Category Archives: Video Games

Real and Virtual Labyrinths: What Games Do and Don’t Teach

There was a dream I once had, in which my brother and I were trying to escape from a dungeon. We were in a small room, the only exit being in the floor at one end. It led to an underwater labyrinth which was supposed to be vast and dark and dangerous. However the room itself was large and homey, with dusty furniture, a TV and a Super Nintendo. We found that the cartridge in the SNES allowed us to play a replica of the labyrinth. You could control a character to swim and explore, and if he ran out of breath or was attacked by snakes, it was no biggie. You could restart. Try again.

No doubt my subconscious was feeding off repressed Water Temple trauma.

We knew that our only chance was to learn the labyrinth by playing the game. When we knew it by heart, maybe we could brave it for real and swim to freedom. But there was always a lurking worry that the game might not be portraying the real world maze accurately. Though given our lack of food, and the darkness of the maze, we really didn’t have much choice but to trust the game.
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Of Spinach and Shrooms

The secret to Popeye’s strength is not a well-kept one. Everyone knows that he’s “strong to the finish ‘cos he eats his spinach”. But the reason for his affection for this leafy green is more obscured. One popular myth claims he’s in it for the iron.

The myth goes like this: a 19th century German chemist misplaced a decimal point on a nutritional table, prompting the iron content of spinach to be grossly over-rated. This putative ferric potency of Spinach then convinced cartoonist E. C. Segar to make it the go-to food for his character Popeye.

This story has been promoted by many well-respected journalist and scientists as an example of the influence small mistakes can have, and the importance of checking your facts. Ironically, the story itself is spurious. It has proliferated because none of it’s promoters bothered to fact-check their allegory about fact-checking. James Sutton has the full story here.

Vitamin A, Exhibit A!

Vitamin A, Exhibit A!

But there’s another popular working man with a vegetable super food. It’s a-Mario, and he always eats his mushrooms. While not as widely cited as the Spinach story, Mario’s penchant for fungi does come with its own popular myth. Like Carroll’s Alice, people seem to think that Mario is on drugs. Continue reading

Gathering Grue: 3 Treatments for ‘The Giver’ the Game

A film version of Lois Lowry’s award-winning 1994 novel The Giver was green-lit a while ago. The release date and most of the cast is yet unknown, but of one thing I am sure. Where there’s fire there’s smoke, and where there are teen fantasy productions there are video game tie-ins.

Some of which are better than others...

Some of which are better than others…

For the fun of wild speculation, I offer three possible treatments of the book and its utopian/dystopian universe. And if you’ve never read the book and still intend to, I must warn ye; here be spoilers. Continue reading

Survival of the Fleetest: Mario vs Sonic

One of the biggest playground debates of the 90’s was Sonic versus Mario. The old plumber had finally met his match. Even though Sonic games were buggy as all hell, they were fresh, fast-paced, and on the cutting edge of graphics and sound. It didn’t help that Mario looked like somebody’s fuddy-duddy old uncle, while Sonic’s outfit, attitude and spiky hair channeled Michael Jackson or Bart Simpson.

Although Bart himself was more into Bonestorm.

Although Bart himself was more into Bonestorm.

Granted, this argument usually boiled down to whether the kid owned a Sega or a SNES. But nonetheless, for the first time Mario was losing his monopoly on quality platforming. The times kept a changin’, and soon enough the march of technology forced a clear winner to emerge.

The technology I speak of is the advent of 3D platforming. Sure, both had isometric games – Sonic 3D Blast and Super Mario RPG – but those are only pseudo-3D. I’m talking about the real deal. Fully 3D platformer action, with sprawling stages and a rotating camera. Continue reading

From P.S. to Plz – The Modern Epistolary

There’s something especially effective about embedding letters into works of fiction. We get to hear directly from a character, a sort-of first-hand source, as opposed to a narrator’s second-hand impression. Moreover, it can give voyeuristic enjoyment; to read what was not written for us (though it was), to peer directly into the life of a character. Telling stories through letters and journals even forms a whole genre of literature, the epistolary, with classics like Stoker’s Dracula being comprised entirely of first-hand documents.

Dear diary, you won't believe what happened today...

Dear diary, you won’t believe what happened today…

But who writes letters anymore? E-mail, IM and text messaging have taken over our lines of communicae. Some books and movies have modernized, inserting the occasion email or IM conversation. Novels like Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist have even gone the distance, using such documents exclusively. But what about a modern medium to go with the methods? Could a video game employ the same strategy as novelists from centuries prior? Look no further than Bandai’s .Hack (pronounced Dot-Hack). Continue reading

Is Bigger Better? On Size and Scale

Today I intend to tackle that age old question: Does size matter? But I’m not talking about the volume of your junk drawer, I talking about numbers, baby. Big ones.

To the uninitiated, a battle in a role-playing game may look like a convoluted blur of random numbers. After a few hours of play, however, you begin to see method in the madness, like Cypher reading the Matrix. White damage numbers cascade in throngs, green healing numbers twinkle and fade, yellow crits pop up in bold, demanding attention. There is something satisfying about getting these numbers as big as you can, but sometimes games take it a bit too far.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

The latest offline installment in the Final Fantasy franchise was numero 13. I won’t be touching on the game’s quality, only its use of numbers. Simply put, the numbers are too damn high. Continue reading

Harry Pottermon and the Massive Waste of Potential

If you were born or raised in the 90’s, then it’s nigh-certain that you are intimately acquainted with either Pokemon, Harry Potter or both. Even if you aren’t, there’s no way you haven’t at least heard of them. So other than their popularity and timing, what do these two multi-media multi-billion-dollar franchises have in common? And what is the secret to their success?

Other than that JK Rowling is a Legilimens and split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Other than that J.K. Rowling is a Legilimens who split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Beginning with the obvious, they both began with the same demographic. Kids aged 6-12, with a slant towards males but not exclusively so. The Harry Potter books attempted to grow up with their readership, ending with material more suitable for 14-20 year-olds. On the other hand, Pokemon has kept its kiddie tone. Despite this, many aged Pokefans maintain an interest in the franchise. Continue reading