Wednesday, January 19, 2011

EXP Podcast #113: Game Writing Roundup, 2010

There’s a huge amount of great video game writing out there. Too much for your humble hosts to ever digest by themselves. This week, we take advantage of 2010’s embarrassment of riches and discuss some of our favorite pieces of video game writing from last year. As always feel free to join in and spread the word about your favorite game-related posts, essays, novellas, treatises, and tweets!

Pieces discussed:

- “Okay, Kids, Play on my Lawn,” by Roger Ebert, via Chicago Sun-Times
- “Groping the Map”, by Justin Keverne, via Groping the Elephant
- “Video games: The Addiction,” by Tom Bissel, via The Guardian
- “Making Men Uncomfortable: What Bayonetta Should Learn From Gaga,” by Tanner Higgin, via Gaming the System: Tanner Higgin
- “Castrating the Straight Male Gaze on Bayonetta (or at least making room for other ones!),” by Amanda Phillips, via The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory
- “The Presence of the Past in Fallout 3,” by Trevor Owens, via Play the Past
- “Riffing on the Flagpole,” by Michael Abbott, via The Brainy Gamer

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
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Show Notes:
- Run time: 34 min 25 sec
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Hi guys. I know this wasn't exactly a focus of the podcast, but I found myself particularly struck by something Scott said: "...once you've called something an educational thing it becomes boring." At first I felt affronted, like some sort of second-grade schoolteacher, thinking "education can be fun!" but this quickly passed as I realized the truth of the statement. But it did make me start thinking about why this is the case.

    Is there something inherently distasteful about the realm of the educational intruding upon entertainment? As if we've put in our 9 to 5 learning useful things, and now we want to sit our easy-chair, have a beer and tune out for a while. That's painting a strong picture, but it made me think about other blends of things we enjoy with things that are good for us. Why do we place education on some pedestal, and at the same time wallow in the comfy bed of entertainment, yet shudder at the sound of "edutainment" as if it were some mutant creature half-man/half-alligator crawling out of a sewer. Is it simply something about the mixing of two words that have no business being together? like the way most decent people shudder when they hear "jazzercise."

    As Mario Teaches Typing, Math Blaster, and Stark's Pond have shown us, video and computer games can be excellent mediums for education or improving upon a skill. However, other than a few instances like the new Guitar Hero Pro mode with the midi guitar (which I really want to try), I don't see a whole lot of effort pushing things in this direction, which seems like missed opportunity. What do you guys think?

  2. Hey Will! Great to hear from you.

    I was being glib on the show, so I should probably explain myself more thoroughly: I think games that are openly and unapologetically didactic tend to fall victim to the "fun" vampire.

    Games like Oregon trail teach you things about budgeting and time management without explicitly stating that as the game's purpose. Similarly, Jorge has written quite a bit on Mass Effect's educational chops in regards to political theory. These games succeed as teaching tools by letting the player actively participate in a process whose applications have meaning both within and outside the game itself. On the other hand, take the theoretical example of a game that teaches you the state capitals by showing a green check mark if you choose the right answer and showing you a red x if you choose the wrong one. While this is technically a "video game," it's almost mechanically identical to flash cards, whose sole purpose is to teach you things by rote memorization, a method many find tedious.

    For me great games (and all art for that matter) are sneaky forms of "edutainment." If you're having a good time, chances are you're learning something, whether it's spatial reasoning in a game like Halo or devising logical moves in a game like Civilization.

    I don't want to write off a whole method of teaching lightly; traditional teaching and rote memorization can be useful. Like you, I'm interested in seeing if Rock Band Pro Mode and instruments can bridge the gap between implicit and explicit education. I've actually been toying with the idea of trying to learn keyboard when I get back home, as I think it being connected to a game will help me make the transition from passive to purposeful learning.

    Of course, there's always the possibility that it will end up on the pile with the old copy of Math Blaster, but I guess we'll see how that pans out.