Archive | February, 2013

Update: February 2013

23 Feb

On another note, it’s extremely comforting to listen to one of the best StarCraft players in the world curse and panic when you yourself are working on frustrating things.  Yes, I finished the “Small Packages” project and am studying to take the GRE.

QuickNote: Wrapping Up “MetaDating”

23 Feb

So “MetaDating”, the YouTube series hosted by Sean “Day[9]” Plott and game developers Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard, is apparently coming to a close.  Not going to lie, I’m feeling tragic and roughly anarchic about the whole thing, and there’s some impressive lobbying going on to keep it.  But in the event that March’s cast ends up being the last of this talented triumvirate, I’ve started drawing up some thoughts about the premise of their series: “How do video games depict romance?”

Early caveat: I’m not a gamer.  The last video game I played was a retro-fitted version of “Dr. Mario” designed to burn off college stress and I’ve studiously avoided MMOs like “World of WarCraft” because I KNOW it would become a huge time suck that I would be helpless to curb.  I also get really upset by interactive experiences that go badly: “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were traumatizing.  It’s like there’s no safety barrier between the experience and my sense of self.  But I’d speculate that commenting on these game by watching playthroughs is roughly equivalent, at the level of experience, to reading a novel, so it’s from that perspective that I’ve started commenting.

If the seven episodes of “MetaDating” so far reflect the scope of romance-themed games at present, there’s not a lot out there.  I’m wondering whether that has anything to do with the gender bias of game developers, but don’t know enough to speculate intelligently.  But during the series, the hosts played two Japanese dating simulations or visual novels* (Hatoful Boyfriend, Katawa Shoujo) and one North American corollary (Judith), one AI-driven story system (Facade), one “triple A” action game (Catherine), two indie art explorations (Passage, Loved), and the sui generis “The Sims 3: Late Night”, and expressed throughout the series the idea that they’d run out of game types in which romance is the central theme fairly fast.

According the the guys, romance is thematically “dangerous territory” in games, which I originally took to understand as a financial risk in that it’s not a theme that typically interests gamers.  But based on the games themselves, it seems really difficult technically to create an experience of love and romance that feels “real”, or at least realistic.  The only really popular game the guys played was “Catherine”, which is distinctly split between plot and a big puzzle game.  And “Catherine” deals specifically with one part of romantic relationships (anxiety over commitment) that’s easier to replicate mechanically than, say, falling in love.  Your nervous system can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by the repeated failure to solve a puzzle and the pressure to virtually get married.

Narrative is a big theme in this series.  One of the hosts, Sean Bouchard, expresses an ongoing interest in narrative game design, and romance-themed games seem to cater more towards that touchstone of coherence than games that require less emotional attachment.  He introduced GNS theory in Episode 6, and romance-based games (at least the ones they played) seemed to rely by default on narrative largely to the exclusion of game and simulation.  The single Sim game, “The Sims 3: Late Night”, was by far the least realistic-feeling game (Bill, rightly I think, compared the characters to alien pod people in human hosts), even though it had the most concrete characters.  Simulation hasn’t, apparently, reached the point where it can naturalistically render a human being.  The visual novel “Katawa Shoujo” was widely perceived by hosts and viewers to be the most compelling emotional expression of love, but it was also the most restrictive in terms of player agency, and the least gamic.

To be continued…

*They used the two terms interchangeably, although I’m told there’s a difference in emphasis between the two.

QuickNote: Career Planning in a New Field

4 Feb

The problem with career-planning in a field that’s still in the process of defining itself is that no single graduate program covers what you want to do: at least half of every established program is filler.  And unless you’re a genius with limitless self-financing, it’s not possible to break in without the launch that a graduate program gives you.  Every internship of interest requires applicants to be in a degree program, and that’s understandable: it’s an easy way to ensure basic skills.

Let the brainstorming begin!