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Digital experiences can leave indelible marks on the story of the self

Video games propose a thousand ways to be. We live, we breathe, we dream the experiences they gift to us — either across an eight-hour campaign as the titular hero or through months as an alter ego in massively-multiplayer world.

Become what you want, when you want. Become a beefed-up supercop that chases green orbs across a darkened cityscape, or a bow-wielding hunter that slays giant mechanical dinosaurs. …


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Reflections on a time when play experiences were uninterrupted by ubiquitous, invasive connectivity

Video games used to be a meditative experience. It was just you and the box, with controller and cord as the connective tissue. Those thoughts — those pesky mental constructs — vanished to the experience in the moment.

It’s why there’s a soothing silence to consoles of yore. It’s you and its world — or it’s you and its world and the friend sitting next to you. It’s a date who leaves their phone in the car or, more aptly, doesn’t have a phone at all. …


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NieR: Automata’s opening hours are an eerie parallel to our post-virus world

Everything is changing. The advent of COVID-19 is transforming how we live now — and how we might live for years to come. The world we knew yesterday won’t be the world we know tomorrow.

In NieR:Automata, everything has already changed. The sun shines on a desolate land, a place where tranquility makes the world feel immediately safe yet forever in peril. A sunstricken cityscape once teeming with people, now littered with machines waiting to be slaughtered by androids, built and controlled by humans who retreated to the Moon.

It’s a premise you can’t quite trust. We’re told the machines roaming the Earth are dangerous automatons whose murder needn’t be second guessed. Yet in NieR’s opening hours, they show love, they show fear, they show culture — they show humanity. It’s a message the game iterates time and again, reminding you why these machines are meant to die. Each iteration, though, only reveals the absurdity of that initial claim. …


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It preserved shooters of the past and could revitalise their future

Years later, one franchise remains trapped in time — a relic held in a stasis of circumstance and corporate reluctance. It seems forever stuck in the mud of its sixth-generation origins, defined almost as much by its unwillingness to move than it is by its ability to enthrall.

But the history of what got stuck where and why is only the first part of the TimeSplitters story. That story in a sentence: staff from GoldenEye-developer Rare splintered into Free Radical who, after the commercial failure of PS3-exclusive Haze, was bought and turned into Crytek UK.

In doing so, Crytek assimilated the creators of a series as prophetic as it was preservationist: TimeSplitters — where it would remain dormant for years to come. …


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Video game preservation is about more than archiving code

There’s an unavoidable tragedy at the heart of our beloved pastime: games get old — quickly. It’s a testament to the people toiling with pixels, polygons, and processors that games just a few years apart often feel much more widely separated. These leaps bring the opportunity to update the titles we love — but with that comes the risk of denigrating and debasing what we used to love.

And still do.

This rapid advancement isn’t without potential cost: the abandonment or alteration of some truly historic stuff.

In broad strokes, Square Enix is taking the right approach: re-release a game upscaled for modern displays — with added features introducing something palatable for generations free from nostalgia’s stranglehold. It’s not just a method of preservation and a way of farming Gil on the side, it’s one that seems targeted at encouraging participation — finding a way to encourage the generations of today to visit the games of generations past. …


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Arkane’s “Prey” asks the player to live with the consequences of their decisions

See that semi-colon all the way down there? You can actually scroll down to that semi-colon. It may not actually be all that interesting — it’s there solely for the sake of a silly post introduction. But it is there. You can put your cursor over it, too.

Said semi-colon isn’t an especially well-developed, mechanically rich piece of punctuation, mind you. But at least it’s something to do; it racks up the numbers: number of quests, amount of time, number of characters — it’s all about time, size and selling points.

Enter Prey: a game in which side quests actually feel mechanically meaningful. It’s not unique in this, of course — but it’s an apt reminder that a simple side quest can be as intense and harrowing as its bigger, mainline brothers. …


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You were a star in the story, not just a cog in some calculated machine

It was a soap opera — it was always a soap opera. Each match marked a new episode in a long-running saga, with a returning cast of characters playing their parts to a backdrop of improbable sets and props: the weapons and maps of your favourite video game.

That cast included a guy who could solo an entire team in one match, only to stack it on the first door in the next — or the guy whose connection would mysteriously falter around the time of a missed shot or dodgy grenade. …


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Its true horror lies at the edge of our imagination, beyond zombies and monsters

Resident Evil VII marks a true return to form. Specifically, a first-person mutation of the series’ original form. Hallways, herbs, pistols, shotguns, puzzles — the 2017 entry in Capcom’s long-shambling series is a slow-paced trek through a veritable house of horrors.

Absent from the list of things many consider classic Resi is the series’ pervading sense of tragedy, something that’s almost impossible to itemise. A half-decent crack at it might include its foreboding musical score, its identifiably human foes and those small, seemingly inconsequential notes.

At a closer look, those notes reveal a world of unspoken tragedies brought solely by the hand of man — a meta-narrative that imbues Resident Evil with a sense of humanity not entirely present in the game proper. …


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The desire to explain too much can vanquish the awe and wonder we once felt

Halo then. A word that asked a thousand questions. Halo now. A word that answers far, far more. In 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved introduced a gameplay sandbox unlike no other — one that extended beyond the linear hallways of its corridor-crawling siblings. The premise: use its arsenal of weapons and vehicles to forge your own path on developer Bungie’s intergalactic highway — go where they want, but have some small say in how you get there.

That highway was an ancient one, too. A storytelling sandbox littered with vast monoliths and symbology of a civilisation no longer with us.

And it was full of unanswered questions.


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The true technological terror of microtransactions

It’s only fitting that the Empire embodies the final form of the pay-to-win formula: a collective that finds victory not through skill, dedication, or wit — but in buying bigger guns than the other guy. Yet there’s something far more nefarious about pay-to-win than simply leveraging cash to get one up on the Rebellion — and it speaks to something far more personal, far more intimate than topping a leaderboard.

Online games can be the great equaliser — they have the unrivaled ability to suspend the standards applied to our underwhelming corporal selves, if only fleetingly. …

About

Adam Meadows

Loves video games. Loves writing. Loves writing about video games. Absolutely fascinated by speedrunning.

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