Worth Reading: 08/18/2014

Patrick Klepek

I've only been to Gamescom once, and it was years ago, but I remember one story from my trip.

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Towards the end of the show, we were out drinking one night. Dancing was happening, and I found myself in the thick of it. Another group got involved, and a dance-off was afoot. At some point, I decided to try a move that involved the floor, and I misjudged the distance between my feet and the guy in front of me. Rather than doing a sweet leg move, I tripped the guy.

There's a brief moment of panic, as both groups exchange glances, trying to gather what happened and determine anger levels I felt terrible; it was an accident. The guy gets up, dusts himself off, and goes "what do you want to drink?" He walks to the bar and grabs two huge beers.

I later learned he was an executive at PlayStation.

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There aren't many games set in Chicago, which partly explained my excitement for Watch Dogs. Even though Gita Jackson's piece was written ahead of Watch Dogs' release, it encapsulates the feeling of media--books, movies, games, whatever--trying to capture your hometown. In most cases, a city's picked because it looks iconic, which is why New York, San Francisco, and others are used so often. It's more subtle with Chicago, and Jackson's analysis of Chicago's racial divides underscores the problems of painting with broad brushes.

"When the developers from Ubisoft Montreal speak about this game, they do so with great reverence for Chicago, and they come very close to addressing some of the contradictions that I find interesting. 'Chicago is one of the world’s great cities,' says Jonathon Morin to gamestar.ru. 'From its inception to today, it symbolizes modernity and progress alongside crime and corruption.' But they veer shy of specificity, and draw repeatedly on historical references such as the Great Fire and prohibition to flesh out their view of the city. Given the distance of Montreal to Chicago, this comes as no surprise, but it belies a lack of real research into their chosen setting. They acknowledge the problems that exist, but don’t think much about what lies at the root of them.

I would not go so far as to call this racist, or even to think it was done with malintent, but it does strike me as dishonest. Ubisoft wants us to believe that they have accurately recreated Chicago in miniature, but given what we have seen from the game, I only see a set. This is a playground in which we will play. A part of the Chicago that I experience as a black woman living in it, one where the racial politics are ingrained on each block, might not make an appearance. If it does, it will be as the rungs on a ladder that a white protagonist will climb over on his tale of revenge. The more they tout how complex and interconnected the game is, the more simplistic it feels."

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We've all had a marathon gaming sessions before. Mine are scheduled around my wife's business trips, and it's the only reason I've made significant process in games like Dark Souls. But when those few days are up, I need a break from video games. Like any form of binging, it's exhausting. Solon Scott recently spoke with Zoya Street, author of Delay: Paying Attention to Energy Mechanics, which provides an informative deep dive on free-to-play games with "energy" systems, a relatively new form of game design. Rather than outright condemning, it tries to understand why they're different.

"In essence, snacking is basically saying that all these free-to-play time-unlocked games are good for you – as long as you ignore the siren song of in-app purchases. It’s this restorative aspect that’s built into social games which is so substantial, allowing you to act like a human.

Whereas something like Dota 2may be built for a brain in a jar, Candy Crush encourages people to go to sleep, have jobs, get outside, exercise, hang out with friends and whatever else human beings do. Just by not playing. None of that success and failure in other games really does much to curb the common shame of overindulgence."

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