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Short and sweet this week, and if you must blame someone, blame my old feed reader. The good news is, we have some great fresh faces in this week! So let’s get going with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Racefail

Stephanie Jennings of Ludogabble has a spoiler-filled critique of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2, which she derides as attempting to ‘redeem’ the core game in the worst way imaginable:

In this apparent effort to remedy a significant problem in Infinite, BaS2 has just found another way to further reduce the agency, power, and significance of Daisy and the entire black population of Columbia. In short, it’s found another way to be racist.

Meanwhile, on Media Diversified, Brittney White applauds BioWare dev Manveer Heir’s recent talk on inclusivity delivered at GDC, but points to some problems apparent within his own studio’s titles.

Digging Up the Past

Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek has a solid breakdown of recent discussions concerning the glamorization of Nazis in Luftrausers. Also worth reading: developer Rami Ismail’s classy take on the situation.

Elsewhere, on Kill Screen, Ben Meredith shares with us how games are like archaeology.

Always Going Forward (Cos We Can’t Find Reverse)

Storycade’s Chris Klimas has an interesting bit on the rise of Twine and other parserless engines in the Interactive Fiction community.

Over on Paste, our own Cameron Kunzelman bracingly addresses the sexualized violence of MGS V: Ground Zeroes in the context of the series to date (content warning: discussion of rape and brutalization):

For all of its baroqueness, the Metal Gear universe has a deceptively simple message: There is a machine bigger than any single human, and trying to conquer it or shape it to your own individual will is almost impossible. [...] The Metal Gear games present us with an augmented, nihilistic version of the phrase: War is always changing, and you can never catch up.

[...]

If war is the stand in for the designer in the Metal Gear Solid series, and war necessitates the perpetration of sexual violence against women in that universe, then there’s nothing casual about it. Instead, it signifies that Hideo Kojima has nowhere left to go.

Finally for the week, Martin Robinson is up on Eurogamer with a dose of cold, hard truth: why it may be for the best if games the likes of The Last Guardian, Half-Life 3 or Shenmue 3 never happen.

That’s All There Is, That’s All, That’s All My Dear

And we’re done! As always we greatly appreciate your submissions sent to us by email or as mentions on Twitter, so don’t let up, even for one minute. Don’t go easy on us!

Also, there are still a few days to send something in for the second issue of the Journal of Games Criticism. The current call for papers closes on April 19th with the issue itself due out this June. This is a great opportunity if you’d like to see your work in a curated collection!

Did you know? Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you! If you like what we do and want to see us continue to feature new and interesting critical thinkers like many of those featured here, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Tie a knot at the end. Fold to the right. Fold again. Fold again. Again. Pinch the corners. Congratulations! You’ve made origami.

With all the careful craftspersonship of an unsung artisan of Etsy, we are here to fill your Sunday with colorful treats and goodies once again. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

GAME_JAM

(This section bears a content warning for discussion of sexually charged harassment and intimidation.)

We start on a low note, with the assurance that it all goes up from here. Recently, several well-known independent game developers participated in what they believed was going to be a filmed game jam, but in fact became more of a reality show. The environment was so inhospitable and toxic that the participants unanimously walked off the set after only one day of filming. Jared Rosen, a journalist who was present for much of the production’s meltdown, has the main thrust of the story.

Participants Zoe Quinn and Adriel Warrick have both weighed in to the extent that they are able (emotionally or contractually) about what went down. Meanwhile, fellow participant and SoundSelf developer Robin Arnott put things like this:

A particularly useful ethical code is knowing where your loyalties lie. Zoe’s loyalties lay with the young girls she teaches game-making to. She could be beacon for a safe and expressive community if she were publicly shamed as a coward, but she could not do that as an actual supporter of misogyny, lies, and the unsafe creative environment she claims to be fighting.

I think her code went something like this:

If your actions will directly support an unsafe space…
Then jack out. That’s it. No matter what. Abort additional consideration. You’ve found the right thing to do. Leave.

(End content warning section.)

I Think We’re A Clone Now

On Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander has a good, solid reading of the Threes/2048 cloning debacle with quotes from Ian Bogost and Adam Saltsman.

The Play’s The Thing

PC Gamer did the internet a favor this week by introducing us to Angelina Bellebuono, a goat rancher and non-player who was asked to review Goat Simulator. (Spoiler: it’s funny.)

On First Person Scholar, Michael Lutz tackles that old chestnut of Ben Abraham, “replayabilty” and asks — if “replay value” defies objective analysis, what are the subjective terms under which it can be understood? To which he goes on to say,

To account for videogames as performative media, then, we must think of gameplay as not merely mechanics, but the experience of the player as she interacts with them, becoming a co-performer in whatever drama has been scripted. Gameplay is not simply solving a puzzle or defeating an adversary; it is the moment of shock when we realize the game is something other than what we thought, of disappointment when we fail to accomplish an in-game goal, or of exhilaration when we succeed — all at particular junctures, at particular moments in time that can never be exactly repeated.

Manifestos and Manifestations

In a guest editorial for Polygon, queer feminist theorist and games scholar Samantha Allen maintains that there is value to mainstream representation of marginalized perspectives:

If I had played Gone Home or Dragon Age when I was twelve, my life might have unfolded differently. I pay attention to mass market titles because I know that some queer people are subsisting on them, even if they don’t know they’re queer.

As Todd Harper reminds us, they’ve “been making do with what matters to other people all [their] lives.” Some closeted queer people might not see themselves in a game until Call of Duty includes a gay soldier. I don’t want to burn down a forest in which people are still trying to find their way.

Continuing on this thought, on Errant Signal Chris Franklin has posted his latest video, a ten-minute dissection of how Assassin’s Creed handles subjects of race, passing, and slavery, and suggests the games might achieve this better through their playable protagonists than through story missions and NPCs.

As Franklin notes that Assassin’s Creed‘s historical settings are fraught with potential to reproduce the same systems of oppression the player is told they’re subverting, our next natural stop is over on Go Make Me a Sandwich, where wunderkind has penned a two part (thus far) series on avoiding appropriation and stereotypes when writing game settings.

Kotaku has delivered a trifecta of great articles this week, starting with this essay from first-generation American Patricia Hernandez, in which she shares her own anxieties about deportation, systematized marginalization, and how Lucas Pope’s celebrated Papers, Please is still a bit of a white power fantasy.

Next, Nathan Grayson provides us with an excellent write up of Deirdra Kiai’s stand-out GDC talk, as well as the cultural shifts (or lack thereof) occurring in spaces of the industry like the Game Developers Conference. And Phil Owen takes a look at six games that speak authentically to his experience with suicidal ideation (content warning: suicide, depression).

Sega Genesis Evangelion

On The Conversation, Brendan Keogh decries a recent project by games-for-good advocate Jane McGonigal as lacking a sound medical methodology — and overall, takes aim as “games evangelism” as a movement.

(I just wanted to use this header.)

On Stranger Tides

As part of an ongoing exploration into non-English games criticism, on Medium we find Zoya Street providing a fascinating in-depth reading of a turn-of-the-century Japanese game review by Nakagawa Daichi — and more broadly, he muses on how to start more thoroughly bridging the divide between English games writing and the rest of the world.

Over on The Escapist, Robert Rath furnishes us with an excellent narrativization of the charges raised against California state senator Leland Yee, anti-game legislator turned arms trafficker. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by John Woo, I’m sure.

Finally, Cara Ellison has released her first embedded report with the one, the only, the great Tim Rogers. Or as she sums him up:

He is wearing a purple and luminous green Michael Jordan sweater with long Michael Jordan shorts and socks to match. His hair is thick and dirty blonde, his self-confessed best feature. His fingers are long and calloused with the nails cut deadly short so that they can bond with his cobalt blue Gibson, and his glasses are something out of a 1950s drama. Tim Rogers is a non-fiction anime character. He is a writer, co-creator of Insert Credit, the CEO of Action Button Entertainment, and he has worked in games, AAA and otherwise, all his adult life. He is thirty-four years old and is the internet’s biggest rumour.

This is the End, the End, My Friends

That’s all for this week! As always, we greatly appreciate your submissions by Twitter mention and email. Please keep ‘em coming!

Also if you didn’t hear, BoRT is back! Yes, our own Alan Williamson has resumed our Blogs of the Round Table feature with an all-new prompt. Go here to check it out and get involved.

Some more signal-boosting: there is still some time to contribute to the Unwinnable Weekly Kickstarter, which we highly recommend you do! Also, the Journal of Games Criticism is still accepting submissions for its upcoming second issue. Get on that, writers.

And hey, listen: Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us expand into new, exciting features with the delicate taste and texture of real French macarons, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Thank you! See you all next week!

We’re back! Cue the music! Did you miss us?

As part of an ongoing site-wide overhaul here at Critical Distance, Blogs of the Round Table will now be a regular bimonthly feature – that’s once every two months, not twice a month. We trialled this last year and it offers the best balance between getting great submissions to each topic and ensuring we can maintain a regular stream of themes.

April’s theme is The Right Touch.

Joysticks. Keyboards and mice. Mashing a controller with your fist. Touching. Poking. Waggling. Wiggling. Moving your head around a virtual reality world. Directing an arc of your own urine. The ways in which we can interact with games have changed from simple electrical switches into much more complex and nuanced forms. We can even adapt and alter controls for people who have difficulty using traditional methods.

Some of these methods work, and some don’t. Most of us we be familiar with complaints about the Wii’s “waggle” controls, the thumb-numbing frustration of virtual buttons on a touchscreen device, or the gyroscopic motions that ruin the 3D bit of the Nintendo 3DS.

How do we move forward with controls in games? Are the old ways the best, or a barrier to entry? Are you looking forward to playing Farmville on the Facebook-ulus Rift?

We’re accepting your blogs until May 31st. You can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=April14” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear 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 for up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’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.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • 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.

GDC may have officially concluded more than a week ago but I, for one, am still in the midst of post-con fatigue. My greatest of thanks to contributors Cameron and Eric for picking things up while I was away in San Francisco. But now, readers, it’s time to get back to hitting the books! Brace yourselves, for it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

To The Metal

We start with a pair of interesting design documents this week. The first comes from Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, co-developers of the popular smartphone puzzle game Threes!, which has been liberally cloned. In a bid to show just how much time and iteration went into their game, Vollmer and Wohlwend have released a huge heaping pile of valuable documentation on Threes!‘s design process.

Meanwhile over at The Game Design Forum, Pat Holleman and researcher Amanda Lange have released their latest Reverse Design book, tackling Super Mario World with TGDF’s usual super-dense and fine-grained style of analysis. A long but worthwhile read!

Mechanics of the Heart

On Ontological Geek, guest contributor Andrei Filote proposes an analogue for the Bechdel Test pertaining specifically to worldbuilding: is your game’s world rich enough to foster the existence of a novelist?

Elsewhere, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, embedded journalist Cara Ellison has gone in search of a fabled gag in OutRun 2006, a game Tim Rogers once called Love: The Videogame.

And over on LudoNarratology, Michael Clarkson draws a couple interesting comparisons between Final Fantasy X‘s combat system and the sports culture that informs the story setting.

This Could Be Us But U Playin’

London-based critic Edward Smith pens a short but sweet piece contending that real controversy in game violence is hard to find:

Violence in games is only legitimate if committed against discernible individuals, whose deaths have a traceable, adverse affect on either the fictional world or the narrative. In Grand Theft Auto, neither of these metrics apply. Your victims are cartoon characters and their deaths feel less like tragedy, or drama, and more like housework.

In a similar vein, on Digital Love Child Reid McCarter decries Infamous Second Son‘s choice to use a real-world location but with completely fictionalized Native Americans, a copout he describes as “cultural cowardice.”

Rather than research the tribes native to Seattle and the area surrounding it, Delsin belongs to an invented one with no real history or culture to represent. With just the tiniest bit of effort audiences could have played a Duwamish or Suquamish character. Delsin could have represented real people with a culture that is under-served in mainstream entertainment. He could have been a character who, with only the tiniest changes to the game’s script, acted as a subtle reminder of a distinct people. Instead, by making him Akomish, Sucker Punch continues the long tradition of misrepresenting actual tribes and nations as some imagined, homogenous groups of “Natives.”

#1Reason

Dominque Pamplemousse developer Deirdra Kiai received a standing ovation for their ten-minute speech held recently at GDC’s #1ReasonToBe panel. If you haven’t had a chance, pop on over to Kiai’s website and see why.

On Gamasutra, Storm8 developer Elizabeth Sampat has also posted the full text of her GDC talk, concerning hiring discrepancies in the game industry. Don’t read the comments.

Or, if you were like Jenn Frank and you read the comments, head on over to Frank’s post on the same site, which serves as a direct response to the claim that studios should hire based on merit, rather than gender, as though the two were mutually exclusive criteria.

O Brave New World With Such People In It

How could we have missed this? Over on The Escapist, the ever-compelling Robert Rath has put together a great, well-researched two part feature on the complex interrelationship among wargaming, novelist Tom Clancy, and the modern first-person shooter.

Even more incredible (in the classical sense of the word), over on Eurogamer Robert Purchese presents us with this biographical profile of DayZ creator Dean Hall.

Dispatches from Vienna

Once again we’re honored with a brief peek inside the German-language games discourse via our German correspondent, Joe Koeller.

First, on Superlevel, Nina Kiel talks nude patches and mods, and by contrast, the “general prudery” in which base games find themselves. [Content Warning: Some images are not safe for work.]

Lastly, on Kleiner Drei, Lucie Hoehler reviews Leigh Alexander’s Breathing Machine, about growing up around computers.

Last Call, Last Call

As always we deeply appreciate your submissions by email and Twitter mention, so please keep sending them in!

Some of the usual business: the Journal of Games Criticism is still in open submissions for its second issue, due date April 19th. Also, the Unwinnable Weekly Kickstarter is chugging along, but could still benefit from your support. Give them a look!

Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us expand into new, exciting content that may or may not involve fitting my cat with laser eyes, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Thank you! See you all next week!

The Game Developers Conference is over and Kris will be back in the saddle next weekend. Hello to any new potential readers we may have picked up over the last week. Let’s get This Week In Video Game Blogging started.

Critical Proximity

While the inaugural meet up of game critics and writers was last weekend, there have been a few responses in the meantime.

Mike Joffe of Video Games of the Oppressed wrote about his take on attending the conference and how he learned to stop worrying and love the myriad and nebulous concepts none of us can agree on.

Joshua Comer focused on the particulars of jargon, a concept brought up in many of the talks and various attributes of it as a useful tool and a barrier to communication.

Meanwhile, Nick Hanford, The Man of Many Frowns, decided not to respond to one concept, but all of the talks through the lens of audience and who the talks were for and how the talks addressed the concept themselves.

And on the Critical Proximity site, Richard Terrell put up the Roundtable Maps, a dynamic snapshot that grew out of the roundtable talks held after several of the talks.

GDC

While not all of us were fortunate enough to go, there was much discussion to be had about the recent Game Developers Conference.

On Paste Magazine, Maddy Myers wrote about what she had to consider about how she dresses when she goes to conferences or conventions like GDC and how it ends up hiding who she truly is.

Matthew Kumar delivered a detailed write up of Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue postmortem for Edge Online.

Held concurrently to GDC, across the street is the Lost Levels conference as an ‘unconference.’ Mike Joffe posted the full version of his talk he gave on non-human play.

And finally, cartoonist Elizabeth Simins had what must be the shortest interview with Peter Molyneux ever and produced it for Kotaku in comic form. If this doesn’t spawn a Molydeux style game jam I don’t know what to do with you all.

Social Effect of Games

Looking at human’s response to video games for a sociological perspective.

Katherine Cross for Feministing looked at some success stories in the RPG realm – Dragonfall and Pathfinder – that put another nail into the coffin for the idea that sex sells and anything else is doomed for failure.

Mrs. Dawnaway wrote a piece for Big Tall Words about the implications of makeup in Mass Effect.

And Mike Rose delved into the seedy world of digital gunrunners who circumvent the Steam trading system to make a quick buck off of Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

This is where everyone sort of wanders about towards their own interests

Edward Smith wrote a trio of posts about Silent Hill 2 looking at the long intro walk in the woods, the character of Laura and a closer look at the subtle meanings behind the nurses’ design.

At Kill Screen Alexander Saeedy wrote about the archaic design as why he quit playing Baldur’s Gate II. The submitter did qualify that he wasn’t sure if Saeedy had made it through the admittedly somewhat lengthy and dull opening dungeon.

Mutlimedia Editor G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters looked into Device 6 and how it takes a different route towards its metanarrative of player/game relations.

Mark Chen calls Depression Quest the most important game he’s ever played.

Francisco Dominguez had some questions while figuring out his reading of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, so he went to the source, Dan Pinchbeck.

Robert Rath calls Ground Zeroes the first Metal Gear Solid game that gets, like the tagline says, Tactical Espionage Action right.

Leigh Harrison looks at the super lengthy Darksiders II and how that and its repetition are, in a way, something to be admired.

Stephen Beirne looks and the concept of exploration by eschewing the normative model of an open world filled with collectables for something far different filled with weird sights.

And Austin C. Howe wrote a defense of Super Metroid‘s backtracking for his blog Haptic Feedback.

Dispatch from our Foreign Correspondent

Amélie Middelberg writes about sexist abuse in her gaming life and the various internet projects dedicated to documenting such instances of harassment.

Tobias Martin Schwaiger considers how the movie adaptions of Resident Evil manage to enrich the source material, despite its own heavy use of cinematic devices.

Speaking of films, Benjamin Filitz talks about the Dota 2 documentary Free to Play and its uncomfortable existence as a Valve product documenting a Valve product.

On Polyneux, Doreen shares her personal experience with The Last of UsLeft Behind.

Other Types of Game Criticism

All before were words on a page.

Extra Credits looked at the design benefits of collectable games like Magic: The Gathering.

Campster aka Chris Franklin follows up on his look at Thief with a an analysis of the newest entry in the franchise.

The Ontological Geek has a new podcast and episode 2 takes a long look at the concept of the asylum level in video games and what it means.

Final Points

The Ontological Geek is holding a call for articles for Romance Month in April. Likewise The Journal of Games Criticism with open for submissions for their second quarterly issue. The deadline is April 19th.

Thank you for reading. If you have any suggestions for the weekly roundup please submit them via our email or @ message our Twitter account. If you like the work we do here and wish to support us with more than kind words you can at our Patreon page.

Also, you can spread the love for good criticism at the Unwinnable Weekly. Check out their Kickstarter.

Hallo it is Cameron Kunzelman here to cover This Week in Videogame Blogging. Right to the quick of it, then.

Games Criticism! It Happens!

This Sunday marks the occasion of the first Critical Proximity, a conference for games writers that happened right before GDC. You can see text and video of a number of talks here. You can also watch the archived Twitch stream here.

Angela Cox explains that teaching games to students is easier if those students aren’t already invested in games.

Tadhg Kelly writes about what he calls “patreonomics” and lays out the land of cultural production around videogames.

Javy Gwaltney writes about the incredibly small world of videogame criticism and what it means to put a lot of weight and pressure on writers and reviewers.

Ethan Gach reads the concept of canonicity and comes to some conclusions about games and the canon.

Olly Skillman-Wilson plays some Far Cry 2 and also weighs in on the critical work on the game.

Games and Their Buddies I Mean Players

Alex Duncan does some hardcore Lacanian work to talk about players and avatars and what it means for the two to come into contact with one another.

Mattias Lehman performs some statistical analysis of various forms of representation in League of Legends. I can’t say that I’m on board with all the digressions that he makes, but the data itself is fascinating to someone like me who literally has no idea about anything involved with that game.

Jonne Arjoranta wonders if you can ever really, truly know what it is like to be a cat person in a fantasy land far, far away.

Jeff and Holy Grenade talks about his life as an Xbox Live bully. This link contains all of the language you might associate with that. [Trigger warning for this: sexual assault described in detail, racial slurs, general sexism.]

CYBERPUNK: IT IS PUNK. CYBERPUNK.

Mark Filipowich writes about the connections between videogames, Philip K. Dick, and Austin Walker’s A(s)century.

Zack Fair pings off of the same game in a piece about time and how cyberpunk as a genre has dealt with the concept.

Red Thumbs reviews Remember Me in a sprawling format, reading aesthetics, play experience, and writing all as one big, ungraspable mass. How cyberpunk.

THINKING ABOUT SPECIFIC GAMES

Jill Scharr explains the specific failings of the new Thief, reading its cutscenes and comparing it to Dishonored.

Gus Mastrapa has words elicited from him during matches of Titanfall.

Alice Kojiro plays and contrasts World 2 of Super Mario Bros. with the World 2 of Excite Mario Bros.

Stephen Beirne tells us that “Boletaria wasn’t built in a day.”

Martyn Zachary performs an in-depth analysis of Gone Home and reads it from 100 different angles.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

Christian Gürth interviewed gay games journalists, Youtubers and PR people about their experience with the games industry, stereotypes in games and online harassment.

Meanwhile, Dejan Lukovic had a long talk with games rapper Rockstah about his new album.

THAT IS ALL

Thanks for reading! As always we greatly appreciate the links you send to us by Twitter mention or by our email submissions form.

We’re back. We never exactly went away, but now we’re here, fully, renewed breath in our lungs. It’s time to sound the bells. It’s Sunday afternoon. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Dev Tools

Critical Distance’s audience can roughly be split into two halves: games bloggers, critics and scholars to one side, and game developers of various stripes on the other. It’s my belief that these two have more in common than even they may think. With that in mind, I’d like to start off this week’s roundup with some recommendations tailored particularly to devs, although anyone design-minded will benefit from them.

We start with Kill Screen, where several of its writers have devoted an entire week to the subject of game genres — in particular, where generic conventions may be going in the near future.

Games are not shoes, says Chris Bateman, who argues that Steam’s recent change to allow devs to set their own prices will not result in some catastrophic zero-sum game. And over on Unwinnable, we have the free-spirited Gus Mastrapa offering two highly exploratory concepts for the future of massively multiplayer online games.

Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider scribe Rhianna Pratchett turned up in the forums of The Escapist this week to share a bit of her experience writing for games. Meanwhile on Medium, Aevee Bee makes a case for ‘small writing’ and interstitial worldbuilding moments in games.

Microrevolutions

There are many ways we can challenge norms of play. Here, a collection of writers share their experiences playing against the grain, either in opposition to industrial logic or narrative conventions.

GayGamer and Border House alum Denis Farr muses on the limited impact of certain decisions in Dragon Age and The Witcher, and concludes that isn’t so much about a player’s character changing the world as deciding where they stand:

These are games that are built on decisions, and people seem disappointed when the decisions do not lend themselves to larger changes that carry over from game to game, or even from decision to decision in the same game sometimes. But, if we allow ourselves to inhabit the characters that would make such a decision, it does allow for a narrative to be constructed. These types of games are a collaboration of the players’ imaginations and reasons with the story being told.

Mark Filipowich has me at his opening line, in describing one game’s romp through peak videogame absurdity: “If somebody were to make a game out of that one twitter bot that proposes random situations (@AndNowImagine) the result would look something like Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.”

A Mind Forever Voyaging author Dylan Holmes spent the last year fighting the tide of the release cycle to instead work on his backlog.

Meanwhile, UK-based writer Leigh Harrison lauds The Bureau: XCOM Declassified for subverting a particular trend of modern shooters:

The Bureau should be celebrated for its bravery in swimming against the current of accepted videogame design. It fearlessly deconstructs the prevailing notion that videogames must not only constantly strive to look better, but also appear more naturalistic as the medium and its technology advances. As The Bureau progresses, it subtly strips away the layers of peripheral aesthetics normally seen as a necessity in modern games, until at its end it is visually little more than a VR mission from Metal Gear Solid; an experience completely defined by its mechanics alone, uninterested in anything threatening to overcomplicate the purity of its experience.

Half-Assing on the Holodeck

Ben Kuchera’s well intentioned, if perhaps poorly executed opinion piece on Gender Swap, a two-person VR simulation in which players briefly experience ‘inhabiting’ one another’s body, has garnered a bit of criticism.

Rose & Time developer Sophie Houlden outlines over the course of two articles what Gender Swap (and its too-eager embrace by cisgender writers) fails to account for:

You haven’t had to experience with how people treat that body. You haven’t felt pressure to change based on the expectations of having that body. The bodies we are born with force us to have experiences which are outside our control. These experiences shape us as people and who we are in our minds is not so easily separated from them. You can put on the headset and look at a mirror, but you have no idea what life the body’s owner will return to when you take the headsets off.

Or, as Jessica Janiuk sums it up in an opinion piece on Polygon (as part of a larger discussion of the therapeutic potential of games):

Here’s another example of how to understand this [gender dysphoria]. Imagine you slipped on an Oculus Rift, and in that virtual world you existed as a person that was not your gender in the real world. You’d look down and see a body that didn’t feel like yours. Your voice wouldn’t sound the way you’d like to express yourself. In some cases the sexual options available to your character don’t match your sexual feelings.

Now imagine you’d never be able to remove that VR helmet again.

Redshirt developer Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris weighs in as well, further challenging Gender Swap and similar VR exercises for proposing easy solutions to complicated problems:

The point is, this stuff is difficult, and complicated, and to think of it any other way does a disservice to how deeply ingrained and nuanced these issues are.

Perhaps there is some utility to this kind of VR experiment, but I feel like wider culture better representing and listening to minorities is a far better offering, which works to serve minorities and everyone else alike, rather than experiences which are specifically for people on those relevant axes of privilege.

In her post, Khandaker-Kokoris also links to her recent TEDxEastEnd talk on ‘One Weird Old Trick to End Sexism and Racism,’ which I cannot recommend highly enough.

A Rape in Cyberspace

(This section bears a CONTENT WARNING for discussion of rape, assault and harassment.)

On RE:roll, Angus Morrison conducts (rather, attempts) an anthropological study of DayZ, only to find that the deck is stacked against him — and, indeed, he’s not immune to the game’s psychological effects.

Elsewhere, avid DayZ player Kim Correa shares a traumatic experience in the game (TW: rape) and muses on the point at which the game’s sociopathy stops being harmless.

And back on Kill Screen, Matt Albrecht describes his recent visit to a showing of If You Can Get to Buffalo, an adaptation of Julian Dibbell’s 1993 “A Rape in Cyberspace,” and likewise asks where the line is drawn online.

(End content warning section.)

Crawling Toward Sunlight

Where the “Microrevolutions” section above paints ways for games and players to resist convention, this section offers up possible solutions for developers to counteract toxicity from the production side.

On GayGamer, Mitch Alexander adeptly challenges arguments that equivocate male and female objectification under a straight male gaze and explores what might developers do to “queer” the male gaze.

Go Make Me a Sandwich’s wundergeek observes the challenges of, and proposes a possible solution for, satirizing the straight male gaze in videogame art when game art is already frequently ridiculous.

Finally, Desktop Dungeons developer Rodain Joubert shares how his team chose to approach non-sexualized women avatars and rectify gender disparities for their game.

Within Four Walls

Even if we happen to be the most radical of indies, consumerism and corporate culture remains a fact of life for many in games. These pieces take a peek inside studio culture — or muse about PR from afar.

Toward the latter, Mat Jones of Oh No! Videogames wants to remind us (yet again) that Pac-Man is Back, but questions whether he was actually inside us all along, deteriorating with the rest of our internal organs.

Towards the former, Polygon offers up two features from within studio development. The first: the last years of BioShock developer Irrational Games, as told via Chris Plante. The second: a brisk post-mortem of Activision’s Singularity, as told by developer Keith Fuller: “This wasn’t development, it was triage. We had to save who we could and bayonet the dying, and we had no time left to do either with any subtlety.”

On the lighter side, The Escapist’s Greg Tito offers an interesting peek inside Civilization 5 studio Firaxis Games and a difference in player strategy which seemingly nearly tore the studio in half.

It Starts With Us

In the years since I started writing Critical Distance, I don’t believe I was at all opaque in my curatorial approach. However, this last week has brought a lot into sharp focus once again, including the reminder that, now and then, we need to reaffirm our goals and priorities.

In this case, however, I believe those goals are summed up best by independent critic and C-D contributor Lana Polansky, who, in acknowledging the shortcomings of crowdfunding, maintains a call to openly and consistently signal-boost the kind of work we want to see:

I’m going to make it a general policy to amplify voices in criticism or development or whatever else who deserve that amplification, not because of who they are but because of what they’ve said or made. This is my general policy anyway, but before right now I hadn’t fully declared and applied it. No more amplifying those who are already topical or popular just because doing so may, in some abstract way, be career-advancing. Fuck career advancement. Fuck trying to “make it.”

In the spirit of Ms. Polansky’s words, here is a selection of writing from the last week that I believe, though it may not fit easily into any of the cubbyholes of games blogging, is important and worth viewing.

First: on Gamers with Jobs, Alex Martinez shares a personal story of two formative experiences from his childhood — namely, the video game rental store in his neighborhood, and the LA Riots which ravaged it in 1992.

On Kill Screen, Rich Shivener profiles MIT’s recent QUILTBAG Jam organized by Todd Harper, and in particular the LIM-like Label Gear Solid — a game that is, by design, unbeatable:

In Label Gear Solid, it’s impossible to go unnoticed. In fact, the Suens admit there’s no way to win the game. [...] Every time you run into another square, labels physically obscure the screen, until you give up, possibly at the point where you can’t see anything. It takes the idea of label-making to absurdity. On Twitter, one player told the brothers it’s a “cruel world.” Ten seconds into the game, you might feel the same way.

On Paste, Cara Ellison profiles Deirdra Kiai, developer of Dominique Pamplemousse in: “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!” — which is presently up for four Independent Game Festival awards.

Porpentine’s weekly roundups of free independent games on Rock, Paper, Shotgun is, as ever, a valuable resource.

Lastly, I would be remiss in failing to mention Starseed Observatory, a compilation of analysis, criticism and discussion focused on Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim.

Dispatches from Vienna

Our German-language correspondent Joe Koeller has hooked us up with the latest from the German language games blogging scene.

On her personal blog, Valentina Hirsch chats feeling ownership over games as medium. Meanwhile, at Polyneux (arguably the best name for a games blog we’ve seen this week), mayaku talks about deserted servers in World of Warcraft.

Gratitude and Departures

We usually end these roundups with a word of thanks to all those who submit recommendations through email or by Twitter mention. You are, as always, incredibly invaluable to what we do here.

However, I want my thanks to extend much further this week, to the many (nearly 150) patrons who have already contributed to our new Patreon. Your support allows us not only to remain open and ad-free for the foreseeable but will also us to finally go forward with our many community-building projects, which will include a wiki, archive, job board for writers, and much more besides. Do you want to see more podcasts like our recent one on Black History Month? So do we. And with your help, we can make that happen.

A last point: while I will be scarce on the site for the next two weekends due to the Game Developers Conference, if you are in San Francisco during that time, I am giving two talks you may wish to attend!

On Sunday the 16th, I (along with quite a few other members of the C-D team) will be presenting at Critical Proximity, our sibling conference headed up by Zoya Street. Then, on Thursday the 20th, I will be speaking at Lost Levels, a GDC-adjacent “unconference” organized by Robert Yang. Neither event requires a GDC pass to attend, so I hope to see many of you there! Please check out Critical Proximity’s and Lost Levels’ respective websites for more.

That’s all from me this week. So, from all of us at Critical Distance, thank you again for all your patronage and support. You’ll be seeing more from us soon!

Hello, Critical Distance readers!

I’m pleased to announce that as of today, you can directly lend your support to Critical Distance through our Patreon page.

Critical Distance has existed as a free publication since its inception in 2009. On a weekly basis we have brought to you dozens of links to the most interesting writing and commentary about games around the web, entirely through the efforts of our hard-working volunteers.

Now, in addition to maintaining that tradition, we want to turn C-D into the definitive archival resource for writing about games. We have been working on a wiki for several months which is almost ready to launch, and have plans outlined for several projects, including a cross-referenced tagging system, a job board, and even a print anthology. But to get anywhere with any of these ideas, we need your help.

The goal of our Patreon page is twofold. First, it is to ensure that I can commit full-time as the senior editor of the site. I’ll then be able to start bringing in people to expand Critical Distance’s horizons and launch a full-on, archival effort — one which can properly compensate everyone for the time they put in.

We will soon be setting up a Supporters Page to thank all of our contributors. Please help us make this site as great as it can be by visiting our Patreon page and clicking the ‘Become a Patron’ button. You can even earn exclusive cat pictures!

Whether you join us as a patron or just signal-boost the link among your peers, we thank you from the bottom of our cybernetic hearts for your support! Thank you!

In honor of Black History Month or maybe, as the discussion recognizes, in submission to it, we at Critical Distance are honored to be host to a discussion of three highly intelligent black critics to discuss both the concept of Black History Month and what it means to be black in video games and the wider culture. Now, I’ll just get out of the way and let them take it from here.

CAST

Mattie Brice: Alternate Ending

Zolani Stewert: The Fengxi Box

Evan Narcisse: Kotaku

SHOW NOTES

Bow Nigger

The Arcade Review

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Direct Download

 

Cameron Kunzelman here to sum up the past little while in games criticism. I’m link heavy today, so I’m going to cut the cute intro and just give you the information. The information is good. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Games Are History

Play the Past recently ran a week on the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which I encourage you to check out, but I want to highlight this post on the women of the franchise by David R. Hussey.

By the same author at the same website, there’s a very readable “Microhistory of Eve Online.”

Tracey Lien writes a much more comprehensive and lengthy article on the same game, taking us for an oral and systemic historical analysis of EVE in “The Most Thrilling and Boring Game in the Universe.”

Switching into a different mode of history, Jeremy Parish gives us “7 Reasons Super Metroid Was A SNES Masterpiece,” which doesn’t win any awards in the article title category, but manages to pay off anyway.

Emma Vossen does a bit of personal history, thinking through how her modes of interaction with female characters as a child has formed her. She writes:

I think it took me a lot longer to catch on that games were not “for me” because I lived in an incredibly small town that was relatively cut off from the world. When I was young we had very few television channels and the ones we did have wouldn’t have had video game advertisements or anything like that. Furthermore we didn’t have a Walmart until I was older, and we didn’t have a games store ever. My parents bought all our games for my brother and I, so we had an idea of what we wanted, but didn’t really understand what the “market” itself was like. I don’t think we really realized we had options, and we didn’t always know what was out there until we got the internet. I think the main reason I didn’t realize that games weren’t really for me was  because I had the benefit of living with a male sibling who liked both sharing, and more importantly, playing games together.

Podcasts! You Listen To Them!

GI Janes recorded an inaugural podcast where they talk about Gone Home.

Moving Pixels Podcast discussed the endings of Grand Theft Auto V.

Thinking About Specific Games in Detail, or T.A.S.G.I.D.

Paul Haine writes about strange envy, or “aspirational living” in Animal Crossing.

Patrick Lindsey wonders about the modes of death living in Far Cry 2. A sample:

The game had already long since established its yawningly casual acceptance of extreme graphic violence. I’d listened to soldiers scream as they burned alive on the savannah, shot unarmed hostages in the face while they pleaded for their lives. It’s safe to say that I—both as player and character—had been successfully desensitized to Far Cry 2’s brand of carnage. I’d murdered up-close and personal before, but this was different. This wasn’t murder or even combat; this was a mercy killing. I wasn’t prepared for the look of actual human pain on my buddy’s face, or for him to literally grab the barrel of my gun and pull it to his face, practically begging me to put him out of his misery.

Alice Kojiro has two recent pieces that I want to highlight, the first on Alice: Madness Returns and the second on Chrono Cross‘s Dead Sea.

Leigh Alexander, Quinns, and Jesse Turner collaborated to put together an incredible feature on the now-universally-loved Netrunner

Over at Unwinnable we have Jill Scharr on The Novelistand how it made her question her own life as a writer.

Austin C. Howe provides some analysis of the painfully under-written-about Final Fantasy VIII by weaving together fan theories and close analysis in order to make some sense of what the game is actually attempting to do.

Chris Franklin created yet another brilliant analysis video, this time of fan-favorite Thief. He also write a quick clarifying post about it.

We Literally Cannot Stop Talking About The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite

Anna Kreider writes about Joel and how he could be improved upon in a number of narrative ways.

Joseph Berida writes in “The Last of Us: Left Behind and Denial” about the new DLC and how characters interact with one another in that world.

Irrational is closing, which elicited a few pieces from prominent games writers about the industrial and cultural symptoms and reasons for that closure. Brendan Keogh wonders if we can connect up the themes of Irrational’s blockbuster franchise with the relations between creative leads and the people who actually do the creating. Leigh Alexander connected it up with her own journalistic practice and how she navigated reporting on the studio’s work environment while having to pretend she didn’t know about its work environment. Ian Williams laments that the studio’s collapse means a few things:

And yet here we are, with an entire studio turned out on its collective ear for doing its job properly, while the one true failure in the story has not just landed on his feet but is poised to crank out vanity projects, post-Spore Will Wright style, for the rest of his life. The games press, for the most part, is salivating about what he’s going to do next, thereby enabling this sort of behavior the next time. Hovering over it all is the vicious irony that a man who made his name by writing about a Randian dystopia is going to be just fine because we’re currently living in one.

To round out the Bioshockery for this week, we have Kyle Fowle reviewing its box art and Felan Parker doing some amazing and specific work on how Bioshock Infinite fits into the larger cultural narrative of games and their status as art.

Wait one last thing here is Maddy Myers writing about Biocock Intimate which is exactly what you think it is.

culture culture culture

Dan Cox cautions everyone to think about the people who don’t have the means or simply can’t manage to make their way to the coastal conferences and festivals every three months in his “‘Everyone Was There’ and You Weren’t.”

Paul Reid wrote an article with lots of visualized data that seems to correlate conservative thinking with certains kinds of games. I am not a scientist.

Robert Yang delivers some advice for people submitting games to the IGF.

Mat Jones does us all a wonderful service and finally presents “The Real ABCs of Games Journalism,” such as

Qwerty: Throw that shit right out and get yourself a DVORAK keyboard to help yourself with typing speed. Never mind that it’ll fuck up the keybindings for all your games, get used to moving your fictional characters around with a game of hand-twister.

Game Theory

Merritt Kopas posted some text about and some results from a workshop that she ran at the NYU Gamecenter a couple weeks back. There’s an amazing analysis of what queer game mechanics can look like. Read it.

Reid McCarter writes about guns in games and guns in the world and how those two things are related to one another through the fantasies of humans in “On Guns, Real and Virtual.”

Matt Barton asks some open ended questions about Neo-Marxism and how it could operate in games.

Stephen Beirne says some things about “detective mode” and how it is implemented in games.

Lana Polansky extols the virtues of the eroticism of games, championing the ones which manage to be “bleeding and vulnerable.” Writer Mo at Imaginary Funerals also thinks through the concept of bleeding and what it means for players and games alike.

I Made Kris Ligman Write the Closing Section Again

Thanks for reading! As always we greatly appreciate the links you send to us by Twitter mention or by our email submissions form.

See you all next week!