Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Thing of the Week: Well Played

Games studies can be a tricky fish to fry. Here is this gorgeous new medium with limitless potential to be poked, prodded and punctiliously ployed, but always, we must realize that what we are studying here is play. You may think it's 'srs business,' but to most other folks, it may well be 'just a game.'

Fun, here, may have some relation to Mark Twain's thinking on humour: "Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog: you understand it better, but the frog dies in the process."

Critics of the time were known to respond: "Yeah, well, your FACE is that!"

Observant readers will note that my analogy has shifted species. How do we get from fish to frog? Well, when a mommy fish and a daddy frog love each other very, very much...

Since games at the best of times need a light touch, it it my double delight when I find critical thought that keeps some life kindled in its subject - Inevitably, these tend to be not strictly endeavors of the mind, but labours of love. Play remains the subject, but it is not captive... it is allowed to roam, free-range.

Thus we have the FREE THING OF THE WEEK, which is not just free as in libre, but free as in gratis. Enter "Well Played 1.0, Video Game, Value and Meaning", a text which backflaps itself thusly:

"What makes a game good? or bad? or better?

Video games can be “well played” in two senses. On the one hand, well played is to games as well read is to books. On the other hand, well played as in well done.

This book is full of in-depth close readings of video games that parse out the various meanings to be found in the experience of playing a game. 22 contributors (developers, scholars, reviewers and bloggers) look at video games through both senses of “well played.”

The goal is to help develop and define a literacy of games as well as a sense of their value as an experience. Video games are a complex medium that merits careful interpretation and insightful analysis."

The plaintext is free on the internet. Free as in, why aren't you reading it right now? We have analyses of old standbys such as Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, considerations of cult favorites like Ico, Silent Hill 2 and Parappa the Rappa. You'll find work ranging the gamut from blockbuster games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Half-Life 2 and indy gems such as Portal and World of Goo.

Oh, and Zork. So that's me in the bag.

Reading these essays, you may find much to disagree with - but everything is put forward so cheerfully, one can hardly protest. These people have found pleasure in these games, and as such they are a pleasure to read. Who was it that spoke of the importance of being earnest?

Oh right. It was this guy.

- Rook

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