Games can be more than mere entertainment. In our column Alt+Home, intermedia artist Kent Sheely explores the ways independent developers are challenging the status quo, creating brand new experiences, and making a difference in the world.

I don’t do a lot of driving. I’ve lived in New York City for the past six years, relying mostly on public transit, and haven’t spent a lot of time behind the wheel. However, I just finished moving all the way across the country to Los Angeles, a road trip that more than made up for that gap.

On long stretches of American highway I had a lot of time to reflect, and I thought quite a lot about games that simulate the experience of driving. There’s certainly no shortage of these, but most treat the vehicle and its occupant(s) as a single entity, as if the player were controlling an autonomous machine. In my own experience, it’s easy to focus my attention entirely on guiding a 7,500-pound vessel between the endless white lines, but simple actions like reaching for a strip of beef jerky or changing the radio make me acutely aware that in those moments I am effectively two entities.

A handful of games in recent years have explored this duality, challenging the player to consider both the vehicle and the driver within as individual elements.

When Eron asked me a while back if VGT would be willing to run a series of essays on the aesthetics, the design and infrastructure of MOBAs, I agreed blindly. And in a literal sense, too: Although I have been playing video games for a quarter of a century and nowadays even earn part of my rent writing about them, I was pitifully ignorant of a phenomenon that is not even just the future, but very much the present of video games.

As Eron writes in his introduction:

The broader problem in talking about video games in a nuanced way is massively amplified with MOBAs since [they] are tricky for both lay and academic audiences, especially since it can take literally hundreds of hours to learn to play these games with any amount of skill, let alone to explore their communities.

This hits home especially for those writing about games professionally: In the already hectic circle of news-previews-release-reviews-oblivion, there is simply no time for most journalists to spend that amount of time on a single game, period. (And to point out a fact most readers of games journalism might be unaware of: Most of the men and women writing about games who are lucky enough to be paid at all, are freelancers. That means they are paid for the text, and not for the time spent playing the game they report on. It's only the absolute minority of games journalists, usually those actually employed by the few remaining specialist outlets, print or online, for whom play time is paid work time. Let that sink in for a minute.) The title of this series is well chosen: It is a de-mystification that's going on here, all right, and a very welcome one at that.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is the final part.

Watching ten people sit hidden behind computer monitors on a stage might sound like the very stuff that purgatory is built of, with a barrage of swirling laser lights and dubstep blasting only adding insult to injury. But a massive number of people have come to love watching esports, and by massive I mean top tournaments for Defense of the Ancients 2 (aka Dota2, by Valve Corporation) and League of Legends (aka LoL, by Riot Games) can draw tens of millions of viewers, which is on par with top traditional sporting events like the baseball World Series. Blizzard/Activision’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS) doesn’t draw quite as many viewers, but was only launched in the middle of 2015, and is backed by the company that has historically been a pioneer of esports via StarCraft.

Manifold Garden is a fascinating project. For Der Standard, I talked to its creator William Chyr; here's the in-depth interview in full.

Your background is quite special for a game developer, and you describe yourself as "working at the intersection of art and science". Is the medium of games a logical fit for that? Is it a detour?

The medium of games has definitely been fantastic for exploring the intersection of art and science.

In games, you have the power to create complete worlds from scratch. You can actually write the rules of physics in the world you're creating. Also, because games are interactive, they allow you to experiment with those rules, and to learn from that process.

There’s also the actual development of the game, which requires a solid understanding of design, art, and technology. So not only does the game itself bring together science and art, so does the actual process behind it.

Conny Lee, Robert Glashüttner und ich sind heute wieder auf fm4 on air: Auf fm4 gibt's die Sendung direkt nach der Ausstrahlung, nach einer Woche wandert sie zu den fm4 Podcasts. Thema diesmal: Generationen.

Viele Menschen, die heute zwischen 18 und 50 sind, sind vom spielenden Kind zum zockenden Jugendlichen zum ludischen Erwachsenen geworden. Nicht allzu verblüffend, immerhin hören wir ja auch nicht auf, Bücher zu lesen oder ins Kino zu gehen. Dennoch gibt es bei digitalen Spielen immer noch die landläufige Meinung, dass man damit irgendwann einfach aufhört. Conny Lee, Rainer Sigl und Robert Glashüttner widersprechen dieser Auffassung in der aktuellen Ausgabe des FM4 Extraleben, in der wir uns den unterschiedlichen GamerInnen-Generationen widmen.

Kurz nach Halloween führt der Abstecher in die Welt der Mods, den Stefan Köhler auch an diesem Modtag, dem ersten Montag im Monat November, für VGT unternimmt, dreizehn Jahre in die Vergangenheit (zur Feier des einjährigen Jubiläums dieser Kolumne im Dezember wird es, so viel sei schon verraten, dann sogar noch weiter zurückgehen). Im Mittelpunkt steht so diesmal ein Projekt, das 2008 ebenfalls zu einem Jubiläum (10 Jahre Half-Life) von der Plattform ModDB in Konkurrenz zu Klassikern wie Counter-Strike und Team Fortress Classic zur besten Fan-Erweiterung gewählt wurde…

#12 – Natural Selection (2002)

Was für ein Herbst: Während erst langsam die großen Blockbuster-Schlachtschiffe warmlaufen, überschütten die unabhängigen Entwickler ihre Spielerinnen und Spieler mit Indie-Kleinoden en masse. Zwei der bemerkenswertesten wurden bereits ausführlich im GameStandard rezensiert und seien hiermit noch einmal in Erinnerung gerufen: einerseits das außergewöhnliche The Beginner’s Guide, das neue Spiel des Machers des Kultspiels “The Stanley Parable”, andererseits die nach langjähriger Entwicklung vor kurzem final erschienene Gefängnis-Aufbausimulation “Prison Architect” . Beide hätten einen Fixplatz in diesem “Best of” verdient - weil sich aber gar so viele andere bemerkenswerte Spiele aufdrängen, muss an dieser Stelle ein Verweis auf diese Ausnahmespiele reichen.

Denn auch der Rest des Indie-Erntedankfests ist höchst empfehlenswert. Hier ein Überblick über die bemerkenswertesten neuen Indie-Spiele des letzten Monats.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 7.

With the explosive rise of Valve’s Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA2), Riot’s League of Legends (LoL), and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm (HotS), the mainstream media seems to be quite deeply perplexed by the claim that video games could be a sport. It is incredibly rare to be present in the earliest days of any cultural phenomena, but similar to seeing the supporting structure of a half-finished building. This primordial vantage point is immensely interesting because it provides a clear view of how culture is constructed both in fans and from the sporting organizations. In fact, getting to watch this process of a professional sport that is only a decade old (via StarCraft) trying to legitimize itself highlights the artifice and art of all sporting events. As esports are still uncharted territory, each game company has made distinct choices with their experiments in trying to promote, share, professionalize, and define their game as an esport.

Bridging Worlds is a series by LA-based artist and VGT author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. His multi-part essay "Demystifying MOBAs" takes an in-depth look at the game design of esports and MOBAs. This is part 6.

Last week’s Demystifying Mobas examined the ways that the resource gathering models of MOBAs highlight their differing ideas about balance and fairness. But to fully understand some of the curious complexities of why lightning fast mirco-games of precision and speed like last hitting, are not just prioritized, but even possible, it is critical to understand how MOBAs are a mutation from the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre. Warcraft 3 (by Blizzard Entertainment), which is the fantasy flavored brethren of StarCraft (also Blizzard), is the source for the entire MOBA genre.

Am Montag, 19.10., eröffnet in der HOLLEREI Galerie in Wien eine besondere Ausstellung: Unter dem Titel „Viennese Video Game Aesthetics“ werden Bilder aus Spielen von Wiener Entwicklern vorgestellt – klassisch im Galeriekontext, in Form von hochwertig ausgearbeiteten Einzelbildern.

Der Kurator der Ausstellung, Christian Bazant-Hegemark, war bis 2006 selbst Programmierer bei Rockstar Vienna, ist dann zur Malerei gewechselt und hat vor kurzem außerdem in Kunstphilosophie promoviert. Ein Gespräch über Kunst, Wien und den Spagat zwischen Kunst und Konsum.