Voyeurism in Stealth Games

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm

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The stealth game is something that often works much better in theory than in practice. The tense atmosphere and clever strategy can be dashed to the ground by a glitching spotlight or a guard's inability to see past fifteen feet. There are very few games that can thread that needle successfully. But one of the seldom acknowledged factors of a good stealth game is not just how players can avoid being seen, but how they can see everybody else.

There is a theory in film called voyeurism that--in a far too condensed a nutshell--suggests that there is a vaguely perverted pleasure in watching people that can't see us. Common knowledge says that people behave differently when alone than when they're among others, the sense of being watched changes what people say and do. It isn't often that we can see somebody before that change occurs. When somebody is caught off guard, and the opportunity to see another's private self emerges, even the most mundane and common behaviours carry an air of mystique and taboo.

There's a balance between being watched and watching. Being watched is uncomfortable, violating, fearful, and being able to instil those feelings on another gives one the upper hand. The sense of insecurity we get from seeing the lit office windows overlooking the test chambers in Portal would be equal to the sense of voyeuristic pleasure we would get if we were the ones behind them. A part of the fun of not being seen is lurking in on other people's daily lives, giving us a sense of who they are when nobody else is around. A stealth game hero can see every identical mook in a way that they're closest loved ones hardly ever catch them in. Stealth games carry an inherent fear of being seen. No matter how competent or elite the hero is supposed to be, in a stealth game the second they're spotted and the music rises, they're helpless. An endless battalion of uniformed goons will hunt players until they're dead or they disappear again. By necessity these games have us lurking in the background, where there's comfort in isolation and terror in exposure. What the best stealth games do, though, is turn this fear on the bad guys.

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2011: Year of the Easter Egg

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 10:00 am
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​By Remy Carreiro
From time to time, we like to run pieces by our readers. Here's one by Remy Carrerio, who has been working his butt off to get a piece on the site. Congrats, Remy!

For those who don't know, a virtual Easter egg is an intentional hidden message or inside joke placed into a video game by developers. It can be something as simple as a logo on a tee shirt of an minor character, or some subtle graffiti sprayed on a wall in the background. Sometimes Easter eggs are hidden and involve a lot of leg work to find (thus the name Easter egg) but sometimes, developers leave them in far less subtle places. The reason developers put Easter eggs in games often vary. Sometimes, it is to give props to something that inspired them. Certain Easter eggs have been the result of frustrated and unappreciated programmers hiding something in a game to stick it to the man. Other times, an Easter egg can be a reference to an older game the company made. There are even quite a few examples of Easter eggs that reference famous movies or television shows. The fact is, Easter eggs have always existed in games. From the top secret "Chris Houlihan" room in The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past to the hidden developer room in Atari's Adventure. But 2011 will forever be remembered by me as the year that developers really began to have fun with Easter eggs. I almost made a pun there about how 2011 delivered virtual Easter eggs "by the dozen," but I stopped myself.

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The Problem with the Legend of Zelda

Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

The Legend of Zelda has been around for 25 years. Nintendo's latest instalment in the venerable series proudly trumpets the milestone in the opening credits. There's even an in-game reference to the two-and-a-half decades in the series. In the ever changing medium of video games, 25 years is an eon. The Legend of Zelda series is more a genre of its own than a series. The latest Zelda game, however, has one key feature that sets it apart, Skyward Sword is the last Zelda game that can possibly work under the Ocarina of Time model.

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Zelda games have always had a mild allergy to change (most Nintendo franchises avoid breaking more than a few of their own conventions at every release) but as it stands now, the second a new instalment is announced it can be assumed that it will be set in Hyrule, fate has chosen a hero named Link and a spirit maiden named Zelda to combat their foil Ganon, Link will search for a series of relics that will break a seal and then search for a new set of relics after going through the seal, Zelda will be captured and in the final hour Link will confront Ganon in an underwhelming boss fight.


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The Lost Art of the Sidequest

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm
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As games have been opening up to a wider audience, one of the challenges is providing content that several different people can enjoy. A crude line in the sand is usually drawn between "casual" and "hardcore" games but the most effective way appealing to everyone is by adding extra content on top of an accessible minimum. In other words, the sidequest.

Sidequests make good games great. Most solid games are playable to just about anyone, but to really pull a player in, to give them a chance to finish up and walk away and have them choose to play on and get more is the sign of a great game. It's already been written plenty elsewhere but the power of games lies in the close relationship between the audience and the work. If the audience can end a story but decides not to because of their intimacy with it than it speaks to the strength of the work. But sidequests can be fickle creatures and they seem more prone to making cumbersome distractions rather than added depth.



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Horror Games As Shared Experiences

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:00 am
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Have you ever had any interest in sharing video games with someone? For those that haven't grown up with them, video games are a completely foreign and unapproachable beast. Even those that want to see games as legitimate can't because, for whatever reason, some people just can't play them. Games require motor skills that some people just don't have and won't ever get. As much as games depend on audience participation, for a lot of people they'll only ever be a passive viewing experience. For those people, I recommend the survival-horror genre. The experience of a horror game can be significantly intensified by sharing it with another person.

Horror stories affect audiences by putting a likeable, relatable person in a cruel and unfair position with little power to escape. The "horror" comes from bad things happening to people ostensibly like us. Movies show us these people, books dictate their thoughts and feelings. Each time the object of fear strikes, the threat comes closer. Games don't need to work that way because the player is in direct control of the protagonist. Even if the avatar is a separate personality, by virtue of directing their action, the player and the protagonist are one.


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Holiday Gift Guide: Gadgets, Gear And Goofy Stuff

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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This reasonably-priced monitor from Sceptre is a great choice for gamers.
​We gamers tend to love our gear. Maybe because our hobby is so dependent on technology, but whatever the reason, we tend to like our gadgets as much as our games. And below we've got some of our favorite picks for this year's gadgets, gear and other accessory items.

The picks below include small stocking stuffers, big ticket items, and a few other items that are guaranteed to enhance your gaming experience. Enjoy!

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Holiday Gift Guide: All-Ages Gaming

Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm


Whether you're a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer, there's a good chance you've got someone in your life that could use an age-appropriate video game gift this year. That's why we've assembled our annual list of all-ages games. Below you'll find some of the best kids games, family-friendly titles and all-ages experiences that we've encountered in 2011. Enjoy!

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The Sanctity Of The Cartridge

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

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My TV stand is proudly lined with every console I've ever owned. At least one from every console generation. Beside the stand is a five foot tall cabinet chronicling my 24 years of gaming. Titles range from cult classics, obscure genre-benders and hilarious misfires. My collection might not be the biggest, or the most complete, but what is increasingly unique about it is that it physically exists.

Physical games are becoming increasingly difficult to find. While more people are playing games than ever, a sizable portion of those people aren't buying those games in stores. Most people are getting their games through digital distribution, not counting the number of players downloading copies of games illegally. The industry is making a more concerted push every year to reduce the costly manufacture and distribution of discs and up digital sales.

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Dragon Age 2 Leaves A Lasting Impression

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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(WARNING. SPOILERS DEAD AHEAD)

I have now beaten Dragon Age 2 once, and after beginning another, I've come to a few conclusions about it that make me think that, despite the intense divide among fans of the franchise, this is a very good game. Aside from it being a very tightly made, virtually bug-free RPG with a superb combat engine and an engaging conversation system, it also has one of the most compelling narratives I have ever encountered. The story is simple: Hawke (who can be male or female), a refugee from a war-torn country, arrives in the ancient city of Kirkwall with her (since this is my character, Hawke is a woman) family and tries to start a new life. Instead, political and religious tensions drag Hawke and her new found companions into a war for the city, with greater ramifications for the world at large.

Ultimately, it is a story about religion. It took me a while to come to this conclusion, but it is. In the world of Dragon Age, the Chantry dictates the words of the Maker and the Prophet Andraste. In the Chantry's eyes, mages are dangerous, susceptible to demons and possession, and so are locked away in specially secured towers, called Circles of Magi, to keep the rest of the world safe. Ultimately, there are mages who rebel, who flee, and some turn to darker forms of magic in order to fight against the Chantry and its sanctioned guardians, the Templars. 



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The Ending of Super Mario Bros. 2 Might Reveal Mario's True Nature

Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm
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In 1988 Nintendo released Super Mario Brothers 2, a strange game that by the end of it, you realize had taken place inside of the dream world of the main character, Mario. This dream, when looked at from the end creates some interesting insights into Mario's worldview, his ideas of gender and family. First, let's start at the beginning. According to the game's manual, the story is set up by the following event:
One evening, Mario had a strange dream. He dreamed of a long, long stairway leading up to a door. As soon as the door opened, he was confronted with a world he had never seen before, spreading out as far as his eyes could see. When he strained his ears to listen, he heard a faint voice saying "Welcome to Sub-Con, the land of dreams. We have been cursed by Wart and we are completely under his evil spell... Please defeat Wart and return Sub-Con to its natural state. The curse Wart has put on you in the real world will not have any effect upon you here. Remember, Wart hates vegetables. Please help us!" (p. 3)


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