Sept. 27, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER The very name of the game is like a glove slapped across the face. “Smarter Than You,” released this week for Apple’s mobile devices, is a taunt and a challenge. Bold words for a game that, on the surface, is essentially a virtual match of rock-paper-scissors. And yet “Smarter Than You,” a free game with a minimalistic presentation that asks little of its players, manages to carve its way into a rather complex psychological head space. That’s because it’s partly a game about the little ways in which we casually lie — to strangers, friends and loved ones. So maybe, depending on your level of cynicism, “Smarter Than You” is also a game about the ways in which we communicate. “You don’t have to tell the truth,” the game tells us in its opening tutorial, spelling out what […]
Sept. 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER The opening moments of “Destiny” are mesmerizing. It’s a Mars landing, complete with sparkling views of our galaxy and crystallized red space dust. It’s a vision that looks lifted straight from photographs sent in by NASA’s Curiosity rover. It’s immediately inviting — optimistic, even. This is “present day” Mars, the game tells us, and considering that manned spaceflight isn’t a top legislative priority anymore, watching an astronaut leave a footprint on the surface of Mars is a reminder that a venture into the unknown can be downright inspiring. Then out come the rifles. What’s the fun, apparently, in looking for life on Mars if we can’t kill it? For all the innovation and sci-fi-meets-fantasy overtures here, “Destiny” ultimately doesn’t feel all that futuristic. It’s a refinement, rather than a reinvention, of the dominant video game genre on home […]
Sept. 06, 2014 | 5:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER This column is usually dedicated to discussing video games, but in the past week and a half, you’d be forgiven for not having the stomach to play one. I haven’t. Infighting, finger-pointing and the airing of dirty laundry have dominated the late summer in video games. For those who have played an online multiplayer game, this may sound like any other day in video games. But it’s not. Now the attacks are so threatening in nature that even the FBI has taken notice. A long-simmering schism among select, very vocal members of the gaming community and others in the industry has come to the fore over the last two weeks, resulting in unprecedented levels of death threats and harassment directed at game designers and writers — many of them women. This is not, to be clear, some trash-talking […]
Aug. 30, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Back in grade school, I proposed doing a book report on “Gold Rush!” — a computer game first released in the late ’80s. My teacher thought I was trying to pull a fast one. Yet the truth of the matter is “Gold Rush!” contained more text and actual history than the heavily illustrated dinosaur book I chose instead. But the dinosaur sketches were encased in binding. “Gold Rush!” had disks. There was a day when the most popular games were essentially interactive novels — point, click, read and type. That day was killed by the first-person shooter, which ushered in an era during which the most dominant of games were competitive and reflex-based. But there’s good news for those who believe a written sentence is more powerful than digital bullets or the ability for players to hijack a […]
Aug. 23, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Deep within dating site OkCupid, there’s a question that treats video games as child’s play. “Would you be willing to date someone who plays video games almost every day, for at least 2 hours?” Two hours may seem excessive for our time-crunched lives, but there’s an underlying implication that the above activity is perhaps a bit weird — a potential red flag about anyone otherwise considered a full-fledged adult. Although the video game industry doesn’t do itself any favors, what with tolerating the boorish behavior of its online communities and relying on games that emphasize gun play, there’s no denying that this is a mainstream medium that still carries a stigma. But the OkCupid question did hit a chord. There are times when even I feel embarrassed about my accruing games knowledge. It’s the moment, for instance, when […]
Aug. 16, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER “You’re not too old for those?” she asked. The question came from a date who arched her head and squinted at an assortment of Batman-branded pillowcases in my bedroom. Those six words hovered on the forefront of my mind, forcing me to suddenly call into question every aspect of my life and how it reflected my level of maturity (or immaturity). Adulthood, and how it weighs on us, has been an obsession of late. It’s at the core of Spry Fox’s “Road Not Taken,” a vexing puzzle game with magical overtones released this month for home computers and the PlayStation 4.The questions it raises linger long after a play session. The game has a message: You’re not getting any younger. Or maybe it’s saying you’re running out of time. This is the emotional head space occupied by “Road […]
Aug. 09, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Early in the sci-fi mobile game “Revolution 60,” one character is essentially rendered brain-dead. Our heroine, Holiday, frets over what she’ll tell the fiancé of her immobilized pal. Maybe, one of the other space-flying shipmates wisecracks, the boy back home isn’t so hot on personality. Doubtful, as being reduced to mere eye candy would likely be seen as a fate worse than death for the four women at the core of “Revolution 60” — and for the two women who founded the company that created the game. Giant Spacekat’s “Revolution 60,” released in late July for iPhones and iPads, is a pocket-sized game that dreams big, ambitiously attempting to marry a complex narrative and fully drawn characters with pick-up-and-play accessibility. That’s not its only mission. Developed by a Boston-based team of four led by Giant Spacekat’s head of […]
Aug. 02, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER Whether we like it or not, when it comes to Kim Kardashian, we’re all, in a sense, amateur Kardiologists. We know about the reality show, the sex tape, the quickie marriage to an NBA star, Kanye West and the Kimya wedding. We’re told she’s a fashion designer, model, actress, socialite and blogger. We see she’s a wearer of bikinis. Still, why Kim Kardashian is famous is a mystery. “I do not know what she does,” Stephen Colbert joked on his Comedy Central show this week, echoing the thoughts of many of us. When someone’s primary expertise is omnipresence, the more we know, the less we actually learn. But we’re getting more insight from Kim’s latest and more unlikely role as a rather convincing video game character. “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” a free-to-play mobile game by the reality star, is […]
July 26, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER “Hey,” the kid said. “I can get you out of jail.” I politely said no. Standing in lockup, after all, was a rare photo opportunity. The kid shrugged and walked off, and there I stood alone in my cell, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in front of me, the Mark Twain Riverboat docked to my left. Welcome to the Legends of Frontierland, Disneyland’s wacky new live-action role-playing game running daily inside the theme park. Legends of Frontierland pits guest against guest in a battle for control of a fictional town — in this instance one that’s set inside Disneyland’s vision of the Old West. Or something sort of like that. Even for a resort with wench-auctioning pirates and hitchhiking ghosts, the recently launched Legends of Frontierland is often absurdly nonsensical. To play Legends of Frontierland is to partake in […]
July 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
THE PLAYER About a year ago, hip-hop’s enduring crank Eminem rapped what many interpreted as a jab at the increasing complexity of video games. “All these buttons,” Eminem scolded modern tech kingpins. “You expect me to sit here and learn that?” The man had a point. For those not yet converted to video games, the controller remains a potential barrier to entry, this even as the medium more regularly explores relatable topics. One may have been intrigued by the paternal existentialism at the core of last year’s survival horror game “The Last of Us” or curious about this year’s Chicago-set techno-thriller “Watch Dogs,” which explored the concept of hacking as a weapon, but the idea of learning a rules system before exploring a virtual world can be something of a language barrier. What a godsend then has been mobile and […]