2011 Holiday Play

Its that time of year again.  The semester is coming to an end (or has come to an end), grades (or assignments) have been submitted, final lectures have been delivered (or attended), and each of the good little girls and boys around the Play the Past offices are seriously looking forward to kicking back, indulging in their favorite adult beverage, and taking a well deserved break.  Yes, that’s right, the Christmahanukwanzaakah season is upon us!  And in the spirit of this magical season, its a great time for each of us to share a word or two about the game (or games, digital or analog) that we’re looking forward to indulging in the most during our free time over the holiday break.


Looking back to last year’s Holiday Play, I see that I’m pretty much planning on doing the same thing…and that thing is the newest (and last) installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Xbox 360 for me).  I’ve fallen in love with the series over the years, and I’m very much looking forward to diving into the final installment and wrapping up the thoughtfully crafted story that has developed over the series.

Unfortunately, I never got around to teaching my son how to Play Munchkin last holiday season (as I planned).  However, he and I have been playing a lot of Smallworld this year.  So, I’m thinking of picking up the new Smallworld: Underground to play (or maybe Ticket to Ride – as I, rather embarrassingly, don’t own a copy)


I’ll be playing Skyrim, and not just because, having solved the mystery of the BioWare style in a chapter forthcoming in Dungeons, Dragons, and Digital Denizens in February, I’m on the verge of doing the same for Bethesda. No, I’ll be playing Skyrim because the world of the Elder Scrolls demands exploration, archeology, and even ethnography like no other narrative geography I’ve experienced.


This winter break I’m going to be mooching off the games of others primarily because I’m a grad student and that’s what we do best- mooch. Over the next week I’m going to be degrading my brain cells by playing through my boyfriend’s Xbox 360 games, focusing on the Assassin’s Creed games, ending with the newest: Assassin’s Creed Revelations. To this point, I’ve only just finished the first game. Depressing, but sadly the series started the same time that I started grad school so I’m about four years late on my playing.

After Christmas I’m nabbing Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword from my little brother. I’ve been a huge fan of the Zelda series since first playing the games on Super Nintendo. The 8 bit music still gets me excited. I’m really looking forward to the more dynamic swordplay and ability to do more realistic movements with the other weapons (like rolling out bombs). There’s nothing better than actually acting out fighting monsters all while staying in pajamas for three days straight.


Like Roger, I too will be burning out the silicon brains of my PS3 playing Skyrim. Beyond the stunning graphics, the world’s comprehensive vastness, and the sheer deluge of crunchy historical-cultural fluff to dig up and explore, I think it is the game’s tabula rasa-esque contingent morality that draws me in the most. Playing the game, I do not feel like Skyrim is railroading me along in a particularly forceful manner. I can decide for my character to be an evil bastard who gets in fist fights with children and steals everything in sight or to be a goody two-shoes that helps people chop wood all the time. And when I enter a different hold, I can change my morality again. The consequences for my chosen actions are fairly mild (guards constantly attacking you for your bounty notwithstanding). I am to the point where I want to start games with other characters merely to play out alternative moral codes. It is a sickness, I know…

When I can tear myself away from helping the Imperial Legion destroy the Stormcloaks, I plan to test-run some older tabletop role-playing games I am thinking about using in a class I am developing. The first game, Force on Force by Ambush Alley Games, is a miniatures wargame used to play through 20th and 21st century war scenarios. The second, Pantheon put out by Hogshead Publishing, is a short RPG rules set about creating or destroying the universe using a GM-less game system mechanic described as Narrative Cage Match. What this means I have no idea, but I will definitely find out.


I’d like to say that I’m going to be playing hours and hours of Skyrim over the holidays, but the truth is that I’m still catching up on games from last holiday season—and from the season before that! So, just maybe I’ll finish Heavy Rain or Red Dead Redemption. (Yes, I’m that far behind.) Thanks to a Steam sale in early December I also have Skyrim‘s predecessor, Oblivion to play. (I told you, I’m that far behind.)

When I tire from these sprawling 3D narrative games I may get back to the creepy 2D platformer Limbo or—and this is not a game at all, but a Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebook on steroids—try to read every single narrative path (there are nearly 4,000 of them) of Jason Shiga’s graphic novel Meanwhile, now available as an iPad app (designed by interactive fiction legend Andrew Plotkin).


I will not be playing Skyrim over this break. It may come as a shock, but I’ve never managed to find myself engaged in Bethesda’s worlds, no matter how many times I try. Like Mark and Katy, I’m behind in my game-playing, so I really cannot spare time right now to give them another chance.

Much of my free time will likely be spent in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’m a very skeptical player of this game since I think it does little with the genre actually, but I’m also fascinated by the narrative workings of Bioware’s games. I already have some great thoughts spinning about their player-characer development strategy in this title. Can’t wait to talk about it. I’m not through with RIFT yet either – something about that world has really captivated me. Other than MMO’s, maybe I’ll finally find time to finish Witcher 2 or just take a break and pop in Just Dance 3 with my sons.


Play much, I have not. Work piled up, it has, yes?

Like Emily, I too will be spending a great deal of free time during this very short holiday break playing Star Wars: The Old Republic on the Kryat Dragon server, Republic side. Having played off and on through the beta (and now in the early head start), I’ve been impressed with how well Bioware has captured the essence of the KOTOR series and brought it into the MMO genre. When it needs to, it feels like a single player experience and when you are looking for the multiplayer aspect, the flashpoints (instances) certainly feel more developed with respect to the narrative than anything else I’ve played through in other MMOs.

I’m also secretly hoping for Skyward Sword for Christmas. We’ll see it that ends up under the tree.


I have been staying up late playing rounds of Civ 5. Having gotten myself into the joy of slowly ratcheting up the difficulty level I  imagine I will continue the frustrating struggle with increasingly better AI into the night. With family coming into town I know we will be pulling out Apples to Apples and Carcassonne. Lastly, I have no doubt we will get some time in for some Rock Band and Left 4 Dead. In short, I imagine I will be playing almost exactly the same set of games I was playing around this time last year.

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