2014 year in review

2014 was an interesting year in video games, to say the least. We've seen huge buyouts, botched launches, death threats, and more! I'll try to keep this article brief, so click on the hyperlinks for more details on whatever subjects may interest you.


Let's start with the three big acquisitions and what they mean for gaming:

In March, Facebook acquired Oculus VR, makers of the Rift virtual reality headset, for 2 billion dollars. That's a lot of money, considering that the virtual reality market is still uncertain. But with this huge buy-out, Sony's Project Morpheus, and Valve's strong support of VR, industry leaders seem very confident in virtual reality. I personally can't wait to try out the Rift once the consumer version hits store shelves as early as 2015.

Oculus Rift (image from popularmechanics.com)
In August, Amazon.com acquired the video streaming service Twitch for about one billion dollars. Twitch is a very popular streaming site used for live broadcasting of gameplay over the internet. I have no clue what may change now that Twitch is in Amazon's hands.

In September, Microsoft acquired Mojang, the developers of Minecraft, for 2.5 billion dollars. That much money for a small indie studio can seem like a terrible deal, but don't forget that Minecraft is arguably the biggest game of this generation. The game is used in schools too. I'm curious as to what Microsoft has planned for the property.

Minecraft (image from deadline.com)

So there’s a lot of money involved in the video games industry, and the current-gen home consoles are faring well. Even the WiiU has also seen a boost in popularity given the increasing amount of cool games in its library.

Unfortunately, we also saw negative effects of big-budget game development this year: several high-profile games were launched in broken or buggy states. Many couldn't play Battlefield 4 for months. Assassin's Creed Unity had such poor performance that their third patch fixed 300 bugs, and their fourth was a massive download. It was so bad they even gave a free game to those who purchased the season pass. Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched with buggy online matchmaking. Driveclub had many features inaccessible for weeks.

One of Unity's frequent bugs (image from gamespot.com)
Not exactly an encouraging state of affairs, is it? Hopefully this doesn't become the norm.


The Gamergate controversy, as Wikipedia's nearly 9,000-word article calls it, was huge. The story was even on the front page of The New York Times. I found Gamergate extremely interesting for many reasons.

First, Gamergate exposed the misogyny that has been ever-present in the games industry. I will admit that sexist depictions of women in video games wasn't something I had questioned while growing up. But with all the attention brought to the subject by critics like Anita Sarkeesian, I was blown away by the blatant sexism in many games I loved. Following Gamergate has made a feminist out of me.

The attacks against female designers and critics this year were surprising and unfortunate. There's a silver lining, though: awareness was raised with respect to the lack of diversity in the games industry. More people are talking about it than ever before. I believe games will become better and more inclusive in the future because of it.

Gamergate also highlighted a change in games that I'd felt for years. When Gamergate was in full swing, many articles decrying the end of gamers started to appear. As a kid, it seemed like I had a lot in common with anyone who played video games. But today, I find myself having almost nothing in common with a lot of gamers. I think that's because "gamer" as an identity is as meaningless as "reader" or "movie watcher".

OK, you're a gamer, but what kind of gamer? Do you play eSports? RPGs? Casual games? Indie games? Video games are more diverse than ever, so a label for all fans of the medium doesn't mean a whole lot anymore.


Despite the turmoil, great games were still made. Some of my favourites were Never Alone, This War of Mine, the new Super Smash Bros., Monument Valley and Shovel Knight. And I have yet to play these, but Dark Souls 2, Valiant Hearts, The Banner Saga and Shadow of Mordor all seem really great.

If I had to pick a "Game of the Year", I'd choose This War of Mine. This subversive take on war games made me live through some of the most intense moments I've ever experienced in a game. For more on This War of Mine, check out my article about the game or the trailer below.

Still, I feel like there were less game-of-the-year calibre titles this year than in 2012 and 2013. Maybe because of all the disappointing AAA launches? Is the crazy amount of games that are being released making it harder for me to choose a single best GOTY? Maybe I've just grown more critical of games since last year.


In December, the first Game Awards show was hosted as a sort of replacement for the infamous Spike Video Game Awards. The awards show was popular, but not everyone was impressed. As explained in this blog post, the Awards (and video game culture in general) are very consumer-oriented. There's a huge focus on the fans, hype, and money. It's all about the gamers. But with the Oscars, to which The Game Awards compares itself, the event doesn't revolve around movie-goers: it's about the achievements of professionals working in the movie business.

Hype! Trailers! Doritos! (image from 2012; taken from eurogamer.net)

In other news, Ralph Baer passed away on December 6. Back in the sixties and early seventies, he pioneered the first video game home console. Baer is widely considered to be one of the founders of video games

(Image from ign.com)

Think about that: until December 2014, one of the FOUNDERS OF THE MEDIUM was still alive. How crazy is that?! It goes to show how young video games are, but also highlights how far we've come, both in terms of technology and creativity, in such a short time.


With the new year just around the corner, what do we have to look forward to in 2015?Among other things, we'll experience virtual reality, explore an endless universe, learn to master the 4th dimension, experience a tragic cancer story, feel phantom pain, dial the wrong number, and return to Hyrule. I'm excited to discover what great interactive experiences 2015 will have in store!


Never Alone et les jeux culturels

Aujourd’hui je vous écris à propos de Never Alone, un jeu vidéo spécial. Ce jeu est très important pour moi puisqu’il était conçu pour explorer la culture, juste comme mon jeu vidéo acadien La vie d’Arcade.

Jouer un autre jeu “culturel” m’a fait vouloir écrire à propos de ces jeux. Dans cet article, je vais comparer la conception de Never Alone et de La vie d’Arcade et ensuite réfléchir sur ce nouveau genre de jeux vidéo. Mais premièrement, voici un résumé des deux jeux :

Never Alone

Never Alone, ou Kisima Ingitchuna dans la langue Iñupiaq, est un jeu de plateformes pour un ou deux joueurs. Le jeu, qui se passe en Alaska, met en vedette une fille Iñupiat nommée Nuna et un renard arctique. Les deux amis doivent surmonter des obstacles pour découvrir la cause d’un méchant blizzard.

Ce qui rend le jeu unique est qu’il fut créé principalement comme une expression de la culture et du patrimoine Iñupiat. Beaucoup d’Autochtones d’Alaska ont participé dans la création du jeu en tant qu’ambassadeurs culturels, ce qui a assuré que leur culture soit transposée dans le jeu vidéo de façon respectueuse et authentique.

Des éléments de la culture Iñupiat se trouvent dans presque tous les aspects du jeu, y compris l’environnement, les personnages, l’histoire et les vidéos d’entrevue.

La vie d’Arcade

La vie d’Arcade est une histoire interactive qui explore la culture acadienne d’aujourd’hui. Dans cette aventure pour un joueur, on assume le rôle d’Arcade Comeau, un jeune Acadien à la découverte de son identité.

La structure du jeu est inspirée de la série The Walking Dead par Telltale Games. Le joueur interagit avec le récit en faisant des choix qui influencent le déroulement des événements.

Dans LVA, il y a beaucoup de lecture en anglais et en plusieurs variétés du français, ce qui reflète le paysage linguistique variée de l’Acadie moderne. Puisque la langue est un des facteurs principaux de la culture acadienne, les idéologies et les croyances linguistiques sont à la base du conflit dans le récit.


Comparons maintenant ces deux jeux. La plus évidente comparaison est qu’ils partagent le même but fondamental : de se servir des capacités du jeu vidéo pour représenter une culture minoritaire. Traditionnellement, les cultures tribales ou minoritaires s’expriment par l’écriture, les arts visuels, la musique, le conte, etc. Toutefois, l’expression par les jeux vidéo semble être un nouveau phénomène. Never Alone et La vie d’Arcade sont les seuls exemples que je connais. Il y a peut-être des petits projets comme le mien qui existent quelque part, par contre.

Ces jeux ont tous les deux incorporé des éléments culturels dans les mécanismes de jeu, pas seulement comme un ajout superficiel. Pas mal tous les aspects de Never Alone, comme le récit inspiré d’un conte traditionnel et le bola, proviennent de la culture Iñupiat. Dans La vie d’Arcade, le joueur peut visiter beaucoup d’institutions acadiennes et faire des choix directement liés à la culture.

Il est intéressant que les deux jeux offrent des clips vidéo ou audio optionnels. En jouant à Never Alone, on peut débloquer une vingtaine de clips vidéo qui approfondissent les thèmes abordés dans le jeu. Pour La vie d’Arcade, j’avais enregistré une douzaine de clips audio de personnes qui discutent des thèmes du jeu. Il semble que nous avions la même idée d’inclure des renseignements culturels additionnels pour ceux qui veulent en apprendre davantage, mais de ne pas forcer le joueur à les écouter.

Une autre similarité est que les deux jeux étaient créés à l’aide d’un moteur de création de jeu : Unity pour Never Alone et RPG Maker pour La vie d’Arcade.


Même si Never Alone et La vie d’Arcade ont beaucoup de traits en commun, ils ont quand même des différences. Pour commencer, Never Alone était créé par une équipe avec du financement, et LVA était un projet amateur sans budget. NA se vend pour environ 15 dollars, et LVA est offert gratuitement. Cela a du sens puisque l’équipe de NA doit regagner son argent. De plus, la qualité du jeu est comparable aux grands jeux commerciaux, ce qui justifie le prix.

Une autre grande différence est que Never Alone s’exporte bien, ce qui n’est pas vrai pour La vie d’Arcade. Étant donné qu’il est écrit en multiples langues et dialectes, La vie d’Arcade n’est pas très accessible aux personnes non-bilingues. J’avais juste présumé que seulement des Acadiens joueraient un jeu à propos de l’Acadie. Never Alone m’a montré que des jeux culturels peuvent non seulement être bénéfiques aux cultures qui l’ont produit, mais qu’ils peuvent aussi partager cette culture avec les autres.

Cela souligne une différence entre les objectifs de nos projets : Never Alone est conçu pour partager la culture Iñupiat avec le monde, tandis que La vie d’Arcade vise presque exclusivement les Acadiens (qui, comme un ami me l’a signalé, est un peu typique de la création en Acadie). Les deux jeux cherchent à connecter les joueurs avec leur culture, mais seulement Never Alone est capable d’apporter la culture à presque n’importe quel joueur.

C'est quoi le style, le genre?

J’utilisais le terme jeu culturel pour décrire La vie d’Arcade. Mais puisque tout jeu, d’une manière ou d’une autre, reflète la culture qui l’a créé, je ne suis pas très confiant dans cette étiquette. Jeux de cultures minoritaires? Jeux de patrimoine? Avez-vous une meilleure idée? Est-ce qu’on a même besoin d’un nom pour ces jeux à ce point-ci?

Les concepteurs de Never Alone utilisent le terme World Games pour décrire ce genre de jeux. Voici un extrait de leur site Web (traduction) : Never Alone profite de la puissance des jeux vidéo pour partager, célébrer et augmenter la culture. Ces World Games vont donner le pouvoir aux collectivités indigènes partout au monde de partager leurs histoires d’une manière authentique, engageante et divertissante.

Pourquoi voit-on seulement ces jeux culturels maintenant?

Quand j’avais écrit à propos du concept de jeux vidéo culturels il y a presque deux ans, j’avais indiqué que le coût de développement était une raison pour laquelle ces jeux n’existaient pas ou étaient très rares. Je pense encore que la popularisation des outils de création de jeux, comme les engins utilisés pour bâtir NA et LVA, a aidé ces jeux culturels à voir le jour. Il est plus facile que jamais de créer des jeux vidéo, donc il est logique que nous voyions une plus grande variété de jeux.

Un autre facteur qui a mené à ces jeux culturel est fait qu’on accepte de plus en plus que les jeux vidéo peuvent faire plus que tout simplement nous divertir. C’était le cas pour moi, de toute façon : jouer et étudier des art games et des serious games ma surement mis sur la bonne voie pour penser au concept de LVA.

Les jeux vidéo culturels sont enfin une réalité. Je suis content que j’aie appris à propos de la culture Iñupiat en jouant l'excellent Never Alone. J'ai aussi très hâte de jouer aux prochains jeux qui exploreront les cultures du monde.

Never Alone and cultural games

Today I’m writing about a special video game called Never Alone. This game is especially important for me since it was designed to “share, celebrate and extend culture”, just like my Acadian video game La vie d’Arcade.

Playing another “cultural” game has inspired me to write about these games. In this article, I will compare the design of Never Alone and La vie d’Arcade as well as reflect upon this new genre of video games. But first, here’s a brief overview of both games:

Never Alone

Never Alone, or Kisima Ingitchuna in the Iñupiaq language, is a puzzle-platformer for one or two players. The game is set in Alaska and stars an Iñupiat girl named Nuna and her arctic fox friend. The duo must overcome obstacles together while trying to discover the source of a mighty blizzard.

What makes this game unique is that it was created primarily as an expression of Iñupiat culture and heritage. Many Alaskan Natives, credited as cultural ambassadors, participated in the development of Never Alone. This collaboration ensured that their culture was accurately and meaningfully transposed into video game form.

Elements of Iñupiat culture can be found in nearly every aspect of the game, including the setting, characters, story, and interview videos.

La vie d’Arcade

La vie d’Arcade is an interactive story that explores modern-day Acadian culture. In this single-player adventure, players take on the role of a young Acadian boy named Arcade Comeau as he discovers his identity.

The structure of the game is inspired by Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. Players interact with the story through choices that influence how the tale unfolds.

LVA contains lots of reading in English and in multiple variants of French, reflecting the varied linguistic landscape of modern Acadia. Since language is widely considered to be a defining factor of Acadian culture, most of the plot’s conflict revolves around linguistic ideologies and beliefs.


Now let’s compare these two games. The most obvious comparison is that they both share the same core goal: harnessing the power of video games to portray a minority culture. Tribal or minority cultures traditionally express themselves through writing, visual arts, music, storytelling, etc. Expression through video games, though, seems to be a recent phenomenon. Never Alone and La vie d’Arcade are the only examples I am aware of. There may be smaller projects like mine that exist somewhere out there, though.

Both games contain cultural elements built into the gameplay, not just used as a superficial gimmick. In Never Alone, pretty much everything in the game, from the folk tale-inspired scenario to the bola item, stem from Iñupiat culture. In La vie d’Arcade, the player can visit many Acadian institutions and make choices directly related to Acadian culture.

I find it interesting that both games offer optional video or audio clips. Never Alone contains many unlockable video clips that further explore themes presented in the game. For La vie d’Arcade, I recorded about a dozen audio clips of people discussing themes that appear in the game. It seems like we had the same idea of including extra cultural insight for those interested in learning more, yet not forcing them onto players.

Another similarity is that both games were built using game-making engines: Never Alone was built using Unity, and La vie d’Arcade was built using RPG Maker.


While both Never Alone and La vie d’Arcade have a lot in common, they also have differences. First of all, Never Alone was developed by a team with funding, while La vie d’Arcade is a hobbysit project with no budget. NA is sold for about 15 dollars, while LVA is offered as a free download. This makes sense since NA needs to make back its money and boasts industry-standard quality that justifies the price tag.

Another key difference is that Never Alone is quite exportable while La vie d’Arcade isn’t. The fact that LVA is written in multiple languages and dialects means that the game isn’t very accessible to non-bilingual people. I had just assumed that a game about Acadians would only be played by members of that culture, but Never Alone showed me that cultural games can both benefit the culture creating it and help share that culture with others.

This highlights a difference in our project goals: Never Alone is meant to share Iñupiat culture with the world, while La vie d’Arcade is aimed almost exclusively at Acadians (which, as a friend pointed out, is sort of typical for Acadian art). Both games hope to connect players with their culture, but only Never Alone is able to bring this culture to almost anybody willing to play.

What genre is this?

I’ve been using the term jeu culturel, or cultural game, to describe La vie d’Arcade. But since every game sort of reflects the culture that made it, I’m not very confident in that label. Minority culture games? Heritage games? What do you think would be a suitable name? Do we even need a name for these games at this point?

The designers of Never Alone use World Games as a genre. Here’s an exerpt from the game’s web site: “Never Alone leverages the power of videogames to share, celebrate and extend culture. These World Games will empower indigenous communities around the world to share their stories in an authentic, engaging, and entertaining way.”

Why are we only seeing these culture games now?

I wrote about the concept of cultural video games a while back, and cited development costs as a reason why these types of games didn’t exist or were very rare in the past. I still think that the increased accessibility of development tools, like the engines used to develop NA and LVA, has helped these cultural games see the light of day. It’s easier than ever to make video games, so it makes sense that we’re seeing a bigger variety of games.

I also think that the growing acceptance that video games can be more than just entertainment led to these game ideas. In any case, I think that playing and studying art games and serious games set my mind on the right track to dreaming up LVA.

So yeah, it looks like culture games are a thing now. I’m glad I got to learn about the Iñupiat culture by playing the excellent Never Alone, and I am very much looking forward to playing new games that explore cultures from around the world.