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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?

Hello! Did you know it’s National Cat Day in Japan? This is what Twitter tells me, and by ‘tells me,’ I mean it’s filling my timeline with even more cat pictures than usual. I can’t exactly complain.

That said, I’m here to perform a duty, catvalanche or no catvalanche. Let’s get to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Racefail

We start with Kill Screen founder and PBS Game/Show host Jamin Warren, who in the show’s most recent episode tackles several of the extant issues of race representation in games. As Warren argues, people of color are still dramatically underrepresented in games, and what representation does exist often falls into stereotypes and tokenism.

Back on Warren’s home turf on Kill Screen, contributor Will Partin provides a good companion piece for the above video, going into further detail regarding BioWare’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect series and their failure to engage with (human) race issues in a non-abstracted way.

Cutting to the heart of the issue, over on Kotaku Evan Narcisse hosts a roundtable with an all-star panel consisting of Austin Walker, Shawn Alexander Allen, TJ Thomas and Catt Small, discussing the shortcomings of black representation in games from their own vantage points, issues which extend much further than (but certainly includes) diversity among developers.

She’s Not Playing It Wrong

Responding to the Kotaku roundtable, Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Samantha Blackmon reflects on her recent experience playing Life is Strange and how her experience as a black woman subconsciously inflected how she treated the game’s authority figures. This dovetails nicely with a recent essay by Shawn Trautman, on overcoming the myth that there is a ‘right’ way to play a game:

Based on my experience with the game, the oft-lamented “giant fetch quest at the end” criticism [of Wind Waker] 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. If someone didn’t know that the Triforce shards could be gotten earlier, or they didn’t know that they would be important later, I suppose I could do what’s been done to me and say their criticisms are wrong because it’s their “own fault”: they made that annoying fetch quest happen by waiting. But the truth is the game is just as much to blame for not signposting these things well, and “blame” isn’t really the point, anyway. If a person plays a game the only way they know how, and the way that makes the most sense for them, their experiences are valid. Categorically. Full stop.

Elsewhere, as part of Aevee Bee’s always-splendid ZEAL e-zine, Joshua Trevett offers up a compelling essay on cs_gonehome, a mod which places Counter-Strike combat within the domestic space of Fullbright Company’s Gone Home. We soon find out that it’s more than a cheap gimmick:

[Counter-Strike] is a game about guns. CS loves guns. Conversely, cs_gonehome feels as though it’s fearful of guns. That’s because in three broad ways, cs_gonehome plays quite differently from Counter-Strike on a typical map.

And, over on 99 Percent Invisible, Roman Mars chronicles the demise of EA’s misbegotten Sims Online, and in doing so reflects on the challenges of games preservation to capture the essence of multiplayer and social games.

The Reason So Many Babies are Born in November

As Valentine’s Day covered the Earth in its rose-petaled grip last Saturday, the thoughts of many writers turned to… well, you know. You can consider most of these links not safe for work, just to be on the safe side.

For example, Damion Schubert took a look at — don’t giggle — a masturbation rhythm game titled Cock Hero. Meanwhile, following another (perhaps classier) thread of erotica, Emily Short surveys recent trends in the sphere of adult interactive fiction (“choose your own erotica”), much of it written by and for women and queer authors.

And naturally, the singular and sensual Cara Ellison has devoted the most recent entry of her S.EXE column over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun to… a search for good platonic male-female friendships in games, coming upon the LucasArts classic Full Throttle. You didn’t expect that, did you? Ms. Ellison will not be boxed in!

The Play’s the Thing

On As Houses, Leigh Harrison attempts to pin down just what it is about Far Cry 2 which has made it a classic:

It’s a game in which your main objective is to shoot things, but also a game which wants you to question the validity of its own existence and those of its contemporaries. It makes you feel insignificant and weak in a genre built upon power, forcing you into the arms of dangerous strangers to make up some of the deficit. […] Your final betrayal is the game’s way of making sure you’re listening when it tells you for the last time that war is horrible, that it corrupts and eventually makes liars and thieves – or corpses – of us all. In the end, the only source of true conviction is the game itself.

Meanwhile, on Play the Past, Gilles Roy looks to the strong Greek mythological aesthetic of Apotheon and contends that there’s something about it which perfectly suits its gameplay:

The action hero of the video game resembles, in many ways, the action hero of Greek mythology: typically masculine, bereft of psychology, projected into a universe of vivid happenings, quasi-immortal, yet in a perpetual state of existential threat, fighting for redemption. Perched between life and death, the mythical hero exists as an “immovable centre”, a bridge between immortals and mortals, story and audience, game and player.

Design Notes

Hamish Todd, who wrote our excellent Level Design Analysis Spotlight, here does a deep dive on a particular room design in the first Doom. Elsewhere, George Weidman shares his enthusiasm for the Resident Evil REmake, and in particular analyzes just what makes it so splendid to play.

Critical Switch, a mini-podcast in which Austin Howe and our own Zolani Stewart trade off hosting duties each episode to tackle a particular short subject. In this episode, Howe explores how party size in Japanese role-playing games can take on a symbolic and narrative meaning.

On PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster wonders why death, such a mainstay of the Game of Thrones television show, is treated so inflexibly in Telltale’s game adaptation. And over on Virtual Narrative, Justin Keever and Miguel Penabella exchange a letter series on Max Payne 3 and discuss how, in a subtle way, it seems to tap the fourth wall just as the first game did:

Max Payne 3 is perhaps best explained as the residual effect of that cognizance [of the first game]. Loosed from Remedy’s penchant for ludicrousness and absorbed by neo-Rockstar’s proclivity towards straight-faced drama, Max Payne is finally imprisoned in a world that’s less parodic than it is abjectly cruel. Max Payne 3‘s São Paulo is a world of puppeteers, where the poor and desperate fall victim to the whims of the rich and petty in the name of microscopic gains in power – a world of deep systemic corruption whose agents permeate every level of society, like sickly veins extending from a diseased heart. Self-determination is a myth, a falsity for all but the affluent and empowered.

[…]

We didn’t pay for Max, we paid for an avatar – a puppet with the capability of violence, without the means to protest the things we make them do. But the nebulous “they” that Max refers to doesn’t simply mean the player.

In a striking essay, Jeroen D. Stout identifies what we might call a ‘Frankenstein moment’: when the systems of a game coalesce with the game’s fiction to reveal the finely tuned yet awful implications of the player’s actions. Given that Stout refers to Alpha Centauri for much of the article, this pairs well with a recent essay by Civilization 4 lead designer Soren Johnson — which we also featured on these pages — on system design deviating from developer intent.

Robert Rath paints a picture on the difference between ‘realism’ and ‘truth’ in war-themed games — and how for as many games are about warfare, few seem to have much to say. Meanwhile, on Paste, Austin Walker bemoans the lazy design and ableism inherent in the ubiquitous ‘sanity meter’ of horror games, while also looking to more recent titles like Darkest Dungeon to explore how they might offer a more nuanced, culturally responsible representation of mental illness:

Every adventurer starts with an empty stress meter and a few quirks, both positive and negative. These quirks represent a wide range of characteristics, from personal preferences to physical capabilities, from special knowledge to (yes) psychological diagnoses. But mental health isn’t treated as more or less important (or pathological) than other personal traits.

[…]

[One quirk is called] “Guilty Conscience.” The mouseover text says that [the character] “bears the crushing guilt of deeds real and imagined.” I slide the mouse cursor over this long list of red words and sigh. “I don’t even know if ‘Guilty Conscience’ has a real effect,” I say, “but it sounds bad.”

The critique Darkest Dungeon is making is of critique of me, and of the culture that taught me to read words like “crushing guilt” and wonder if it has a “real” effect on a person.

Writing for Reverse Shot, Brendan Keogh muses on how sports games simultaneously deploy immediacy (a feeling of inhabiting the game) and hypermediacy (a feeling of witnessing the game as a televised event). In response, Higher Level Gamer’s Nick Hanford advances another question: does hypermediacy (or remediation, as he refers to it) really holds water in games over time, and is it the most interesting aesthetic feedback loop going on between games and television?

Remediation works really well when we’re looking at the design of sports games and how they are marketed as new experiences, but I wonder what happens when players start their hundredth or two-hundredth contest in these games.

[…]

What I’m more intrigued by is how remediation can be opened up and understood as flowing in both directions. Television has certainly impacted the design of games, but games have also affected the ways that sports are televised. The late-1990’s saw the introduction of the Skycam for American football broadcasts that provided a videogame-like, bird’s-eye view of the game. While not directly related to the presentation of sports, this year EA started filming NFL rookies’ reactions to their in-game statistical representations. Along with that, sports journalists and game companies have pushed the official simulations of championship games for a few years now. If we have these specific instances of change flowing from game to television, I wonder how the experience of games also changes the experience of television.

Ice-T Woodenly Mentioning Kotaku

We have to at least talk about Law & Order: Special Victims Unit‘s recent Gamergate-themed episode, unfortunately. And of those who talk about it, Leigh Alexander, unsurprisingly talks about it best. In particular, while she does spend some time recapping the episode and its various problems (a Content Warning is in order for descriptions of sexual assault, stalking and harassment), but more broadly, the piece serves as a reflection back on certain core ideas from her (widely misinterpreted) “Gamers Are Over” editorial.

Cats Though

Thanks for reading! As always, we value your contributions and hope that you’ll take the time to send us a link — your own of someone else’s — for inclusion on these pages, either by Twitter mention or email!

There is still a little time to get involved in February’s Blogs of the Round Table and our monthly Let’s Play roundup as well! When submitting on Twitter for these, please use the #BoRT and #LetsPlayCD hashtags, respectively.

A little signal-boosting: the most recent issue of academic journal Game Studies has gone live with six new articles for your perusal.

Critical Distance is funded completely by its readership! If you like what you see and want to help us advance our current and upcoming features and other exciting projects, consider signing up for a small monthly donation on our Patreon! We really do depend on you.

Finally, a personal aside: I will be in San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference the first week of March, so TWIVGB duties will again be handled by members of our formidable team! And, if you find yourself up by GDC as well, come and say hi! I will have our special exclusive Critical Distance pins with me, as well as some surprise goodies!

That’s all for this week. Happy Cat Day!

Kris is out and about this week, which means that I get to spend this Valentine’s weekend with the person I care for most in all the world: you, dear reader. Let us savor this candle link dinner and talk about our feelings.

Our feelings on formalism, that is.

It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging.

No Godus or Kings

It’s been a rough week for 22 Cans. On Monday, Rock Paper Shotgun voiced doubt whether their current project, Godus, would ever be finished, which was followed on Wednesday by Eurogamer catching up with Bryan Henderson, winner of the life-changing prize from their previous title, Curiosity, and ultimately led to a very aggressive interview with studio head Peter Molyneux by John Walker.

Some saw this style as the necessary approach for dealing with the notably hard-to-pin-down Molyneux, others condemned the accusatory tone with which he was pilloried for ills of the crowdfunding environment at large. Daniel Joseph writes:

The people who need the least advocating for in games press are “consumers” who throw some money at vaporware.

The actual tough questions come after we think through the system that produces this kind of situation in the first place. Why do we tolerate the grey areas that Kickstarter operates in, in relation to its inherent ability to take advantage of consumer ignorance in such matters? Why do we talk about people who might be disappointed with a game they bought rather than the those who might be run out of a job by such a reckless boss?

Over on the German side of things, Marcus Dittmar also finds some harsh words for the interview.

Just Like the Movies

On Paste Magazine, Gita Jackson argues that developers pushing for a cinematic feel with 30 frames per second are ignoring the actual standards of cinematography, and the conversation surrounding them. With a side of other camera-related tropes.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole genre of moving image-based story telling that allows characters in the first-person perspective to have dirt and blood smeared on an invisible screen in front of their eyes. It is an accepted and even expected part of this form—it’s not a matter of degradation, but of how we as viewers and players are going to move on from this point.

In other film-related news, Carolyn Petit talks about the documentary Atari: Game Over covering the 1983 industry collapse and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the game that is, perhaps wrongly, given the blame for it. A movie about a movie-themed game then. Double whammy!

On Kill Screen, Andrew Yoder talks about Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia and how exploration tends to kill videogame spaces. Meanwhile, Zach Budgor examines perspective and movement in Metroid Prime, the first in a series of three articles devoted to the series. See also Metroid Prime 2 and sequels by Gareth Damian Martin and Metroid Prime 3 and loneliness by Levi Rubeck.

Histories

Cara Ellison’s visit to Marigold Bartlett and Christy Dena marks the end of her magnificent Embed With series, which will soon be available in ebook form, I understand.

Jess Joho on the feminine history of computing and how it is being overwritten.

On PopMatters, our own Eric Swain considers The Banner Saga‘s colloquial approach to lore, while G. Christopher Williams looks at Grand Theft Auto protagonists and their moral compasses over time.

Evan Narcisse talked to the most dedicated explorer of Shadow of the Colossus.

On Gamasutra, John Andersen remembers the late Shinya Nishigaki, developer of the Dreamcast games Blue Stinger and Illbleed.

Videogames!

Here’s Carolyn Petit looking at Average Maria Individual and Kentucky Route Zero as decentralizations of traditional protagonists, a feature which gels nicely with Lindsey Joyce’s recent article about Kentucky Route Zero, which argues that, in it, players take the role of director rather than assuming the position of any one actor on stage.

Positioned as director, the game requires your attention on several levels, since you try to understand both the characters you instruct and the narrative you orchestrate, as the story’s not-quite-omniscient narrator. On the one hand, you take on an over-the-shoulder perspective focused on character development and specificity, but on the other hand, there is the bird’s eye view of narrative totality […]

Speaking of Kentucky Route Zero, Magnus Hildebrandt has finished his guide to the cultural and literary references of Episode 3. It’s only available in German right now, but as for the earlier episodes, will be translated soon.

The first episode of Critical Switch is here, so why not listen to our own Zolani Stewart’s smooth voice expound Bernband. Not enough weird games for you? Stephen Beirne reads Kanoguti’s Walking as self-suggestive horror.

On that note: the dreadful architecture of NaissanceE.

On a lighter note: Amy Knepper sharing five co-op games that helped her marriage.

Moving on. Despite the duplicity of using time travel to more effectively fake interest, Todd Harper is vaguely optmistic about the direction of Life is Strange. Jed Pressgrove less so.

Metal Gear? Heather Alexandra about participating in the recursive training of Metal Gear Solid 2‘s Raiden by replaying and perfecting sections of the game. Meanwhile, Melody writes about the different attitudes towards sensual violence of Raiden and Mistral in Revengeance.

Dragon Age? On Girl From the Machine, Gaby writes about relationships and powerlessness in Dragon Age 2. Meanwhile, David Carlton applies Christopher Alexander’s framework from The Nature of Order to Dragon Age: Inquisition.

On the German side of things, Video Game Tourism has begun its monthly game club by examining The Binding of Isaac from various angles.

Industry

Laralyn McWilliams shares research on the practical benefits of diversifying your workforce.

Jason Schreier provides us with some absolutely nightmarish tales of videogame companies treating their employees like shit.

Love’s Labours Linked

That’s it for the latest This Week In Videogame Blogging, but we do hope to see you again next week. Until then, be sure to check out the theme for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table and our very first roundup of Let’s Plays.

Should you come across an interesting article in your travels, or even write one yourself, you can help us out tremendously by sending the link 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.

See you soon!

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.

I hope you’re hungry, because I have a banquet for you this time around. And no, I’m not letting you go until you clean your plate. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Give Me That Old Time Country Formalism

We are now in our third (or 783rd) week of what Chris Franklin adeptly describes as “The Debate That Never Took Place.” Watch that video before reading the rest of this section, as it provides an excellent breakdown of the ludology vs narratology ‘debate’ of the 90s and early 00s, the one which forms the basis of the current (waning?) discussion over formalism.* You may also want to check out our coverage in previous roundups here and here.

If the whole thing is still clear as mud, I would recommend Matthew Burns’s stab at the subject, using mathematics education as a helpful analogy.

With our baseline established, the next place we need to visit is Game Design Advance, home of Frank Lantz, who apologizes for the off-the-cuff nature of his original blog post which sparked this discussion:

I don’t want my ideas to provide cover or support to ignorance and aesthetic & cultural conservatism, and I don’t want to be associated with anti-progressive ideas. […] I don’t agree with those ideas, I wanted to distance myself from them, and I wanted to signal to other people who think like me that I think they should distance themselves likewise. I wanted to suggest that there could be a smart, progressive formalism that was diametrically opposed to the vulgar formalism polluting the current environment.

So, how’d that work out? I’ll tell you how it worked out. It was a colossal flop. I would say pretty much the opposite of what I wanted has happened. Somehow, I’ve managed to create a situation in which the battle lines that define the landscape of contemporary game discourse have been re-drawn with me on the wrong side. I botched it.

Lantz also attempts to better articulate his original position, to mixed reception. The comments are worth a read as well.

I cede the floor to Ian Bogost for the final word on the subject, in which he contends that, while this ‘debate’ may be without end, it can still be conducted respectfully:

In fact, it might be worse to pretend that we agree on the right, best, most pleasurable, or most aesthetically redeeming aspects of games (or anything) rather than to acknowledge that real differences in motivation, aesthetics, and political concern are at work.

[…]

Nobody wants to be accused of being part of the hegemon […] And sure, there are interlocutors who are dismissive in a manner that demands critique or even scorn. But that doesn’t make the very idea of such critiques detrimental or problematic, unless the purpose of the objection is to reframe the conversation around the my-favorite-formalism just mentioned. It also doesn’t mean the two “sides” must or even can find reconciliation! History is full of legitimate, unresolved intellectual and aesthetic disputes.

*Franklin’s video also provides the first clear, accurate and useful definition of ludonarrative dissonance I’ve seen in quite some time, so I highly recommend it. It also plays into the following section.

Difficulty Curve

Touching off of Lantz’s piece above, Soren Johnson grapples with (actual) ludonarrative dissonance as it crops up in game design:

[G]ames make us all fascists and communists; anarchists and tycoons; kleptocrats and ascetics, so we better hope that games are not as powerful as we once dreamed they might be.

And yet…

What makes our totalitarian game rules so slippery is that often the dynamics that emerge from these rules are actually at odds with the beliefs of their creators. For example, Will Wright, an atheist, began making Spore as a game about evolution but somehow eventually shipped a game about intelligent design. Monopoly started life as The Landlord’s Game, a board game meant to teach about the evils of capitalist landlords, who unfortunately ended up being a lot of fun to play. […] Civilization was supposed to be a game about history but — despite my best efforts — many of the lessons it taught were somehow the opposite of what I actually believe.

Parallel with this thread, Chris Bateman introduces three useful terms to perform some of the heavy lifting regularly (and improperly) handed over to “ludonarrative dissonance”: ruptures, or fragmentations of the modes of play; inelegance, or disunity between main and secondary systems; and perplexity, “the experience of re-learning what has already been learned differently, or learning under conditions of insufficient information.”

At Game Bias, Jed Pressgrove expounds upon Bateman’s third term, perplexity, and the examples he gives (differing controls, poor tutorials). Pressgrove muses on the popularization of tutorials versus older games, where unique control schemes and paper manuals were both far more ubiquitous.

Coming at it from the opposite end, videographer George Weidman also touches on perplexity versus convention, criticizing the other extreme: the standardization of control schemes and gameplay grammar which he feels has left a wide swath of contemporary, mainstream titles functionally indistinguishable from one another. Certainly not a unique sentiment, but one he illustrates exceptionally well through gameplay footage.

Also talking tutorials and design, Gamasutra’s Alex Wawro interviews developers including Brenda Romero and Soren Johnson on pedagogies of tutorial design, while Silver Grinding’s Devon, responding to our January Blogs of the Round Table theme, has reposted a piece from November creating a rough taxonomy of types of difficulty in games.

Finally, Amsel von Spreckelsen recently played the (much-maligned) Aliens: Colonial Marines on its easiest setting and discovered it becomes essentially a ‘walking simulator.’ Von Spreckelsen muses on what exactly that even means.

Reaver Is Industry

Switching gears from design to business, Kongregate CEO Emily Greer posted the slides and notes from her recent talk delivered at Casual Connect Europe, where she takes to task the very concept of ‘casual’ games and the stereotypes therein. In a similar vein, Brianna Wu goes into the playtesting process of Revolution 60 and her team’s decision to engage a non-core audience.

Reacting to this recent piece on USGamer, Rob Fearon disputes the idea that the console market is only now in freefall — rather, he says, this is the result of conditions many years in the making:

AAA gaming was and is a small part of all the videogames ever made, its domination of the enthusiast press, of mainstream discourse a necessary side effect of the need for big businesses to stay big. There are many great big box games but over the years so many more crushed by it, hampered by it, left abandoned by it. Over the course of the last generation, we’ve felt the rumbles but rarely managed to put two and two together that we’re not where we are now because budgets were unsustainable, we’re not where we are now because the manpower required to power the AAA machine is just too much, at least not entirely. We’re where we are now because this is where the quest for money led us and we were too distracted to notice the changes as they happened.

Riffing on Wertpol’s Presentable Liberty, Stephen Beirne argues that the current state of big box titles should be a call for self-awareness:

On [Assassin’s Creed:] Unity‘s release, many folks were more interested in lamenting ‘patch culture’ than in calling for labour unionization, despite the clue being in the title. As examples go, it is just one raindrop in a torrent. I have to indict myself in this too, because we are a culture bred to consume simply in order to fulfil ideals of consumerism. There’s no time to consider the human cost of our purchases; we must feast.

And on Paste, Austin Walker engages Jacobin’s Ian Williams in a letter series concerning Funk of Titans, how it divorces its Blaxploitation aesthetics from their historical context as amateur and counter cinema, and what a real equivalent to that context would look like in games.

The Game’s the Thing

At Kill Screen, Ewan Wilson compares David Braben and Ian Bell’s landmark 1984 space sim Elite to its modern iteration and finds a remarkably intact ideological throughline. By contrast, on Game Exhibition Vincent Kinian digs into Dust: An Elysian Tail and decides that, in its attempt to play to large, mythic themes, Dust fails to provide a lush or engaging setting.

On the recently launched FemHype, Jillian takes a multi-pronged approach to Skyrim‘s representations of women and is underwhelmed. She writes: “I came up short on the way women were portrayed. And that bothers the hell out of me for a title that purports to be the be-all, end-all of open world games.”

At Storycade, Amanda Wallace pens a compelling review of Porpentine’s most recent Twine game, With Those We Love Alive, which asks players to draw ‘sigils’ on their arms as part of its interaction. And on PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster suggests, in roughly so many words, that Shadow of Mordor is the Lord of the Rings game that Sauron would play.

Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez provides an (and I use this word under duress) explainer for Five Nights at Freddy’s and the rabid fandom it has inspired. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff. Not everyone is so happy about it, though: David Szymanski gripes that feels the popularization of indie horror games, especially through Youtube, has created a glut of the same design elements.

Players and Played

At Abnormal Mapping, Matthew Marko returns to the well of Ocarina of Time and asks if, in Zelda‘s attempt to give players a ‘blank slate’ protagonist to project onto, it ends up leaving behind more compelling stories:

It’s no surprise that people have been demanding a Zelda-led game with increasing fervor in the years since. […] She exists to be the Luigi to your Mario, but unlike that duo, the power dynamics are never righted by people coming and giving us the Luigi’s Mansions and deft writing of the Mario & Luigi games to allow the space for the support role to shine. Zelda instead is eternally frustrated, just as Saria is frustrated, and the games are content to never even question whether, on that forest bridge, maybe the game should have stuck with Saria after that moment instead of following Link onto bigger and presumably better things.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Ashley Barry praises Among the Sleep for flouting a certain horror genre convention. And at Vorpal Bunny Ranch, Denis Farr — a dual citizen of Germany and the United States — tries out Wolfenstein: The New Order to see if its depiction of Nazi Germany really is as textured as its hype suggests.

Brett Douville is co-teaching a course with Michael Abbott at Wabash College this semester and shares his and their students’ reactions to This War of Mine. And this academic article by Jaime Banks appearing in peer-reviewed journal First Monday appears to be a promising piece on the interplay between players and their avatars.

The Nitty Gritty

On Level Design, Mateusz Piaskiewicz has written an exceptionally meaty, long-form guide on 3D level design composition. A great read even for the layperson. And in Gamasutra’s blogs section, Emily Thomforde shares how her local library ran a modified version of the Global Game Jam geared toward children and teens.

Gamasutra has also been featuring some exciting post-partums by developers in the past week. Failbetter Games’ Alexis Kennedy has released the first two in a three-part series on the studio’s newest title, Sunless Sea. And Young Horses’ Phil Tibitoski has embarked on a charming series on the studio’s debut title, Octodad: Dadliest Catch.

You’ve Done Well to Get This Far

Thank you for reading! Remember, in addition to scanning hundreds of articles on our own each week, we gather a great deal of our best pieces through submissions by readers like you! If you find or make something you feel would do well on these pages, drop us a line or mention us on Twitter!

Room for dessert? Be sure to pick up the most recent issues of Memory Insufficient, Five Out of Ten, Unwinnable Weekly and Arcade Review! Gosh, so many…

Oh, and don’t forget to check out February’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Buddy Systems“!

Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by its readership. Thanks to this continued support, we’ve been able to reboot our podcast, launch a new monthly feature and commission new Critical Compilations — and there’s much more on the way! So if you like what you see, consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon!

January 2015

February 4th, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in This Month in Let's Plays: - (Comments Off)

We announced our new venture into Let’s Play curation only 11 days ago, and in that time you submitted some excellent examples of Let’s Plays. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 11 days watching Let’s Plays, and I’ve gotten to feel productive while doing so. Thank you for this. Given this initial response, I’m excited to see how this curatorial column will grow and enrich our practices even further here at Critical Distance! So, without further ado, I bring you the inaugural This Month in Let’s Plays!

Retrospectives:

Several of the Let’s Plays submitted this month focused on retrospection, or looking back on previous game experience. For instance, Matthias Worch, who famously designed levels for Quake and Doom, plays through the games while offering insight on his design process and how design inspires meaningful choice. This is the first video in the series:

Elsewhere, James Howell analyzes  Metal Gear Solid 2 game footage from 10 years ago by overdubbing the playthrough with retrospective commentary about the choices he made and why he made them back then. As he notes, “it’s really interesting to see what you used to do in a game” and consider how play styles changes.

Play it Again, Sam

We also had a few submissions this month that focused on re-visiting and re-analyzing games. While this is similar to retrospectives, in a way, this contribution from Leigh Alexander is particularly apt in terms of the locational use of “visit.” In a “right place at the right time” sort of moment, Leigh Alexander plays the 1985 game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego ( a game about the travels and exploits of the criminal mastermind, Carmen Sandiego) from an airport in Helsinki. Leigh allows the ambient sound of the airport to flow over her own commentary, which is also, appropriately, about travel experiences.

Taking a different approach, Brendan Vance revisits Problem Attic. Prompted by a lack of critical response to Problem Attic, Brendan Vance feels compelled to preserve the game in a substantial way. The game, he remarks, is important to him, and as such should be kept from being swept under the deluge of constant “content” available to players. In playing through the game Vance revisits his own initial thoughts about the game.

Play Theory/Theory Play

Two submissions this week also have a tight focus on critical discourse. For example, in this Let’s Play “aside” (there’s a new LP genre for you!), Heather Alexandra breaks down the approach of her analysis in the rest of her Shadow of the Colossus LPs. As Wander sits, head down on screen, and as his horse passes by on the outer edges of the screen, Alexandra discusses semiotics, and how signs are constructed in the game to deliver a message. She also discusses Wittgenstein, and phenomenological subjectivity (in so far as each player must find his/her own meaning through the semiotic process).

Next, In Two Minute Game Crit, Stephen Beirne takes on a fast-paced analysis of walking sims (speed walking?) that frees the games from the limiting mentality of what the games can do and how the medium works. He argues that “what the player does mechanically in a game isn’t always a clear indicator of what a game does in general.” Beirne’s analysis leads him to call for a new term for the games: Phantom Rides which refocuses the games on their ability to “transport us to other places for new experiences.”

For Posterity

Noah Caldwell-Gervais looks back at the Red Faction series and how its lower budget forced it to be creative to standout. Even among B franchises, Caldwell-Gervais argues that Red Faction stands out for its ability to persist and survive through multiple sequels, despite a few flops. In this Let’s Play of the first game, Caldwell-Gervais provides an in-depth and detailed analysis of what made the first game enjoyable: its ambition, pace, and personality and finds that these same qualities are part of the game’s failings as well.

Our next submissions takes us back not just to an older game, but to an older Let’s Play, but I’ve elected to include it anyway – ya know, for posterity. Back in 2011, Research Indicates created a series of Let’s Play videos for Jurassic Park Trespasser, a “not good” game with potential. The Let’s Plays discuss not only the tricks game developers used to use to reduce heavy system footprints, but also analyzes the ludic and narrative complications the game failed to overcome. (Content warning: ableist slurs.)

When Context Matters

Right now, I’m about to stretch the limits of this heading in order to keep putting things neatly organized. Prepared to be dazzled. In our first Let’s Play, History Respawned is joined by Professor David Andress, a scholar of the French Revolution, to discuss Assassin’s Creed Unity. They begin by discussing the lack of historical context provided by Ubisoft in the game for the French Revolution. Dr. Andress spends several minutes recounting the brief history of the revolution to show that the game actually throws the player into the history at a rather late point and that, without a solid historical context, it’s easy to misunderstanding what or who “the terror” actually is. Dr. Andress also discusses the landscape and tone of the game in context of the accurate history, as well as why the Ubisoft may have opted to put the player in a counter-revolutionary position.

Next, our own Cameron Kunzelman and his friends play Minecraft but, in doing so, set up a few rules for themselves that establish the context of their play (see? Are you dazzled?). In this first episode you can hear Cameron and friends go over their standing standing rules: no killing animals, and “if someone builds a thing, don’t mess with it.” As they play against these rules, you can hear the players discuss how it alters their game priorities. For example: if you don’t kill any animals, farming becomes a top priority. This is just the first in what is now a 7 episode series. You check them all out.

And lastly, Steven Kiazyk talks about approach to speedruns and the need to take in the context of the game and what the developers wanted you to do, before actively avoiding doing that thing.  To model what he means, he sits down with Tim Schafer and does a speedrun of Psychonauts. (Content warning: ableism.)

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed this inaugural roundup of Let’s Plays! I absolutely have. As we continue to seek submissions for February, please keep in mind that the LPs included here need not set the standard. We remain open to other types and forms of Let’s Plays and we encourage you to submit links to those things you’d like to see curated here.

Send your submissions to us via Twitter using #LetsPlayCD to designate them for the Let’s Play Roundup, or you can always email us. Together, We’ll keep growing this into something great.

And if you really like what we’re trying to do here, remember that we are reader-supported and you can make a monthly contribution here.

 

Bah, Valentines Day. More like Valen-CRIMES Day, amirite? It took me thirty minutes to come up with that intro.

Romance is great and all, but at a certain point isn’t it just better to have someone to have a coffee and shoot the breeze with? Someone you can develop schemes with in a game of The Resistance or a partner to watch your back in Streets of Rage. This month we want to hear all about all your friendships that somehow connect to games. This February, tell us about all the different ‘buddy systems’ that bring us all 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.

We’re accepting blogs until February 28th. 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=February15" frameborder="0"></iframe>

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

Rules of the Round Table

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

I think we can all agree that yesterday was a big day. Here at Critical-Distance, we had an amazing new guest curator (Jill Murray!) to present This Week in Video Game Blogging, and there was also a big thing with lots of expensive ads to watch on TV – you guess it: the Puppy Bowl!  What with all that excitement, we wanted to hold back on the Blogs of the Round Table roundup to make sure you had time to take in and digest everything yesterday had to offer. Hopefully, you’re now recovered/recovering from yesterday’s happenings and are ready for an exciting roundup. This month’s theme was ‘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.

Kicking us off this month, Oscar Strik of Sub Specie uses the theme to discuss the ways players create subgames and what the creation of those subgames reveal about play styles and player types. His analysis covers stealth play and  role play. Strik’s analysis also considers what happens when the play styles we once to incorporated ourselves become a part of the game itself. He says:

The more your specific playstyle becomes part of the official game rules, the less it becomes a game within a game.

Commodore Purry’s Cupcake Party contribution also discusses roleplay by musing over self-imposed roleplay in Fallout: New Vegas. Commodore Purry developed a list of constraints to make playing in hardcore mode even more meaningful. I won’t detail the list of constraints here, though there are some good ones, because the really interesting bit is in how the constraints changed morality in the game:

I felt myself playing the game differently as well as viewing my own morality in a more disposable way.

PeterZ was also thinking about morality this month. Over at One More Continue, PeterZ discusses the eternal conflict between the dedication to play as the bad guy when we’ve been socialized to want others to like us. This is especially difficult, PeterZ notes, when unlike real life, video games validate our goodness thereby making it even harder to be evil.

Taking a different tack, Phil of Tim and and Phil Talk About Games, took the opportunity to discuss ‘Player’s Choice’ in terms of multiplayer games – specifically Counterstrike. Phil describes his self-imposed play style is being comprised of ego (challenging himself to use challenging weapons) and empathy (considering whether everyone in-game is having a fun/good experience). Phil states,

These two tendencies–one which is essentially showing off and another that boils down to some kind of strange fairplay–might seem to be at odds with each other. But they find a home in exploring the joy of competition within the rules of the game. The theatre of it.

This month, Leigh Harrison also considered the theme in terms of a multiplayer setting: a Half Life mod in which a group of role players made the most of the mod’s limited amenities to create a rich world of interaction. Harrison then uses this as a springboard to compare and contrast the role player’s dedication to eschewing the game’s rules against his own, more “adversarial” mode of play.

Over at Depth of a Failsman, Taylor Hidalgo recalls his experience with Shenume and his exploration play that stretched and reformed the limits of its narrative. Hidalgo notes,

The more choice the game gave me, the more I pushed at the boundaries. However unorthodox, though, I don’t think the game ever made my choices “wrong,” per se. They never did more than waste a few minutes or yen, for the most part, and sometimes managed to help Ryo’s quest along.

Also considering the bounds of narrative, but this time through the lens of translation philosophies, The Rev catalogs an experiment in which a friend, Rick, plays through the original Japanese version of Catherine (Kyasarin) to see if the game is different in translation. To make the experiment more interesting, Rick must play with some other, alcoholic, parameters too. The end result, in addition to what I imagine would be a rough hangover, is that Rick’s perception of the characters and story did change.

In a similar vein, Zachary Kerr reflects back on his experience of trying to be a pacifist in Skyrim, and how playing this way revealed the inherently violent undertones of the game itself. He states,

My pacifistic experience reveals dissonance between the heroic tone of the game and the nature of the acts I’ve committed. There is Skyrim the story, and there is Skyrim the game. The clash between my story and the mechanics weakens the game for me. The game pretends that I am a hero while I commit severe crimes against other people.

Over at Vidyasaur, Steve Hernandez played through Castlevania: The Adventure and added one simple rule: No destroying candles unless required. Dorin remarks how much additional difficulty this adds to the game – stage 3 was impossible:

I didn’t make the game harder by changing the difficulty within a menu, I made it harder by choosing not to interact with a ubiquitous and useful element throughout my adventure.

Tom Holt talks about his experience with the (as he notes “poorly named”) Straight Character Challenge in Final Fantasy Tactics, and the six things he learned in the process. In addition to six specific learning outcomes, Holt also advises others to try playing with self-imposed rules and reflects,

self-imposed challenges are a great way to learn something. I strongly encourage everybody to try playing games in a new way, whether officiated or not. Limit your toolkit, and learn to adjust for the gaps. It’s like the old saying: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I Think that’s a great thought on which to end this month’s roundup. I hope you enjoy reading this round of submissions as much as I did. It was great to see so many people contribute. If you haven’t already, feel free to use this code to embed the links in your blog (provided your publishing platform allows iframes, that is):

<iframe type=”text/html” width=”600″ height=”20″ src=”http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=January15″ frameborder=”0″></iframe>

Also, make sure to check back tomorrow for Mark Filipowich’s February theme. I’ll look forward to your submissions!