Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation

Jonathan McCalmont @ 22-06-2011

It didn’t take me long to realise that something wasn’t right.

As a devotee of noir fiction and a long-time admirer of both James Ellroy’s LA Quartet and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997), I was more than looking forward to Team Bondi’s attempt to recreate 1950s Los Angeles using the Grand Theft Auto sandbox template. However, as soon as Ken Cosgrove was shoved into an interview room with a suspect and told to extract a confession, I knew that something was desperately wrong – not just with L.A. Noire, but with video games as a whole. After decades of investment in realistic graphics and physics engines, modern video games can perfectly recreate what it is like to shoot someone in the face… but ask them to recreate a believable conversation between two humans and they are at a complete loss. What we need is a revolution in the way that games portray social interaction. Continue reading “Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation”


Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story: High School, Privacy and Blended Identity

Jonathan McCalmont @ 25-05-2011

Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story is the follow-up to Christine Love’s critically acclaimed indie game Digital: A Love Story. Much like its author’s previous work, Don’t Take It Personally is a game devoted to exploring the nature of online identity. However, while Digital expressed a delicately muted nostalgia for a fictionalised past in which cyberspace allowed Mind to detach itself from Body, Don’t Take it Personally expresses a similarly ambivalent attitude to a notional future in which privacy has become an archaic and outmoded concept. Continue reading “Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story: High School, Privacy and Blended Identity”


Sucker Punch: Video Games and the Future of the Blockbuster

Jonathan McCalmont @ 20-04-2011

One of the great failures of 20th and 21st Century film criticism has been the failure to recognise that Blockbusters are a genre unto themselves. Forged in the 1970s by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Blockbusters borrow the trappings of other populist cinematic genres – such as science fiction, fantasy, espionage, war and disaster movies – but their aesthetics are entirely divorced from the concerns of the genres they borrow from.

In this column, I would like to examine the nature of the modern Blockbuster and argue that the next source of genre material for Blockbuster film will be video games. However, while there is much promise to be found in the idea of a film/game stylistic hybrid and Zack Snyder’s latest film Sucker Punch hints at much of that promise, it seems that the form of video games itself is as yet too underdeveloped to provide film makers with anything more than another set of visual tropes that will be used, re-used and eventually cast aside as the Blockbuster genre continues its predatory rampage through popular culture. Continue reading “Sucker Punch: Video Games and the Future of the Blockbuster”


The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism

Jonathan McCalmont @ 30-03-2011

At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see. Surplus capital and surplus labour exist side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together in the midst of immense human suffering and unmet needs. In the midsummer of 2009 one third of the capital equipment in the United States stood idle, while some 17 per cent of the workforce were either unemployed, enforced part-timers or ‘discouraged’ workers. What could be more irrational than that? – David Harvey The Enigma of Capital (2010)

In my previous column, I cast an eye over the different ways in which strategy games depict the world and how these distorted visions of reality mirror the distortions that affect people when they become part of large institutions, such as governments and corporations. In that column, I discussed strategy games such as Civilization V (2010) and Europa Universalis III (2007) and god games such as Populous (1989) but I omitted to mention games that set out the simulate what it is like to run a business. Continue reading “The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism”


Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths

Jonathan McCalmont @ 02-03-2011

0. A Tendentious History of Strategy Games Leading Up To A Question

All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.

– Chuck Palahniuk

Some video games require greater imaginative leaps than others. For example, games like Pong (1972) and Space Invaders (1978) were so graphically primitive that the gap between the things on the screen and the things they were supposed to represent could only be crossed with the use of a rocket-cycle; this collection of squares over here is an alien. That collection of squares over there is Earth’s last line of defence. The little squares moving up and down are particle weapons… or possibly missiles… or shoeboxes filled with explosive. It was difficult to tell. Continue reading “Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths”


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