context for what transpires about industry politics. The two have a playful banter throughout, and Jenkins pushes Rubin more than once to justify more than a few things about the current path for Call of Duty.

GC: So the obvious assumption from all this is that the PlayStation 4 is definitely more powerful than the Xbox One, is that true?

MR: [acting very embarrassed] I can’t answer that.

GC: You can’t answer it on a technical level or because you’re being diplomatic?

MR: Can’t answer that.

GC: You can’t say whether you’re avoiding the question for diplomatic reasons?

MR: [embarrassed] I just can’t say anything…

[Even the attending PR guy is looking embarrassed by this point]

PR guy: It’s very hard for us to be…

GC: Are the console manufacturers leaning on you to avoid these sort of questions?

MR: [unsure - speaking to PR guy] I don’t know if that…

MR: [even more embarrassed to us] Yeah, there’s things that we… We sign NDAs with the first parties [i.e. Microsoft and Sony - GC] and there are things that we’re not allowed to talk about.

GC: So when John Carmack and Shinji Mikami say the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are almost identical, is that something you could agree with?

MR: Hmm… I would say that’s a bit inaccurate but I wouldn’t be able to tell you any detail of why that’s inaccurate.

GC: For diplomatic reasons?

MR: Yes.

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