All posts filed under: Games

The Videogame That Takes Us Inside the Hell of a Nazi-Run World

For almost 20 years, Hearts of Iron has been a prominent franchise in the videogame genre known as “grand strategy.” In these games, players don’t command individual characters or armies, but whole nations or even civilizations. In Hearts of Iron, which is now up to its fourth iteration, players lead nations and navigate them through (often fictional) conflicts, alliances, economics crises, and intrigues before and after World War II, exploring alternative historical narratives. What’s more, Paradox Interactive, the developer of Hearts of Iron 4, designed the game in a way that allows gamers to create their own customized versions, often called “mods,” which take the game into radically different timelines. By one count, more than 20,000 mods are available for Hearts of Iron. These include some that fall into the category of “total conversion modifications”—mods that are so ambitious that they effectively create entirely new game systems. A notable example is The New Order: Last Days of Europe, a huge project that crowdsourced the efforts of hundreds of volunteer fans. Since its conception in 2014, …

Are Gamer Stereotypes Accurate?

Back in 2014, the term “Gamergate” swarmed into public consciousness as major news outlets picked up the story of harassment of women—including developers, journalists, and fans—in the games industry. The Gamergate phenomenon began with concerns among some gamers that conflicts of interest between games journalism and the games industry were leading journalists to write unrealistically favorable reviews of products. These allegations were soon eclipsed, however, as several women involved in the games industry and related media alleged that they had become targets of abuse, threats of violence and rape, doxxing, and so on. In the public eye, this cemented the perception that Gamergate was associated with toxic misogyny, and that this kind of behavior was typical of gamers more generally. The result was that gamers, already commonly the source of stereotypes and various cultural prejudices, found themselves stigmatized as young, reactionary, mainly white, hetero male misogynists. For example, a widely circulated tumblr post portrayed gamer culture as awash with “toxicity,” “hysterical fits,” and “hatred of women.” “The gamer as an identity,” the author, Dan Golding …

Goa, Gods, Gandhi and Greed: Lessons in Colonialism from Four Boardgames

It’s an eight-and-a-half-hour drive from Toronto to Indianapolis. And the route, which takes me through Sarnia, Detroit, Toledo and Fort Wayne, is far from scenic. But Gen Con is the biggest boardgame convention in North America, and there’s no direct flight between the two cities. Which is why, during the first four days of August, I spent 17 hours in my car getting to the gaming floor at Lucas Oil Stadium, best known as the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. Almost 70,000 gamers attended Gen Con this year, including fans of every boardgame under the sun. I tell people that boardgaming isn’t a culture. It’s really a collection of subcultures, since fans of one gaming niche often have little interest in any of the others. But balkanized as it is, the hobby has taken on some unifying characteristics in recent years, including a commitment to diversity, inclusivity and what might generally be called political “wokeness.” Gen Con itself has an anti-harassment policy that bans “any behavior that…produces an unsafe or non-inclusive environment,” including “offensive …

Entering the Mind of an Inuit Whale-Hunter

This is a review of the Greenland (Second Ed.) Board Game, from Sierra Madre Games. A bowhead whale is a majestic and intimidating creature—up to 60 feet in length, weighing up to 100 tons, with a triangular hunk of bone for a skull, which the bowhead uses to smash through Arctic ice on its way to the ocean surface. Yet amazingly, the Indigenous peoples of northern Europe and North America found a way to kill and harvest these massive creatures without modern ships or weapons. Their hunts, conducted by small kin groups operating out of coastal hunting camps, could be extraordinarily risky. Even the job of butchering the giant beasts and hauling the proceeds back home was exhausting and dangerous. But the enterprise was worthwhile, because a single Bowhead might provide enough food and fuel to keep the hunters and their families alive for a whole year. Any visitor to the far north can only marvel at how any community could not only survive, but at times even flourish, in a region where almost any modern …