Hey Dylan PC Games

1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

bf2Hey Dylan,
With player agency and games, we obviously run the gamut. I have played games where the apparent player agency doesn’t exist (e.g.,  it turns out that your character is lying regardless of what you choose in the dialog box). There’s the basic agency to continue, as opposed to turning off the computer. There are minor deviations, major deviations, and no set path at all…

But in the case of 1979, we have an unusual combination of Walking Dead like reminders that our choices affect the game, and yet, they don’t seem to appear to, or they do so in a much more limited way than the game implies. So it isn’t the lack of player agency, or the presence of player agency, it’s the promise of a particular kind of player agency that doesn’t ever seem to be realized. This seems to indicate that the designers were interested in both being the ARTEUR and also appearing to be doing something with narrative that is in many ways limited to the game space. I suspect that this is because they were trying to attract people who were interested in computer games, as opposed to people who were interested in Iran.

Still, the end result is that the strange relationship between the player and the designer is a little strained. Again, we are more forgiving of this with new designers or perhaps, people who aren’t really game designers at all. So this is a critique of the game itself and not of a studio or of the designers, I suppose.

The biggest strengths and weaknesses of this game were both narrative related. The mechanics of the game suffered from it being a port — as you mentioned — but this seems secondary to me than the elements of the game that are endemic to it on every platform.

Anyway, on the whole, I personally tend to experience games that have three billion endings because of decision trees are necessarily sloppier and it usually makes me miss authorial control. Theoretically, you could (and esp. in postmodernist stuff, authors have) design an actual novel according to a system design instead of a more traditional narrative design. While games are getting better and better at being literary, I think books are getting worse and worse at being ludic. Just an outside thought.


[Author’s Note: This is the final letter in a four part series. Here are the first three:
Dylan’s first letter.
My first reply.
Dylan’s second letter. ]

Dear Diary

If I Were Queen of the Universe: My Royal List of Demands

But if I were queen of the universe, this is what I’d want to see:

– Recognition that “leader of the free world” is not the same thing as “leader of the earth.” For most of human history, we have lived with the possibility that some people far away from us could make decisions and take actions that negatively affect us. This has not changed, and the notion that globalization has changed this is an illusion.
-Building on this recognition, the acknowledgment that when we collaborate as peers to save something on which all our lives depend, we must trust others to make the best decisions they can given the information they have, even when we are not watching.
-To date, globalization has largely consisted of two kinds of processes – one is straightforward exploitation, and the other is a weird effort to bring democracy and the end of race and gender based oppression to countries that are not “civilized” enough, weird because it claims to be a explicitly anti-imperialist project, so it blames colonialist countries while it imitates colonialist countries. The “global south” is not much better for having been introduced to the 24 hour news cycle of the “global north.” the encounters the West has had with developing countries to date have often been terribly mismanaged. We need to recognize the simple truth that though the Other is terrifying to encounter, this fear cannot be the organizing principle of our foreign policy.
-In order to create a more humane foreign policy, we need to acknowledge that there cannot be universal human rights if there is not a universal human. Margaret Thatcher once said, “There is no society, only individual men and their families.” To my eyes, this has been the fundamental view taken by the United States and Western Europe towards globalization. Denying that there is a universal human is often labeled as progressive, but it is mainly used to avoid taking responsibility for the people we are harming. We need to look at the people we don’t like because they are different from us and the people we don’t like because they’re actually assholes and the people we can’t afford to like because we want their stuff, and recognize there is something true about them that is also true about us, and that true thing entitles them to rights we would like to deny them.
-We need to deconstruct the business class, and reintroduce production and service as economic cornerstones, instead of financial speculation. If we reassessed the financial worth of a job (salary) by its usefulness to the community, I think that would be a big start. If we could introduce more cooperative models for businesses via tax credits and incentives, and require all high schoolers to do a year of service (instead of military) before they went to college, I think that would be good too. I think a better process of globalization would be putting our global values to good use to make our communities better where are.
-We need to transform globalization into instituting our  global values in our local communities, instead of exploiting global communities for local value.

-Embrace plurality! YOUR QUEEN COMMANDS IT. There are: different learning styles, different strengths, different sexualities, different cultures, different outlooks, different hopes, different everrrrything. EMBRACE IT.

Film and TV Media

Cameraperson (film)


camerapersonThe film Cameraperson is a memoir by documentary filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, perhaps most famous for the documentary Citizenfour. The film, which is comprised of footage she has shot over the years for different documentaries, ran the risk of being a “clips movie,” and in fact it does take the viewer a few minutes to cotton on to the running themes. The film opens with a request, Johnson asks viewers to see the film as memoir and not documentary, which at first seemed easy enough because of the way the clips jumped from place to place, but as the film went on, it returned to the same places enough that stories did emerge.

There seem to be two running themes throughout the movie. The first was pointed out by my friend and cinema studies expert, Pedro Cabello, who saw the film with me. There are a number of scenes that approach death, but that seem to consistently assert, ultimately, that the mystery of death cannot solved with documentary — that there is something about dying that is unknowable. These scenes — a little boy who talks about discovering his brother with his face blown off, a baby who is delivered needing oxygen but there is none,  a woman at an abortion clinic who says she feels like a bad person and a ‘bad female’ for allowing herself to have a second unexpected pregnancy, and the many war zones where displaced persons talk about the life lost — are gripping but also difficult to fully understand. We can see the horror, but we see Johnson’s question — what does it all mean? What is death, and what is unjust death?

The second theme, following directly from the first, is how a receiver of true and terrible stories — such as a documentary film maker, but also doctors, and activists, writers and artists, etc — learn to live with those stories. Interspersed in the scenes that ask about death, there are moments of brightness. Berry picking in Bosnia; a boxing match where a young and angry loser storms back into the arena swearing only to find his mother in the audience and let her hold him while he calms down; small children laughing and playing; sheep storming down a path; maybe even the moment in the abortion clinic when Johnson tells the woman that every single person in that room — Johnson and her staff — have all had unwanted pregnancies, that this girl is not alone, and that she is not a bad person. These all represent moments — small smaller within a larger, sadder framework — of overcoming. But the film does not decide one way or the other about whether these moments of brightness say anything about the dark.

Ultimately, the film is meditative, graceful, and moving. It holds together both as a memoir, a commentary on what it means to hear and tell true stories, and a question about what how we understand the world. Feature length, this one sticks with you. I encourage you to spend an afternoon with the film, and good friends to talk about it with afterward.

Hey Dylan Media Non-Fiction PC Games Uncategorized

1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC Game) [Open Letter Series]

[Note: This is a reply to a letter written by Dylan Holmes over at his blog, as part of a game blogging series we are doing monthly. This month, we are discussing 1979 Revolution: Black Friday – a game about Iran in 1979. In addition, his response to this letter can be found here, and I finish the letter series hereAll the spoilers.]

maxresdefaultHey Dylan,
I will begin by agreeing with most of your thoughts. I agree that the cinematic aspects of this game are of far higher quality than the ludic aspects. More specifically, yes, there were a lot of mouse movements that were annoying as all get out. I agree that the information is presented in a compelling way, the world building is pretty good in that regard.  I get the impression that maybe the group of people who designed this game are not particularly interested in being a games studio — when I went to the website to link to it above (in the note), I saw that they partnered with a studio that may have done a lot of the non-cinematic parts. Lastly, I am also still glad that I played the game. I think what this game succeeds at, possibly against pretty decent odds, is that it is about something historical for the sake of making us aware about something historical and yet it is not edutainment.

But by far my biggest issue is that the choices often don’t affect the outcome of the game. I ended up playing this game in fits and starts, and therefore I noticed:

1) It didn’t appear to make a difference whether I got the documents out during the first scene or not.
2) If I chose to save Ali instead of Hossein, Ali died anyway, which lends the impression that there is a right answer.

I don’t know if there were other examples, but there might have been.

The choice to copy the Walking Dead game, or more specifically to introduce “so and so will remember that” is probably better for people who don’t usually play games and who need instructions on how to understand what is happening if they haven’t had an experience interacting with a narrative in that way before.  This might be more defendable in a case like this one, where the target audience might not be gamers (which is not true of The Walking Dead game or Dreamfall Chapters). But this of course gets back to the question we were talking about earlier this week — what the role of authorship is in games.  Notably, we say “game designer”  and not “game author,” which does seem to denote a different relationship between the creator and the content.  There seems to be something sort of gloating about the text on the screen,  as if the designer is saying “Ah, so that’s what you’ve chosen,  well let me tell you what that means.” Most gamers do not want to be reminded so blatantly that their agency is usually limited by the programming, and either way, it does sort of bring the player out of the world and into the meta over and over.  At the end of the day, I am somewhat forgiving because I think the flaws of this game are a result of naiveté and  lack of experience.

As for the story,  I would have preferred a straight “break the story” procedural. It is a continuous problem in media that they underestimate the understated. The trouble with blatant violence is that it is the least complex way to deal with power dynamics in a narrative, and therefore it ends up feeling a little cheap. But the world building was so good in this game that the ham handed (as you put it) use of violence didn’t take away too much from the immersion for me.


Humanities & Social Thought Media Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 2 of 4)

{Spoilers for BOY MEETS WORLD and for the new film, “Don’t Think Twice.”}

14212588_328432474171482_5796106988774123007_nI came across this meme on Facebook not too long ago. I reposted it with the note: “Unless you legitimately want to, in which case, you do you.” To my surprise, there was a lot of backlash. For many people commenting on the thread, all who self identify as Leftists, a woman who makes the choice to go to the college her boyfriend is going to in order to be with him has internalized sexism. The questions that arose on the thread included:

– What is the author’s responsibility regarding ethical representation in fiction?
– What is the feminist answer to ‘what should a woman do?’
– What age does a person gain the jurisdiction to decide what makes him or her happy?
– What is the value of choice?

The consensus seemed to be that being able to choose herself over a man made a woman more free,
as opposed to having a choice.  Generally, there was also common agreement on the idea that a teenager might make a bad choice because she’s a teenager,  that is that she cannot yet be trusted to make important social decisions on her own behalf. I was a curmudgeon and disagreed on just about every point.

Don't Think twice
Don’t Think Twice

Not too long after that, I saw “Don’t Think Twice” in the theater.  Brain child of Mike Birbiglia, this was a wonderful movie about what it means to “make it,” and how we change as told through the perspective of millennials, focused on professional comedy. One character, Samantha, gets an audition for a nationally syndicated show, and on the day of her audition, concludes that she doesn’t want to try out. Her boyfriend also gets an audition at the same time, he tries out, and he makes it.  At the end of the movie, she’s broken up with her boyfriend, and become a teacher, choosing to teach students improv instead of seeking national notoriety for her own performance.  Some may come away thinking her choice was a product of internalized sexism, or a reflection of the film writers’ sexism, because her boyfriend’s success is analogous to how we understand success generally, and her decision along the same lines seems like the back up plan. Others will say that this is different because she is choosing between two different career options, not between herself and a man. But perhaps, the correct answer is really “whatever she chooses, as long as she chooses, is a feminist choice.”

This is the question we ask about Topanga and about Samantha and about our sisters, daughters, wives, and friends — is it necessary for them to make decisions which challenge the patriarchal norms in order for them to be feminist decisions?  If those decisions make them less happy, according to their own experience, is it really challenging patriarchal norms? If we say that making decisions which apparently benefit men in their lives exemplifies internalized sexism, are we denying them jurisdiction over their own experiences?

I’m putting this in the series on the administration of identity vs. the experience of identity because I think that often in the literature, in the class room, and at the protest, we are fighting on behalf of the right to make a choice that some women may not want to make. We are therefore dealing with the administration of identity — the right to choose as opposed to the particular decision. The particular decision will always be a product of experience, the right to choose a product of the administration of experience. This difference is key.

Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

The Administration of Identity Vs. The Experience of Identity (A Series, Part 1 of 4)

I want to talk about the difference between what we experience and what we study about experience. On this topic, many will feel that I should provide evidence and build a persuasive argument. There is certainly a place for that, but it aint Facebook, it aint in a personal essay, and it sure as hell aint on my front lawn. The thought that drives this essay could be summed up as “peoples is peoples and feels is feels.”

I have a friend who complained on Facebook that her male colleagues refused to go through doors she held open for them.  She asked her Facebook friends to help her come up with a retort, because these men were promoting the patriarchy by insisting on outdated, sexist chivalry.  What followed was a lively discussion among many women, all of whom implicitly agreed that the point was to call these men out for being sexist. Let us assume that in the way “micro-aggressions,” or small interactions, contribute to larger narratives, men not walking through doors women hold open for them does indeed promote patriarchal norms that are oppressive to women (this could be argued, but let’s not argue it here). While it would seem at the outset that the way forward would be to deconstruct this sexist act and through this determine the best course of action, including how best to respond, this process actually has very little to do with experience, and much more to do with administration and policy making. The administration of identity and the experience of identity are two very different things that need to be treated differently. The question of how to respond to a man who won’t walk through a door you hold open for him is different than the question of how to minimize the number of micro-aggressions against women.  You are not a category (women) and he is not merely a representation of all sexist micro-aggressions.

If we were to respond to this situation experientially, though, we might see something like this-

W: It bugs me when I hold open the door and you don’t walk through, because it makes me feel like you don’t [take me seriously/see me as your peer/like me very much].
M: Sorry! I was just trying to be polite.
[M proceeds to walk through the door]

In this instance, we are talking about experience, and not about large movements that come out of the academy and activist frameworks. Despite the fact that nobody said “micro-aggression,” “patriarchy,” “sexism,” or “feminism,” this was an example of two people addressing all of these things, from an experiential perspective. This is what actually living is actually like, which is separate from the study of living.  What the experiential perspective demands of us is emotional honesty.  It is my on-the-record opinion that it is easier to accuse someone of being sexist than admit that someone has hurt your feelings. But relying on administrative wrongs (those patterns of actions or policies which have been institutionalized culturally that promote injustice) abstracts oneself into a mere category, at which point, there’s no individual to have hurt or to have wronged, there’s only the idea of a particular group of people. You can no longer retort anything at all, because a category can’t talk. Moreover, it is in fact just as sexist, if not more so, to erase the female self in order to make an argument about oppression against females.

All of this is true, I think, and grounds for speaking from a personal place when you feel hurt, angered or alienated by someone else’s actions. But the most important reason to live life as oneself and not as some broader abstraction is that the point of the whole mess, just about everything there is, is the strange and wonderful beauty that is you encountering the world. You are the individual, inherently deviant from the categories to which you belong, you are the only thing like you this world will ever see.

Live that. Experience that.

Hey Dylan Media PC Games

Richard & Alice (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

Author’s Note: this is the third letter in a series about the PC game, Richard and Alice. The first letter can be found here, the second — written by Dylan Holmes — can be found here.
Dylan’s response to the letter you are looking at right now can be found here. (Spoilers abound.)

Hey Dylan,
Yes, I also think we’re short a bullet. After you shoot the lock off the door, you have no more bullets. If you get the one from the lake, then it gets used killing Barney, and when Alice kills herself, there shouldn’t be a bullet. If you don’t get the one from the lake, then there shouldn’t be a bullet to kill Barney (although Alice doesn’t kill herself in that version).

In fact, I didn’t realize there were 5 endings until after I finished the game, but I knew there were two because I played through them both to see if the bullet mystery was solved that way. I thought perhaps if I didn’t get the bullet from the lake, there would be some other thing which involved getting extra bullets (I didn’t realize yet that Alice wouldn’t kill herself without the bullet from the lake, so I was looking for two), and I also wanted to double check that she shot Barney as opposed to using some other weapon. When Alice didn’t kill herself the second time, then I Googled and discovered there are five endings. Interestingly, each ending correlates to how much of the optional stuff you did or did not do.  Suffice it to say, there are various notes and papers that the player is neither told about nor required to find, but if they do, it changes the interaction between Alice and Richard at the end of the game (depending on how many they find, etc).

I used to think the ugliness of games mattered, but after the popularity of Undertale, I began to wonder whether this was simply not as much of a thing as I originally thought. Maybe it’s true that the people who wouldn’t play it because of its ugliness alone are people who were never going to play indie games anyhow. Also, I liked certain things about the graphics in this game, they’re still way better than RPG maker’s to my mind. (I know this is weird, but I liked the way characters’ legs looked) And the sound editing was great! Especially when characters were walking in the snow.

I’ve been thinking about what you said about linearity — and I realized I’ve played one other game that has no dialog trees and only one possible action to move the game forward at a time, Drakan: Order of the Flame. That game doesn’t give you any choice either, and at every moment, it’s either succeed at given task and get next assigned task, or die and lose. Like the bullet in the box in Richard & Alice, there’s a sword in a cave in Drakan, and it is the only optional side thing you can get. Also similarly, within a given area you can move backwards, but after you’ve left that area, you can’t go back. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Rynn (the protagonist character of Drakan) has some choice in, say, which weapon to use,  to fight aerial vs. ground, etc.  And some other games at the time were probably similar, action adventure games that predated the open world infatuation? You would know about that. But anyway, my point is, what makes Richard & Alice unique for me is that it seems to take what I’ve only experienced as an action adventure trope, and turn it into a graphic adventure trope in terms of narrative and structural limits.

Overall, I liked the game, too, but when I think about it, I realize what I mean when I say “I like the game” is “I like the wit and intelligence  and aesthetic judgment of the game writers and developers,” I like it in a meta way. At the end of the day, the content was not itself enthralling because the premise was exhausted for me and the characters neither surprised nor interested me (although they were complex and developed). I want to play more games by Owl Cave, but not a sequel to Richard & Alice.