Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo #1: Mafia III and editing

Cahiers du Jeux Vidéo is a series of posts comparing the narrative mechanisms of video games and movies with (hopefully) a bit more depth rigour than your average commentator breathlessly comparing Halo preorders to box office receipts. It’s named after foundational French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma , because I’m a pretentious prick.

For the most part, TV shows or movies do not show you how the sausage gets made. There isn’t time, unless you’re Alfred Hitchcock, to show your lead character on the loo in a break between plot beats. You don’t need a forty-minute interlude of somebody driving on a freeway to understand how someone got from one location to the next between scenes. The magic of editing allows time to be compressed, the boring bits skipped over, leaving audiences with a lean meal of all the best bits. This is how it’s always worked. We are all on board with it. We understand that most of the “process” of these character’s lives and stories get skipped over. Video games, for the most part, are free of editing. They’re all about playing the process.

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Experiencing Distant Worlds

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This year two of the most consistently frustrating things in the world turn 30: the Final Fantasy series, and myself. It’s no exaggeration to say one of the two carries with it a legacy of euphoric highs and staggering lows (spoiler: it’s not me…mostly) but has one aspect which has remained solid from its inception in the late eighties to its modern day incarnations, and that’s the music.

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Guest feature: Why Gone Home would make a really boring film

In our first guest feature, Jessy talks about why Gone Home and other story heavy games  like it prove that there are experiences only games can create.

“Game feel” is a term I learnt not long ago but have become attached to when talking about my favourite games. It’s generally used as a term to mean the physical feeling you get when playing a video game. As Brendon Keogh explains in his reader on game feel: “the reason we really play a videogame is because it feels real good within our soft meaty body. Video games are a carnal pleasure”. This physical manifestation of the intangible world of a video game is important to our experience of the stories within them. The medium gives us an extra layer of bodily experience inside of the base textual aspects of any narrative. This marriage of a bodily experience and traditional storytelling is what makes video games a very effective avenue for rich and layered stories to be told in interesting and new ways.

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Podcast Episode #1: The One About 2017 (So Far)

[very matt damon in we bought a zoo voice] We made a podcast! The first episode (of many) of the Bleeping Sickness podcast is about the games we’ve been playing in 2017 so far, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the titles we’re most excited about coming up later in the year.  It’s also about finding something nice to say about Mass Effect: Andromeda, arguing about Nier: Automata, and being unsure if “systematise” is a word. Full show notes beneath the jump!

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Glory to Mankind?

Over the past month Nier: Automata has blown me away. A game that on it’s face is one where you hack robots to pieces in various fashion appeals to me, but I didn’t expect to be dragged into one of most interesting and memorable games I’d ever played. A true masterclass in story telling and emotional manipulation, by the time I had killed my way to the “true” ending, it had solidified its position as one of my favourite games of all time.

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Her/Their/Your Story

“Closure is bullshit,” James Ellroy once wrote, “and I would love to find the man who invented closure and shove a giant closure plaque up his ass.” The author of LA Confidential is wrong about a lot of things, but in this case, he’s bang on. An ending with no loose ends, unanswered questions of other dangling prepositions is desirable in storytelling, but if you try and apply a similar narrative arc to a human life, you’ll only be disappointed. Fiction which attempts to embrace the ambiguity of life treads a tricky line between purposefully disappointing those engaging with it, and just wasting their time. It’s a tightrope which Her Story, Sam Barlow’s surprise hit PC title from 2015, manages quite wonderfully imho.

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Writing your life story in Even the Stars

I’m home sick. It sucks. Doubly so since, as well as enduring the dizziness and stomach troubles of undefined illness, any time I’m confined to my sickbed I am gripped by this contrarian desire to be productive. I’m wrapped in a duvet and sat on the sofa but staring out of the window, or into my computer screen, thinking of all the things I could be doing with all this spare time I suddenly have. I want to be creative! I want to explore the possibilities of what’s out there! But my weak and feeble body does not let me. It is, at least, the perfect situation to catch up on some videogames.

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The Thing on the Landing

As a kid, I was kind of stupid. I was super into the supernatural, an interest that lingers to this day, in a less intense way. My trips to the library were mostly focussed on finding graphic novels that weren’t for adults, and similarly kid-friendly titles about UFOs, ghosts, crop circles, spontaneous combustion. There was a surprising surfeit of compendiums which explained the Roswell crash, or the Enfield Haunting, in child-friendly prose – with plenty of full-colour pictures to boot! I don’t know if it was because of the X-Files, or if there was just something in the air, but the nineties seemed particularly geared towards getting kids into the arcane. Neil Buchanan, of Art Attack and fronting a heavy metal band fame, hosted a CITV show called It’s a Mystery which investigated topics as many and varied as the Loch Ness Monster and people getting trapped in abandoned tube stations. Its creepy, Twilight Zone-biting opening still haunts me.

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Give us a chance to learn

All games need a tutorial in some form, right? Teach the player the ropes, maybe throw in some simple early plot points; generally help the player settle in and ensure they don’t feel totally alienated right from the go. Unless you’re a Souls game I guess, in which case reverse all of the above.

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You are entitled (and that’s okay)

Please, allow 2018 to finally be the year where “finally” is banned from pop culture headlines. Skim through the articles on any site that covers games, films, or TV with a particularly nerdy bent (which, to be honest, is basically everything these days) and the release of new information, images or trailer footage is framed as something that the collective audience has been anticipating for a long time. And not only have they been waiting, but they deserved to have it earlier. There is a strong vein of entitlement within geek culture at the moment. It’s a weird place to have ended up; I remember being a bookish kid dreaming that, one day, there might be such a thing as a live-action Spider-Man film. Nerds have long for their interests, the thing they were passionate about, to be recognised and taken seriously by the mainstream. We subsisted on the crumbs we were palmed off with until now, in the 21st century, the Alpha Geek reigns supreme over popular culture. That patience was rewarded, but it’s ingrained a whole culture — already with a propensity towards white males who feel, whether rightly or wrongly, marginalised — with a sense of entitlement. We need this stuff to be recognised as important!

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