Virginia: Cuts

I went into Virginia with a lot of foreknowledge about its pretensions. I knew it is a narrative-focused game (this is what drew me to it, in fact, as I consider myself a narrative-focused videogames scholar but feel I neglect narrative games for more mainstream faire). I knew it tells its story without dialog. I knew it falls into that vague genre of “David Lynchian.” But what I did not know is just how disorienting an experience Virginia can become due to filmic techniques incorporated into its level design. More remarkable is how, once I grew accustomed to how these techniques functioned within the context of a videogame, I adjusted to the way they altered my understanding of a videogame’s flow.

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Batman: The Telltale Series: Expectations

There is an argument that episodic videogames shouldn’t be reviewed one episode at a time. With a release schedule staggered over months, if not years, the true meaning of an episode may not be apparent; this was true of Episode 3 of The Walking Dead: Season 2, perhaps the most tepidly-received release since Telltale began their creative renaissance with the first The Walking Dead, and it’s also true in Episode 1 of Batman: The Telltale Series, “Realm of Shadows.”

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Batman: The Telltale Series: Familiarity

The ponderously titled Batman: The Telltale Series is the latest videogame I have been drawn to in my quest to recapture the magic of The Walking Dead: The Game. All of Telltale’s output is based on other artist’s work, adapting characters and scenarios to serve the original narrative they want to tell in that setting. I am able to enjoy The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us on a fundamental level because I am detached from their source material entirely, exempt from expectations and preconceptions about characters or events.

Batman, however, is a Telltale franchise I’m already familiar with (except Tales from the Borderlands, which is more a sequel than adaptation and thus doesn’t really count), and is a franchise that’s been adapted and reinterpreted to death for over seventy years. I doubt there’s a person out there with access to some form of mass culture who isn’t familiar with the Batman origin story. So Telltale has quite the job before it: Adapting a character who has been a comic book character for eighty years, featured in innumerable radio series, big screen serials, television series, and at least ten Hollywood movies, and doing something new and original with it.

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Journey: Communication

I have never played Dark Souls.

Stop acting so scandalized. I’d lay odds a majority of people who could pejoratively be referred to as “gamers” haven’t played it. Dark Souls went under my radar when it first came out, and as its reputation and significance has solidified in recent years, I have endeavored to spark an interest in it by asking people who have played it what Dark Souls is about. The conversation, invariably, unfolds as follows:

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Borderlands 2: The Death of Handsome Jack

When the Vault Hunter player character of Borderlands 2 is sent to Thousand Cuts to recruit The Slab King, they happen across an NPC offering a sidequest. The NPC: Face McShooty. His sidequest: “Shoot This Guy in the Face.” Its objective: Shoot Face McShooty in the face. The quest itself is either a hilarious parody or a reductive deconstruction, demonstrating how every objective in a first-person shooter must, inevitably, be reduced to shooting something. But oddly enough, when players finally confront Handsome Jack at the end of Borderlands 2’s core narrative, they are given a choice.

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Borderlands 2: Getting to Know Jack

Given that Borderlands 2 follows a very recognizable three act structure, it’s fairly easy to chart the course of Handsome Jack’s characterization through the plot. In Act I, ending after the mission “Rising Action,” we see Trollish Clown Jack, who taunts the Vault Hunter about things they do not yet know and bragging about his diamond pony. This is Jack at his lightest, more a fool than a menace, a villain but not yet a nemesis. In Act II, continuing through the end of “Where Angels Fear To Tread,” Jack’s frustration after the failure of his plan unveils his threatening side as he takes a more active role in trying to put down the Vault Hunters. But it’s Act III, ending in the ultimate chapter “The Talon of God,” where we finally get to see Jack’s backstory, where we finally see how the man became the monster.

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Borderlands 2: Where Angels Fear to Tread

For over a week now, I have alluded to the events of “Where Angels Fear To Tread,” which is not the true narrative climax of the Borderlands 2 story but is certainly its emotional climax. It’s a typical Act 2 ending where secrets are revealed and characters are killed that cast the remaining protagonists into their darkest moments. In this case, Angel is revealed to be not an Artificial Intelligence, as has been implied throughout the rest of the series, but actually one of the galaxy’s six elusive Sirens. Oh, and she’s also Handsome Jack’s daughter. Tethered irrecoverably in one of her father’s eridium-powered devices, Angel willingly commits suicide-by-Vault Hunter to stop her father and the resurrection of the Vault Key. In retaliation, Jack murders Roland (who cannot revive with a New-U Station because . . . reasons. Just roll with it) and kidnaps Lilith, forcing her to be the new Siren catalyst in his machine. Using the last of her power, Lilith zaps the player back to Sanctuary, where begins the third act.

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