clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The New Yorker's archives are free - here's a guide to some of its best gaming stories

New, 10 comments

The New Yorker this week announced not only a sweeping redesign of their website, but that they were throwing open the gates to their archives, granting everyone free access to stories going back to 2007.

The free access only lasts the summer, so best to get reading and if you're into video game articles we've got a few solid suggestions for you.

The New Yorker has a long history of thoughtful, interesting takes on video games, its creators and the culture that surrounds gaming.

Here's a great place to start your summer New Yorker reading, but make sure to let us know in comments if you find other great gems:

"The Paranoid Principle" is a fascinating piece about Microsoft's decision to enter the video gaming fray.

Money quote

"The failures may seem costly, but by enduring them Microsoft insures that history doesn't pass it by. The company perpetually operates on the paranoia principle; no threat is too improbable to ignore. This has helped Microsoft remain, in the face of repeated enemy incursions, one of the most profitable companies in the world. Sony, after all, could be wrong about the PlayStation 2; maybe it will prove to be little more than a souped-up Atari. But Microsoft won't wait to find out."

"Pimps and Dragons is an interesting look at the people who play and people who made Ultima Online back in 2001.

Money quote

"I couldn't tell whether the event was an expression of morbid fun or another reflection of the gaming world's perverse optimism, but, whichever it was, the mood was upbeat. No one I spoke to appeared terribly concerned about finding a new job, and perhaps with good reason. I hung around for a while listening to Garriott theorize about the future of the gaming industry, and then I headed back up the hill to my rental car, past the bonfire, now cheerfully consuming a seven-foot-high stack of useless U.O.2 documents."

"Game Master" is The New Yorker's profile on Will Wright written in 2006 on the cusp of the release of Spore. He changed the concept of gaming with Sims, the article states, can he do it again with Spore?

Money quote

"At a certain point in the performance, the crazy ambition of Spore became clear: Wright was proposing to simulate the limitless possibility of life itself. The simulation falls between Darwinism and intelligent design, into new conceptual territory. Wright had worked out the algorithm for life, as described by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea." Dennett writes, "Here, then, is Darwin's dangerous idea: the algorithmic level is the level that best accounts for the speed of the antelope, the wing of the eagle, the shape of the orchid, the diversity of species, and all the other occasions for wonder in the world of nature. . . . Can it really be the outcome of nothing but a cascade of algorithmic processes feeding on chance?" The old dream of the M.I.T. hackers who came up with Spacewar-to re-create life on a computer-was coming true forty years later, right here in the Spore Hut, in the form of a spindly, striped creature that looked a little like Will Wright himself."

"The Grammar of Fun" is an examination of Epic Games and CliffyB by game journo and game writer Tom Bissell.

Money quote

"The novelist Nathan Englander, a fan of the game, cites its third-person viewpoint, in which the player looks over the shoulder of the character being controlled, as a key to its success. "In literary terms," Englander told me, "it's a close-second-person shooter. It's Jay McInerney and Lorrie Moore territory. You're both totally involved and totally watching." As for the collapsed architecture and blown-open spaces of the Gears world, Englander said, "There's the hospital from ‘Blindness' and the house from ‘The Ghost Writer,' and I know that beautiful, ruined world of Gears as well as either of those."

"Painkiller Deathstreak" seems to be one of the most referenced New Yorker pieces on video games by other New Yorker articles about video games. There's a reason why: Nicholson Baker's details his first experiences playing video games and explains them in a way that helps everyone understand their attraction.

Money quote

"I think it's time for me to take a break. No war, no gods, no bounties, no kill chains, no vengeance. No convoys in Afghanistan. Just end it. Maybe I'll try a game like Flower, for the PlayStation 3, which is a sort of motocross game for wind and petals. Or even go outside, with my pants legs tucked into my socks so that the midsummer ticks don't crawl up my legs. I miss grass."

"Curt Schilling: Hardcore Gamer" is an interview with Schilling about gaming before it ruined him. A story about a baseball player who happens to like a different sort of game.

Money quote

"Gaming, Schilling says, helped him understand baseball, by training him to analyze data. He was one of the first baseball players to carry around a laptop with statistics about what pitches, exactly, batters hit in what directions, exactly. And, a la Steven Johnson, he thinks gaming helps young people develop useful life skills: cooperation and planning, for example. What about the violence?, I asked, knowing that he is a born-again Christian and a family man. Well, the games aren't real, he said. And we can tell the difference: "If your son knows that going down the street and clubbing your neighbor with a mallet is a bad thing, then playing this is O.K."

"Anthropological Video Games" discusses a slew of anthropological video games.

Money quote

"When playing a game, one always takes on a role (banker, shortstop, sword-bearing elf), which involves both identifying with that character and maintaining an awareness of yourself as the player. You're simultaneously a participant and an observer. From a parallel stance, anthropologists have studied the way games teach members of a society to follow cultural rules-often a difficult, stressful undertaking-by establishing play as the safe environment for instruction. Each of these anthropological video games raises the stakes of that dynamic-because you, the player, are playing a game that has been modelled after conditions of the real world."

"The Space Invader" is Simon Parkin's profile of Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of Space Invaders.

Money quote

"Elsewhere, Space Invaders was influencing a generation of game designers. Imitators and mutant variations on the theme filled amusement arcades as game developers gave players ever more elaborate ways to defend Earth. While the game's commercial success was vast, its legacy was more enduring: it laid down the systems, rules, and vocabulary that blockbusters like Halo and Grand Theft Auto use today."

"Why gamers can't stop playing first-person shooters" discusses how first-person shooters combine the perspective, three-dimensionality, violence and escape to create a state in players called "flow" or a condition of absolute presence and happiness.

Money quote

"Control, compounded by a first-person perspective, may be the key to the first-person shooter's enduring appeal. A fundamental component of our happiness is a sense of control over our lives. It is, in fact, "a biological imperative for survival," according to a recent review of animal, clinical, and neuroimaging evidence. The more in control we think we are, the better we feel; the more that control is taken away, the emotionally worse off we become. In extreme cases, a loss of control can lead to a condition known as learned helplessness, in which a person becomes helpless to influence his own environment. And our sense of agency, it turns out, is often related quite closely to our motor actions: Do our movements cause a desired change in the environment? If they do, we feel quite satisfied with ourselves and with our personal effectiveness. First-person shooters put our ability to control the environment, and our perception of our effectiveness, at the forefront of play."

"On video games and storytelling: an interview with Tom Bissell" comes full circle to interview the writer who once wrote about games for The New Yorker. This is a great piece about literature, narrative and gaming.

Money quote

"If combat has any positive attributes, it's that, for a lot of people, it forms the most intense emotional relationships they will ever have with human beings for the rest of their lives. So I think a shooter, which is what Gears is, can awaken some of those borderline-I don't want to say positive attributes of combat, but it does touch on some of the exhilaration of combat. I'm not the first person to suggest that, within the horror of combat, there is something beautiful and exhilarating. The reason shooters are so popular, I think, is that we all want to touch that fire. We want to put our hands in just far enough to feel the heat without actually burning ourselves. In that sense, I'm not entirely sure how different playing video games is from playing Cops and Robbers."