What is play and why do people do it? This might sound like a simple question, but it’s quite a bit more complicated than it seems. Try asking a few of your friends and you’ll probably find that each one of them has a completely different answer.

This question actually has two parts. The first has a broadly accepted answer, but the second really doesn’t. When it comes to establishing a definition of play, the philosopher Bernard Suits argues in The Grasshopper that it represents a “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” He describes it as the “attempt to achieve…


Walk around the Russian wilderness in Metro Exodus for long enough and you’ll pick up on something strange: the landscapes are all in a certain sense broken.

There are some segments in Moscow, Yamantau, and a place known as the Dead City, but Metro Exodus basically has three different areas to explore. These are the Volga, Caspian Sea, and Taiga regions. Relative to their counterparts in the real world, they’re all represented in the game as being warped in some way, shape, or form. Flowing through central Russia, the Volga River for example is actually surrounded by rolling hills, flat…


When they design buildings, architects tend to assume that people will be using them for a particular purpose. They imagine for example that factories will be used for manufacturing, warehouses will be used for storage, and shops will be used for conducting business. They aren’t always right in their assumptions, though. Buildings are sometimes used in rather unexpected ways.

People are constantly shaping and reshaping the world around them. When it comes to buildings, this can mean shifting around furniture, but it can also mean carrying out structural transformations. The probability of major modification typically increases with time. Changed through…


You definitely fight a few humans, but most of your time playing Nioh is actually spent slaying supernatural beings. Having recently risen from the underworld, these demons and monsters haunt the game’s various environments. They’re among the living for a pretty good reason.

The demons and monsters which you’ll come across in the game world are supposed to be the products of human cruelty. Attracted by pain and anguish, these yokai are drawn to sites of slaughter like battlefields and crime scenes. Set in Japan during the Sengoku period, Nioh takes you everywhere from Tohoku to Kyushu in search of…


Getting players to look up is notoriously hard. The best which most video games actually manage to accomplish is getting them to look down. Think about the towers in Breath of the Wild or the latest Assassin’s Creed. Remember marking those waypoints, objectives, and collectibles? These adventure games were at least able to find some use for the z-axis in their gameplay mechanics, but this really isn’t the norm across genres. There’s one in particular which continues to resist verticality: RTS. How many real-time strategy games can you name which make use of a truly 3D environment? The majority consist…


When you pick up the pocket watch in Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn, you’ll be confronted with a rather curious message: memento mortem. The term literally translates to “remember death,” but its contextual meaning defies easy explanation. What precisely is Pope trying to communicate?

You assume the role of an insurance adjuster in Return of the Obra Dinn. Working for the East India Company in 1807, your job is to investigate a merchant vessel which set sail for the Orient in 1802, but recently washed up without a living soul aboard. Armed with a few sketches, a crew…


Walk around Ashen’s game world for long enough and you’ll notice that it’s filled with ancient ruins. Products of its precursor civilizations, the decaying remains of what seem to be settlements are found in each and every one of the game’s different environments. The first which you’ll get to explore is called Vagrant’s Rest.

Home to a band of brigands and robbers, Vagrant’s Rest at first is really just a random collection of rubble and rocks, but slowly transforms into a vibrant settlement as you progress in the game. The piles of debris gradually disappear. Collapsed columns are put back…


In purely mechanical terms, Ni no Kuni 2 is basically a collection of minigames. You might expect this to spoil the overall experience, but something about Ni no Kuni 2 helps to make it more than just the sum of its parts. Tied together by a strong story, this collection of minigames becomes a masterpiece which overcomes the limitations of genre.

You play Ni no Kuni 2 as the deposed Prince of Ding Dong Dell — Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum. Founding a kingdom called Evermore, you start by ruling a ragtag band of brigands and pirates, but ultimately bring peace to…


There’s a certain something to Breath of the Wild which leaves it feeling distinctly Japanese. You may not have heard it used before, but there’s actually a term for this — mono no aware.

The concept of mono no aware is often seen as being at the heart of Japanese culture. The term is famously tough to translate, but it refers to a sort of sensitivity for the fleeting nature of things. You might even call it a kind of empathy for ephemera. (The term literally means “awareness of things,” but scholars almost always leave it untranslated). With its focus…


There’s a particular bond which develops between man and machine. You can see it in how race car drivers talk about their cars. You can see it in how sailors talk about their ships, too.

I definitely understand the feeling. As a professional pilot, I’ve developed a certain attachment to many of the airplanes which I’ve had the privilege of flying. I’m definitely not the only one, either. Somewhat strange turns of phrase like “I’m a Dash 8” or “we’re a Beech 1900” can be heard in airports around the world. Pilots clearly identify with their planes.

The developer behind…

Justin Reeve

Archaeologist | Columnist × [games + architecture] × Unwinnable | Writer × EGM/ Vice/ Heterotopias & more

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