WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays the mashup tabletop game, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate while Dan goes for the yards in Supergiant Games’ latest release, Pyre.
THE RELATION BETWEEN TEXT AND AUDIENCE: Andrew, spurred on by his experiences playing Fallout 4‘s DLC, “Automatron,” and Dan, inspired by his playing of Pyre, talk about how texts can have different impacts––and lead to very different experiences––for their audiences. Movies have spoilers and twist endings while video games of optional side-quests and branching paths of narrative. How much of a role does the audience have in telling the story? How much control do we, as an audience, want?
Episode 09 – Podcastin’ All Night: Where D. Bethel talks about Supergiant Games’ first game, Bastion, and how it emphasizes the audience’s role in completing the narrative.
A WEEK IN GEEK: Before things get started, D. talks about becoming mildly internet famous for about a day (the social media accounts of his favorite band, Twisted Sister, shared art he made of each band member). For those wondering, here’s the scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in which Twisted Sister appears:
INDIE ACCOLADES: Andrew and D. talk about the world of independent creation––mostly games, mostly video games––and how it works in the face of the big corporate franchises discussed for the past few weeks.
WEEK IN GEEK: To ring in the holidays, Andrew and D. Bethel take the time to bring you another Week in Geek Shortcast. This week, Andrew plays Greenheart Games’ Game Dev Tycoon on iOS (after having previously played it on Steam), while D. talks about the interesting time-travel, existential narrative of the Jean Grey limited series from Marvel.
WEEK IN GEEK: While still playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Andrew tries to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) while D. gets excited by the Lovecraftian undertones found in Get Out.
THE FORCE IS…EXPENSIVE?: With the hotly anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront II released recently, with it came a lot of controversy. It stands at the apex of a recent trend toward big-budget titles adopting monetizing tactics more commonly found in free-to-play mobile games, this time in the form of blind boxes aka loot boxes. Andrew and D. dive into this controversy and try to find the middle ground.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew gets through the first episode of season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things and has LOTS of opinions––not about the show, but about streaming in general. Dan succumbs to weakness and plays the Deadpool video game (while simultaneously playing the much better––but much more intense––Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus).
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays the expansive new Star Trek board game by Gale Force Nine Games, Star Trek: Ascendancy, while D. gets knee-deep into the sequel to the short-lived, but beloved, comic book series, Battle Chasers. However, the sequel is a video game, not a comic, in Battle Chasers: NightWar by Airship Syndicate. (Full Disclosure: D. was a backer on the Battle Chasers: NightWar Kickstarter campaign.)
And here is the promised narrative summary of the game of Star Trek: Ascendancy that Andrew played, written by Tim Saito:
In the Romulan capital city, on the planet Romulus, Praetor Nat’al looks out across the sea of screaming and crying faces. “Riov Lovok, what happened?”
“It’s the war sir. I believe we have lost it,” replied Riov Lovok.
“How? And why are all those people screaming and crying?”
“It’s the parents of the children. All the parents of ALL the children,” said Lovok as she lowered her head.
“What was done to our children!?”
“It was the Ferengi, sir. They sold a toy to a few of the children last week. The following day they sold more, but at a higher price. Since then, each day the price goes higher and higher and fewer and fewer are available. Something called a Tamagotchi. Now all the children want one and all the parents are desperate. Order is falling away and there are riots in the streets as roving mobs of parents search out the elusive Tamagotchi.”
“Yes, Preator. Word has come through that the Federation has fallen to the Ferengi as well, to something called a Tickle Me Elmo.”
“We underestimated these Ferengi.”
“Yes. The Cardassians have also submitted their surrender to the Grand Nagus on Ferenginar. They were destroyed by something called a Furby.”
“We will mount an attack. Launch a fleet of ships and attack Ferenginar under cloak. They won’t see it coming and we will take their home world from them!”
“It’s too late,” said Riov Lovok as she pulled her disruptor from its holster. “I was promised TWO Elmos, four Furbys, and five Tamagotchis IF I delivered you to the Ferengi.”
Episode 40 – “Vowel Movement”: Where Andrew discusses playing the board game, Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem, a previous game made by Gale Force Nine Games. Ironically, Episode 40’s discussion topic is about sequels that come years after the original entry, and this week D. talks about playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar, and ostensible sequel to the comic series that ended in 2001.
Episode 128 – “His Curry Name”: Where D. Bethel talks about reading the series rebooting Jim Lee’s ’90s Wildstorm continuity with The Wild Storm by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt.
News Blast: Star Trek Fan Films: Where Andrew discusses the legal ramifications of CBS/Paramount coming down on the large community of Star Trek fan films.
Mass Effect: Andromeda stands as one of the most derided games of this generation. It’s to the point that Bioware said publicly that it’s no longer supporting it a mere five months after the game’s release. While I think the game is, indeed, very different from the previous Mass Effect games and, without a doubt, needed a few more drafts with the script, it was by no means a terrible game. If separated from the Mass Effect context––and when considered with all of its animation/texture/gameplay patches––it suffers from the deadliest of video game diseases: it ended up being a game that was just “fine.” Nothing stellar, nothing terrible, things that make it forgettable in the sea of games to get either quite excited about or quite angry about.
Though I may be biased because I enjoyed the game (aware of all of its flaws), I think Park’s ostensible defense of the game makes a very strong point not only about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but also about criticism in general. For those participating in the conversation around video games, both professional and amateur (though this line is blurring more than ever), a general agreement seems to be that to be “critical” means to look for what’s bad and point it out. I’ll grant some leeway because a lot of professional critics are playing these games during abbreviated periods for review purposes, so the bad stuff stands out even more. With a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda, it has the added burden of being a new entry in a highly venerated video game series, so expectations for the game were set a bit higher than other games. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have qualities worth discussing, remembering, and celebrating, and part of that, at least as Park argues, is because of gaming criticism’s relative youth:
We don’t yet have a critical structure that supports or fosters an appreciation of the misapplication of game language that causes “messiness.” And this is a major problem.
With that in mind, there is a trend away from more traditional reviews into a more personal or culturally critical look at a game. These are more critic-friendly because they don’t really need to be ready by the game’s release (although such timeliness is beneficial for SEO purposes), and such investigations allow the critic to step back from the game and take a more holistic approach to judging a game. Whether Mass Effect: Andromeda deserves or will even get that chance is up to history. At the very least, I hope future games––be they new installments in venerated franchises or new IPs––get the chance to be examined with a genuinely critical eye rather than just a score disguised as a conversation.
Instead of an article, this is an episode from the generally fantastic critical podcast, Bullet Points, where (at least) three games journalists record their thoughts of a video game they all played to write about and talk about for their website. Each episode is accompanied by articles written by the contributors and they’re always very thoughtful and insightful.
This episode, where they look back on Epic Games’ Gears of War (the first installment), is an absolute disaster in the best possible way. In the hour-and-a-quarter episode, they spend about fifteen minutes total discussing the game and, instead, slam critical views together like rams over a ewe. The conversation devolves into an argument about how to read the game, critically. One wants to look at the mechanics and render judgment based on those while another wants to look at the game’s place in a historical context. And, in this conversation, the twain never meet.
Throughout the entire fight, I found myself talking out loud as I listened while walking my dog one morning, hoping my mediation would travel through my headphones, up the RSS feed, and back through time so they could actually realize what it was they were fighting about. While it seemed like they were disagreeing about the quality of the game, the discourse on display was actually a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to critical analysis. There is no one thing called “analysis” and that’s what everybody does. We have developed different ways to look at the same thing––be it Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Formalism, Feminism, Marxism, and so on. Look at something like Catcher in the Rye through a Structuralist lens will give you a very different argument than if you looked at it through a Feminist lens. And that’s okay. They all coexist. However, the static that can be caused by the lack of agreement on which one to use while looking at a text can lead to an actual halt to discourse and then nothing gets done, as is the case on this podcast episode.
The clashing ideologies between the two journalists was basically a fight between New Criticism vs. New Historicism, but the entire episode propels along a single question that, in itself, is quite interesting: can dumb texts be worth talking about critically? Also, can texts still be important when authorial intent is ignorant, dubious, or manufactured? I’d like to hear the podcast where they discuss that. Maybe more would get done.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew attends Seattle’s BrickCon and is intrigued by not only the affordable prices of hard-to-get sets, but also the creativity of independent LEGO builders, while Dan gives his impressions on the pilot episode of Fox’s new tv show based, ostensibly, on their cinematic X-verse, The Gifted.
WHAT A THRILL: Andrew, inspired its free status for PS Plus subscribers this month, re-downloads Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and gets poisoned by Venom Snake all over again, two years on.
NOT MY AMERICA: Swedish developer, MachineGames, and their parent company, Bethesda, are ramping up the marketing for their upcoming, hotly anticipated sequel, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and their tact has made a certain demographic very displeased.
STRIKE WHILE THE IRON’S HOT: After almost an entire year on strike, SAG-AFTRA and the studios it named in its grievance have come to a tentative deal, thusly ending the video game voice actors’ strike. But what was agreed to? What does this mean for the future of voice actors and game development going forward? Andrew and D. Bethel talk it out.