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Greetings, Your Worship. I am Zachary J Alexander the First, and it is my humble pleasure to welcome you to the pages of This Week In Videogame Blogging in the Common Era Year of Twenty-Fifteen, on the Twenty-Fourth Day of January. I have scoured yon frontier for the most worthy Items, and present them unto you in recognition of our friendship. This shall be our most formal Roundup yet.

The Artist Formally Known As

Frank Lantz went back to the well on formalism. His argument is that mechanics can and should be formally discussed without painting people who do so as a conservative gatekeeper. Heather Alexandra responded with the argument that it’s not so easy to separate mechanics from anything else without implicit value judgements. Our own Cameron Kunzelman smoothed things over with a cake metaphor, and Frank Lantz shows up in the comments to elaborate. Oscar Strik shot back with a side of salad simile. Daniel Joseph then drew on some past arguments to add context to the whole formalism debate.

Now that this debate has been settled, no one will need to discuss formalism ever again! Let’s move on to a new topic, like are game screenshots art?

While we’re on the topic of weighty academic matters, Games Criticism dot org has a new collection of essays up from all sorts of people! On the other end of the spectrum, Abnormal Mapping collects a few small games and writes them up. Xanadu Engine is a tumblr dedicated entirely to Kentucky Route Zero. Elizabeth Simins has a Tumblr categorizing games by whether they can have queer relationships or not.

Stephen Beirne wants to walk all over “walking simulators” as a term for a certain genre of games, and go with “phantom rides”. Personally, I’d prefer “ghost riding”, but that might mean something else.

Actually, It’s About Historical Accuracy in Games

History Respawned hosts history professor David Andress to talk about the French Revolution and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In the pages of The Escapist, Robert Rath addresses concerns that a game with dragons, demons, and elves is unrealistic in depicting a woman holding a sword.

Mary Lee Sauder goes into art history, and derives the term “gamerliness” based off the term “painterliness”:

If you’ve ever studied art, you may have heard of the term “painterliness” used to describe works of art that derive meaning from drawing attention to the fact that they are just paint on a canvas or clay molded by human hands. “Painterly” art doesn’t try to look realistic – instead, it uses its unique aspects as a constructed object to its advantage.

In more-recent history, Shmuplations has a backlog of older Japanese interviews with developers of classic games. They just launched a Patreon to help sponsor translating and preserving these old documents. Here’s a 2001 interview with the director of Rez. Over at Kill Screen, David Wolinsky digs into Grim Fandango’s Mexican folklore roots.

Rated M for Immature Content

(Content Warning for this whole section: Discusses rape, abortion, and that Hatred game)

Aoife Wilson says Hatred’s recent AO rating is useful publicity. G. Christopher Williams wonders how the South Park game got away with an M rating. Both of these incidents support Carolyn Petit’s arguments that games can deal with serious real-world problems, but probably shouldn’t:

They just participate in the longstanding video game tradition of victimizing women to easily generate an emotional response or to lend texture to their worlds and try to convince us that we are playing mature and serious games.

Fixing What’s Broke

Shonte Daniels discusses race in games through the lens of Spawn On Me’s #BlackLivesMatter gaming marathon. Adrienne Shaw discusses the outcomes of her research on representation in games, and addresses common criticisms of advocating for representation. The Guardian’s Kate Gray wants a little less representation for “boob physics”, or at least equal representation for ridiculous physics for male genitalia. Bikini Armor Battle Damage has come up with a handy chart showing how skewed armor for women characters in games can be, but Ayla Arthur has an essay on Medium with some suggestions for designing women characters in games without relying on tiny waists and power armor. Gaming as Women flips the conversation with three words that can change your tabletop game: “Is he hot”?

Before long, I was thinking of every male NPC in terms of their attractiveness. This may not seem like much, but it completely changed the way I viewed the men in the game. Jarl Wyrmval isn’t only a scheming political rival, but he was also dangerously handsome. Runthorn isn’t only self-important, he’s also attractive enough to charm people into believing in his delusions of grandeur. Nadric isn’t just bookish and awkward, he’s also ugly enough that the servants gave him the byname Gul. Rukkokainen isn’t just a skilled veteran and keen advisor, he’s the most eligible Tauthra bachelor in the province.

It occurs to me that this has never been true of any game I have played in. Even when I’ve played in games run by people who are sexually attracted to men, men are not described in terms of sex appeal.

And if you’re looking to up your own, personal representation, Gita Jackson has you covered with a Bayonetta Style Guide up on Paste.

Finally, to end on a light note: At PC Gamer, Richard Corbett distinguishes between what games call “quests”, and what games should just call “**** to do”.

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We do thank you for joining us on this adventure, Your Highness. It has been the greatest pleasure to host you. As always we greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

If thou dost wish to participate in our Blogs of the Round Table, time remains still yet for this month’s topic: Player’s Choice. We are still soliciting suggestions for This Month in Let’s Plays, if you would care to contribute.

Finally, our efforts here are supported solely by generous patrons, and if you wish to become one we would be most grateful.

We formally request you come back next week and join us once again for a much-less-formal This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Introducing: This Month in Let’s Plays!

January 21st, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in Announcement: - (Comments Off)

Friends, we are excited to announce that Critical-Distance is branching out into new curation territory: Let’s Plays. For some time now, we’ve included Let’s Plays that engage critically with game content in our This Week in Videogame Blogging feature. As Let’s Plays become more popular avenues for people to engage with criticism, ideas, and play, we’d like to give them their own curatorial focus. With that in mind, we’re looking for submissions by Jan 31st for a pilot run of: This Month in Let’s Plays!

So, what are we looking for? Here are some examples:

Let’s Plays That Offer Criticism of a Particular Game:

For instance, Brendan Keogh’s critical Let’s Play of Modern Warfare

Or Cameron Kunzelman’s Let’s Play of Grand Theft Auto

 

Let’s Plays that Engage a Particular Issue Across Multiple Games:

While these may not be Let’s Plays in the most traditional sense, since they don’t show sustained play of a single game, these style of commentary allows us to use a visual medium to discuss other visual media: games.

Errant Signal provides some great source of this type. Take a look at this one on the concept of “fun”:

 

Historical/Preservation Let’s Plays

At this point Let’s Plays also allow us with a means to preserve, in some way, the play experience of games that – for the average player – are now hard to access due to the inaccessibility of outdated platforms.

Leigh Alexander has done some great work in this area already. For example, here’s her Let’s Play of Death in the Caribbean:

 

Multiplayer Lets Plays

Another advantage of Let’s Plays is that it affords the possibility of collaboration and dialogue between two players/critics/thinkers in real-time.

A great example of this type of Lets Play can be found at Stream Friends. Here’s their first Let’s Play of Knock-Knock:

 

Other

Just because I haven’t listed it here doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for it. I’ve merely tried to identify some of the more common types of Let’s Play that have been emerging. In fact, let me take a moment to clarify what we aren’t looking for because, honestly, that might be easier: we aren’t looking for Let’s Plays that violate our Missions Statement in any way. We aren’t looking for Let’s Plays that add nothing to conversation about games or are simply straight video of a game being played. We aren’t always, necessarily, looking for video: Let’s Plays can take many forms including screenshot posts, Storified livetweets, and much more besides. So we welcome your critical eye as well as your creativity!

We hope you are as excited about this as we are. We’re eagerly awaiting your submissions which should be sent, as usual, via email or on twitter. Please use the hashtag #LetsPlayCD.

Hi! For the sake of avoiding that awkward conversation where you pretend to remember the stranger enthusiastically greeting you, it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

GamerGate: Picking up the Pieces

It’s 2015 and GamerGate is still in the conversation, so let’s start this week off with Ian Miles Cheong’s interview with developer Caelyn Sandel discussing the nefarious hate campaign that is totally not a hate campaign (it is). Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu appear on Nightline to discuss sexist tropes in games and the impact GamerGate had on their lives. Damion Schubert, however, reminds us that GamerGate is far from over as it leaves a wake of orphans in its path.

Reference This

Our own Mark Filipowich likes Brendan Keogh’s book Killing is Harmless more than Spec-Ops: The Line, even though it’s totally Coppola’s seminal film Apocalypse Now and by extension Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness novel.

Wait, that’s it for this section? OK, moving on!

Identity Report

Jessica Conditt offers a multi-faceted look at the representation of black gamers, from the troubling lack of prominent black voices…

“The games industry is hurting badly as a creative medium in terms of diverse voices,” Treachery in Beatdown City developer Shawn Alexander Allen told me. “We don’t see many prominent black or Latino (or really any other minority populace) representation in protagonists, critics, marketing or creators. I mention prominent because while many other cultural forms like music, movies and writing have a dearth of black voices, they at least have people who are out there making their culture better at all levels and are very visible.”

…to the disheartening lack of positive black characters in games:

These virtual worlds tend to reflect the white male majority found in their development and audience, meaning representation of black characters in games is also anemic. A 2002 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of human characters depicted in games were white, and 22 percent were black – but 87 percent of all human heroes in games were white. The seven top-selling games specifically designed for children starred only white human characters, the report read. A separate study from University of Southern California Professor Dmitri Williams in 2011 studied 150 games across all platforms and ratings, and found that 10.7 percent of characters were black, though they were mainly athletes and gangsters.

Over at IGN, Jesse Matheson discusses a project in an isolated mining town in Western Australia providing indigenous youth a digital space to preserve their cultural identity.

Gil_Almogi of Game Revolution looks at the dating sim Coming Out on Top:

The player character cannot be changed, so very much like the majority of video games, you can only play as a conventionally attractive, white, cisgender man. Although this was as advertised, it leads to an awkward moment when the player utters, “I’m not racist, but…” Thankfully, this doesn’t segue into terse conversation with either of the men of color in the game, but I couldn’t help but feel this could just not have been a thing. Later, when Jed is thrown a racist remark and physically threatened by a random person, it drives home the idea of the privileges white, gay men experience that their brethren of color do not benefit from.

Robert Yang’s Succulent makes for a particularly tasty social commentary for Jess Joho to deconstruct gay male culture:

But by the end of Succulent, sex is the last thing on the player’s mind. Finishing the game with a final blow to the Queer as Folk, consumer-driven lifestyle he sees as so prevalent in the media representations of homosexuality, Robert explains that “after consuming the carrot/popsicle/corn dog and hypnotizing you, [the character] has nothing left to feed upon, so he reveals his demonic nature and proceeds to consume you.”

Finally, Alisha Karabinus wonders where we might be if Mass Effect‘s Commander Shepard had been exclusively a woman:

That’s not a choice. That’s not equal presentation. It never has been, and as best as I can tell, was never meant to be, because the industry is geared, in every way, toward male players of a very particular type.

Form and Politics

Stephen Beirne expresses his thoughts on ludo-fundamentalism and ludocentricism, offering insight on how we use language to mean, but also how the application of concepts can become a prescriptive de-valuing of aesthetic experience in digital spaces:

It can be done by associating general concepts like ‘form’ or ‘interactivity’ to only mean specifically ludic form or mechanical interactivity as a matter of fact, for example, which erases all other aspects of form and interactivity from the equation. When self-identified formalists say they focus on form to mean they focus on ludology, this is the removal of non-ludic parts from the scope of what could constitute a game’s form, illustrating ludo-fundamentalism.

Brendan Keogh stepped out to toss the ol’ formalism ball around, calling out himself and other “humanities based videogame critics” for a lack of interest in form:

I want more critics accounting for videogame form. Art critics can talk about a type of paint used and film critics can talk about camera work and lighting and actors and scripts, and we definitely struggle with that as videogame critics. More account for videogames as things that are touched and played with and not just worlds that are magically entered is what we need. That means we need a more coherent language to talk about form.

Elsewhere, Jake Muncy plays Metro 2033 and discusses the poetics of urban agoraphobia:

Subways are naturally orderly spaces, each corridor and tunnel built with a purpose, moving people and property in a mechanical, logical way. Transfigured here into the home of a new human society, they are a hope for order, a place where control can be measured along the length of the train tracks.

And Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander attributes 80 Days‘ success to an avoidance of preconceived notions surrounding text games. Still, even the developers felt the pressure of an ever-present exclusionary mechanic-centric discourse:

Money and luggage made a natural inventory system, and the relationship stat suits the interaction between Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. Time, of course, is the most crucial resource in a story about rushing to circumnavigate the globe in record time. “In general when you’re looking to make a narrative game, as a developer you’re often looking for excuses to shove a bit of ‘gameplay’ in….a few quicktime events maybe, to give you the sense there’s a skill element involved. 80 Days just gave us this gameplay element for free, and that was handy.”

An Inquisition into Meaning

Our winner of 2014’s Blogger of the Year, Austin Walker, writes about choice and meaning in Dragon Age: Inquisition, while Todd Harper pens a weepy confession to the narrative beats induced by flirting in Dragon Age: Inquisition:

I think most of us understand how painful unrequited love can be. If you grew up queer (as I did), there’s an additional layer to that experience: being in love with someone who you know not just doesn’t return your affections but, really, can’t. In many cases, these feelings are for the people in our young queer lives that are our support network. As a wee gay in the mid-90s, my close allies were very, very few and I was assuredly in love with at least one of them. It’s a feeling you learn to bury, or at the very least, to try and transform into a different kind of closeness, so that you don’t lose something very important in the process. If you’re lucky, you can deal with it all on your own.

Jorge Albor doesn’t cry (in this case –ed), but he does wonder about the ontology of meaning created through mechanics centered around choice:

Maybe it would help to explore how some choices mean differently than others. Take for example, my friend’s statement that your choices don’t matter in The Walking Dead? When, exactly, does “mattering” take place? Is meaning created in the moments leading up the decision? In the decision itself? Or in the repercussions of that decision? When is the deadline for a choice to matter that, when passed, signifies an earlier decision’s futility?

Over at Tumblr, Heather Alexandra gives some thought to “The Meaning of Meaning” while also making us curious about a multi-verse reality branched off from a really fucking hungry Isaac Newton:

But this comes with a very clear and obvious issue: meaning is not a formal quality or status that is achieved. It is not some apple on a tree that we can just pluck down and eat if we reach a little higher. It is a happy coincidence of circumstances, a by product of interactions which then must be filtered through the lens of the individual. It is not the act of plucking the apple; it is the observation of the apple falling. Newton allegedly saw an apple fall and found a window to the cosmos but if he had been really fuckin’ hungry that day, all he might have seen was a snack.

Lost to Time 

Over at Gamasutra Lena LeRay’s reality gets shattered by the historical perspective of Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s lore:

In one swell foop [sic], BioWare has changed everything. So often in fantasy stories, The Legends turn out to be True, but they have just knocked the bowling pins of legend over with a bowling ball made of reality and revealed that the pins were all just a facade the whole time. But it’s not a retcon. Everything points, now, to all the myths and legends in the lore being based on a series of actual historical events seen from different perspectives, but with details lost and twisted over the centuries. Some of the things in The Legends may very well be True… but not all of them.

Simon Parkin reveals how lackluster curating efforts is a death sentence to contextual experience:

Still, their social, political, and cultural context remains hidden. Few contemporary explorers of the archive will recognize, for instance, that Wanted: Monty Mole is a riff on the U.K. coal miners’ strike of 1984 — you play a courageous mole who breaks the picket lines in defiance of his union leader, a character modelled on the real-world National Union of Mineworkers president, Arthur Scargill. Nor are today’s gamers likely to sense the Cold War paranoia that suffuses Atari’s Missile Command, which reputedly caused its designer, David Theurer, to wake at night in panic sweats.

Reality is Artificial, Survival is Insufficient 

G. Christopher Williams talks Jazzpunk and its achievement of comedy through reference, abstraction and interactivity:

Jazzpunk feels different than Schafer’s games. It isn’t a game that solely tells jokes in cutscenes and through dialogue. It more often involves the player in the jokes and depends on the player to complete actions necessary to complete those jokes. It is a comedy that hinges on the fact that games are more interactive than other media. The comedy becomes a collaborative act between the game and its player.

Meanwhile, in Kill Screen, Chris Priestman discusses how The Stage removes the player from center stage in favor of the artists:

To Jack, this is what the stage is all about. It’s the symbolic opposite to the multi-million dollar videogame industry. The stage is raw, mistakes can happen, will happen, and are part of the show. This is why, as he told me, The Stage is ‘not a project about finished products but more about process’…Importantly, the distinction that The Stage makes from other types of game performance is that the centerpiece is not the player, but is instead each artist that shaped it. Crucially, the player only interacts with The Stage to incite the show, they do not control what happens. This is best demonstrated when an episode starts, plays a song and some repeated animation, and then ends abruptly, with the player only having moved around the stage wondering if there’s anything more they can do—there isn’t. They are not calling (or firing) the shots here.

And Hannah Peet of Videodame, in a review of Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames, reflects on a better reality where games are the “cornerstone of media conversations and artistic reflection.”

Perhaps it is time to insert these small, movement-less scenes of reflection into the player’s instinctual gaming mannerisms. I can feel these reverent pauses in many games, but the player must be willing to listen for them in order for them to happen. Similarly, non-players should be willing to find this metaphor by spectating the fiction, actions, and environment. The player or spectator should appreciate such a positive moment of reformation for cultural beliefs and values. Games often don’t force players to pause in-game as games are inherently a lean forward activity. Reflection on player choices should happen periodically while working through a game, but it’s also time to implement reverence outside of the video game itself and into the conversations we have about the medium, its participants, and the symbols involved.

Douglass F. Warrick provides an account of forfeiting his autonomy to fall in love with a sex ninja in Apocalypse World:

By actively affording control over character creation to the other players, Apocalypse World encourages players to explore levels of experience outside of their usual frame of reference and to approach the narrative from a position of collaborative improvisation.

If you’re still wanting more, ask Emily Short about games of co-authorship, she’s got what you need.

Whew, we’re almost there! Now let’s wind down with a touching poem from Dalton Day exemplifying experiential interplay. And while you’re at Cartridge Lit, check out this preview of their forthcoming Chapbook, “An Object You Cannot Lose” by Sam Martone.

It’s Been Real: The Existential Crisis

Now that you’ve had your weekly dose of reality-reaffirming criticism, we won’t be mad if you take a break from reading and sharing our findings to read and share with us via Twitter mention or email.

There is still some time to participate in January’s Blogs of the Round Table topic, Player’s Choice.

And remember, we’re funded entirely by our readers so please consider signing up for a monthly donation to our Patreon.

Until next time!

In 2012, critic and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology PhD candidate Brendan Keogh released his long form critical piece on Spec Ops: The Line in the form of an ebook. Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line was at the time the first known published book of criticism on a single game. In the years since a cavalcade of books of video game criticism has been published and more to come in the future.

Two years after initially publishing the book, we decided to interview Brendan to get his perspective on the book, the reception and how things have change over time in his critical methods. We also get into musing on the book’s cultural and historical placement given the recent boom in video game criticism books.

Direct Download

SHOW NOTES

Brendan Keogh

Critical Damage

Darius Kazemi Review: Killing is Harmless, by Brendan Keogh

Cameron  Kunzelman’s On Killing is Harmless

Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”

Susan Sontag’s “On Style”

Noal Carroll’s On Criticism

David Sudnow’s Pilgrim in the Microworld

Spec Ops: The Line Critical Compilation

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Since Eric’s monumental send-off to 2014 we’ve been taking it easy for a few weeks. You guys, on the other hand, have been set an excellent tone for 2015. So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Such Mechanic. Very Game.

A veritable games-crit supergroup came together on Twitter to discuss ludo-centrism, or the domination of play in critical discourse. Special thanks to Landon S for capturing the chaos in a storify.

Lulu Blue on her blog, erogamzo, elaborates on the interplay between play and context as the most crucial point of focus:

Much like a face drawn from lines, game systems carry assumptions made by their creators. If a man sets out to draw a woman and he idealizes a certain beauty standard, he’s likely to draw women which conform to this beauty standard. If the same man sets out to make an rpg, he’s likely to fabricate a world which systematically expresses these ideas about women as well.

As a part of her argument, Blue explains just how the relationships between systems and context inevitably push ideology to the surface.

Daniel Parker speaks the devil’s name into the mirror three times in a related discussion and offers his own take, suggesting that compromising narrative to offer an illusion of play cheapens a game:

Games that employ post-cutscene design ideology tend to be marketed as ‘immersive experiences’ with ‘living, breathing worlds.’ Bioshock Infinite is not a living, breathing world; it is a flashy museum with freaky animatronics.

The Buyer Knows Best

Media philosopher Ian Bogost ended 2014 skeptical of Eric Zimmerman’s “ludic century,” suggesting that instead of dominating our culture, maybe games should just be a small part of our ever complicating lives:

We don’t have to scorn games (or comics, or YA fiction) to feel a little embarrassed at the prospect of a century with them at the center of the media ecosystem. And on the flip side, we don’t have to discard games (or comics, or YA fiction) to scratch our heads at the wisdom of feeling satisfied by them.

At Kill Screen, Ray Graham explores depictions of torture in light of exposed CIA documents and wonders how culpable games are in the widely held (but misinformed) belief that torture is an effective method of gathering information.

At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky writes that game design is too wrapped up in the fantasy of wealth accumulation to actually communicate anything meaningful. According to Polansky, the time may be to look outside of big-budget commercial games for a meaningful conversation.

Through a Glass, Darkly

Over at Salon, Arthur Chu interviews Tanya DePass, creator of the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag, about gaming’s insulation, representation and diversity:

[O]n the one hand it is kind of trivial to focus on video games right now, but the other side of it is — if I want to escape from the real world, I don’t want to escape to a world where no one looks like me, because that tells me that I don’t matter. Because even in a pixel world, I don’t get to exist.

Recent events may have undercut the positivity that has come out of DePass’s work but it’s important to acknowledge efforts like hers.

Elsewhere, Steve Lubitz of Multiball discusses how Wolfenstein: The New Order portrays its Jewish characters with surprising grace:

My issue is that when games attempt to include Jewish characters they often do it so poorly that I end up wishing they hadn’t tried in the first place. Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the first (possibly the only) game I’ve played that took the time to include a Jewish character and elements of Judiasm as a whole without devolving into lazy, offensive stereotypes, and that’s something that I truly appreciate.

Upon Closer Inspection

Maggie Greene takes to her blog to compare Tales of Xillia to Chinese literary traditions. Specifically, she looks at multiple endings and the effort to capture both tragic compromise and fairy tale and fan-fiction happiness ever-after.

Isaac Yuen revisits Mother 3 at Ekostories and discusses what the mixed aesthetic means for the game:

What I love about MOTHER 3 is that the entire package exists as a contradiction. [Creator Shigesato] Itoi’s insistence to use the videogame medium to tell a story that is structured like a play… The insertion of surreal and bizarre humour into serious moments. The fearless reliance of musical motifs or wordless silence to carry the emotional weight of pivotal scenes. The choice of child-like visuals to convey a narrative steeped in adult matters of grief, loss, and the inevitability of change.

At Words That Won’t Sell, Ed Smith offers a psychodynamic analysis of Lone Survivor in which he unpacks symbols of guilt, sex and parenthood through the game. Smith then pops over to Shut Up Videogames to tackle the juvenile nihilism of Desert Golfing (content warning: discussions of depression and suicide).

At Red Thumbs, The Lenin of Love takes the time to observe the subtle humanity in the mundane citizenry of the Metro series. As the author explains, Metro rewards the player only when they stop and note the people around them, “we are offered salvation through the simple act of caring.”

Damned if You Do

Our resident potato cryogenist, Zach Alexander, gives a brief but meaty analysis of the doomed kingdom in Unrest. Under the game’s circumstances, Alexander pities the game’s antagonist:

He tried lenience, he tried cruelty, but in the end there was no decision that could stave off the collapse of the city. Unlike many villain’s speeches, this holds up on a replay of the game.

From her own blog of the same name, Melody Meows unpacks systems of poverty in Three-Fourths Home:

The Meyers started off as a humble family, that much is clear. But it seems that they tried to participate in an archetypical narrative which promised them that the future generation, i.e. Kelly and her younger brother Ben, would move up in society, and that attempt is the root cause of all their present problems.

As she explains, the barrier of entry prohibits many gamers from truly understanding poverty, but Three-Fourths Home nonetheless illustrates how the myth of meritocracy traps working class families like the game’s Meyers family more than it helps them.

Forever Fantasy

We have four different authors dissecting four different entries in the Final Fantasy series.

Stephen Beirne starts with a continuation of his look at cinematic framing in Final Fantasy VII.

Nate Ewert-Krocker revisits Final Fantasy Tactics as the story of the central character learning and acting against his societal privilege.

Ashe Samuels turns an intersectional feminist eye to an old favourite, Final Fantasy IX to document its success and the failures.

And Dara Khan explores the relaxing and unique soundtrack of Final Fantasy X.

Inquisit This

Paste, certainly among the finest games crit locales, features an excellent essay by Janine Hawkins on the hauntingly empty hissing wastes in Dragon Age: Inquisition. As Hawkins describes it:

There is something everywhere in a game. There has to be, because someone somewhere spent hours building the form and rules to sustain five seconds of “nothing”. In reality, the Hissing Wastes are full of things to stumble upon, but there is no flag to plant by a statue half-lost to the creeping sands. There’s no quest marker for watching the silhouette of a fox cresting a ridge in front of the imposing milk-white disk of the moon.

Kate Cox has her own thoughts on Inquisition, observing that none of the detached protagonists of the series so far tie the games together as a central character. Rather, the fantastical tale of Thedas might really be swirling around Ser Cullen, a minor character playing an ever more prominent role in the series:

[Cullen], not the Inquisitor, is the voice of the player’s memory even if the Inquisitor is the voice of the player’s present and conscience. And he is arguably a solid stand-in romantic hero: the knight-errant, on a Maker-given mission — of atonement, of justice, of victory.

Last word can be found on Todd Harper’s blog in a NSFW comparison of Dragon Age: Inquisition to North American attitudes to penis size.

You Want Me to Do What Now?

Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon describes the process of teaching her mother how to play Telltale’s Game of Thrones. It didn’t go well, but it demonstrates how inaccessible games are to those without years of practice in them:

She just didn’t have it and I couldn’t teach it to her. It is something that can only come with practice.

Cara Ellison continues her S.EXE column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun with an in-depth look at 1988’s Romantic Encounters at the Dome. Ellison applauds it as a sex game that actually targets adults, rather than a series of dick jokes, and admires its rough edges that capture a slice of late eighties life:

This is really a man’s fantasy of what a woman wants from a man -– and my mind does these strange backflips. It is probably one of the most interesting sex scenes I’ve played through, apart from Coming Out On Top of course. It’s like being in a man’s head as he tries to fuck you, in an almost cyberpunk manner. It’s slightly neurotic, slightly melancholy. It’s just so weird.

Those looking to write the best passage of 2015, that’s the one to beat.

Dispatches from Vienna

And now, a few words from foreign correspondent Joe Köller on what’s happening in the German games blogosphere:

Local “bookazine” and games writing power house WASD has a new issue out. Here’s a preview for your perusal, and at Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl has reposted the entirety of his article from the collection.

Paidia, a German academic e-journal in game studies, has released their latest issue as well, on the subject of gender and games. Two highlights for your consideration: Maike Groen tackles women and esports and Franziska Ascher takes on the fire-keepers of Dark Souls.

Elsewhere, Denise Linke writes about disability, accessibility and custom controllers, Christof Zurschmitten shares ten thoughts (give or take) on Stephen ‘thecatamites’ Murphy’s 50 Short Games, and Agata Góralczyk talks about mental illness in games, and memories of her grandmother.

Seen some good German (or French or Dutch) games writing lately? We are always looking for submissions! Check out our guidelines at the foot of this post.

Is Anybody Out There?

Before we wrap this up we have a few signals to boost:

Memory Insufficient’s latest issue about alternative history has also hit the digital shelves. Also, perhaps you’d like to submit an essay for their next issue, language and games history.

Merritt Kopas’s latest project, Soft Chambers, promotes quiet, human moments in games over the active, competitive and mechanized dominant attitudes toward them.

Emily Short compiled a massive list of interactive fiction competitions, anthologies and shows. Definitely a great resource for any IF writers looking to learn more about the community and form.

Lastly, on January 17-18, the crews of the Spawn Point and Spawn on Me podcasts are joining to host a Twitch stream. Here’s some more about that:

This happening will provide a deliberate space for you to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement. We will support the families of those that were lost by donating to the Eric Garner Fund, and The New York Lawyers Guild that continues to organize protests and bail funds for those imprisoned for exercising their 1st Amendment rights on this matter.

It seems like a great way to build community while supporting a cause.

That’ll Do, Pig. That’ll Do.

As always, it’s been a pleasure to share another week’s worth of videogame blogging with you all. If ever you find something that we ought to feature we happily take requests by email and Twitter!

And don’t forget to take a look at this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, where we want to know what you think about “Player Choice.”

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to support our effort to find and preserve games criticism, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Hello and Happy New Year. I hope you’ll join me in collectively wishing for a better 2015 than 2014.

Given the new year, many people are naturally thinking about making resolutions. Of course, making a resolution is easy, but having the resolve to stick to that resolution is hard. You have to make the choice to commit to it and to let that choice alter the course of your experience and perception. As I pondered my own resolution, I began thinking about what resolutions look like for player’s in game spaces. So this month on Blogs of the Round Table, let’s talk about ‘Player’s Choice.’

This month, we’re interested in hearing about self-regulated or self-inflicted rules. For instance, do you take stealth games so seriously that any detection causes you to restart from the last save point? Or maybe, when you played Skyrim you completed the game without once using a melee weapon? Alternately, perhaps you refuse to run left in side scrolling games – no backtracking allowed. Maybe you only ever allow yourself to rotate Tetris pieces two times. Maybe you played with an all female cast in Fire Emblem? Maybe, just maybe, you always choose the last dialogue option in games, no matter what it is. These are the circumstances we want to hear about: choices you make as a player that aren’t dictated or necessitated by the game, but which alter your experience and understanding of the game. Tell us about your choices and commitments to self-regulated play circumstances. Let’s talk about the resolutions you’ve made and how strong your resolve was in sticking to those modes of play.

We’re accepting blogs until January 30th. You can see current submissions 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="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=January15" frameborder="0"></iframe>

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.

Hello party people. If you’re like me than you’ve started the new year by gorging on leftovers, drinking spiked coffee and remaining in your pajamas until even the cat gives you that “you need a shower” look (You know the one). What? Just me? Okay then. Let’s talk about blogs.

The last topic of 2014 was ‘New Game+’ where writers took up virtual pen and pad to talk about revisiting a game from the perspective of experience:

How is replaying a game different from playing a game for the first time? Does the subtext change when a hero is slaying basement rats at level 99 or does it just make it easier to whoosh through the plot? Does New Game+ offer new any challenges or is it just an afterthought? What about you, player? Are you any different when you return to a game’s beginning having seen the end? Does nostalgia enhance the experience or were you better off with fresh eyes?

We want to hear about the beginning after the end. In an age of endless cliffhangers and reinventions, what is it like to be where you’ve been before? Tell us about the New Game+ file that changed how you saw a game, or how that game closest to your heart falls apart with a mature look. Tell us about how your seasoned D&D character fared in a brand new campaign with brand new players. Have games as a whole changed with the experience gained in old cycles? What do we make of remastered classics? Are they a form of + to the New Game or does the gloss break the spirit of the old game? What has changed more in the last few years? Games or players? What does that mean? In short, we want to know what novelty looks like from the perspective of experience.

Phill English, the second half of Tim and Phill Talk About Games, expresses frustration that all his experience with games makes such a creatively stagnant medium difficult to continue enjoying:

…a lot of the games I play now feel as though I’ve walked straight from the campaign of one game, through a multiverse wormhole, and am starting a new game+ in the next world over. These multiverses are generally limited to genre stereotypes, and some are more closely carbon-copied than others.

However, English ends on a bright note, claiming that games can be exciting as a craft and as a place to experiment. With that attitude, Phill, you’ll only find friends here.

The Rev is quickly becoming a regular member of the BoRT club and I have to admit that every month I look forward to seeing more of their work. This time, they respond to Mr. English’s article directly, describing games as an exercise of imposing oneself on a system. Or in their own words: “So what if game systems are at heart cynical mathematical formulas? By responding to them in a real way, I make them more real. By upholding morality, I make morality more real. Even if truth is human-made, that only means that it can be made true by humans.”

The author refers to Hegelian ethics to explain that the best uses of New Game+ allows player to become their own walkthrough or to find new ways to impose themselves,  while the worst are a cynical chase for more content.

Speaking of regular BoRT-sians, Liegh Harrison offers another great essay from her blog, As Houses, to discuss Wolfenstein: The New Order’s first and most troubling decision. Harrison admires the game for forcing players to examine their decisions without an easy option like New Game+ to find alternative paths:

I’m glad The New Order contains this little ‘fuck you’ to its players if I’m being honest. “‘If you want to play the game again’ I hear it say ‘then be my guest, but bugger me if you’re doing it in an attempt to nurse your own personal guilt or re-imagine my already re-imagined history: that isn’t the way this works.’ Life is too short to worry about the way you did things in the past, especially considering you more than likely cocked it up spectacularly.

Over at Hub Pages, Seth Tomko compares how New Game+ functions differently in Chrono Trigger and Dark Souls. While New Game+ in both games suggest a sense of eternity, the mode is empowering in Chrono Trigger and allows the player to find new endings whereas the increased difficulty of Dark Souls in later playthroughs only makes the world’s doom seem more cyclical and inevitable.

Writing for Entertainment Buddha, Raymond Porreca discusses the way that 2009’s Nier subverts the expectations of New Game+ by recontextualizing enemy encounters in the second playthrough of the plot. Porreca doesn’t directly respond to any of the other writers in this roundup but he does offer a unique perspective that is more interesting in light of what some of the above have written about the subject.

Tate Geborkoff plays us out this month with an enthusiastic celebration of Persona 4 Golden written for Electronic Bureau. Geborkoff praises the game’s New Game+ mode for letting him explore the cast and setting he had become so attached to. For Geborkoff, having a shortcut past the heavy lifting and taking a load off with the game is the closest thing he’s found to that feeling of playing games in his youth:

I care so deeply for these characters, who are not just battling their own demons, but also learning to see the world from a different angle. Every interaction with them is special and often hilarious and I’m so glad that NG+ allows me to maximize the time I spend with them, until of course, the year comes to an end and I have to get on that train that takes me away from the people I’ve come to deeply love.

I hope you’re as happy with I am with this month’s roundup. But, if you’re not, you’re free to take all the wisdom you’ve earned into next month’s Blogs of the Round Table to try and get the real ending. If you’re so inclined, you’re more than free to include the articles of this month’s Round Table in your own blog by copying the source code for our extremely fancy Link-o-Matic 5000:

<iframe type="text/html" width="600" height="20" src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=October12" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Thank you again, writers and readers, for participating this month, and keep a very close eye for Lindsey’s January topic to kick off 2015.

This Year in Videogame Blogging: 2014

December 30th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Spotlight: - (Comments Off)

So comes to a close the year 2014. It is a time for reflection and consideration.

We at Critical Distance have gone back over the last year and put together a compilation of what we feel best represents what has passed year. We compiled the most important, most memorable and most representative critical pieces of the year to give an idea of what 2014 was all about. Now, Critical Distance is proud to present the 2014 edition of This Year In Videogame Blogging!

#GamerGate
Whatever anyone might have thought of 2014 before, the arrival of GamerGate in August changed everything. We are a curatorial site and This Year In Videogame Blogging is a feature which looks back and tries to create an outline of what the year was — but with GamerGate in the mix, it is not so simple. Many have mused that pre-August felt like it belonged to another decade compared to the avalanche of destruction that engulfed the latter half of the year.

There is no ‘debacle timeline’ this year to which we can all refer. GamerGate was too long and too multi-pronged; nearly every day brought some new accusation; some new horror in the ostensible name of “ethics in games journalism.” So I beg your forgiveness if our own efforts to summarize fall on the brief side. No roundup can completely address everything of the last few months, from explaining the harassers’ tactics, to condemning the lies, to acknowledging the pain and honoring the losses suffered by the gaming communities everywhere. Content warnings for this section include discussion of sexual harassment, stalking, rape and death threats, and all the rest that the GamerGate hashtag has come to exemplify.

(Editors Note: Some weeks into 2015, Reddit user Squirrel Justice Warrior was kind enough to actually create such a timeline and we deemed it meticulous enough to include here as a primer to the activity details of the ongoing nightmare.)

So many places to begin, but I want to open with the voice of the woman whose harassment began it all. Zoe Quinn, after months of putting up with the some of the worst events anyone can imagine, struck back against their fig leaf of a justification for all the has been done in the name of the hashtag saying, “Fine, Let’s Talking About Ethics in Games Journalism.” As you might expect, what the hashtag focuses on and what really impacts the industry are very different things.

Alexandra Erin wrote as well on the topic of ethics, commenting: “#GamerGate really is deeply concerned with ethics in videogame journalism. It turns out they’re not a fan of the idea.”

Dan Olson, aka the Foldable Human, took a critical theory lens usually reserved for media studies and applies it to the movement surrounding the hashtag, cutting right to the bone of its recursive ideology.

Katherine Cross wrote We Will Force Gaming to Be Free for First Person Scholar, a widely shared piece in which where she attempts to academically excavate the lies and hypocrisies of the so-called “consumer revolt.”

Also related, Carolyn Petit wrote Why Political Engagement is Critical to Games Journalism, despite a vocal minority claiming they want politics out of games journalism. Midnight Resistance’s Owen Grieve, along the same lines, argued that “Game Design is Always Political” you can’t change it no matter how much you may whine about it.

Liz Ryerson looked at “gamer” as an identity, not as the marketing ploy, but as the social construct we made it around something we love and the historical precedent to our current concerns around videogames. Ryerson wrote that we need to acknowledge and deal with the problems that come with this identity.

Similarly, BioWare’s Damion Schubert declared that he wanted to reclaim the term “gamer.” Most gamers are good people, he argued, and we should oust those destructive elements, because, to paraphrase Office Space: “Why should we change? They’re the ones who suck.”

We lead out of this section with probably the most misquoted piece of the year, Leigh Alexander’s Gamers Are Over, in which she speaks specifically to an audience of developers on the diversity of current game playing demographics, in contrast to the omnipresent “gamer” stereotype which cultivates so much of the industry’s attention.

Culture Blogging
Every year, we have a section devoted to pieces that focused on the community that surrounds our medium. This year, more that ever previously, such pieces dominated the conversation. The biggest event might have been directly addressed above, but it was only one in several interlocking pieces where critics tried to break with the status quo.

Based on an article he penned for Polygon from earlier this year, Tropes vs Women in Videogames producer Jonathan McIntosh produced the video “25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male” for the Feminist Frequency’s YouTube channel, getting 25 men of the videogame industry to label their privileges.

Anita Sarkeesian also released her two part dissection of the Background Decoration trope, which should be considered essential viewing. A content warning, however, for graphic violent imagery present in the videos.

At Paste, Cara Ellison explored the 17% figure in videogames, a recurring number in media studies as the percentage at which men judge the gender ratio of men and women to be equal. Anything more than 17% and men start to perceive women as the majority of a given crowd.

Switching gears from gender to race representation, Jed Pressgrove hosted a conversation with Sidney Fussell on race in videogames, focusing on the representation of blacks and their coded fantasy counterparts.

Shivam Bhatt tackled the Far Cry 4 cover art controversy using it to explain how South Asians are represented and treated.

At US Gamer, Daniel Starkey spoke with Doom developer John Romero and others to discuss the treatment of Native Americans in videogame development. From Custer’s Revenge to this year’s Never Alone, Starkey said, they are “More Than Shamans and Savages.”

On his blog Stay Classy, Todd Harper explained the dichotomy of The Subtle Knife: as a gay man, when does he want being gay to matter in a game? “Always,” he said, and “never.”

Samantha Allen — in one of her final pieces of her games writing career — expressed a disbelief in the so-called split between “short form, single author queer games or long form works that are developed by teams but weighed down by the trappings of dominate culture.” She believes the gap can be closed — and is already closing.

The subject of representation goes beyond the content of games, into the makeup of the industry itself. Jenn Frank wrote about The Rolodex and how the normal processes of business networking can be a self perpetuating system of exclusion if it isn’t recognized and actively countered. Responding to well-meaning but confounded readers, Leigh Alexander wrote a few Dos and Don’ts on combating online sexism.

Squinky, aka Deirdra Kiai, delivered an impassioned talk at this year’s #1reasontobe panel at the Game Developers Conference, namely on the challenges of being gender non-binary in a highly gendered industry like videogames. “Making games is easy. Belonging is hard,” was the refrain of their talk, as republished here on Squinky’s professional site.

Stacy Mason attended her first GDC this past March and found that she did learn a lot, just not what she was expecting. The game industry wants to have rock stars, she observed, but copies the worst aspect of other mediums in its quest for legitimacy.

Maddy Myers concluded her GDC experience with an epilogue and how the dominate culture seeks to discredit the work not already appreciated, both at industry social events and within the hiring process. Later in the year, Myers also held a talk at AlterCon about the myth of “objectivity” and the need for Gonzo Journalism.

Daniel Joseph argued that we must Let The Enthusiast Press Die for its stagnation, while Javy Gwaltney pointed out that while we may laugh at some of the coverage on mainstream game news sites, we should take it seriously for how it comes to represent games journalism to the rest of society.

Tadhg Kelly explored the brave new world of Patreonomics, in which more and more creators are turning to Patreon and other crowdfunding sites to make their livelihood. (Critical Distance is itself funded by its readership via Patreon, so we’re part of this trend ourselves!)

Our own Lana Polansky worried about that if the legitimate anger from activism can be so easily twisted, so can the new form of support for the most in need. The anger is necessary in the face of little other support, yet can easily turn toxic and people against one another.

Along those lines, Critical Distance alumna Mattie Brice commented on how she and so many others are more than their pain, but often that is all that gets noticed for that is all that is marketable about minority writers.

Further demonstrating Polansky’s point, Leigh Alexander wrote The Unearthing, a creative narrativization of the excavation of the ET cartridges in the New Mexico desert earlier this year. The event itself is less important compared to the mindset of the critic in this space, feeling constantly under siege.

Ian Danskin’s video “This is Phil Fish” — made prior to Fish’s complete departure from the industry — discussed the strange obsessive cult of celebrity concerning the titular figure and others like him. Developer Liz Ryerson used the video as a jumping off point to talk about Indie Entitlement based on already outdated notions of what the indie community is — and the harm these notions cause to those outside the “norm.”

Industry problems abound. Mike Joffe at Videogames of the Oppressed brought up Conflict Minerals in Games. (Content warning: discussion of rape and sexual slavery.) Back on Paste, Ian Williams and Austin Walker critiqued a recent Blizzard Entertainment recruitment video and how it subtly preyed upon the dreams and aspirations of new developers.

Also, Jared Rosen details GAME_JAM: How the Most Expensive Game Jam Crashed and Burned in a Single Day. The original article is lost to time, but it is archived for now through the Wayback Machine.

Actual ethical debates were brought up and ignored. For instance, Eurogamer’s Simon Parkin asked “Are YouTubers breaking the law?” With prominent personalities doing advertorials and promotions for their subjects, this is a question we’re bound to return to in the new year.

Claire Hosking explains the whole Grand Theft Auto V being pulled from Target shelves in Australia thing from the perspective of Australians, contrary to the mainly American outcry which has dominated the conversation.

Rami Ismail, developer and business guy at Vlambeer, explains how even in a world of code and systems, being English speaking is an enormous advantage in this world. This also carries over to the field of criticism, as Memory Insufficient’s Zoya Street dove into the Japanese videogame criticism and brought back some translations and insights in these three pieces.

The inaugural Critical Proximity — organized by Zoya Street — was held this year just ahead of GDC. Joshua Comer was inspired by a number of the talks to examine “Criticism’s Difficulty Settings.” Meanwhile, Mike Joffe “Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Myriad and Nebulous Concepts None of Us Can Agree On.”

Another digital based conference, Indie3, happened later this year, as a “counter-conference” to the AAA-focused E3. Cameron Kunzelman and Austin Walker wrote a Postscript for Paste on the floundering that happened in a space that didn’t define up front what it was all about.

Speaking of conferences, “‘Everyone Was There’ And You Weren’t” wrote Dan Cox, on the exclusionary rhetoric that gets thrown about at events like conferences and conventions. He wondered: if everyone was there, then are those who couldn’t make it nobodies?

And we can’t go without mentioning Cara Ellison’s Embed With… series, in which she travels around the world visiting important names and faces in the field. Her visit to Paris-based, American ex-pat developers Katharine Neil and Harvey Smith is a great place to start.

Finally, you want objective game reviews? Here’s a whole site of them. Be careful what you wish for.

Theory Blogging
Some criticism focuses on the specific instance, a single game or other work. Other pieces look to broader conceptions and understanding of both game design and criticism.

Earlier this year, Stephen Beirne started off a grand conversation about capitalistic design in RPGs and whether it was inherent in leveling up. Austin Walker responded that Beirne’s assertions “sacrifice complexity for strategic power.” He saw papered over cracks and wanted to explore them, while Zack Fair figured we should be careful with definitions and distinction regarding in game resources.

Our own Mark Filipowich explored the “Narrative and Abstraction of the Camera in Games.” What we see is not literally there, but a representation of something we are meant to understand is there.

Austin C. Howe defended the notion of games about games as it he finds it severely reductive and ignored so much they actually have to say and denouncing them dangerously results in asserting that games exist in a vacuum.

Touching on the critical reception to Vlambeer’s Luftrausers (with its Nazi-inflected aesthetics), Craig Stern took to task the saying “no interpretation is wrong.” While it may not have been the case here, not all interpretations are valid, he said, especially those that discount and ignore the material in the actual work being discussed.

Brendan Vance delivered a one-two punch on our assumptions regarding games this year in “The Cult of the Peacock” and “Form and its Usurpers.” The first article concerns design dogma while the latter focuses on the ideology of form and content divorced from their artistic roots.

Writing for Indie Haven, Joe Parlock asserted that the “What is a Game?” debate is not only pointless and annoying, but actively damaging to the medium at large.

At Videogame Tourism, Eron Rauch noted the echoes of history as the current rhetoric around the art revolution of indie games matches up so well with that of the Impressionists some hundred and fifty years prior.

Play the Past’s Gilles Roy explored how strategy games are changing our understanding of popular history. The ludic rhetoric that gets used, he argued, alters perception of events and realities.

David Hayward of the YouTube channel Feral Vector took us for a walk in the countryside, a parable of space fascists caving each others heads in and, more broadly, the ridiculous seriousness with which the games press discuss games.

Speaking of video blogging, Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin had several significant contributions this year, such as this piece where he related that the current deluge of new releases requires curation, not gatekeepers. In the end, he said, he wants more information from critics, not fewer games.

Our own Eric Swain began a new weekly feature series this year called Non Play Criticism, where he takes a piece of criticism from a different medium and pulls a lesson from it that can be used in videogame criticism.

In the inaugural issue of the Journal of Games Criticism, Brendan Keogh wrote a long piece about the status of academia to games criticism, warned against the ivory tower and the need for the middle voices between enthusiast press and academia. In a response, Zoya Street had a few things to say about his take on the matter as well, invoking the term “The Cyborg Critic.”

Critical Videogame Blogging
In the end, it all comes down to the games themselves. All the talk would be for naught without something to talk about, something to both channel ideas through and receive ideas from. It’s not just about new games, but new conversations whether they be about new games or old ones.

It was a big year for Assassin’s Creed. As the series has gone on, Jamie Patton noticed a disturbing trend in the games toward colonizing history by inserting our own modern values as if they were eternal and universal, erasing the struggles that actually went on.

In a series of six posts, our own Cameron Kunzelman made his way through the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy, exploring various elements such as control, the interface, the city and the animus.

Nick Dinicola looked at Assassin’s Creed IV and the series’ recent shift toward the creed of not just assassins but their competing templars and, presently, pirates. Dinicola described these warring ideologies as a propaganda battle of their philosophies.

In his Critical Intel column, Robert Rath made the historical case for women in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, given their prominence during the French Revolution.

At Paste, Justin Clark reflected on what it means for him and his school teacher mother to see “blackness flaunted with utmost dignity” in the trailer for the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Freedom’s Cry DLC.

Moving from one Ubisoft property to another, Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin blasted Watch Dogs, while Austin Walker examined what it means to be an NPC in both Watch Dogs and Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor, especially when our only way to meaningful interact with them is violence. “I can’t touch anyone,” Austin lamented.

Carolyn Petit wanted Shadow of Mordor to let her enter the world of Tolkien, but instead she got a painful reminder that women are considered disposable and that violence asserts the status quo. At The Verge, Chris Plante called Shadow of Mordormorally repulsive” for turning the player into a torturer and terrorist. And at Polygon, Alexa Ray Corriea published a huge feature on the history of The Lord of the Rings in videogames.

From one strain of adaptation to another, Brendan Keogh had quite a list of notes on Alien: Isolation. Elsewhere, Cara Ellison had some choice words to the developers who made the graffiti in the game: “We’re not idiots.”

On Matter, Gone Home developer Steve Gaynor took part in The New York Review of Videogames to look at Alien: Isolation and The Evil Within as games that carry “the weight of their histories” with them as they try to balance nostalgia with novelty.

Edward Smith put forward Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s PT as an example of how to make a horror game right. Instead of systematizing horror scenes, he said, let the world have understandable rules to never let the player gain their footing.

Telltale concluded two game series this year, The Wolf Among Us and the second season of The Walking Dead. Becky Chambers, formerly of The Mary Sue, reviewed the second chapter of The Wolf Among Us and examined how it uses a well-worn trope of ‘mature games’ — the brothel house — but does so with uncommon deftness. At PopMatters, Jorge Albor asserted The Wolf Among Us takes a victim centric approach to storytelling. The character Narissa, in particular, is highlighted.

Albor also looked at The Walking Dead Season Two Episode 3 and how it portrays toxic masculinity. In trying to assert dominance, he noted, the character Carver ends up seeding only destruction.

On Kill Screen, Carli Velocci explained she had a panic attack while playing The Walking Dead. Given what it’s going for, she mused on whether that was a good thing.

War never changes. Neither does Call of Duty. Christ Priestman wondered: if Call of Duty can’t do grief right, then who can?

With an eye toward history, Andrew Dunn lamented Valiant Hearts’ atonal treatment of the conflict of its subject matter, the first World War.

Ria Jenkins detailed the horrible content of the Chico Tape 4 collectable in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and how it undermines Paz’s character to confirm the worst stereotypes about women. (Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence and gore.)

Looking at a more contemporary set of affairs, Mike Williams of US Gamer remarked that Life Imitates Art, looking at how the upcoming Battlefield: Hardline mediates the militarization of urban police departments. Kevin Nguyen at The Paris Review also noted how awful the game’s timing is, both specifically and where we are as a culture.

Back with his Critical Intel column, Robert Rath observed that in all of games’ portrayals of Nazi horrors, few get it as right as Wolfenstein: The New Order. Rath wrote that the game hits upon one very important truth, both then and now: “We see that survival, merely living life, is an act of resistance.”

Border House editor Anna pointed out that Nintendo’s attempt to make no social commentary with Tomodachi Life is social commentary. Todd Harper concurred, saying that “erasing your audience isn’t fun.” Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku made her Tomodachi Life “a little bit gayer” but struggled to get around the heteronormativity of the game to portray her friends within.

Bayonetta 2 also caused some discussion, with Maddy Myers seeing merit in Bayonetta as a sex positive figure that doesn’t bend to anyone’s gaze. On the other hand, Apple Cider Mage didn’t feel a character like Bayonetta can fill that role until there is a plethora of other characters of all types.

Todd Harper decided to take a week and write anything about Bayonetta 2 not having to do with the titular character’s position either as sex empowerment fantasy or sexual object. And at Failing Awkwardly, Kateri penned a nine-part survey of all the sexual partners one can have in The Witcher and how they are portrayed.

In another direction, our own Kris Ligman posted the notes from an extemporaneous talk delivered at Lost Levels on reading Phoenix Wright of the Ace Attorney series as an asexual character.

Jorge Albor saw his own experience with race reflecting in Dragon Age: Inquisition, while Patricia Hernandez saw a very different type of culturally-inflected experience in Papers, Please.

Katherine Cross looked at one of the best characters from Christine Love’s Hate Plus, Oh Eun-a, and used Alpha Centauri as a template to urge writers not to give into caricature.

Mobile games also had a lot of focus this year. Gita Jackson wrote about Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood and the stresses of fame which pervade the game. Jackson observed empathetically: “For Mrs. Kardashian West, however, this isn’t a diversion. This is her life.”

Threes! saw quite a few problems earlier this year, with the game’s extensive clone taking the spotlight. Leigh Alexander penned a feature on the entire affair and one of the game’s more successful clones, 2048. The developer, meanwhile, felt compelled to publish their emails entailing the entire design process to deflect accusations theirs was the clone in this situation.

There was a great deal of coverage on Flappy Bird, not all of it competently researched or presented. In a bid to counter this trend, developer and game design educator Robert Yang attempted to frame the Flappy Bird affair in its correct context.

Also touching upon the game, Brendan Keogh lamented the constant push for innovation while ignoring a game that just manages to do something really, really well.

Multimedia editor at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams, wrote a piece exploring what Simogo’s Device 6 had to say about the player not as the “free man” a la The Prisoner, but as the “special man.”

At Paste, Ansh Patel wrote about Kentucky Route Zero Episode III’s Musical Centerpiece and how it exploits the relationship between player choice and the game’s narrative.

Newcomer writer Melody Meows penned a wonderful three part essay on the themes of Supergiant’s Transistor, including democracy and the tangibility of ideas. Claire Hosking looked at Transistor through the eyes of its city and the artists who formed it.

The mononymous Greg described his impression of hopelessness in The Banner Saga‘s indifferent world and asked: “Can Games Teach Us to Die?

Interactive fiction luminary and Versu developer Emily Short had some things to say about Gone Home and the crutch of games telling their story through backstory. In a similarly literary vein, on Unwinnable Jill Scharr wondered if she is The Novelist, after trying to understand what the game has to say.

Writing for his blog The Animist, Alex Duncan used The Stanley Parable to look at metafiction and how treating the game as a dichotomy rather than approaching it holistically leaves something to be desired.

Joshua Calixto penned a feature for Kill Screen about Super Smash Bros. Melee‘s staying power, its status among the fighting game community and how it became an albatross around its creator’s neck.

Samantha Allen explained the Centipede’s Dilemma with Mario Kart 8. There is so much nuance in playing videogame nowadays, she contended, we don’t even know how we do it.

Justin Keverne penned another large design analysis this year, this time a 12 part breakdown of the most recent Thief for Sneaky Bastards.

The Starseed Observatory also launched this year, an entire site of criticism dedicated to droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim, founded by Richard “KirbyKid” Terrell and Daniel Johnson.

Chay Close at Kill Screen reasoned every videogame is a comedy, but only a very few are in on the joke. Writing for Kotaku’s UK branch, our own Zolani Stewart advanced the concept of Sonic Studies in order to isolate where, exactly, the little blue hedgehog started to go so wrong.

Austin Walker reviewed The Crew for Paste, seeing the America within as a postcard of the nation. He found some delight in the abstraction of the country, but soon it became apparent to him that The Crew‘s fantasy of accumulating power is not the Americanism he wanted to engage with.

Stephen Beirne found he had made a mistake in Spec Ops: The Line under pressure by a moment in the game’s fiction. Comparing the game with BioShock Infinite, Beirne found that the moment left a far greater impact than BioShock Infinite‘s carnival throw because he could “point back to afterwards and see a ghost of myself living in it, so impassioned and alive as to be conceited of the absence of any alternative, so foolish and honest and gloriously mine.”

Ansh Patel discovered that The Longest Journey‘s anti-climax broke something within him, but found he “had stumbled on something beautiful and deeply meaningful beyond anything I could comprehend then.”

Jimmy Maher, The Digital Antiquarian, went back to Ultima IV and pieced together the story behind its philosophical departure from its contemporaries.

Finally, this year Javy Gwaltney was reminded of the drives he took alone in the night, and how Glitchhikers is the perfect recreation of that experience.

Publications
What was originally a scant few pieces of criticism stepping out from the aether of the internet has grown into a full fledge movement. Books and digital magazines are emerging to fill a long form space the web can’t quite satisfy.

New videogame book publisher BossFightBooks opened strong in its inaugural year, putting out two notable publications. First, Anna Anthropy’s book on ZZT, focusing on the community aspect of this creative game. Second, Darius Kazemi put his money where his mouth was and produced his own videogame criticism book, on Jagged Alliance 2. Brendan Keogh wrote some thoughts on Kazemi’s book, continuing the conversation from two years ago following the publishing of his own book on Spec Ops: The Line, titled Killing is Harmless.

Zoya Street also released a new book this year, Delay, looking at energy mechanics common in social and mobile games. His digital magazine, Memory Insufficient, also continued publishing into its second year. We highlight the Asian Histories issue in particular, because it led to e:\>_, an e-zine designed “to create a richer, more nuanced understanding of the social histories of gaming in Asia.”

Critical Distance’s own Alan Williamson completed a second year with his Five out of Ten digital magazine. The zine has collected issues 6 through 10 in a Year Two bundle. Williamson has been quite busy this year, publishing a book with co-author Kaitlin Tremblay: Escape to Na Pali: A Journey to the Unreal about the PC classic Unreal.

Finally, we welcome two newcomers in the games e-zine space. The Arcade Review, headed by our own Zolani Stewart, had a great inaugural year focusing on small, strange and often overlooked games in criticism. Unwinnable also began publishing their digital magazine this year, Unwinnable Weekly. You can read their 0 issue for free.

Blogger of the Year
For this section, I cede the floor to Senior Curator Kris Ligman:

It has become customary in these end-of-the-year retrospectives to highlight the contributions of a particular writer, or writers, who helped define the year’s critical discourse.

In the past, the honor of “best blogger” has gone to a newcomer or standout writer who went from standing near the periphery of our reading of games writing to take center stage in an ongoing, ever-evolving critical discussion. Each year, these breakout talents have helped to raise the discourse to new heights. Previous years’ winners include Kirk Hamilton and Kate Cox (2011), Brendan Keogh (2012), and Liz Ryerson and Samantha Allen (2013).

This year, we are proud to name the remarkable Austin Walker as our Blogger of the Year.

Austin’s articles on the intersections of games, race and class were among of the most-shared in 2014, and it’s very easy to see why. Even in this roundup, we’ve linked to a number of Austin’s pieces. In lucid, thoughtful language, Austin draws necessary but all too often overlooked connections in the powerplay of games and our larger society. One only has to look at his articles for Paste on The Crew and Watch Dogs to see why his writing has struck such a chord with so many readers.

We congratulate Austin Walker on his many contributions to 2014’s discourse on games and we look forward to his future work!

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
Imagine a box, wide and vast. We crisscrossed the box every which way. We found an edge and, with one hand on the wall, began to walk along it. We reached the corner and turned with it. And again. And again.

After a long while, we had circled the inside of the box. Then we began the journey again. Over and over we walked the perimeter of the box. Each journey took less and less time. Our stride grew as did we. Now we don’t even move. We are stuck in place, as the walls push against us, constricting us.

But we too push against the walls of the box. Not too long ago, it was only our arms that brushed against the sides. Now it is more and more of us. The walls will soon buckle and deform, then break down altogether. That is 2014. That is what we have striven to create with this document.

I thank all my colleagues at Critical Distance, both new and old. I thank my editors, both here and afar. And I thank readers like you. I’ll see you next year.

We will be resuming our regular weekly roundups the second week of January. In the meantime, don’t forget to send in your suggestions for TWIVGB to our email or @ message us on Twitter.

Critical Distance is proud to be completely community-sourced and funded. If you can, consider signing up for a small monthly donation. We really do depend on all of you.

From all of us to all of you, we wish you a happy — brighter — New Year!

Here it is, the last regular This Week in Videogame Blogging of the year! It seems fitting that it should land on Winter Solstice — or Summer Solstice, for our friends down under. Stay cool and hydrated over there!

Anyway, as you might expect, we have a bit of a short one this week. Worry not, though, as next weekend we’ll be running our 2014 edition of This Year in Videogame Blogging! We’re still seeking reader submissions, so if you have something you want to get in, be sure to do that quick like.

Now, onto this week’s treats!

All Together Now

The crew of Shut Up and Sit Down (that is, the best board game blog happenin’ around these parts) have been counting down their top 25 board games of all time — and here’s the top five!

Kill Screen is running an interesting set of end-of-the-year features as well. Here are some highlights: Chris Breault on the (sometimes nonsensical) ubiquity of map illumination as a game mechanic and Gareth Damian Martin with a look at architecture in games, particularly in recent experimental works such as Shadowing, Abstract Ritual and NaissanceE.

On the developer side, Adriel Wallick (pioneer of the Train Jam) spent her 2014 making a game a week. Here’s her post-partum of the experience.

Design Notes

In his regular Critical Intel column, Robert Rath has a few notes on what Far Cry 4 gets right — and wrong — about its Nepalese setting.

Elsewhere, in Aevee Bee’s zine Zeal, Brian Crimmins has some fond words for Sakura Taisen‘s portrayal of Japan’s Jazz Age from 1912 to 1926.

PopMatters’s Jorge Albor, who is Chicano, found himself unexpectedly relating quite a bit to the complex racial politics of BioWare’s Dragon Age Inquisition. Meanwhile, at The Gaming Intelligence Agency, Nich Maragos finds pleasure in the ‘mundane heroism’ of Fantasy Life.

Gone Home‘s Steve Gaynor turned up at Matter this week as part of its New York Review of Videogames. Gaynor analyzes both The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation and finds that both, in their attempts to play to nostalgia, venture to strange places.

And this one’s good for a chuckle: at Playthroughline, Ed Smith does a snark-filled readthrough of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption

Lastly for this section, I leave you with the always-incisive Liz Ryerson, whose newest post is a little bit about Brendan Keogh’s book, a little bit about Goldeneye, and a lot about Perfect Dark.

Beyond the Mat

(That’s the name of a very good WWF documentary, incidentally. I recommend it!)

Back with Matter’s New York Review of Videogames, author Kerry Howley pens a riveting essay on the complexities of EA Sports: UFC and how it, perhaps inadvertently, rings true of the hardships of its subject matter.

In a stroke of synchronicity, this week also brought us an interesting entry from Kotaku, where editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo has some complicated thoughts on playing through WWE 2K15 as a fan-made simulacrum of deceased wrestler — and murderer — Chris Benoit. (Content warning: Although it doesn’t get in-depth, this article does refer repeatedly to Benoit’s murders.)

Visual Novels

In her first guest piece for Polygon, my fujoshi partner-in-crime A.M. Cosmos makes a strong case for the localization of adult-themed visual novel DRAMAtical Murder. Meanwhile, the one and only Emily Short shares an in-depth narrative analysis of “pigeon dating simulator” Hatoful Boyfriend, noting that it seems odd that the visual novel scene and interactive fiction scene don’t seem to overlap more than they do.

That Old Canard

BioWare designer Damion Schubert — no stranger on these pages as of late — offers a firmly worded argument for why the supposed pervasive “progressivism” in games reportage does not actually exist:

As an example, IGN, Gamespot, Polygon and Kotaku all wrote dozens, if not hundreds of articles on every possible angle of Shadow of Mordor when it came out. One of those was the very silly ‘kiss vs kill’ article about the tutorial […] which is no big deal. But in this case, [certain readers] were led to think this was the norm – that most games writing was actually analysis like this.

This is not at all the case, of course. Most of the articles talked about the sick graphics, the incredible killer combos, the brutal death scenes, where to find all the easter eggs and paid lip service to the pretty-cool-but-really-unnecessary Nemesis system. Just like all the old magazines did when they were printed on tree pulp. These articles represent 95% of games media coverage, talking directly to gamers in their own language, and they rarely raise an eyebrow. That tiny 5% though, the people who decide to try to write about games with unusual perspectives are the ones who cause outrage.

Pairs Well With

Consider the following a red wine to go with the above’s butternut squash ravioli.

At The Atlantic, Laine Nooney pens what is, at first blush, a history of computer games’ first published work of erotica (and predecessor to Leisure Suit Larry). But it is more accurately a rumination on a period in the tech industry’s all-too-recent past where computers were not yet colonized as the domain of heterosexual men. (Content warning: images may not be considered safe for your workplace or your young relative reading over your shoulder.)

The letters [objecting to the adult ad] in Softalk, in some backwards way, show that the world of computing was once more diverse than we’ve ever imagined. Women were teaching computer literacy classes in the interstate outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. Men were defending an ideology of computers as “sexless tools.” Softporn wasn’t the distillation of computing’s misogynist kernel. In 1981 the microcomputer and its allied industries were not already destined to become a space where women are violently harassed for discussing inequity, or simply presumed to have no native interest in technology. Its future was not yet determined, and need not have played out the way it did.

[…]

In some sense, Softporn is least interesting as a game, and most interesting as a piece of social theater. While Softporn seemingly affirms every long-suffering trope gaming has to offer — its latent misogyny, its middling cultural stakes, its limp internal humor — it was also developed under shifting social and spatial constraints within an emerging populist computer culture. Softporn flexed a predictable, uninspired muscle against disorienting technological and social circumstances that we long ago forgot were ever disorienting.

And to All a Good Night

While this marks our final regular weekly roundup for the month, you are encouraged to still submit your TWIVGB recommendations by email and Twitter! Normal roundups will resume the second weekend of January.

If you want to submit your links to our This Year in Videogame Blogging mega-roundup, remember that we are accepting these only by email. Go here to learn more. The deadline is December 24th!

Also, if you’re in the writing mood, there’s still a little time to get in on this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “New Game+.”

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to help us toward our next important funding goal, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

It’s that time again, the end of the year is upon us. Rather than exhaustively go over everything of note that happened in 2014, instead we more skim over several various broad topics of interest. 2014 hasn’t been a pleasant year overall, but in the spirit of gladder tidings we decided to focus as much as we can on better things.

Direct Download

CAST

Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Kris Ligman: Dire Critic

Alan Williamson: Five out of Ten

Lana Polansky: Sufficiently Human

SHOW NOTES

Flappy Bird is Making $50,000 A Day on Mario-Like Art

You Are Mountain

Twine, the Video Game Technology For All

Cat Petting Simulator

The Terror Aboard the Speedwell

The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

Support Games Criticism

Critical Proximity

Video Brains

Does Twitch Plays Pokemon Give You Hope For Humanity?

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Full list of games mentioned at end: Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight, Curtain, 2:22 AM, LaLa Land, Kitty Horrorshow’s games, Aeryne Wright’s games, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, The Fall, 80 Days, Gods Will Be Watching, The Niflheim, Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, Coffee: A Misunderstanding.