'Castle Vidcons': Lords of video games

E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, runs this week, and video game news sites and fans have been poring over every announcement with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. One thing that has become clear: The so-called "console wars" is still on. Devotees line up behind their game system of choice to cheer or lambast the latest news. That was most apparent last year during the unveiling of Sony and Microsoft's next-generation consoles, when the wild rhetoric between console partisans was indistinguishable from political rallies.

Webcomics have a long history with video games, with one webcomic (Penny Arcade) launching a popular convention circuit centered on gamers. Anthropomorphizing game consoles is hardly new. Few, though, have taken the concept as far and as creatively as Tyler Rhodes' Castle Vidcons.

The comic, which has been been running since 2008, paints a literal interpretation of these console wars as one being waged on a medieval battlefield. Characters have rugged human bodies and heads of video game consoles or CDs. They're drawn on a faux-parchment background in a style reminiscent of the Bayeaux tapestry, and they speak in flowery English. Each company is represented by a different monarch, with wars, coups and court intrigue reflect their successes and failures in the real world. The introduction of the Playstation Move, for example, is depicted as a box-headed king entering the bedchambers of a Wii controller maiden. Meanwhile, there are plenty of insider nods to past generations of consoles, such as when Lord Wii walls up Lord PlayStation in a chamber that contains the head of the Mad Monarch, Lord Gamecube.

The Wii's trajectory is especially interesting to watch. The comic has been going on for so long that, once upon a time, it was the Nintendo Wii depicted as the King of Feasts while his rivals, Lord Xbox and Lord PlayStation, were seen as lonely failures. Those were the days when the Wii was the undisputed bestselling console, garnering accolades and news stories about how it was reaching new audiences in living rooms and retirement homes. Nothing, though, lasts forever, and so Lord Wii's seeming endless stream of tributes is finally upset when Lord Xbox outsells him. Weak and feeble, Wii is susceptible to a series of coups; he's ousted by his treacherous queen (a Nintendo DS), who, it turns out, was the true power behind the throne. Forced to go into hiding, Wii travels the land in disguise with his failed heir-apparent, travelling with the hulking simpleton Wii U.

At least Lord Wii is still around. The old Lord Xbox was deposed by the new Lord Xbox One, who has installed a totalitarian regime with the assistance of his all-seeing Kinect soldiers. Meanwhile, the old Lord PlayStation was messily dispatched by his successor. Announcements at E3 have, in the past, provided Castle Vidcons with plenty of comedic fuel. Last year's announcements of new Microsoft and Sony consoles saw often regime changes at all the different kingdoms.

The references in Castle Vidcons can often be quite obscure, even to avid gamers, but the guessing game is half the fun. What's Tyler Rhodes talking about? It's the ambiguity that makes Castle Vidcons feel smarter and more clever than your average video game webcomic.

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