Tag Archives: computer games

Reviews of Interactive Fiction

Reviewed in this post:
Dear Esther
The Stanley Parable
Gone Home

I had the three best days of computer gaming in my life.

I used Steam (an app store, mostly used for Windows games) for the first time when it was required to use Half Life 2. My experience was so bad I’ve not touched it again for a decade.

But in ten years, a lot have changed.

Steam is now an awesome app store for computer games of all sorts, including interactive fiction. Unlike game which focus on fighting, shooting, or twitching, Modern interactive fiction focuses on telling a story thru the interface of a computer game.

Each of these “games” took between 2 to 5 to play. All were haunting.

The Most Haunting: Dear Esther

Dear Esther, a gorgeous video game that takes place outdoors on the Hebrides, revolves around three texts. The first appear to be written by the protagonist to a woman, Esther. The second is a fictitious history of the island, written by Donnelly. (A similar device is used in The Third Policeman, which constantly refers to works by the imaginary de Selby). The third is a passage from the Acts of the Apostles

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.g

After finishing Dear Esther I felt much older, and much sadder. The feeling stayed with me for some time.

dear-esther-2

The game has a beautiful soundtrack, that you can listen to for free on Spotifiy.

The Most Thought-Provoking: The Stanley Parable


(note the trailer above starts like a typical review. It’s not. It’s made by the people who created the game itself)

It’s extremely hard to describe The Stanley Parable without giving it away. The game is subversive in that word’s best sense — the best description I have heard is “Stanley is game that knows it is a game being played by those who know they are playing a game that knows it is playing a game.”

the-stanley-parable-start-screen-970x0

Fortunately, Stanley Parable also has an amazing and free demo, which teases the meaning of the game without giving it away. You can play the free Stanley Parable Demo on Steam.

The Most Political: Gone Home

If I had not played The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther the day before and after I played Gone Home, Home would be one of the top games I’ve played in years. As it is Home is a fine game, and the story stays with you.

You begin Gone Home on your parents front porch after a trip abroad. A note from your sister tells you that she has left, and not to follow her. The dor is locked, and no one is home. While walking through the house you gradually discover what has happened — both in the last year and the last decades — with the artifacts left behind by the overlapping stories of your father, mother, and sister.

gone-home

As the pieces fit together, Gone Home takes on an increasingly strident tone, and you’re left with a very clear impression of which politicians and issues the authors support, and which they despise. The focus on issues that matter a great deal to many now — and will be largely irrelevant to those in the future — limits the appeal of Gone Home both to those who are around now (effectively excluding those of different voices) and in the future (who simply won’t care).

Conclusion

Interactive fiction is a beautiful, moving, and even controversial form of art.

The first video game was made in 1947. That means video games are 66 years old. By comparison, the first moving pictures were shot in 1841. 66 years later was 1907.

We are in the 1900s of video games.

The future is going to be incredible.

Thanks for a beautiful day…

… are owed to Brendan of I Hate Linux. I visited him by the lakes of South Dakota today, and we had a wonderful time eating lunch, exploring the local university, and of course enjoying his gorgeous XBOX 360 – Westinghouse HDTV combo.


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Particular, I enjoyed playing the fourth Elder Scrolls game — Oblivion. Elder Scrolls III (Morrowind) was stunning beautiful when I first played it, and it is the only game bought after the golden age of the mid 90s (which including Civilization II, Oregon Trail II, SimCity 2000) that I truly loved. I bought both expansion packs — Tribunal and Bloodmoon — and loved them as well. Oblivion, from what I saw on that beautiful display, is worth heir to the Elder Scrolls name.

Computer Games Aren’t Bad For You, and The Internet Is Good For You

The text’s statements on computer games are doubtful. It states that “an increasing number of studies show that playing violent games, like watching violent TV, increases hostility and aggression.” However, more than half of studies looking at the connection between media violence and violent activity failed to find any significant link (Pinker 311). The spread of video games has mirrored the fall in the violent crime rate. Nor it is clear that the greater appeal of software applications to boys than girl is a problem. Newborn boys show a greater affection for mechanical contraptions than newborn girls in their first day (Alford and Hibbing 2004), so how are similar observations later on surprising? Likewise, the the Columbine shooters played “Doom” lessens when one learns the last game they played was bowling (Moore 2002).


Following the text’s advice on the Internet can impede development. The author focuses on negative aspects of electronic communication, such as increased loneliness and exploitation. Then what to make of these quotes: “I’m from a medium-sized city, I’ve still found it hard to find good company…” (Chirol 2006) and “The Internet makes this far easier in today’s world.” (Curzon 2006)? They are statements of domain experts on how Internet communication has allowed them to experience the advantages of geographical nearness (tdaxp 2006) that is required for expertise in a talent domain (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, Gardner 1997).

A focus on negative aspects of new technology is harmful, especially when combined with an incomplete literature review or pessimism. The Internet is good for you, and video games don’t hurt. At least, that’s what scientific research tells us.

Bibliography

tdaxp. (2006). The Creativity Anarchy. Paper for Creativity, Talent, and Expertise.
Alford, J. and Hibbing, J. (2004). The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior. Perspective on Politics, Vol. 2 No. 4, 707-723.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Perennial.
Curzon, G. (2006). Personal communication.
Chirol, I. (2006). Personal Communication.
Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary Minds. New York: Basic Books.
Moore, M. (2002). Bowling for Columbine. MGM Distribution Co.

More Videogames, Less Violence

Adam of The Metropolis Times is a longtime blogfriend of tdaxp. Recently he has taken to vidcasting, and one such vidcast (on video games and crime) has been taken up by the popular videogames-and-politics site Game Politics.

Watch the video


Don’t Tread On Videogames

and join the discussion.

The link between electronic entertainment and a peaceful society has been discussed on tdaxp before

And remember: watch the video.

Computer Games Are Good For You (And Your Children)

Chasing the dream,” The Economist, 4 August 2005, http://economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=4246109 (from Slashdot).

A wonderful article on The Economist and intellectually empowering computer games, and their critics:

First, an interesting divide between the Generations of Virtual Warriors and strangers to such mental dexterity

Start with the demographics. Attitudes towards gaming depend to a great extent on age. In America, for example, half of the population plays computer or video games. However most players are under 40—according to Nielsen, a market-research firm, 76% of them—while most critics of gaming are over 40. An entire generation that began gaming as children has kept playing. The average age of American gamers is 30. Most are “digital natives” who grew up surrounded by technology, argues Marc Prensky of games2train, a firm that promotes the educational use of games. He describes older people as “digital immigrants” who, like newcomers anywhere, have had to adapt in various ways to their new digital surroundings.

Then, statistical evidence that computer games physically pacify the population, as generations are raised up used to fighting with their minds, not hands

Game players, it turned out, were no more aggressive than the control group. Whether the participants had played games before, the number of hours spent gaming, and whether they liked violent movies or not, made no difference. The researchers noted, however, that more research is still needed to assess the impact of other genres, such as shoot-’em-ups or the urban violence of “Grand Theft Auto”. All games are different, and only when more detailed studies have been carried out will it be possible to generalise about the impact of gaming.

But as Steven Johnson, a cultural critic, points out in a recent book, “Everything Bad Is Good for You” gaming is now so widespread that if it did make people more violent, it ought to be obvious. Instead, he notes, in America violent crime actually fell sharply in the 1990s, just as the use of video and computer games was taking off. Of course, it’s possible that crime would have fallen by even more over the period had America not taken up video games; still, video gaming has clearly not turned America into a more violent place than it was.

And some concrete examples of the benefits of being a Virtual Warrior

Another area where games are becoming more popular is in corporate training. In “Got Game”, a book published last year by Harvard Business School Press, John Beck and Mitchell Wade, two management consultants, argue that gaming provides excellent training for a career in business. Gamers, they write, are skilled at multi-tasking, good at making decisions and evaluating risks, flexible in the face of change and inclined to treat setbacks as chances to try again. Firms that understand and exploit this, they argue, can gain a competitive advantage.

Not that facts will stop the Puritan Left from attacking


Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)
He Knows What Is Best For Your Children,
So You Don’t Have To

This summer there has been a huge fuss about the inclusion of hidden sex scenes in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”, a highly popular, but controversial, game in which the player assumes the role of a street gangster. The sex scenes are not a normal part of the game (see above for a typical image). But the offending scenes can be activated using a patch downloaded from the internet. Senator Hillary Clinton and a chorus of other American politicians have called for federal prosecutors to investigate the game and examine whether the industry’s system of self-regulation, which applies age ratings to games, is working properly. Mrs Clinton accused video games of “stealing the innocence of our children” and “making the difficult job of being a parent even harder”.

In June, Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference to draw attention to the M-rated game “25 to Life”, in which players take the role of a policeman or a gangster. “Little Johnny should be learning how to read, not how to kill cops,” he declared. True, but little Johnny should not be smoking, drinking alcohol or watching Quentin Tarantino movies either. Just as there are rules to try to keep these things out of little Johnny’s hands, there are rules for video games too. Political opportunism is part of the explanation for this double standard: many of gaming’s critics in America are Democrats playing to the centre.

Happily, in this fight time is on the side of the right

Like rock and roll in the 1950s, games have been accepted by the young and largely rejected by the old. Once the young are old, and the old are dead, games will be regarded as just another medium and the debate will have moved on. Critics of gaming do not just have the facts against them; they have history against them, too. “Thirty years from now, we’ll be arguing about holograms, or something,” says Mr Williams.