Games

Massive Chalice
June 8, 2013

Manorialism, Women, Queerness, and Massive Chalice: Medievalism for the 21st Century


A few days ago the game studio Double Fine launched a widely successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund their next project Massive Chalice, a fantasy turn-based tactics and strategy game that focuses on ‘feudal’ bloodlines.1 Unlike many game campaigns on Kickstarter, which post their project close to the release date, Double Fine decided to launch Massive Chalice with little more than idea and a bucket-load of enthusiasm; this invitation to actively involve the supportive gaming community in the pre-production process (called ‘backers’ on Kickstarter) has not only spurred skyrocketing pledges (currently $877,750 at the time of this post), but also conversations among backers and bloggers regarding how to build a medieval-like social system that incorporates twenty-first century liberal values: namely, gender equality and gay rights. It is with the structures and histories of medieval manorialism, in other words, that seem to be the space to explore current political and civic issues—and, I might add, accomplished with crowdsourcing funds from individuals rather than (or in addition to) major investors.

This post departs somewhat from the usual fare on L&L, but I’ve been following the threads of the conversation closely over the past few days and it is really neat to see how people ‘deal with’ the Middle Ages, especially when perceived political structures are no longer ‘politically correct.’

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  1. The $750,000 campaign reached its goal within five days. []
Jack Russell Terrier playing with a ball, image from Wikimedia Commons
April 26, 2013

Do Animals Play Games?

I recently received comments on a piece of writing I had submitted that, like all good peer reviewer feedback, has enabled me to re-examine some of my assumptions (about game culture in particular). Two questions the reviewer raised were: “What is particular about the relation of games to culture?”  and“Could we say that games are designed to resist attributions of significance?”

For me, the keywords here are culture and designed. While the questions themselves lay outside the scope of the work, I believe they nevertheless sit at the heart of many curiosities about games; they not only question the cultural relevance of games, but also their very fabrication. Game scholars oftentimes state that games are products of cultural expression, for this belief stems from an understanding of games as meaning-making systems, which inherently incorporate strict behavioural models. Do games truly stem from culture? Do they portray signs of signification?

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March 28, 2013

The Beauty of Chess: Medieval and Modern

Chess problems have been around for about as long as the game itself. Murray documents over three hundred chess problems (or, Shatranj problems) in various Persian and Islamic manuscripts dating from the sixth century.

The beauty of the game lies not only in its material properties—such as golden chessmen or ornately jeweled gaming boards—but also in the game’s complexity. With over 10^120 possible chess game variations, the game’s elegance also lies in its logic, geometry, and computation. For chess problems, the most aesthetic are also sometimes the most deceptive: a simple-looking problem can prove to be the most difficult, as in the case of Richard Réti’s famous end-game problem first published in 1921:

Richard Réti's Famous Endgame Problem

Richard Réti’s Famous Endgame Problem

 

Sometimes called “The Hunt of Two Hares,” this problem presents a chase scenario, where a king can make multiple threats and move in a variety of ways.1

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  1. This problem has been published numerous times in problem book and is, arguably, the most famous chess problem. []
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