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A Game for the Summer

Summer Sun Beach Thinking about playing a AAA console game this Summer – but what?

To celebrate completing the manuscript for Chaos Ethics, and possibly getting my PhD by Publication if the wheels crank fast enough, I should like to indulge in playing a AAA game this July. I haven’t been playing many of these lately, in part because so few interest me as play experiences of my own (although I remain interested in other people’s experiences of them). Trouble is, I just don’t know what I’d play.

Of the releases still to come The Last of Us is a possibility, but I don’t particularly like Naughty Dog’s games – I still hold them responsible for murdering the 3D platformer genre by helping to make guns mandatory. Also, I’m so unbelievably bored of the post-apocalypse as it is usually presented. Two centuries after Mary Shelley's "The Last Man" the high point is either "The Day of the Triffids" (1951) or “The Road” (2006), and both are notable because they have stories that aren’t dependent upon gunplay. I long for fictional apocalypses that don't devolve into a gun survivalist's wet dream. There’s not exactly a shortage of gun stories – or gun games – so it’d be nice to explore outside this narrow space.

Of the releases that have already come out, I’m not sure there’s anything I want to play. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed, but don’t see much point in my playing any of the sequels. The further they get from the Crusades, the less appealing they become, and I certainly have no interest in the crummy science fiction wrapper story. There’s Heavy Rain, but it looks a little tiresome. I could try the last GTA for context, but Liberty City bores me. Playing any of the first person shooters would be redundant – I’ve had more than my fill of guns from Counter-Strike, and I don’t need any more. If I wanted to shoot guns, I could visit my father-in-law and pop off some rounds on the back porch.

In the matter of Bioshock Infinite, I’m afraid I am thoroughly repulsed by the way it appears to represent its villains as the Liberal’s caricature of Conservatives. Contrary to what is apparently expected, making these people racists and theocrats isn’t a justification for a one-man campaign of brutal genocide against them. This kind of shoddy moral reasoning effectively endorses the ongoing extermination of Muslims – irrespective of their guilt or innocence – that is currently dishonouring the brave men and women of the United States military. I certainly don’t want to play a game that embodies this kind of bigotry. Maybe I am misjudging it – but the game footage I’ve seen thus far has been fairly disgusting. (Note that Miguel Sicart’s arguments about the ethics of computer game have no bearing on the morality of representation in game narrative.)

Since I don’t want to set up my Xbox 360 which is still gathering dust, I need a PS3 game (not necessarily an exclusive) that I might enjoy – perhaps a cRPG, since I am allowed one a year and haven’t had one yet. I’d love something as engaging as Front Mission 2, but that particular franchise peaked with its second outing and has never recovered the magic. I’ve never played a Final Fantasy and I’m unlikely to start now. Skyrim looks like a colossal waste of my time, although I enjoyed running around Oblivion for an hour or two. Mass Effect is a long way from what I’d like to be playing. What’s left? Disgaia 3? Life’s too short for an orgy of levelling to be my only game this Summer.

Bearing in mind that my favourite games of last year were Proteus, Bientôt L'été and Journey, can anyone suggest anything in the AAA console space worth playing that I might enjoy?


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"Contrary to what is apparently expected, making these people racists and theocrats isn’t a justification for a one-man campaign of brutal genocide against them."

Yes, this is exactly why I'm so tired of AAA games right now: they always try to justify violence by presenting the ennemy as "ultimate bad guys". I don't mind the famous ludo-narrative dissonnance of the hero-as-mass-killer in Uncharted for example, but I can't stand these kind of justification for murder, the "you can kill them because they're not good, so don't think too much about it".

And recent games that try to think about the implication of virtual murder do it the wrong way: they're asking what are the consequences on the player virtually commiting these mass-killing, but they never step up and present the ennemy as something more human than a "nobody bad guy", which is the problem in the first place. Revenge is ok in the videogame universe, and nobody seems to mind.

Anyway, for the recommendation: Ni No Kuni is pretty good, and no violence there!

Sylvain: I can't tell you how relieved I am that I am not alone in feeling this way! Also, thanks for the "Ni No Kuni" recommendation - as a longstanding Studio Ghibli fan, this is a very tempting option!

Incidentally, I have read and enjoyed a few posts at your blog since we last spoke, but I don't think I have successfully left a comment yet. I have started a few, but never finished. A lack of time has, alas, has been the culprit.

Best wishes!

I'm glad to know you're a reader, and thanks for your support!

I am playing through Ni No Kuni with my 4 year old and it has been one of the best JRPGs that I have played in a very long time. The score is fabulous and the story is engaging. I highly recommend this one (even 70 hours in)!

Sam: You had me right up to "70 hours in"! Not sure I have time for an 80 hour+ game, but still the best suggestion so far. I'll 'take it under advisement', as they say. ;)

All the best!

I enjoyed Dishonored.

It felt similar to -- but more compelling than -- System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Thief, Metal Gear Solid and their ilk.

Dishonored's incremental advance of 3D stealth mechanics were sufficient to rejuvenate my interest in sneaking about (and better still, improvising my way out of surreptitiousness gone awry), and its narrative and world building are some the best I've seen in a game, with some delicious moral decisions to be made along the way.

It's not a perfect game, but it worked for me. I'd be curious to hear your response if you get a chance to try it!

(As an aside, I'm looking forward to the latest Studio Ghibli film -- I've seen all the rest, and I'm glad Miyazaki's keeping that train rolling)

Nathan: I discounted 'Dishonored' when it was advertised with the tagline 'Revenge solves everything'. I don't want to support a game that is willing to represent itself to the world in this way. (As if we didn't have enough problems with negative portrayal of games as it is!)

Even if it were not for this, though, I'm not sure I'd want to play a stealth game this Summer. I am curious about the mechanics in 'Dishonoured' though - I think this is one of those cases where I'd prefer to learn about the game from players who have already enjoyed it, rather than trying to play it myself.


Chris, don't be put off by the advertising department's label -- it's trivial to argue that regardless of how the player approaches the game, "Revenge solves everything" is quite the opposite of the game's possible messages.

However, if you're not feeling like a stealth game, Dishonored is unlikely to change your mind; it doesn't expand gaming's vocabulary to nearly the degree that games like Braid and Portal did.

Let us know what you end up playing!

Nathan: thanks for letting me know that this was a marketing gaffe and not a problem with the game itself - this reminds me of Nintendo's ugly tagline for 'Ocarina of Time': "Will you save the girl or play like one?" Ugh - how horribly ill-conceived can you get!

I will certainly post to let everyone know what I end up playing, but the front-runner right now is "Ni No Kuni" (although the hours-of-play makes me nervous!)

All the best!


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