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Games can be more than mere entertainment. This time, for a special summer edition of his column Alt+Home , intermedia artist Kent Sheely takes video game tourism to another level and goes bird-watching in Skyrim.

There are a staggering number of games that include birds as elements of their worlds, usually as background ambience or environmental nuances that most players will never consciously notice. Even in a lot of cases where birds are rendered as objects with which players can interact, these hapless creatures are dangled as soft targets that will rake in a handful of points when shot, or to provide comic relief through well-placed poops. Birds are overlooked and underrepresented as subject material and as playable characters, so I decided it was time to take a stand and turn that around. I immersed myself in a modified version of one of the most popular open-world games ever made, Bethesda’s Skyrim, and documenting its feathered fauna in a way that would do them justice.

With the mass acceptance of video games and the general rise of nerd/geek culture both in visibility and as a marketing base, it was perhaps natural that Ready Player One by Ernest Cline would be developed as a big budget studio release (with Spielberg at the helm, no less). It is a favorite of video game fans and also a best-seller success, offering both a name-check-romp through the eccentricities of fandom and a titillating peek into shouted mists of video game history for outsiders. Despite being positioned as a scion of fandom, my recent experience playing through Gone Home, with its far more complex portrayal of the way people interact with art, made me think back to all of my many experiences in subcultures, and deeply question this "beloved novel’s" vision of fandom, both past and future.

In Fredric Jameson’s book on utopian literature, Archaeologies of the Future, he proposes a nifty Occam’s Razor for science fiction. Which is that one way you can judge a sci-fi work is based on the potential veracity of its imagined version of future or alien art. Works that have art that seems to make sense for its world, both historically and socio-economically - say sculpture on a Mars colony that incorporates its barren landscapes and low gravity, or in a bug-person district whose inhabitants see and smell with a wildly different set of sense organs - seem to Jameson to correlate with novels that have a strong grasp of the multitudinous, often idiosyncratic and conflicted, perspectives and forces that come with any imagined society, small or large.

If you look at Ready Player One, it fails this test with the dullest colors. In Ernest Cline’s version of the world, there is nothing but pasteurized nerd culture and buzzing-fluorescent white corporate wasteland. Is there any thought put into what the evil corporate guys listen to while they cheat at the grand contest? Nope. Any kids making music with hacked gear in the slums? Nope. Virtual environments where you don’t have to grind levels as a class from Dungeons & Dragons? Nope. Fifty years in the future there is just 3D virtual reality based on Everquest that is divided into “planets” which are individual recreations of assorted 80s movies and arcades.

Mark Johnson is the creator of one of the most ambitious rogue-likes currently in development. Ultima Ration Regum still has a way to go until it lives up to Mark's vision, but already the game offers some of the most fascinating procedural world-generation, down to a level that is unheard of in most other games. Like Dwarf Fortress, URR's algorithms create an insanely detailed world; unlike DF, Mark Johnson's game tries to innovate the very basics of roguelike gameplay by sending players on a hunt for clues in the world's rich culture and history to "uncover an intellectual conspiracy to rewrite history in the most culturally, religiously and socially detailed procedural world ever generated".

Mark was kind enough to answer a big list of questions to discuss his game, literature and procedural narrative with VGT.

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.

A lot of the games I played as a kid gave me the creeps, despite--or rather, due to--their simplicity. One of the first games that I remember having this effect was Sleuth for MS-DOS, a thriller in the style of a “whodunnit”-style mystery. Its graphics were entirely composed of alphanumeric characters and symbols, and all context and dialogue were delivered through on-screen descriptions, yet when the status window would announce “the murderer is now stalking you,” I would feel a genuine sense of fear. Even campy titles like Haunted House for the Atari had the power to spook me, simply because their limited graphics and sounds let my imagination run wild, the single-color objects and electronic sounds inspiring nightmarish scenarios in my mind.

T raf Teil 1 von Hotline Miami noch auf ungeteilte Begeisterung, scheiden sich bei Wrong Number die Geister. Zeit, Klartext zu reden. Dieser Artikel erschien ursprünglich für Haywire Magazine.

Hotline Miami 2 is a bad game.

There’s perfectly nothing controversial about that statement: it wants to be a bad game, at least as far as its desire to be deliberately frustrating instead of entertaining is concerned. Wrong Number picks up where the first game left off in terms of difficulty and revolves around such delightful activities as getting stuck on objects, trying to figure out whether lines drawn across its top-down environments depict solid objects or decoration, and being shot from off screen. Don’t worry though, it’s all part of the plan. The game is showing me what a monster I am because of all the fun I’m not having hurting others.

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.

The Magnavox Odyssey, which made its debut in 1972, was the first video game console released to the public. It was exceptionally crude by modern standards, relying on translucent overlay sheets placed onto the screen of the television to provide context for the rudimentary graphics. Every game was governed by a handful of illuminated bars whose movements were controlled by either the game controllers or by simple program routines calculated within the console. The Odyssey itself shipped with other tactile components such as poker chips, dice, and pre-printed score sheets, which made it seem much more like an adaptable board game than a video game console; a large portion of the gameplay was moderated by the players.

Games can be more than mere entertainment. In our new 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.

In public service communities, such as those based on political activism, social work, and counseling, close empathetic attachment is a requirement for being good at the job. The ability to be compassionate and attentive to the needs of others is a wonderful gift, but often comes with the cost of personal well-being; thus, having a regimen of activities that allow the psyche to rest and recover is a necessary tool for making sure one’s own emotional batteries stay charged. This practice is generally known as “self-care,” and can entail any number of exercises, mental or physical, that keep the individual in good mental condition. Even for people who don’t work in the aforementioned areas, such activities can be invaluable for combating daily stress and psychological drain.

"Bridging Worlds" is a series by LA-based artist and VGT guest author Eron Rauch about the blurred line between games and art. These articles are intended as conversation starters about the burgeoning intersection between the fine art world, academic studies of games, virtual photography, and video game creation. This time, Eron visited Indiecade - again - and, at first, found himself alienated. The photo project that resulted from this encounter with the "oasis that is Indiecade" can be seen in full on Eron's own site; the following article and selection of photos is a look not only at an event most European readers will most likely never experience themselves, but also a glimpse into Eron's creative process.

Sequels, re-boots, stagnation - it's a pity that games rarely attempt the revolutionary, the never-before-seen, or even the impossible. The Games That Never Were is a series of thought-experiments: Games that never existed, and that may very well never come to be. This time, Mike Grace from Haywire Magazine premieres as the first contributor in English - and takes us to a familiar place that's feeling brand new. I'd play that.

Gotham, the city, is almost as famous as it's playboy billionaire/chiropteran-influenced-superhero. Up until now, only vague fragments of the city have been released. With the latest release, you can finally go into the infamous city itself, see how it ticks, and influence its development.


In our ongoing series WORD/PLAY we look at the fusing of literature and games. The link to the the written word is almost as old as the videogame itself, and recent developments both on the side of literature and the videogame have shown that the relationship between the two media is as vital and strong as ever.

It's no secret that we here at Videogame Tourism are smitten with the work of the Swedish development studio Simogo. After all, we dedicated several thousand words to Year Walk, one of our favourite games of 2013. What we didn't talk about in such a verbose way, though, is that Simogo released a second game in 2013, Device 6, which is equally intriguing: A stylish fusion of classic graphic design, Cold War-thriller chique and typographical text that, thanks to Simogo's trademark cleverness in using the features of mobile devices, becomes navigable in hithero unknown ways. We talked with Simogo's Simon Flesser about literary influences, finding your work on the other end of education, going tactile, and much more.