Don’t Play to Win

skiiIn his investigation into the social functions of childhood toys, Brian Sutton-Smith notes that ‘whatever toys may have originally signified to their makers… this signification is almost destined to be betrayed’ when they are picked up and played with in practice. Citing examples of how children improvise, combining sets of toys marketed to them into a mishmash of uses that may not match the original symbolic meaning of any of the constituent parts, this phenomenon is probably not unfamiliar to anyone who, as a kid, made up rather unconventional settings and adventures for their Barbie dolls, outside the narratives they were sold of glamour and girl-power careerism.

In this study, entitled Toys as Culture, Sutton-Smith also discusses video games specifically as both a machine-toy (toys focused on miniaturizing and systematizing the world) and a soft-toy (toys which substitute in-person socialization, comfort, companionship and so on), but his more general notes about how play almost always eventually finds ways to ignore the original symbolic meanings and implied intended use of toys struck me as also applicable. There seems to be a presumption in mainstream game studies that the best game design intuitively guides the player to the intended play style, goals, and outcomes, and that this represents a successful result and a good player experience. However, looking back on my childhood playing games, I played them ‘incorrectly’ a lot of the time, sometimes deliberately and even maliciously so.

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It’s here! + Some Cutting Room Floor Thoughts on Collage

Yes! Issue four of The Arcade Review is finally out and it’s a beaut. Thanks to generous support from Patreon subscribers and individual buyers, the magazine has reached the completion of its first year, and I’m proud to say my work appears in two of the quarterly volumes. In the second issue, I wrote about the fascinating and productive community surrounding RPGMaker horror titles, and in the current issue I review another title that uses the framework RPGMaker offers in unconventional and fascinating ways.

Gingiva is a spiritual successor to John Clowder’s first game, Middens, which Owen Vince wrote about in the first issue of The Arcade Review. While he examines how Middens defamiliarizes familiar tropes and mechanics of games, my analysis of Gingiva focuses on intersections of themes of gender and capitalism throughout the work, demonstrating how these games are fantastic at opening themselves to rich and varied interpretations.

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Some Housekeeping and Updates!


So, I’ve vanished for a bit and I don’t really have any exciting or particularly compelling excuses, I’ve just been prioritizing dissertation writing and research. However, I have some more posts in the works as well as some things to clear up. If you’ve left a comment or tried to get in touch with me over the past few weeks, I am admittedly behind in responding and will try to be better about that! Most importantly, though, I’ve updated the TOTC!Jam page to reflect that it will now be an all-summer affair, continuing until the end of August. This is for the best, as the bluster of E3 and IndiE3 news as well as just life in general made a 30-day Twine Jam in the month of June a difficult thing for people to pull off. Nothing else about the rules have changed, so if you started working on something and didn’t finish, or just had an idea in your head but felt like you didn’t have enough time to actually make it, stay the course!

Hope your summers are all going well. I just caught my first glimpse of blue sky in several days so I’m feeling pretty good.