Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning

Jonathan McCalmont @ 07-12-2011
  1. Lithium

I’m old enough to remember when video games were comparatively simple things. For example, I remember the side-scrolling video game adaptation of Robocop (1988). Relatively short, Robocop had you shooting and jumping your way from one side of the world to another. Once you got to the end of one world, you moved to another, and then another… and then the worlds started repeating themselves in slightly different colours. These games were simple to understand: you immediately knew what you were expected to do and what constituted victory. Nearly twenty-five years on, video game technology has advanced to the point where games are beginning to acquire the complex ambiguity of the real world — and with this complexity comes difficulty. Continue reading “Skyrim and the Quest for Meaning”


The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions

Jonathan McCalmont @ 12-10-2011

 

  1. Context, Dear Boy… Context

Here is a common complaint:

‘One of the problems facing video game writing is a systemic failure to place games in their correct historical context’

What this generally means is that writers fail to open their reviews with a lengthy diatribe on the history of this or that genre. While I think that there is definitely a place for that type of opening and am quite partial to it myself, I think that the real problem of context is far more local and far less high-minded. The true problem of context is that how you experience a particular video game is likely to be determined by the games you played immediately before. For example, if you move from playing one version of Civilization to the next then the thing that is most likely stand out is the developers’ latest fine-tuning of the game’s basic formula. Conversely, if you pick up Civilization V after Europa Universalis III, you will most likely be struck by the weakness of the AI and the lack of control you have over your own economy. Aesthetic reactions, like all reactions, are highly contextual. This much was evident in the reaction to Eidos Montreal’s recent reboot of the Deus Ex franchise entitled Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Continue reading “The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions”


Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement

Jonathan McCalmont @ 17-08-2011

It rained on Saturday afternoon. It rained and it rained and it rained. It rained so much that I couldn’t go out, not even to the cinema, not even for a walk. I was trapped, so I decided to invest some serious time in a video game. I powered up the PS3, slid the armchair just that little bit closer to the TV and I dipped my toes into the world of Sucker Punch Productions’ superhero sandbox extravaganza Infamous 2.

A few hours later, I unfolded myself from the chair and looked up at the clock on the wall… I registered 5 pm but my joints were screaming. How long had I been here? In something of a daze, I headed upstairs to my computer where I checked my email. My computer’s clock read 7:30 pm. Surely this was a glitch. I googled the time: same problem. I headed downstairs and asked my girlfriend what time it was and she pointed to the clock… the one that I had checked only a few minutes earlier. It now read 7:35 pm. Continue reading “Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement”


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”


Fantasies of mere competence: Football Manager 2010

Jonathan McCalmont @ 28-04-2010

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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This being the multi-media future and all, I would like to begin this column by asking you to consider a video taken from Charlie Brooker’s BBC 4 TV series Screenwipe :

Now, I consider this to be one of the most enjoyable rants I have ever seen on television. Aside from a few minor quibbles (“kick to the nuts spiritually speaking”? Redundant “low self-esteem engine”? Pointless pun, far too on-the-nose) I think it is exquisitely written and paced. It takes us from a sedate and happy place and slowly builds into a frenzy of anger and frustration before collapsing into an abyss of sorrow, alienation and resignation – a rise and fall exquisitely supported by Clint Mansell’s score from Darren Aaronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). It is everything that a rant should be. But is it right? Does the media really ask us to identify with an endless procession of impossibly glamorous and accomplished caricatures? In some cases, yes. Continue reading “Fantasies of mere competence: Football Manager 2010”


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