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I got NBA 2K21 for Christmas. Have I ever really been into sports games? Yes and no. I loved them on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 but dipped out of them as time went on. But I asked for NBA 2K21 for Christmas because I hit a sort of stagnation period at the end of 2020. Very few games were doing anything for me. It didn’t matter whether they were new or old, so I took a little break between mid-December and Christmas. I still played some games but it was not for long and not that often. Like I said before, I got NBA 2K21 for Christmas. …


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The Wii-U deserved so much better. That system, on almost every level minus its name and how Nintendo rolled it out, absolutely ruled. Killer menu music, amazing games, a fantastic controller (yes, the Gamepad was good actually), and a litany of backwards compatibility features. It is a shame the Wii name was tied to it because, well, it both confused people and undersold what the Wii-U was. At its core, the Wii-U was an integrated system, much like the Nintendo Switch, and in all honesty, it just seems like a (somewhat failed) test run for the Switch. …


Disc Diving is an essay series where I dive through my PlayStation 2 collection, replay the games that I own, and see how they speak to me now. The structure of these essays is a little more free-wheeling than what I usually write, as I just work through what stuck out to me in each game. The thesis is the game itself and each essay features multiple arguments and observations. This structure is malleable and will change if the game played calls for such change(s) to be made to the essay structure of this series.

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“And when he gets to Heaven, To Saint Peter he will tell: One more soldier reporting sir — I’ve served my time in Hell.”- From the poem “Our Hitch in Hell” by Frank Bernard Camp (this quote is seen at the start of Medal of Honor…


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“Is your soul all spotless? Is it clean as the snow? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” — Washed in the Blood, a Christian hymn.

Wasteland 3 opens with chaos. An ambush, explosions, everyone on your side is more or less dead—it is what it is. Such is the world of Wasteland 3. There is a weird sense of humor at play in the cruelty of this world. All of your Ranger brothers and sisters are wiped out in an ambush by a comical caricature of cannibalistic backwoods killers a la something like Wrong Turn. It is weird and dumb but it works. …


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Doom 3 is my favorite Doom game, but I also think it is the best game in the series. Yes, really. It is unlike any other Doom game, and yet, in some ways, it feels like the most Doom game out of all the Doom games. The word “Doom” will be featured a lot in this essay. But before I can work through the whys and hows of the claims above, I need to outline how I made my way to Doom 3 and my personal experiences with it outside of actually playing it.

2004 was an interesting year. I was about to finish elementary school, new consoles were right around the corner, and I was beyond excited for the launch of the Nintendo DS in November of 2004. My original Xbox got the job done, but gaming on the go with two screens just blew my mind (and it still does, more on that here). But before November I was mainly playing T-rated action games, shooters, and racing games on my Xbox. My parents let me have one M-rated game—Halo. My friends and I played so much Halo and were gearing up for the release of Halo 2. We scoured every gaming magazine for coverage on it, annoyed Circuit City employees about it, and we’d watch any videos on it that we could find. As we stepped into the world of M-rated shooters in 2004, there was also another game that often shared coverage in every gaming magazine we had. Posters and cardboard cut-outs for it adorned the gaming sections of every store we went to. And we even saw video thumbnails for it on the gaming websites we frequented. Yet, we never clicked on those videos because the thumbnails looked scary. That game was Doom 3. Even though I was young and not tapped into games media all that much, I knew that Doom 3 was going to big and was highly anticipated. I’d played some of the first game on my Nintendo 64—yes, Doom 64 also rules—and it was fun enough. But it never really clicked with me. It didn’t look like Doom 3 would, either. The big demon on the game’s cover and the demons that adorned a lot of the game’s marketing really, really scared me. So, I just looked at it from a reserved distance. It came out in August of 2004, but I didn’t really care. I saw it on store shelves, heard friends’ older siblings talk about it, and that was that. November came around and I had Halo 2. That was the only shooter I needed. And then came my godbrother’s birthday party. It was a big gathering of middle schoolers (and me) at our local Dave & Busters. Games, tokens, pizza, french fries, cake—it was as close to bliss as any 10-year-old could ask for. I did well in some games, and then I won a big prize. For the life of me, I cannot remember the game, but I know that it gave me some sort of voucher and at the end of the party when we all went to redeem our tickets and whatnot for prizes, I handed the person behind the counter my voucher. They looked at my mom and showed them what I’d won. It was a copy of Doom 3 for the original Xbox. She saw the box-art, looked at me, I looked back, and she grabbed the game with a shrug. …


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Video games usually traffic in the language of cinema—often for worse. For me, it is far more interesting when games pull from the language and toolkit of the novel, or just literary stylings in general. This essay could be written about many, many games—from visual novels and smaller adventures to AAA fare and sprawling roleplaying games. For the sake of honing in my argument, I will be working through how Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla embraces and traffics in literary traditions.

Assassin’s Creed’s storytelling has long been dictated to the macro-story of the Animus via “sequences” which split the games up into chunks of missions that were bookended by key story points and expositions that moved the narrative forward. When it worked, it really worked, but more often than not it just made everything between those key missions feel like busy work or an excuse to pad out the games’ lengths. And then Assassin’s Creed: Origins happened. The series opened up in a way more akin to western RPGs—in both scope, mission design/layout, and narrative. In Origins, this was a benefit. The central narrative felt more focused and of a whole. The next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, got lost in its own scale. It is such a large game but the story is an afterthought, and it is a bad one at that. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla finds the perfect marriage between scope and story in regards to this new form of Assassin’s Creed games. And it does so by treating the main story and side stories like chapters and passages in a book, rather than one unbroken beat-by-beat story. …


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Fall (or autumn) is a special season for countless reasons. It is a stop-gap between the worst season, summer, and the best season, winter. But it also stands out as its own little slice of yearly joy—especially if you live in an area where green spaces, parks, and forests/hiking trails are readily accessible. As far as games are concerned, seasonal specificity usually falls to winter since, well, lots of games have lots of snow! From Skyrim to Hitman, snow is a prominent set dressing. As for fall, it has been featured in lots of games but it deserves more love. …


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Function comes before flourish. Such is true of every art form. There is the discovery of the medium itself, the verbs and boundaries are formed, and what follows is the artistry itself—the pushing, reshaping, and breaking of those boundaries. This is true of cinema. Louis Le Prince’s “Roundhay Garden Scene”—the first motion picture—is just the test of an inventor. There is an art to it, but the language of cinema was not yet known so the piece itself was not defined until decades later when both cinema and the academic study of film were more commonplace.

So, what about the video game camera? It never got the chance to be unknown. From the get-go, it was defined by and thought about with the same terms and toolkits as cinema. Yes, technology took time to be fleshed out and for the medium to arrive at the first cutscene. And the beauty of the early days of video game cutscenes was their economic scarcity. They were functional and that is all. Their purpose was not to impress but to define, and what did they define? Characters, story, player tasks, routes, and more. But games have grown since those early cutscenes of the 1990s. Now video game storytelling—especially in the AAA space—is inseparable from cinema and this is nothing but a detriment to games. Games are different than cinema and they can never be cinema, this is why the Prestige Dramas churned out by Sony First Party studios are nothing more than hollow, stuffy facsimiles of a far superior art form. Sure, you can have a game that is all seen through one unbroken camera movement, but what does a choice like that mean when it was done just for the sake of doing so? The cinematic oner is one of the most recognizable flourishes of the filmmaker’s toolkit, but there is a reason that they often draw ire. Camera placement, the art of the cut, shot composition, and length should all rise up from the story and not vice-versa. 2018’s God of War is a 40-hour oner just because it can be, there really is no reason for it all, and on top of aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics, it is an abysmal oner. Well, when do video game cameras, especially those in cutscenes, work? To me, they work best when they steer as far away from the language of cinema as possible (though that is possible) and try to define what a camera can be and do in virtual spaces. I guess that is why functional cutscenes speak to me. …


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For the sake of restraining myself, the following list highlights 4 albums released in 2020 and 4 albums not released in 2020. Also, if you like music and use Spotify, then please support artists in more meaningful ways. Buy directly from their merch stores and please support your favorite artists and new artists alike on Bandcamp, Patreon, and more.

I don’t really write about music all that much anymore. I used to write about music on an old blog way back when, and I wrote some music news, lists, and blurbs at Paste. Music criticism has always evaded me because while I adore music, I am not a musician at heart. Plus, it all just feels so close to me so that doing the critical work of close reading music and my relationship to it sounds genuinely daunting. Shoutout to all of the great music writers out there—you’re all so uniquely talented. …


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Video games task us with killing so many things. Human beings, aliens, animals, giant bugs, small bugs, demons, robots, and more. Mostly, we just kill until our objective is reached or when the mission is over. The abundance of player ascribed death in games can be seen as a point of concern, but it also depends on how each specific game frames the act of killing. Most hardly think about it beyond “game feel” and those that do often miss the mark—Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019)’s thesis of doing death as realism gave way to rewriting history through the noxious and racist lens of military complex-prescribed jingoism, and The Last of Us series, as a treatise on death and struggle and pixel-perfect bodily harm is woefully misguided and cruel in how its violence says nothing. …

About

Cole Writes Words

Cole is an Atlanta-based writer concerned with games, cinema, and media literacy. Support the Cole Writes Words Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/colewriteswords

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