Archive for the ‘Video games’ Category

West-washing the world’s games

October 21, 2016


“I can’t remember the last time I played a Japanese game,” my friend Mike said to me.

Our tastes are largely different. He plays primarily open-world games, racers, and first person shooters, pillar genres of “western” game design. It’s true that I tend more toward Japanese games, and occasionally games that are garishly and loudly Japanese. So his statement should have been unsurprising. We just have different tastes. But it was when he said it that surprised me.

I asked him what game we’d been playing.

“Mario Kart. Ah, yeah. Yeah. I didn’t really think about it, huh? I meant really Japanese games, you know?”

In Mike’s defense, Mario is difficult to pin down as Japanese. He’s an Italian plumber, after all, and basically the Mickey Mouse of videogames. He’s so famous that he can’t be said to belong to one culture at all–he’s globally recognized, and every tuned-in culture likely has “their” version of Mario, the same as they have “their” Mickey Mouse or McDonalds.

But it’s been weird, seeing this trend from Japan’s complete dominance of console gaming to a sort of coup by western game developers. In large part I suppose that’s due to the Xbox brand: gamers can play a largely western catalogue of games on an American-made console. It’s also due to the lopsided categorization: Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Forza; these are all considered “our” games, despite being from three different countries. Meanwhile, Japan is just Japan.

Many gamers seem content to let Japan just be dead. After all, where are all the Japanese role-playing games? We have The Witcher (Poland), Elder Scrolls (US), and Dragon Age (Canada). This despite the massive number of Japanese role-playing games that get released on 3DS and Vita to critical acclaim. Well, those are handhelds, they don’t really count. Small in size, they’re assumed to be small in scope.

I suspect that much of the American gaming public is holding their breath for Final Fantasy 15. SquareEnix have been in and out of gamers’ graces for a while. Can the Japanese prove they’ve still got it? The massive success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne should prove that they have, in fact, got it. Nevermind that both series are wrapped in the bleak cloak of western fantasy; us westerners wouldn’t accept anything less.

If Final Fantasy 15 flops, will American gamers write off Japanese role-playing games entirely? That’d be a very sad thing, with Persona 5 just over the horizon.


How to draw Mario’s shyest enemy: A bashful Boo!

October 31, 2014

First, draw a circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect!

kingboo1Then, add some nubbinses for the arms and tail, like so (the tail can be tough!)

kingboo2Now erase the part of the circle connected to the tail.

kingboo3Then just add a happy face!


And BAM! You drew a boo! Happy Halloween everybody!

– Catstronaut Loves Games



Catstronaut hates hate

September 4, 2014


Videogames are a rapidly maturing medium — but you’ll never learn that from hate-filled players

The latest in videogame violence: Tropes vs Women in Videogames’ Anita Sarkeesian was forced from her home by death threats against her and her family, while Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn suffered similar harassment at the center of a scandal called “GamerGate,” wherein she’s been accused of having sex with games journalists who gave Depression Quest positive press and favorable reviews.

It’s all so tiring, this constant bickering and infighting from a vocal fandom that explodes when, in lieu of anything better to talk about, Mass Effect 3’s ending fails to meet their expectations. I’ll include myself here, because I’ve been known to bicker: Mario Kart 64 just isn’t that great in the overall scope of the series, and I need everyone to know that.

But when outrage spills over into organized harrassment and threats of physical (and sexual) violence, sometimes I wonder what the point is in trying to talk to anybody about why videogames are cool, or good, or fun. Suddenly videogame reviews, reviews of a consumer entertainment product, are worth ruining people’s lives over. Forget that noise.


Mario Kart’s all-time best (and worst!) racetracks

May 29, 2014


Celebrating 20+ years of go-kart coursework

There ain’t nothin’ like a Mario Kart track. Over the years they’ve gotten wilder and wilder, from Super Mario Kart’s modest “real kart racing with a twist” to Mario Kart 7’s manic, setpiece-laden jaunts through the air and underwater. And now with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo plans to turn those courses upside-down with antigravity sections that’ll see karts racing on the walls and ceiling.

Just before Mario Kart 8’s May 30th release, I’d like to run down my own personal list of the best and worst tracks in the series’ history. I’ve chosen to break things down by game — I want this list to represent the entire series, after all, and not just my own favorite Mario Kart games. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope these are some of your favorites, too. Here we go, starting with the most recent game and working our way back:


Let’s talk about Japan

December 20, 2013


Why the decline of Japanese games development is an overstated myth

To hear people talk, you’d think that the Japanese don’t make games anymore. There’s a growing cynicism and sense of schadenfreude concerning Japan’s development scene as the medium diversifies into new markets and developers spring up all over the world. Japan has lost their stranglehold over the international market, and they seem to be losing the market entirely.

Tell me if you’ve heard these: Japanese games suck, they’re behind the times, irrelevant, stagnant. Players and journalists lament that Japan can’t return to its former glory, settling instead for endless rehashes and pathetic imitations of their Western peers. Japanese developers humbly admit their games are lacking, promising to mimic Western design so they might save themselves from obsolescence.

Western games are just better. They’re larger in scope, more cinematic, more relevant, more real. Western publishers are willing to invest more money, allowing developers to create expansive worlds rich in player agency and choice. On the other spectrum, a growing indie scene is crafting more creative games than even Japan’s most original teams, and doing so on a far smaller budget. There’s nothing left for Japan to do except stop making games entirely.

There’s only one problem: That’s all a bunch of garbage.



May 19, 2013


There’s been a fundamental change in the way we talk about videogames. Mechanical and graphical discussions have been ever-present since the medium’s inception, but lately they’re taking a backseat to discussions about deeper themes, undercurrents that go beyond a game’s scripted story. Players are willing to think about what games are saying implicitly.

That’s a really important change – we’re allowing games to flaunt their artistry.

We’re engaging with the content, asking ourselves if there’s something more being said. It’s not the game’s inherent qualities that have changed, but rather the audience’s willingness to connect with those qualities to pry out and explore deeper themes, to allow games to resonate with them. We like to think that games are advancing, and that one day they might be art, but the responsibility is on us to respect the stories they’re telling, and frame them within our cultural consciousness.


Failing grades: why review scores are stupid

April 6, 2013


The degree to which video game review scores are taken seriously astounds me. I don’t mean that the reviews themselves are lacking in insight, though they sometimes are. I’m referring to the score itself, an anomaly oftentimes based on nothing at all, that sows confusion amongst legions of game players.

How does one review a game? To write the review, you think about the game you played: its standout moments, the tightness of control, the depth of ideas on display. Maybe you write about the visuals: they were technically quite basic, but relied on an abstracted style that set the tone of the work.

And then you slap a number on that review and call it a day.