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

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

Now, onto this week’s treats!

All Together Now

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

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

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

Design Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Mat

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

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

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

Visual Novels

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

That Old Canard

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

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

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

Pairs Well With

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

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

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

[…]

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

And to All a Good Night

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

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

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

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

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

Direct Download

CAST

Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Kris Ligman: Dire Critic

Alan Williamson: Five out of Ten

Lana Polansky: Sufficiently Human

SHOW NOTES

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

You Are Mountain

Twine, the Video Game Technology For All

Cat Petting Simulator

The Terror Aboard the Speedwell

The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

Support Games Criticism

Critical Proximity

Video Brains

Does Twitch Plays Pokemon Give You Hope For Humanity?

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

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

Hello everyone, it’s Lindsey here with another weekly roundup. Before we get started I want to remind you that, as the year comes to a close, we’re looking for submissions for our end-of-the-year roundup. But for now, let’s take a look at This Week in Videogame Blogging!

History and Culture Clashes

Quite a few of the submissions this week talk about how history and culture are both used and confused in games. For instance, Corey Milne uses the recent news about Greece’s pleas to have their artifacts returned to them rather than loaned out by the British Museum to draw parallels to the Uncharted series. Milne argues that Nathan Drake is nothing like Indiana Jones, but is more accurately a thief with no respect for other cultures.

From a different perspective, professional archaeologist Sarah Ingram plays through Tomb Raider and amongst other observations (such as how poorly written Lara is) she notes that the game’s more aligned with treasure collecting than archaeology.

The next two submissions deal more directly with how history is used and how it creates meaning. Austin Walker examines the interaction between genre and history and how that informs or influences criticism, using Attack of the Friday Monsters as a lens for discussion. Alternately, James Patton looks at the ways contemporary Western cultural, political, and religious values are placed in historical contexts unfairly and illogically.

Bridging from that, Claire Hosking provides an Australian perspective on the recent Grand Theft Auto ban in Australian Target and K-Mart stores. Hosking details the important difference between Australian and US perspectives on culture, speech, and criticism and how this relates to perceptions of the ban itself.

To end this section on a brighter note, Christopher Sawula, a postdoctoral fellow, historian, and teacher explains what makes Valiant Hearts not only a good game, but the only one worth using to help students understand the emotional, social, and cultural contexts of World War I.

The State of Criticism and Curation

This week also presents us with two opportunities to get a bit meta. Over at Game Informer, Matt Helgeson examines the rate of production of video game content, criticism, scholarship, etc against the loss of it due to poor archival and curatorial work in the field

This week also brings us the playable criticism of systemic prejudice in Parable of the Polygons created by Vi Hart and Nick Case.

Design and Development

Working in the game industry is tumultuous anywhere, but Anton Paramonov discusses the more unique and specific challenges Eforb faces as a development studio based in the Ukraine. For instance, he notes this as an unique position to find your business: “It’s tough to fall asleep in one country and wake up in another.”

Elsewhere, Holly Gramazio talks about her work designing place-based (parks, hotel rooms, etc) games — not all of which are digital.

Meanwhile, Damion Schubert discusses the concept of resonance (or really the lack thereof) in Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Over at GameSound, Kenny Young shares an email conversation he had with the late Ralph Baer about the development of game audio.

So technically this is more about child development than game development, but bear with me, as this week Andy Baio details his experiment in child rearing in which he had his son play through video games in chronological order beginning with the Atari 2600 to see whether (and how) it would alter his son’s perception of contemporary games.

Sex, Sexuality, Gender, Performance and the Political

Responding to art with art, Cara Ellison discusses the stolen moments found in Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love At the End of the World in verse form.

Over at How To Not Suck At Game Design, Anjin Anhut asks: “What can be gained if we use the concept of gender performance for our efforts to change the culture?

Elsewhere, Katherine Cross discusses the character Oh Eun-a in Hate Plus and how she, and the other female characters, are caught in the “unfinished revolution” of social mores that no longer fit.

At The Mary Sue, Victoria McNally covers Aisha Tyler’s recent remarks at the Paley Center about women in the gaming community, both as players and characters.

Podcasts

If your eyes need a break from the screen, there’s some good stuff for your ears this week too!

This week, our own Eric Swain and the Moving Pixels Podcast takes on Spec-Ops: The Line, while The Crate and Crowbar more broadly discuss the things we do in games we’d like others not to see. Even more broadly, Dan Golding’s new podcast “A Short History of Video Games” discusses video game history across the generations. Lastly, Justice Points invite Javy Gwaltney on to talk about his work and his thoughts on paid writing in addition to discussion about more recent game news.

Mélange

Serving up a “Worst of” list rather than a “Best of” list, Jed Pressgrove dishes up an analysis of the ten worst games of 2014 whose “insidious” marketing ploys are hidden beneath technical and artistic completeness.

Over at The Game Critique, Eric Swain talks about elegance in writing and a(n ironically inelegant) piece written by Mark Rosewater from 2004.

Elsewhere, Alex Pieschel writes a detailed history of glitches as aesthetic, discovery, and performance.

At Play/Paws. Melody conducts a close-reading of Transistor’s themes (including elitism, surveillance, censorship, and virtuality) in this three-part series.

Final Mentions:

As always, we’re grateful for our readers and those who have submitted works. If you see something you think we should feature, don’t forget to submit it to us via a Twitter mention or through email. Keep in mind if you are submitting something for This Year in Video Game blogging, you must submit by email!

Also, in case you missed it: StoryBundle has brought back the very first videogame bundle, which includes Ralph Baer’s Videogames: In the Beginning and Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless.

Feeling in the writing mood yourself? Consider participating in this month’s Blogs of the Round Table while there’s still time!

Finally, we’re thankful for the support of your readers. We reached some important funding milestone recently, and we’ve got some great things planned for 2015, so if you aren’t already a supporter, please consider becoming one!

Our TYIVGB Methodology

December 9th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in Announcement: - (Comments Off)

Every year, Critical Distance produces a feature entitled This Year In Video Game Blogging. You’ll be seeing 2014’s roundup in just a few weeks, so let’s take a moment to talk about how the sausage is made.

We have always endeavored at Critical Distance to be open and honest with our methods. Over the years, we’ve refined our process, taking note of what eased the load, while broadening the view.

The Starter Lists

We begin by creating the three starter lists. The first list is my own, crafted by going through all of our This Week In Video Game Blogging roundups featured over the past year. The second list is created by our staff curators. The third and final list is the combined suggestions from our readers.

The First List

The first starter list is the bedrock on which TYIVGB is built. First, I put together a list of links that are auto-shortlisted. Either they have been deemed to sum up an issue or game perfectly, it was a huge deal throughout the year, or otherwise is one of those pieces which was so significant that it clearly merited inclusion. Previous examples include Brendan Keogh’s book on Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless, and Leigh Alexander and Kirk Hamilton’s Final Fantasy VII letter series.

For the rest of the first starter list, I read through all the TWIVGBs of the past year. I pull out all the links I remember throughout the year and any further links that seem of interest for the year roundup. Previously, I read all of the featured links, but this was time-consuming and my current method creates pretty much the same starter list in a much shorter amount of time.

The Second List

The second starter list comes from our other curators. Each staff member creates a list of pieces they feel should be considered. They can submit anything they feel worthy of inclusion to augment my own effort, whether it’s something they feel I may overlook due to my personal perspective or simply a piece that didn’t make it into a TWIVGB for whatever reason. They use their own discretion in how they each create their personal submission lists.

The Third List

The final starter list is the simplest: we collect all the suggestions emailed from our readers, as long as they’re before the final due date. If you’d like to send in a reader submission of your own, you can learn about that process here.

The Longlist

Once I have the starter lists, I clear out the duplicates. Since inclusion in the shortlist isn’t based on popular vote, if something is already on one list, it doesn’t need to be on another. This helps streamline the next few steps. Also, I remove any obvious non-starters: joke suggestions, pieces that go against our mission statement, and those that don’t meet the higher standards necessary in a yearly roundup. They may be perfectly fine for TWIVGB, but TYIVGB is a different beast — it is more selective and refined.

From there, we consolidate all three starter lists into a longlist. This usually contains 100 to 300 articles. The length determines how long I spend culling it. Some pieces cover the same ground; others don’t meet the same standard of quality; and others still are those we like, but ultimately don’t add significantly to the critical corpus.

We also have a method for special edge cases such as if there is no single, high-quality article on an important issue; if there’s a gap representing a larger conversation that is spread quite thin; or if there is other missing representation in the fabric of the year. For these cases, the Critical Distance advisory board can make decisions where straight curation fails. Such cases are rare, and I have probably spent more time considering how to deal with hypothetical cases than I have ever actually needed to deal with a real one.

The Shortlist

Eventually, the longlist becomes the shortlist. In practical terms, this is when the list length is down to double digits. Then I meet with Kris Ligman, our Senior Curator. Together, we give the shortlist a once-over. It’s good to have a second set of eyes check the work, ask me questions about the choices and give me an opportunity to defend any questionable pieces i.e. for the aforementioned reasons of notability. By this point, my brain is usually fried, and it never hurts to double-check your work.

An Aside Concerning Self-Nomination

As all of our staff curators are themselves critics and commentators actively writing about games, it only makes sense that articles with our bylines would show up among the longlists and shortlist. That being said, we’re not here just to promote our own work, so we’ve developed an honor code of sorts for dealing with these situations.

It has long been our policy to never recommend our own work for the weeks we do TWIVGB. We can nominate our work when someone else is doing the roundup and thus able to properly evaluate our work, but never for our own weeks, except in special cases (for instance, when we are linking to a zine or anthology in which we are one of several authors). In my case, I adopted this policy because, in years past, I was the primary submitter of links and thus had considerable influence over the curation. As our site has grown in popularity, that influence and inclusion rate has decreased considerably, but we have continued with this policy in the name of fairness.

Being the lead curator on our year-end roundup, I recuse myself from judging any of my own work for possible inclusion. Instead, anything of mine which has been included in TWIVGB over the past year I hand over to Senior Curator Kris as a separate document. Kris makes the call on which, if any, of this is included. I have no say in this part of process, and I’ve done it this way every year since the first TYIVGB. It’s only fair that someone else pass judgment on my work.

The Write-Up

Once the curation is finished, we organize the articles into an outline and then comes the easy part: writing the feature. I write the descriptions and attributions of each piece, along with descriptions of their respective categories and a conclusion that sums up the whole year.

Like any act of creation, curation is an work of subjectivity. TYIVGB is what I, and the rest of the team, personally consider to be the most representative writing of the year — not necessarily the “best,” however that may be defined. Additionally, while others contribute to the process, it is still me behind the feature. TYIVGB will thus come tinged with all the biases and thought processes inherent in those facts.

Hopefully, This Year in Videogame Blogging will act as a snapshot of the year. The aim is simply to create something that someone looking at it years hence will read and say, “Yep, that was the year that was.” If we can accomplish that, then we’ve done our jobs.

Apparently there has been a cold snap in Britain this weekend. I haven’t noticed because I’ve been printing off all of the good games writing and making a cozy little nest from it. Come sit by the fire and help yourself to a hot chocolate. Welcome to This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Stoking the Fires of Thought

Carolyn Petit returns to Grand Theft Auto V, talking about its Australian retail controversy. Petit observes that the freedom afforded to the player in GTA is naturally dictated by the developer, and it invariably skews towards the freedom to commit acts of violence. Speaking of games that have a troubled history of representing women, Dan Jolley is working to improve Techland’s reputation with Dying Light.

Daniel Starkey has been on a roll lately. Following his review of Never Alone for Eurogamer, he’s written about the representation of American Indians in game development, with excerpts from an interview with John Romero.

Blazin’ Squad

Stephen Beirne has published a substantial work – or least, the first half – on the art of camera and composition in Final Fantasy VII (the other half is available now to his Patreon backers, and he’s even made a nice PDF). Beirne also examines the consequentialism of Anthony Burch’s ‘morality run’ of BioShock, which we featured last week. Wait a minute, didn’t Ed Smith do a similar thing for Five out of Ten last year? (spoilers: yes.)

Evan Conley stretches the definition of ‘little’ in this essay on horror in games as pure “Gothic-horror” compared to a mere feeling of tension, and whether The Evil Within is actually an action game with elements of survival horror. For a different kind of horror, Paul King looks at crime drama game The Detail (piece has a self-described content warning for discussion of sexual violence), which comments on the true nature of choice as well as portraying the darker aspects of humanity.

For a more banal kind of horror, what about the terror of having to play yet another Assassin’s Creed game or finding that your old save games contain a past version of yourself that you’d sooner forget?

Poking the Embers

We’ve reached the Gamergate section – I know, I don’t really want to write about it either, but there were a couple of great articles that warrant a mention. Keith Stuart’s interview with Zoe Quinn at the Guardian is one of the most comprehensive chronicles of the whole situation and would be a useful thing to have on file for inquisitive, well-meaning relatives this holiday season.

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris is the latest victim of an ‘investigation’ and her response is much more pleasant than the reporters deserve (disclaimer: Mitu, like all fans of good things, previously contributed to the Critical Distance Patreon). Laralyn McWilliams writes a message of hope for those who have been affected over the past few months: “it’s not about where we are right now. It’s about where we’ll be when it’s done.”

Elsewhere, Corey Milne writes about how the ‘Game Awards’ as a thinly-veiled marketing exercise. They could save a lot of money by just skipping the awards, ordering in a couple of pizzas and uploading all those trailers to YouTube from the comfort of an office.

Speaking of YouTube, Feminist Frequency has a new video: instead of the usual format of Anita Sarkeesian’s critical features, this highlights 25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male.

Blog Ring of Fire

Have you read something great that we missed? Send us your submissions by Twitter mention or through email. We’re also accepting submissions for This Year in Video Game Blogging 2014.

Here’s something great you might have missed: the new issue of Five out of Ten is out today, at a new lower price! The writing is particularly strong this time, because I’m not in it.

Blogs of the Round Table is back for December (wow, they’re doing a much better job than when I was in charge): get more details and submit your writing here. All welcome!

Don’t forget that Critical Distance is community-funded by awesome people like you! We recently reached our first funding target of $2000 – thank you to everyone who has supported the site, you’ll all wonderful – but with further funding we can pay our hardworking team members and invest resources in the future of the site. Please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Right, I’m off to watch this video about how Jackie Chan is the master of action comedy. Until next time…

It’s that time of the year again here at Critical Distance! We are opening the floodgates to reader submissions for our annual end of year feature, This Year In Video Game Blogging.

In addition to my own efforts and the work of our staff curators, we are asking you the community to help fill the gaps. In general, we are looking for pieces that will help outline 2014 as a year. This is a feature of reflection and, in the future, a starting point to give a general idea of what 2014 was all about. Below are a list of general guidelines of the type of things we are looking for to give anyone who may need it a starting point. The only hard rule we have for submission (other than our general content policy) is that any suggestions must be from this year, 2014.

Now for the guidelines.

1. Any piece of writing that just sticks out in your mind. Days, weeks, months later you remember this piece of writing. Pieces that get cited to this day are would fall under this category. Examples from previous years:

-The New Games Journalism by Kieron Gillen (2005)
-The Lester Bangs of Video Games by Chuck Klosterman (2006)
-Ludonarrative Dissonance by Clint Hocking (2007)
-Taxonomy of Gamers by Mitch Krapta (2008)
-Permanent Death by Ben Abraham (2009)
-Video games can never be art by Roger Ebert (2010)
-The Pratfall of Penny Arcade – A Timeline (aka Debacle Timeline) by Unknown (2011)
-Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line by Brendan Keogh (2012)
-Tropes vs. Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian (2013 to present)

2. Any pieces that are an excellent example of larger trends surrounding the most talked about games of the year. Like from last year — BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, Gone Home and so on. We want example pieces that highlight the discussion that took place around those games.

3. Any example pieces from the important voices and platforms (critics and sites) that stood out this year. These are the pieces that best highlight or represent the critics’ writing and work throughout the year.

4. Any pieces pertaining to gaming culture that highlight a conversation from this year. Large compilation pieces are preferred should they exist or pieces that otherwise capture the scope and variety of the conversation.

5. Any pieces that is simply an exceptional piece of meritorious writing about games.

6. Yes, you can nominate your own work.

Please email all links with “This Year in Videogame Blogging” in the subject line. DO NOT use Twitter for TYIVGB submissions. EMAIL ONLY.

Also, please keep emails brief. No long lists of 50 links with an essay praising each one. If you forget a link, go ahead and send another email.

The deadline for TYIVGB reader submissions is Midnight, December 24th Eastern Standard Time.

We thank you for your time and hope you have a happy December. My hair is going white already!

I feel like I’ve been here before. In fact, I have! But the first time I didn’t have nearly so much experience. I wonder if this will change anything.

Many games offer a New Game + option, a new save file with all the stats and equipment earned in an old one. What does it mean when a player takes their first steps in the same boots they took the final steps? With the year coming to a close and a new one ready to start just after it, let’s take a look at the beginning of the yearly cycle from the view of its end.

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

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

We’re accepting blogs until December 31th. 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=December14" 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.

Perhaps, if you are like me, this Monday is hitting you like a ton of bricks. Perhaps, if you are American like me, you are also feeling the additional strain of returning to “real life” after a long holiday weekend. Perhaps, if you are like me, you’d much rather be curled up at home – maybe even visiting somewhere the feels like a home in a game. But, if like me, being in your real or virtual home isn’t possible right now, I hope you’ll find solace in this edition of Blogs of the Round Table where we talk about “Home Sweet Home” and the places we carve out in digital spaces:

There are many games that allow players to carve out and claim a space to call their own. Unlike customizable avatars, these places become part of the fabric of the game environment. We can travel away from them, packed with gear for battle, or we can travel back to them in search of a bed to rejuvenate our bodies, souls, and possibly our magika. They can be urban or rural. They can be ours alone or communal spaces. Much like real homes, they are what we make of them.

Tell us about homes you’ve made in games. Have you built a home and started a family in Skyrim? What music did your Commander Shepard relax to, and what fish were in the tank, what models on the shelves? What makes your Animal Crossing home distinctly yours? Why is your guildhall the best guildhall in all the MMORPG land? How long have you defended your camp in Don’t Starve? Basically, if you’ve carved out a space to call your own, or if you’ve turned a house into ‘Home Sweet Home,’ we want to hear about it.

Let’s kick things off with Critical-Distance’s own (and my Blogs of the Roundtable co-host), Mark Filipowich. Over at BigTallWords, Mark takes at look at the way space makes meaning in games specifically by analyzing Left 4 Dead and Curtain. Though the games are quite different, both games deal with the player as “focalizer,” according to Mark and,

In both, the player is able to control how the game is taken in and their player-character’s values through the data they absorb. But in both cases, that same data only holds meaning when the player accepts the system and takes in the data according to the system they’re participating in. Furthermore, this is only scratching the surface of how ludic actors break away from the player’s subjectivity through the limited ways they are capable of acting.

Moving from space to place, Tom wrote about The Lords of Harmondale’s aptitude for creating a sense of place in the game. According to Tom, the game creates places that are in harmony with the cultures inhabiting them. Not only have the regions been crafted to ideally fit and reflect the race that inhabits it, but through this strong sense of place, the game encourages the player to feel connected to and at home in the location of Harmondale. He states,

Harmondale becomes more than just the place where you repair, sell items and take care of business: that can be done anywhere. Harmondale is your home in-game, where your diverse band of nomadic adventurers lay their roots. Out of all the events going on in-game that are out of your control, you have a corner that you control the fate of.

Elsewhere, The Rev considers how living style, or home environments, can reflect us as players. In both life and games, The Rev admits that homes are places to put things you don’t want to carry around. Yet, despite this detachment from the sentiments of home, The Rev talks about carving out a space in Civilization 4. The Rev concludes that after spending so long playing the game:

I feel a strange sense of pity for my computer-generated rivals. I tweak the settings, shuffle the maps, install mod packs, and set arbitrary goals for myself to keep the game interesting. But I must face the truth eventually – I have grown to fill every nook and cranny of this home. Every modification to the scenario simply expands my power over the total set.

But I submit that this is another case where, as in The Rev’s home, function meets function.

Next, at As Houses, Leigh Harrison discusses not only a specifically memorable corridor in Resident Evil 2 which, for her, is the video game embodiment of melancholy, but how the memory of it differs from the actuality of the game. Leigh describes the corridor as a space that, viewed from the memory of the place, offers “a false promise: safety – but to no end,” but which  is actually “just a corridor.” Leigh states,

If I had played all the game I wouldn’t have seen a beautifully evocative vista embodying sorrow, hope, longing and learned resignation, I’d’ve seen this: a wall at the end of a corridor which separates it from another corridor, both of which are lit by a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling – of a corridor. A pointless corridor that never had anything near as interesting to say as the things I ascribed to it.

Over at Minding Games, Ava Avane Dawn, takes a nostalgic look back at The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Lamenting that, while a game can be beaten multiple times, the experience of not having beaten it exists only once, Dawn analyzes the way she lingered in the game space and the places she called home there. Dawn admits she still, in a way, returns to the landscapes:

From time to time, my present situation harkens me back to Hyrule, implores me to find old homes and stay there a while and listen. And I do, albeit not in any formal sense which involves controllers and cartridges. I barely even know why that is. But what I do know in my heart of hearts is that I will be forever returning to the 32-bit Hyrule of my childhood, and even if I do so by adult means, I’ll always meet my younger self there, my link to the past.

Next, morbidflight reflects on building and creation, and concepts of natural and unnatural structures in Minecraft and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The driving question for morbidlight is:

What it means to make things in a generated landscape in a game created by a team of people. What it means to be a person, and have a conversation with other people, through the process of creation. What it means to find something like home in that.

Elsewhere, Jamey Stevenson considers the way time and circumstance alter our perception of home and what constitutes home both in games and in real life. Jamey argues that only Mother 3 has come close to replicating the suble changes time makes to our real life home in games. Jamey observes:

There’s one and only location in a game I’ve played that succeeds in encapsulating all of these crucial elements of how we identify with our hometown: Tazmily Village in Mother 3. The portrayal of Tazmily is masterful in terms of how it introduces both subtle and blatant changes to a location that the player repeatedly returns to at different times over the course of their journey.

Lastly, is my own submission piece written about The Long Dark and how my position and immersion in the game changed over time and as a result of the place I was finally able to construct as my own. I write:

I realize that, in the gas station, it stopped being me vs. her, and it stopped being “we.” In the gas station, it had become “I.” I had staked a claim on the gas station. I’d survived here for 10 days. I’d endured the boredom, the tedium, and the long dark. I’d become the survivor.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this month’s theme, and I encourage you to add the Linkomatic 5000 to your blog by copy-pasting the following code to your blog:

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

It’s been a pleasure to read your thoughts and to feel inspired enough (I didn’t initially intend to submit anything of my own) to join in too. I hope you’ll not only consider joining Mark in next months (equally great) theme, but that you’ll spread the word and encourage others to do so too. Thanks again and happy blogging!

Hope for all our US readers you had a lovely, stuffing Turkey Day and didn’t spawn too many family brawls. For everyone else, happy weekend. Welcome to This Week In Video Game Blogging!

Bioshock and Beyond Earth

Bioshock is back in the critical eye. Anthony Burch at his blog No Wrong Way to Play decides to see what the consequences of the little sister decision is by never using any of the Adam earned from making a moral choice and finds the game lacking in its response. Meanwhile, Rick Stanton at Rock Paper Shotgun looks at the legacy of Looking Glass Studios in regards to the Bioshock series.

On the other half of the header, Katherine Cross writing for Polygon finds that Beyond Earth can’t top Alpha Centauri. Peter Christiansen writing for Play the Past, focuses on the Beyond Earth‘s tech trees and notes that while in many ways it is no different than Civilization’s determinism approach to technology, in others it matches with recent historical understands of Actor Network Theory. And Errant Signal’s Campster feels the game has a bit of an identity issues between Civilization and Alpha Centauri‘s different styles and themes.

AAA Themes

Jamie Patton finds the Assassin’s Creed series through III to fail by creating an everlasting present of anti-colonialism values that devalues actual history and our ability to change for the better.

Romance author Ruby Duvall takes and does not take issue with a Dragon Age: Inquisition side quest dealing with a character liking a romance serial and the serial’s inclusion as part of the greater world of Dragon Age. Looking at Bioware’s other major property, Dara Khan at Videogameheart thinks through the theme of transhumanism being presented in Mass Effect‘s final choice and finds it doesn’t mesh with what the rest of the series has been about.

At TransGamer Thoughts, Heather Alexandra explores at one of the most underlooked games of the past few years, Binary Domain, and how it deals with AI and what it means to be human.

Meanwhile, George Mylonas looks to a more recent game, Alien: Isolation, and how it functions through the research done about the horror genre.

Interactive Fiction

You may remember a few weeks ago we posted a piece on Alter Ego by The Digital Antiquarian. His wife, Dorte, has written a follow up from the point of view of a woman playing the game as a woman. Later that week, he focused on what looks like the final game in his “digital book” series, 1987’s Portal. It doesn’t look like something that would be out of place in the modern day’s more avante guarde Interactive Fiction scene.

Javy Denton muses on driving alone at night and how Glitchhikers nails the need to talk to someone in the wee hours, even if it’s just other parts of yourself.

The Feel of the Game

At The Butter, Brian Oliu talks about the feel of being the superstar that NBA Jam evokes. It’s not about winning or losing, but putting on the most amazing basketball show possible.

In The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, one starts off with a normalish looking body and by the end has transformed into a monstrous blob of flesh. At PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams explains how it is a statement of freedom in a way, “free from established rules and stricture, free to continue to grow into something other than what others desire it to be.”

In his review of Never Alone, Daniel Starkey comments on how happy he is, as an American Indian, that any tribe would get a game made in conjunction with them to valorize their history and beliefs as “an interactive piece of folklore.”

And Cara Ellison, in her NSFW column at Rock Paper Shotgun, chats and laughs with some real world lesbians about the hilarious failures of Girlvania, an ‘All-Girl Sex Simulation’.

Design

Our own Zach Alexander goes back to a notable title in the mobile battle monster game genre, Puzzles and Dragons, and digs into its exploitative practices against the genre uninformed, likening much of it to capsule machines.

The Extra Credits crew praises the Dark Souls series for its approach to scalable difficulty.

Criticism on Criticism

Nick Capozzoli comes back to his own blog, to unpack the recent statements about opinion and objectivity of Youtuber Total Biscuit. How, when boiled down, the complaints always seem to be, “Why Wasn’t a White Guy Consulted?

Brendan Keogh decides to return the favor to Darius Kazemi and review his book on Jagged Alliance like Kazemi did to his book two years ago. In it, Brendan continues the conversation about approach towards long form criticism.

Melody of Melody Meows About… talks about the need to defend oneself from the purposefully compulsive nature of many of today’s video games. They are designed not just to be enjoyed, but all consuming to the detriment of everything else.

Wrapup

Remember, we are always accepting suggestions for our weekly roundups. Just submit them via our email or @ message them to us on twitter.

If you’re quick you can submit a piece for November’s Blogs of the Round Table.

If you can, please support us and the good work we do here at Critical-Distance through our Pateron. If you can’t afford it, but want to help, signal boost our efforts.

Thank you and have a lovely week. I’ll be subsuming myself into the end of year curation mines.

Hello everyone! Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging! Let’s get started.

Profiles

In The New Yorker, Ben McGrath writes a profile of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, professional Starcraft II player and “the most accomplished woman in the young history of electronic sports.”

Some exciting happenings: our own Mark Filipowich is heading a series at Good Games Writing to highlight women writers, scholars, journalists, and critics in gaming. There are already three profiles posted, on Alice Kojiro, Becky Chambers, and Rachel Kowert. Make sure to take a look at their fantastic work!

Ikea Materia

Chris Cesarano revisits Final Fantasy VII, reflecting on the game’s characters, plot, and his personal history with it.

And speaking for PBS, Kill Screen’s Jamin Warren discusses the game design paradigms inherent in IKEA’s store layouts. (This is a topic Dan Golding latched onto in 2009 as well.)

Pop Goes the Media

At PopMatters, Jorge Albor writes on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s failure to meaningfully and consistently explore its themes, and Nick Dinicola defends Alien: Isolation‘s inconsistent cat-and-mouse systems.

Design Notes

In Gamasutra’s blog section, Josh Bycer examines two styles of stealth game design, what he calls “Active and Reactive” designs.

At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Cara Ellison has another segment of her S.EXE column, where she looks at Girlvania and its subversions of the “sex simulator.” The Go Make Me a Sandwich blog has a piece asking why sex in videogames is so dull and unsatisfying.

And at Videodame, Ludeshka reflects on her childhood playing early PS1 and Genesis games.

We Are Videogaming

Simon Parkin looks back on the year-old Grand Theft Auto V and the various perspectives players bring into the game.

And Lastly,

At Paste, Javy Gwaltney uncovers Advanced Warfare’s surprising portrayals of disability in character and action.

Regular Business

Some final notes: remember that you can submit an article to us by email or on Twitter.

There is a little time left to get involved in this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Home Sweet Home.”

And if you’d like to support the work that we do here, you can help us continue our curating work at our Patreon. We’re scraping $2,000, which is just enough for Senior Curator Kris to do this full time. So help us out!

But that’s it for this week. Happy reading, and take care.