August Roundup: ‘Nostalgia’

September 1st, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on August Roundup: ‘Nostalgia’)

In the spirit of August’s topic for Blogs of the Round Table, I’ve been looking back at some older editions of this fine feature of ours. In doing so I’ve discovered that August 2015 has matched BoRT’s month of highest participation! You’d have to go all the way back to January 2013 to find as enthusiastic a response.

Naturally, special thanks must go to Alan Williamson, who came up with the topic some time during his captaincy of the SS BoRT-olomew. Now, let’s take a moment to look back at the waters we’ve sailed and consider our own ‘Nostalgia.’

Games are often talked about as a young medium, but that doesn’t prevent players from valuing the memories they’ve made from them. Games are old enough to be in the background of a whole generation’s upbringing and we want to know what you think about that. Do gamers look back on yesteryear with rose coloured glasses? Or were there some good ol’ days that gaming should harken back to? Do you keep your old consoles to recapture the magic of lower bit eras or is the past weighing down the possibilities for fresh new ideas? We want to hear about your personal stories of old games and how they shape you as a player, a writer, a developer, a scholar or just as a person. If you grew up with games we want to know about how you thought of them when you were young and if you took to them as an adult we want to know how they appear without that background.

This month saw a number of entries related to Final Fantasy, particularly in light of Square’s announcement for a remake of Final Fantasy VII.

Austin Howe, one half of the Critical Switch podcast, offers his take in an episode comparing the proposed remake to a shift from rock standards, where the work and its original creator are treated as inextricable, to jazz standards, where covers are expected to be frequent, unique and interesting. Howe hopes that, like other JRPGs, Final Fantasy VII will offer something new with a fresh take.

Rik Davnall has mixed feelings about the new Final Fantasy VII. On Starts with a Fish, he writes that although he liked playing the game for the first time, long after its initial release, having an old fan with a wildly different approach to it breathing down his neck really stunted his appreciation for it:

Why talk about this now? Well, sometime in the next couple of years, a whole lot of people are going to get the chance to come to FFVII fresh, in a game that really won’t – can’t, for better or worse – match the memories of people who played it when it was new. That disconnect could do a lot to hurt the actual experiences people have with the remake, maybe on both sides (I imagine it’s hurting some people in conversations within the dev team already).

Jake Tucker reflects on the quietly influential Rainbow Six series through a series of interviews with the game’s original development team. In playing the alpha of the latest release, Tucker remains hopeful that the innovative series will continue to push boundaries now that the shooter atmosphere it helped create has outgrown it.

In his first review for Giant Bomb, Austin Walker discusses the nostalgia provoked by Galak-Z. While at first the game appears to simply pander to the audiences of 80’s Japanese cartoons, it takes the extra step of recapturing the feelings of that old media, not just its content. Walker writes,

Still, If these references made up the entirety of Galak-Z’s connection to its major influences, I think I’d be mark this down as another piece of empty nostalgia. My empty nostalgia, yes, but not much more than that. Thankfully, Galak-Z does more than just peddle what I love back to me. It offers me something new, too.

Without playing favourites, let me just say that this piece on Chrono Trigger on Problem Machine really speaks to me. The article suggests that as we try to restore something we’ve destroyed or lost in our younger days, we end up hurting ourselves in that chase. Similarly, the cast of Chrono Trigger tries to prevent the apocalypse that people have made inevitable. Of the many excellent passages, I’ve selected this one to represent the article:

We want conflicts, battles that never really end. We want loss and agony and bitterness and forgiveness. We want everything to go wrong, we want to see the world broken so that we can see it rebuilt. We want to see everything ruined so we can see it fixed. We want to believe that fixing a broken world is possible, and so we sow the seeds of destruction in our art. We are creator and audience, villain and hero. We are Lavos, the disaster, falling from the sky to catalyze a world of conflict and suffering that gives rise to the art we want to see. We consume the emotions, the conflict and energy and sadness that we foment in our apocalypse, the heroism that requires our tragedy to flourish.

On an errily similar note, The Rev takes to their blog to muse about nostalgia as an effort to preserve a culture and (what literary theorist Hans Robert Jauss might call) a horizon of expectations that no longer exist.

The wheezing, messy machinery of a culture cannot be maintained with anything less than our lives. Unless we take the time to interact with and preserve the stories and experiences that define a people, they will die out. Certainly there is a difference between keeping a culture alive and cynical nostalgia baiting. But that line may be thinner than we think.

Meghan Blythe Adams dusts off her blog to consider how The Night of the Rabbit evokes the nostalgia of creepy children’s cartoons to restore a childish fear of funny animals:

If T.S. Eliot will show you fear in a handful of dust, [The Night of the Rabbit developer,] Matthias Kempke will show you the fear waiting behind each beautifully painted, seemingly idyllic scene in Mousewood. He’ll remind you how you once saw these things.

At The Joycean, BoRT’s very own Luigi/Tails/Coco Bandicoot, Lindsey Joyce reflects on The Legend of Zelda as the introverted Player 2 to her older sister’s pioneering Player 1 and the narratives that were built out of playing such a sprawling game:

This also meant that my experience of and my nostalgia for the game are altered by the story I told myself, the story I wanted to be there rather than the story that actually was. Of course, memory is always subjective and, of course, everyone’s experience of any game is unique, but for me, the way I conceive of Zelda and my relationship to it, is distinctly different than my relationship with other games. Whenever I have revisited The Legend of Zelda, I still find a good game, but I never find my game. Now, in my 30’s, I can’t ignore the text. The words immediately register in my head. The magic I brought to it, the sacred act of playing it, the mysteries it contained, and the story it allowed me to create for myself are all gone.

Stephanie Jennings of Ludogabble recalls the game that awakened her love of horror, Resident Evil 4, and reminisces about that first journey through it, a feeling that can never be restored:

I believe that our nostalgia is a pursuit of that initial contact with a game, when the game was full of uncertainty and potentiality. It is an ever-elusive desire for an already-departing, in-the-moment being-experienced. The moment of play drifts away the instant it is enacted, and we may remember the way it felt, but those smokey tendrils were already shifting form and departing even while we were feeling them.

Returning to Final Fantasy VII, Chris Casberg pens a piece on Game Church comparing the enthusiasm of the remake with CS Lewis’s philosophy on nostalgia. For Casberg, nostalgia is a trap that chains people to a lost time when they should be looking at the possibilities of the present in their maturity.

Nostalgia’s a funny thing, though. Or perhaps it’s not funny—more likely it’s a trap. Nostalgia anchors us in an anachronism, keeping us tethered to old thoughts and feelings while time drifts ever onward. Neither those feelings from our youth nor our fond memories are bad in themselves, of course. It’s the wishing to be there again, to be a child in front of a bulging tube television crackling with static discharge while the Playstation’s chatty disc drive whirs and clicks, that leads us astray. The greatness of those past moments is particular to their time and place in the formation of our imagination. We can’t ever actually become a child in a particular development stage again, as much as we might wish Jesus’ command that we be like children mean that. To yearn for a return to that state is to yearn for retrogression, a diminishing of the person God is actively forming.

Dan Lipson responds directly to Casberg on Better Games, Better Gamers with a broader view of the Final Fantasy series and its various spin offs. Lipson suggests that nostalgia is a part of the spirit that helps the Final Fantasy legacy explore new eccentricities.

Founder of both Five out of Ten and Blogs of the Round Table, Alan Williamson, has released an article from the magazine’s latest issue in conjunction with our topic. Williamson is both sceptical and appreciative of his nostalgia: having never played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time when it was released in 1998, he’s able to accurately gauge its strengths and flaws from a distance, yet he also appreciates it in the context of an old game from a bygone era.

As he concludes: “I used to be wary of worshipping at the Temple of Time, but now, I’m learning to embrace my faith.”

Amsel von Spreckelsen declares on Medium that empty nostalgia is, quite simply, an illusion that masks a mostly painful past:

There is something to be said for nostalgia, and that something is that it is terrible. A treacherous feeling of loss for a thing that never was, holding us back and pretending to be our friend while it does so. The past is terrible. It is said that the past is another country, which may be true if the other country you are thinking about is filled with pain and racists.

Over at Haywire Magazine, Taylor Hidalgo stresses that nostalgia is not just a longing for old games or old game design, it’s longing for the versions of ourselves that first encountered those old games:

Nostalgia for old games is about more than just pining for the days of yore when “games were better,” or whatever arguments might arise from rose-tinted reflections of a time long past. It’s also about looking back on who we were as players and as people when we were both the same as we are now and also vastly different. Nostalgia explores all of it, gathered into a finite shape, a precise and entirely repeatable piece of history, and then serves it to us exactly as it did then, so we can see just how different we are. I’m not just nostalgic for those childhood RPGs that were so mechanically simple and accessible, but also a little nostalgic for the ease with which I could experience them.

Over at One More Continue, the author reminisces about their time pro team with their brother for Day of Defeat. Although the rare victories were especially sweet, the author doesn’t remember the same “good old days” as their brother, rather they remember the anxiety and confusion that came with trying to maintain consistent high-level players:

Back then, I was just confused and hurt by the way people were acting. Looking back on the experience, I can see a little bit clearer what was happening, or at least what I think was happening. At that time, we were are a little lonely, all looking for someone to look up to us, all looking for someone to tell us that what we were doing was good. We were insecure and we had egos.

Phill English of Tim and Phill Talk About Games offers a brief but punchy piece on the imagination required to fill the narrative gaps of his favourite games of yesteryear, which is lost as graphical ability raises the standards for new games.

One of BoRT’s most seasoned champions, Leigh Harrison of As Houses fame, asks “Why Would Anyone Want to Play a ‘New Classic Point & Click Adventure Game’?” Who indeed? Perhaps this passage will pique your curiosity even further:

Nostalgia is a sign that we’ve come too far, too fast, and ended up in a worse-off position. We slip into thinking about our childhoods or a bygone age because what we do with large chunks of our lives, and by extension the world in which we do it all, is so devoid of proper, genuine, nurturing meaning. It’s comforting to think back to somewhere we’d be perceptibly freer, however misinformed such fantasy is.

In his very first of what I hope to be many more entries to BoRT, Joey DiZoglio argues that nostalgic design calls on the past to comfort the player’s fear of progress:

Games are fundamentally iterative, and thus the audience demands that all proceeding copies hoping to exhibit new technology must graft their advances to the comforting mold of the progenitor.

On Dreams in Pillow Shots another BoRT newcomer, Andrew Gordon, feels that his new home in Deimen in the Netherlands is the New Super Mario Bros. of towns because it looks and feels so much like the American sitcom towns he grew up watching in Scotland. And yet, Gordon can’t shake the feeling that the nostalgic architecture of both the game and the sitcom set only mask the unhappy moments,

If nostalgia has one purpose, its that it helps us justify our own experiences to ourselves. No matter how confusing, mundane, trivial, or even painful an experience may have been at the time, our brain has a knack for preserving and amplifying its positive aspects in hindsight, allowing us to console ourselves in the realisation that every period of our lives contain things to be grateful for.

Finally, Steve Hernandez gets the last word for August in a piece written for his blog, Vidyasaur. Hernandez reflects on the growing time spent in the lobby of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal as fewer and fewer people played its competitive multiplayer mode. Over time, those matches fade into moments in Hernandez’s memory until only the background music stays with him.


What a roundup! I get the feeling that this roundup is going to stay with me for a long time. Hopefully, though, my rose-coloured glasses will blot out my fatigue and dire need for the bathroom when I look back on this post.

Once again, Past Alan Williamson deserves an applause for coming up with the theme and if you find yourself longing for more games criticism, give a listen to the latest Critical Distance Confab minisode, where Eric Swain interviews our long-time senior curator, Kris Ligman.

Or if you’re interested in a more recent retrospect, check out episode 2 of our Critical Discourse series where Gita Jackson, Aevee Bee and Nick Dinicola discuss their writings on the topic of ‘Danger’.

And if you’ve had enough reminiscing, than you can look forward to Lindsey Joyce’s coming roundup of This Month in Let’s Plays and her very own call for September’s Blogs of the Round Table.

I’ll bet you thought that was all we had coming up. Well we also have a number of other features we’ll be announcing on the horizon so check back regularly.

Finally, all of our regular features as well as our special one-time projects require support from our readers to continue growing so please give our Patreon page a read and consider contributing a monthly sum to support us.

August 30th

August 30th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 30th)

Readers, do you know I’m sometimes mistaken for Australian? Don’t ask me why, with all the Zs and missing Us in my speech, but it happens.

Anyway, right now I rather wish I were an Aussie. It’s approximately “claw my eyes out” degrees with a side of wildfires here in the Northern Hemisphere, at 11pm as I write this. A change of season sounds quite nice.

Enough about the brain boiling into vapor inside my skull, though, let’s get to this week’s reading! It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Of Play and Spectatorship

At Videogame Tourism, Eron Rauch is embarking on an exciting new series dedicated to demystifying Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) and helping to explain their appeal as a spectator sport on a global stage.

Meanwhile, in discussing eSports’ grassroots cousin in the international fighting game community, Ian Danskin attempts to pin down (video) how an 14-year-old game like Super Mash Bros. Melee has garnered a fandom and competitive scene based around its players testing the limits of the game’s systems.

Of Lore and Character

At Literally Games, Michael Hancock offers a dense but engrossing piece comparing the lore of Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity with the philosophy of Schopenhauer and others. Heavy spoilers lie within, but here’s a taste:

[Eugene] Thacker’s discussion on Life doesn’t “solve” Pillars of Eternity or vice versa. Instead, I think they both illustrate how complicated our concept(s) of life can be, that it’s possible to conceive of ways of approaching life beyond black and white abundance and absence.

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Jorge Albor admits he was left feeling a bit cold from The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, in part because he felt no real sense of closure for its characters.

At The Mary Sue, Jessica Lachenal chats a bit about the significance of the quiet interludes (what we might refer to as “pillow shots” in film) in Life is Strange. Meanwhile, at Gamasutra, Katherine Cross has a look back at Life is Strange developer Dontnod’s premier title, Remember Me, and how its meticulously rendered villains fall short on the character detail necessary to make the player care:

There was precious little behind her, no conviction, no grand sense of ideology, scientific or political, that seemed to drive this indisputably powerful woman. You know who she is, where she is, but not why she is. She is sketched in such a way that should leave her far more compelling than a mere Gallic neo-Eichmann, pulling her assigned lever in this corporatist republic’s machinery of terror.

What most of the best villains elaborate or express in their characterization is a roadmap of thought that allows you to see how they became who they are. This need not be expressed in a tedious dump of expository back story, but rather simply showing (if not always telling) why these characters do what they do.

Embodied Horror

Sticking with Gamasutra for a moment, Alex Wawro has a front-page piece on the psychological toll that studying and rendering hyperreal violence (and other grotesqueries) can have on designers and animators working in the games industry (Content Warning: graphic violence).

Moving over to Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon questions why Fallout Shelter not only erases queerness, it also enforces some highly specific attitudes regarding pregnancy:

There was so much about the mechanics of this game that not only privileged heteronormativity but also reproduction. Only heterosexual sex is allowed, heterosexual sex always leads to both 100% happiness and an apparently viable pregnancy, and said pregnancy must be protected at all costs, even when there is a direct threat to the woman carrying the fetus. Um, wow. That is some very real shit right there.

Also in the vein of unfortunate implications, at Kill Screen, Zach Budgor and Jess Joho have a conversation on Supermassive’s ‘interactive horror movie’ Until Dawn and how it plays upon (and into) the gendered tropes and clichés of the slasher genre.

Past to Present

History Respawn’s Bob Whitaker engages with historian Matthew Gabriele in his latest episode (video). It’s nominally about Dragon Age Inquisition and The Witcher 3, but moreover, it’s a conversation on our pop cultural fascination with Europe’s Middle Ages.

On the subject of fantasy (and its broad Tolkienification in modern fantasy), Go Make Me a Sandwich’s wundergeek crunches the numbers on depictions of men, women and non-gendered characters in Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition source books. In short: better than before, but still a long way to go.

And talking about history from a coding perspective, The iBookGuy recently released an excellent presentation on the hardware limitations to render color on the Commodore 64 (video), and how game developers creatively worked around these constraints.

Back at Kill Screen, Dan Solberg recently paid a visit to Chicago’s Bit Bash indie game festival, and in particular looked at its layout as a work of gallery curation and sound design:

Although the games in this space had their own little external speakers, the house and electro pop booming from the stage assumed each game’s soundtrack save a few levels-peaking sound effects here and there. By overlaying the space with music, each game’s embedded audio may have been replaced, but it also afforded a consistent, party-centric tone that blended play sessions into as a more holistic festival experience rather than pockets of individual gaming instances. […] [T]he festival catered to a variety of gaming interests without having to go the “white cube” route of homogenized presentation.

Further Reading

Interested in more? The latest issue of Arcade Review, brought to you by our own Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky, is now live for your consumption.

Unwinnable Weekly remains the most compelling weekly periodical in games, and this week’s cover story about a couple’s relationship strained by an unassuming Nintendo game is well worth the dive.

Finally, over at FemHype, Jillian has compiled a fantastic reading list of articles concerning diverse representation in games, including a few you may’ve missed on these pages!

Did We Leave Anything Out?

As always, we’re extremely grateful to all who send in their recommendations to us each week, whether by email, mentioning us on Twitter, or whispered into the ears of moths like Gandalf. They all make it to us eventually, and though we can never include everything, these roundups would not be half the resources they are without you!

An announcement! We have six new features heading your way soon — that’s right, six. At least. We had so many great submissions from our recent call for pitches, we just wanted to commission as many as we could! Stay tuned because we’ll be naming the first of these sooner than you think.

Other announcements! You still have a couple days to submit to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays! Be sure to use the respective hashtags #BoRT and #LetsPlayCD when submitting on Twitter.

Critical Distance is proudly funded entirely by readers like you! If you like what you see and want to help fund future features like the ones above, consider pledging a small monthly donation through Patreon!

02: Danger

August 27th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Critical Discourse: - (Comments Off on 02: Danger)

Sometimes writers independently cover the same topic, approaching a common subject from unique perspectives. Critical Discourse is our attempt to bring these perspectives together in a direct conversation, where writers discuss work their ideas together.

In this edition we invite three writers regularly featured at Critical Distance to discuss the theme of Danger. Gita Jackson opens the topic by confessing at Offworld,”I’m afraid to die in games“, where she ties her experience with danger to the simulated danger in videogames; also at Offworld, Aevee Bee writes “I love my untouchable virtual body” to argue that true empowerment isn’t in eliminating vulnerability, but controlling the conditions of vulnerability; finally, Nick Dinicola over at PopMatters claims that “She Who Controls the Flashlight, Controls the Horror” in analysing how the different abilities and avatars augment how Resident Evil: Revelations 2 creates tension.


August 23rd

August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Joe Köller in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 23rd)

Kris is taking a well deserved break this week and has left curation duties in my competent, if grubby mitts. Why are they so grubby? Because I’ve been rummaging around the internet to bring you your weekly dose of organic games crit. It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging!

The Leaf, Still Green

On Medium, Gabby DaRienzo talks about death positivity, and looks at several videogame examples that are in accordance with its philosophy of accepting mortality:

There’s a relatively new movement that’s slowly gaining popularity called death positivity (or “death acceptance”) that is encouraging people to face their own mortalities and to be open to talking about death, addressing it, and demystifying it. The movement was started by a group of young morticians whose goal is to lift the veil on death, and encourage us to explore our thoughts, feelings, and fears about mortality.

In a similar vein, Ashley Barry talks about death, deathcare and grief on The Mary Sue, using Final Fantasy X’s Yuna as one of her examples (Content Warning: suicide):

In Final Fantasy X, a game about a woman’s pilgrimage and a blob-like monster that terrorizes her world, Yuna, the heroine, is so much more than a summoner. There’s an important scene in which Yuna performs a sending, a ritual that puts the dead to rest. As Yuna dances atop the water’s surface, a group of coffins bobbing just beneath her, there’s an incredible display of grief from the crowd encircling her. One woman clutches her stomach as she sobs while another collapses to her knees.

Yuna has fostered a safe space where open grieving is accepted and encouraged.

On a darker note, Amsel von Spreckelsen writes about the use of death, particularly the death of women, as a plot device and Kevin Wong has compiled fan theories about the plot of the gloomy Limbo.

On a more figurative note, Owen Vince takes a very detailed look at the life and death of urban environments.

It’s mutual. Free market!

Jake Muncy proposes that GTA IV is perhaps Rockstar’s best effort at storytelling, because it deliberately eschews any upwards mobility for its protagonist Niko Bellic:

He might have earned some money, doing things he’d rather not discuss, and a few houses to his name off the backs of those he’s killed. But he’s gained no status and no real place to call his own, just a ledger of ugly acts and the untimely deaths of people he’s cared about. Niko Bellic’s story is a cynical one, Rockstar’s blatant evisceration of the American dream from the perspective of an outsider for whom that dream has no place.

Kent Sheely talks about game cloning as an instance of remix culture, looking at some variations of the popular Five Nights at Freddy’s series.

Meanwhile, Mattie Brice wonders what kind of luxury there is to have in this medium. The answer being, of course, anything you can buy in Star Citizen (video).

Metal Gear?!

Ashly and Anthony Burch recently published a book on Metal Gear Solid, and our own Cameron Kunzelman helpfully provides a review.

Elsewhere, Jake Muncy talks about the series’ VR missions as the root of the recently released Volume.

If, like me, you don’t know the first thing about any of these games, you might appreciate Aoife Wilson’s spoilerific plot summary (video).

Speaking of weird mechs, Stephen Beirne has a new Two Minute Game Crit about Zone of the Enders 2 and AI (video).

And Then There Were Videogames…

On Gamasutra, Dave Hagewood gives a Game Design Deep Dive on rocket flying in everybody’s favorite soccer car (soccar?) game, Rocket League.

Our own Riley MacLeod has compiled a lovely list of queer Let’s Players you should watch.

In a swift one-two of truth punches about mental illness, FemHype’s Pluto talks about trauma in Life is Strange (Content Warning: discussion of abuse), while FemHype’s Lindsay uses Dark Souls as an allegory for depression.

Carli Velocci has created an excellent primer on the Twine genre of gender horror for Bitch Media.

Over on Offworld, Christina Xu looks at some of the gaming lingo that has bled into Chinese vernacular. Speaking of language, Jenni Goodchild’s VideoBrains talk about gaming’s language problem (based on this post from last year) is now available online (video).

Must Someday Fall

That’s about it for this week folks!

Thank you all so much for submitting interesting finds to us on Twitter or via email, you are really making our lives so much easier everytime you do so, and making sure we don’t forget anything important besides.

The theme for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table is ‘Nostalgia‘, and there’s still about a week left to get your submissions in. Remember to tag them with #BoRT, or include it in the subject line of your email.

Last but not least, remember that as your friendly neighborhood curation service, we depend entirely on your support to continue our work, so please consider chipping in to our Patreon campaign to ensure there will be more great things coming from us in the future. Did you know we have some Critical Compilations in the pipeline at the moment?

It’s been a blast being here my friends, but now I must leave you, to resume the rummaging, for the rummaging is never done.

Such grief and joy // to live at all.

August 16th

August 16th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 16th)

Where have all the flowers gone? And if your answer to that is anything but “Oklahoma!” we can never be friends. But that’s enough deep cut references out of me for one opener — let’s move ahead and get going with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Nasty, Brutish and Short

Robert Rath, famous for his Critical Intel column, appears to have found a new home at Playboy, discussing Call of Duty consultant P.W. Singer’s very FPS-inspired novel Ghost Fleet:

Ghost Fleet is what Call of Duty would be like if it put on a tie and went to Capitol Hill.

And that’s exactly what Singer is doing. The defense establishment has taken keen interest in the book, leading him to make the rounds in Washington. […] The government wants to explore the real-world lessons from Ghost Fleet, with particular focus on how it can avoid the security vulnerabilities the U.S. Navy falls prey to in the novel.

At Science News, Rachel Ehrenberg shares a brief yet fascinating article on Diplomacy the tabletop-turned-online game, which researchers have taken to in order to measure human behavior and ‘tells’ precipitating the game’s characteristic acts of betrayal. While the results are nothing too grand — the researchers found their model could predict when one player was about to betray another 57% of the time — it’s a first tentative toe being dipped into an exciting field of behavioral study in games.

At Offworld, Daniel Starkey speaks bracingly about his childhood living in poverty, in which theft — including piracy of computer games — was one of few avenues open for impoverished youth looking to acquire cultural capital:

Poverty is often cyclical because it traps its victims in intellectual dead zones. We know that without stimulation, without challenge, the mind, like the belly, starves.

I don’t pirate games anymore, and I don’t support pirating games if you can afford to buy them. But when I needed it, piracy gave me hope.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has published a teaser for Simon Parkin’s upcoming book, Death by Video Game, in which he explores the multiple factors behind highly sensationalized cases of players dying after long playing binges. You can preorder a copy of your own on The Guardian’s web store.

We Were Here

At FemHype, Rem calls for more nuanced representation of asexuality in games. Meanwhile, in Aevee Bee’s ZEAL magazine, developer and games educator Robert Yang muses on the way we model bodies in games, in which their dynamism (or possibly, embodiment) is frequently overlooked:

Animations are essentially flipbooks; when we flip through the individual pages or frames quickly, we create the illusion of motion. Computer animation helps automate this process by taking human-authored “keyframe” poses and generating the “in-between” frames, or even entire animation sequences through motion capture. Then game engines loop through these sequences of poses to transform bodies along predictable trajectories. When you walk in a game, you’re basically looping over those same 2 choreographed steps over and over.

What’s totally missing is a logic of transformation. When do our bodies change, and why?

(Content Warning: Yang’s article includes some discussion of sexual topics — and a few gifs which might be considered unsafe for work.)

At Fusion, Patrick Hogan pays a visit to some of the abandoned virtual colleges left over from the Second Life hype train. It’s strangely nostalgic — I actually had a class on Second Life back when I was studying for my bachelors — and that dovetails nicely with our next article, from C.T. Casberg at GameChurch. Commenting on the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake, Casberg cautions that nostalgia can be a sort of intellectual and spiritual trap:

[C.S. Lewis] writes that other budding loves work much the same way. “In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go on to live there.”

If I may put it in more relevant terms, the thrill you feel the first time you fly the Highwind or breed a Gold Chocobo will not last on subsequent playthroughs. […] If you go out to McDonald’s and no other restaurant because you want to preserve your fond memories of getting a Happy Meal, you’ll miss out on good cuisine. Games are the same way.

Design Notes

At Gamasutra, Bryant Francis has a write-up of an interesting panel held among several games writers at the Writers Guild of America, focused on the trials and tribulations of writing for big budget games. The entire article is full of gems, but this anecdote from Ratchet and Clank writer T.J. Fixman seems to encapsulate a lot:

“I wrote this joke, where Ratchet and Clank are in a ship together and the designers wanted them to fall asleep so they could wake up in a new environment,” he explained. “So this gas comes out, Ratchet goes, ‘ah cryosleep gas, I’m not gonna fall asleep!’ And of course he falls asleep. And Clank says ‘oh it’s good that gas doesn’t work on robots!’ and a boxing glove pops out and knocks him out.”

“[Others on the development team] just started peppering me with, ‘Why is this funny? What Is the joke? Where does this fall in the hero’s journey? Is this the save the cat moment?’ I’m wide-eyed and going ‘I thought, I thought it was funny I’m so sorry.’ That’s what I realized, as a game writer, you think you have this freedom, but you don’t. There are so many constraints and so many moving pieces, and from then on out I was hyper-aware that any time you write anything in a script, that changes the game for 20 different departments.”

In the wake of the release of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, Javy Gwaltney goes back and looks at The Chinese Room’s previous two releases, Dear Esther and A Machine for Pigs:

Both A Machine For Pigs and Dear Esther are games that could be described as bleak and no one who’s played them would probably bat an eye. However, it’s interesting that both share a narrative structure usually associated with more optimistic stories. We go on a journey, descending into a literal underground, commonly a symbol of hell and the nastiness that lurks within ourselves, and then take flight at the end of the game, a literal uplifting of each game’s protagonist.

Taking a different tack, Heather Alexandra looks back at the game which formalized the Quick Time Event (QTE), Shenmue (video), and how the game actually deploys the mechanic with a level of nuance and meaning we don’t tend to talk about when we dismiss QTEs as poor design.

Field of View

Unwinnable has reprinted a piece by Jill Scharr, in which she examines a recent trend in games to present a young female companion as a ‘moral compass’ for the male protagonist, and how the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead bucks this trend.

Elsewhere, in the latest Memory Insufficient, Zoya Street dips his toe into the small but burgeoning field of idle games, or “games that you don’t play”:

Most idle games invite (but do not require) a small amount of interaction once a day or so: players log in, harvest a resource, invest that resource in something that will boost yield, and then log out again — but by design, all idle games will run with no player action whatsoever. The difference between optimisation and total inaction is not whether or not you reach a particular target, but how quickly: and as with all online games, designers carefully balance the game so that the pace of player progress is predictable and controlled.

Street doesn’t mention the game by name in his piece, but if you want an example of a recent wildly successful “idle game,” have a look at Neko Atsume!

August Never Ends

I don’t want to linger on this one, for obvious reasons. This month has been stressful on many minoritized voices in games already. But, if there’s one piece I’d like to name, it’s this one: on the anniversary of the Hashtag That Must Not Be Named, Zoe Quinn has a look back at the ravages of the past year — but also her many projects since that time.

Dispatches from Vienna

It’s been a while, so let’s catch up with our German correspondent Joe Köller!

At Superlevel, Daniel Ziegener reports back his impressions from the most recent Gamescom. Meanwhile, his colleague Nina Kiel was in attendance at Respawn, one of the periphery events surrounding Gamescom, and has brought back her report as well. You should also be sure to catch the latest entries of her column on sex games, including Cobra Club and Hot Date (Content Warning: some images may be unsafe for work).

“Speaking of rad Ninas,” Joe tells me, Nina Kremser has composed an excellent primer on Let’s Plays and participatory culture for Paidia. And writing for her own blog, Valentina Hirsch covers the German Film Museum’s (currently running!) exhibition on Film and Games.

And Then There Was Silence

Oh my gosh, I swear I didn’t intend for that subheader to happen, it was just the Blind Guardian song that came on as I was writing this. Speaking of German geeks…

Anyway, that’s all I have for you this week! Thank you to the many, many people who sent in their recommendations over Twitter and email — please keep it up! We very much rely on these submissions, in addition to our own website crawling and research.

The August Blogs of the Round Table is still going strong, on the theme of “Nostalgia” — and it’s looking like a popular one, so if you’d like to get involved with #BoRT, now is a great time!

Lastly, and as always: Critical Distance is proud to be supported by you, our readers! If you like what you see and want to help us continue this and our other ongoing features, consider contributing a small monthly donation to our Patreon!

See you next week!

August 9th

August 9th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 9th)

Ah, yeah, it’s getting to be that time of year. When the heat feels like a damp breath on the back of your neck and the cat is shedding enough fur to produce an entire extra cat.* There’s nothing for it except to stay hydrated — and take a long easy Sunday catching up on some reading. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Mirrors, Apertures, Doors

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander profiles &maybetheywontkillyou, a game in which players physically don a black hoodie and navigate a system of racist microagressions and capricious law enforcement.

Meanwhile, FemHype had a stand-out selection of writing this past week from three aptly alliterative authors. First, Sloane looks to Dontnod’s Life is Strange as a queer coming of age story. Next, Sylvia returns to Dragon Age II as a tale of immigrants and (resistance to) assimilation. Lastly, Sheva delivers the results of a recently conducted survey with more than 3,500 transgender and non-binary players on their experiences in a frequently hostile space.

A Host Image

Mark J. Nelson digs into the patent filing for Tapper, the 1983 arcade game. The document seems to veer from dense technical language to machine poetry:

[I]n my opinion, this exercise in describing gameplay through the lens of patent structure ends up being very interesting. It’s inadvertently carrying out a really detailed formalist analysis of the videogame, which sheds light on it from several angles. Especially interesting is that, while very detailed, it also has a strong push towards abstraction and generalization. The format requires it to remain at the level of prose description and diagrams, not the game’s source code or circuitboards. The need for a patent to describe a general invention rather than just a specific game contributes to this abstraction push, not least resulting in the excellent title, worth repeating: “Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels”.

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster has a look at the database structure of Her Story from a historical technological perspective and concludes the game “presents something that looks like the 1990s, but it only contains a small portion of the rules that governed that world.”

At Paste, Suriel Vazquez chronicles the (ongoing) push by a popular arcade to establish itself in a new community, amidst resistance from older residents and stereotypes concerning the arcade’s image and clientele. I have some issues with the delivery of this article — it could benefit quite a lot from including a bibliography at the end — but it does cast a spotlight on the fighting game community’s efforts to improve its image.

And shifting from real-world money matters to the digital, at Fiery Screens, Yussef Cole has been dispatching military deserters in The Witcher 3, noting how humans are, paradoxically, often the greatest source of cash for the game’s titular supernatural exterminator.

Against the Stream

Writing for her own website, Critical Distance’s own Lana Polansky writes lucidly on why the design philosophy of ‘flow’ acts as “a kind of ideological container”:

“Flow” evokes a certain set of aesthetics — minimalism is readily apparent, but so are certain articulations of soft futurism, New Age-y transcendentalism, and a variety of naturalistic modernist approaches. We think of water. We think of the cosmos. We think of pure mathematics. On the other hand, it works as basically synonymous for the kind of “escapism” offered in so many F2P games, and the kind of intense, aggressive focus (or “immersion”) demanded of many “core” AAA games. Flow works both as the desired affective experience for most games, as well as an aesthetic container. How fortuitous that it finds its root not in any specific heritage of art, but in psychology.

Fellow Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman expands on Polansky’s remarks in a response piece of his own, concluding:

[W]e need new models, new ways of thinking, and not just those that come into being through the measurement of response time and the amount of sweat a player produces when shooting enemies.

Responding to both posts, Heather Alexandra of Trans Gamer Thoughts offers her own take on the sort of vocabulary stalemate we find ourselves in, and lends this memorable paraphrase from the world of improv: “The Game says ‘Yes’. The Player says ‘And.'”

Links of Interest

At Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne has compiled a list of Irish game developers, critics, websites and conventions, in a bid to highlight their contributions.

Speaking of Stephen Beirne, he appears in the latest issue of Five Out of Ten magazine is out now, which is now up for sale. Be sure to check out the newest Unwinnable Weekly too!

Good day, good day, good day

Thanks for reading! As always, Critical Distance would not be half the site it is without your links and recommendations, so please keep sending them in over email and by mentioning us on Twitter!

The August Blogs of the Round Table theme is here, focusing on nostalgia — a salient topic for the current month, if you’ve been waiting to contribute.

Also, a bit of signal-boosting: Ontological Geek has put out a call for articles for its upcoming theme month devoted to mental health in and around games.

If you enjoy these roundups as well as our other features, remember that we are reader-supported through Patreon and welcome your donation!

*Except our Australian contingent, for whom ‘Summer Valvemas’ is really just ‘Valvemas.’

July 2015

August 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in This Month in Let's Plays: - (Comments Off on July 2015)

Hello, my friends! In my continued effort to re-emerge from hiding after my (successful!) PhD qualifying exams, I am back with another month of LPs! Before we get started, I want to extend special thanks to Riley MacLeod for taking over in June and also for just being an awesome person.

There was a lot of great content this month, so let’s dig in and see what July brought us  This Month in Let’s Plays:

Systems and The Meanings They Create

In the latest addition to Stephen Beirne’s Two-Minute Game Crit series, Beirne looks at how menus work as a form of introspection that present information internal to the playable-character. In this video he specifically analyzes the menu options, and how they promote social engagement, in Persona 3.

Elsewhere, Heather Alexandra looks at Planetside 2 and its (intended or not) message about the value of life. Unlike Call of Duty or CounterStrike, Planetside 2 has no matches, and as a result, there is no start or stop to conflict. The constant respawns after death can make the player feel like they are trapped in a endless war where death is denied and life has no value.

This month, Cameron Kunzelman looks at two film-to-game adaptations (The Two Towers and Minority Report) to consider the practice of remediation. In one type of adaptation, the game focuses on adapting the content of the film into the game. In the other type, the game adapts the movie’s concept, but takes very little of its content. Kunzelman proceeds to discuss how each type of adaptation remediates the film experience differently.

Game Designers in Conversation with Games

This month, Kimberly Wallace of Game Informer sat down to play Gone Home with developers Steve Gaynor and Karla Zimonja. In addition to making sure Wallace didn’t miss any special gems, Gaynor and Zimonja discuss their design choices, where specific content came from, and other interesting tidbits about their creation process.

Elsewhere, Chris Franklin of Errant Signal analyzes The Magic Circle, a game aptly described as a game about game developers. Operating perhaps as an open letter to the game’s industry, Franklin notes that perhaps the games creators — alumni of Bioshock  and Dishonored — have some “battle stories to tell” with this game.

Due Diligence

Though this LP series of EpicNameBro completing Dark Souls began in Late June, it only came to my attention this month. In the series, EpicNameBro, who worked on two official guides for the game, discusses both lore and strategies for the game while playing. [Note: I have not watched all episodes for possible content warnings.]

Elsewhere, Noah Caldwell-Gervais provides a detailed analysis of the Homeworld series, spending time coherently summarizing its story elements and detailing the series’s missteps and successes.

Power Structures

Dr. Samantha Blackmon and Alisha Karabinus, two scholars from Purdue University, are developing a series aimed at discussing race in games. In this sample teaser for the series, the two analyze Destiny‘s character creation options and how they limit racial identity.

At Rock Paper Shotgun, Marsh Davis revisits Deus Ex: Human Revolutions to discuss how it and games in general promote an oxymoronic relationship to power, wherein the player holds all the power yet is framed as being oppressed.

Additionally, this month on History Respawned, co-host John Harney speaks to Boston University’s Dr. Renata Keller about Tropico 5, US-Cuban relations, and racial dynamics.

Religion, Not Sex, and TEETH

This month, our own Riley MacLeod sits down with a friend and talks about religion and religious identities in the queer community while playing Super 3D Noah’s Ark.

Elsewhere, Streamfriends Nick and Nico play The Stranger, a game that is – they assure – not about a sex act. The Stranger does however, and despite its fantasy/cartoon aesthetic, seem to exist in a universe that shares cultural references with our own, including Obama and Wayne Gretzky.

Bringing us to a close this week, Liz Ryerson looks at the implied narrative design, layout, and aesthetic of the Doom 2 Master Level called The Express Elevator to Hell (TEETH).

Be Excellent to Each Other

If you didn’t see your Let’s Play in this month’s roundup, remember that we operate via submission! Send your submissions to us via Twitter using #LetsPlayCD to designate them for this roundup, or  email us submission links. Please don’t hesitate to submit your own Let’s Play.

If you like what we do here at Critical Distance, remember we are funded entirely by readers like you! Consider making your own monthly contribution here.


August 2015: ‘Nostalgia’

August 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on August 2015: ‘Nostalgia’)

Could it be that it’s been a whole year since BoRT pioneer Alan Williamson descended into a vat of liquid steel, leaving Lindsey Joyce and I with but a thumbs up and a word of encouragement as we carried his legacy forward? Yes, it’s been an excellent year of round table blogging and I am always happy to see what new work we can share with you, our readers. But with our BoRT-versary upon us, I decided to look back at some of Alan’s old topics that never found the right occasion to launch and chose ‘Nostalgia’ as simply too appropriate to let sit any longer:

Games are often talked about as a young medium, but that doesn’t prevent players from valuing the memories they’ve made from them. Games are old enough to be in the background of a whole generation’s upbringing and we want to know what you think about that. Do gamers look back on yesteryear with rose coloured glasses? Or were there some good ol’ days that gaming should harken back to? Do you keep your old consoles to recapture the magic of lower bit eras or is the past weighing down the possibilities for fresh new ideas? We want to hear about your personal stories of old games and how they shape you as a player, a writer, a developer, a scholar or just as a person. If you grew up with games we want to know about how you thought of them when you were young and if you took to them as an adult we want to know how they appear without that background.

Don’t get too caught up in looking back, though, because the future is looming, and after August 31st it will be time for a whole new BoRT topic. You can see your submissions as they come in right here:

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 @MarkFilipowich or @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Rules of 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.

August 2nd

August 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 2nd)

Good morning, Sunday readers! I think it’s morning. Yes? Technically. Like my cat I have lost all sense of time except dawn and dusk.

But enough of my crepuscular hunting patterns, it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Academic Rigor

Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson parses the data (video) on a recently released study, which suggested that men who harass women in online games tend to be unskilled players. Watson’s conclusion? It’s a little more complicated than that, and could certainly benefit from a larger, more nuanced dataset.

Elsewhere, the newest issue of Game Studies has just been released. Choice picks: Nicholas Taylor, Chris Kampe and Kristina Bell tackle identification and The Walking Dead and Krista Bonello Rutter Giappone pokes at humor in classic LucasArts adventure games.

Game Studies has also released a call for papers on intersections of games and warfare for its upcoming special issue. Games scholars, take note!

You’re Tearing Me Apart, Lisa!

Here’s a game genre we don’t see much discussion on: real-life room escape games, and tips for designing your own. It’s a simple concept open to a great deal of innovation and seems to be a burgeoning field, especially in China! As the article’s author, Adam Clare, puts so succinctly: “Don’t underestimate the determination of people to leave a room.”

Elsewhere, however, Luke Pullen makes a case for why sometimes, staying put is the better option, rather than braving the nearest ‘great outdoors':

It’s all very well to speak disparagingly of escapism, with the (completely accurate) implication that there is a grand world out there to be explored if only you could put down the controller and confront your fears. But what happens when you feel that meatspace actively rejects you? When the physical environment is so relentlessly hostile — physically, psychologically, economically — falling into oneself is easy.

Not all games are attractive for their sublime vistas, however. The infamous hallway central to Konami’s pulled P.T. demo game, for example, is memorable for other reasons — enough that lone developer Farhan Qureshi went and remade it top-to-bottom in the Unity engine, in a bid to preserve its legacy.

And Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin brings us full circle (hah) in this section, in his dissection of The Magic Circle (video). Here, Franklin has a look at The Magic Circle as being less “a game about games” and more “a game about game developers,” and in particular how its thematic through-line of challenging designer constraints is undercut by the game’s post-story ‘build mode.’

Beyond ‘Cool Japan’

George Weidman has put together an admirable analysis (video) attempting to iron out some of the confusion surrounding Shenmue 3‘s Kickstarter and the game’s financial relationship with publisher/partner Sony. If your eyes start to glaze over halfway in… well, that’s exactly Weidman’s point: Shenmue 3‘s PR handling is an obtuse mess, he argues, a combination of underpreparedness, language awkwardness, and poor transparency.

At Kill Screen, Savannah Tanbusch explores why so few games are set within Japan’s Meiji era, a period of Westernization and sociopolitical unrest. One upcoming game set in that period that Tanbusch highlights, and which I’m personally looking forward to: Dai Gyakuten Saiban, a prequel to the Ace Attorney series (and one which hopefully will see a Western release).

At Ludus Novus, Gregory Avery-Weir muses on how popular ‘cat gathering sim’ Neko Atsume is itself a little bit catlike:

[N]othing happens when you’re paying attention to it. There’s no juicy reward, no timers counting down. You have to close the app and return in order to see if cats have shown up. It doesn’t even issue push notifications to let you know when something happens. You must remember the game and choose to check on it to see any progress […] It’s almost shocking how little the game pushes itself on you.

At Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne pauses to reflect on the contemplative patience of Metal Gear Solid‘s codec calls:

If we want to be sensible we could say it’s just a videogame thing. It could easily be like Dark Souls where the ‘real’ gameworld keeps ticking while we browse our menus, so players always stand the chance of being mobbed while they’re trying on new shoes. That works well within the cosmology of Dark Souls and we accept it. Metal Gear Solid is quite un-Dark Souls cosmologically, however, so if we say everything freezes just so players don’t fume when Snake gets gunned down during another bloody mandatory codec call, that’s fine and grand. But since MGS is a romantic game, let’s ourselves be romantic for a minute in considering what role the codec plays, what functions it fulfils, and what knowledge it imparts.

Relevant to the above, at Starts With a Fish, Rik Davnall ruminates on the etymology of the term “world” (literally: “age of man”) and how certain games, Japanese and not, dilate time as part of their internal realities.

Lorem Ipsum

Looking for a great critical video series to crowdfund, one which is already producing factual, incisive work? Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Invisibility Blues is in the final week of their project’s Kickstarter, and they’ve just released a fantastic ‘proof of concept’ video on the type of analysis we can expect out of the video series.

(I’m sure this section header is not referring to anything in particular.)

Last One Out, Get the Lights

Remember that you can always send in your own recommendations by email or by mentioning us on Twitter! And yes, you are welcome to submit your own work, or even better, the work of a colleague who might be too shy to do so themselves!

We’ve wrapped up our July Blogs of the Round Table theme, so please have a look at what our community has written! Our August prompt will be headed your way soon.

Many thanks to everyone who sent us a pitch for a Critical Compilation or Spotlight! The submission window is now closed. The advisory board and I will be going through all pitches and announcing the first commissioned features soon.

And finally, as always: Critical Distance is able to take the time to gather, curate and produce these features thanks to readers like you. If you enjoy what you see, consider contributing to our Patreon! We’d really appreciate it.

Until next time, a– no, go to sleep, kitty, dawn isn’t for another three hours, let me live

July Roundup: ‘Pure Fun’

August 1st, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on July Roundup: ‘Pure Fun’)

It’s probably really cheeky to start off this roundup by saying how much fun I had reading the contributions, isn’t it? Well, I’m going to do it anyway: I had to much fun reading this month’s contributions!

On a more serious note, as Nick Hanford notes in his own contribution for the month, while there is a great deal of discussion out there on “play” as a concept, there is far less available on the equally squiggly concept of “fun.” So, the next time someone goes looking for “fun,” I hope their search brings them here. Let’s review the prompt for the month before we move into our discussion of “Pure Fun.”

Nicholas Hanford posed the question “Is fun meaningful? Is the creation of fun equal to the creation of meaning? Or does something always have to tag along with fun for meaning?” I think these questions resonate loudly, whether we consciously address them or not, in the discussion of videogames. What’s your take? Have you experienced pure fun while playing, or is fun tied to the meaning of the experience? Does a player bring fun to the game, or the reverse? Is it reciprocal? Is fun more accessible in some games than others, and if so, why? This month, I want to hear your thoughts on fun, meaning making, and where the two meet.

Joseph Dwan kicks us off this month by examining the marketing trend in games that tells us making our own path is fun. Yet, whether this fun is made in open world games, or games where players set their own goals,  Dwan finds them only amusing at best. For him, fun happens when he’s taken on a quest or a journey with defined characters and stories. In other words, Dwan’s fun needs narrative context.

Beginning with the concept that everything exists in context and that nothing exists in isolation – including fun – Leigh Harrison discusses how the storytelling in Witcher 3 contextualizes actions in the game, but its systems fail to do the same.  Ultimately, Harrison arrives at another question about fun, asking “Is it simply the case that fun things accompanied by not fun things actually generates more fun for the player?”

Over at Haywire, Salvatore Pane considers why he is willing to accept movies and books as art pieces that need not be enjoyable to be appreciated, but is less able to extend the same acceptance to games.

Charlotte Hyde discusses her need for fun and for play in times of stress, but also how the purity of play as a worthwhile pursuit becomes culturally trivialized as the pressure to work and produce increases.

In his contribution this month, The Rev 3.0 writes,”Fun comes from the interaction of subject (the player) and object (the game), an interaction which gives birth to an experience.” For The Rev, NiGHTS into Dreams creates an experience of pure fun. Yet, for The Rev, this isn’t a game that needs or should have a sequel. It wasn’t any one piece of the game that could be repeated to make another edition equally “fun.” Instead, this game’s elements worked in such harmony that the experience of fun itself was presented.

My fabulous Blogs of the Rountable co-host, Mark Filipowich,  joins us this month with a piece considering how Saint’s Row IV invites pure fun in an incredibly enjoyable and nuanced way, even while the existence of “pure fun” is, itself, an impossibility.

Over on his blog at The Thesaurus Rex, Taylor Hidalgo uses Mass Effect as a framework to discuss the human need to be part of a narrative experience. Hidalgo states,

In part, some what what I find the most fun in gaming has very little to do with gaming itself, and a lot to do with humanity. I want to get behind my heroes. I want to wait with baited breath for every new detail, every little twist, every word of dialog or hint of depth sequestered behind something new. Some of the purest fun for the human mind comes from not just being a part of a narrative, but needing to be.

On his new blog at Better Games, Better Gamers, Dan Lipson reviews the meaning of  and conditions for “flow” before questioning whether flow is actually essential to fun. Lipson then proceeds to use Diablo as a test case for the question.

This month, the last word goes to Nick Hanford, who inspired our theme for the month. Hanford suggests that, “we have to treat pure fun as a kind of double-edged sword.”  While fun helps us turn off our minds and find enjoyment, that that uncritical turning off is also the precise danger of fun. Give this, Hanford moves to pose the question, “How do we ensure that we can construct a kind of pure fun that is responsible, sustainable, and conscious?”

Thank you to the participants for such enjoyable reads! If you haven’t already, feel free to use this code to embed the links in your blog (provided your publishing platform allows iframes, that is):

In closing, a few things: thanks again to Mark Filipowich for taking over all Blogs of the Round Table responsibilities while I was away taking my PhD quals. We have a really great and supportive team here at Critical-Distance. We also have a really committed and hard-working team here. If you support our efforts, consider pledging to our Patreon.