Rowan Kaiser

Rowan Kaiser is a freelance pop culture critic currently living in the Bay Area. He is a contributing writer at The A.V. Club, covering television and literature. He also writes about video games for several different publications, including Joystiq and Gamespy. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser for unimportant musings on media and extremely important kitten photographs.

Recent Articles

Thinking Outside the (X)Box

There was soul-searching to spare at the Game Developers Conference, as attendees had some warranted stress over diversity—but they should be sure to remember to work on improving the world outside the industry too.

Flickr/Official GDC
Brian Taylor O n the narrow sidewalk outside the building where the Game Developers Conference was held, a group of enthusiastic marketers offer free t-shirts that say “0% THE MAN 100% INDIE.” It seems like a call to arms, but a tiny bit of research unearths that it's a new campaign by Samsung to attract game developers to their app store. Sure, Samsung may be an underdog in this realm, when compared to Apple, but you gotta admit the Korean phone giant is at least 30 percent The Man. This style of borrowing progressive language in the game industry is quite common—as noted and skewered in a presented “rant” during the conference by game designer Chris Hecker. The Game Developers Conference is held each year in the Bay Area, taking place during the last week of March this year. It's the major professional conference of the video game industry, where the people who make games gather to network and give presentations about the year's successes and failures. GDC is the most inwardly-...

Urban Playing

The new Sim City looks fantastic, but the video game's political and economic context remains ... absent.

My SimCity experience can be summarized in a single picture. I have a well-developed town, down the highway from my friend's two cities—I'm playing online because everyone has to play online—one a small town, one a thriving collection of skyscrapers. It's all depicted using gorgeous facsimiles of modern American architectural styles, and at the proper angle, I can see all three cities in a row. My town demonstrates my achievement, and the other two towns show that I'm part of big, living world. But beyond the beauty and symbolism is a disjointed mess: A massive traffic jam is ruining my city—there's a burning building my fire trucks can't get to!—and the cause is impossible to discern. This is the new SimCity : It looks fantastic, but I cannot derive any political or strategic meaning from it. One town has mines, so the next town is zoned residential in order to attract these mine workers, who then commute out. The problem is, with the information given by the game, it's not clear...

Saving Private Gamer

Why are violent video games popular? Let us list the reasons. 

The debate over violent video games has re-emerged over the past few months, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. This is due largely to prominent conservatives arguing that the moral corruption of the games is a danger to society. These arguments are generally countered on the grounds that video games constitute protected speech , that studies indicating that games increase aggression are inconclusive at best , or that blaming games is a distraction from more relevant issues like gun control. Yet I've noticed that many using these defenses in the public sphere seem mildly embarrassed at having to defend games. Why? Because very few opinion leaders in the American media are in any way experts on video games, while gamers in turn are not always the most eloquent on the subject. So what is it about violent video games that makes them so appealing? How is it that someone like me—an engaged left-wing, non-violent, anti-war citizen—can be a fan of all kinds of video games, including the...