Jam of the Week – May 10th

Of all the indie games, and all the throwback soundtracks, and all the retro platformers, and all the mind-bending puzzle games, and all the innovative ideas that have flourished from auteur game designers, Fez stands on the top.

That’s why the Jam of the Week is Beacon from Fez. A trippy little tune that manages to be wonderous and haunting at the same time. Enjoy!

Jam of the Week – April 19th

This week’s jam comes from the Professor Layton series. While every track in this series features calm, contemplative music to help set the tone for its various puzzles, Curtain of Night might be my favorite. It’s gentle use of accordion and piano gives the music a European feel that matches up nicely with the proper Professor and the overall setting from this game, the Curious Village. Enjoy!

Jam of the Week – March 29th

This week’s jam comes from the ultra-violent and ultra-neon Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. It’s a quiet, almost ambient track which contrasts the game play where the player is shooting people and splattering their blood all over random mansions. It’s a great song and shows how experimentation in music can find its way even in the standardized world of video game music.

The Question We Must All Ask of Ourselves

As a thirty year old man with a wife and two kids, sometimes video games can feel like the furthest thing from my mind. I coach my kids in sports, try to help my wife out around the house, and am currently working on my PhD. Time is at a premium most of the time. So, occasionally when I spend several hours on the weekend playing video games, I have to ask myself, “Why waste my valuable time playing video games?”

wastingtime

It’s a question that I both ask of myself and receive from people who I tell about my research interests (which are in play and game studies, bringing in video games as an aspect of composing persuasive and expressive texts). So, I’ve had plenty of time to think and dwell on this question because it is one that repeatedly comes up, either internally or externally.

The question of “Why waste time playing video games” isn’t all that different form a lot of the types of questions society likes to throw at people when they aren’t immediately “working” or selling the labor (for my fellow Marxist’s in the audience). Whether it is a hobby or lesiure activity, we are constantly asked to justify the existence of non-work related activities.

When it comes to video games, I have attempted to answer this question by evoking some of the underlying assumptions of the question: that video games are a waste of time, energy, and money, that video games don’t carry any cultural value, that video games don’t impart any skills or lasting effects beyond an increase in aggressive behavior (all of these are false by the way).

 

I’ve talked about the ways in which video games improve cognition, improve meta-awareness and self-reflection, improve hand-eye coordination, offer opportunities for socialization, reward players for innovative thinking and analytical reading, and so on.

But more and more, these answers (though research continues to prove these as truer and truer), feel less satisfactory and more as a way to justify something I truly feel is great.

 

So, I have a new question that I pose to both myself and to any questioners when the idea of videogames being a waste of time floats by on a capitalist breeze.

 

Why is Mario so fun?

 

shruggingmario

 

This is the question I keep returning to after hours of reading games studies scholarship. While there are certainly great skills and valued processes bolstered and taught by video games, and while there are definitely tangible benefits–both cognitive and social–to playing video games, and while there are video games which critique and offer insight, all of that pales in comparison to the simple idea of having fun.

Fun needs no justification. Fun is both the means and the ends. Fun is fun and that makes it worth while.

I’m going to keep playing and writing about games until I can answer that question. Because, I mean, why is Mario so damn fun?

Jam of the Week – March 22nd

After taking a week off to attend an academic conference, the Jam of the Week is back! This week’s jam is Rose and Ghost from the Secret of Mana soundtrack. Since Square Enix just announced a rerelease of the Mana games for the Nintendo Switch, I thought it would be a nice time to feature some of the gorgeous music from my favorite game of all time: Secret of Mana. This soft, haunting tune plays as you enter the town of Pandora and discover its citizens are all under its spell. A perfect pairing of game narrative and game audio. Enjoy.

Jam of the Week – March 8th

Animal Crossing’s music is so good, there is a Chrome extension that plays the appropriate music for the specific time zone you are in. Animal Crossing’s music is so good, they designed the 3DS to be able to play the music even with the unit shut. Animal Crossing’s music is so good, its the  jam of the week.  1 AM from New Leaf is an excellent example of how simple, clear music can lead to a haunting, melancholy melody. It’s beautiful.

Jam of the Week – February 22nd

 

This week’s jam comes from Undertale. While the whole soundtrack is gorgeous, the eponymous track “Undertale” does a great job of acting as a metonym for the game. It is a touch melancholy and drifting before building into a hopeful, more uptempo beat that ends up feeling like a hot shower after a dusty day. Just perfect.