Saturday, September 3, 2011

Your Somewhat Weekly Gaming Digest: September 3rd, 2011

Let me start off this somewhat weekly with a shout-out to Line Hollis’ reflection on the game engine she’s working on in “Mouthwash: Viewpoints.” I recommend looking back into her blog to see her prior Mouthwash posts, but this article broaches the topic of digital knowledge, and the complications with such a concept. Troubleshooting through the problem of characters possessing opinions and effectively understanding which information aligns with and refutes others’ arguments begs the question of depth and importance of in-game conversation. Hollis’ work implies an unexplored land of interaction with and between characters, breaking past the artifice of interaction in dialogue trees towards organic, impromptu conversations.

Very much related is a piece that is part of a series on uses for mapping dialogue trees. Rob Newcomb uses formal logic to generate spontaneous dialogue in “Argument Maps for Unscripted Conversation” that would enable a character to accept or disagree another’s reasoning, and give their own rebuttal.  Maybe this is on the game design collective unconscious’ mind? How conversation is generated and delivered to the players always seems to be changing, and I wonder if Hollis and Newcomb are riding the next wave to come!

Now on to a topic that has me particularly worked up, the wilting and possible death of RPGs. Dylan Woodbury’s “RPG Storytelling - The Unmet Potential” is a good summary of the general unrest about RPGs that isn’t from pandering AAA game developers. What I like about Woodbury’s article is both highlighting what’s wrong and having optimism for innovation in the genre. I am interested in more input, as the conversation seems to (as with most contentious topics) ping-pong between extreme views: RPGs are a tradition never to be abandoned or stale stories that aren’t actually games and are forgettable. Woodbury makes a good point that progress is an element distinct to RPGs that has yet to be properly exploited; instead, it is a convention (leveling your character and abilities) that is adopted by other growing genres.

Rampant Coyote from Rampant Games offers a more pragmatic look at “Why the RPG Genre is Losing its Distinctiveness.”  I felt this was an honest look at the results of the pitfalls Woodbury outlined; what is fun and interesting, and how can RPGs answer to the rubric Rampant Coyote presented. It also pulls games from BioWare into question, as you can ask if they really have been making RPGs all along. Is Mass Effect really an RPG? After realizing this question, I decided no, Mass Effect isn’t an RPG, or really a hybrid RPG. I don’t really think there’s such thing as a “hybrid RPG,” because they just appropriate conventions from RPGs. However, I could go on forever about this; I definitely plan to enter this conversation, so stay tuned for that article!

Instead, let’s talk a little about BioWare’s other RPG. While !Finished’s Alex Raymond elucidates the complicated representation of Dragon Age: Origins’ religion, the Chantry, in "And I'm through with believing."  The article is precise on how it is so easy to be an atheist or otherwise skeptic of organized religion and play a game that features a society so heavily invested in one. It pulls up an interesting thought-bubble about religion in games, which I haven’t researched but would like to now; classic RPGs seem to have a heavy investment in religions, however there seems to be a large critique of religion in video games as a whole. The Final Fantasy series is notorious for recycling the story of the oppressed rebels against the corrupt empire, and a religious group is said corrupt empire in Tactics and X (you could argue this for XIII as well).

At The Border House, Quinnae breaks down the wall of “realism” and “maturity” in some games in “I’m Being So Sincere Right Now: Gaming as Hyperreality.” The article is particularly engaging because it analyzes the buzz-wording of “mature;” does mature really mean engaging for older audiences, or just showcasing racy, late-night images? Quinnae effortlessly assembles a dissection of how privilege infiltrates games trying to portray reality and mature topics, and is a must-read for skeptics of how the perspective of middle/upper-class heterosexual men are ingrained in how we reference reality in games.

And just in case it seems like I’m favoring RPG/story-heavy games (which I will shamelessly admit to), here is a spot-on critique of multiple-ending games and their incongruencies (I might have just made up that word). In “Thematic Confusion in the Branching Narratives of Video Games,” Nick Dinicola rather simply points out how games that boast choice and different endings actually degrade the story and game overall by having endings that make no sense existing in the same game. While I’ll leave being convinced to you and the article, I feel like it explains why so many multiple-ending games give very little motivation to view them all through the gameplay. Instead of seeing endings that vary significantly and logically from one another, games usually give endings with minute yet extreme differences between one another. Add that in the pile of criticisms RPGs have to work on!

Until next time, happy gaming!

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