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Feature

How do you explain the phenomenon of watching videogames?

For all our think pieces about interactive media, social media, and virtual reality, we are all still very much living in a culture of spectation. Big budget movies, music videos, episodic television, and professional sports: these are still the main sites of cultural cohesion for most people in the United States and in large parts of the world. And, it could be argued, that post-digital social-cultural practices are just spectation on a higher level. Perhaps Facebook and Twitter are just spectator-ready versions of other people’s lives. And, it seems that gaming—that most elementally interactive of activities—is becoming more and more…

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Feature

Throwing money at the screen

It is well known and well documented by now that many videogames released within the last decade are fantasies of accumulation: of experience points, of wealth, of abilities, of guns, of power. That is to say, the power fantasy that these games peddle is built on the idea of upward mobility, that someone can start with nothing, and through hard work and the sheer force of will, gain money and influence. “It is a power fantasy that reflects our time,” writes game critic Austin Walker, “We want to be reassured that our effort will pay off in the end, that…

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News

Absolver is the low-poly, God Hand-inspired brawler of your dreams

It’s tempting to describe Absolver with an endless stream of references to other games—big ones, the type for which you see cardboard cutouts at GameStop. It’s an online multiplayer game riffing on the model of Destiny (2014) or Dark Souls (2011)—not, they clarify, an MMO—with players both friendly and unfriendly roaming a semi-open world. The elegantly low-poly world has the feel of a somber The Witness, and its tight, frame-specific combat recalls the brawlers of Platinum Games.  But that laundry list sells it short. Tucked back in an Airstream trailer, far enough from the Los Angeles Convention Center to allow me to…

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News

The Sims finally loosens up its gender restrictions

Prior to last week, characters in The Sims 4 (2014) were at a bit of a paradox. They could have any skin color the player wanted—including nonexistent ones—move and present themselves in a variety of cartoonish manners, have one of dozens of slightly different styles of eyebrows or chin lengths (yes, chin lengths), and could even have different interests and life goals tailored to the player’s choice. But a man with long hair? That, apparently, was just too much. Of course, it wasn’t that the game didn’t have any options for long hair available. In fact, there were almost as many…

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Feature

Visions of hell: Dark Souls’s cultural heritage

It’s the trees; the twisted, whorled trees, their skeletal branches raking the belly of the looming sky. Those are Caspar David Friedrich trees, unmistakably corkscrewed and bent. They rise out of collapsing stonework just like Friedrich’s do, and are touched by the same fading light, decapitated by the same dusk shadow. They crowd like pious pilgrims around ruined churches and abbeys, as if, like Friedreich’s painted forests, they were about to pull those ruins to the ground. Perhaps a few branches are woven here or there between the stone work. Getting a purchase, working their way through a century-long demolition,…

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Dark Souls III and the color purple

You first encounter them in the Undead Settlement. It’s a moment of incongruous reprieve: having rolled and dashed your way through a hail of human-sized arrows and swarms of rake-wielding peasants, you come up a hill and into a dark, somber cathedral that all but invites you to stop and smell its flowers. With their violet hue and soft yellow centers, these delicate beauties scattered around the building seem more unlikely than any of the monstrosities you’ve been busy butchering. Dark Souls III’s kingdom of Lothric has, up to this point, largely displayed the same taste for earth tones favored…

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Videogames and the digital baroque

During the 17th century in Europe and her colonies, mankind was forcibly removed from the center of the universe and cast adrift in an indifferent cosmos devoid of greater purpose or meaning. This was accomplished not by any supernatural power but by advancements in technology, particularly optics: telescopes could chart the motions of previously obscure celestial bodies while microscopes could, for the first time, see the living cells that made up human bodies. Earth turned out not to be the center of the universe but one of many planets that orbited the Sun; an average star among countless others in…

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Review

Dark Souls III: Super Dark Souls World

Spoilers for a few Dark Souls III bosses below. /// The hardest Souls game, people say, is the one you played first. That’s where you learned the language, starting with the common nouns: the grunting Hollows who bust through wooden barricades, the poison swamp, the dragon who toasts the same spot forever like a puzzle in an adventure game, the giant whose feet must be pummeled until he loses his balance, the soul-lovin’ lady who has suggestive level-up conversations with you, and so on. But internalizing the games’ finicky grammar is the difficulty. A fluent Souls player follows dozens of…

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Review

Salt and Sanctuary has soul

Salt is an essential part of our biology. It helps regulate fluid balance between cells. Our entire system of nerves and muscles is designed around the special electrochemical properties of salt. Too much salt and we die. Too little salt and we die. It’s the perfect metaphor for the kind of complex equilibrium Salt and Sanctuary likes to brutally enforce. Get too aggressive and you die. Give into cautious hesitation and you die. Learn to navigate the invisible rhythms in-between these two extremes, though, and something beautiful happens. It’s a construct familiar to anyone who’s subjected themselves to the punishing…