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We, The Terrified, Average Souls of Los Santos

Written by Jordan Rivas

Grand Theft Auto 5 makes one of the most surprising self-commentaries I’ve encountered in a long time: the average person likes the violence in Grand Theft Auto because they’re average.

For a long time, we – the ones who toil away spewing our best attempts at piercing commentary about interactive media on (relatively) narrowly read corners of the internet – have said, dismissively, that, “average people like the violence in the GTA series,” but I don’t think anyone has made the connection that the masses are drawn to GTA specifically because they feel faceless as part of the masses.

Yet that’s exactly what the game itself postulates. Early on in the game, Grand Theft Auto 5 gives players an opportunity to visit a therapist as Michael, one of the protagonists in the game. The visit serves as a stage set up so Rockstar can give their best case for why they do what they do, or at least so they can take their best guess at why people seem to like it so much.

As Michael starts to go into why his life is going so bad, and some of the recent troubles he’s had, his therapist rightly observes that Michael feels the … Read More »


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This is a post about SWTOR and Killing Anarchists

Written by Jordan Rivas

In Star Wars The Old Republic you kill “anarchists” a lot.

You kill lots of people actually. Even as a Jedi, part of an order established around the idea of peaceful interaction and force only as a means of defense, you’re asked to slaughter droves of people. In many instances that violence is contextualized; often it’s represented as a part of righting a wrong, rescuing or defending innocents, or otherwise justified.

The mission is often contextualized, but enemies mostly aren’t. There are bosses, main antagonists that participate in driving the action of the story throughout a quest, chapter, or the entire class storyline for your character. They have some depth, and backstory. They have motivations that are explored; they can be reasoned with. But there are also scores of low level enemies littered along the path to the adversaries that have proper names and backstories.

Depending on your faction – Republic or Imperial – you’ll battle a mixture of different enemy types. But both factions in the game tend to fight a lot of generic enemies labeled something like “thug” or “White Maw Pirate” – something that clearly indicates they are a threat to you regardless of whether … Read More »


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This is a post about acting, Sara Kestelman, and Knights of the Old Republic II

Written by Jordan Rivas

This is an article about acting. If you’d like to start by watching a bit from the performance being discussed, before reading, skip to the bottom of the page, just after the header “TL;DR” for a video.

One of my favorite performances ever was given by Sara Kestelman, in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. She played Kreia, a sage steeped in the twilight who was neither Jedi nor Sith, but a teacher of both the Light and Dark sides of the Force.

Kestelman’s performance as Kreia is so memorable it wipes away arbitrary divisions that try to dissect a single art form. She acts so well her acting defies labels like “voice over acting” and “video game acting” and is only rightly described by more relevant terms – compelling acting, believable acting, thought provoking acting.

The character of Kreia is morally ambiguous, and her dialogue sharply written. That’s compelling on it’s own, but Kestelman’s performance is mesmerizing. Her delivery is unerringly subtle; even her directness has undertone. She’s unnerving at times, comforting at others. There’s a distance in her voice that makes her sound almost hollow, but a conviction that leaves a … Read More »


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After Mass Effect: The Changing Landscape of RPGs and Mass Effect 2

Written by Jordan Rivas

Mass Effect 2 changed everything. It was the action that did it — the shooting. It wasn’t just the emphasis on it, but the polish of it. It didn’t just change the series, it was part of a rapid tidal wave that reshaped the RPG genre.

And I liked it.

Some people didn’t like it. They lamented the change from older Bioware games like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Knights of the Old Republic. Even the original Mass Effect focused more on character build, weapon customization, and party arrangement. And those stats that were crunched under the hood had more to do with your result in combat than your proficiency with aim and reflex.

In a small way, I lamented that change also.

I liked the older style western RPGs. In addition to the Bioware titles I just mentioned, I liked Knights of the Old Republic II, Jade Empire, Fallout 1 & 2, and even Morrowind to some extent. There was something other than the action-reaction loop of downing enemies in those games that made them compelling. Trying to explore their particular charms would take several articles. But suffice it to say their time is now gone, and … Read More »


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The next strategy game from “A.I. War” Developer Arcen Games: Skyward Collapse

Written by Jordan Rivas

Back in 2010, Arcen Games founder Chris Park told me it might be five years before the studio returned to the strategy genre that put them on the map with their first title — A.I. War. This past week Arcen announced their return to the strategy genre with Skyward Collapse, a title that’s shaping up to be vastly different than A.I War.

Skyward Collapse is a 4X god-game in which you attempt to balance two warring factions, supporting both sides to maximize their war efforts without allowing an imbalance that leads to the total annihilation of either faction.

Your score in the game is going to be based on the lowest of the two factions, so keeping them within a tight range of each other is necessary to avoid losing, but achieving a high score means having to ratchet up each side’s war effort.

Peacekeeping isn’t the goal. Your goal in the game is to keep both factions going successfully in a war that neither of them can win. The goal is war, big time war, just as long as it isn’t the kind that leaves one side in ruins. The strange juxtaposition is that of carnage with … Read More »