Category Archives: Gaming

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD is the latest battleground in the ongoing war for the soul of gaming

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The age-old debate about video games has been settled. The only ones who continue to hem and haw about classifying interactive audio-visual experiences as art are those same people who balked at comic books, and rock music, and rap music, ardently refusing to acknowledge the scores of people globally for whom these forms are critical pieces of cultural knowledge and understanding. We’re at a place where one can confidently claim, “video games are art,” with no need to defend the statement. Finally.

The questions now are not ones of classification, but of purpose and nature. What should we do with games, and what is core to the form? What makes a game? These questions are trickier. Some of the more vibrant debates being had continue to revolve around the maligned genre derisively referred to as “walking simulators” – games more or less devoid of active gameplay and defined instead by the player’s ability to freely roam and uncover bits of narrative scattered among a detailed environment that conveys the story of what happened (in better cases, the story of what is still happening) there.

That many of these games – Gone Home being the most famous – also center on issues of identity and representation (Gone Home is ultimately a story about a young teenage girl coming to terms with her identity as a gay woman, and the burgeoning romance she experiences) only obfuscates the artistic debate here. Battles over social justice and the poor treatment of women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals in the gaming industry are important, just as they are in the culture at large. But these are broader cultural battles that go well beyond the scope of video games (even as the video game industry has more trouble with these things than most – see 2014’s GamerGate hate movement, and the alt-right individuals it fostered who later became critical members of the Trump machine). These debates are over the soul of society; the debates over the soul of video games are different debates, buried beneath these stronger, more visible (and, admittedly, more important) ones.

Within this walking simulator debate is the key debate, the one that reveals the core tension of contemporary video gaming: that of story versus experience.

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Video Games, Definitions, and an Evolving Art Form

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a longform post, but here we are.

This is a topic that has been heavy on my mind lately. I talk a lot about film here, and other than my “Top 10 Games of All Time” series (which a lot of you apparently read, so thank you for that!), I haven’t talked too much about video games. But I very strongly believe in video games as an art form – though I’ve dedicated myself to filmmaking, I think that video games offer equal opportunity for emotional affectation as films do, and are very worth one’s time and money. What makes them so interesting right now especially is that they are so young. They’re still a medium in its infancy, having been around only 40 years or so. If we compare that to film, which began in the 1890s, then we’re still in the 1930s. All-time greats will begin to make their defining films: Michael Curtiz still hasn’t made Casablanca, Howard Hughes is still in the early years of his career, Buster Keaton has 10 more years of shorts before throwing in the towel, Walt Disney is just starting his mouse empire. All these things are just beginning in gaming, and if we look at how far film has come from the wide open frontier that was the 1930s, then there is a lot of reason to be excited about gaming.

So I am very much a supporter, fan, and armchair critic of gaming. It’s an exciting time for the medium and industry, and I am eager to see where it goes. But lately, the community has been divided over the emergence of a new kind of game. They’re less divided about the games themselves, as almost everybody seems to agree that these are wonderful pieces of art. But they’re divided about the very basic description of these works of art as “games.” Which brings us to the primary question I will be asking tonight: what exactly is a “game?”

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Engagement, Indulgence, and Dialogue: How The Legend of Zelda Has Dropped Out of Mainstream Gaming Conversation

Engagement, Indulgence, and Dialogue: How The Legend of Zelda Has Dropped Out of Mainstream Gaming Conversation

This is an article I wrote for ZeldaDungeon.net that discusses some of the reasons that the Zelda franchise, once a critical pillar of gaming, has dropped out of the mainstream gaming eye. It’s very much in keeping with the article about criticism that I just posted here on Cox in a Box, and if you read that one you may find it interesting to see those ideas applied to a specific setting.

Give it a read!

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The Best Games of All Time – Honorable Mentions

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The Best Games of All Time series reached its end on Wednesday with my choice for the best game ever made, The Last of Us. But there were a LOT of games that deserved to be mentioned that just didn’t crack the top ten. Fortunately, we live in a world where text posts on a global network of linked digital devices are basically unlimited, so restricting myself to a top ten was ultimately rather arbitrary. To remedy that decision, I am happy to present a list of (unordered and unranked) honorable mentions, games that didn’t make the top ten cut but are worthy of mention all the same.

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The Best Games of All Time, #1 – The Last of Us

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“The allotted function of art is not, as is often assumed, to put across ideas, to propagate thoughts, to serve as example. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.” – Andrei Tarkovsky

Well, here we are. Surprised? It’s a very recent game – it only came out a little over a week ago – but it very quickly proved its worth. This game is a tour de force that puts you through all kinds of hell. It’s intense, it’s touching, it’s haunting, it’s visceral, it’s brutal, it’s taxing, it’s beautiful. It’s everything a game should be, and it represents the absolute highest point that gaming has yet achieved. This is the future of gaming, and I am absolutely thrilled to see where the medium goes after a game like this.

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The Best Games of All Time, #2 – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is a game that I have loved since I first saw the demo in a Target back in 2000. For thirteen years I have loved this game, with all its horror and its grotesque oddities. It’s one of the games I frequently return to, several times a year, and enjoy without fail. It is a masterwork of planning and execution, made on a time crunch with recycled assets, and designed with the intent to cut corners. And yet, those cost-saving measures are ultimately what created the masterpiece of a game that we have today.

As a child, this game always terrified me, despite my love for it. From the haunting iconography such as that which you see in the image above this article to the unsettling nature of Termina, everything in this game seems poised to scare young children, as I was when I first played this game. Yet underneath that veneer of horror lie a number of fantastic emotional stories about the denizens of this bizarre land. As I have written many times in the past, Majora’s Mask is ultimately a game about its setting, the world of Termina, than about anything else. And this world is filled with intrigue and heart.

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The Best Games of All Time, #3 – Portal 2

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As we march inexorably on the road to my pick for the best game of all time, we begin to reach games that mean so very much to me that I find it difficult to fully describe what I love about them. The original Portal was one of those games that I had heard absurd levels of praise for, and had to try for myself. Of course, when I did, all of that praise was immediately justified, but prior to playing it I was concerned that no game could live up to the levels of hype surrounding it. So when a sequel to the game was announced, I knew I was going to be in for a letdown on some scale. To follow up the minimalist masterpiece that was Portal – a brilliantly simple puzzle game with an exquisite script – was damn near impossible.

But, here we are, with Portal 2 sitting at number 3 on a list of the best games of all time. Valve managed to conjure a second act that far outstripped its first, if in a different way. Portal 2 managed to be more deceptive, more amusing, and just all over more fun than the original. It’s a testament to how meticulously crafted this game is that it has made it this high up on the list through sheer fun alone. Every other game this high up has some grand artistic statement being made; this game is just fun.

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The Best Games of All Time, #4 – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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Hideo Kojima wanted to be a screenwriter. Somewhere along the way, he got involved in games, and became one of the most recognizable names in the industry. Today, after four Metal Gear Solid numbered titles and a spinoff PSP title, Kojima’s name is synonymous with sprawling, ambitious narratives that push the limits of what games can accomplish on a storytelling front. Massive analyses have been written about some of these games, dissecting them from all angles and digging into some of the deep thematic trends. There is no series more renowned for its ambition and execution than Metal Gear Solid.

But among them, there is a clear winner. While the likes of the original game, its postmodernist sequel, and the cinematic and affecting most recent entry are all fantastic games that could easily be argued for a place on this list, it is the more humble, leaner Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater that lands a spot so high on this list. Snake Eater is a James Bond film stuffed into a game: a stealth action game with a Cold War-era espionage story that manages to be thrilling and poignant in equal measure. It takes a character previously known as the “big bad” of the franchise and turns him into a tragic figure, an erstwhile hero fallen.

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The Best Games of All Time, #5 – BioShock and BioShock Infinite

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Note: Since one of these games was recently released, I am putting a massive SPOILER ALERT up at the top of this article. Spoilers for BOTH GAMES follow; if you haven’t played them, be advised that it does spoil things to some extent.

Yes, I am cheating a bit here: two games occupy the same spot on my list, and the numbering isn’t altered to account for that. But screw you, this is my list and I can do what I want.

Those of you who read my review of BioShock Infinite back in March will likely remember that I called it the best game I have ever played. And while I will stand by that statement, a more accurate one would be “one of the best”. It was an experience that I rarely have in gaming, and that singular experience was, at the time, the very best I had had. But, reflection on that experience has deflated it ever so slightly, bringing it more in line with some of the other games that top this list. I also realized that much of my enjoyment of Infinite was due to its status as a response, of sorts, to the original BioShock.

These two games are directly connected and thematically connected, and each is greater in the presence of the other.

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The Best Games of All Time, #6 – Journey

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Journey was my game of the year for 2012, and earned its place on this list immediately after I had played it. It is a game that makes its mark and leaves you to ponder what exactly that mark is. What did you gain from the experience? Did you want to gain that from the experience? Have you changed?

Ideally, the answer is yes. Journey is transformative. It demonstrates quite clearly how well gaming as an art form can be used to tell stories that other media cannot even hope to tell, and how it can effect emotions that other media only dream of effecting.

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