What Are You Playing This Weekend?

Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson, author

The polymath internet sage discusses his latest book, Future Perfect, and how its lessons can be applied to games.

By Drew Toal • October 12, 2012

In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.

Steven Johnson is the author of several books that cover a dizzying array of topics, including Where Good Ideas Come From, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good For You, in which he argues, among other things, the positive influence of TV and video games. Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, makes the case that the internet offers unprecedented opportunity for decentralized, peer-networked solutions to once-intractable problems. The Gameological Society talked with Johnson about how his latest thesis applies to gaming.

The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?

Steven Johnson: Well, I’m on book tour, so there’s very little play. When I get home, I will no doubt be watching my children—who are obsessed with Uncharted 2, or Uncharted 3, I guess—on the PlayStation. Which I might join them a little bit for. Book tour tends to suck up all your spare fun time.

Gameological: Is it a different experience for you, playing games with your kids? As opposed to gaming before they were around?

Johnson: The coolest thing that we had for a while there—they haven’t been playing it as much—we had this great thing going which one of these days I want to write about. We both were playing kind of separately that game Dawn Of Discovery. It’s a beautiful game that simulates a 14th-century trading empire. It’s a classic simulation, very complicated, with lots of variables. One of the things that’s so powerful about it as an intellectual exercise is that you have to think on all these different scales and from all these different perspectives. So you have to think like a city planner, an admiral, a spice merchant, some industrialist type who is building an iron mine, and this is what they’re doing for fun, building this little trading empire.

Gameological: Sounds educational.

Johnson: Well, what was interesting is that I was playing my version of it, and then my two older boys were kind of playing in parallel, in a separate world. And you could basically choose to build an incredibly militaristic empire where you attack all the other islands and take over their goods. Or you can be a peaceful capitalist and trade with all these other countries. So I would take this nice peaceful route, and my boys, being nine-year-old boys, would build up these vast navies, and then they’d get attacked and their fleets would burn down, and then they would be out of money. It was a case study in literally the cost of war. Look guys, at how much money I’m accumulating, and you guys are totally bankrupt.

Gameological: So I guess ruinous warmongering isn’t included in the Everything Bad Is Good For You umbrella.

Johnson: When I wrote Everything Bad is Good For You, my children were very young. I used to joke that I would write a sequel when they were teenagers called You Know What I Said Last Time? We kind of started dividing up their game time into games that are challenging in the ways that I was writing about, and the games that are less challenging. You have a certain amount of time you can spend playing games, but it can’t be all first-person shooters. You have to have some Minecraft, or Dawn Of Discovery, or some kind of world-building game that is part of your time. It’s not that they’re educational games in the traditional sense—it’s not like they’re learning algebra or anything. But I think it’s a good thing for parents to think about with their kids, dividing up genres of games.

Gameological: In your new book, you talk a lot about decentralized creation, kind of a constellation of independent nodes that come together to make these great things. How is this applicable to gaming, in your opinion?

Johnson: There are kind of two things there. The first is that the small shop games that are showing up because of the tablets and the phones where it’s so easy to develop the little app and have it take off, and that’s good to see because there is more diversity in the game creation community and more experimentation, and it’s not just like Madden 2014, you know? That’s part of the argument of the book, that you want to have more decentralized sources of creation.

But the other thing is the Minecraft phenomenon, which I don’t fully understand, but there’s this kind of sense of this whole alternate reality being built collectively. In Minecraft, by starting with something very simple, with these elemental, literal building blocks—and then you open it up and let people fashion more and more complex things out of that. I feel like it’s going to end up like Wikipedia. This really simple-input kind of collaborative editing thing, and 10 years later, you have the most comprehensive encyclopedia known to man.

Gameological: I’m terrified that one day Minecraft reality will swallow real reality.

Johnson: It’s amazing. It’s one of these examples I try to celebrate in this new book. Frankly, starting with the internet, where people who got together and are really contributing their labor and their ideas—with defining how the internet should work without trying to own those ideas, or patent those ideas. In this kind of open, vast collaboration creating these huge epic things that change the world. If we’re having this conversation 40 years ago, all these things that we now take for granted—whether it’s Wikipedia, whether it’s something like the web, or something like open source software—40 years ago, the whole idea of this kind of collaboration would sound like the most ridiculous fantasy. Like something that someone would’ve been talking about in a commune in northern California. Now we can look at them, and we can say, hey, actually this works. This kind of collaboration actually built stuff. It’s a very cool time to be thinking about these things.

Gameological: In the book, you also have a section on the ramifications of Kickstarter. Is crowdfunding the future of game development?

Johnson: I think we will see more and more. Here’s another really great dimension that I actually didn’t talk about in the book—it comes from Wikipedia—that I think is going to be increasingly commonplace. So, the “stub” in Wikipedia. That’s a huge part of how Wikipedia works. Not just people writing entries, but pointing out what should have an entry. There’s a hole here we need to fill, and by identifying the hole a bunch of people will come and fill it. In the Kickstarter model, there’s a little bit of that. Someone says, I’m a creative person—I’m a game designer, or a musician, and I’ve got this stub of a project that I think the world should have, and I need $10,000 or a million dollars to finish it. Help me reach my goal.

Just having that mechanism has been amazing, the success of it. It’s this kind of miraculous thing that shouldn’t work in practice but somehow does. The next step, maybe there’s a process whereby the peer network of ordinary folks can propose things that should exist in the world, and then that kind of request triggers game designers to come and build it and then they get funding from the crowd as well. So you have a totally different kind of mechanism, like the crowd is saying this is what we want, somebody build this, and then people kind of compete to get the right to build it, and then they get funds from future buyers of it, and then it gets built. The whole process is kind of bottom up all the way through.

Gameological: Maybe I can finally get that Mortal Kombat-style fighting game pitting bloodthirsty Victorian poet against bloodthirsty Victorian poet off the ground.

Johnson: The other thing about gamers is that the line between being a game player and a game creator is so much blurrier when compared to people who watch movies. Ninety-nine percent of the people who watch movies have no ambition to make their own movie. Lots of gamers are tinkerers, though, and they build mods and there’s something about the nature of a game that’s interactive. There are a lot of armchair game-designer expertise in that community that could be unlocked if you gave people the right button for it.

And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.

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  • dreadguacamole

     Xcom. Dishonored. I’m currently immobile, recovering from surgery, and to be honest I couldn’t have chosen a better time for it!

     This was a really cool interview, by the way. The only book I’ve read of his was The Ghost Map, and I really enjoyed it; this new one sounds really interesting.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      Sorry about the surgery, but, yeah, not a bad week for it!

    • Ragnarick

      I was in the same boat about two months ago.  Fortunately I had a backlog of games to finish.  Of course now that I’ve healed and swore I never wanted to play another game anytime soon both Borderlands 2 and Xcom come out.  Go figure.

      Anyway.  Speedy recovery to you.  Hope you heal well.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Given your avatar, I imagine that your surgery involved a lot of brain removal and that your recovery involves a lot of “TV?”

    • doyourealize

      Man, when I first read this, I thought your team on XCOM was immobile. I was all like, “How could that be fun? And why is this the perfect time for that?” Sorry for being a jerk to you in my head, and hope all goes well.

    • Fluka

      I hope you feel better and get well soon!  (*Scratches out “YOU LUCKY BASTARD” from the end of her post.*)

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Here’s to a speedy recovery.  Though not so speedy that you don’t have a chance to finish your games first.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

      Considering the size of my backlog, perhaps I should look into some sort of transplant, or maybe having something vital removed so I’ll have an excuse to go through it.

      I mean besides the usual excuse “I’m lazy and will never do anything productive.”

    • dreadguacamole

      Thanks, everyone! Recovery hasn’t been a lot of fun so far, but the games sure have… 

  • HobbesMkii

    Well, this weekend it has to be Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition and War of the Roses. They’re both games that when I initially tried them I felt they were too difficult and quickly abandoned, but as I’ve played them more, I’ve come to appreciate their complexities.

    • EmperorNortonI

       I got the Dark Elves edition of Blood Bowl a while ago, but have never figured out how to play it.  Some of my friends got into the boardgame a while ago and spoke highly of it, so I was intrigued, but I’ve just never gotten around to learning it.

      • HobbesMkii

         It looks a lot more complicated than it is. The tutorial is pretty enlightening and pressing G will bring up a grid that explains stuff more. It’s a pretty sincere 1:1 translation of the physical game.

  • NarcolepticPanda

    Still haven’t gotten around to getting Persona 3 Portable, despite my anticipation for it. Guess Patapon 3 will be staying in my PSP for now. Also, second weekend with Deus Ex: Human Revolution! Finally, my dad and I fixed my broken second PS3 controller the other day, so I might do some Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One with my little bro.

  • caspiancomic

    I’d say I’m about an hour or so’s serious play from the end of Half-Life 2, so I’m going to finally bury that one this weekend. I just killed three store-brand War of the Worlds Tripods with a homing missile launcher, and pretty much feel like the King of Space. This whole final leg is pretty intense so far. Next weekend marks the beginning of my intercession week, so I’m going to leave Persona 3: FES and Tokyo Jungle until next week so I can really veg out and enjoy them. Half-Life 2 has been a blast, but I’ve only been able to play it in hour-long chunks because I’ve been keeping a regular schedule for once. Next week I’m going to try to get some high school calibre marathon gaming sessions in. I also plan on finally publishing my latest Game Theory article this weekend, although it probably won’t be today. I’ll try to naturally incorporate a link into a comment on Monday for those of you interested in checking it out.

    • Effigy_Power

      I felt that way when I brought down the icky hover-slug gunship that crashes through the roof after you destroy it. Something made me want to keep the head as a trophy and nail it over my mantlepiece.

    • Electric Dragon

       I hope you’ll be taking on the HL2 Episodes, because [NOT REALLY SPOILERS] they both finish with battles that similarly make you feel like the King/Queen/Non-Gender Specific Despot Of Space when you win.

  • offalWaiter

    While I save my pennies for Dishonored I’ll be occupied with Ep. 2&3 of The Walking Dead, Borderlands 2 and Tales of Vesperia.  Also, finishing second run on Costume Quest.  Thank your god of choice it’s finally raining in Seattle again!

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I really need to finish Costume Quest at some point. Does it get good after the mall? It’s been charming but a little underwhelming so far.

      • offalWaiter

         I suppose I can’t talk it up much.  It remains charming but follows a similar path compared to the first 2/3 of the game.  You gain several more costumes and there’s a hidden Arrested Development reference that made it very worth my time.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

      Tales of Vesperia has been a game on my “would like to play very much, but Japan wants to spite me” list. There’s a PS3 version with a slew of new content, but it never made it Stateside, and I don’t own a 360 for the not-so-super-special-awesome normal addition.

      Of course, I’m still playing Tales of the Abyss on my 3DS, so I shouldn’t be too greedy.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

    Nice thinky stuff from Mr. Johnson.  I guess crowdsourcing, or, really, a lot of current web activity (e.g. following a Twitter feed) will last as long as apathy is kept at bay.  As soon as you get a fair number of people saying “who cares?” about donating money to an idea for a game, an album, whatever, you risk the death of not just art, but empathy.  I feel like humanity goes in cycles with that sort of thing, but I have no real basis for that feeling–people still contribute to public television every year enough to keep it afloat, even during cynical times.  Which is no excuse for a certain politician to claim halting government funding for it, but ANYWAY.

    As mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’m still enjoying playing that new game I picked up last week, Being Married.  Lots to explore, some good suspense, and the art design is gorgeous.  I heard so many mixed reviews about the two DLCs, Buying A House and Having Kids, that I’m really leery about tacking them on at this point, even with a cheap Steam sale–the vanilla version is more than enough for me right now.  Besides, I’ve heard those expansions can even break the game on some systems.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      I can’t believe how long it took me to get that…

      Seriously, I thought you were referring to some indie version of the Sims.

      I should probably go to sleep.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

        The good news on the sleep front is, if you’re truly a @NarcolepticPanda:disqus , you won’t have long to wait.

        • NarcolepticPanda

          The trouble with being narcoleptic is I can’t choose when *SNORE*

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I hope you’re writing this from a heart-shaped bed overlooking the falls.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/mattman-begins,89632 Mattman Begins

        Close; it’s a martini-shaped hot tub, and I’m not even seated on one of the pointy bits.  It’s very relaxing, but so far I’ve managed to keep this laptop abov

  • Effigy_Power

    I managed to score Captain Internet’s spare key for Civilization 5 which he got from preordering XCOM, so I might see how many worlds I can helplessly irradiate with my thoughtless nuclear warfare.
    I also really need to get further in AC:Revelations, which I have finally picked up again.
    Otherwise I’ll take apart and rebuild my computer after buying a new tower and scoring 16 Gigs of RAM cheaply (of which only 8 can go onto my Motherboard, but the other 8 are for our second computer).
    And the rest of the weekend will be the usual chickenshit.

    • Cheese

      Ugh, I need to beat AC:Rev too. That may be the first non-FPS, non-fighting game where I played the multiplayer more than the single player. God, I love Assassin’s Creed multiplayer.

      • Effigy_Power

        I never even tried it. Somehow I can’t think of AC as a multiplayer game.

        • NarcolepticPanda

          AC has multiplayer? Whaaa?

          Now I have this image in my head of 16 people lining up in a circle and stabbing each other as fast as they can. Last one standing wins. (Which sounds rather fun.)

        • doyourealize

          Didn’t play on Revelations, but it was surprisingly fun in Brotherhood. Once you actually got into the game, that is, as a lot of it was waiting in lobbies for enough players. It’s satisfying to sneak up and stab an NPC in the back, and exponentially more so another player.

        • Cheese

          It’s fun because it’s a completely different mental feel than any other multiplayer game. It’s all about watching and waiting, and with the bonuses for silent, hidden kills, kill quality matters more than quantity, which I find refreshing. It’s easy, when playing with noobs, to win a game by killing fewer people, but better, than anyone else.

      • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

        I have 100% the same experience with ACR as @TheOnceAndFutureCheese:disqus , and as a consequence ACR is sadly the only game in the series I haven’t beaten.  Not sure I even will, with AC3 on the way.

        Do you play on PC or console?  I’m almost tempted to re-buy ACR (on sale, of course) just to play the mutiplayer on my new souped-up PC.

  • Aussie25

    I’ll be playing Red Dead Redemption, which I’ve recently got back into, man it’s a beautiful game. 
    I’ll probably also spend some time completing The Walking Dead Episode 4, hopefully before the Season 3 premiere. I absolutely fucking love this series of games, it’s seriously intense and the choice system is implemented perfectly. 

    • Enkidum

      RDR is so worth it it’s not even funny. Where are you? Wherever it is, it’s worth continuing, as stuff will just continue to be awesome right up until the credits roll. And I’ll give you the same advice that I was given on AVClub when I mentioned I was playing: keep going until those credits roll. Even if it feels like you’ve already won.

      • Aussie25

        Oh yeah I’ve finished it before, and I know exactly what you’re talking about. What an amazing ending to an amazing game. 
        I haven’t played it since then, which was probably a year and a half ago now. This time I’ve just been taking my time appreciating all the minute details in the game world. For example have you ever looked at the newspapers? They are unbelievably detailed and they change constantly based on the missions you complete. I have no idea how many newspapers there are before it becomes repetitive but I’m impressed so far. I like just walking around the town and taking in the sights, maybe help a prostitute getting rough handled, or taking out a cocky gunslinger who thought he could take me on. I find these smaller immersive stuff just as entertaining, if not more so, than the actual missions.Great, now I have to load it up and play it some more.

        • Enkidum

          Have you played Undead Nightmare?  Also very well done, although much, much sillier. Proves that Rockstar still have a sense of humour.

    • ToddG

      Telltale’s Walking Dead is so good.  Will almost certainly end up as my personal GotY.

    • fieldafar

      Finished Episode 4 of The Walking Dead today. Oh boy, now I just can’t wait to see how it ends…

      • Ack_Ack

        I’ll be starting and finishing that one up tonight.  It’s been a pretty fantastic series so far.

    • http://playingthecanon.wordpress.com/ Joel of Arc

       I finally settled on Red Dead Redemption as the next game I tackle full-on. I’d been impatiently trying to get into about three or four other games that just weren’t quite holding my attention. Something about Red Dead Redemption called to me, and I’m really enjoying it thus far. I can already tell that spending days of game time just wandering around the gorgeous desert doing nothing in particular is going to be a huge problem for me.

      • Aussie25

        Yeah it’s definitely a game that you can play for hours and the most you will have accomplished is picked a couple of flowers and maybe killed a couple of random bandits. It’s even worse than Skyrim in this regard, and I mean that in the best possible way.

  • vinnybushes

    I really got into x-com today after starting last night, and it has the same hold on me that every other Firaxis game throughout recorded history has had. I just looked up and realized that five hours disappeared like *that*. It’s a complete time suck in all the best ways. Absolutely nothing feels like filler, and everything you do is important. I was going to be playing a bunch of Dishonored, but that has officially been moved to the back burner.

    • Ack_Ack

      I’m trying to decide between the two of them.  I think that Dishonoured sounds more like my cup of tea, but I’ve heard great things about X-Com.  Of course, I’ve still got a bunch of games to finish (I’m looking at you, Borderlands 2!), but there are so many interesting looking games coming out.

  • Enkidum

    If I can manage to carve the time, I might make another stab at finishing GTA IV. The Seeds piece on III whetted my appetite again, and I went back to it – was stuck on three missions that I could never finish, and just finished them all. So I’m now at around 80% complete, and loving that world again. Shouldn’t take too long to plow through the rest, I’m sure.

    Also managed to get 39/40 levels perfect on Rayman Jungle Run – the only thing left is the final death level, which I’m honestly not sure I’m capable of. But I’m sure I’ll give it another few tries.

    And I just downloaded Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave because I suddenly felt the need for a new iPad game. Probably a mistake – I’m way too busy. Got owned on the first level, too.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Maybe my reading comprehension is a little off, but this guy is letting his 9 year old kids blast away at ethnic minorities in Uncharted? Really? 

    Anyway. What have I been playing lately…

    I platinum’d Skyrim last weekend. As the save game file got larger and larger the bugs became sentient and started to take over. I found that some of the time when fast travelling to Windhelm or Windhelm stables upon arrival a dragon would appear and instantaneously drop dead in front of me. It was like the Skyrim gods were yelling JUST TAKE ALL THE MONEY. Meanwhile the NPCs are just going about their day as if dragons dropping dead from the sky is the most normal thing in the world. Another thing that made me laugh was a Daedric quest where I had to go and get an item from a cave populated by giants. At one point out of nowhere a stormcloak soldier ran in to the cave, looked at me while running around me, then ran straight back out again. Bizarre and hilarious. Oh and by the way, I got the Wabbajack. What an overrated ‘treasure’ that is. Viva la Luck Bobblehead.

    Also played and finished DXHR The Missing Link DLC. Didn’t realise how dependent I had become on the cloak aug. Still got the Factory zero achievement, but was setting off alarms all over the place and having to munch down energy bars like Ginny Sack in the basement in order to take down swarming guards in quick succession.

    So now am staring into the abyss that is a cheap copy of Saints Row 3 that I got a few weeks ago. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      Well, he said they were nine when recently playing a game, so maybe 10 or so? I’d actually say Uncharted isn’t a terrible game for that age group, much better than, say, inFamous or Batman, in terms of tone.

    • Fluka

      I’ve had similar things happen to me in Skyrim, though not with dragons.  We have a mount mod installed which lets you traipse about the countryside thusly.  Right after dismounting and fast traveling, however, said mammoth teleported with me.  And arrived some distance in the air above me.  So there is a large dead mammoth currently blocking the main entrance to Riften.  Less profitable than a dead dragon.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I might try to finish Sleeping Dogs this weekend, but I don’t think I’ll succeed. I just unlocked the ability to see lockboxes on my mini-map, so now every time one pops up, I drop what I’m doing and go find it. The result: I complete at most one story mission in 45 minutes of play.

    I’ll also try making some progress in Jade Empire. It definitely suffers from cutscene-itis, but much of the dialogue is hilarious (some of it unintentionally so), so it’s not too bad. Plus, last time I played, I transformed into a gigantic bipedal poisonous toad to defeat a two-trunked elephant man. The only way that could be more awesome is if it involved Darth Vader riding a unicycle on a double rainbow.

    I’ve discovered that N is a good way to take short gaming breaks. It’s frustrating as hell, but the repetition never feels like a grind, even if you screw up fifty times. If you have a love for sadistic 2D platformers, then I highly recommend it. It’s a free downloadable Flash game, so it can’t hurt to give it a whirl.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      N is one of those games that’s still fun while you’re doing terribly, because death animations are so funny. My friend and I take turns with that and Super Meat Boy seeing who can wipe out in the most entertaining way.

      I believe I saw Jade Empire and KOTOR on Steam for Mac. Do you know if it’s a decent port? Don’t have a PC or an X-Box, and it’d be fun to play some of the early Bioware games before the Mass Effect trilogy.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Yeah, I feel the same way about N. Watching my little ninja hit a minefield feels like I’m being rewarded for failure.

        I can’t speak to the quality of the Mac port of Jade Empire, but I can tell you that the Windows version doesn’t suffer at all from console-itis. The Mac port was done by a different company, however, so it might not be of the same quality.

        • NarcolepticPanda

          Yeah, Macs…

          My dad’s a professional newspaper photographer, so totally great for that! But, gaming is pretty much a wasteland. It’s not a big deal, since I have a PS3, but it’d be nice to be able to play older games.

    • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

      That unlocking mini-game gets old REAL fast.  Likewise the code hacking.

      (the lockpicking was a little better, but you do it like, 3 times, in the game?)

  • EmperorNortonI

    I’d just gotten back into Dark Souls during the short break that just finished, but now I’m wondering how much time I’ll have to play it.  I promised that I’m only going to put time into it when I really feel ready to play.

    Other than that, FTL and Torchlight 2 Co-Op.  I find that I have next to zero interest in playing Torchlight singleplayer, but it’s vaguely entertaining Co-Op.  Borderlands 2 is still not out in my region. 

    I’ve been thinking about finally booting up King Arthur 2, which I pre-ordered but decided to wait to play after hearing of the various shortcomings and bugs.  Or, I could just get XCOM.  I feel obligated to contribute, whether I end up playing it or not.

    Or, I could just start playing League of Legends again. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

      I’ve had to put Dark Souls down for a bit. 35 hours in and I realise I’m about 1/5 of the way through it and that it’s all hard, unforgiving combat (or running away) from here until the end.

      I got Dishonored instead so I can feel like a badass who can take down a single enemy without being flattened for a while.

  • Captain Internet

    It’s interesting what he was saying with Dawn of Discovery. I remember playing Civilisation (2?) at the same time as a friend- my peaceful diplomatic effort was wiped out in about 1900, but his maximalist war machine had conquered the world in time to hold the Crusades for fun. Strategy games may not be ideal tools for teaching morality.

    I’ll be playing Dishonored and XCom. For some absurd reason they were only released in the UK today, but I managed to play some of the former earlier in the week by persuading Steam that I was having a quick business trip to the States. It’s wonderful. It also features what must be the most convincing English pub in gaming, albeit one lacking a ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ machine and vinyl signs saying “Book your Christmas party now!”.

  • blue vodka lemonade

    I, uh, would be playing Dragon Age II, but I just finished it. At about five in the morning. After a six-hour play session. So…

    I might go back and replay the last battle, taking the other side to see what difference it makes. It didn’t especially seem to.

    It’s interesting to me that DA2 got such mixed reviews, because I enjoyed it quite a bit more than DAO in pretty much every way I can think of. It let me indulge in my personal fantasy of being reincarnated as a Tamora Pierce character, which probably has something to do with how much I like it, and generally looked, sounded, and played better than the original. It also didn’t have Leliana or Morrigan, which is like +50 approval in my book.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterPrudent Glen H

      For the most part I like it better than DAO too but I’ll admit that the combination of enemies with insta-kills and reinforcements spawning right on top of my party made combat a much more frustrating experience.

      That said I actually really like that the ending plays out pretty much the same way regardless of which side you take. It may have been largely driven by the need to not have the storylines diverge too much for the sequel but it plays as a repudiation of the great man theory of history trope that drives heroic fantasy and rpgs. Sure, your choices might matter to you and to the people around you but ultimately you’re just another inconsequential cog and the world is going to roll on no matter what you do.

      • blue vodka lemonade

        @Fluka:disqus Does this club meet in a mysteriously abandoned warehouse down at the docks? I think I know the place.

        I don’t mind the final choice not making that much of a difference, but I do want to see how the party reactions differ. I think I got everybody to 100% friendship except Merrill, who ended up 100% my rival because I didn’t give her the Mystic Knife of Tír na nÓg or whatever.

        It took me a while to warm to having a voice-acted Hawke, though in the end it contributed greatly to the feel that I was playing as a person instead of a bland ideal like my Warden. I also appreciated the ability to play as a sarcastic jerk, and that it didn’t take twenty minutes of fiddling with sliders to get good bone structure.

        I think my character-creation record is still Oblivion, where I spent about an hour making my avatar look reasonably attractive. Then I saw what everyone else looks like in that game, realized I was literally the prettiest lady on the continent, and sighed deeply.

        • http://twitter.com/MasterPrudent Glen H

          I’d say probably not worth it. Legacy is mostly a whole bunch of combat with some semi-jucy lore bits divulged right at the end. Mark of the Assassin is a little more varied but has a tone that shifts wildly from very goofy to very dark and serious. (I never played the Exiled Prince, although I understand it involves Leliana.)

        • Fluka

          Maaaaybe.  There, or this one cave out by the beach.  All members also get a complimentary moth-eaten scarf!

    • Fluka

      Yeah, agreed 100% on DA2 (though I love DAO too).  There is a small secret club of people here at Gameological who think that #2 is not only good but better than the first.  We’ll get you your secret membership ring soon.  Don’t wear it in public!  It’s dangerous!

  • Electric Dragon

    I really REALLY want to be playing XCOM, but it won’t run on my present system. So instead of gazing longingly at new components and adding up costs, I’m going to go back to New Vegas, having set it aside for Mass Effect 3 (even the extended cut ending is rather disappointing, and why the final save point can’t just be at the point you have to make the decision I have no idea). Fortunately I’m off work next week so now’s the time to try and finish NV.

    • Electric Dragon

      Change of plan. I am now playing the game known as PC Repair, but am stuck on the mission Why Won’t My PC Boot Up?. It’s a kind of scientific detective game, in which you have to try to determine the problem on the basis of very little evidence by trying various solutions and seeing if they work. I have ruled out “Power Supply Problem”, “Hard Disk Crash”, “Monitor Not Working” and “CMOS Battery Failure” as causes but have to accept that the nebulous “Motherboard Failure” is a real possibility.

  • Gameological Society Commenter

    This weekend I will be finishing Dear Esther. What a wonderfully unique experience; its ethereal qualities and atmosphere remind me of one of my personal favorites, The Color Purple Super Boxing for the SNES. The evocative and nuanced themes of love and loss resonate intrinsically on many levels and have often made one question one’s own place in the universe. *swats Doritos crumbs off t-shirt*

    I will also try and fit in some more Binding of Isaac. I realized after looking at Steam that I have logged over 200 hours on this game! I will continue to play until I unlock the Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat and Gold Embossed Lion of Arimathea characters.

    And I am looking forward to playing some tabletop strategy games with my Mom and siblings on Saturday evening. My favorite one is a gripping mix of mystery, intrigue, excitement, critical thinking and a profound sense of advancement as the game progresses. I like to play as the green hippo.

    And as always will be playing with my cats, Bowser and Darth Fluffywumpkins.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I hope this post is deadly earnest, and that you’ll actually be doing all of these things (to the extent that these things exist), letting your role as a simulacrum bleed from the comment boards and start to dominate your physical life.

      • stakkalee

        I look forward to the day GSC gets a call-out in a KG article, and then the long, slow slide as whoever’s behind the gimmick account starts to blur the edges between parody and authentic opinion.  Gimmick accounts can be some of the most taxing, intellectually-challenging posts to write.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      You sound like the love-child of Jenna Marbles and Chris Franklin.

    • Citric

      Oh how I wish The Color Purple Super Boxing on the SNES was real.

    • fieldafar

      Serious reply, I have Dear Esther as well but I don’t know if I should approach it as a game or a ‘novel’.

  • Cheese

    In the queue, in no particular order: XCOM, Borderlands 2, Guild Wars 2, Torchlight 2. That’s just the top tier. I have at least that many further back in the queue. For the first time I’m really feeling like my damn job is getting in the way of my playing video games.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      Guild Wars 2 for my wife and I.  It appears that most of the others on here that played have stopped?  I may get bored with it in a week or two and move on to something else.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        I’m still playing it when I can find the time, but I’m having a strangely hard time finding things to do in-game. There just don’t seem to be many quests, so leveling is more about frantically pursuing any source of XP than anything else.

  • stakkalee

    All that talk on Wednesday about classic RPGs got me thinking about one of my favorites, the original SSI gold-box Pool of Radiance from 1988, which I originally played on my Commodore 128.  So last night I finally got around to loading DosBox on my new laptop and I went and found copies of PoR and the 3 sequels.  I fired up PoR, with it’s clunky graphics, terrible sound, and confusing keyboard commands, and suddenly it’s 5 hours later, well past midnight, and I’m saying to myself “Shit, you have to go to work in 3 hours!”  I cleared out a troll infestation in the western slums, killed Norrath the Grey and his bandit hordes (netting myself a sweet hq in the cavern below Kuto’s Well,) got into a tavern brawl, and I’m now on my way to clean the undead out of Sokal’s Keep.  This game rocks so hard.

    • duwease

       Oh god, I played so much of those Gold Box games back in the day.  You know there’s more than just the Pool of Radiance 4, right?  There’s a couple of other D&D related worlds that got a game or two.

      Pro-tip for the very last part of the very last game though.. (not a spoiler): It will tell you that you can’t have any magic items for the final area, but in fact you can have one.. a Ring of Electrical Resistance.  And it’s 100% REQUIRED to beat the final encounter.  I was so pissed years later when I found that out after trying that encounter a million times at the highest level.. some of those ancient games and their pre-internet hint line money grabs were RUTHLESS.

  • http://arnereport.net/ Arne Kaufmann @ arnereport.net

    I will be playing the fourth episode of The Walking Dead game. Am exited about this. It is like every episode makes it better, but the release schedule is a bit long. Though maybe right, because it still keeps me playing the game, (now three started plays), months later with still new content once in a while. 

    I also bought Faster Than Light a few days ago and did not find the time to really get into it yet. I think I can do this this weekend. 

  • doyourealize

    While games like Dawn of Discovery (as he describes it anyway – I’m unfamiliar with it) make not be educational in the traditional sense, I think they’re probably great brain-training tools. As children, just being able to come up with different solutions to the same problem is probably beneficial, although I don’t know of any research on this. Maybe it’s something he talks about in one of his books, which sound like something I’ll have to get a hold of at some point. I know playing chess, trying to force yourself to think of something other than the immediately apparent solution can vastly improve your game, and maybe even your real life problem solving skills. Video games can do the same thing.

    I’ll be continuing the ridiculously addictive Tokyo Jungle. I’ve unlocked carnivores up to the lyacon, and grazers up to the chimp. The longest I’ve been able to survive is 46 years with the sheep, but running through three areas saturated with lions brought an end to that, although I was able to pass every challenge from E-B. I’d also like to get through more of Torchlight 2, so I’ll be looking for some MP play. Same with Dark Souls.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       A strategy game that has a pretty sophisticated simulation under the hood while also being open-ended with many “win” states (as infinitely many “lose” states) is probably a great way to scaffold complex systematic thinking that is also flexible and able to pursue multiple solutions to a problem. The learning is more tied to the ludic form of the game than the “content” of the game, which contrasts with more intentionally “edutainment” games (Number Munchers, Operation Neptune – I’m showing my age here) where the overt educational content  in unrelated to the gameplay. In the latter, the game kind of functions as a very compelling set of flash cards rather than a “teaching machine” (and this can of course be very effective, too).

      Something like Crusader Kings seems to strike a nice balance between the two, as I imagine a kid who got well and truly engrossed in it would develop both a strong functional awareness of sociopolitical systems, and open-ended problem-solving, while also becoming familiar, in a very fine-grained way, with a period of history that was pretty significant for both Western and Middle-Eastern culture.

      • NarcolepticPanda

        I’ve always been interested in other forms of education having failed to learn anything (not being hyperbolic, completely true) in all of my experiences in formal education.

        Homeschooled for a while and spent much of my time reading and gaming, learning very much from both. For example, I used a baseball video game as a springboard to teaching myself advanced sabermetrics, so that I could analyze my players.

        After homeschooling, skipped ahead to high school and promptly forgot some of what I taught myself, and learned how to write a paragraph from three separate English teachers. Right now, I’m taking college classes and homeschooling, which is a pretty good mix of “stuff to be on an application” and “time to actually learn.” And my C++ class is all new to me, which is refreshing.

        Anyway, question! I’ve read a bit about unschooling, which is a topic my mother learned about prior to my homeschooling, and essentially what we did. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone by any means. I’ve been interested in exploring the idea of “learning through play.” I believe you’re a teacher; do you ever read literature on that stuff? And if so, is there any especially interesting literature you’d recommend?

        Besides this guy, his books sound cool.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I am a teacher! Presently in grad school learning about art education (my degree is in art), but I’ve also taught ESL overseas and preschool. While traditional educational methods worked well for me as a student, as a (learning) teacher I recognize they’re broken for many/most learners, and am interested in progressive/alternative methods (this probably also ties into my being drawn to art ed and early childhood ed, where there’s more flexibility and room for different teaching and learning styles…at least until they find a way to subject those spheres to standardized testing…).

          While I don’t have much experience with homeschooling or “unschooling,” a brief look at its core tenets show an emphasis on experiential learning, which is gaining more traction in institutional education through philosophies like Expeditionary Learning, which are more student-motivated, project-based ways of teaching. I had a chance to visit a local Expeditionary Learning public school, and it seemed pretty great. Reggio Emilia is another really interesting educational approach that is likewise very project/play-based and student-centered (and has art and creative expression pretty central to its philosophy, which I appreciate).

          More relevant to this site (and she’s someone I’ve brought up here before) is the work of Katie Salen, a games designer and director of the Institute for Play, who founded Ques2Learn, a NY public school where the pedagogical philosophy is rooted in game design, and the students learn through engaged interactions and productive play.

          Because I’m in school, most of my reading has been articles in academic journals and stuff that are probably too nichey, and behind pay walls. There is some literature outside the ivory tower that you might enjoy exploring:

           While I’m not sold on her thesis, Jane McGonigal’s book Reality if Broken is a pretty significant voice in the conversation.

          Kylie Peppler, one of the designers of the kids programming environment Scratch has done a lot of work, and written a lot of articles about kids and digital media and learning through game design. I just read her Media Arts: Arts Education for a Digital Age, which is a great summary of an after-school program she led, and includes an anecdote about a barely-literate student with a variety of learning delays who managed to create some relatively sophisticated interactive art, and used that experience to scaffold toward traditional literacy, which is kind of inspiring.

          The foundational text for almost any discussion of play’s role in culture is Homo Ludens by Johan Huizenga.

          Anyway, that’s probably more than you needed to know (and I’ve certainly provided that gimmick poster plenty of fodder for mockery), but hopefully within that wall of text there are a few threads you’ll enjoy following.

        • NarcolepticPanda

          Hey, thanks @paraclete_pizza:disqus ! I haven’t heard of Salen or McGonigal, so I’ll be sure to check them out when I have the time.

          I almost attended one of those project-based, student-led schools as a child, but it was WAY out in suburbia, and I live in the inner-inner-city, so my parents ultimately decided it couldn’t happen. 

          My little brother is going to a suburban school (guess my parents love him more…) where he’s in a gifted class that sometimes uses Scratch. He really enjoys experimenting with it whenever the opportunity arises. Maybe I’ll live vicariously through him and force him to become a video game designer.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus @NarcolepticPanda:disqus I would also recommend just skimming McGonigal’s work.  It’s important to know but not great enough to read deeply.  Of course, make up your own mind.

          I hope The Gameological Society does a games-in-education feature, as I and many others, I know, have a lot of background and thoughts on it. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Because of your unconventional track, I have a hard time getting a bead on your age/ed level, but it seems like you’re young enough that there’s no need to live vicariously through your brother – especially if you’re taking a college level C++ course now, and haven’t yet enrolled in college. Your brother may have Scratch class as a gateway drug to programmatic thinking, but it seems like you’ve leapfrogged that and gone right to the real stuff. 
          And of course, Scratch is free, so you can play with it if you want. Though if you’re already doing C++, I might recommend you go ahead and play with more powerful, code-based, free tools like Processing, which is a language/tool designed for making interactive art, or something like Haxe, which is a programming language that is similar to C++/Java/etc. but can easily output to Flash, iOS, and a bunch of other platforms. (There’s a port of Flixel, which is a great 2-D Actionscript game library I use sometimes, for Haxe.) And of course there are more visual tools like Game Maker, which your programming skills will help you take the most advantage of beyond the traditional “drag and drop” construction.

          I would recommend going to college/university – even if it’s an “institution,” it’s a completely different animal than high school and will probably suit your self-motivated learning style more. I’m not sure about putting all your eggs in one basket and going specifically to a “game design” college, but if you do, THIS seems like a pretty good guide to avoiding the scammy programs. And if it’s something you dream of doing, better you live that dream than your brother live it for you (especially if he doesn’t particularly WANT that dream…).

        • NarcolepticPanda

          Haha, I was being sarcastic. My brother is much more interested in video games than I was at his age, probably due to being around them, whereas I was an only child until he came along. He was really excited when he figured out how to run Pacman on Scratch, but I’ve never asked if he’d want to work with video games. Right now his ideal career is monster truck driver.

          I actually think it’s really cool that he gets to experiment with technology. I attended a Waldorf school at his age (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education), which are wonderful for certain types of children, but NOT me. Waldorf schools don’t have any sort of technological access, and I wish I could have been in an enviroment like the one my brother is in now.

          I’ve never considered going to college for game design, and probably never will. I’m not THAT, for lack of a better term, obsessed with video games. I enjoy them, play them quite a bit, and find the learning-based application of games in general, not just video games, quite interesting. I’m more interested in broader fields like engineering and physics, that could be applied in game design, but are also useful in pretty much everything.

          By the way, going against every single Internet safety PSA, I’m 14, my brother’s 7.

  • boardgameguy

    On the table top front, i’ll likely get a play of NUNS ON THE RUN in this weekend.  on PC, i’m hoping to start BASTION.  i’ve heard good things.

  • Bad Horse

    My continuing mission to explore strange old games I’ve never played continues this weekend with more Beyond Good & Evil. I am maybe 4 hours in and finding it 100% awesome.

  • ToddG

    I’ll be continuing through (and perhaps finishing) Dishonored.  I’m not enjoying it as much as the reviews led me to believe I would, but it is still quite good.

  • signsofrain

    Let’s see… I’ve been putting off the HL2:Ep3 final boss battle for months. I recently replaced by busted old Sega Genesis so my Genesis games are now available to me. I’m eager to try out Pier Solar, which I got in the mail a few weeks ago and have been waiting to try out. I’m about 2 hours into Bastion but I keep getting sidetracked by Minecraft and Left 4 Dead 2. (I’ve got about 1100 hours of L4D2 and I’m still not tired of it) also I’ll probably play a little Quake 3: Arena deathmatch with my friend in the evenings. I definitely want to play Dishonored! I might go grab it after work….

  • LupinYonsei

    Xenosaga Episode II — I am hurrying through it to get to III. Finally hooked up the ps2 to my HDTV!

  • Fluka

    I am scrambling to put together talks and results for a meeting next week, so I am returning to Debugging Code as my primary game again.  I think I’d described it a few months ago as an old-school point-and-click adventure game, where a single bad decision earlier in the game forces you to reload an earlier save file and start again.  That is still correct.  But it now seems to have developed roguelike elements as well!  We switched our whole framework to C++2011 two weeks ago, and this seems to have resulted in a bunch of random bugs and segfaults.  Every time I enter a new “room” of code, I’m not sure if it’ll be calm, with lots of stable features and cool research drops, or a horrible hellscape of random deep segmentation faults and data structure inconsistencies.  Worse, sometimes I’ll think one code is safe, but then I return later, and WHY IS IT BROKEN NOW.  Right now, my code package is like a ship in FTL, and it is entirely on fire.

    Otherwise, scattered Skyrim playing.  Got my sneaky Argonian Maid hitched to this hunk, and then did a lot of smithing.  Sacrificed one of my followers in order to get some sweet armor.  That’s pretty much it.  Might try to wrap up the Thieves Guild quest this weekend, if I have time.

    Also, huge new Mass Effect 3 DLC announced!  Aria as squadmate!  And proving that BioWare has *personally* been listening to my complaints on this website these past two weeks, AWW YISS FEMALE TURIANS.

  • Citric

    Probably a bit of Tokyo Jungle, though I did get a bit too addicted to it last weekend, so I’m trying to scale back so I don’t hate it, since it’s a bit repetitive.

    Then! GTAIV maybe, though I’m still not sure I’m a fan of it.

    Later! Odin Sphere? I’m terrible at this game, incidentally, so progress has been slow. Plus I’m in one of those areas that requires drinking a special potion first, and that makes an annoying noise.

    Plus! Treasures of the Rudras, which I still like a lot.

    Also! Radia Senki, which I won’t look at for a week and then will suddenly accomplish a fair bit. 

    • doyourealize

      I had the same thoughts about Tokyo Jungle, but I don’t know that I’d ever come back to it if I stopped playing, so I think I’m just gonna wear it out and see what happens.

  • fieldafar

    This weekend will probably be occupied by Borderlands 2 co-op with my brother, so that should be fun.

    Hopefully I’ll also be able to start with XCOM as well.

    • The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg

       I ruined BL2 for myself by getting the best gear.

      The Bee Shield breaks the game, and the Conference Call shotgun combined with it shovels the dirt over the grave of any kind of challenge.  The scary thing is that, even with the DLC coming next week, I think I’ll still be having the same problem.

      Until the level cap goes up, I’ll be able to just mindlessly mash buttons on my way to each boss that I’ll kill on the first try.

      The whole point of the game, after finishing play-through 2, is to get the best gear.  Once you’ve gotten it (due mostly to The Bee shield), the game pretty much loses all of its appeal.  I kill Terramorphus solo in about 9 seconds.

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    I’m gonna spend some time with Dota 2 I think, now that they’ve updated it a few times since i’ve last played it. Pretty excited about that, though I’m worried I may be rusty. WOOOO.

    • doyourealize

      Still haven’t tried my hand at this yet. Part of that is the knowledge that I’m not a huge strategy game fan, and part of that is because I’m afraid I’ll fall into the trap of always playing that game.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        PLAY IT PLAY IT PLAY IT!

        It is so much fun. And the feeling you get when you pull off successful plays is just fucking fantastic. It’s not so much a strategy game as a tactics game. There is a gigantic learning curve, but there are also loads of guides people have put together over the years. And there is always something more to learn about it. The depth is a huge draw for me.

        Mostly though it’s a lot of fun when you have a regular group to play with. I usually play with some IRL buddies of mine, but I would definitely be up for playing with a Gameological team. 

        If you’re in the beta message me on steam and I’ll probably be able to round up a group of five so you wouldn’t have to worry about people raging, which is by far the worst aspect of the game. I can also help show you (or anyone else) the ropes.

  • OrangeLazarus

    Isn’t this guy next in line to inherit Downton Abbey?

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    At first glance, I really thought Johnson was Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey.
       I was hoping he’d talk about Plot Device: The Game, where all the characters either die or inexplicably leave when they run out of narrative steam.

    • Citric

      What, Final Fantasy IV?

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        *snicker*

    • http://www.facebook.com/salonisingh9 Saloni Singh

      Thank you! I have thought this for ages. I have a copy of The Ghost Map and his author photo on the back cover looks so much like Dan Stevens. I tried googling to see if anyone else had noticed this resemblance :)

  • Andrew Jones

    Bad piggies, topia, and torchlight 2. To many games of LoL to remember and my ping time… Zomg so many disconnects today.

  • duwease

    Tokyo Jungle.  I’m gonna make those Pomeranians strong enough to take down a dinosaur…

  • JohnnyLongtorso

    Started on Dishonored this evening. It’s not bad, but it’s really pushing the Bioshock buttons hard with all of the retro-future tech, old-timey setting, and random crazy people. I also have a hard time being patient enough to do stealthy stuff. The teleport thing is pretty nifty, though.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/F4HP4DTBQ2IBCTQU5TTBVXKJTY Andy

    I’m playing mortal kombat and the first dead space. I know DS1 is a bit out-dated but I heard the second one won’t be as good if you don’t play the first