July 26th

July 26th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 26th)

Ah, July’s all but over. It seems like just yesterday my neighbors were popping firecrackers on our drought-parched lawns… no, wait, they’re still going, nevermind.

Anyway. My neighbors’ dubious fire safety standards aside, let’s get right to it with a brand, sparkling new This Week in Videogame Blogging!

At the Crossroads

The good folks at Medievalists have shared coverage of a recent conference talk by University of Leeds PhD candidate Victoria Leeds, concerning the overlap between the medieval/quasi-medieval imagery of games like Skyrim and their embrace by white nationalists.

Meanwhile, History Respawned co-host John Harney speaks with Boston University’s Dr. Renata Keller on Tropico 5 (video) and the backdrop of US, Cuban and Caribbean politics which inform the game. And in painting a portrait of Middle-Eastern gamers enamored with American military shooters, Offworld’s Maxwell Neely-Cohen muses on the gulf between real war and its refactoring as entertainment:

It’s a strange contradiction. Militaries, governments, and armed groups recognize the power of the medium, and throw money into it, when the very medium could be limiting their ability to mobilize force and attract willing participants.

‘Keep Your Politics Out of My Games’

At Kill Screen, Matt Margini offers up an enjoyable scathing review of prepackaged nostalgia blockbuster Pixels, criticizing its regressive sexual politics and male nerd aggrandizement:

This is not a movie that builds up to the revelation that these slob-nerds who ruled the ‘cade in 1982 — Sandler, James, plus Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage — ought to rule the world in 2015. Let me reiterate: Kevin James is already President. There is no persecution. There is almost no opposition from the camp of “traditional masculinity,” save some disgruntled barks […] Almost the entire movie is a seamless, uninterrupted handjob for the small group of chubby (sic) white men whose skillset is demanded by the aliens. Everything revolves around them, everything confirms their worldview, and everything rewards them.

A short-but-sweet piece, in Gamasutra’s Member Blogs Nicholas Lovell points out how a particular mechanic in Fallout Shelter reinforces cultural attitudes about women in combat. Likewise, Kotaku UK’s Nathan Ditum notes certain continuities between EA developer remarks on the inclusion of women players in FIFA 16 and systemic sexist attitudes:

EA has clearly taken pains not just to include women’s football, but to do it well. There is a sense both in Channon’s fraught rhetoric (“If we don’t get it right…”) and in the predictable hostility triggered by the announcement trailer itself that extra scrutiny will be applied to the women’s game in FIFA 16. It can’t just be there, it has to be beyond obvious reproach. The standard, in other words, is higher for women than for men — men belong in this world, and women are new, optional arrivals.

(Content Warning: both of the above articles include some cisnormative language.)

Design Notes

At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan looks to Her Story and another recent independent title, Lifeline, for the personal relationships they build with their players. Meanwhile, at Paste, Mark R. Johnson has elected to mark the 35th anniversary of Rogue with a lucid explanation of the roguelike genre and its modern descendants.

Here’s a three-hit combo from Gamasutra’s developer blogs, the first from game composer Winifred Phillips who wonders if it can really be argued that all players are musicians — and points to a few titles where they at least come close. With an eye to gameplay, Matthew Jenkin asks his fellow developers if, in seeking to address a ‘bad’ player behavior (like save scumming or “turtling”), they aren’t in fact creating a worse problem. And lastly, Deus Ex designer and amiable uncle-type Warren Spector has made his Gamasutra Expert Blog debut with a friendly ramble on why Telltale’s games may not meet his definition of “game,” but they’re no less magic.

There’s a China Doll in the Bullpen

Developer Richard Rouse III argues that both game developers and games journalists fetishize the practice of crunch, to dangerous effect:

In the worst cases our tendency to fetishize and brag about overwork allows teams to be exploited by predatory management practices, like unscoped feature creep or substantial changes in direction without adding time or budget to the project. Obviously overwork to make up for bad planning should (and often is) seen as a failure. But that overwork is partly made possible by our industry’s acceptance of overtime as “what it takes.” […] Once you start thinking that way, people will take advantage of it.

At The New Inquiry, Bea Malsky looks to how casual games such as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Diner Dash teach the player to view often-invisible “women’s work” as real labor under capitalism:

When Silvia Federici wrote Wages against Housework, she wasn’t calling for hourly wages for housewives as an end in itself, and this is key — she wanted recognition of housework as labor specifically to bring it into the realm of things that can be refused and revolted against. To radically reorganize affection, love, and care in the labor market is no simple task, and Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood certainly offer no solutions. What they do offer is a first suggestion, incredible in its existence on a mass-market scale: to make affective labor count, to think critically about our fraught relationships with our work, and to playfully reimagine what might be.

And back on Gamasutra’s blogs, industry veteran Robert Fearon warns against the frequent revisionist history implicit in “doom-mongering” about an imminent industry crash:

The history of selling videogames is a history ignored, it’s a story written in the now by those successful in selling videogames.

We’re screwed, sure. That’s not because selling videogames in 2015 is screwed it’s because selling anything in any year is screwed and really hard. Rising above that is hard and always will be because the landscape is always shifting.

The Hashtag That Shall Not Be Named

Ian Danskin — who previously released this well-traveled video on the cult of ‘hatedom’ around developer Phil Fish — has released a new, six-part video series attempting to pin down some of the interleaving cultural forces boiling beneath the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian and many other women and people of color (Content Warning: some ableist commentary in part 3, as well as discussion of sexist and racist harassment and slurs).

An Arkham Knight to Remember

At As Houses, Leigh Harrison laments a recent patch for The Witcher 3, small as it may appear, which undercuts some of the game’s important motifs.

In a similar vein, Giant Bomb’s Austin Walker despairs the depopulated city streets of Batman: Arkham Knight, arguing that the urban throngs of these superhero narratives are central to their themes:

[S]uperheroes symbolically fill the gaps that we fear that our infrastructure, no matter how well designed and managed, cannot. They save us from burning buildings, they protect our museums, they pull us from floods, they prevent the power plant from exploding, they stop ricocheting bullets from killing innocents, they help troubled kids to get out of shitty life situations. Superheroes sometimes even emerge directly from these anxieties — from the violence or infrastructural failure. […] [T]his is why I want to see Gotham alive with people and culture and museums and parties and schools and celebrations and life. Because superhero stories make the most sense to me when the promises of their cities are made clear. The promise is vital, and [developer] Rocksteady’s Gotham promises nothing.

PopMatters Moving Pixels’ Jorge Albor echoes the sentiment, contending that without an active Gotham City, its drama seems unmoored:

Gotham is burning [in] Arkham Knight, but what kindles its fires? Batman protects “Gotham’s money” from Two-face and his gang, but from where does that money flow? The Penguin smuggles in guns, but to what end? Chinatown is a major landmark, but a city devoid of citizens is a city without its defining racial politics. Bruce Wayne warns Poison Ivy that without her help, every plant in the city will die, but where are Gotham’s parks? […] What is Gotham city? It is a simplified movie set and I am a tired actor.

Tune in Next Time, Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel…

Readers, want to know a (badly kept) secret? These roundups are at their best when we receive submissions and recommendations from you! If you’ve written, vlogged, or podcasted something interesting, or have come across something in that vein you think would fit on these pages, drop us a line by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

There is still a little time left to submit to July’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Pure Fun,” and our This Month in Let’s Plays feature too!

Oh! And remember: August 1st is the deadline to submit your pitches for Critical Compilations and Spotlights. That’s this Saturday!

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership. If you enjoy these features and want to support more like them, please consider pledging to our Patreon!

July 19th

July 19th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 19th)

Readers, how has your week been treating you? Because I watched all of Steven Universe, and now, I am full of emotions.

Enough about me, though. Let’s get this fusion dance started, combining your gem and mine to form This Week in Videogame Blogging!

The Great Balloon Fight in the Sky

The past week saw the untimely passing of Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata, a celebrated game developer as well as an industry leader. It would be impossible to collect all the various written, visual and auditory tributes that have emerged in response to this news, but here are a few highlights you shouldn’t miss.

First, Gamasutra wisely took the opportunity to repost the video from Iwata’s frequently-quoted “Heart of a Gamer” speech, delivered as a keynote at the 2005 Game Developers Conference. Additionally, Gamasutra’s Christian Nutt took an extended dive through past interviews and articles on the man, coming away with an enriched understanding of Iwata’s personal and professional philosophy.

Iwata’s long-time friend and Earthbound developer Shigesato Itoi also posted an emotional eulogy noting his passing, an unofficial translation of which you can find here provided by Yomuka’s Lindsay. And lastly (but certainly not least), Videodame’s Sara Clemens rounds up various fanart and animated tributes commemorating Iwata and his work. Bring tissues.

Light Fades

On her personal blog, games critic cum history professor Maggie Greene shares a eulogy of another sort — that for the ephemeral pieces of games writing that have been irretrievably lost, including some of personal significance. “There is no JSTOR of old games writing,” notes. And maybe there should be.

‘My Medium is Light’

Buck up — we’ve got plenty more to read through yet this Sunday, and much of it is optimistic. At Kill Screen, Tim Mulkerin draws parallels between videogames and photography’s struggle for legitimacy within the art world, concluding:

Rather than blast games for attempting to emulate film, we should realize that the imitation of an established medium, regardless of the perceived success with which this is done, is a vital step for any new medium to take as it carves its own space and earns the respect it deserves.

Or, in short: growing pains. Likewise, in a continuation on his series of essays for Videogame Tourism on in-game photography, Eron Rauch also looks to precedents laid out in the art world:

To understand that virtual photography is used in so many different ways by so many different people is important because it ties directly into the entire history of photography. After all, the history of photography is primarily a story of exceptions, mutants, technological quirks, mistakes, and hybrids. 100 years ago most people, museums, and artists didn’t even consider any photography art. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the first commercial galleries showing photography started up, and even then color photography was considered anything but valid! The various tensions around virtual and screenshot imagery […] seems like just one more step along the road of photography’s fraught story.

That Ever-Important Choice

While echoing an older article on the subject, PC Gamer’s Jody Macgregor argues that, rather than presenting big narrative choices, Telltale’s games can be seen as responding to and in some cases inverting the themes of their source properties (with a quick caution for spoilers):

The comic book The Walking Dead is based on is overt about its theme. At the end of issue 24 Rick Grimes delivers a speech making it very plain, saying “we already are savages” and then, shouting over a two-page spread, “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD.” It’s classic Man Is The Real Monster stuff, fitting for a grim series where survivors betray each other constantly. Telltale’s game gives you the option of choosing a different interpretation. Lee doesn’t have to become hardened by being forced to make hard decisions; he can maintain his belief in human nature and then pass that on to Clem. He dies no matter what, but whether he dies with words of warning or compassion on his lips — whether this is a story about hope or fear — is up to you.

At his development blog, designer and educator Robert Yang takes a close look at Klei’s Invisible Inc. and how the game diverges from other offerings of the stealth genre:

In a way, Invisible Inc. is one of the few video games about global warming. Here, failure is not a state, because that would be too easy. Instead, failure is the slow glacial process of watching your loved ones drown. You can always lose more. Unlike every other stealth game, slow and patient observation usually means slowly suffocating death here.

The Grab Bag

You know I try to organize these as neatly as possible, but well — sometimes pieces are each so uniquely marvelous they can only stand beside other marvelous pieces.

Take Gita Jackson’s latest column at Paste, in which she discusses how the costuming of Dishonored acts subtly as a form of worldbuilding. Elsewhere, Rebekah Valentine and Michael “Sparky” Clarkson have concluded a six-part letter series on GameCube RPG Baten Kaitos. And on Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, Dave Voyles has been blogging his progress in ripping SegaCD classic Night Trap to play in HTML5.

Also on Gamasutra, Wai Yen Tang shares the results to a follow-up of a 2013 study on reactions to feminine voices in online first-person shooter matches. Take the evolutionary psych stuff with a huge grain of salt and go straight down to the numbers instead.

Lastly and certainly not related to any of the above, hey, there’s a Stephen Colbert Twine game now. It’s amazing.

That’s a Wrap

Thanks for reading! As always, we appreciate your recommendations by email and Twitter mention — so please keep sending them in!

There is still time to get involved in July’s Blogs of the Round Table theme, “Pure Fun.” And if you’re of a critical Let’s Playing mind, be sure to submit something to our This Month in Let’s Plays roundup!

We’re still accepting pitches for features as well! Your deadline is August 1st, so please send those in soon!

Critical Distance is funded completely by its readership. If you enjoy features like these and want to help us continue to grow, consider pledging to our Patreon!

Episode 28 – Uninterviewable

July 15th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off on Episode 28 – Uninterviewable)

Continuing our themed series on videogame critical publications, this month we turn our lonely eyes toward Unwinnable, which last year launched a weekly e-zine component. Editor-in-chief Stu Horvath was gracious enough to join me to talk about Unwinnable, Unwinnable Weekly and all the other Un-labled projects that he grants a platform to.

Direct Download



Unwinnable Weekly

Unwinnable Weekly Special Summer Fun Issue



Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

July 12th

July 12th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 12th)

Another short one for you this week, folks. But I promise you that every one of these is a prime cut. Let’s dive right in: it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Too Hard to Animate

(Content Warning: the articles in this section discuss topics including mental illness, homophobia and suicide.)

At Link Saves Zelda, Kelly Flatley expresses disappointment with recent developer comments on the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider, which has seemingly shied away from depicting its protagonist’s PTSD:

My point here is that this development team had the groundwork laid out for them from a previous game, a comic series and a novel to make Lara Croft a character that brings to light the fact that we can suffer from these disorders yet still come out on top, still be powerful, humanistic characters with depth and agency. […] Ignoring that Lara Croft suffers from such a condition in Rise of the Tomb Raider is something that I think is only being done due to a reluctance to tackle such a delicate issue.

Switching gears to representations of sexuality, the recent revelation that the latest installment of the Fire Emblem roleplaying games includes what has been called magical gay conversion therapy has inspired heated discussion. And while there are some debates about the accuracy of the translations being referenced, what is more at issue here is how members of the press have talked about the game and its alleged context as a Japanese cultural product. From games scholar Todd Harper:

So we should back off from aggressive critique of something, because [it’s from] Japan? No. If they’re gonna sell this in the US, it’s an issue, and frankly discussing it now, while the game is still being localized for its 2016 release, is the time to bring it up. Localization is the time when this stuff could change for US audiences, when Nintendo could be truly global in scope and recognize that the morality of their audiences abroad might not be the same, and might require a different approach. I say this because if the situation were reversed, there’d be every expectation that a US content creator would change their content for the global market. Why is Japan immune somehow?

It should be noted (as Harper does elsewhere in his piece) that US exported games do indeed often tailor their content for international audiences, so what is being proposed here is in no way unreasonable — at least, no more unreasonable than the localization hoops countless games go through already.

Meanwhile, developer Damion Schubert responds to the assertion that criticizing this aspect of the game boils down to imposing a Western set of values:

The problem isn’t that this feature mirrors Western Conversion Therapy. It’s that Western Conversion Therapy has shown us how wretched and abusive the idea [is] that gay is something that is broken, and needs to be fixed. This is a dangerous idea that feeds directly into the epidemic of suicide that plagues LGBT youth. […] [I]t behooves game developers who actually claim to give a shit about the issue to be much more careful about the stories they tell.

Keeping the lens on Nintendo, in the latest issue of Memory Insufficient Ness Io Kain highlights how seemingly innocuous reinforcement of gendered norms in Nintendo games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf can actually replicate the day-to-day microaggressions Kain experiences:

Ordinarily, creating an avatar and dressing it as you wish is a pretty cool aspect of video games for transgender people. You say you’re a woman or a man and the game treats you accordingly with no qualms or qualifications. Many trans authors like Katherine Cross and Jessica Janiuk have written extensively about how powerful video games have been in helping them become comfortable with their genders. However, the eerie similarity of the comments Animal Crossing characters make about gender to real-life daily dismissals of trans identities cheapens this. These comments force the idea that gender is a rigidly structured concept, and this is harmful for all kinds of people, especially people who, like me, don’t necessarily identify as one binary gender or another.

We already feel like the world wasn’t built for us. Video games offer the promise of a world that is built for you, no matter who you are, and Animal Crossing puts special emphasis on this. But it fails to deliver on that promise.

(End content warning section.)

Truth to Power

(Content Warning: the articles in this section deal with sexism, abuse and harassment.)

Let’s shift gears here to talking about how some recent games have resonated positively with players. At Go Make Me A Sandwich, wundergeek looks to how Dontnod’s Life is Strange handles sexist power dynamics and bullying:

[Life is Strange] portrays sexism as a reality of navigating the world as a woman without ever shying away from the terrible emotional damage that that reality creates. […] Max, as the protagonist, finds herself the lone woman in an office full of powerful men who are demanding that she tell the truth about what happened, while also clearly conveying the subtext that doing so is clearly against Max’s own best interests. Which is some powerful shit, right there.

Elsewhere, foremost interactive fiction author Emily Short shares some extended ruminations on Her Story, some of it about the game’s roots in Gothic literature, but chiefly about how its themes of duality and self-presentation is personally meaningful to her as a developer and academic:

So what truth did I see in all this? I think: the social mutability of self, which is something that everyone inevitably experiences. It has been especially present in my life the past few years. I travel more and have increasingly non-overlapping social circles […] [I]t’s really really hard not to feel like there’s some way that I am different. As though I turn into someone else in the moment that I’m recognized, and both the before and the after person are uncomfortable and not me.

(End content warning section.)

Constructing Narrative

At Virtual Narrative, Justin Keever performs a heady analysis of Desert Golfing, concluding it’s more conventional than it at first appears.

Meanwhile, at Kill Screen, Hieu Chau takes a look at the videogames that have been made based on pro wrestling and contends that most of them have missed the point:

Professional wrestling isn’t about showing who the stronger competitor is. Fundamentally speaking, it’s about putting on a good show for an audience through a wrestler’s specific skill set [and to] document drama, put on a spectacle for the audience and develop a character within the ring.

[…] What makes other sports simulators work is that, like the actual sport they are based on, results aren’t pre-determined in order to progress stories or characters, and the major moments within a match — the ones that get an audience really fired up — aren’t planned in advance in order to get spectators to react the way they want. […] Wrestlers, on the other hand, absolutely need to engage with the audience, because it feeds into their characters and into their overall psychologies.

Lastly, Oxford Magazine — a publication oriented around the American South — has a great feature on Pac-Man world champion (and King of Kong ‘heel’) Billy Mitchell. David Ramsey’s accessible writing is a fantastic illustration of just how relevant non-games-specific publications are to talking about games. For example:

The game’s four ghosts, charged with tracking down and “killing” Ms. Pac-Man, are hopelessly overmatched. Mitchell taunts and teases his pursuers, leading them into harmless circles, grouping them together and pulling them apart with such exact command that it almost seems that some flaw in the wiring has given his joystick direct control of the bad guys.

Golfing legend Bobby Jones famously said of the young Jack Nicklaus, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” Ms. Pac-Man is my favorite video game. I am a well-above-average player, I have at certain times in my life obsessively devoted so many hours to it that I played out scenarios in my sleep, and I have observed hundreds of people play the game. I have never seen anyone play like this.

“See?” Mitchell says, fluidly guiding Ms. Pac-Man through the maze. “Absolute control. I’ve eliminated the mad (sic), scattering chase. That’s probably how they intended the game to be played, running around out of control. But that’s not how I play.”

Can’t Stop the Signal

I leave you with a bit of signal boosting for this great project in need of your support, brought to you by the folks at Not Your Mama’s Gamer. Samantha Blackmon and her crew are gearing up to produce a video series on race and representation in games — a vastly underserved subject and one that the NYMG’s crew is well qualified to tackle.

Footer Business

Thank you once again for reading! As always, we welcome your recommendations by email or by mentioning us on Twitter.

Did you know we’ve opened a call for feature pitches? We’ve opened a call for feature pitches! If you’ve enjoyed our past Critical Compilations and Spotlights, this is an excellent opportunity to lend your own curatorial hand and share something you’re passionate about.

Also: we’re compiling a new list of games-related and -adjacent publications which welcome unsolicited queries. If you help run such a site, get in touch with us so we can add you!

The July Blogs of the Round Table is still taking your submissions as well, and don’t forget to send any interesting critical Let’s Plays our way for our This Month in Let’s Plays roundups!

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Call for Feature Pitches

July 7th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in Announcement: - (Comments Off on Call for Feature Pitches)

Hey folks! After some delays, we’re excited to reopen our call for pitches for two of our popular recurring features: Spotlights and Critical Compilations!

Spotlights focus on particular writers, themes, or aspects of design, such as Hamish Todd’s guest feature on level design analysis. Critical Compilations are specific to particular titles and seek to cover the breadth of critical blogging, vlogging, podcasting, etc about their subject, such as Rollin Bishop’s compilation on Dragon Age II.

As a reminder, these are paid features, not volunteer submissions. Accepted pitches will be paid a flat rate upon publication and our feature spots are open to all writers, whether you’ve contributed to Critical Distance in the past or not. Those interested in pitching for one of these two formats are encouraged to submit their pitches by email.

The deadline for pitches is August 1st. All submissions will be reviewed by our senior curator and our advisory board, after which accepted authors will be contacted via email.

These features are made possible thanks to our generous Patreon supporters! If you want to help fund this and future features at Critical Distance, consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

July 5th

July 5th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 5th)

To those to whom it applies, I hope you had a festive patriotic celebration day filled with controlled explosives and various grilled meats. Now that another Sunday has come, let’s all settle into our national pride with another This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Binders Full of Stories

Sam Barlow’s Her Story is the subject of a number of pieces this week. Kimberley Wallace’s interview with the creator about the process of creating it for Game Informer seems like a good place to start.

Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus describes her own experience with the game’s many Layers of Identity and Meaning:

In any narrative experience touted as a detective game, players and potential players might make a few assumptions, the first being that they’ll be playing as a detective. Early on in Her Story, players who poke around the interface might discover this isn’t quite the case. Once that initial assumption was broken, I found myself questioning everything in the game, and I don’t just mean in terms of narrative. We’re supposed to question everything said in the interviews, I think, but very early on, I began to question things on wholly different levels.

Christian Donlan seems to agree, praising how the mystery story plays with its sequence of events:

[I]ts searchable, hypertextual jumbling of its own narrative feels unique and timely and eminently nickable. As does the fact that simply putting the story together is enough here: most of the play that takes place in Her Story happens in your own head as you reconstruct the events and try to interpret them.

Of course, praise for Her Story is not universal. Ed Smith argues that it follows detective fiction’s tradition of unrealistically romanticizing crime and criminals:

There is a crime being committed in Her Story, but it isn’t Hannah’s. It’s that of yet another crime fiction writer, conflating melodrama with found-footage, documentary, or any otherwise “real” aesthetic, and in doing so helping affirm the idea that society should lock up its criminals and throw away the key.

Give Peace a Chance

Rock, Paper, Shotgun writer Marsh Davis revisits Deus Ex: Human Revolutions to discuss how it and games in general promote an oxymoronic relationship to power (video), where the player both holds all the power but is framed as an oppressed person.

At Vorpal Bunny Ranch Dennis Farr seems to agree in his analysis of Marvel Heroes 2015. While Marvel has recently diversified its canon, games based on its universe still fail to accurately represent power dynamics:

Part of what seems to make the mutants, and the X-Men in particular, so appealing is their use of their powers and fighting a struggle that they always seem to surmount (not without casualties). This makes most games about them into a power fantasy, though the minority status is relegated to barks from enemies calling them less than human.

Writing for FemHype, Sheva believes that the constant use of violence stems from the association between violence and masculinity. The author argues that violent masculinity is at the core of how gamers define games:

Refusing to classify non-violent video games as video games is an act founded in masculine insecurity, and it not only discourages innovation in the medium, but also disqualifies innovative new games from inclusion in the medium.

Lastly, Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales implores that violence begets violence in writing that violent videogames and violent culture are a self-perpetuating spiral that developers and players are all too willing to ignore:

I’m sure there’s enough studies that disprove the correlation between violent games and violent behavior to allow us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we’re not responsible, that we have no idea, that “Wow isn’t this a weird coincidence? There’s violent games and there’s violent gamers and the two are completely unrelated. What are the odds?”

Learning to Let Go

In response to the news that Tale of Tales will be leaving games Gita Jackson compares the studio’s departure with her search for a new apartment in her column for Paste. Although failing to land the perfect outcome is disappointing, sometimes success just isn’t in the cards:

Sometimes continuing to fight when you’re bloodied and broken isn’t about tenacity, but about your own ego. If Tale of Tales had plunged themselves even deeper into debt despite the commercial failure of Sunset, well, what would they have done? How would that have benefitted them? How would that have benefitted us, the people who participate in the culture they hoped to influence?

Meanwhile, Omar Elaasar explains his frustration with fetishizing difficulty. According to Elaasar, too many gamers treat accessibility as a failure:

Fugitive is not the problem. Mega Man is not the problem. Rather the problem lives in our expectation that everyone can, and should, be able to push past these frustrations and continue.

Rethinking Design

Simon Parkin’s interview with long time developer Keiji Inafune for Eurogamer covers a gamut of how Japanese and western developers have historically treated game design. Inafune’s experience with both gives him valuable insight into the strengths and limitations of both.

Over at Gamasutra, Raph Koster explores the ways that players use “compulsion loops some might term addictive” to meet an unfulfilled need in their everyday lives. Koster explores some of the ways developers can use these loops to the benefit, not the exploitation of their players’ psychology.

Writing for her blog, Alternate Ending, Mattie Brice shares her notes and conclusions on a game jam based on creating drinking games:

I was fascinated with the less mechanistic reasons we drink, like for getting to know each other. Games like Never Have I Ever also let people get to know each other, typically with things we wouldn’t readily admit. And that’s an aspect of our culture that I wished to prod, that we often use alcohol in order to be vulnerable, to admit and share things, or to do risky behavior. What kinds of games could we make around that?

If You Look Really Closely What Do You See?

Heather Alexandra did not expect to find much more in Arkham Knight than a goofy action game, yet it caused her to reflect deeply on her fear of death:

Arkham Knight speaks to me in a way I’d never imagine. I thought it was infertile ground. A bit of AAA shlock for me to enjoy. Beating up bad guys, enjoying a sweeping plot, zipping about Gotham. Bam! Pow! Biff! But it isn’t. It reminds me of everything that I fear the most.

Back at FemHype, Ashe Samuels takes a retrospective look at Spyro the Dragon and lauds how perfectly it captured her childhood imagination:

Rather than telling, the games shows you while you play: just like being a kid, the world little Spyro is in is enormous, mysterious, gorgeous, and dangerous all at once. It’s an effective and relatable visual narration that runs through the veins of this deceptively simple game

Lastly, David Shimomura pens a piece on the body politics of the Metal Gear Solid series for Kill Screen.


Vice writer Corey Milne disagrees that there are too many games about the Second World War, rather Video Games Have Sapped the Spirit Out of World War II by focusing too much on a few events from only a few perspectives,

But it needn’t be so, as there are multitudes of stories that have never received any attention. The role of Indian troops has never really been covered. We’ve never had to survive the Dunkirk evacuation. China’s retaliation against the Japanese is ripe for exploration, or you could even take the bold step to present the war through Axis eyes.

Stephen Beirne, meanwhile, argues for more nuance from game critics when discussing prejudice and representation. In looking at Irish Travellers, an indigenous ethnicity in Ireland that faces a number of institutional prejudices. For Beirne, the discussion loses something lose something when focusing purely on American perspectives and as critics we need to appreciate the complexity of intergroup relations.

&c &c

Clayton Purdom pens this excellent piece for Kill Screen about Cats, The Internet, and You with special focus on Catlateral Damage.

At Curbed, an architecture magazine, Alexandra Lange speaks with Neil McFarlane, director of games for Monument Valley developer, UsTwo about the architectural inspirations of the game. The article analyses the game’s design from an architect’s perspective, offering a rarely represented view of games:

When McFarland talks about the user experience of the game—no secrets, no time limit, no alternate routes, and no reading—he could also be talking about the user experience we seek in IRL places like museums, where missed galleries, pushy crowds and unclear paths also disrupt your concentration and enjoyment.

Finally, Hua Hsu reviews the lasting impact videogames have had on popular music in an article for The New Yorker.

Signal’s Lit

We encourage interactive fiction writers to take a look at the submission guidelines for Sub-Q, a new IF publication.

Also, B.R. Yeager has written a book of poetry focusing on violence in popular culture like videogames.

That’s All Folks

Thanks for reading! These roundups, as always, are made possible by the suggestions of our readers throughout the week, by our email or our Twitter account. We encourage you to send something in

Still haven’t quenched that games crit thirst? Lucky for you our podcast wizard Eric Swain has recently posted another minisode featuring Paste writer Imran Khan for your enjoyment.

There’s also a whole month’s worth of Let’s Plays curated by the inimitable Lindsey Joyce.

You could also take a look at the June Blogs of the Round Table roundup where we explored the topic Pets. Or if you’re looking for inspiration for your own blog, take a look at July’s topic, Pure Fun.

Critical Distance is also completely reader-funded, so please consider supporting us with a monthly Patreon donation.

July 2015: “Pure Fun”

July 4th, 2015 | Posted by Lindsey Joyce in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on July 2015: “Pure Fun”)

Hello, my friends! I have missed you! With my PhD qualifying exams nearly over, I am clearing out my mental cobwebs and attempting to rejoin pleasant society. I want to take this moment to thank the entire Critical-Distance team for their support while I was preparing and testing. Special thanks to Mark Filipowich for being the sole caregiver to BoRT over the last few months.

Given how un-fun the exam process can be, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months daydreaming about fun and trying to remember what it felt like. Then, Nicholas Hanford, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Games Criticism, took to twitter to ask a great question about fun and its ability to exist purely. So without further ado, let me share his question with you and our theme for the month, ‘Pure Fun’:

Nicholas Hanford posed the question “Is fun meaningful? Is the creation of fun equal to the creation of meaning? Or does something always have to tag along with fun for meaning?” I think these questions resonate loudly, whether we consciously address them or not, in the discussion of videogames. What’s your take? Have you experienced pure fun while playing, or is fun tied to the meaning of the experience? Does a player bring fun to the game, or the reverse? Is it reciprocal? Is fun more accessible in some games than others, and if so, why? This month, I want to hear your thoughts on fun, meaning making, and where the two meet.

We’ll be taking your submissions till July 31st. You can see your 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=July15" frameborder="0"></iframe>
Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @thejoycean or @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Rules of the Round Table

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

June Roundup: ‘Pets’

July 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on June Roundup: ‘Pets’)

Welcome back friends far and wide. As I write this I’m struggling to pick at keys underneath the belly of a particularly snuggly cat which can only mean that it is time to round up June’s edition of Blogs of the Round Table where we asked you to discuss all things related to ‘Pets.’

Who is the pet you find sitting in front of your computer at the deciding moment of a boss fight, or who falls asleep on your lap after you find the airship? Conversely, tell us about the mount, summon creature, or animal familiar that sticks out in your mind. On the other hand, maybe games cheapen the process of domesticating or building trust with an animal. Heck, maybe characters in games shouldn’t domesticate animals at all. We want to know about the animal friends that inspired you to make a game or the reasons why you named your first pet after a game character. Tell us about the connection between games and pets.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alex Lance describes all the pets that have tugged on her heart strings in her gaming history, ranging from her dogs who rest on her lap or helpfully hop in her way during streams to some of the more memorable friends and sidekicks that have helped her avatars.

Leigh Harrison reports, as he usually does, from his blog at As Houses about Mr. Jibbers, his adorably named hamster. After describing his nightly routine with Mr. Jibbers, he describes the mechanics of Puzzles & Dragon, ultimately concluding that it and Skinner boxes like it treat him very much like he treats Mr. Jibbers:

[the game]’s not for me if I’m being honest, not even in a morbid curiosity way.
BUT I keep logging into it once a day, just to keep everything ticking over. I receive a little gold, and some points to use on another vender (vending machine to Southerners), one that gifts you tat to further upgrade your cards with. I’m probably never going to play it again, but just on the off chance I do, I want to be in the very best of positions to get back on the horse.

Taylor Hidalgo of The Thesaurus Rex fame describes the leisurely sunny days of Harvest Moon as symbolized by the game’s dog:

Although the arcane and often unspoken ending requirements are never really made clear, the ending cinematic is simply a part of the credits roll. The true strength of the game is in how it’s experienced. Whether that experience is done through the systematic growth of crops and livestock, or simply spent in the nearby village’s bar flirting with the waitress, Harvest Moon is a game about finding an experience that suits the player’s desires, and then investing time into that experience.

And the dog is the physical embodiment of time spent relaxing.

Mariel Hurd on her very cleverly named blog, Veni, Vidi, Velcro. describes the process of trying to breed the perfect mount in Age of Wonders 3, leaving every unwanted byproduct of her experimentation “in a custody battle that nobody wants to win.”

Lastly, I humbly submit my own writing on the anthropomorphic animal tribes in the Breath of Fire series as ever forced into the role of pet to a “more human” deity.

For those more tech savvy than myself, use this line of code to add June’s Round Table to your own blog:

<iframe type=”text/html” width=”600? height=”20? src=”http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=June15? frameborder=”0?></iframe>

All of our efforts here to preserve, promote and prescribe(?) games criticism is assisted by the awareness of you, our beloved readers. Those who’d like to see BoRT and our many other projects continue should look at our Patreon page and consider pledging a monthly donation to us.

As for me, my cat has had just about enough waiting for dinner, and while I’m always happy to be your Round Table guide, I’d like to extend a warm welcome back to Lindsey Joyce, who shall be taking over next month’s BoRT as she escapes from qualifying exam purgatory so keep an eye for July’s topic and happy blogging!

June 2015

July 1st, 2015 | Posted by Riley MacLeod in This Month in Let's Plays: - (Comments Off on June 2015)

Happy end of June, readers! Your regular correspondent, Lindsey Joyce, has handed me the reins this month while she takes her PhD qualifying exams. I have two Master’s degrees and no intention of getting more, which means I’m free to do my favorite thing: watch This Month in Let’s Plays!


If you’re anything like me, you turned on the E3 stream, heard a man in a T-shirt and suit jacket say the phrase “play the way you want,” and turned the whole stream off as fast as possible. Luckily, Matt Lees has summed it all up for you in his E3 2015 Abridged series.

Speaking of things that happened at E3, Not Your Mama’s Gamer took a look at one of the show’s more controversial new announcements, Cuphead, in light of the potentially problematic legacy of the 1930s cartoons it draws on (Content Warning: racist imagery in archival footage). They also looked at a game with a similar art style and pointed out where it drew on its source material responsibly.

Back to the Future

In contrast to the flurry of future hype drummed up by E3, many Let’s Players considered facets of older games this month. Cameron Kunzelman revisited middling 2011 shooter Homefront, exploring where the game went right, most notably in its unexpectedly emotional core and its careful characterization. The only thing I remember about Homefront is playing it in front of my dad and saying, “Well, it’s a videogame,” so I really enjoyed Cameron’s thoughtful take.

Going back in time quite a bit further, Matt Leslie analyzed Crash Bandicoot 2 through the lens of its surprising innovations in the early days of 3D games. He shows how Naughty Dog worked around technical and camera constraints to create a memorable character and challenging play.

Tommy Thompson from AI & Games explored the legacy of Super Mario Brothers, drawing on the evolution of its formula and the patterns behind its level design. He extends these patterns outward to show how the series iterates on its earliest design with each new addition. (Content Warning: mild gendered insult.)

Taking a longer look, Liz Ryerson continued her exploration of early first person shooters with her Wolfenstein 3D stream, which is archived for your YouTube enjoyment. Liz combines personal reflection with fascinating design insights and information about the history of the game, breathing new life into this perennial classic.

In another blast from the past, Heather Alexandra lends similar broad knowledge to her playthrough of Suikoden III, a PS2 RPG from 2002. In the same vein as Liz, she blends personal reflection with astute design critique, making fascinating watching. (Additionally, though not from this month, her YouTube channel includes an archive of her P.T. Twitch stream, which I watched through my fingers while marveling at her steely nerves.)

Lastly, Soha Kareem and Scott Benson have been archiving their ongoing Streamfriends stream of Vampire: The Masquerade— Bloodlines, and they make hilarious guides through this 2004 digitization of White Wolf’s pen and paper roleplaying game.

Heart of Dark Souls

No one gets tired of the Souls games, it seems. I’ve never played them, but I never get tired of watching other people play them. The fast-talking fellas from Extra Credits have been doing an insightful series through the first game, so if you, like me, have never gotten up the fortitude to play it, now you can cozy up to your computer, grab your controller, and pretend you’re playing along.

Josh Trevett continued his critical playthrough of the first Souls game, this time highlighting the way the level design reflects Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. This series brings a lot of useful insights to the game, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Marsh Davies of RPS took a look at where Dark Souls 2 less than shines in the latest installment in his “Fail Forward” series.

And though not specifically Souls-related, Stephen Beirne’s latest Two Minute Game Crit looked at weapon degradation, something that figures heavily into the Souls games.

Endings and Beginnings

You’ve probably heard the news of Tale of Tales closing its doors following the release of its final game, Sunset. In light of this, Chris Franklin of Errant Signal explored the game’s mechanics and what the story of its development says about the games marketplace.

Over at Gaming Looks Good, Shareef Jackson played through part of Sunset alongside the game’s voice over artist, Tina Marie Murray. Together they discuss how the game explores diversity and politics through its presentation and gameplay.

In new beginnings, Bob of History Respawned interviewed Ishmael Hope, the lead writer of Never Alone, a platformer by Upper One Games, the first game studio run by Native people. They talk about storytelling, game design, and the future of games highlighting often marginalized cultures and people. While Tale of Tales’ departure is a loss for gaming, studios like Upper One hopefully represent a bright future for diversifying games.

See You Next Time

And that will about do it for This Month in Let’s Plays! If you, like me, love to watch Let’s Plays and Twitch streams, I’d encourage you to check out Tanya Depass’ “10 PoC Streamers You Should Be Following” list over at Paste, which is full of awesome people to get to know and watch. Tanya also curates a list of PoC streamers and Let’s Players that you can add yourself to via the article.

If you make or see a great Let’s Play in July, please let us know via Twitter using #LetsPlayCD or by sending us an email. We’d love to know what you’re watching and making!

Thanks for having me on board for this month’s roundup. If you like us and want to support what we do, remember that we’re reader-supported and consider making a monthly contribution here.

Minisode 04 – Wandering Around and Feeling

June 30th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in Critical Distance Confab: - (Comments Off on Minisode 04 – Wandering Around and Feeling)

Welcome to another minisode of the Critical Distance Confab.

Unlike our main podcast series, the minisodes are a chance for me and a guest co-host to highlight some games that have gotten virtually no criticism written about them. This is our chance to correct that. They can be anything from ich.io art games, prestige level indie games, all the way to AAA games that might have slipped between the cracks. Though generally they will skew a little smaller.

Joining me this time is freelance writer for Paste Magazine, Imran Khan.

Direct Download

Imran’s Picks

Petrichor by Sundae Month

Fallow by Rook

Rain, House, Eternity by Kitty Horrorshow

Eric’s Picks

EDDA by Diane Mueller

Small Worlds by David Shute

The Graveyard by Tale of Tales

Opening Theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy