For decades, video games have strived for cultural relevance. Cultural identity struggles instigated by spats with politicians or critics from other media have led to a complex among many gaming hobbyists as well as designers and developers in the gaming industry - that this medium has serious potential and deserves the same level of respect and critical scrutiny as any other. At the same time, there's a rise of game development programs and degrees at universities across the world; professorships, residencies and long-form game criticism are helping games through their adolescence and into adulthood.
Games never have much difficulty making us feel like a hero. Cheerful psychopaths are the bread and butter of entire genres. Guilt? That's trickier. It's a rare game that even tries, and only a tiny fraction of those even come close to making it good to feel bad.
The games of this week were really the games of the last seven months, as online updates saw two titles which have dominated the lives of so many return to our screens: Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim. The updates were very different, but neither was exactly a triumphant return.
It's Tuesday at 5pm, which can only mean one thing: we've managed to publish the Eurogamer.net Podcast on time on the right day for once! Thank you for your ears.
2K's Spec Ops: The Line is riddled with conflict and contradictions. It's partly about the culture clash that's played out across the dunes of Dubai as the Middle East crashes violently into the consumerism of the West - a parable told in the tidal waves of sand that splash up against the city's shards of concrete and glass in the game's near-future vision.
But there's another, more curious conflict at Spec Ops' own dark heart. Here's a tale of the dehumanising horror of war, its story leaning heavily on Conrad (and a little awkwardly too, with its Kurtz-inspired character clumsily renamed Konrad). And at the same time, here's a game about the simple pleasures of slamming your shoulder into a wall before lining up headshot after headshot after headshot, in combat that's physical, muscular and entertaining.
Can 2K and developers Yager Development have their cake and eat it, providing a moral tale and a meaty shooter all at once? A tour through a handful of Spec Ops' campaign missions doesn't present a comprehensive answer, but it does give a glimpse of a game that, with its own internal conflict, promises to be more interesting than many of its peers.
Mounted high on the gleaming silver superstructure of one of Dubai's improbable skyscrapers is a vast advertising hoarding filled with a model's pouting lips. In the bottom left corner of the huge banner, someone has used bright red paint to scrawl a single word: Help.
It's disquieting stuff, even when glimpsed from the relative safety of a military helicopter as you pass low over the city, but - listen to that voice - at least you've got good old Nolan North to keep you safe. Or have you? Minutes into Spec Ops: The Line, it's clear that this is a story that cuts a little deeper than the likes of Uncharted, and if that's Nathan Drake we're playing as, it's a Nathan Drake who's recently spent a really long time thinking about all those people he's killed.
It's not Nathan Drake at all, of course. The Line's hero is a Delta Force soldier named Captain Martin Walker, and he and his two squad-mates have touched down in a ravaged near-future Dubai to track down Colonel Konrad, a military officer with a near-perfect track record. He's also been presumed dead for the last six months, caught up in a failed evacuation as freak sandstorms steadily picked the world's strangest city apart. Over the last few days, evidence has started to emerge suggesting that he might still be alive.
"Seen anything cool?" asks the Spec Ops producer as we file into his comfortable little gamescom prison. Nobody says anything.
Walking around Yager's home city of Berlin, it's easy to understand why the developer is making a city-based third-person-shooter. Berlin may be a modern centre of financial security and a model of civic, dare I say it, efficiency, but it has a long history of grand conflict, from the turmoil of ancient history right up to the front lines of the Cold War. Anything older than 60 years is covered in bullet-holes and shrapnel scars, a chilling reminder of the intense street-to-street fighting at the end of World War II. Statues and memorials commemorate the myriad fallen of all nationalities, as well as victories and conquests of the past. Everywhere among the charming Christmas markets is scattered evidence of the human capacity to destroy.