November 22nd

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Riley MacLeod in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 22nd)

Hello, readers! If you live in America, you might be in a small frenzy of making shopping lists and devising seating charts for your guests; if you don’t, you’re probably bored to tears hearing the rest of us worry about it. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there sure was a lot going on This Week in Videogame Blogging!

It’s About Games Journalism

You may have seen Kotaku’s recent reveal that Ubisoft and Bethesda have blacklisted them. Over at Ars Technica, Kyle Orland responds, exploring the way games journalists and PR interact in a changing news landscape.

Today, the market for gaming information and opinions is far more fragmented. Kotaku remains a major outlet, but many players now get their gaming news and opinions directly from the publishers’ own blogs, from cult-of-personality YouTubers and Twitch streamers, or from a firehose of tidbits that they happen to see on Twitter or Facebook.

Similarly, Stephen Beirne explores the relationship between games journalists and designers in a writeup of his recent Eargoat talk about how games criticism is like cooking a roast chicken dinner.

People Who Need People

A lot of people sat down with a lot of other people this week. First, Critical Distance’s own Eric Swain had Cara Ellison on his podcast to discuss her recently published book Embed With.

At The Mary Sue, Emma Fissenden spoke with Ann Lemay, a current writer for Bioware, on the ins and outs of working with games narratives:

There’s a lot of iteration in our work. There’s a lot of having to let go of ideas you really wanted to run with, there’s trying to make something that needs to be in the game fit, and then there are the times when a plan comes together and you just giggle at yourself and hold your breath while hoping it won’t be need to be cut.

Keith Stuart chatted with Nina Freeman about her recent game Cibele:

Has [Nina] ever been concerned about the implications of putting herself out there so honestly? “Putting myself into these stories in a vulnerable way has definitely taken practice. I’m more and more comfortable with each project. I have learned to separate my present personal life from them, because it could be uncomfortable to feel like critics are talking about me when they talk about the game. Yes, they are talking about me, in a sense, but they are really talking about the character I created based on me. That distinction is important.”

Dean Takahashi at Venturebeat talked to Amy Hennig and Jade Raymond about Star Wars and story in games during the Montreal International Games Summit.

Lastly, at Kill Screen, Chris Priestman interviewed alt games creator Dylan Barry about his newest project, Uriel’s Chasm 2:

Barry didn’t realize that bringing these games to Steam would seemingly offend so many people. He saw in their reaction a familiar “religious behaviour,” as if he had walked into their temple and smashed their stone commandments, which laid out what games were and how they should be… It was for aspects such as this, along with its esoteric narrative and peculiar challenges, that Uriel’s Chasm was labeled “bundleware”… But Barry wore this label as a badge of honor. This is exactly what he was going for. “My aim was to potentially change a person’s life with something made for mass bundling,” he tells me. “I wanted to play right into the pigeon hole I’d been put in, then feel around for the walls, the limitations of exactly what could be achieved in that dark place.”

The Elephants in the Room

AAA is going strong this week, with the recent releases of both Fallout 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. At Gamasutra, Simon Parkin looked at the conflict between narrative and violence in games like Tomb Raider, noting how, for instance:

Nathan Drake becomes an unsettling blend of chirpy wise-cracker and insatiable murderer. This kind of observation has become so prevalent with regard to blockbuster games that even its mention in critical writing is now considered cliché.

Carolyn Petit responded to critiques of her Rise of the Tomb Raider review, expressing concern for how players:

[…] are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

And at Remeshed, Cassidee Moser used Tomb Raider as a jumping off point to talk about how we portray mental illness in games, finding that “it’s sadly a rarity to see [mental illness] depicted well in media, thanks to various stigmas that have plagued conversations about this topic for decades. But, that doesn’t mean it cannot be found.”

Meanwhile, if Fallout 4 is still taking up most of your time, Zak McClendon praised the jankiness you love to hate over at Wired, boldly claiming:

[R]eviewers and players [are] calling out its creaky engine, poor companion AI, sub-par animation, and many other glitches and bugs. Some see this as a failure of Bethesda to get with the program and embrace modern-day AAA polish. I don’t. Each time a new release is as rough and buggy as those that came before, it shows Bethesda is focused on the right things.

And on a different note, Carli Velocci looks at how Fallout 4’s design grapples with and reimagines the city of Boston.

It’s the Little Things

Many writers went in depth on the bigger meaning of small nuances in games this week. At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alex Layne took a deep dive into the role of food in games (see also: Games and Food dot Tumblr –ed). On a similar note, Gita Jackson took to Hopes and Fears to examine furniture.

Several people took a fine-toothed comb to the role of characters in games as well. Sarah Warn asked what the addition of switchable protagonists can offer to diversity in games, finding that “while it’s clearly possible for a strong story, diversity, and switchable protagonists to co-exist, that needle must be threaded very carefully–and not every studio appears to be up to the challenge. At least not yet.”

Back at Kill Screen, Ed Smith worried about how children are presented as characters:

You encounter humanity in games not in people but through simpler, more tangible non-human vectors. You never speak to people, because people are complicated. Instead, you straightforwardly learn about people through architecture, diaries and robots, objects which can purport an essence of humanity but also be used to conveniently sidestep the pressures and expectations of writing and creating a believable human character.

Lauren Clinnick looked at bisexual representation in games, writing that “Being bisexual can feel like you’re a glitch in a game – unintended, invisible to some and annoying to others. A needless complication. Game developers and writers sometimes treat us like this too, intentionally or not.”

Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Several writers looked at the role of the player this week. Brendan Keogh imagines videogames without players:

Designed without a human player, the system would work perfectly, without hiccups, and much faster. While the computer can smash out thousands of decisions and act on them in a microsecond, the player has to drag their lumpy fleshy digits from one button to another and press it while also pushing on a thumbstick and thinking about what to do while also not being distracted by a barking dog or the afternoon sun glare on their television screen.

Mattie Brice provided her own counterpoint in her reflections on attending the NYU Game Center’s PRACTICE conference. She exhorts designers to “kill the player” through a self-proclaimed “treatise on dealing with fairness, consumer-player enculturation, and the propagation of imperialist values through the design of games” that runs the gamut of the conference’s conversations.

And Brock Wilbur looked inside himself to consider what it means to shoot virtual and real guns in today’s world:

I don’t think that the video games or even the guns are bad — they’re nothing more or less than beautifully consumer products made for a predominantly male audience — just that they may no longer be good for me. I can’t be alone there. I can’t be the only one starting to suspect that if he’s not a survivor, he’s something awfully close. I can’t be the only one starting to behave accordingly.

Last, Gita Jackson heads over to Paste to reflect on what her experience at Indiecade says about the sustainability of the industry, responding to the recent resignation of Indiecade coordinator John Sharp:

When I got back home, I emptied my backpack and dumped business cards on the floor. It wasn’t that I thought people weren’t happy to meet me or that I didn’t think genuine connections were being made. But I was also very aware that everyone at Indiecade was kind of there to make a sale. It’s the nature of the beast. You want to be an artist, but you have to eat.

And There You Have It

Hopefully this has given you a lot of food for thought (Get it? Ah, you get it…) If there’s something you’d like to see featured, let us know about it on Twitter or over email.

As always, Critical Distance is supported by the generosity of readers like you! If you’d like to help us out, you can make a donation at our Patreon or Recurrency. We also take donations through Paypal now!

Episode 30 – Everything’s Better Embed

November 18th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off on Episode 30 – Everything’s Better Embed)

Concluding this year’s series of interviews of the authors and editors of video game criticism publications we turn our eyes to gonzo. Cara Ellison‘s Embed With Games: A Year on the Couch with Game Developers brings the long form, lifestyle gonzo journalism to video games as she chronicles her year long journey around the world to see various small and independent game artists in their element. Come and listen to us discuss the influence of an artist’s location, the Hawthorne effect, the process of choosing who to cover in the first place and much more.

We hope you enjoyed our year of interviews looking into the books and periodicals of video game criticism and also hope that they managed to add something to the conversation. Next year, we’re moving on to criticism in a different form.

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Gaming Made Me: Tomb Raider

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

November 15th

November 15th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 15th)

There wasn’t a whole lot whirring out of the videogame criticism engine this week, but don’t call it getting by on scraps, these delectable morsels are more than satisfying enough.

Contents within presented without filler.

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Rise (and fall) of the Tomb Raider

Carolyn Petit reviews Rise of the Tomb Raider for Feminist Frequency (video), finding it less sadistic in its treatment of Lara Croft’s tribulations, but well short of providing the meaningful psychological context seemingly promised in the original teaser. What’s more, while admiring the sublimity of the game’s environments, Petit notes Rise of the Tomb Raider forces the player to de-emphasize the aesthetic, reducing environments from sublime to a mere container of player plunders.

Petit addresses the backlash to her review in a follow-up on her Tumblr:

Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

Fallout 4, Plausibility and Witchcraft 

In contrast, Kill Screen’s Reid McCarter discusses the role of Dogmeat in Fallout 4 as a measure to “keep the player grounded amongst the immensity of Fallout 4’s environments”:

Games like Fallout 4—games with sprawling worlds, in which the player decides when, or if, to take part in specific story beats—differ from the directed narratives of media like film and books. Unlike the carefully selected sentences and exactingly shot scenes that form these narratives, an open world videogame is scattershot in its presentation. Because the player is given freedom to explore the environment in the order and manner they choose, the game’s director can’t ensure that they see everything of importance.

Over at FemHype, Melissa finds legitimate qualms with Fallout 4’s reliance on the heteronormative:

Here’s the thing, though: Fallout 4 isn’t real life … That’s because Fallout 4 is a video game set in a fictional apocalypse based off an American 1950s vision of the future. If they can implement rocket cars and nuclear shelters that can sustain people for hundreds of years, I’m pretty sure they can manage a nonbinary or gay trans person who has a child with their partner …

(FemHype recently bumped its call for reader support, by the way.)

“Video games have to be plausible if you want to suspend disbelief” – at least, that’s what Stanford postdoctoral fellow Sebastian Alvarado remarks to The Guardian’s Will Freeman:

Developers are constantly trying to motivate players in a level by giving their actions purpose and meaning. Scientists have been doing the same to build logic around the natural world – and we’ve done so for centuries. Our team has an edge because our scientific expertise is only matched by a shared passion for science fiction trivia.

While back at FemHype, Josephine Maria looks at witches in Skyrim and Dragon Age, exploring the way folklore is employed as media additive, drawing on the historical to overturn our assumptions or keeling under the weight of archetypal assumptions:

Skyrim draws heavily on witch folklore for its cast of magic users who are women, though they exist primarily in side quests and as faceless antagonists. An issue with any open world game produced on the AAA level is that deadlines and the sheer size of the game leave many elements feeling either too formulaic or unsatisfactorily explored.

“War Has Changed”

Jack Muncy’s write-up of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for Wired discusses the annual shooter’s “brutal body horror” in a convoluted plot that awkwardly toes the line between cookie-cutter science fiction and cutting-edge real-world technology: “Meanwhile, Darpa is experimenting with everything from exoskeletons to the sort of fantastical, bio-integrated tech featured in Black Ops III.

Over at Unwinnable, James Murff finds Black Ops 3’s departure from binary plot constraints of old a welcome change:

This plot setup allows Call of Duty to explore themes of human augmentation, mental breakdown, the nature of sentience and even the afterlife. While it doesn’t approach them as intelligently as a cyberpunk novel such as Neuromancer or Snow Crash, it’s far smarter and more strange than a Call of Duty game has any right being.

Politics as Usual 

Not Your Mama’s Gamer details an anonymous reader’s two-part account of sexism while working at a major game studio:

I was told that I’d get ahead in the company by sleeping my way to the top, and it turned out that rejecting at least one advance definitely affected my ability to get ahead. Additionally, I had to deal with receiving inappropriate comments, and, afraid of being flagged as unprofessional, I silently dealt with the fact that an ex-boyfriend working in the same office told me he counted how many times a day he passed my desk without me seeing him. In the end, I felt lucky that I didn’t have to deal with inappropriate touching or overt demands.

At Gamasutra, Chris Baker took the year’s biggest videogame copyright ruling to task, examining the impact of the U.S. Copyright Office’s new ruling on copyright restrictions in games:

Of course, the elephant in the room is that jailbreaking consoles and circumventing game authentication is commonplace nowadays. People are doing it all the time for purposes of entertainment, research, education, and art projects. But anyone worried about the legal (and ethical) questions surrounding this has had to refrain from doing so. This was particularly true for museums and libraries.

Over at FemHype, author Rachel W. talks identity and inclusivity in Read Only Memories:

Read Only Memories is a celebration of diversity and features many LGBTQIA+ characters. You work with a detective who is your sister’s ex-girlfriend, two street punks are hinted as being boyfriends, and a character who flaunts a big moustache and a beard uses she/her pronouns. Every character’s sexual and gender identity is not made completely obvious and, more importantly, it does not define their character.

A Grand Design

Let’s talk design, and what better a perspective to hear it from than a designers? Keezy Young, writing for Remeshed, takes a look at the design of eight female characters and what makes them standout:

If a character wears heavy makeup and silks and coiffed hair, maybe it’s that they value their appearance, or are in a position where their looks are important to maintain authority or popularity. If they’re covered in scars and nicked armor, it tells you that they’re probably battle-hardened, and used to close combat fighting. When you start mix-and-matching design attributes, you can get some really interesting subtext—a warrior with scars and nicked armor who also carefully applies makeup and wears a nice silk scarf, for instance, is someone I want to find more about. Why do they care about their appearance even on the battlefield? Were they always a warrior, or did they have a different background? Is there someone they want to impress or look nice for?

Guess what’s out? Unwinnable Weekly issue 69, continuing a series profiling Unreal developer grants in “Revving the Engine: Planet Alpha 31”:

There are many sources that inspired the visuals of Planet Alpha 31 — from ancient Greek architecture to the vintage look of Star Trek, Alien and Aliens to the amazing futuristic design found in cities like Singapore to space photography — we live in an amazing world with no shortage of inspiring sights.

Elsewhere, Ross Keniston falls for a new character in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Evie Frye – what with her “bad-assery” and clear familial dominance within the brother-sister dynamic Syndicate employs.

Heading over to U.S. Gamer, Jeremy Parish interviewed Mega Man mastermind and Comcept President Keiji Inafune, picking his brain on the Tokyo Games Show and Mighty No. 9; while at Pop Optiq Seth Shepard profiles Nina Freeman’s catalog of “vignette games.”

Over at Gamasutra, Josh Bycer talks challenges of asymmetrical balance in artificial intelligence; specifically, what designers get right and wrong about designing AI that is beatable without being disadvantaged and competitive without being overpowered.

But it’s not just the AI, the mere act of playing a game can be challenging to the non-initiated, as written by Radical Helmet for Plus 10 to Fire Resist:

As people who’ve been playing videogames for a good chunk of our lives, it’s easy for us to forget just how intimidating they can be for outsiders. I’m not talking the subject matter, either (although that can be a problem), but just the fundamental act of playing a game. The modern controller has two clickable analog sticks, four face buttons, four triggers at least, a d-pad and extra buttons for functions like pausing or bringing up a home menu, and the modern game routinely expects you to take advantage of most if not all of these features. Trying to get these people to play a PC game isn’t much easier, and just serves to remind us that these devices weren’t actually invented to play videogames, and that we’ve essentially had to hack the existing setup to make it work.

Oh, did you know that Carl Sagan, who would have been 81 on Nov. 9, dabbled in game design? Here’s Alex Wawro discussing “a rough design document” Sagan developed for a videogame version of his novel Contact (which was also adapted as a criminally underrated movie -ed).

And congrats to Brendan Keogh who released his finished PhD thesis online, which is “about videogames, what bodies do with them, and what they do with bodies.”


While short, I hope you found this week’s selection uncovered gems that may have otherwise flown under your radar.

That’s what we’re here for.

As always, your submissions keep the Critical Distance gears grinding, so hit us up on Twitter or email, or both if that’s your style.

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And if you’re already a patron, please, for the sake of the new senior curator we’re currently recruiting, keep up the support!

Xenogears, Xenosaga, Xenoblade

November 13th, 2015 | Posted by Critical Distance Contributor in Critical Compilation: - (Comments Off on Xenogears, Xenosaga, Xenoblade)

Critical Distance is proud to present this Critical Compilation of the Xeno games — Xenogears, Xenosaga and Xenoblade — curated by Brian Crimmins.

The Xeno games, Tetsuya Takahashi’s pet project and meta-series, are remembered as dense video games. And I don’t just mean dense with content, although that’s certainly true. Xenogears alone clocks in at upwards of 60 hours, and the games only become longer from there. However, the games are also dense with narrative. They’re known for their intricate plots and complex symbolism, most of it borrowed from Jewish and Christian mysticism.

Naturally, these games have attracted writers from all corners of the writing landscape – fan, professional, academic – to dissect these games and discern the deeper meanings hidden within. What follows is a glimpse into their efforts.

Shattered fragments of a mirror

Because the Xeno games are such behemoths, I’d recommend starting on Yuriev’s history of the series. Outside official sources, his work is by far the most comprehensive source of information we have on the franchise. He’s researched countless previews and interviews to detail how the games evolved over their development, how they relate to each other both thematically and narratively, and the meaning embedded into even the games’ smallest details. To offer just one example:

Naranjo compared the “theory of neurosis,” or degradation of consciousness, in symbolical terms, with that of the spiritual traditions in the mythological stories of the “fall from paradise.” These mythological stories of our genesis are featured heavily in Xenogears and Xenosaga, with a clear portrayal of man’s degradation of consciousness, to the point that we might even call the Xeno-verse a fictional representation of this “theory of neurosis.”

Michael Wolff touches on these themes in his piece on Fei, yet it’s An Tran who explores them in greater depth at Lea Monde. In their piece, Tran examines three of Xenogears’s major characters (Fei, Elly, and Krelian) through a Lacanian lens, showing how each one is both driven by and resolves a trauma that has split their identity. Although the latter overlooks Elly as a character (instead analyzing her as an archetype for other characters react to), An Tran’s analysis hints toward the careful interplay between the game’s Gnostic and psychological motifs.

I’d also recommend Lea Monde itself for all the Xeno-related writing it’s collected, but the quality of each piece can vary. A lot of the articles are very brief (maybe a paragraph), only commenting on one specific aspect of the game or theorizing about minor plot details. Others go into more detail. For example, Ricky Romaya uses scientific theories to reconcile fan theories with canon that was established after those theories. Or to be more specific, he uses those theories to show how the explanation for Ether and the Zohar that’s offered in Xenogears: Perfect Works (translated here by UltimateGraphics) doesn’t agree with how the game depicts them.

Noman Nasir, meanwhile, puts the game in a broader religious context. The parallels he sees between Fei’s journey and extra-Biblical myth give that journey a spiritual tone:

Fei is also on a pilgrimage of his own. […] The distinguishing characteristics of Xenogears [the mech] are its angelic wings which can be thought of as the polar opposite of Grahf’s demonic bat like wings. Grahf isn’t really Lacan [the character], instead he is the remains of Lacan’s negative emotions. So Fei defeating Grahf’s and his gear symbolizes a sort of freedom attained by the Contact from both his own dark past and that of his previous incarnation. It could also be interpreted as an internal battle within Fei’s heart where his positive side wins.

Of particular interest is Amber Michelle’s history of Xenogears fan sites. Not only does she compile a wide range of sites, but details her personal experiences with them; recalling how fans reacted amongst each other and toward major events in the Xeno-verse (EG the release of Perfect Works). Yet even at such an early stage, fan sites were dropping off the Internet. As Amber herself recalls near the start, “Though I also sent [my fan fiction] to Xenogears 101, the webmaster had already abandoned the site.” Still, her article is the closest we have to a real collection of early Xenogears thought.

Sonicblastoise, writing for his blog “The Mediocrity Codex”, bucks trends when it comes to Xenogears criticism. Where most writing focuses on the game’s story, he analyzes the game’s ludic systems, which he sees as servicing the larger narrative. For everything the game’s complex narrative accomplishes, the gameplay fails to guide the player through that complexity, breeding the rage that sustains the game’s anti-theism. Or in his words: “The game Xenogears is about power, discovery, motivation, despair, economies of scale, and transference. The story Xenogears is just about hating God.”

Eric Reichel, on the other hand, sees Xenogears as a story about religious reconciliation, not anti-theism. The key to this is this Zohar; both the plot MacGuffin and the Jewish manuscript. The latter asserts that to understand religious issues, one must look past the world of literal meaning (body) and adopt a more symbolic understanding of Scripture (soul). Similarly, Reichel sees most of Xenogears’ conflicts as arising from that dualism, whether it’s Krelian’s struggle to believe that God is good or Elly’s dual existence as herself and as Miang. Naturally, the Zohar is also the tool that resolves many of these conflicts.

What beauty they hold…these tears of sorrow…

This brings me nicely to Xenosaga, and Kyle’s examination of the Zohar in these games. His blog post for Adaptation reads like a response against Reichel’s piece on RPGamer. Where Reichel sees the Gears Zohar as serving the same enlightening role its real counterpart does, Kyle sees its Saga incarnation stifling the search for knowledge, disrespecting Jewish beliefs by clumsily intertwining them with Nietzschean philosophy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kyle doesn’t think Xenosaga handles Nietzsche’s philosophy that well, either. He sees characters still bound to their humanity, even as they try to live up to Nietzschean ideals and surpass it.

Erin Evans, writing for Playing with the Past, sees the games’ use of religious imagery as more deliberate than Kyle give them credit for, carrying religious concepts to their natural conclusion to create ambiguity. It’s because only a select few can obtain Gnosis (true divine knowledge) that the game depicts its Gnosis as an active threat – not the absolute salvation that we see in Gnostic Christianity. She cites several similar examples to illustrate a larger point about how the technology in Xenosaga reveals mankind’s ambivalent relationship with the divine. Or in her own words, this is a game “in which the development of human civilization is closely intertwined with both a quest for and struggle against divinity.”

Nilson Carroll would back her up, seeing the games’ conception and development as religious in its own right. Much like Alejandro Jodorowsky when he was working on his failed film adaptation of Dune, Carroll sees Xenosaga as Takahashi’s attempt to create a sprawling spiritual epic. The two authors saw something fundamentally religious not only within their works, but also in art’s greater role in society:

And possibly most striking is that both artists sought to have their art act as a prophet for their audiences (kids watching movies and kids playing video games). There is a long history of art as modern religion, and while it would be a stretch to claim that someone like Takahashi was “trying to make a religion,” it is worthwhile to refer back to Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) ideas of the theater as a kind of new church, the total art, a modern gospel.

Jie Wang also follows in Evans’s footsteps and applies these lessons to Nietzschean philosophy in Xenosaga. In her project for Duke University, she sees Xenosaga not as a recitation of Nietzschean philosophy, but as a reaction to it. Nietzsche’s ideas are definitely present, but the games’ relationship with them is ambiguous, at best. While many of the characters realize that nihilistic despair is a fact of existence, their personal reactions to that fact are all over the place. For Wang, this is precisely what makes the game worth playing in the first place:

Perhaps more importantly, Xenosaga does not simply present the facts to the player, or link the events in the game world to the history and events of our own world. It teaches its players to critically evaluate and to try to resolve doctrinal contradictions in their own way.

This may be why Xenosaga receives more academic attention than the other Xeno games. Stefaine Thomas examined the game as a specific kind of existential text in her master’s thesis for Ohio State. It’s a long read that’s heavily dependent on context the author creates, but to boil it down, Thomas sees the game’s mixture of psychological and religious themes as situating it alongside a very specific set of works. Yet it simultaneously rebels against them, mixing their personal narratives with the kind of grand epic that they’re typically opposed to.

L.S. Limanta and L. Djajadi, writing for Petra Christian University, don’t even consider Xenosaga from a religious/philosophical perspective. They approach it from a psychological one, uncovering Shion’s latent post-traumatic stress disorder and tracking her recovery. While fans of the games can probably infer that Kevin’s death is to blame for her trauma, this piece goes into more detail about it. The two show how the truama directly affected her within the moment, and how KOS-MOS later aggravates her PTSD and helps her overcome it:

These similarities of roles are the bridge to Shion’s mental recovery. These similarities form a strong emotional attachment. Shion starts to transfer her love and hopes for Kevin to KOSMOS, who is similar to him as a protector and as a partner. She transfers the qualities of her relationship with the deceased Kevin to KOS-MOS. In this sense, Shion’s treatment to KOS-MOS is more than treating her like an android. Shion treats her as a living being with feelings, but also a replacement of Kevin.

Finally, we have A.C’s comprehensive analysis of the first two Xeno games to consider. They see Xenosaga as carefully mirroring its predecessor, and have gone to great lengths to note even the smallest ways these games mirror one another. In fact, they go beyond simply noting the parallels and outline the broad metaphors that structure each game (mirror shards vs. ripples, the specific psychological trauma each protagonist suffers, etc.) Although A.C. doesn’t touch on any specific issues either of the games bring up (at least not to the extent other writers have), their article remains the most intricate comparative analyses of two video games you’ll find on the Internet.

It’s Reyn time!

Finally, we come to Xenoblade Chronicles, the most recent game in the series. Because this game has only been out for three years, Xenoblade hasn’t garnered as much critical attention as its predecessors. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Some of the critical conversation surrounding the game has focused on how the game has revitalized the stagnant JRPG genre. Sub Judice, for example, details how Xenoblade’s greatest strengths come from the game’s efforts to distance itself from the genre’s history. While this distance from other JRPGs may have disappointed some reviewers who were entrenched in the genre (see: Jason Schreier), Judice sees it as panacea for those who aren’t as familiar with it. By modeling itself more after an MMO, Xenoblade has averted the stagnation that people associate JRPGs while also making itself more accessible to outsiders:

For me, it’s not an issue of Xenoblade overcoming the flaws of other JRPGs, but of putting way less focus on those flaws, and therefore never evoking that distaste I feel when walking down one of Final Fantasy XIII’s hallways to start another cutscene.

Michael Abbott takes a somewhat different stance on the game. While he agrees that Xenoblade’s appeal lies in its systems, he rejects the notion that this distinguishes the game from previous JRPGs. For him, the game’s appeal lies in embracing the JRPG tendency to make its own systems apparent, even when so many other games obscure theirs. This lends the game a nostalgic air, reminiscent of “a prior console era populated with more intricate titles.” (He expands on these points for The Experience Points podcast while also offering some light analysis of the game.)

Yet most of the conversation surrounding Xenoblade approaches the game from a philosophical or religious perspective, much like the conversations surrounding the other Xeno games. For example, Gavin Craig praises the game for understanding scale in a way that few other narratives do. Rather than depicting large objects and areas in absolute terms, Xenoblade portrays the size of its world relative to what the player experiences. Not only is this new mode of communication easier for the player to understand, but it also helps make the game’s sense of scale more relevant to the player.

At Pioneer Project, Michelle B examines the role religion plays in the game’s event. More specifically, she looks at the religious beliefs the characters are implied to hold, and how that informs our understanding of the game. She sees the game’s central conflict as an issue “issue of doctrine, one god’s population striving against another with a mutual bias about the purity of their respective worlds.” Viewed this way, the game becomes an allegory for the inevitability of religious misunderstanding, and for the possibility of its being overcome.

Giant Bomb user Sawtooth builds off Michelle’s piece, somewhat, to examine how Christian theology informs the game’s plot. They note how each of the game’s deities are Holy Trinities on their own, and the parallels between the Monado and the Holy Spirit. While he admits that this isn’t always a perfect or flattering depiction of Christianity (the Bionis’ resurrection is bad for the people living on it), it isn’t a completely disparaging one, either. In fact, this piece finds a place for personal faith in a game some would characterize as anti-theistic.

Writing for his blog, Aaron Suduiko applies Leibniz’ Monadology to the game to show how it dethrones authorial intent. As obscure as that conclusion may sound, what this means is that it’s the cast’s relationship with the player that lets them smash the chains of fate. Because the player inhabits a position similar to Klaus’s when he creates the world, the player is just as much a god as Zanza or Meyneth. In Leibnizian terms, this means they can affect an otherwise deterministic system.

To One’s Own Future

The Xeno games have covered a wide range of subject matter, so it’s fitting that the writing about these games would cover just as much. We’ve seen the obvious topics like religion, psychology, and philosophy discussed, but also some slightly more surprising topics like history (both for the games and the fan scene surrounding them), system analysis, and a variety of different contexts. And this only considering the pieces I’ve been able to track down. Thinking about them has me anticipating what future writing on the series will bring.

If you have an article you feel would be a good addition to this Compilation, let us know about it! And if you enjoyed this feature, consider pledging a small monthly donation so that we can continue to commission more just like it!

November 2015: ‘Forgiveness’

November 9th, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on November 2015: ‘Forgiveness’)

Hello, friends! The end of October was full of super Critical Distance material and big announcements! So busy was the end of October in fact, we decided it was prudent to release the new Blogs of the Round Table theme a little later than normal. We hope you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive the delay, especially as that’s our theme this month: “Forgiveness.”

How do games handle forgiveness? What characters have sought forgiveness and through what narrative or ludic means? Is forgiveness something games struggle to communicate and how might they go about it differently? Has a game helped you forgive someone? Have you ever empathized with characters in need of or offering forgiveness? In games where it’s an option, do you seek forgiveness for your player characters?

I hope you’ll join me this month in consideration of “Forgiveness.” You’ll have until November 30th to add your submission.but be sure to check back throughout the month to look at the handy Link-o-Matic 5000 below and see what writers have had to say about the topic so far.

Use this code to embed the links in your blog, if your publishing platform allows iframes:

<iframe type="text/html" width="600" height="20" src="" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @TheJoycean or @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Suggestions for the Round Table:

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, we’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

November 8th

November 8th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Köller in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 8th)

Why hello there! Two, Three, Four…

Did you know that Persona 4: Dancing All Night was finally released in my part of the world this weekend? Step, step, spin!

Yet, ever your dutiful servant, my dear discerning reader, here I am taking a break from dance practice to provide you with the latest in games criticism.

It’s Time To Make History!

I mean, it’s This Week In Videogame Blogging!

Fever time!

All About the Benjamin Abrahams

Earlier this week, Kill Screen, one of the pioneers of crowd-funded games writing, launched a new Kickstarter to bring back their print magazine. On Twitter, talk among games writers turned to the site’s poor rates and the question of whether or not fair compensation had been factored into the budgeting for this new project. The conversation inspired a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of games writing outlets and their respective rates, which beautifully complements our own recently published list of contacts for new writers.

Unwinnable’s Stu Horvath added a detailed response to the discussion, connecting these issues to the horrors of a consolidated media landscape:

Writers no longer create stories, they develop clickable content. A solitary piece of content is almost valueless – who in their right mind would pay for 150 words summarizing a press release? – which allows media companies to buy them in bulk for cheap. As the threshold for advertising profitability continues to rise, the rate of pay for content producers necessarily shrinks in proportion, despite increased demand. […]

This is how our world ends, with advertisers paying tiny fractions of cents for people to visit stories no one wants to read, written by soul-crushed drones getting paid fractions of fractions of cents for their trouble. Eventually, one of those fractions will shrink so small that is ceases to exist. That is the heat death of the written word.

For more information on the subject of bad media practices, consider Anne Theriault’s recent article on the ethics of mining Twitter for private stories. If you want to learn more about the pressures of unsustainable piecework, you may be interested in Kathi Schönfelder’s German writeup of CHESTO – At the Checkout.

The Gender Agenda

Phil Hartup on the New Statesman criticizes developers’ attempts to justify sexualized outfits for female characters via lore:

At some point a developer should just admit that, as unfashionable and hackneyed as it is, they want attractive female characters in a game because they want their game to have attractive female characters in it. This admission would not bring the end of civilisation, it would not cause frogs to rain from the sky; it would just be honest.

Instead, we see developers choose to cook up these asinine justifications within the game, because they’d rather shred what little internal logic their game had than admit that an attractive female character was put into the game because they wanted one there.

On the flipside of things, Brian Cebulski provides us with a detailed writeup of (certain mainstream) videogames’ bonds with Hollywood masculinity.

On a more positive note, Riley MacLeod gives us a brief look at Naomi Clark’s Consentacle, Jake Muncy writes about the expressive power of Nina Freeman’s Cibele and Simone de Rochefort talks about Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate‘s portrayal of Evie Frye on the recently launched Remeshed.

On the German side of things, Rae Grimm looks at how the game industry is slowly beginning to cater to teenage girls, while Ally Auner chastises Fallout: Shelter for its gender stereotypes.

With Fallout 4 nearly upon us, Gamasutra’s Alex Wawro takes a look at the development history of the series.

“One of the biggest, and most visual bugs, was the car trunk bug,” says Urquhart, relating a Pratchett-esque tale of a trunk run amok.

Speaking of history, here is David Craddock interviewing a ROM hacker known as infidelity about their craft.

More interviews you say? Leigh Alexander recently spoke to Kitty Horrorshow, Tobias Unterhuber of Paidia talked to The Fullbright Company’s Karla Zimonja and Latoya Peterson interviewed rather a lot of people to look at some of the reasons why women make games (video).

Meanwhile, Vic Bassey talks about the development of Shelter 2, and Samantha Kalman and Liz England discuss The Beginner’s Guide.

Also: videogames

Writing about the final episode of Life is Strange, Ayla Arthur criticizes the game’s callous treatment of its queer characters (Content Warning: discussion of suicide). On Indie Haven, Simon Rankin writes about playing through the game together with a friend and how their relationship mirrors the central friendship of Max and Chloe.

Michael Lutz writes about his problems with Undertale and how it communicates its philosophy to players. Spoilers aplenty in the full article.

my biggest criticism of Undertale is that for a good portion of it to make sense you have to do the thing the game expressly does not want you to do; the implied player of the best ending just accepts things on blind faith and never questions or investigates the metaphysics of it all.

Kate Cox has written an extensive post about music in Dragon Age: Inquisition and how it is used to emphasize story points.

Naomi Alderman argues that games don’t have to teach us things to be worthwhile.

Here’s Leigh Alexander, again, this time talking about Twitch’s Bob Ross marathon.

Problem Machine looked at some of the issues with dialogue systems in a short post on talking simulators.

On Video Game Tourism, Eron Rauch is now at part seven of his exhaustive series on the MOBA genre, this time addressing how issues of spectacle affect professional play.

History Respawned is joined by Jeffrey Wasserstrom to discuss the Boxer uprising in connection to Bioshock Infinite (video).

Your Affection

That’s it for this week friends!

Thank you all so much for submitting interesting finds to us on Twitter or by email, it really makes our lives a lot easier and helps us make sure we don’t forget anything important besides.

If you want to help us out even more, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Our curation effort depends entirely on your generous support.

Last but not least, we are looking for a new senior curator! Head on over here to learn more about the position, and be sure to drop us a line if you’re interested.


We Are Hiring a New Senior Curator!

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in Announcement: - (Comments Off on We Are Hiring a New Senior Curator!)

Hi everyone! Kris here.

As many of you heard just moments ago via our Patreon newsletter, we are putting out an open call for a new Senior Curator. That’s right: my job. I am shifting my role here at Critical Distance to focus more time on our print anthologies, and we are looking for someone to take up lead curatorship in my stead!

This is a paid, part-time contract position. The approximate time commitment will be 10-16 hours per week, usually on the weekends.


  • Handling the majority of our This Week in Videogame Blogging roundups.
  • Preparing the digest editions of these roundups for Gamasutra and Offworld.
  • Performing last-look edits on our other features and for TWIVGBs on weekends they aren’t covering.


  • Familiarity with games and major strands of ongoing discourse (in other words, if you think about writing an essay debating whether Roger Ebert was wrong about games never being art, this position is probably not right for you).
  • A well-rounded understanding of the different types of games writing we tend to feature on these pages, from academia to devlogs and everything (or at least most things) in-between.
  • Able to work with a small team of contributors and foreign language correspondents, sometimes at weird hours.
  • Strong editing skills and the ability to self-edit.

Past experience curating for us is a plus, but not required. As is any foreign language ability!

If you believe this is up your alley, please email us and include your CV/resume, clippings or samples, and a short intro! Be sure to mention in the subject line you are applying for the Senior Curator position.

October 2015

November 7th, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in This Month in Let's Plays: - (Comments Off on October 2015)

Hello, my friends! I hope you had a festive Halloween and made use of the extra hour gained from Daylight Savings (if your region participates in such nonsense, that is). I used to the extra hour to dive into Let’s Plays, and goodness was that time well spent. Come take a look at what we gathered this October in This Month in Let’s Plays.  

This month, Noah Caldwell-Gervais analyzes three different zombie games (Left 4 Dead 2, Dying Light, and The Walking Dead) and considers how each creates horror differently, despite using the same monster.

Elsewhere, Castle Couch argues that the developers of The Swindle and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime both use procedurally generated levels to their own unique ends.

Over at Cannot Be Tamed, Pam takes a look at Rule of Rose, a rare and controversial horror game released to the PS2. To accompany her entire playthrough of the game, the video below offers a critical review. (Content Warning: graphic imagery of harmed bodies.)

Next Up, Danielle Reindeau and Patricia Hernandez play a loose creation of Alien: Isolation made in Mario Maker and compare it to the original game.

Stephen Beirne joins us this month with another Two-Minute Game Crit. In this episode, Beirne looks at Metro: Last Light and considers how the first levels of games set up a narrative design for the game.

Elsewhere, Heather Alexandra analyzes the complexity of authorial intent in The Beginner’s Guide and its seeming antagonism toward such in-depth analysis.

Over at History Respawned, Dr. Jeffrey Wasserstrom, an expert on The Boxer Rebellion, discusses the history of the Chinese Boxers in relation to their depiction in Bioshock Infinite. (Breaking style guide here by NOT embedding the video below, as the still image for the video contains a visual trigger for violence against women. Therefore it also goes without saying – Content Warning: graphic imagery and violence.)

Bringing us to a close this month is an LP series of Minecraft Blightfall from Aira Plays Games. This series takes an in-depth look at both the immersive world and its compelling story.  

Thanks for joining me for This Month in Let’s Plays. As always, I delight in your submissions, which help me discover, curate, and include new voices here! Please send your submissions for November via Twitter using the hashtag #LetsPlayCD or via email!

In closing, I’ll remind you that in addition to cherishing your submissions, we cherish your support. If you’d like to make a contribution, visit us on Patreon or Recurrency.

October Roundup: ‘Leadership’

November 4th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on October Roundup: ‘Leadership’)

Hello once again and happy fall. Today I’ve got a short and sweet Blogs of the Round Table to share with you. Today I’ll be going over what you all thought about ‘Leadership’:

How do videogames conceptualize leadership? Have you ever found yourself thinking about how a game envisions a leader and emulating it? Or are videogame leaders an oversimplified power fantasy? And let’s not forget that games themselves are often designed by a hierarchized staff. Have you ever found yourself questioning a leader’s ill-formed decisions? Or have you been burdened with that responsibility as a developer, game-master or guild leader? Are there better modes of coordinating people than locating all decision-making in one person or is one expert mentoring a group the best model? Tell us how the idea of leadership influences the way you experiences games.

Gaines Hubbell of Higher Level Gamer starts us off with a piece about how games convey leadership through rhetoric. Hubbell argues that “We can learn leadership through games mimetically—by watching and imitating them—although I’m not sure we should.”

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus returns to State of Decay, where she’s thrilled to have an elite squad of mostly women in leadership roles. For Karabinus, it never seems important to spread active roles to marginalized figures until she sees it in action:

It’s simple: it matters because we’re so rarely given women in power without other objectifying trappings; it matters because women are rarely just allowed to be people who have things to do. It matters because we so rarely see visible, important female characters who aren’t sidekicks or love interests (or both), and we need to see that, because that’s life, even though a lot of people are convinced it isn’t.

Nick Tomko takes to Hub Pages and argues that Dragon Age Inquisition doesn’t simulate leadership at all.

While Dragon Age Inquisition promises to endow the player with the power “shape the world around you. As a leader, you can deploy followers of the inquisition to act on your behalf…decide the make up of your inquisition forces.” Instead, all the leadership aspects of the game come across as hamfisted diversions into to the typical plucky adventurers save the world formula, creating a degree of dissonance between what the game tells your role in the game is and what your role turns out to be.

Last word this month goes to Leigh Harrison who writes on As Houses that Metal Gear‘s Big Boss is actually not a very good boss at all. In fact, most of Big Boss’s job seems to be wrangling middle-management minutia:

Snake does his sneaking missions and keeps kidnaping soldiers, and they keep instantly joining his cause upon arrival at his in no way moustache-twirlingly evil deep sea fortress

He can also send his boys out on little missions of their own, though only if they’ve been playing nicely while he’s been out doing the proper work. These, though, are about as impersonal as they come, driven, as they are, entirely through the menus on Snake’s chunky ‘80s iPad. He never flies back to Mother Base to see them off with a rousing speech, never salutes them upon their heroic return; he just sits behind his little computer analysing statistical likelihoods of success and pressing buttons like a chump.

I guess The Snake Parable would have been too obvious.

Well, that’s it for October’s theme. If you’d like to share any of the lovely articles above, feel free to add the Link’o’Matic 5000 to your blog with the code below.

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Otherwise, I leave it to Lindsey Joyce to take the helm for November’s theme and introduce a theme fit for a true leader. As for me, leading has been a lot of pressure, so I think I’ll go back to the middle of the pack and to quietly criticising every decision upper management makes.

November 1st

November 1st, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 1st)

Hello once again friends of games criticism. I hope that if you indulged in international cosplay-and-candy day that you had an extra special night with some extra special people, if your celebrations skewed less North American then I hope you enjoyed an extra special Saturday. Once again it is my pleasure to bring you a new edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Shocking Bios

A number of writers remain intrigued by Bioshock Infinite and continue to write engaging pieces exploring it. Amsel von Spreckelsen pens one such piece focusing on Bioshock as “temperance fiction” like the 1956 film, Carousel (Content Warning: domestic violence, alcoholism, incest):

It is a fairly common mechanism of patriarchy that violence against women is framed as being bad, by and for the understanding of men, on the premise that ‘you wouldn’t want this to happen to your daughter,’ that a victim is ‘somebody’s daughter.’ Fundamentally what this says is that men can apparently only view women as an object in relation to a man, not as a person in their own right.

Gadgette’s gamer-in-chief, Emma Boyle, asks why feminine clothing is so polarised in games, using Bioshock Infinite as the prime example of how feminine sexuality is either neutral or monstrous with no compromise:

A fear of female sexuality runs throughout Bioshock Infinite; Elizabeth’s first outfit infantilises her; she’s locked away from the public who think of her as nothing more than a holy infant; her powers (which are supposed to reach their height after her first period) are seen as frightening. It’s significant, therefore, that after she kills, as she becomes a character who acts through violence, a cold self-assured woman determined to get revenge and exercise the full extent of her powers unrestricted, she changes into a more sexualised outfit. The game really seems to tie female sexuality and female power together. Elizabeth’s outfit is feminine throughout the game, but the femininity is used to either highlight her as harmless or a dangerous threat.

Games That Could Have Been

Chris Suellentrop of Kotaku looks back at articles from 2006 anticipating Spore and compares the hype to articles on No Man’s Sky that promise a similar intellectual revolution.

Instead of transforming the human race’s understanding of itself, or even our understanding of video games, Spore became the last game—at the moment, at least—that Will Wright ever designed. Alongside Howard Scott Warshaw’s E.T.Spore became a punchline, a game remembered only for being a letdown.

Konstantinos Dimopoulos on Gamasutra goes over the design notes for Kyttaro, the RPG he and a small team had been developing for over a year and will probably never be able to finish.

Friendship! (Friendship? Again?)

Two conference talks from the last week highlight some of the more nuanced problems in forming/maintaining game communities. Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer’s published talk from Indiecade 2015 illustrating how developing a game is ultimately for the people who it will speak to:

Like I said earlier, I make games for people, but making games for people doesn’t mean only giving them what they want. It means challenging them. It means expanding their idea of what a game can be. And not everyone’s going to understand, but some people will. And those people make it all worthwhile.

In a similar vein, our lead curator, Kris Ligman, transcribed their talk from QGCon discussing sex, Dark Souls and community gatekeeping. While I took their advice in the epigraph to not “take this too seriously” I still found enough gems that I couldn’t help but include it here:

It seems funny to me that even within my own social circles, frequently self-identified as progressive and inclusive, we police each other in this way. ‘What do you mean you haven’t played this critical darling indie game because you work two full-time jobs to keep a roof over your head, and even if you could play a game in your off hours your machine is too outdated to run it? What do you mean a game is too physically demanding for you, and you already can’t afford to go to the doctor? What do you mean you’re just not into that sort of game?’

Digital Architecture

Brian Crimmins at First-Person Scholar takes a look at Phantasy Star II’s dungeon and town layouts as narrative devices:

…when we analyze the game’s dungeon design, we see a series of shifts according to the narrative’s demands. These shifts complement the narrative, exploring new facets of the game’s themes and suggesting new developments where the narrative remains silent.

I wonder if Robert What would agree that videogame architecture is more about the expression of culture than a reflection of reality. His response to Deanna Van Buren’s piece on digital architecture from earlier this month suggests that he wants more games to appreciate the ideology that builds our buildings even before the blueprints are drawn:

Perhaps from a professional architect’s viewpoint games may not be up to Standard™, but then some people also wonder what role architects and their glittering technological visions have in the actual construction of edifices to modern hyper-capital

The Code Speaks

From Ludus Novus, Gregory Avery-Weir explains how Skyrim’s city of Riften is doomed to perpetual crime and poverty because the thieves and thugs running it are “essential” in the game’s code and therefore can’t be removed:

When games portray fictional worlds, they make implicit statements about the nature of the real world. By placing the Thieves Guild — one of the game’s three major employers — in a corrupt town ruled by a coldhearted mead magnate, Skyrim makes a statement about criminals and morality. Criminals come from bad places, and there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation.

Writing for FemHype, the writer known as Nightmare describes how the pacifist possibilities in Undertale make it such an inviting game, especially for the LGBT+ community.

Kill Screen’s Jess Joho is sceptical of the tech demo for Detroit: Become Human. Like many works with developer David Cage’s signature on it, Detroit seems as though its best ideas are lost in the game’s overall thematic clumsiness:

In the trailer to Detroit: Become Human, a half-assed allusion to slavery is attempted instead—I think? (I hope not, but I think so.) With the title’s uncomfortable juxtaposition of Detroit—a city known for its history of race riots and current race-related drug, education, and housing problems—and the tagline “Become Human,” coupled with the heavily implied metaphor to slavery, Quantic Dreams appear to be drawing unavoidable parallels.

Last word on this topic goes to Bianca Batti of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, who discusses mama’s in gaming. Batti argues that horror games like Among the Sleep and Alien: Isolation need to explore representations of motherhood outside a hard binary between victims and monsters:

In these two texts, motherhood becomes binaristically constructed between the two poles of good mothering and bad mothering, with no other options for maternal identity made available.

Championing Ordinary

Vincent Kinian writes on his blog, Game Exhibition, that more games need to explore “the minutia of ordinary life.” Kinian comes to this conclusion based on a review of Ihatovo Monogatari, a SNES adaptation of Kenji Miyazawa’s short stories.

Similarly, back on Kill Screen Frances Chiem argues that the “gut punch” of futility in Life is Strange’s conclusion is effective because Max doesn’t get to be the hero. As the title of Chiem’s article succinctly argues, “We Need to Stop Letting Everyone Save the World.”

Metal Gear Sordid

Writing for PopMatters, Scott Juster describes how, despite his best efforts while playing Metal Gear Solid V, he found himself falling into the exact military-industrial complex he had hoped to bring down:

By the time that I reached the third (!) set of credits, I had unwittingly participated in a series of events that was disturbingly similar to how the history of modern war, industrialism, and colonialism played out in our world.

Finally we return to FemHype, where Melissa has catalogued some of the fan art that reimagines the outfit of Quiet, the game’s notoriously underdressed sniper.

[Insert Closing Pun]

That’ll do it for me. Which is good, because after munching away at all this candy I think I’m hitting a sugar crash.

That doesn’t mean we’re finished here, though. Oh no. Keep a close eye in the next few days while I round up October’s Blogs of the Round Table and Lindsey Joyce wraps up a month of Let’s Plays and comes up with a theme for November’s BoRT.

If you’re feeling impatient, feel free to check out Eric Swain’s latest minisode, where he and Nick Dinicola talk about their favourite indie horror games.

All our projects at Critical Distance rely on suggestions and input from you, our community of readers, so please follow and keep in touch with us by email or through twitter. If you want to go an extra step to support us you can contribute monthly support to our Patreon or Recurrency to fund our existing and growing projects. If you aren’t able to make a monthly commitment we now also accept one-time donations through Paypal.

With that I think it’s time for me to sign off and start scouring my apartment for a vegetable to ease my chocolate-coated conscience.