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The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird

Why playing stupid games staves off existential despair

Games are grotesque. I’m not talking about games like Grand Theft Auto or Manhunt, games whose subjects are moral turpitude, games that that ask players to murder, maim, or destroy. I mean games in general, the form we call “games.” Games are gross, revolting heaps of arbitrary anguish. Games are encounters with squalor. You don’t play a game to experience an… read more

Newsgames Embrace Hard Complexity, not Easy Fun

A response to Paul Carr and Chris O'Brien

Cross-posted from PBS Idea Lab Earlier this month a group of journalists, game designers, and academics gathered at the University of Minnesota for a workshop on newsgames. I was there, as was fellow Knight News Challenge winner and San Jose Mercury News tech business writer Chris O’Brien. After the event, Chris wrote a a recap of the meeting. In turn,… read more

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Why Anything but Games Matters

On isolationism in game development; my Indiecade 2014 talk

A couple months ago, I was talking to a friend in technology media. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m in tech,” he started saying. He paused for a beat. “Then I think, at least I’m not in games.” He wasn’t even really talking about the Voldemortian “you-know-what” that was indeed the original impetus for our conversation. That’s just the latest example.… read more

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Swing Copters: The Randomness of the Universe, Captured in Pixels

The creator of Flappy Bird is back with a game offering the sublime agony that comes with mastering a craft—and still failing.

Many of the highest-performing professional athletes are also the most superstitious. Serena Williams bounces the tennis ball five time before her first serve, twice before the second. Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. Baseball hall of famer Wade Boggs bore a bounty of superstitions. Among them: He ate chicken before each… read more

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Welcome to Dataland

Design fiction at the most magical place on Earth

I am in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and I am standing in line. My family is awaiting entrance to Be Our Guest, a Beauty and the Beast-themed quick-service restaurant nestled into the recently-revamped Fantasyland. It’s late spring in central Florida, and it’s hot. A Disney “cast member” wheels out a cart with drinking water and disposable cups, and each family… read more

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The Opposite of Good Fortune is Bad Fortune

Is 'adjunct activism' the only path to labor reform in higher ed?

At Chronicle Vitae, full-time adjunct professor Lori Harrison-Kahan writes “Blaming the Victim: Ladder Faculty and the Lack of Adjunct Activism”. The piece addresses tenured faculty’s apparent (or at least relative) silence in the ongoing debate over adjunct labor in higher education. Harrison-Kahan rejoins such faculty for failing to extend their ongoing defenses of marginalized communities to their own community: Why… read more

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You Are Mountain

A strange video game from the Her animator bests Spike Jonze's film at depicting what a relationship with an alien really would be like.

Near the start of his relationship with a computer operating system in Spike Jonze’s Academy Award-winning film Her, Samantha the OS (Scarlett Johansson) helps Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) play a videogame. Called “Alien Child” by the filmmakers, the game seems familiar enough to be plausible to viewers, yet foreign enough to induce estrangement. The same could be said of the film’s high-waisted… read more

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Shaka, When the Walls Fell

In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe.

On stardate 45047.2, Jean-Luc Picard leads the crew of the Enterprise in pursuit of a transmission beacon from the El-Adrel system, where a Tamarian vessel has been broadcasting a mathematical signal for weeks. The aliens, also known as the Children of Tama, are an apparently peaceable and technologically advanced race with which the Federation nevertheless has failed to forge diplomatic relations.… read more

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Why do we relish Nintendo’s crises so much?

from my Difficulty Switch column in Edge Magazine

This year is Nintendo’s 125th anniversary, and so the company is celebrating by haemorrhaging money. The figures are dour. Nintendo announced net losses of $229 million for fiscal year 2014, a saddening reversal of 2013’s return to profit. Just 2.7 million Wii U units were sold last year, compared to 7 million PS4s and 5 million Xbox Ones shipped in… read more

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The Blue Shell and its Discontents

“The Blue Shell is everything that’s wrong with America.” Ok, nobody said that, but you can imagine someone having done. The Blue Shell steals progress from a rightfully earned win on behalf of the lazy and the incompetent. The Blue Shell wrests spoils from leaders’ fingers just as they reach for the laurel. The Blue Shell is the cruel tax… read more