[Literary Games Group] 28/7/21 – Outer Wilds

Hi everyone,

This week we had a look at the second chapter of Matthew Spokes’ examination of “Gaming and the Virtual Sublime”, which contained a history of the sublime and ways we could attempt to define it, as well as a few examples of the feeling of the sublime in video games, such as the moment in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim where you look down from the top of the Throat of the World, the largest mountain in the game, and see the town you visited just a few hours prior as a bunch of tiny pixels on your screen. That discussion also inspired me to return to Morrowind, which I must do at some point…

Next week we’ll be reading the third chapter of the book, entitled “The Contemporary Sublime”.

We also started the long-awaited “The Outer Wilds“, which is already proving to be a perfect match for the book we are reading. The rolling, endless vistas of space, the fantastic architectural flourishes, and the thrill of discovery and engagement in a video game that is both intelligent and fun should prove to be a continually engaging experience throughout the semester.

Hope everyone has a great week, looking forward to seeing people next week!

[Literary Games Group] 21/7/21 – Definitions and Cycles

Hi again everyone,

This week we looked at the first chapter of “Gaming and the Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear, and Death in Contemporary Video Games”, by Matthew Spokes, in which Spokes grapples with broader questions regarding the inherent nature of video games as a definable entity. He examined them from a few different perspectives, but there was a section that was plucked out as being particularly relevant to our group. Spokes says:”research on the impact of games, in terms of their power to offer new ‘possibility spaces’ (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004), socio-political engagement and critical tools for understanding a changing world will begin to show the affective resonance of this form of popular culture, and how far removed it has become from simplistic notions of passively consumed entertainment.”

In the simplest words, games can be (and are) more than just reskinned formulas.

Our reading for next week is Chapter 2 of Spokes’ book, “The Classical Sublime”.

On top of that, we started the semester with Silent Hill 4: The Room’s best level, which showcases the spectacular monster, level and puzzle design of Team Silent at work, the “Water Prison World”. This world works by constructing a layered panopticon with a circular design, meaning that at no moment are you safe or unexposed to danger, and there is always a blind spot around each corner, which means that eerie monsters can ambush you at any time. On top of this, the game is narratively and symbolically engrossing, using any number of fantastically clever tricks to rope you in.

You can purchase the game for yourself here.

Next week we should begin our playthrough of “The Outer Wilds”.

Hope to see you all next week!

[Literary Games Group] 14/7/21 – Start of Semester 2

Hi again everyone for another semester,

This week we set up the literary games group for another semester, for meetings from 12 – 2pm every Wednesday.

We have decided to start the semester with a reading of the book “Gaming and the Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear, and Death in Contemporary Video Games”, by Matthew Spokes. The first chapter of this book, entitled “What Are Games For?”, is the reading for this week.

Our basic decision for the games we will play this semester is that we will use “The Outer Wilds” as our long-term project, but we also want to have a slot every session open to play a slice of a game, or just finish a shorter experience. I have also created a document that allows us to sort of see what’s coming up on the horizon and allows us to sort of “schedule in” what games we’d like to play next. It can also be a way to chart games that you might like to come in and see played and discussed. The document can be accessed here.

I have set up the first “game slice” to play, a bit of the classic survival horror game “Silent Hill 4: The Room“, which (mostly) works with the controller!

Hope everyone has a great week ahead, looking forward to reconvening and playing some cool games next week!

[Literary Games Group] 18/5/21 – Dreams of Reality

Hi everyone,

Today we brought The Dream Machine to a close, finishing the sixth and final chapter of the game. It proved to be a truly compelling ending, that, while not bringing a definite conclusion into sight, allows the player to define the final meaning of what you see. In my opinion, the ending merely proves the game’s prowess as both a psychological horror and a well-designed point and click adventure game. It forays into things that I don’t imagine many other games or developers would ever touch, and it’s a thought-provoking marvel, in my eyes. I’ll have to let it sit for a while, but it might be one of my favourite games I’ve ever played.

We also discussed chapter 3 of Galloway’s “Essays on Algorithmic Culture”, “Social Realism”. We discussed games like September 12th, Toywar, and America’s Army in relation to how a player experiences them and then takes bits of the game away in real life, i.e. startling statistics regarding how players who’ve played a lot of skill-based first-person shooters has higher accuracy than trained police officers. We also discussed the level of agency that a player has in a game, and whether or not a diegetic character has more agency than the player (which I disagreed with).

Next week’s reading is chapter four from Galloway, “Allegories of Control”.

Hope to see everyone next week,


[Literary Games Group] 12/5/21 – From The First Person

Hello everyone,
Another good meeting this week. We discussed the origin of first-person shooters, and how they didn’t necessarily have to have a violent bent to them. We also looked at immersion, and how it can be maintained, broken, or subverted, and looked at how The Dream Machine does this almost imperceptibly when you are sucked into a dream. We also examined the origins of the first-person angle come from film, but how games can build upon it in a better way than film can ever hope to achieve. Games create a sense of place and being when they use the first-person camera, and this can even be considered “confronting” – a stressful, limiting way to experience a game. FPS games often pit the player against hordes of deadly enemies, so these sorts of situations (to a person who doesn’t game as much) can be confronting and feels like an interesting problem to solve. How do you introduce a new player to these kinds of games? Is the ever-popular FPS genre a place to introduce those who haven’t gamed before to gaming?

We are tantalizingly close to finishing The Dream Machine. However, we encountered a game-breaking bug that prevented us from continuing. I messaged the developers, and within the span of about three or four hours, they had fixed the bug, so hopefully next session will be the final session required to cap off The Dream Machine and unravel its final mysteries before we begin to take it apart a bit more.

Next week’s reading is another of Galloway’s “Essays on Algorithmic Culture”, this one entitled “Social Realism”. As always we meet every Tuesday at 1pm in the Digital Humanities Hub.

Hope to see everyone next week!

[Literary Games Group] 27/4/2021 – Trauma in Games

Hi everyone,

This week we finished our first book as a group, Astrid Ensslin’s Literary Gaming! We had a discussion (sparked somewhat by the last two sections of the book) about the idea of games as vehicles for empathy. Are games that utilize trauma good games? Is it harmful to force us, the player, to experience trauma? What is the purpose of games as empathy generators? Often they are valuable in a subversive way, forcing us to approach standard game conventions from a different angle that mirrors back at us not a reflection of our skill, but of our qualities as a person. Who did we choose to save? Why did we decide to fire then? And so on. Questions that are fairly uncomfortable to answer perhaps, but questions that we are often better for, having at least attempted to answer them. Whether or not you agree that games should be used as a tool to teach empathy, they are a powerful medium indeed.

Now that Ensslin’s book is finished, we have the first chapter of another book lined up – Alexander R. Galloway’s “Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture”.

We’re also continuing with The Dream Machine. It’s been a long chapter of the game, but I think we’re almost at the end, preparing to move onto the next game in probably two weeks’ time. I have really enjoyed this chapter of The Dream Machine though. I think it has come into its own, after a bit of a slow start, and a few patchier puzzles, that I am glad to see have changed into intuitive puzzles with some sense behind them, that don’t devolve into trial and error.

Hope to see everyone next week!

[Literary Games Group] 20/4/21 – Poetry and Sound

Hello again everyone!

After a two week absence from the LGG, we managed to have an extremely productive and interesting session of the group today. We discussed Ensslin’s Chapter 8, in which she wrote about poetry games, auteurship in video games, and the financial burden that creates a weight of commercial expectation around video games. Poetry games can influence the way we see and experience the written word. In fact, The Dream Machine had a particularly cool example of this. As the player gazes down into a strange abyss, when they speak into it the dialogue fades away into the bottom of the abyss, bouncing off walls. And when you get a reply, it starts small, and climbs to a crescendo. They do this all without sound.There’s a problem in the modern games industry that arises from the inevitable collision of art, vision, profit, and finance. There’s a tension between these two things; how successful can a game be without a big-name publisher? What even is the measure of a video game’s success? The fact that it can last twenty hours, stuffed to the gills with side quests that you’ll forget in a week’s time, or the fact that it is a tight, focused two-hour experience that haunts you for years to come? We talked about other tensions in games too – particularly in an open-world game with a cutscene driven story. Such large teams create games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding, that the design philosophies of the writing and the gameplay team don’t seem synchronized. This is where we get a disconnect, and not an enjoyable one at that.

We continued with Chapter 5 of The Dream Machine, which is growing into its own at this point. The writing is stronger and more confident, and the puzzles are satisfyingly thought-out (once you find where to start). There are two separate dreams to solve in this chapter, and we’ve dabbled in both, but haven’t discovered the truth to either dream yet.

Next week we will finish up with Ensslin’s book, reading Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 (conclusion). Hope to see you there!

[Literary Games Group] 30/3/21 – Interaction, Hints, and More Dreams

Hello again everyone for another week,

In yesterday’s meeting we discussed the seventh chapter of Ensslin’s book, and there was a lot of good discussion regarding interactive fiction, the nature of “hints” or other purely mechanical visual or written aids to help a player through a game, and whether they help or hinder a player’s experience (in short: it varies). We also talked about the way we interact with games, dialogue, and the written element in any game. Dave noticed that we were generally zipping through dialogue while playing The Dream Machine, and we discussed why we thought that might be as well. We either let a written dialogue moment linger, or, if we parse it and identify that it has no future use or relevance to the game’s puzzles, we are generally quick to discard it. A contributing factor could also be the fact that the game has no (so far, anyway) consequential choices. It is a linear story, but with a varying level of interactivity to the world. Your level of engagement in dialogue trees depend on your investment in the story.

An extract from the game Blue Lacuna, which we had a little look at after Ensslin discussed it in Chapter 7

Next week is midsem break, so we will be meeting again in two weeks time. The reading for then is Ensslin’s Chapter 8.

We are now on Chapter 5 of 6 of The Dream Machine – we have almost finished. Soon we will be moving onto another game, but not before breaking down The Dream Machine a bit when we have finished it, and attempting to pick apart basically everything interesting the game had to offer.

Thanks, see you in a couple weeks time!

[Literary Games Group] 24/3/21 – Boundaries, Dreams, and Systems

Hi everyone,
This week we went over Chapter 6 of Ensslin’s Literary Gaming. We talked a lot about the antiludicity of games – that is, the way we can challenge how games get us to play them, and how, with that knowledge, we can subvert games as objects to be played. This involved a bit of discussion around pushing the boundaries in games, how we can play them as the developers did not intend them to be played – or if you wanted to push further, you could mod or cheat the game. As we push the boundaries, we find out whether the developers put in safety nets or difficulty barriers to stop people from breaking the game. As we discovered, quite often you can find a way to outsmart games – in this instance, we discussed Pathologic and Skyrim – simply by playing them in an unexpected way – though sometimes the game becomes traditionally unplayable as a result.

We also had a bit of discussion around the idea of griefing, of destroying another player’s works or of pushing past a certain boundary and causing another real person some form of distress through the actions undertaken in a virtual world. This can range from something as simple and “disconnected” from a real person as getting to areas in games that are supposed to be developer-only through exploits and glitches, or something as harmful as the hostile takeover of another person’s avatar and making them perform horrible actions.

Next week’s reading is Chapter 7 from Ensslin’s book. We will meet at the same time – 1pm on a Tuesday (in this instance, the 30th), in room 1W4 in the Arts Building. We are still playing The Dream Machine, though we are also preparing to move on to another game, and discussing possibilities for those games. One of those is The Outer Wilds.

Hope to see you round soon!

[Literary Games Group] 17/3/21

Hello again everyone,

This week we discussed Chapter 5 of Astrid Ensslin’s Literary Gaming, which primarily revolved around the idea of learning how to play through play itself, with engagement and interactivity as a product of the interface and UI itself. There was also an interesting point about categorizing movements – that is, the physical way we play games as in mouse-clicks, arm movements, and eye movements – and the potential of analyzing them to find how we best interact with a game.
We also played the primary text referenced by Ensslin – the game Loss of Grasp by Serge Bouchardon, which you can play here. It is, suffice it to say, very clever, and worth your time. You do need a webcam to see the ending though, as we discovered…

I have also attached next week’s reading to the email, Chapter 6, entitled “Loss of Innocence”. We will be again discussing it in 1W4 in the Arts Building at 1pm on Tuesday.

We continued playing the third chapter of The Dream Machine this week, the game made of real cardboard and clay that took two people nine whole years to finish. Not much new to report on that front there beyond the fact that we are still enjoying the experience of the game, and I’m looking forward to dissecting it a bit more when we’ve reached a later point in the game. The whole game is currently on sale for NZD $6 until the 23rd of March, so if you were interested in buying it to play for yourself, you can pick it up from Steam!

Hope to see you next week!