Two Minute Game Crit – Rabbit Rush

 

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Transcript:

If you head over to Google right now and run a search for Rabbit Rush you’ll find… absolutely nothing, because it’s no longer available. But if it were available, you’d find one of the most interesting games you’d ever play.

It goes like this.

[Titles]

Rabbitville is overpopulated, and it’s your job to command its excess rabbits and conquer neighbouring towns. It’s very simple – click on the rabbits here then drag to a nearby building, and you see them moving. They fill up the building and it’s yours. If the building is occupied by another town’s rabbits, send more of your own to take it over.

Then onto the next one, and the next one. It’s so gloriously compulsive. The glowing lights, the sounds, the cheer of your rabbits when they take a house, the flare when you grab a power-up. It entrances you as you spread your little empire.

But before long, someone sends you a message – “hey how’s it going” – and they say, click on the carrot in the store for a quick hack.

Once you do, the game breaks and you exit into this eerie arcade. You find these notes scattered around from a dear friend you keep missing, and outside, a line of shops light up as you pass – “all that you see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

What follows is a dream sequence based around different forms of media – some are types of games, others are types of photography or literature, and so on. As you cycle through these different scenarios, you learn more about your relationship with your missing friend, as the world repeats and degrades. Every now and again you return to the arcade game, Rabbit Rush, to find some solace, but always it’s more warped, more traumatic.

It’s only a short game but it’s so full of joy, sadness, hope, and paranoia. Each transition from one media form to the next carries such a complexity of emotion.

I love this game for how it uses the form of each sequence to convey a narrative of self-discovery and the dangers of retreating into nostalgic dreams of the past.


 

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Two Minute Game Crit – Virtue’s Last Reward and The Chinese Room

 

This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

There’s a bit in Virtue’s Last Reward where you’re just about to escape from a puzzle room when you’re interrupted by a friendly Cockney robot, who talks to you about The Chinese Room, and then explodes and is never mentioned again.

This is one of the most fascinating scenes in a game already full of interesting ideas and in this Two Minute Game Crit, starring me, Stephen Beirne, I’d like to discuss why.

So what is The Chinese Room? The Chinese Room is a thought experiment presented by John Searle to refute the idea that computers can have a mind the same way people do.

Imagine there’s a woman locked in a room. Every now and again somebody slips a note in Chinese through a slot in the door. Your wan can’t read Chinese but conveniently she has a book of Chinese phrases, so she writes down what looks like a response and slips it back through the door. As far as the person on the outside is aware here’s a system which understands Chinese, even though neither the room as a metaphorical robot nor the woman inside it have any clue what’s going on.

The point Searle makes is there’s a difference between actually having a mind which understands something and merely simulating having one.

But Cockney Robot Friend draws a different conclusion. He says a computer being programmed is the same as a person being socialized. A mind, like knowledge of Chinese, isn’t a hard fast thing that people “actually” have or don’t have. Rather it’s a matter of perception.

This lines up with Virtue’s Last Reward’s thing where reality is literally defined by the ideas of people and where people are vessels filled by ideas from their surroundings and communities. If a group of people is traitorous, the world seems harsh and hopeless.

Whereas for Searle consciousness is intrinsic, in Virtue’s Last Reward consciousness is extrinstic and transitive, shared between people. We can only say someone understands Chinese because there are others who agree she understands Chinese. Individually people are unknowable but together they form a pattern of semantics.

If this seems weird consider it another way:

If you take a puzzle or a mystery novel and isolate just one single clue, you’ll never figure out its relevance. But by putting it together with all the other clues and examining the whole you get the truth.


 

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Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn’t speak

Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn't speak

Artwork by Crush

This piece is community funded. If you enjoyed this article, please support my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron. 

You should first know two things about China Miéville’s Embassytown. One: it has a pullquote on the front cover from Ursula K. Le Guin branding it as “a fully achieved work of art”. Two: the back cover summary so confused me that I fled to the nearest young adult fiction, which happened at the time to be Railsea, as I was cornered by a small army of Miévilles as if in ultimatum.

Keep those in mind when I say, to talk about the structure of Embassytown is to juggle sand. It’s a wonderful, fascinating, elusive beast, in part because of a thematic richness to which I can’t do justice here, and in part because of its structural metacommentary on left-wing politics in colonial states, to which I can. It’s mainly elusive because of what the end of Embassytown says about the start of Embassytown. And since this is a book interested in describing the breach of a world-shattering status quo change, it’s elusive because in the fuzzy emotional space of newfound self-awareness, my mind four hundred pages ago is estranged to my mind now. Continue reading

Thoughts on nearby covers

Thoughts on some covers - Alien Trilogy

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One of my most vivid videogame-related childhood memories is this. In July of 1996, my brother, the middle one, had done our mam no favours by asking for a copy of Alien Trilogy for his birthday. Despite the game having launched four months earlier, which in modern terms would have made it a hundred years old by July, nowhere in our area had any copies in stock. By which I mean, none of the three local video rental shops had it in stock, because this was Ireland at a time when the commercial exchange of games was a novel quirk and not a viable business angle.

Packed into the car were we for a rare trip to The Tallaght Square, famous in our minds for reason number one of being the only remotely accessible shopping centre in the greater Dublin area at a time before Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley. Reason number two for its fame was that it was pyramidal, not square, and this for us, pre-internet, constituted a joke whose humour was always worth revisiting.

So it was immediately a bit of a journey just to find this game, and when we did recover a copy in The Square, it felt all the more of a treasure. I’m sure there were other errands on that trip but my memory tells me it was the only thing we came away with. My brothers and I passed the box around for the long drive home, poring over the manual and delighting in anticipation of what the box cover suggested, foreboding the Alien’s imminent pounce. Once at home we put it on and certainly thrilled in the experience, but now I suspect I didn’t enjoy it half as much I did its prelude.

Perhaps it’s because back then we had fewer games and an over-abundance of free time that we would so patiently gorge on a game’s extra material like aesthetes at an art museum. Now, as I have no lack of the former but absolute lack of the latter, I seldom consciously dwell on a game’s cover as intensely as I used to. While I still variably note my appreciation for or dislike of any given box art, I don’t study what I enjoy about it and savour the anticipation or place it in context, beyond exceptional circumstances. I miss that.

So, with my limited vocabulary, I’d like to take a spell to put that sort of mindfulness to a platoon of games stationed at hand beside me, them dust-coated sentries what have kept me company these past years of working and writing. Continue reading

Two Minute Game Crit – Zone of the Enders 2 and AI

 

This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

In a recent issue of Five out of Ten Magazine I wrote an article about the idea of technological determinism in Zone of the Enders 2. Technological determinism is the theory that a society’s forward direction is defined by the technologies available to it. Or in other words…

NOHMAN: “Since the dawn of history, Human beings have realised various forms of energy. Civilizations have progressed with them.”

I want to expand on this with regards to artificial intelligence, which crops up in Zone of the Enders through the characters of ADA and Viola.

So as you can see this is a hack and slash action game based around mech combat, and ADA is the AI installed in your mech.

KEN: “ADA, please look after him.”

ADA: “If I have to.”

She’s gas, and even though she’s clearly her own person, at the end of the day she’s still got it in her head to be subservient to humans because of her programming. Despite how some people encourage her, she doesn’t value her own life.

DINGO: “How can you throw away your life for no reason?”

ADA: “I don’t need a reason.”

On the other side of things is the Viola AI, a rabidly destructive machine modelled after the personality of a tenacious soldier named Viola. The AI’s a success insofar as it mimics her combat abilities, but totally fails to capture her essence.

Whereas the original was “immortal” through sheer force of will, the Viola AI replicates this passion for life through deceit – it’s actually just being mass-produced, not resurrected.

Here we have two different degrees of AI, one wholly synthetic, the other amalgamated from some abstract concept of humanity. In practise, the main difference between the two is the Viola AI is in every way a wholly vapid automaton, completely derivative, while ADA is an entirely new type of lifeform.

Viola is a zombie. ADA is a frontier.

Viola’s a T-1000. ADA’s a Tachikoma.

…One more.

Viola’s the Borg, ADA is Mr Data.

Now, unlike Shodan or GLaDOS, Zone of the Enders isn’t interested in framing AI as some harbinger of doom. Instead it’s much more interested in similarities, like the way humankind and AI-kind are equally suffocated by the militarism that results from technological determinism.

People like Viola are made as cogs for this relentless engine, and miraculous creatures like ADA are thought as void of sentience as the soulless Viola AI.

Now, if you’re not convinced that humanity objectifies itself by objectifying AI, just trust me. Because…

DINGO: “You should take time to worry about the meaning of your existence later.”

(Also)

DINGO: “I’ll get rid of it while you’re doing your homework at home.”

 


 

 

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