Saturday 15 December 2012

When text games go to war: full interviews

pic: mark muehlhaeusler

Last week, I got an article up in the New Statesman about text games which challenge mainstream representations of war. This week, I've been posting my full interviews with all the people I talked to - and here's a nice single post which links to them all.

The discussion mostly concerns the capabilities of text versus 3D graphics, representations of war, and indie production values, but also includes some specific stuff about the individual games. Enjoy(?)!(!?!)

"I don't think the AAA FPS can't be introspective. They don't think it's worth their time": Interview with Robert Yang

pic: radiator

This is one of a series of interviews I conducted for my article about what text can say about war that AAA games can't. You can read the other interviews by clicking here.

I contacted Robert Yang because I'm a big fan of his blog and in particular his writing about simulation gaps and manshooters (i.e. the difference between a simulation and its subject, and what is implied by where that gap falls). While researching this topic, I found an intriguing blog post about Unmanned which pretty much encapsulated my thesis, and also his blog is almost the same colour as mine, which I applaud.

Thursday 13 December 2012

War-based IF games as recommended by Emily Short

This is one of a series of interviews I conducted for my article about what text can say about war that AAA games can't. You can read the other interviews by clicking here.

Actually, it isn't so much an interview as a series of recommendations. I contacted Emily Short for this article because I don't know much about interactive fiction, and she, being about the most prominent name in contemporary IF, assuredly does. After booting up the text parser and explaining my idea, Emily gave me a long list of violent or war-related games, mercifully refraining from rising to a terrible joke about getting myself Informed.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

"Our range of actions, their borders and how we move beyond them, is defined by other people": Interview with Aaron Reed

This is one of a series of interviews I conducted for my article about what text can say about war that AAA games can't. You can read the other interviews by clicking here.

I contacted Alan A. Reed for this article because of his game Maybe Make Some Change. Reed is a PhD student in computer science who's researching the intersection between literature and computational media, which was very relevant to my argument. Maybe, with its text interface overlaying murky FPS footage and its ranks of unreliable narrators, perhaps best exemplified my headline.

Sunday 9 December 2012

"There is a symbiotic relationship between technologies of simulation and the military": Interview with Paolo Pedercini

pic: molleindustria

This is one of a series of interviews I conducted for my article about what text can say about war that AAA games can't. You can read the other interviews by clicking here.

I contacted Paolo Pedercini about all this because he made Unmanned, which is featured in the article. Unmanned concerns an individual cog in the military machine but uses text to simulate his experience of war in quite a different way to most games. Also, he comprises the staff of La Molleindustria, which makes radical games in at least two senses of the word 'radical'.

After seizing control of a local radio tower, I asked him the following questions.

Saturday 8 December 2012

"We need empathy simulators, not another game about being a white savior": Interview with Porpentine

pic: porp

Yesterday, I got an article up in the New Statesman about text games which challenge mainstream representations of war. I talked to a bunch of IF authors and game developers to write it, but only a small amount of what they said made the wordcount.

So this week I'll be posting my full interviews with all the cool people who gave me quotes. To make things simple, I am going to post them up in alphabetical order of surname - a system which our first guest, Porpentine, has already glitched by having none.

Friday 7 December 2012

When text games go to war, elsewhere

Somehow, against all odds, I have tricked left-leaning UK magazine The New Statesman to publish an article by me, John Brindle. In it, I examine several text-based war games which challenge the representation of war in mainstream games, and which manage to speak about that subject in ways that AAA can't. You can find it here.
Take 2007’s Rendition, whose title would not exist without the war on terror. Both the first two Modern Warfare games include "interrogation" sequences, once with a beating and once with electrodes. But where they coyly conceal the violence involved, Rendition makes you participate in awful detail. Try to leave the room and you’re told you haven’t done enough to Abdul. “Break Abdul’s toe,” you type, and the game replies: “Which do you mean? his left little toe, his left second toe, his left middle toe, his left fourth toe, his left big toe, his right little toe…” At this point, many players simply quit.
Below are some notes on what I think of the article and what others think of it.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Why 'Videogames'?

The other day I had a conversation on Twitter with Adam Williamson about why I use the term ‘videogames’. You, the reader, have probably noticed that every so often someone suggests that we should use another word. The idea is that the word fails to adequately reflect a changing medium and needs to be replaced by one that can handle the job. Academics frequently use ‘digital games’’; Williamson has half-jokingly coined the term ‘digic’; I once preferred ‘computer game’ because it sounded more mature. Others have adopted ‘ractive’ from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, to the clear detriment of humanity (or at least the English-speaking parts). But I use 'videogames', and here's why.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Political Uses of Fear

Edited screenshot from Lim, by Merritt Kopas

This post is in response to Blogs of the Round Table. Trigger warning for street harassment, passing anxiety, rape culture. 

Here in videogameland we relish fear like children relish Halloween. Actually, we relish Halloween like children relish Halloween. But our uses of fear are essentially escapist, even hedonistic: we lust after the adrenaline rush of shocks and frights and cathartic thrills like the psychologist in Psycho who has a little too much fun delivering the denouement. Games are very good at fear, too, though when we mention this it's usually just before we note how bad they are at ~*love*~. But that primal, animal emotion, that evolutionary hangover that cross-wires nuclear bombs with teeth and claws, is good for more than rollercoasters. It has political uses. By harnessing fear we can trap even the most privileged players in the frightening subjectivity of another. The scariest things are not the ghosts and goblins of seasonal kitsch, but the hidden, suppressed suffering our society produces as if it were a machine specifically constructed for that purpose.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Quizzical Play #1: How to Not Play Dishonored

This month, everyone except me has been playing Dishonored. I read the blog posts, watch the Let’s Plays, and fantasize about the choices I might make – but right now, £39.99 for a new release is the difference between making rent and borrowing money. At the same time, I can't bear to be left out of the blogging frenzy that's struck up around the game. So how can I write about Dishonored without having played it? Simple: maybe nobody else is playing it either.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Good Question: The Games of Pippin Barr

Art: Pippin Barr (with permission)

What do you call an unwinnable game that players can compete to lose the most often? Or a game about our experience of art that simultaneously denies us the chance to experience it and simulates it perfectly? Or a physics platformer in which having complete control of all physics variables – and seemingly utmost power over the game – still leaves you with quite conventional puzzles to solve? You might call them a bit of a joke. You might call them experiments in paradox. You might call them horse shit (which is your prerogative, I suppose). But you might just call them the games of Pippin Barr.

Friday 6 July 2012

From Cyberspace to Composite: Two Fantasies of Hacking

Once upon a time, in the early years of the internet, nobody knew you were a dog.

In those days, nobody knew that I wasn’t really a 21-year-old graphic designer from Britain either. Every night, in the witching hour, I would sneak down to my father’s study, furtively unlock the door, and spend all night flirting on IRC with well-built Australian women. Tom Brindle had left the key in the lock once after losing a particularly savage drinking contest to our mother, and I cycled the three miles into town to get a copy cut. From then on, it didn’t matter who ‘sat’ on my ‘lap’ or what weird shit I wanked to, because it happened in a place as placeless and secret as Narnia.

Watching the trailer for Ubisoft’s forthcoming Watch Dogs reminded me of those nights because I feel sure they couldn’t have come from the same planet. Ubi’s game belongs to the world of Foursquare, Girls Around Me, and geotagged Twitter posts, where I can sit on a train and watch my best friend’s kid nephew’s tween Twitter spats. But I didn’t get social networking until I was 18 and didn’t ‘get’ it for another year after that. My adventures took place in the world of another hacking game: Introversion’s 2001 classic Uplink. Existing more than a decade apart, these games represent two very different fantasies of what role technology plays in our lives.

Monday 14 May 2012

Conference Report: GameCamp

i was the only one who took the 'camping' thing seriously

At a lecture given to the RSA, Everything Bad Is Good For You author Steven Johnson asked: “Where do good ideas come from?” In five minutes he outlined a theory that the most fertile environment for ideas is one where they can meet, bounce off each other and joyfully breed – where half-formed hunches can combine through conversation to emerge as beautiful butterflies. That’s why the coffee houses were the intellectual centre of 18th century London - and it's also why GameCamp is a good idea.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Reality is Beastly: when videogames meet thirteenth century heresy


In a parallel universe, I start this article by declaring how sodding tired I am of games about the 13th-century Catharite heresy and its persecution by the Catholic Church. Sadly, in this world, there is only L’Abbaye Des Morts. Dealing with a dark and obscure annex of European history, creator Locomalito opts for the dark and obscure conventions of classic insta-death platformers like Manic Miner. But because of how it uses these conventions, it is – delightfully – not just a game about the Cathars, but a Catharite game.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

We have a Tumblr, apparently

get fucked, jimmy

Not content with stinking up this blog, my malodorous brother Jimmy Brindle has established a Brindle Family tumblr on which she is reposting our articles alongside pwetty pictures, along with a bunch of original content and her general 'thoughts' (ha!) on videogames. You can 'follow' her there, and 'reblog' her, and 'ask' her, and do all kinds of social media things, if that's to your taste. Hopefully this will keep her busy at a safe distance, and if you are coming here from Tumblr...welcome! Please ignore everything I just said about your social network, I'm sure it's lovely.

Saturday 7 April 2012

I Will Eat You And Everything You Love: Metal Gear Solid 3

i am snake, devourer of worlds

In 2007, the Brindle family fortune was divided equally between each brother, there being no will to determine otherwise. Last month, however, one of us – I’m not saying who – claimed to have uncovered just such a document in one of Tom Brindle’s old filing cabinets. After the initial brouhaha, expert analysis and cryptographic elbow grease eventually confirmed that the document was merely an invoice to a long-dead developer for selling them the concept of ‘escort missions’. Anyway, that’s why there haven’t been any posts for a while. We’re back now, I guess. What else are we going to do?

I wanted to respond specifically to Bunbury’s post about Metal Gear Solid. There,  he argues that the game benefits the more it resembles Pac-Man, and claims that stealth games – and games generally – are better when their rules and mechanics are explicit, clear,  known. That may be so, but to me, it’s Metal Gear Solid 3 that most resembles Pac-Man – because it’s all about eating.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Sneaking on the D-Pad: Why Metal Gear Solid benefits from being like Pac-Man

look at those wrinkles. pacsnake has been on the pills

1998. That’s fourteen years ago now - more if you’re a citizen of the future. I remember fondly the time I spent as a youngster; enjoying 90s action films when I was too young to realise they were genuinely crap, watching children’s cartoons when I was too young to realise they were genuinely brilliant and wondering why my penis felt all tingly and nice when I hugged a pillow between my legs and thought of Kate Winslet. They were simpler times, really – videogames being no exception.

Friday 2 March 2012

The Family Grows

As is becoming clear, other members of the Brindle family are now returning to the fold. Jimmy, who appears to be under the delusion that she is welcome here, has already introduced herself sufficiently, and made it quite clear what kind of contribution she intends to make. It is against my better judgement that I allow her to remain, but what can you do? She’s blood.

Lest I give her the oxygen of tribute, let me instead introduce my other brother Bunbury Brindle, lately conveyed from the bohemia of San Francisco to that of Brighton. He will serve as our house artist, as well as writing articles, and it’s my sincere hope that this blog will allow him to make something of himself and renounce his formerly profligate and idle ways. Dear Bunbury – I am sorry for what happened to you. It’s okay. Nobody wants to hurt you here.


Watch out tomorrow and in the following weeks for more from them.

Saturday 25 February 2012

ART IS A FLACCID PENIS: the Death of the Brindle Blog

When my brother John asked me if I would write an article for his video games blog (“asked” being used here as an uncommon but technically correct synonym as listed in Webster's New World Thesaurus for “viciously and cold-heartedly blackmailed with certain ill-gotten photographs”), I was all too happy to oblige him. When I in turn sought permission to write an article about whether games are art or not, he said “don't take the fucking piss jimmy you know the rules argybargy wot wot pip pip” and some other British things that I'm pretty sure mean “yes, please do.”

No one can accuse little Jimmy Brindle of misjudging an audience, and I know nothing moistens your cuntflaps like a self-legitimizing exploration of the question Are games art? Some may argue that we’ve settled this debate already, the lot of us coming away with our heels dug into our preferred answers. But while it’s generally agreed that games have the capacity to be legitimate art, the theoretical concerns underpinning that debate - what legitimacy looks like for games, who confers it, and what relation it has to other artforms - did not die but instead reassembled themselves in a new popular resurgence of ludology vs narratology (i.e. ‘ontologically suspect formalism vs something else apparently about emotions,’ a debate about aesthetic quality now stumbling across the blogosphere in the sheepskin of a methodological debate academia settled five years ago).

Saturday 4 February 2012

Moral Psychopaths: Blizzard's community policy is a sense-free zone

Once upon a time, on a little World of Warcraft server where I used to play, there was a guild called <LAZERYATTACKPEWPEW>. And that would have been the end of the story – but this was a Roleplaying server, where special rules demanded that guild names accord with the game’s atmosphere of cod-medieval fantasy. One day, the guild’s leader got a letter from a community moderator. which said the guild’s name had been reported for violating the roleplay naming policy and changed accordingly. With a wave of his magic wand, the moderator had given the guild a new name, far more in keeping with the ethos of roleplay: <Sword attack klangklang>.

This was the story that came to mind last week when Fox Van Allen reported on Joystiq that Blizzard’s swear filter had until recently censored 'homosexual' and 'transsexual' but let through 'fag' and 'faggot'. The connection struck me not because the whimsical flouting of policy and the predictable wailing and gnashing of roleplayer teeth that ensued are any way comparable either to the scandal of the swear filter or the hubbub surrounding it, but because it demonstrates how frequently Blizzard are either unwilling or unable to understand the purpose of their own rules. Come with me, traveller, on a journey into the crazy world of Warcraft.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Why stealth games still matter, elsewhere

You might have spotted a new gaming site creeping through the shadows in your cabbage patch; that site is Sneaky Bastards, and it’s devoted entirely to stealth in games. As lovers of the genre we Brindles are keen to support them. Today they’ve published my article arguing for the continuing value of dedicated stealth games, bless their night-black hearts.
There came a time last year when the beeping ECG beside the bed of the stealth genre seemed to flatline. Solid Snake and Sam Fisher had burst forth from the shadows, guns blazing, whilst stealth was only one part of Ezio Auditore’s parkour power fantasy. Relatives gathered round, holding their breaths; physicians uttered grim prognoses. Now, with fans uncertain about the new Hitman, and bemused by the inventive but nonsensical ‘Thi4f’, it is worth looking at just why we need dedicated stealth games – not games with stealth options, or games with stealth elements, but games built from the bottom for sneaking and snooping.
You can find the article here. Make sure you stay and peruse the rest of the site, COUGH COUGH. Particularly of note will be Justin Keverne’s series on Thief 2’s level design, if his long-running blog entries at Groping the Elephant are anything to go by.

Incidentally, did you know that the top google search keywords for this blog are ‘groping’, ‘brother groping’, ‘groping brothers’ and ‘groping and touching’? I don’t know who you are, groping enthusiast, but your secret is safe with us.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Teaching the Camera to Lie: Amnesia and the First-Person Other

Holmes breathes heavily, his face pressed against the wall. He has been running, running for hours, and now he has resorted to screwing up his eyes and trying not to look at the thing that is chasing him. But the temptation is too great. He slowly peers, behind him – and cries out, for though he never made a sound, Watson is there. Watching.

This chilling effect, while hopefully unintentional, tells us much about what First Person games can do. Watson’s creepy teleportation is possible precisely because so much of the environment is obscured behind the edge of the screen.

In ‘First Person Problems’ we argued that although early developers were attracted to first person because of the limitations it enforced, the rise of the shooter has over-prioritised the accuracy and power it allows. I advocated stepping back and re-examining the possibilities its evolution has left behind. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a game whose developers did just that – illuminating in the constellation of first person’s pros and cons a rarely recognised capacity for subjectivity, and achieving a literary trope not often found in videogames: the unreliable narrator.