pong

Biased Notes Vol. 1: A Way Out

by Jed Pressgrove

You can read my full review of A Way Out here.

1. Video games tend to demonstrate the usefulness of a shotgun at close range. Real shotguns are indeed scarily devastating up close. But a lot of developers seem to assume the shotgun can’t put someone down at a distance, even though the actual weapon can still be a force to be reckoned with at 50 yards (and in some cases, 100 yards or more). A Way Out doesn’t hold this absurd assumption, and I find that interesting given that the game’s focus isn’t shooting. This is not to say I was particularly impressed by the shootouts in A Way Out from a kinetic or mechanical standpoint. The game’s gunfights are part of director Josef Fares’ larger goal to deepen the bond between players, and this emotional purpose makes the climactic battle that much more affecting.

2. Although Fares’ first game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was great overall, it did feature one extremely tired and stereotypical idea: the spider woman. A Way Out has its own cringe-worthy flaw. At one point in the game, you visit a trailer park. For the most part, the residents of the park are depicted as everyday people, but an optional little story at the location involves a man cheating on his woman. This man’s name is Cletus, and that silly name, along with his dialogue (“I gots to go”), indicates that Fares, as much of a humanist as he generally is, is not above resorting to a lazy caricature for a laugh. Some might wonder why I didn’t mention this scenario in my review, as I have taken other games, such as Resident Evil 7 and Mafia III, to task for using obvious stereotypes. Here’s my explanation: while games like Resident Evil 7 and Mafia III rely on stereotypes to exploit fears and prejudices that people may have, A Way Out simply slips up during one moment that some people may not even see. That the stereotype in question is, like me, a rural white man doesn’t change this point.

3. A Way Out features the best game within a game since The Mercenaries (from Resident Evil 4): Grenade Brothers. This gem could warrant its own review. It’s essentially a strange volleyball game that is reminiscent of Pong from a visual standpoint. Unlike volleyball, there is a wall behind you, and you can legally deflect the ball off the wall. You can also volley to yourself as many times as you want before sending the ball over the net. I was immediately taken by the concept (side note: my friend on the couch didn’t stand a chance against me). Perhaps more significantly, this competition foreshadowed the 180-degree turn toward the end of the game.

4. If you like movies, Fares’ pulpy but moralistic approach in A Way Out is reminiscent of Samuel Fuller’s work. Moreover, the game’s emphasis on masculinity brings to mind directors like Sam Peckinpah and David Ayer.

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What Is a Video Game Marketer?

by Jed Pressgrove

Discussions on “what is and isn’t a video game” and “formalism” continue their savage run. Some say we shouldn’t limit the definition of a video game. Others say we should focus on what makes video games different. But these statements miss the overwhelming influence of marketing on how we perceive reality.

No one woke up one morning and knew what a “video game” was. My first video game was Super Mario Bros. Why? Because my parents believed Nintendo was selling a video game, then they told me Super Mario Bros. was a video game, just like people tell kids today that Minecraft is a video game. Marketing tells us we should try things as different as Pong, Grand Theft Auto III, and Gone Home, and all of these things are placed, by marketers, under the umbrella of video games.

I might argue Gone Home is not as much of a game as Grand Theft Auto III. I might argue Grand Theft Auto III is not as much of a game as Pong. I might argue Gone Home fulfills the potential of video games. I will likely convince no one that I’m right because these arguments are pointless. The more likely result of these “arguments” is that I might inspire people to try Pong, Grand Theft Auto III, or Gone Home to see what the fuss is about. Instead of trumping marketing, these arguments help marketing and constrain critical thought.

We are all marketers to an extent. Twitter, which is a nonstop series of advertisements and billboards, confirms our interests as marketers, though our marketing is not limited to and does not require Twitter. As marketers, we confirm the suggestions of super marketers (the owners and distributors of products and platforms). We confirm Gone Home is about “narrative,” “story,” and “environmental design” (maybe even “social justice”). We confirm Grand Theft Auto III is about a “world,” “deep mechanics,” and “choice” (maybe even “freedom of speech”). We confirm Pong is an old piece of junk that no one plays anymore because it’s not hip.

This marketing also comes with dubious political suggestions that keep people fighting rather than thinking. You are “liberal” if you value Gone Home more than Grand Theft Auto III. You are “conservative” if you value Grand Theft Auto III more than Gone Home. In online video game discussions, party politics is more important than individual experience and perspective.

Only one phrase can accurately sum up these discussions and suggestions: distracting bullshit. We are always going to hear about the Grand Theft Autos and the Gone Homes because the big and little video game marketers tell us we should try them. In response, I think we should do one of three things: (1) critique the games for what they are, (2) ignore the games, or (3) shut up.