The 5 best video games of 2013

The following is a list of video games; indeed, one could make the argument that they are the Five Best Games of 2013.

In fact, I will be making this argument. This is my year-end games list! Now, a note beforehand… my game budget is not large, which means that the games I buy I choose carefully, and most brand-new AAA titles are outside of my grasp. That is to say that the set of games I’ve played that actually came out in 2013 is small, and doesn’t include, say, GTA V or certain other industry notables. Whether that means they would make it onto my top 5 is something we can never know.

Shall we begin?

5: Antichamber

4: SUPERHOT

3: Gunpoint

2: The Stanley Parable

1: Gone Home.

Very good. The decision has been made, and there can be no debate, these are the games of the year.

What’s that? You want more elaboration? Ugh. FINE.

Antichamber is an exercise in exploring non-Euclidian space. In some ways it’s like Portal, in that it is a puzzle game which is based on a rote defiance of physics and whose presentation relies on the fact that, in games, you can be moved from point A to point B without needing to cover the space in between. But where Portal is about presenting the player with one central mechanic and using it consistently and reliably, ultimately training the player in its use, Antichamber is the opposite. It’s a world where physics do not work the same from room to room, from moment to moment. It’s a world where your goals are never outlined and threats are never made clear, if indeed there are any threats at all! Some walls are invisible. Some walls are visible but intangible. Some doors only open when you’re not looking at them. Sometimes if you run, you fall through the floor. If you go through a door, then turn around, there’s no telling if that door will still be there, or if it will connect back to the room you just left. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

What makes it work is that there ARE rules, ultimately, it’s just that they do not generalize in ways we are comfortable with. You can, in time, identify which doors work, which walls are real, which windows are secret portals, and so on and so forth. And while most rules have exceptions, somewhere in the sprawling mass of chambers, those exceptions are themselves reliable. Antichamber is, more than anything else, a “being confused” simulator, one which really captures both the discomfort with a world that doesn’t work right and the sense of discovery when we do come to understand what’s going on. It’s not incomprehensible, it’s not dada, it’s just fucking weird, and that’s great.

SUPERHOT is also fucking weird, but in a very different way. By far the most violent game on my list, it’s also the most incomplete… the game as it exists now is a unity-powered demo, essentially, but it’s a demo which I’ve played, ye gods, a hundred times maybe? I’m not making up that number, which is why it’s on this list at all. It, too, presents you with a world that defies physics… sort of. The speed of time itself is directly proportional to your own speed; run and the whole world runs with you, stop and everything slows to a crawl. There is no confusion here… there are red guys with guns, you have a gun too, make it work.

And it works. Oh, how it works. It’s elegant, it’s beautiful, it’s a little bit challenging while never losing that sense of “Oh man, I am some sort of berserker god-king, yes.” I have no idea why I’m killing all these dudes… while there is a touch more narrative than Antichamber (whose story amounted to, essentially, “Here’s a place… go!”), it’s hardly what you would call a story-driven game. But it is a driven game, and given that it’s free and short and online, I would consider it one of the few, rare “Must-Play” games out there; that isn’t to say that it’s the best of the year, just that the barrier to entry is so low there’s no excuse NOT to engage in it if you care even a jot about the medium.

Gunpoint is the only item on the list that’s not in first person, and I do want to suggest that this is a weird co-incidence. I mean, I don’t think I have a particular bias for first-person games… that’s just how the dice fell this year. 2D is still the presentation of choice for anything that involves seeing huge maps, demonstrating complete situational awareness, and making big-ass jumps. Gunpoint has all of that. Oh, does it ever. It’s another game that I consider elegant and beautiful, if only in the way it lets you make spectacular frog-jumps around the map, avoiding guards and walking across ceilings. The story is fun, the “hacking” mechanism is keen, but where it shines is the physicality of getting around the levels.

Jumping three stories and adhering to a wall, leaping off a roof and landing unharmed on the ground… these are abilities you start with. THAT’s a brave design decision! No earning the right to walk across the ceiling, no demanding that the player face two or three levels of using the stairs like a chump, no ticking off a health meter for jumping through a window. Gunpoint wants you to move, freely. Quickly. Everywhere. Anywhere! No surface is off-limits! You are the goddamn Spider-Man here, so walk on the ceiling above the heads of clueless coppers and chuckle to yourself because as soon as their backs are turned you know you’ll drop silently to the ground and then barrel at breakneck speed out the shattered window, dropping seven stories onto a subway platform, a friggin’ ghost. Ah, it’s a wonderful feeling. Gunpoint makes you feel awesome.

The Stanley Parable… does not make you feel awesome. Not. Not really, no. The Stanley Parable is about… hm. It’s… well. Uh. The Stanley Parable is complicated… you are Stanley, you do exactly what you are told, eventually you win, and there is no challenge whatsoever. You see, complicated! Okay, okay, I’m not selling it really well, but in part because it is to narrative what Antichamber is to physics; it’s a game about being in a game, at once an analysis of the medium and a parody thereof, a twisting, writing, wriggling mass of stories.

Also, it’s funny. I mean, it’s also a lot of things… at measures it can be unsettling or harrowing, tremendously sad or unnerving or even downright scare, but what it really is, really, is funny. The Narrator deserves a hug and a beer for his fantastic performance. The writing is gold across the board. It delights in the unexpected, and while there’s a thematic unity across all of your choices and through all your potential endings, it’s still a game which goes out of its way to surprise you at every turn. Are there secrets that haven’t been discovered yet? Have you made every choice there is to make? Have you seen it all? Maybe not. Better load it up again; after all, the end is never the end is never the end, is never…

Gone Home is almost the opposite of the Stanley Parable, in terms of narrative approach. Instead of a branching series of narratives in an expansive world with clearly marked points of crisis, you are given one small area (which is a huge-ass house, but still small for the medium of Game) with one small story uncovered in an epistolary fashion. I don’t mean a small story as an insult… the opposite! Gone Home isn’t about worlds exploding and days being saved, it’s about real people, with real relationships, which are at times really complicated. It’s a small story, but it’s multithreaded and powerful. The basic plot can be expressed in two sentences, and the credits can be reached in two minutes, but that’s not the same as “finishing the game,” now is it?

It’s a game which gets a ton of flack, and if I had infinite resources at my disposal, I’d love to track down the people who hate it and ask them why. The whole “It’s not a game” camp. The “I finished it in under an hour” camp. The “The story is crap and the only people who care do so because [and here I will post an alert for a truly mild spoiler, which is more than the game's complainers are likely to do] it deals with a social issue which is tragically underrepresented in the medium” camp. I don’t get that. I don’t get any of it. It IS a game, but one where your goal isn’t to reach the end, but to understand the characters. If you finished it in an hour, you probably haven’t spent the attention and care the house deserves. And you know what? The story is very well written, all the different angles of it. I can understand not connecting with it… for me, I’ll readily admit that Sam’s story was less compelling to me than her father’s, which I wish could have gotten more attention. I thought some aspects were a bit too twee, and some were underdeveloped, and some weren’t quite clear.

No, Gone Home isn’t perfect, but with respect: duh. What is? Hell, wanting to know more and not having that information available is part of what Gone Home is all about. I suspect that most of the haters have been fed a diet of bombast and lore, which has desensitized them to story. But I also think, well, to hell with them. It’s my game of the year, no real contest, and I’d recommend it without reservation to everyone I know.


7 responses to “The 5 best video games of 2013

  • Sam

    Just stumbled on to this blog and found this to be an interesting read. I think my opinions about these titles differ greatly from yours, but I just like to address the points made about “Gone Home;” specifically the several “camps” that you place its detractors into. I agree that none of these camps offer any valid criticism of “Gone Home,” but there is some truth/value in them that can be considered.

    Camp #1 “Gone Home” is not a game:

    I certainly agree that stating wether or not “Gone Home” is a game in no way should be used as a judgement of value. It would make for better criticism and analysis to examine the techniques, modes of expression, innovations, form, and history among similar titles than dismissing it outright. However, the claim that “Gone Home” is not a video game is absolutely true. There are no challenges of skill (reflexes, puzzle solving, informed decision making, etc), no “interesting choices” (as Sid Meier describes it), no winning or losing, and no goals to work towards. And no, “understand the characters” is not a goal, at least not in the way the term is used by game designers. As mentioned before, there is no skill or decision making in reaching this supposed goal. If you do not come away from “Gone Home” understanding the characters, do you lose? What if you take some other form of meaning from the experience, does it matter? The idea that empathy and understanding is the main purpose of video games or art is bothersome, but more on this later. Again, not a value judgement, just trying to establish what “Gone Home” is.

    Camp #2 “Gone Home” is too short:

    Completely agree with you here. Length is entirely relative. Some people might find more time in “Gone Home’s” world. Some people might not mind its short length. A critic or analyst should not preoccupied with length in so much if it is a good or bad thing. It is very frustrating to see this bias against simple or short forms of expression. What matters is what is done within that frame. From a consumer’s point a view though, I think this is a valid criticism. If a player feels that the content was not worth the price, or if the description of the experience was misleading, then he or she has every right to complain.

    Camp #3 “Gone Home” is critically lauded because it deals with hot button social issues:

    Criticizing a game or work of art for how others perceive it is not really criticism, that much I agree. Still, I do concur with this statement. It seems that most people writing about video games outside of mainstream publications (Game Informer, IGN) tend to be of the hipster, postmodernist, and/or third-wave feminist disposition (Critical Distance and most of the sites featured on it). This group of individuals are not concerned with craft, distinctions of game design, and the understanding of how these things “work.” Instead, they seem to view video games and art as some kind of political/social project, praising titles that conform to this ideal and sharply critiquing or ignoring those that do not. Excellent games such as the recent “Super Mario 3D World” and “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds” (mad love for Nintendo, I know) are not talked about or criticized in these circles. They are treated so not because of any issues with game design, but because they are partially products meant to sell and feature male characters rescuing passive female characters. People would not love or talk about “Gone Home” as much if say, the relationship between Samantha and her lover was heterosexual, even if the core experience remained the same. Maybe you do not feel this way about “Gone Home,” but I know many prominent figures in the culture that would do a complete 180 on it had it featured a more traditional relationship. Is this “what if” scenario fair? maybe not, but “Dragon’s Crown,” a sort of cultural antithesis to “Gone Home,” was treated in a similarly unfair manner and dismissed by so-called “champions of diversity” without them ever studying the quality of the gameplay or mechanics. So, Camp #3 does not offer valid criticism of art, but it does make a point about current trends in gaming culture that can not be ignored. Further more, judging a game based on social and political values is not good criticism in either praise or panning.

    Wow! What a long response. I do not mean to change your mind or anything, just giving you something to consider when thinking/writing about video games and the culture surrounding it. Hopefully you have time to read this and respond yourself if you have anything insightful to add or comment on. Keep up the writing and happy holidays :)

    • Thought Check Games

      Hey there, thanks for the comment! Don’t worry, I love long replies and thought-out arguments. So, I’m going to respond in reverse order, just for kicks.

      Point 3: Fair enough. While I don’t think that the game would have been that much less well-received it Lonnie had been a man, that’s getting into the sort of counterfactual “but what if” ping-pong that won’t get anyone anywhere. That said, you’re right, knee-jerk approval is just as troubling as knee-jerk disapproval. That isn’t to say that games shouldn’t be praised or criticized for their social content, but if folks are using that as the sole vector to determine quality, that’s problematic. Likewise I’m of the opinion that a game about a male character rescuing a passive female character deserves to be criticized (or at the very least scrutinized VERY closely) for that design decision, using that as the sole reason to condemn a game is pretty damn reductive.

      Point 2: I think we’re in total agreement here. Someone who legitimately tries to interface with a thing and finds it wanting has a right to complain about it.

      Point the first: I wrote a longish disagreement, and I’ll keep it here for posterity because I enjoyed it, but while I was writing it I got to thinking about why I felt the need to defend the label “game.” It’s just a label. You’re freely admitting that it shouldn’t be a value judgement, and I totally agree with that. Potential consumers deserve to know that it’s not challenge-based, and I totally agree with that too, and respect the right of someone to feel misled if they thought it was going to be anything different. There’s no moral disagreement here between us, but here I am letting myself get rather worked-up over… what? A label? I don’t know, it’s weird. It’s a bit irrational.

      THAT’s something worth talking about, although not necessarily in the medium of blog-post-comments.

      Anyway, the following is my defense of the term “game” for Gone Home, which I’ll keep (just a little bit shamefully) here. Thanks for commenting, and thanks for giving me something to think about!

      -E

      (I could not disagree with you more about the definition of a game. Challenge, skill, decision-making, reflexes… these are elements present in some games, but they are not what makes a game a game. I know I’m setting myself a rough comparison here, but Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders) is a game, and that contains no challenge whatsoever. Likewise, Candyland. The card game War. There’s no challenge to any of them, they are simply exercises in getting from point A to point B, but that’s all they need to be. Now, these games are also terrible and intended for children, but they’re still games: structured activities for the purposes of entertainment or diversion.

      As far as a goal, well, there is a literal goal in Gone Home: Sam’s Diary. If a player doesn’t reach that, than yes, they lose, in the same sense that if I do not reach Candy Castle, I have lost Candyland. Strictly speaking, it’s not possible to lose as long as I keep playing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strict, game-enforced victory/loss binary.

      As for whether “Understand the characters” can be an actual goal in a game, honestly, I believe it can. I don’t think a goal needs to be tested by the game designers in order to BE a goal. Hell, I don’t think a goal needs to be associated with a victory condition to be a goal. Tag has a goal–don’t be “it”–but there’s no way to win or lose, strictly speaking. And that’s not even getting into the vast realm of RPGs, both online and, especially, tabletop. Something like The Quiet Year comes to mind… certainly it’s full of interesting decisions to make, but none of them impact the strict “draw one card per turn and when you get the King of Spades the game ends” pace; the impact of the game is in how interesting a story you tell, which isn’t (can’t be!) measured concretely.

      The same holds true for more traditional RPGs, all the way to D&D, I’d argue… even though it’s far more decision and mechanism-oriented, with clear in-combat victory and loss conditions, the game itself doesn’t have any goals but what the players (and in this instance the DM IS a player, just one with a different set of mechanics to guide her actions) create, and the only measure of success is if they found the experience fun or meaningful.)

  • Sam

    Thanks for the response to my response. I think we still are in disagreement over what the term game means. It is far more than just a trivial label. I think I will start with clarifying that neither “Snakes and Ladders,” “Candyland,” or “War” are true games. I understand and accept that they are colloquially called such, but you are right; they do not follow the (for a comment’s sake brief and incomplete) criteria that was mentioned in the previous post.

    To give some context to my mentioning of “interesting” or, synonymously, “meaningful” decisions would be helpful. Sid Meier used this phrase in a talk at GDC back in 2006. He was not speaking about what players subjectively find appealing, but about how players understand, measurably, the benefit of one choice over another. The ramification of this choice is either helpful or detrimental in reaching a goal. For Sid Meier and myself, a goal is just a simple way to refer to a win state or an objective subservient to a win state. A good example would be selecting an attack or move in “Pokemon.” Using specific context, knowledge about the opponent, strategies, strength/weaknesses, ones own options, and an overall “gestalt” understanding of the game, a player can make an informed decision. The effect of that decision is range-graded, but ultimately binary. It is either beneficial or hurtful in obtaining a victory. These choices need not be drawn out. A simple split second reflex reaction suffices.

    On to the semantics of games. I know that these discussions frustrate many, but such is the nature of a topic that has little history and is just beginning to grow some legs. Video games contain a variety of genres and experience, this much I think we can agree on. However there is a very strong difference between how (for the sake of brevity) “traditional games” are perceived on a cognitive level by the player and (though I resent this term) “non-games” affect their audiences. So, how one engages with the gampeplay in “StarCraft,” “Halo,” “Pushmo,” and “Earthbound” is fundamentally different then how they would engage with “Gone Home.” Each game is distinct, but they all feature gameplay challenges. I think we can be honest and admit that “Gone Home,” “Proteus,” “Gravitation,” or any other similar art-house title feature no such challenges of skill. That is not to say that these “traditional” games do not have storytelling, themes, and cathartic conclusions, but overcoming the challenges present in them requires a thought process very much unlike trying to understand a story or appreciating a piece of installation art. I think this distinction is psychologically pretty clear.

    Now this distinction must be put into words so we can express ourselves clearly in an academic environment. Game is a pretty simple word, and its historical use over thousands of years seems (for the most part) to describe this experience. It is only a word, a series of phonetical sounds, but the meaning attached to it makes all the difference. But what of these other things, these “non-games;” products that occupy the same space and are built of the same tools as “traditional” games. Some, like yourself, seem fine in also calling them games because of the (IMHO superficial) similarities (made on a computer, require basic interactivity and/or user facilitated movement, use text and/or visuals to convey information). I find that this mindset is often tangled with political thought, fear of supposed social ramifications of distinction, and a postmodernist perspective on the futility of language to mean anything objectively. Others, like myself, feel the need to create a lexicon for the sake of communication and, ultimately, to make better games. This group, often referred to as the formalists, see two distinct experiences, one that they are trying to describe, and another that is very different in composition. Through language, they make a distinction so as to not confuse the two experiences. One is called a game, and the other is left up to those who are more knowledgeable about it and how it works.

    None of what I described is trivial. It is the basic progression of human language. I do not seek to stifle the thought and production of all interactive experiences that are not games. I am perfectly okay with seeing these products in Gamestop, reading reviews of them on Eurogamer and Edge, or even experiencing them myself. I only want an environment of academic rigor separate from the layman’s understanding; just as art, science, politics, and philosophy have. I think this is what everyone, both lovers of games and non-games, want. It is of my opinion that admitting we are talking about two distinct experiences through language would be a helpful step in getting us all there.

    • Thought Check Games

      I can appreciate the importance of accuracy in language; heck, I’m an English teacher in real life. I spend ages talking about how folks need to understand that words have meanings and the effectiveness of language hinges on people using words consistently and correctly.

      The problem I have with your definition of a game is that is is fundamentally impossible to use consistently; it’s inviting a “No True Scotsman” fallacy (and indeed, you yourself lead off by suggesting that Candyland et al are not “true games”). After all, who sets the goalposts for “challenge of skill?” If Gone Home requires a player to make the intuitive leap that, once they find the key, they can open the front door, it is providing an admittedly VERY mild challenge. It is an event between me and the win state, which I must overcome. Now I am not denying that it is not going to challenge anyone for more than a half a second, and I’m not denying that one’s engagement with Gone Home is very different than with the vast majority of games, but I AM suggesting that if we suggest that Gone Home isn’t a game because it’s not challenging enough, it’s inviting others to suggest that the most recent Call of Duty isn’t a game, because the waypointing always tells you exactly where to go and what to do.

      If we suggest that Gone Home isn’t a game because it doesn’t have a goal, then it’s inviting others to suggest that games like Space Invaders aren’t games, because, while there is scoring and advancement, that doesn’t lead to any actual victory condition.

      Yes, these are hyperbolic, slippery slope examples, but that’s my point: without a rigorous definition, the slope is inherently slippery. Now, if I am misrepresenting your argument, let me apologize, and please do clarify! But if you are using challenge and choice as metrics for whether something is a game or not, I believe you are creating an environment in which sloppy language can flourish, which is exactly the opposite of what you want!

      Whereas when I say that Gone Home is a game, I am not doing so because of superficial characteristics, but based on fundamental ones: a game is a structured activity (i.e.: it is a thing that people do, and there are a set of rules that tell them how to do it) entered into for purposes of entertainment or diversion (to distinguish it from structured activities like working or education). That’s an incredibly broad umbrella! And I don’t think it’s a perfect definition (it puts Number Crunchers and other edutainments in a weird shadow zone, for instance), but I think it is a workable one.

      Within the Phylum of “game,” certainly it makes sense to put Gone Home and StarCraft in different Classes… there can be “traditional” or “challenge-based” games on one side, and “experiential” or “labyrinth” games on the other, for instance. But they’re all games. Monopoly is traditional, Candyland is experiential; D&D is traditional, The Quiet Year is experiential. Synanthropes is traditional, Synanthropes Lite is experiential. So on and so forth.

      (The obvious question: why am I making a big deal about this? Because, while you point out that the idea of taking games seriously is very young, treating experiential games seriously is younger still, and I don’t want it’s burgeoning existence to be hampered by questions of legitimacy. There IS political thought and concern with the social ramifications of distinction here, and I think it’s a mistake to ignore that).

  • Sam

    It is not that “Gone Home” is not challenging enough, but that there is no challenge in the gameplay sense of the word. Whether the challenges in “Call of Duty” are easy or not (this is debatable, as people occupy a large spectrum of ability) or that the challenges are strict and linear does not matter. They still require reflexes, knowledge about how the rest of experience functions, and result in clear, measurable success or failure. This does not even include the ability to change difficulty settings and multiplayer modes, which is an entirely different beast. “Space Invaders” has an implicit goal; survive as long as possible and achieve the highest score as possible. Performance is measured in a way that is explicitly quantitative and discrete. Being able to measure your own skills and decisions is an important part of feedback in game design. I must stress that challenge is not to be confused with difficulty. One is subjective, the other is not. You may think “Kirby’s Adventure” or Quick Time Events contain the easiest challenges on the planet, but they are still challenges, forces that oppose the player and must be overcome using skill. Skill is also objectively defined here as the methods used to overcome challenges. As mentioned in the previous response, there are different kinds of skills for different kinds of challenges. Though these terms are rushed and not described for the sake of this (hopefully not too long) response, they are in no way inconsistent. Let’s use your example of finding a key in “Gone Home”. There is a lot of theory on why this is not a gameplay challenge, but I will accept it for the arguments sake. So what if it qualifies? So what if you need to complete a single challenge? Should we compare this to the best of game design; to “Super Mario Bros.,” “Ikaruga,” “Resident Evil 4,” “Street Fighter II,” “Majora’s Mask,” “Portal,” or “Perfect Dark;” masterpieces of the form? Should it even be compared to the mediocrity of “God of War”? This would not be fair criticism. I am not going to discuss “Gone Home’s” merits and flaws, but I think judging it in this way would seriously undermine everything it is trying to do. Why do you try to justify “Gone Home” as a game on my terms anyway? You mentioned earlier that the title of game was just a label. However, you seem to find a lot of value in this label, more-so than the two concepts we are applying it to. I have stated why I feel the need to call one game and not the other. So here is my question to you. Why do you think “Gone Home” and others like it should be called games? What is there to gain from putting everything under one roof so to speak? It is not like one roof is better than the other is it? Remember, I am only talking about this from an academic perspective, not an industrywide one. It’s okay if grandma or uncle Joe or little Timmy call these things games.

    This line of thought may not be entirely consistent among every individual, but we are, as Tadhg Kelly puts it “touching the elephant.” It is an attempt to actually do something with the academic resources available. Despite this, consensus about games within the formalist approach is fairly consistent (to clarify, though I may be somewhat formalist, I more strongly identify with the “cognitivist” approach that comes from the film criticism of David Bordwell and Noel Carroll, which is open to scientific information and understanding of audience perceptions). I don’t think it is too difficult to say that something like “Porpentine” is not a game (though there are hypertext novels that do emphasize gameplay challenge in the form of logic puzzles and reading comprehension). It is not a question of “no true Scotsman” (admittedly, saying that “Candyland” is not a “true” game was an error on my part, it is not a game at all, but it does facilitate play). Remember, no matter what is being said, there is no exclusion or value judgement in this distinction. There is no superiority of games over non-games. Those who see it this way either misunderstand intention or they are philosophically cynical.

    I think your advocacy for having different “classes” of games makes two mistakes. First, this can be far more confusing and inconsistent way to communicate when discussing games than the formalist method. “Oh, it is an experiential game,” as if all games, or activities for that matter, are not in some way experiences. They might as well be called different things. This is where you may just have a romantic attachment to the word “game”. I would be perfectly fine calling “traditional” and “challenge-based” games something else entirely if it were practical (it is not). Second, I still don’t think you understand just how completely different something like “Call of Duty” is from “Gone Home.” Yes, they both utilize a first person perspective. Yes, they are enjoyed for their audiovisual storytelling. I will even, for the sake of the argument, except that people participate solely for these reason (though I don’t think this is true). Regardless, whether the player is conscious of it or not, moving through “Call of Duty’s” three-dimensional environment and the mental process of doing so is an experience unique only to games. At this point, as I said in my previous response, the most useful thing to do is to make a distinction in language. I understand that agreeing with this method requires accepting the premise that games and non-games are inherently different, but it only takes a little understanding of psychology to see that we are talking about different things

    I really do not think that games and other interactive mediums can grow without their own lexicon and discussions. I could talk to you all day about the negative space prevalent in most multidirectional shooters, how carrying fruit in “Pikmin” mathematically changes the level design through folding and compacting, how “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass’s” Tempe of the Ocean King forces the player to create a complex internal model of the game world and builds working memory (and how the hardware of the DS intentionally supports this), or how “Super Hexagon” allows players to observe their own metacognitive progression. Maybe you are interested in these topics, but I doubt we could discuss it on an equal level. Likewise, from what I have read of your blog so far, you are more knowledgeable of the history and techniques of “artgames” than I am. You are probably more interested in them too. These conversation just do not happen between the “formalists” and the “zinesters” because these two groups have completely different ideas about what a game is. Make no mistake, an open “anything goes” idea about games is just as definitive as a specific one.

    You do not say much about politics, so I will say little as well. It is just such a big topic that deals with the history of art and philosophy, but I will say one thing. Unlike what some people believe, everything is not political anymore than everything is about video games. Discussing the social dynamics of race, gender and blah blah blah is certainly needed. I definitely support it (in an egalitarian sense). Unfortunately they are the only topics that are ever taken seriously from the academia(ish) side of gaming. The pieces I read about society and culture in gaming are not even intelligent, but again, a different conversation entirely. There needs to be more people studying games without all the sociocultural baggage because you can separate game design, culture and politics.

  • Sam

    Edit: I meant to say “Howling Dogs.” Porpentine is the name of the creator.

    • Thought Check Games

      It seems pretty clear to me that we’re not going to see eye-to-eye on this one, and that’s fine. Hell, that’s the great thing about language–we don’t have to agree on how, precisely, a single word operates, and the world will still turn. In twenty years’ time, one definition or another will come to dominate, and one (or both!) of us can either jump on the new boat or remain the sort of crusty old crank who insists that folks who use “decimate” to mean “destroy completely” are borderline-illiterate fools.

      So, while I could keep this discussion going, I worry that the best-case scenario would be that this drags us down into an academic pissing contest, and man, I don’t want that. I like thoughtful discussion, but I am loathe to butt heads. Sam, thanks for your interesting and thoughtful responses, and while I disagree with some of your underlying assertions, I definitely appreciate your defense of them. And in the end. I’m going to suggest (and I suspect that we will both agree) that any definition which has been thoughtfully considered is, at the very least, respectable.

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