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What’s up, fellow crit enthusiasts? If you’re looking for Easter candy, you’re a week too early, but we’ve got plenty of goodies from a slew of amazing writers to keep you content until then. So, welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

What It Means to be Indie

Luke Pullen reacts to Offworld’s printing of Zoe Quinn’s Alt Games manifesto with jubilation for its recognition and a pessimism of historical sorts for how its artists cope in the future. On Gamasutra, Bryant Francis says “Let Get Real about the Financial Expectations of ‘Going Indie’:

“‘In another industry, we’d have labeled the folks making games on new digital platforms as ‘entrepreneurs,’ but because of the rush to be ‘art,’ mere discussion of business takes on a negative tinge. The result is a lot of very poorly-equipped folks trying to run businesses for the first time.’”

Over at TransGamer Thoughts, Heather Alexandra talks about the lack of empathy dealing with the emotions and fears of trans people in games. Soha Kareem discusses “Games That Heal” at Offworld, noting how her work, and others of a deeply personal thread, facilitates a coping method for indie artists.

Trauma, Transcendence and Mental Illness

Bouncing off that last one, let’s dive into a few articles peeking under the curtain of themes of illnesses and healing. On PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams describes how mental illness in White Knight allegorises American economic inequality, and At Madness and Play, Amsel Von Spreckelsen discussed the treatment of mental health in Darkest Dungeon:

“It is mired in decades-old RPG design and all that the automation of putting it on a computer does is  make the bookkeeping easier; and when mental health becomes relegated to a bookkeeping exercise, when the advances are based on more efficient crunching of variables and modifiers, then it should be clear that this does not help us understand pain and dysfunction and joy and the life that you lead when you are mad.”

Back at Offworld, Laura Hudson talks VR’s applications for immersion beyond marketing. Meanwhile Dara Khan, delves into profound spiritual experiences with games, and finds Dragon Age: Inquisition’s story at odds with its gameplay.

 Laura Kate recounts a deeply personal trauma on Indie Haven, one resurrected by a scene in Life is Strange: Episode 2(Contains discussion of suicide. Also, spoilers for Life is Strange: Episode Two)

Joe Parlock, inspired by Laura Kate’s post, tells of how his own feelings blinded him to an option in Fallout 3, and elsewhere, Taylor Hidalgo tackles morality in The Deer God.

Mapping Out Our History

Over at the Ontological Geek, James Hinton wrote about how game maps tend to ignore practical implications for interesting design in land masses, and Brendan Vance’s “The Ghosts of Bioshock” reflects on the Wounded Knee massacre of the Sioux and the framing of history in Bioshock: Infinite:

“On one hand I feel [Bioshock: Infinite] appropriates: It snatches the juiciest, tenderest piece from a complex and valuable history so it can put that piece on display, neglecting to offer its historical subjects their due consideration. I think it telling that the game’s plot reduces the Massacre to a mere skeleton in the closet of its protagonist Booker DeWitt; I think it tells us that Infinite is a game about white experiences to the detriment of non-white experiences, greatly complicating any sympathy it may bear towards the myriad victims of white imperialism. Yet on the other hand I must consider in its defence that it uses Wounded Knee as shorthand because that is the most its matrix of contradictory constraints permit it to do; that in employing this shorthand it creates a tiny space for others to approach the game’s subject matter with more focus and more empathy (a space I now hope to cultivate).”

On Offworld, Tanya D. gives developers a reason to be historically accurate by including more black characters and less stereotypes:

“Even Vivienne de Fer, who gave me so much hope initially, disappoints. She falls head over hennin into the “Strong Black Woman” archetype from the moment she’s introduced. She’s a supposed “ice queen,” an untouchable woman who’s too good for the plebes around her. She says “my dear” like some women say “bless her heart,” and her words cut sharper than any spell. Any flirtation attempts result in her putting you down, emphasizing her own unattainability. Why can’t she just be a black woman with the romantic and relationship quirks we all have?”

But what if we couldn’t choose race in games? What if race were parceled out at random?

Battlefield Hard Sell

Battlefield Hardline came out last week, and with it so did plenty of interesting writing. Let’s start with Austin Walker’s “Cop Out”, which takes Hardline to task in an incredibly thoughtful review:

“And so Battlefield Hardline speaks to our context, too (whether or not that’s what the developers would like). It speaks a politics even as it flails in the single player campaign, desperate to avoid saying anything about the dead black boy on the pavement—about 75 unarmed black bodies on the ground. It flails in the multiplayer, eager to wave aside any critiques of police militarization. It flails and flails and flails. And the flailing is the message.”

Carolyn Petit, too, takes on Battlefield: Hardline, both on KQED and Tumblr, finding its mechanics shallow and its themes underwhelming.

Meanwhile, Marc Prices believes Battlefield deliberately avoided social issues by disguising itself as a cop procedural, and our own Mark Filipowich explores his thoughts on crime gleaned through invoking literature, film and TV:

“The player does all the friendship building questing that would be expected of an RPG, but it does so in the context of an urban world: they only have power with access to electricity, the internet, social conventions, architecture and guns; the power’s domain is the city and the city is everywhere. Most of the game the player takes on errands for cash, selling their bodies into violent labour to undermine the big-bad. And yet, the existence of magic always provides hope. As miserable as things may seem, there is a force beyond the city that promises equilibrium.”

Finally, Anthony McGlynn at The Arcade talks “Battlefield Hardline and Politics in Games“…

Politics as Usual

…a point echoed by Leigh Alexander who argues “You can’t ‘just keep politics out of it’“, while Emily Joy Bembeneck discusses how even games like Cities: Skyline inject politics:

Games are engines of persuasion, and despite some common rhetoric that disagrees, they are delicious morsels of politics. They’re drenched in it, marinated in it, and just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s all ok. And the politics of Cities:Skylines is that education is the easy answer.”

Keza MacDonald at Kotaku UK reacts to the strange desire to keep politics out of fiction:

“It also makes me monstrously uncomfortable, because in a former life I was an academic (I did a Masters in German and another in Comparative Literature before ducking out of the first year of a PhD to do this video game thing full-time), and every time I see language like this it kinda reminds me of the Nazi attitude to art. They very much took the view that art should be “apolitical”, which of course eventually resulted in the extermination of all the art that didn’t fit THEIR politics. I feel like anyone who’s ever read anything about Entartete Kunst couldn’t help but feel deeply troubled by the notion that art “should” be unpolitical.”

Whose Category is it Anyway?

Just because I failed to properly categorize the following doesn’t mean they aren’t compelling in their own right. Just look to Jorge Albor, who plays Earthbound as an adult and finds it a compelling piece of children’s literature:

“Playing Earthbound now, it is easy to find moments of satire, when the game criticizes the strange and mysterious elements of adulthood. At the Stoic Club in Summers, Ness and his friends encounter a room full of adults who have meaningless verbose conversations with each other. One denizen exclaims, “You guys can’t envision the final collapse of capitalism? Incredible!” This isn’t just a silly in-joke for adults. This is the “kids’ table” perspective of adult conversation. Earthbound is the closest piece of fiction that I have seen to induce the feeling of being a child.”

In keeping with Brendan Vance’s “death and photography”, Rowan Kaiser re-articulates his 1UP article, “The 80 Most Influential Videogames of All Time”, and Doom still tops the list, while Jillian of FemHype elaborated on her love for the original Lara Croft:

“While her clothes were laughably ill-suited for raiding caves and deep-sea diving, the Lara from the earlier Tomb Raider installments was never a pawn to be neatly directed by the hands of the men she encountered in-game. That Lara faced some pretty tough shit, too. A couple hundred cultists armed with guns and grenades? Pfft. Oh, please. The original Lara faced down a t-rex with only two pistols and lived to fight another day. Don’t even play, folks. She’ll mess your dinosaur ass right up.”

Auke Peters listed “Ten Fierce Female Game Characters That’ll Blow Your Mind”, and yes, Lara Croft is in there.

Last, but far from least, we have some video for you by way of Innuendo Studios, “Who Shot Guybrush Threpwood“, giving a compelling explanation for why adventure games died and why that was a good thing.

If Every Pork Chop Were Perfect, We Wouldn’t Have Hot Dogs 

Welp, that’s it folks! Thank you for reading, and please continue to support and send us underappreciated voices; whether it’s your work or a writer you’re keen on, send it via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

And don’t forget to submit to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays.

If you like what we do here, please consider donating to our Patreon, as we are funded entirely on the generosity of wonderful readers like you!

Continuing on with our theme of notable published video game books, we turn our eye to the other major work on 2012, Anna Anthropy‘s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreams, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form.

As much as it was a manifesto and a revelation back in 2012, it feels even more prescient now with all the changes and advancements that has occurred on the fringes of videogame creation since its publication. I talk with Anna about not only Rise, but also her other books, games as well as her self-published zines and how they all revolve around this do-it-yourself ethos.

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

Anna Anthropy’s Patreon

Anna Antropy’s Zine Distribution Patreon

Anna Anthropy’s Twitter

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

ZZT

Choose Your Own Death: Star Wench

A Game Design Vocabulary

Zine Store

Calamity Annie

Queers in Love at the End of the World

Lesbian Spider Queens of Mars

dys4ia

Annarchive

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

It feels like March has just flown by us. These Sunday mornings are too swift for my liking too. But, before it grows any later in the day, let’s head right into it with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Spring on Jupiter and Mars

We start with the recently launched Offworld, where Zoe Quinn is talking about altgames, the punk scene of game making. A good starting place, to be certain, although not all-inclusive.

Meanwhile, at Heterogenous Tasks, Sam Kabo Ashwell– well, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just read it, and sigh nostalgically for histories which never were.

And, holy crud, Clint Hocking wrote a thing! Specifically, he responds to Ian Bogost’s recent article in The Atlanic regarding the alleged limiting nature of narratives and characters in games, arguing that to juxtapose them with the analysis of systems is to create a false dichotomy:

I think we already have numerous, though tentative examples of these kinds of games; games that are both about the journey of an individual, but also about the big ideas of the culture (fictional or otherwise) in which that individual exists. I will admit that along a number of axes we have mostly done a fairly poor job of achieving the goals Bogost implies. [But] I think there is a huge undeveloped space here for us to explore as designers, and a fruitful landscape of discovery here for players.

Writing for his regular column on TechCrunch, Tadhg Kelly also responds to Bogost, arguing that it is the culture surrounding big-V Videogames that is stifling how we talk about games in a wider sense:

There’s not a game maker that I respect who isn’t sick to death of Videogames and the sense of self-entitlement and drama that comes with it. Whether in the business of trying to make fun engines or quirky art installation projects, the prospect of running the TotalBiscuit-style gauntlet makes developers cringe. Their kind of “pro-consumer” position devolves into the psychology of the bullied in turn bullying, the mentality of dissatisfaction in the face of nostalgia, the self-appointed demanding appeasement. […] Not unlike the state of comics fans in the 1980s, todays gamers come with a “seller beware” association. An association that says “Are you sure you really want to deal with these people? Why not make casino games instead?”

Back with Offworld, Gita Jackson has penned a feature which serves – in some ways – as a mission statement for the site: what reactionary gamers of big-V Videogames see as a colonizing force is anything but.

And speaking of reactionary gamers — that hashtag which shall not be named — Anita Sarkeesian’s recent four and a half minute talk delivered at the All About Women conference in Sydney is a bracing thing you should definitely watch.

God Games

Here’s an interesting piece which showed up in our inbox this week, by Christopher Howell over on Fare Forward: an analysis of The Last of Us from a Judeo-Christian theological perspective which includes some interesting observations.

Approaching faith in games from a different tack, Troy Goodfellow looks at how it is modeled in Rod Humble’s recent strategy game, Cults and Daggers:

[T]he more I think on it, the more I think that Cults and Daggers is not about faith at all. It might be about religion, but it’s really about fear. […] [E]veryone is out to destroy you and your community of believers unless you can get to them first. You can blaspheme against local gods and then pin the blame on a rival cult. You can go into deep cover, only emerging to murder a persuasive enemy preacher. You can invoke prayers that will transform your ministers into agents of chaos. You build temples, suck up to nobles for protection and count on the hope of the people to carry you into the next age.

In many ways, it is a very paranoid game.

By Land or By Sea

Are you sick of hearing about Offworld yet? Because we aren’t! This is the most exciting games publication to hit the scene in a very long time, and AM Cosmos’s wonderfully diverse primer on Japanese-style dating sims is a great example of that.

Also a very unique piece this week, Irishman Stephen Beirne provides perhaps the world’s only in-depth analysis of Folklore, an early-generation Playstation 3 game distinguished by being one of few titles set in Ireland and featuring a real Irish voice actress as its lead.

On FemHype — another cool publication which recently made the scene — Emm speaks with the anonymous creator of a mod which enabled women characters to date an exclusively heterosexual female party member in Dragon Age Inquisition… and which prompted so much backlash the creator was effectively driven from the internet. Emm asks why similar mods — including ones to whitewash a character of color — haven’t produced the same furor.

And back with the PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren believes the Legend of Zelda franchise is overdue for a female protagonist — and while his argument is not the most robust (no mention of Metroid? really?) he draws on some interesting bits of lore and developer interviews to undergird his point.

Did Someone Mention Formalism

Not to reopen recently scabbed-over wounds, but on Medium, Rachel Simone Weil is able to put a fine point on why, specifically, the invocation of ‘form’ in games brings to mind a fraught history:

I don’t believe that video game formalists are sexist or don’t want women to participate in game development or culture. What I do believe is that there is a long history of using the centrality of logic and reason and abstract thinking as justification for the suggestion that women “naturally” do not belong in a certain space.

And yes, she has examples.

Not to do with formalism specifically, but of a similarly academic bent, Evan Tilton on Thinking While Playing responds to the citation guidelines of the Game Studies journal, arguing that a more comprehensive citation approach to games might include the technological and regional specificities of how the game was played.

Whose House Are You Haunting Tonight

Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Ashley Barry — in responding to this piece on FemHype — laments that even when games manage to duck the most obvious pitfalls of treating mental illness as a lazy shortcut, it can still fail to address its subject matter in a meaningful way. (Content warning: discussion of ableism in both articles.)

And speaking of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, have you noticed their shiny new site design? They’re looking for new writers too!

And this doesn’t really belong anywhere in particular, but is lovely nonetheless: a gorgeous curated collection of obscure Japanese games (Content warning: flashing animated gifs).

This is The End, Beautiful Friend

Oh, there’s so much more I wish I could show you, but alas… It will have to wait till next time!

Till then, please keep sending in your links via email or by mentioning us on Twitter! And yes, since it’s come up recently: you are more than welcome — in fact, encouraged! — to self-submit.

A few more items: we’re approaching the end of the month, so please remember to send in your entries for Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays. Also, we’ll be reopening our call for feature pitches soon, so watch out for that as well!

Finally and as always — Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help keep us going, please chip in with a small monthly donation!

Hello, everyone. I swear, between Friday the 13th and the Ides of March, if I find out Mercury is in retrograde right now, I am just quitting everything. But, you’ve waited long enough for this week’s roundup, so let’s get started. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Form and Content

We start with Ian Bogost on The Atlantic, who questions whether, in our quest for social progressivism in game stories, we lose sight of how games can explore and critique higher-level socioeconomic and political systems. And while you probably won’t agree with all of it, it has plenty of pointed observations:

Amidst arguments on Twitter and Reddit about whose favorite games are more valid, while we worry about the perfect distribution of bodies in our sci-fi fantasy, the big machines of global systems hulk down the roads and the waterways, indifferent. It is an extravagance to worry only about representation of our individual selves while more obvious forces threaten them with oblivion—commercialism run amok; climate change; wealth inequality; extortionate healthcare; unfunded schools; decaying infrastructure; automation and servitude.

In a similar vein, writing for his personal blog, Critical Distance’s retired founder Ben Abraham considers the divide between games and other forms of media criticism and whether it is possible to — in addition to what he terms the broad genre of “human reaction” criticism – build out another kind of rigorous critical analysis for games:

[H]ow the sausage is made is not always important, or even relevant. Just like how we wouldn’t really care about whether the musician inserted the sample with Logic or Ableton – that’s not the important detail to focus on, and it’s actually fairly telling that the games industry (as embodied, partially, by [games journalist turned Gearbox developer Anthony] Burch) still cares a great deal more about how the “sample” is inserted than what that sample says or its history and place within a larger history and trajectory of games/music/etc. […] Frankly, I mostly couldn’t care less about how a game is made, unless it’s under conditions of exploitation.

Abraham stresses that there is nothing wrong with “human reaction” criticism — indeed, he says, it performs vital work. Similarly, over on Paste, You Were Made for Loneliness‘s Javy Gwaltney writes empathetically about the value of characters who move beyond power fantasies, which speak to the experiences of disabled players like himself.

And taking another approach, Nelson of Video Games and the Bible expresses concern that, despite many notable games by avowed Christian developers, Christianity is still treated as a dirty word in games. Again, some valuable takeaways, even if you don’t agree with the author’s every position.

Design Notes

On Eurogamer, Christian Donlan pens an affectionate essay for deceased children’s author and illustrator Ellen Raskin, whose puzzle-mystery novels exhibited a gamelike sensibility. And on his website International Hobo, Chris Bateman continues an inter-blog conversation with Jed Pressgrove on philosophy of tutorial design. While Bateman essentializes a bit (a fact he acknowledges), his breakdown on design differences in Western versus Japanese games is good food for thought.

If you happened to miss out on everything written about Twine in the last couple years, Liz England has a great primer on it and other interactive fiction formats over on Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs section. On Designer Notes, Soren Johnson chats with Spry Fox’s Daniel Cook, while on The Psychology of Video Games, Jamie Madigan has just launched an exciting new podcast — in the debut episode of which, Madigan discusses behavioral research methodology with Oxford University’s Andrew Przybylski. The language they use is both accessible for the layperson as well as rigorous in its discussion on how behavioral research on games is conducted. I highly recommend keeping an ear on this podcast!

I Don’t Know How to Categorize This

Patricia Hernandez’s feature on Kotaku concerning violent pornographic fan films built in Valve’s Source Filmmaker has caused a stir — unsurprisingly, given its subject matter. While Hernandez is meticulous about neither defending her interviewees’ subject matter nor shaming those for whom rape fantasy is a kink, this article nevertheless bears a strong Content Warning for explicit sexual material, including depictions of rape and discussion thereof in fan communities.

GDC

I’ll leave you with some good in-depth coverage of two more panels from the Game Developers Conference, which concluded earlier this month in San Francisco.

First, Polygon’s Philip Kollar covers an excellent roundtable discussion hosted by developers Derek Manns and Dennis Mathews on black stereotypes in games, both on the player and the industry side. This pairs well with a recent letter series/roundtable hosted by Evan Narcisse and several critics and developers on Kotaku, which addressed many of the same issues.

Secondly, writing for FemHype, Kim Correa recaps what sounds like a fantastic women in eSports panel, on the rising prominence and ongoing hurdles to women’s participation in competitive game events.

Signal Boost

That’s all for this week! A little short, I know, but bear with us please. As always, we greatly benefit from your submissions through email and Twitter mention, so please, keep them coming!

Be sure to check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Extended Play“! And send us your submissions for Blogs of the Round Table with the hashtag #BoRT!

Our latest feature, This Month in Let’s Plays, is also actively seeking submissions! Send us your critical Let’s Plays, video or otherwise, with the hashtag #LetsPlayCD.

Also: we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Australia’s upcoming Freeplay festival, beginning on April 10th. For the first time ever, they’ve announced they will be live broadcasting the festival for free online!

Lastly and as ever: Critical Distance is proud to be entirely funded by its readership! If you like what you see and want to support our work, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation! Those who donate a little more get special features and even some physical goodies!

Continuing on the theme of video game book publishing, we decide to talk with Gabe Durham, the founder and editor of BossFightBooks, right now, the leader in single game book criticism. As of recording he had just wrapped up the Second Season Kickstarter and was taking pitches for the backer chosen game, Shadow of the Colossus.

We talk about where the idea for BossFightBooks came from, how their publishing system works and what he’s looking for in both authors and pitches to continue providing a variety of voices, styles and games.

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

BossFightBooks

Ludologica

Fuck Videogames

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Some Thoughts on Darius Kazemi’s Jagged Alliance 2 and my own Killing is Harmless

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Hello there! I’m Cameron Kunzelman and after a long hiatus from doing this particular job I am back to deliver you some criticism about games that was released over the past week. I’m all about the content, so here it is!

Design Time (That’s A Rhyme)

Meg Jayanth shared some insights into 8o Days’ narrative design at this past week’s Game Developers Conference, focusing on ways to make players uncertain about their decisions and how good or bad those decisions might be.

Erin Robinson, creator of Gravity Ghost, also spoke at GDC and shared some of the starts and stops in the development of that game.

Also at GDC, This War of Mine head writer Pawel Micechowski spoke about designing new kinds of “survival” in the face of players who are trained to think of characters as resources to be used.

Mohini Dutta writes about designing for the Other at First Person Scholar, calling into question the ways that designers think of themselves in position to players and parsing out the ethical ramifications of that split.

Anna Anthropy focuses on Fire Emblem as a case study for understanding how to design a player-centered experience from the ground up.

Emotions?! IN MY GAMES?! Oh, ok, cool.

Kent Sheely hones in on some contemporary games and the way that they can be thought of as machines to foster self-care.

Kate Cox presents us with a life spent playing games and the emotional resonances that those games had then and now in her “Life, Love, and Labyrinths: Why I Play Videogames.”

In a slightly different direction, Melody Meows works through the thought process about how one enjoys something that is “problematic.”

Games Culture and…the Horse It Rode In On? I Don’t Know.

Maddy Myers takes a deep personal dive into the image and concept of the “cool gamer girlfriend” and the cultural expectations surrounding her. She writes:

There is no narrative about a girl who shows up to play games and turns out to be kind of okay at them, and then she makes platonic friends who see her as a person, and then she goes home alone. My mediocrity became a huge disappointment for men that I didn’t know in gaming spaces. It was a disappointment for me, too, and it still makes me extra-nervous. Every time I show up and play games in public somewhere, in some male-dominated space, there is some stupid part of me that wants to win beyond all my wildest dreams … even though it’s impossible, especially when people are staring at you. I do okay, sometimes. That’s the most I’ve ever been able to hope to achieve: being okay at games, sometimes.

Wendi Sierra thinks through the very concept of gamer culture itself, understanding it not as a broad culture but rather as a strange confederation of many different communities.

The #1ReasonToBe panel at this week’s GDC was a powerful recounting of women’s experiences working on the game industry and this writeup is excellent.

Katie Chironis writes about her experiences developing Elsinore and continually answering questions about why a character is black. Her answer is simple: why shouldn’t she be?

Looking Really Close At Games I Mean Getting SO Close Up

Alex Pieschel provides an extensive and amazing piece on Final Fantasy 7‘s debug room.

Heather Alexandra writes about her personal experiences with Dragonball Z and Xenoverse‘s character creator.

Carolyn Petit explains the finitude and pain of time built into Majora’s Mask and Jake Muncy reads Wind Waker as a response to the Zelda franchise itself.

Reid McCarter finds République to be an uncanny diagnosis of our particular time and place.

Jess Joho plays Stasis and finds the game’s portrayal of street harassment to be uncannily accurate in a number of ways.

Other Stuff I Thought Was Great This Week

Joe Donnelly writes about addiction as a tone-setting concept in various games.

Brian Crimmins thinks we should probably quit worrying about hour counts and just play games on their own terms.

Jason Scott spoke at GDC about how we need to preserve games history in the present rather than years after the fact.

A panel of developers at GDC pointed out the ageism of the game development industry and offered several ways to address it from both sides of the relation.

The End of the Show (and some LINKS!)

That’s This Week In Videogame Blogging for…this…week? Thanks so much for reading.

In a moment of excellent signal boosting, be sure to check out the relaunch of BoingBoing’s videogame blog, Offworld, in the next few days. We think it is going to be excellent.

If you see a piece of writing you love (and it is about videogames), be sure to submit it to us to us on Twitter or by email. On Twitter, please tag any links for the Blogs of the Round Table or This Month in Let’s Plays with #BorT or #LetsPlayCD respectively. German or French submissions are in high demand as well.

Critical Distance is funded completely by its readership! If you like what you see and want to support what we do, consider pledging to our Patreon.

 

Welcome one and all to This Month in Let’s Plays! Let’s see what February had in store for us.

Proteus, Rougelikes, and Design Trends: Oh My!

In February, both Brendan Keogh and Amy Dentata discuss Proteus. While both Keogh and Dentata analyze Proteus against other game types and styles to exhibit the game’s unique offerings in play, what struck me as really interesting is the way both Keogh and Dentata break from their “official” commentary to be taken in by Proteus’ environment.

That said, the analysis of Proteus by Keogh and Dentata pairs well with George Weidman’s discussion of the “ubiquity problem” in games. Weidman notes, “Ubiquity hurts the enjoyment of all games that share those similarities regardless of their individual qualities” The upside is that as old trends becoming stale (really stale) new trends should emerge to replace them.

Expectation Vs. Delivery

Several Let’s Plays this month looked at the difference between game expectations (either by developers or players) and game experience (again, either by developers or players).

Eurogamer’s Johnny Chiodini discusses how Battlefield Hardline too thinly stretches a cops and robbers motif over what is still, essentially a military game. Chiodini observes, “Police are giving military grade equipment…to deal with what is essentially a civil disturbance.”

Chris Franklin at Errant Signal discusses not only the narrative mess of Destiny, but why and how he is able to still enjoy the game in spite of it, as well as how the game surprisingly promotes play engagment similar to that of Animal Crossing. (Content warning: mild ableist language.)

Elsewhere, Goldvision humorously discusses his attempts to navigate Grand Theft Auto as a pacifist and how this play style brings the game’s obsession with violence, greed, and class issues to the foreground.

Additionally, Noah Caldwell-Gervais brings us the first in a new series called “Genre Orphans” in which he analyzes games that “defy the expectations of their chosen genre format and do something really unique and distinctive.” In this premiere episode, Caldwell-Gervias looks at L.A. Noire.

Developer Discussions

In another feature from the Digital Writer’s Festival, Critical Distance alumna Katie Williams conducts an interview with game developer Andrew Brophy. To add an interesting spin to the interview, Brophy plays through several of his games from the last 7 years throughout the interview.

Over on DoubleFineProd’s channel, JP LeBreton sits down with John Romero to show him his demake of of Bioshock’s Arcadia level constructed in the Doom 2 engine.

The Short and the Long of It

Bringing us another short and sweet bit of games criticism, Stephen Beirne discusses the ways Final Fantasy VII “relates drama through its broader composition.”

Elsewhere, SF Debris provides a complete playthrough of System Shock 2, but each chapter of the game is broken into two videos: one with commentary from the point-of-view of the protagonist and one with analysis of the story elements. (Disclaimer: I have not watched all of the videos in this series.)

Honorable Mention

With apologies, this Let’s Play was submitted in January, and though I meant to add it to the roundup, it fell through the cracks. Luckily it was submitted again for the February roundup! Here, in the season finale of Breaking Madden, it’s the Patriots vs. the Seahawks, again, and the stats are strongly in favor of the Patriots – really strongly. (Content warning: mild ableist language.)

Oh, Hey…

Before you go, I want to make sure I express my continued gratitude for the support of this new Critical Distance venture. The responses and submissions have been great! Please keep the submissions coming for the March roundup, and remember to tag your submissions to us on Twitter with the hashtag #LetsPlayCD. You can also email us your submissions, if you prefer.

Also, remember to check out this month’s new Blogs of the Round Table theme. We’d love to read your contribution!

Finally, remember that we are reader-supported, and you can offer your support by making a monthly contribution here.

 

Hello, friends! March is here, and I, for one, hope Spring just gets on with it, already. While winter gives us the opportunity to hunker down, curl up, and stay under the covers just a little longer, this particular winter has also incited high levels of cabin fever. As a result, I’ve tried to pass the time playing games. Some of my recent play sessions have included Never Alone, The Banner Saga, Lost Constellation, and The Long Dark. Oddly enough, each of these games feature winter conditions, and have mirrored the environment outside my living room window. As a result, sometimes the line between game and reality has become a little fuzzy. That got me thinking about this month’s theme for Blogs of the Round Table: “Extended Play.”

Have you ever been so immersed or so invested in a game that it bleeds over (or extends over, if you will) the border of the screen and into your life? Maybe after a particularly grueling game session, you incorporated the game into your dream. Maybe while shopping at the grocery store you momentarily had to fight off the urge to see how much of your carrying capacity was left and whether you needed to “drop” a few items to lighten the load – or maybe you considered how many rupees you had instead of real-world currency in line at the check-out. Have you ever attempted to apply game logic outside a game? Forgotten you don’t actually know how to shoot a bow at all? We’d like to hear about the moments in your day-to-day where the line between game-fiction and reality have, even if only for a moment, collided. What was the result? Did the collision force you to think about the game in a different way? About reality differently? both? Share your thoughts with us on the expandable and extending barriers of play.

We’ll be accepting blogs until March 31 . You can see current submissions here:

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

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Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @thejoycean 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.

Well friends, we’ve come to the end of another very short February, and to show my dedication to you, I’ve decided to spend today indoors to do this roundup even while a sudden heatwave is bringing temperatures as high as -7. No no, don’t thank me, that’s what friends are for. Y’know what friends are also for? Videogames, which is why we wanted to hear all about the ‘Buddy Systems’ that bring us closer together:

As competitive as games may be, they’re equally cooperative in nature. What do games do to foster teamwork? Which game characters can you only think of as partners? Which of your friends do you depend on to share med-kits in Left 4 Dead and fire flowers in Mario? How have you used games to bond with others? On the other hand, how do games fail to bring you closer to others? Do your friends take you for granted because you prefer support classes or are you tired of having to always carry everyone else to victory? Tell us about the friendships that captivate you on either side of the screen, the mechanics that foster human contact or the systems that pull you apart.

Jeb Wrench kicks us off at his blog, Jeb Writes, by pointing at the failure of games in portraying non-romantic friendships in their rush to include a love story. In his own words:

A deep, meaningful friendship can resonate along completely different chords to players. Unfortunately, friendship is usually just marked along the same axis as romance – a measure of points along a slider. Often just a level below romance. Which I feel misrepresents the importance of friendship as a relationship. A strong friendship can be just as powerful, just as important and as a romantic relationship.

The author then moves into a brief discussion of Saint’s Row IV to point out a videogame plot that actually cares about friendships.

Tom Holt looks on the friendships games create between players, citing some of the games that has kept his social circle in tact across long distances. Furthermore, Holt examines the kinds of games that encourage mean-spiritedness between partners and the kinds of trolling that ruins friendly competition, even by imitating it.

Over at Discover Games, Shawn Trautman takes a different approach, suggesting that the value of games can’t be decided by authority or community, rather that it is perfectly valid to approach a game personally and disregard the consensus. He hammers his point home with this gem:

This Wind Waker situation provides the perfect opportunity to illustrate this idea without being accused of simply knee-jerkingly defending my opinions and playstyles. Based on my experience with the game, the oft-lamented “giant fetch quest at the end” criticism makes absolutely no sense. There is no giant fetch quest at the end for me, and there didn’t have to be for you, either. But here’s the twist: that criticism is still valid.

Phill English also misses the days when he and his friends could saddle up on a couch and charge into a game, but he’s glad to find new ways to connect with friends over games:

LANs are a thing of the past, surrendered to the inconvenience of having to schedule weeks in advance, blocking out time around work and family to lug our rigs around to a single address for a day’s play. No, it’s far easier these days to admit that we’re busy (read: old) people and instead take advantage of moments where our online friends lists align.

Looking back into games, Stephanie Jennings, writing for Ludogabble, discusses how odd it is that for all the emphasis Pokemon places on social activity, until Pokemon X and Y, there is no effort to create any relationship between the player’s avatar and their pokemon. Jennings muses about how appropriate the pokemon-amie system originating in X and Y is, comparing it to Mattie Brice’s Pokemon: Unchained challenge from 2013. From Jenning’s article:

But I wonder if players would feel increasingly uncomfortable with the violence of battle if the opportunities to develop emotional attachments expanded. I wonder what a Pokemon game would look like if bonding were the central concern, rather than combat. I wonder what a Pokemon game would be like in which the point actually was journeying, getting to know others, seeing and experiencing the world, and learning how to selflessly care for one’s friends. I wonder if we’d notice more how disturbing it is that we are content with the myths of the values of battle in the first place.

Speaking of violent friendships, Leigh Harrison explores how the clunky, awkward violence in Far Cry 2 challenges how he relates to the avatar’s thuggish friends compared with the rest of the NPCs in the game’s world. Whoo. Dark.

The Rev chronicles the great battle on Google’s Ingress, a multiplayer augmented reality game where people are aligned in teams based on their real life cities. Our intrepid narrator then relates to us how playing to the game’s virtual goals are accomplished physically. Pictures of each moment as they happened in the virtual and physical worlds particularly point to how Ingress crosses the boundaries between each kind of play.

Finally, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and it looks like I barely made my own deadline. This month’s topic was an opportunity for me to talk about “friendly games” on my blog, bigtallwords. Unlike your garden variety co-op games, which just allow multiple players to occupy the same space in pursuit of the same goal, friendly games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn are structured to actually get players talking and cooperating with little risk of failure.

Well I better get going now, you know how it is. But I really had a good time. We should totally get together more often. Hit me up by putting the Link-Matic 5000 on your very own site:

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Anyway, our good friend Lindsey will be along with the next topic soon, but in the meantime if you’re interested in what we do here, consider contributing a monthly amount of your choosing on Patreon. Thanks again for reading and happy blogging!

Hello, readers; I’m new here. When I’m at something where I don’t know anyone, I either stand around alone masking my nervousness with a carefully-cultivated air of solitary mystery, or I rush over to the nearest person with puppyish enthusiasm and talk about what I hope are mutual interests. Today I will choose the latter. Put down those chips, approachable stranger, and listen to me ramble eagerly about This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Our Mutual Hobby Involves Pushing Buttons to Perform Actions

Let’s begin with the intricacies of mechanics and controls. As part of Kill Screen’s week on the first PlayStation, David Shimomura explores the semiotics of the design behind the PlayStation’s controller. Shimomura writes that what Teiyu Goto, the designer of the original controller “didn’t realize was that while he had ultimate reign of the symbols themselves he did not have ultimate sanction over the meanings that others would draw from them.” Shimomura also looks at the cultural context of the buttons and how they did and didn’t translate to American audiences.

Relatedly, over at Paste, Katherine Cross discusses the button-pressing we love to hate, the quick-time event,or QTE (which I just realized you could pronounce as “cutie;” has anyone done that?). Looking beyond Call of Duty’s cringe-worthy “Press F to Pay Respects,” Cross considers QTEs in a more far-reaching and generous light:

Simply put, at their best, quick time events are meant to blur the line between cinematic and gameplay to maintain the involvement of the player. They can be seen as a form of experiential integration designed to simulate involvement in a particular moment of the avatar’s story. The input device, be it a keyboard, controller, a mouse, or a mobile phone, is used to its fullest extent to provide some kind of sensation that simulates what you see on screen[…]

But this simulation of physical sensation is, of course, an ideal which many QTEs spectacularly fail to reach, often simply reducing QTEs to basic reflex challenges.

Speaking of physical sensations, over on her blog Mattie Brice looks poetically and thought-provokingly at how our physical bodies are present or not when we play games. She believes that the body is marginalized in play in favor of being seen as “one large controller,” and she protests that “[o]ur bodies are the site of play, where meaning occurs, willing or not.” From this she draws broader political conclusions, such as:

There is a resistance because bodies are complicated. Incorporating subject(ivitie)s decentralizes the game object and forces designers and critics to ponder the infinite relationships bodies can have with an experience. Controllers in particular throttle the ways bodies can be recognized in the design, and is probably the main agent in the absence of body subjectivity in critique. It is impossible to know how another’s bodily reaction will be to an experience, and that exactitude is only necessary for products that promise it. That class critique is also underrepresented might hint as to why these sorts of connections are rarely traversed outside of particular, minoritized niches. Right on the surface, the lack of awareness of bodies assumes a typical body, most definitely excluding those who don’t have it and their experiences.

Stepping away from the buttons we push to what those buttons do in a game, L. Rhodes takes a look at the interactions in Gone Home from a mechanics point of view, exploring how the controls, or “terms of interaction,” given their basis in first-person shooter mechanics, require a familiarity that may not entirely serve the game. Far-removed from the “is this really a game?” argument the internet enjoys over Gone Home and other exploration games, this article suggests that:

Gone Home really only requires you to move around the house, clicking on items to examine and move them. I see no reason why the terms of interaction shouldn’t be more limited.

Among other things, that would make the game more accessible, both to videogame novices and to players with physical disabilities.

Lastly, Lulu Blue takes a look at Monster Hunter‘s mechanics in a positive light. The article recounts a particularly thrilling experience, concluding that “[t]hat moment wouldn’t have came to exist without every layer of complexity crafted into the game. So many moving parts also means there’s just as much space for creative, unexpected solutions.”

Perhaps We Both Enjoy Roleplaying Games?

Games can let us be new people or explore different parts of ourselves. Heather O at FemHype looks at the relationship between videogames, daily stress, and PTSD, exploring the role that simulated combat has played in her life as a disabled veteran. She links to several studies on this topic that are sure to be interesting to anyone who thinks about the ramifications of games as oftentimes-violent roleplaying experiences.

Looking at roleplay from a personality-focused perspective, an article over at Big Fat Phoenix asks if how we roleplay can change who we are. The author considers how their own relationship to roleplaying in games has changed over the years and what it reveals about their personality and morals, especially as they age.

If you make games in which you’d like people to roleplay, Extra Credits made a video about it this week! They look at how to encourage roleplay and how to make it meaningful in your game’s world, and, as always, they do it through energetic cartoons.

Do You Have Thoughts About the Videogames Industry?

Over at The Guardian, Ian G. Williams revisits the issue of crunch in game development and how it has and hasn’t changed since the infamous “EA spouse” post of 10 years ago. Williams points out that, according to surveys, the average age of people working in game development hasn’t changed much, and this perpetually youthful and oftentimes exploitable workforce might contribute to the industry’s work/life balance issues.

On Gamasutra, Laralyn McWilliams addresses this age question in her blog post on turning 50 (a belated happy birthday, Ms. McWilliams). Like Williams’ article, she highlights the toll game development takes on people in the industry’s personal lives, and she importantly notes, “Keep in mind that passion isn’t synonymous with crunch. Managers who conflate those two ideas are taking advantage of us.” She also looks at how change in the industry affects its culture.

In a broader look at change, Owen Grieve highlights capitalism’s influence on changes in the games industry and what it means for the “gamer” identity. This exhaustive and far-reaching exploration covers creators, players, journalists, and the myriad forces that bring us to where we are today and where we might go in the future. Here’s a snapshot of one of the many topics he covers:

But now, more than 30 years later, and in spite of the mainstream cultural acceptance of games in general, the majority of people are still put off by the kind of wilful (sic) masochism of traditional videogames. There’s a huge amount of commerical (sic) and cultural potential in exploring alternative game concepts. […]

But along with the celebration of acceptance and diversity, it does also create a wrinkle of frustration for some of us who grew up with traditional games: As more and more generations of people grow up surrounded by games, shouldn’t the market for ‘games for gamers’ become stronger and more stable?

Regarding the changing face of journalism, Rob Fearon considers what Rock Paper Shotgun’s recent Peter Molyneux interview says about creators interacting with the media and the future of games journalism. Among his many points are:

There’s so many people in games now with so much to say, so much of worth and use but they don’t fit within the system. They don’t have organised PR, they don’t do press tours and in many, many cases, you won’t find them locked in a room at an event showing off their videogames to the press because that is still a privilege reserved for the few (as good as some indies are at reaching out and playing the game). We can’t keep on going as we always have done and expect the new blood to fit in with us and the old ways, we need to accommodate them somehow. Reach out to them for their words.

Let’s Discuss Gender and Sexuality

To return to Kill Screen, this week Chris Priestman unpacked the development of Lara Croft alongside the changing face of feminism in the ’90s. I was surprised to learn how the intent of her creator was affected by cultural and political forces to create the paradigmatic figure we all know today.

Speaking of figures (do you see what I did there?), over at Kotaku Patricia Hernandez takes an in-depth look at breast physics. Part history, part exploration of tech, the article contains tips for developers and fascinating insights into why so many of them get breast physics wrong. (Content warning: nudity.)

On the player side of things, Sarah Nixon looks at a recent controversy in the Hearthstone circuit surrounding the gender identity of a top player. She points out “a deep rooted problem with sexism in these, and other gaming communities, that is making these communities intolerable for female players – particularly successful female players.”

Along the same lines, at Feministing, Katherine Cross explores the ramifications of the claim that recent threats again Brianna Wu were… just a joke? (Content warning: violent and transphobic language cited in the article.) Cross looks at other internet “stunts” and asks about their intentions and impact on their targets, most of whom are not in on the “joke.”

Finally, GayGamer’s Mitch Alexander held an interview with Todd Harper about his Twine game Upon Reflection, which explores, as Harper says, “three moments in my life where I was dealing with the relationship between my body, which doesn’t match what mainstream culture (gay or not) says is ‘desirable,’ and having sex as a gay man.” The interview also covers Twine as a tool for marginalized creators and the function of empathy in games.

Let’s Talk about Race

On her website, N.K. Jemisin writes eloquently about making race matter in art, including in videogames, beyond simple nods to diversity. She discusses Vivienne in Dragon Age: Inquisition, pointing out that, “Vivienne is affiliated with many groups but few of them seem to have contributed anything to who she’s become. She’s the only playable black woman seen in the entire trilogy of games so far, and she is cultureless, rootless, and quintessentially raceless.”

This article dovetails with an article over at Kill Screen about race in Treachery in Beatdown City. The article points out that “[o]n the off-chance a game happens to portray a character as non-white, they are typically presented as ethnic cliches, rather than actual human beings with real issues and complex lives,” and it examines how Treachery attempted to address this.

And just as I was telling you this, Mattie Brice published a passionate response to recent discussions about race in games. She dismisses the idea of surface diversity as “progress” for which people should be grateful, instead demanding

Why, exactly, must we deal with the breadcrumbs that corporations dole out? In a way, progress is not what we want, when we’re forced to play by someone else’s timetable. And even now, the progress we do have, would our forebears honestly nod and pat us on the shoulders, to commend us for this bold step forward for racial justice? Can’t we just give words to how fucked it is?

All the Things I Can’t Make a Suave Conversational Transition About

It looks like this party’s winding down, so here is a flurry of things I found interesting this week that I can’t sum up in a clever topic heading.

Here is a fascinating article by Jamie Taylor about history through the lens of games and play. The article looks at how games can embody history, their possibilities and constraints, and what this might mean to a wide range of disciples, including games, historians, and the academy at large.

Jorge Albor at Pop Matters looks at how anarchy is represented in Netrunner and how the game’s characters and mechanics allow for the exploration of various real-world anarchist strategies and ideals. This, like most writing about Netrunner, makes me want to play Netrunner, which is probably what you’re all doing later.

Finally, religion in games is a huge interest of mine, though they say you aren’t supposed to talk about it with people you’ve just met. Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to include this thoughtful and personal essay by Nathan Grayson about videogames’ role in the gradual loss of his Christian faith.

Oh, I See You’re Getting Your Coat

Thank you for reading! If there’s an article by you or someone else you’d like to bring to our consideration for This Week in Videogame Blogging, let us know over at Twitter with an @critdistance mention or via email.

Stay tuned for the newest roundups and prompts for our Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays features. In the meantime, some signal-boosting: First Person Scholar has been publishing talks from the 2014 Queerness & Games Conference, and they’re all interesting and will make you either glad you went or, like me, lament that you couldn’t.

Did you know that Critical Distance is funded completely by our readership? If you like what we do and want to help us do more of it, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation on our Patreon.

Well, thanks for chatting, readers. Next time we meet we can peer at each other awkwardly before saying, “Oh, hey, didn’t we talk at that thing…?” We did! Where’s everyone headed after this?