A scene from Mad Men. Anna Draper, a blonde white woman in her thirties, sits on a couch in a pink bathrobe. She rests her chin in her hand as she looks down at tarot cards laid out on a coffee table.

Reading Mad Men: Introduction

April 16, 2014 / 2 comments

I’ve been wanting for some time to start writing about how I watch Mad Men. I liked the show well enough when I started watching it, but I didn’t love it. At that point, the emerging style of contemporary TV drama reminded me a bit of Oscarbait: respectable, polished, and unchallenging. But I enjoyed the difficulty of the…

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Illustration of the facial muscles from Gray's Anatomy

The Lump in My Throat

March 7, 2014 / 3 comments

It starts up front. I push my tongue up slightly against the roof of my mouth and flare my nostrils a little, then draw the flaring motion upward to sort of spread out the muscles around my sinuses. I’m surprised every time by how much more easily I can breathe. The next step is a…

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Game Change: Minigames and Narrative Arcs

March 13, 2013 / 2 comments

Often, experimental games differ from longer games by exploring a single idea in depth. Many well known art games, from Every Day the Same Dream to QWOP, use a limited set of verbs and give the player just enough time to feel their way around them. A subgenre of experimental games takes the opposite approach:…

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Morrigan stands in a castle room, fire-lit. There is a doorway behind her

Capricious Nature

August 12, 2012 / 2 comments

The Futile Rebellions of Fereldan Do you accept the role given to you, or do you try to escape it? Even when you try, can you escape the way your role shaped you? The question is salient for a videogame character stumbling into a typical save-the-world story. It’s also a question that lies at the…

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Naoto from Persona 4. Indigo hair, pale skin, and a sharp navy coat and hat.

Playing Hard to Get

July 29, 2012 / 1 comment

I have not been fully honest with you. I’ve put off addressing an elephant in the room, and it’s got to do with objectification. In my last post, I talked about the ways that different difficulty types can express personality. I gave these types cute little titles, like A Hard Read or High Maintenance. Of course,…

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Dakkon from Planescape: Torment. A bald man with a moustache in a plaid tunic and spiky fantasy armor, with a remarkably large sword.

Difficulty Factors as Character Traits

July 15, 2012 / 0 comments

If difficulty is one of the things a game can use to make characters interesting, it’s worth asking just what difficulty communicates. For one thing, difficulty isn’t just one-dimensional. There are different kinds of difficulty, and not all of them are difficult for every player. I may love both Wrex and Nami, but I’m fairly…

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Kasumi from Shira Oka, looking ornery: a pale girl with glasses and unruly blue hair, in a schoolgirl uniform.

Sweeping Exits and Offstage Lines

July 1, 2012 / 1 comment

I spent a long time trying to figure out Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It had an unusually deep simulation with a lot of random variables, so I dug through a lot of FAQs to figure out what the hell was going on. This being the work of Harvest Moon fans, the FAQs tended to editorialize about…

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A screenshot from Limbo, showing the protagonist pushing some boxes.

What’s the Point of Limbo?

February 14, 2012 / 5 comments

Since its release on XBox Live Arcade in 2010, Limbo has racked up awards and generated a substantial amount of critical writing. I didn’t have XBox Live when it came out, so I’ve been waiting on a PC port. When it finally came out on Steam late last year, I jumped on it. This turned out…

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A screenshot from Fallout 3. Tenpenny Tower in the distance, with the sun setting in the background.

Four Types of Videogame Tragedy

January 9, 2012 / 13 comments

In my last post on tragedy, The Wrong Ending, I presented what I saw as an essential problem of tragedy in videogames: an ending where things go badly is often seen by players as wrong, and therefore in need of fixing. This makes it hard for a tragic ending to seem like a valid choice…

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downfall

The Wrong Ending

November 15, 2011 / 25 comments

So the blog’s been a bit on the sporadic side lately and, in all honesty, it probably will be until after Thanksgiving. My apologies! On the upside, something pretty grand has been happening while I was away. Dan Cox of Digital Ephemera, with the help of commenter Ari, has taken some rough ideas in my…

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