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AND WE ARE BACK! After a long hiatus the CDC Podcast has returned with a force–music and an icon. This week we talk about under privileged voices in games, specifically women in games, where all your questions will be answered and the issue will finally be put to “rest.” Of course I am joking but please come continue the discussion in IRC. We have moved to the irc.quakenet.org server, the room as always is #GBConfab. For those wondering why this hasn’t been updated on iTunes yet, we changed hosts for the podcast and the RSS is still in the process of updating.

CAST:

Alex Raymond: Iris Network
Olivia Luna: Cerise Magazine
Regina Buenaobra: Acid for Blood
Simon Ferrari: Chunking Espresso

SHOW NOTES:
Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
Brainy Gamer – OMG, Girls in Trouble
DoveArrow’s Blog – Oh Goddess, My Goddess
Tracy John of Mtv Mutiplayer
Gender Swapping and Socializing in Cyberspace: An Exploratory Study
Women in Games: The Gamasutra 20

Get it via: Direct Download, RSS, iTunes

I have seen the future, and it is eye beamsLet’s play a game – it’s called ‘catch-up on the must read things I missed from last week’. First up, Simon Parkin talks about the Develop 2009 conference, bringing this juicy bit of info back home to share with us:

I learned a few things I didn’t know before, such as the revelation that Half-Life 2’s artists wrote three supporting pieces of fiction for every location on the game, one describing what happened there two days ago, one two weeks ago and another two years in the past. “This historical record (which ran longer than the entire story for the game) gave every location in the game a sense of place, history and verisimilitude,” said Viktor Antonov, the game’s art director, “something far more nuanced and rich than simply slapping some graffiti on a wall.”

Then he wrote up a longer piece about the talk on the relationship between real world architecture and game architecture.

The Reticule scored an excellent, in-depth interview with Javier Maldonado, creator of the ground breaking Masq. A blend of comic book visuals and responsive interactive storyline, Masq was the first game I’d played that actually used sex in a non-awkward, compelling manner. Here’s an excerpt in which he talks about

Javier: …if I can extrapolate from my experience with other games: at best the story is “decent” compared with linear media such as movies or TV, and the point of [mainstream] games is not really playing the story, but the story is a device to “dress up” the game. In Masq the story IS the game.

So, that’s last week covered – now we can get into This Week In Videogame Blogging.

David Wildgoose of Kotaku Australia talks about 10 Ways He Would Improve Oblivion. This is one of my favourite hypothetical games to play and it’s only because of the incredibly active modding community for Bethesda games that means lot of these random ideas can come to fruition.

The Blue Casket republishes a piece that ran in The Escapist earlier in the year but remains compelling in our contemporary situation – it’s called ‘Storytime with Agent 47‘ and it’s about the writing of game diaries by games writers/journalists/critics. It seems particularly relevant to me in light of all the thinking that’s going into game stories and player created vs. designer authored stories at the moment. The author wonders, “…is this a brave new world for writers who game? Or will it remain a geeky subculture for gamers who write?” That’s a very good question, and one I am personally more than a little interested in seeing the outcome.

If you caught last week’s TWIVGB, you may well have observed that GM Backlash’s tales from the early days of Ultima Online were one of the must-read pieces of the week. To the delight of his fans, Backlash is back again this week with ‘Further tales of an omnipotent public servant’.

Ellie Gibson at Eurogamer does what I suggest will become this year’s only must-read interview, with Mark Rein, head of Epic Games. It reminded me of something written by the writers responsible for Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. If you’re unfamiliar with the cartoon, the premise is that a standard interview is conducted with a celebrity in which they are asked a series of questions which, as the show is being put together, get  intercut with entirely different questions asked by the host, Space Ghost. It’s probably better to see it in action than try and explain it  so here’s my favourite; a star-studded episode featuring singers Bjork and Thom Yorke, the former of whom is already pretty big on the non sequiturs. Space Ghost somehow manages to make it even weirder.

I’m beginning to wonder if the term “enthusiast press” is a bit of a misnomer. Perhaps it should be called the “bulimic press” because it’s forever vomiting up the things it’s IV-drip fed by Public Relations stooges. Mitch Krpata does another ‘let’s present what they’re actually saying devoid of its hyperbolic context‘ in order to demonstrate just how meaningless the things it’s saying really are.

The Brainy Gamer hosts a fantastic interview with the game designers Clint Hocking, Manveer “both amazing and humble” Heir and Borut Pfeifer. A podcast not to miss.

And lastly for the week, here is a great little vignette from Julian ‘rabbit’ Murdoch at Gamers with Jobs, wherein his daughter comes up with the idea for the best selling PC game of all time, entirely unprompted. It’s also impossibly adorable.

backlashIn the week to 19th July 2009 AD, what were the best pieces of videogames blogging that I stumbled across? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Gregory Weir wrote this week about the aesthetic choices in working with pixel art and going lo-fi. It’s written in response to a commenter’s criticism of the art style of How to Raise a Dragon and their assumption that Weir chooses a pixel art aesthetic just to avoid having to develop lots of art assets. Not so, says Weir.

The After Action Report aggregator and hosting site ‘Blue Casket’ discusses how to write better personal experiences with games in the post ‘Thoughts: Better Meta‘:

So, what is the deal with gaming diaries, anyway? They’re all… too long and not that good. It’s fun to watch other people play games, isn’t it? Some games anyway. I have fond memories of trudging over to my friend’s house on a Saturday afternoon to watch him beat half of Devil May Cry on the PlayStation2, and spectator gaming has got it all – backseat puzzle-solving, shared moments of swearing at the screen, and of course the knowledge that if it all goes to shit then, hey, you didn’t do it…The problem with reading about someone playing a game is that it’s not as immediately gratifying.

When it comes to telling awesome stories based on gameplay, it’s hard to go past the stories generated by MMO’s and the online interaction of real human beings. Destructoid ran a piece this week written by a former GM for Ultima Online in which he recounts a number of entertaining anecdotes of dealing with player transgressions.

A good way to cover these next two pieces is to link to LB Jeffries meta-editorialising about a few pieces from elsewhere. Looking at the ‘Games for Girls‘ piece at Wired, which examines what these games are purportedly teaching girls and whether they could actually be worse (or just more insidious) than the GTA et al.’s, as well as Tom Chick’s response which includes his perspective as the father of a young girl. Jeffries sums up both quite nicely.

Jim Rossignol at Rock Paper Shotgun wrote about Open World Games this week, talking about what works and what doesn’t in games like STALKER, Far Cry 2 and even Assassin’s Creed. He says,

One day I should like to see a game perform the incredible genre-splicing process required to marry up the elements that make various successful open worlds so strong. I should like that game to give me a direction, a purpose, without telling me exactly what I need to be doing. I should like it to ignore me, but nevertheless carry my mark when I choose make it. This imaginary game will, I hope, dump me on the midst of a strange place, perhaps with with a pyre of smoke on the horizon, and instruct me: “survive”.

I’d like that.

Which, I suspect obliquely inspired a conversation on twitter between CLINT HOCKING, Manveer “both humble and amazing” Heir, Soren Johnson, Harvey Smith, David Jaffe, Brenda Brathwaite and others, using the #gamedesign tag. A great visual record of the conversation can be found here courtesy of Mike Watson (known as in_orbit on twitter) from Telltale games.

Tom Chick (again) links to an interview with Jenova Chen (of Flower, flOw, etc) which contains some really interesting virtual sound-bytes on his unique approach to game design.

Chen’s comment highlights one of the reasons that the concept of “fun” is largely useless in the discussion of videogames, and even during the development process. Unlike so many people who write about and make videogames, he understands that “fun” is only a superficial layer, so gossamer thin and indeterminate as to be impossible to capture and nearly useless to discuss.

Kieron Gillen wrote an excellent discussion of the differences between game critics and music critics, this week. He talks about why he is most certainly the former and it’s my pick for must read of the week – managing to be both inspiring and elucidating at the same time;

And games are at the point where they desperately need critics. Without them, and people willing to throw away their lives doing this thinking for a laughable pittance, it’s entirely possible that dialogue around them will be forever stunted. If games are socially normalised before the argument that this shit matters has been won – as it was for pop music – it could be doomed to being considered mere product.

Matthew Kaplan weighs in on the Perma-Death discussion by critiquing Clint Hocking’s response to the experiment.

Duncan’s Fyfe’s 3rd Last post asks “Why write about games?” and features interviews / contributions from a number of prominent games writers and is well worth reading. He’s going to be missed when he’s gone – I hope it’s not going to be a case of not knowing what we have in him until he’s gone.

Imagine the enormity of the task: to take one of the most fondly-remembered role-playing games ever made, a game developed by another studio, and craft a sequel with vastly different gameplay, advancing the world design and graphics for a new era of gaming while recapturing the ineffable spirit of the beloved predecessor. If that doesn’t sound like a losing proposition to you, then you are either an idiot or a visionary, and the odds are on the former. We owe some gratitude, then, to the splendid idiots at Bethesda for creating Fallout 3, now perhaps the prime example of a great open-world RPG. This is not to say that the positive impression is unanimous – writers and reviewers have critiqued the repetitive design, the dodgy shooting, and the wooden and unappealing non-player characters. Yet, given the innate difficulty of what Bethesda Softworks set out to do, Fallout 3 stands as a great achievement. It is, after all, too much to ask of any work of art that it inspire everyone. Fallout 3 is not perfect, and even those that love it have found much to criticize. Nonetheless, many have found that the game seizes not just their attention, but their imagination.

A wasteland rich in story materials

Although built from a relatively limited palette, the world of Fallout 3 feels vast and even boundless. In “The world’s your oyster”, Iroquois Pliskin compares this game with Oblivion and indicates that the key to its appeal is its ability to keep showing you something you haven’t seen before. The limited repertoire of objects and textures is skillfully permuted to create environments that gently inspire players to develop their own stories about the world, as Denis Farr describes in “Seven for a secret never to be told”. For an example of such a story, check out this example from Steven O’Dell. This effect seems to be intended – the Wasteland of the game is not an accessory to the main quest, but a setting in which that quest is just one of several important stories that are unfolding. As Mitch Krpata puts it, the game’s world is “a massive canvas upon which are painted scenes of depth and import”.

The seeming richness (and safety) of the wasteland confused Justin Keverne initially, because it seemed out of place given the apocalyptic setting. He found it to be more vibrant and alive than the landscape of Far Cry 2. By contrast, Steven O’Dell felt that Fallout 3 kept a sense of danger intact throughout the game, even as the player grew more comfortable and confident in the wastes, through use of dangerous creatures like the Deathclaw. Keverne eventually came to the conclusion that the appearance of population and life was an illusion, that the clusters of houses that he had perceived as tiny villages were really just the last few vestiges of enormous sprawling suburbs. The desolation and emptiness of this world enhances the apparent importance of moral choices, as Allen Cook describes in “Hero of the Wastes”. When there are so few people, killing even one feels like genocide, and saving even one feels incredibly important.

Of course, the Washington D.C. setting of the game provides a touchstone for the development of personal narratives. Chris Person, whose once lived over the spot Vault 101 would be if it existed, found the game deeply affecting because of its connection to his childhood haunts. Michael Abbott, who only visited D.C., detailed a similar experience in “Second Thoughts”, in which he also ponders his meta-experience of the game. Bobby Schweizer relates the Metro segments of the Wasteland to his own experiences of those sites and the larger context of RPG and FPS spaces, likening Bethesda themselves to the unintelligible announcers on modern Metro trains.

This didn’t work out for everyone, though. In “The Mutant Behind the Curtain”, Thomas Cross explains that despite the richness of the world’s many distractions it just doesn’t connect emotionally for him. As Susan Arendt relates in “A Different Kind of Treasure”, she found that the design of the world interfered with her experience of the game, particularly in the respect that she didn’t get the kind of loot she was expecting.

Some writers felt that Fallout 3 actually constrained them from their desired character narrative. Jorge Albor describes in “Role Playing in the Wastes” that his experience of the game simply didn’t fit with the character that he had conceived. The mutual accommodation between character and DM typical of tabletop role-playing isn’t possible in the context of a computer RPG, which may mean that players must be more flexible in their approach to their roles. Krpata felt reasonably comfortable with his character concept, but found that Fallout‘s inflexibility occasionally boxed him out of the karmic path he desired to take. The route to a desired moral outcome was at times needlessly obscure.

The game also seemed to have little flexibility in dealing with gender options. Simon Ferrari, among others, thought that the game did not do a good job of supporting the choice to play a female character, although it featured several positive female NPCs. Bonnie Ruberg felt that the game’s dialogue took too little notice of the player’s choice to be female. As she points out, “Whether we like it or not, even our most basic communication changes depending whom we’re addressing,” but Fallout 3 has no such adaptation. The game’s heteronormative attitude (as expressed in perks like “Lady Killer”) and paucity of options for sexual expression also troubled Denis Farr.

What you don’t know…

Several authors have identified ignorance as a key way that Fallout 3 draws the player into the creation of a personal narrative. Spencer Greenwood argues in “Ignorance is Bliss” that the decision to supply the character with a minimum of information encourages exploration and experimentation in the context of the game world, in this as well as previous Fallout games. Similarly, Justin Keverne found that his immersion in the main quest was strongest at a point when the game stopped telling him exactly where to go. In “Wasteland Detective”, he asks if the game might be at its best when it lets the player get lost.

In “The Wasteland of Forking Paths”, Travis Megill points out that the presentation of the main quest encourages the player to explore. Although the central storyline involves a somewhat urgent attempt to save the world, the game hides this until the player is fairly far along in it. This disguise makes it more comfortable for the player to meander. The apparent lack of urgency and potential lack of structure in the main quest changes the way you approach the entire game. In “The Sisters”, Duncan Fyfe suggests that these aspects make Fallout 3 less like a novel and more like a themed collection of short stories, explicitly comparing the game to James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Mitch Krpata puts forward something of an opposing view in “How I learned to stop worrying and love Fallout. For him, the more obvious RPG aspects of the game, and his uncertainty about what exactly to do next, created something of an anxiety that he was playing the wrong way. For him, it was the fine details of the open world that finally got him relaxed enough to realize there was no wrong way. Borut Pfeifer touches on this feeling in “Your choice, and your fault”, pointing out that players who forge an emotional connection with the game world may feel paralyzed by the unpredictable outcomes of their choices (and the feeling that the developers are out to screw them over).

Denis Farr, writing in “Birth of a role” about the character creation portion of the game, expresses some relief that Fallout 3 avoided a particular kind of ignorance, namely the “amnesia” trope. One of Fallout 3‘s strengths, in his view, is that the player doesn’t have to ask who he is, but rather how he came to be who he is.

Immersion failure at the NPC interface

In contrast to the widely-praised open world, Fallout 3‘s NPCs have come in for some harsh criticism. Michael Abbott contributes the core of the critique in “Genius Jilted” and “People drive me crazy”, which also cover some criticism of Fable II. The realistic feel of the world, for him, is entirely at odds with the behavior of NPCs who basically function as “human-esque information kiosks”. He calls out the sometimes poorly-written dialogue and the wooden facial animations as sources of his problem. Thomas Cross expresses similar sentiments in “The Mutant Behind the Curtain”, stating that the stilted interactions with NPCs are part of the way in which Fallout 3 flaunts its game-ness. Gamey behavior in the finale also troubled D. Riley, as he describes in “What about the oasis?” (for a similar take, see Ben’s RAAAAGE).

Duncan Fyfe, on the other hand, feels that most of the NPCs work well enough for what the game is trying to do with them. In “Friends like these”, he explains that the NPC interactions really start to break down once you bring the companions into the mix. Their failure to react to the discoveries that give the open world its emotional relevance highlights the fact that they are little more than walking gun turrets. Only Dogmeat, who we don’t expect to have emotions, is a convincing character. Mitch Krpata found that immersion broke because the scripting of the game led to the NPCs noticing at once too little and too much, making an example of the Lincoln Memorial quest. Similar encounters with psychic NPCs and restrictive response options left David Sahlin wondering if Bethesda could have done more than they did to anticipate alternative routes between narrative nodes. In “Prototyping Story” he wonders if an in-house interactive fiction system could have improved their preparations.

Beyond “good” and “evil”

The NPC writing didn’t just foul up the immersion, it also fiddled unpleasantly with the game’s approach to morality. In “Fun and loathing in Las Vegas Washington D.C.”, Ben Abraham identifies a tension between the portrayal of certain characters and the feel of the game. In his opinion, Mr. Burke comes across as a very cartoonish, moustache-twirling villain that is inappropriate in the context of the gritty, realistic game world. The game seems to make judgments about characters, sometimes without asking the real questions.

I express a similar complaint in “There’s nothing in it for you”, arguing that the game doesn’t provide the NPCs or the player with reasons to be evil beyond sheer insanity. In particular, the relative abundance of supplies in the Wasteland seems to defeat the feeling of desperation that might make an attractive core for such a personal narrative. Shamus Young had similar problems with Mr. Burke’s quest, as he describes in “The Power of the Atom”, where he critiques the flimsy writing behind what may be Fallout 3‘s most affecting visual sequence. David Wildgoose, in contrast, found that the information he dug up on Megaton’s citizens from Moriarty’s computer, painting them as “sleazy losers”, helped him see Burke’s side of it. For me, the chief reason for evil comes not from any of the writing, but rather from the V.A.T.S. system. In “Power’s joy and sorrow” I opine that the system presents killing as an empowering pleasure, and in that way makes a case for war.

The case for selfless helpfulness, in my view is much stronger, but the narrative of the good character ends up “Falling apart at the end”. The conclusion of the main quest, in my view, suffers because of a weak antagonist and moral confusion. The middle road also becomes problematic, as Denis Farr found in his quest to play a neutral, judging character. The paucity of truly neutral options means that in Fallout 3, the only way to remain neutral is to avoid quests entirely or vacillate oddly between good and evil.

Justin Keverne critiques the game’s explicit karma system in “A measure of morality”. The fact that the karmic result of a particular action is made explicit is at odds with feeling of ignorance mentioned earlier. He also points out that almost everyone thinks of himself as a decent person, and that this slippery moral perspective is absent from the karma math. Malcolm Ryan, in his essay “On Moral Detachment” argues that explicit karma systems eliminate moral force by giving every choice a gameplay consequence. He actually felt more moved by an incidental moment in the game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, which he found otherwise forgettable. Nick Dinicola felt that the quest in Oasis was one that called for a more nuanced view of morality. In his initial playthrough, he navigated it without gaining or losing karma, and felt that he would be less inclined towards self-examination and criticism had the game given him an explicit thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

The existence of an explicit morality system also leaves that system open to critique. D. Riley’s provides one in his discussion of “The Situation at Tenpenny Tower” in which he describes a quest where even the “good” solutions leave a bad taste in your mouth. Shamus Young also extensively critiques the logic of this quest, the options available, and the game’s moral judgment of your choices.

What does Fallout 3 tell us?

One of the persistent complaints about video games is that the lack of authorial control diminishes their artistic merits. Much is wrong with this view, but it has a certain resonance in light of games like Fallout 3 that work by allowing the player to construct a personal narrative. Obviously a game can use particular mechanics in order to reinforce certain behaviors, but this can create as many questions as answers, as Justin Keverne mentions in his short post “Its own reward?”.

Nonetheless, some messages can be read into any personal narrative that gets built into the game world. Duncan Fyfe opines in “Escape from Vault 101″ that at its core Fallout 3 is about the worthlessness of inaction, and the futility of safety, connecting this to Bethesda’s own story. As he says, “It’s about not staying in the vault.” The open-world context itself can also convey a message. In Bellum omnia contra omnes I argue that the wasteland, by depicting the state of nature as close to Hobbes’ vision, says certain things about humanity. The game’s fictional history connects the desperate struggles of the wasteland with wars that may be coming in our own.

Last Update: 12/5/09

Hit Self Destruct - 5 posts to midnight. Make 'em count!First up for This Week In Videogame Blogging, ask yourself whether a fully destructible city whose every door leads to a fully furnished room sounds exciting. Create Digital Motion does a bit of a look-see at some up and coming games tech that could do just that in ‘Ever Woke Up In A Procedurally Generated City?‘ I found that entry via an equally interesting post about locked door syndrome and how it applies to the game Prototype in the post ‘Prototype: Open World, Locked City‘ at the Serial Consign blog (via).

Trent Polack of the game design blog ‘Polycat’ compared the campaign portions of the Halo series of games to CLINT HOCKING’s excellent ‘composition/execution’ player flow from his GDC talk. An excellent read.

Speaking of CLINT HOCKING, he wrote an excellent piece this week discussing my ‘Permanent Death’ experiment, in which I’m writing about playing Far Cry 2 and treating death more seriosuly than usual. He draws a lot of interesting ideas out of my stories about Far Cry 2 and it’s more than a little humbling to be discussed by such an esteemed member of the Completely independently of my own series, blogger Omar Usuf talks about death and permanence in games too, after coming face-to-face with a near death experience.

Andrew Doull of the blog ASCII Dreams noted the response from Clint Hocking linked to above and responded with his own explanation of what makes rogue-like games compelling and interesting, talking about Spelunky and others.

Found via Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Sunday Papers last week, this feature at The Escapist argues that games writers/journalists aren’t, and shouldn’t be, real proper journalists while there is such a shortage of them covering more important topics. I’m inclined to agree, but I’d idealistically wish to believe there would be room for both.

A new videogame blog called ‘Play Like A Girl’ has just recently been started by a pair of female gamers. Cary and Lynsey talk about all sorts of games and bring to the table their own angle on videogames and what it’s like to be a female gamer. Cary’s post ‘Playing Like A Girl‘ is an illuminating anecdote about the perception that women gamers are only into ‘casual games’. She says

So as I try to convince [a co-worker] to give Dead Space a chance this customer starts laughing, looks and me and says, “I can’t believe I’m hearing a girl talk about Dead Space!”.

On a rather bittersweet note, we regret to inform you that Duncan Fyfe has gone and pressed the button and started the countdown to Self Destruction (sorry – couldn’t resist!). As of writing, we are only 5 posts from midnight – don’t forget to go pay your respects to one of the best and brightest game bloggers around.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun does an expose on the perils of Cross-Region pricing – an issue that is only looking to get worse as more developing nations get online and start buying games they can afford.

Adrian Werner of ‘Reasons Why It’s Good to be a PC Gamer’ talks about the uproar around Fez’s announcement as an XBLA exclusive. His point is basically that “we have to get rid of the “indie game = PC game” mentality as much as we hate to do so.” A good and timely read.

Michael Clarkson is a busy, busy man, but he apparently still finds time to blog occasionally. This week he talks about how narrative finds its way into Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri and, ultimately, how it’s a less than perfect approach.

The eminent Hardcasual ran a piece this week where they caught up with an aging “Inverted Y-axis” who is coming to grips with his own mortality. Shortly thereafter, David Wildgoose of Kotaku AU did a quick, informal polling of his readers about who uses what control scheme for PC/Console gaming and I got to call him a freak in the comments section.

Matthew Kaplan runs the game blog ‘Game in Mind’ and discusses a 1UP feature in which it is mooted that ‘Sandbox is not a genre’. Kaplan adds some interesting things to the discussion.

Steven O’Dell writes on his blog ‘Raptured Reality’ about videogame introductions and how they can capture a player’s excitement and attention. Specifically, he talks about Motor Storm, but his points apply to plenty of other games. He says,

The fact the introduction can get you excited to play is significant — How many games can get you into the mood to play them within minutes, hell, seconds of you putting the disc into the drive? It’s a good feeling.

Steve Gaynor picked up an original copy of Sim City from a local Goodwill store and uses it as a springboard to talk about changes in the games industry and how it has gone from being personal and having almost a ‘community’ feel in the 90’s, to the current impersonal state of industry. He makes the observation that the indie scene, so popular at the moment, has a similar feel – it is more community than industry.

Lastly, Nick Dinicola writing for the moving pixels blog asks, ‘Does the lack of a HUD make a game more immersive?‘ While I think his question implies that there is only one type of immersion, his post includes some interesting discussion of Far Cry 2, Uncharted, Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge for their individual approaches to HUD presentation.

And that’s it for This Week In Videogame Blogging. You may notice that we have disabled comments on this post, and that’s so that you, dear reader, will go forth and comment on the original posts. This is an initiative that we will be trailing for certain link-related posts. Here at Critical Distance we’re all about encouraging other blogs and bloggers.

A taxonomy of Left 4 Dead, as rendered in tapestryAs if to make up for the slightly lighter post last week, the videogame blogosphere seems to have redoubled its efforts and produced an absolute ton of great reads This Week in Videogame Blogging.

The first thing I spotted was David Wildgoose’s editorial about a Leigh Alexander & Daniel Floyd co-authored video about Girl Gamers. Specifically, it’s about why girls aren’t interested in Videogames. I’m glad David took the time to comment on it because the whole time I spent watching it I was feeling… well… uncomfortable. The presenter’s tone is far from neutral, and while he seems to be advocating a more inclusive videogame industry, he still uses phrases like

…Looking at our industry from its humble beginnings to now, we’ve always had this image of being kind of a boys club… [emphasis mine].

Whether this was intentional or not, the presenter has erected a barrier between “us” and the subject of the presentation (in this case “girl gamers”), and with his discourse he is reinforcing a distinction that seems counter-productive. David Wildgoose adds his own critique of the video, saying that

Implicit is the notion that these “hardcore” games are superior and that gamers who play them are not only operating at a higher level but that it is worth aspiring to such a level. Hey girls, enjoy your make-up and cooking games, but really you’ve only made it as a gamer when you’ve learned to headshot and become one of the boys… Why does it need to be this way? How is your mum’s Peggle addiction any less legitimate a gaming experience as your Call of Duty 4 addiction? Aren’t we just talking about different gaming experiences?

While we’re on the subject including women in videogaming, Tom Chick of Fidgit says this week that,

…if I were pressed to come up with one issue that I find most troubling — the #1 Worst Thing about Videogaming, if you will — it would be the way we exclude women…. we partition women into their own separate category.

Which is why, when reading the latest NPD stats, he was encouraged to find that women are being increasingly represented among console gamers.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker wrote this week about how much he’d be willing to pay to have his gaming preferences realised. For example, he says “I would pay… £3 a month for all tutorials to not explain how to move the mouse, but rather explain key aspects unique to their game.” He then goes on to list a number of other things he’d like to see removed from games and how much he’d be willing to pay to see it happen.

Over at Touché Bitches (a blog with a kindred spirit to Critical Distance in its focus on videogame criticism) pseudonymous writer Touche_Bitch has a bit of a think about whether Bioshock should be, or could be, classified as a FPS or an RPG. He then follows that train of thought and examines the underlying differences between FPS games like Halo and Goldeneye and typical RPG’s. And to Touche_Bitch him (or her) self – we’re more than willing to take the rap for inspiring others to replay a fantastic game like Bioshock.

While we’re doing the rounds, Press Pause To Reflect is another relatively new blog dedicated to videogame criticism, and this week Josh Raisher writes about how Left 4 Dead‘s tendency to respawn your teammates waters down the horror element. Here he is writing in the first person about an experience with the game –

I made it out of the train yard before I turned around. There were a few dozen of the bastards closing in on Louis from the north, plus another twenty he hasn’t seen yet pouring into the tunnel from the east. He’s doing a fair job keeping ‘em off Zoey, but she’s done for and he has to know it. I can’t help but think that –

What the fuck? Ok, Francis is back, I guess. Uh, I think he got better from being, you know, turned into paste. Maybe he had a med pack? Or…pills? Can pills do that?

It’s a valid criticism but I think it reads Left 4 Dead too much as a horror game and less as a game about making ‘Dangerous Mistakes in the Company of Friends‘, as we saw just a few weeks ago. A good read nevertheless.

Speaking of Left 4 Dead, Justin Keverne of Groping the Elephant makes up The Taxonomy of Left 4 Dead Players which creatively applies Richard Bartle’s famous Taxonomy of MUD players to the four lead characters. I’m a Louis. Which one are you?

Leigh Alexander had one of those “Wow, the Internet really does make weird and wonderful things happen” moments this week when she received a reply to an open letter she wrote to one of the gaming heroes of her childhood.

Here’s an interesting idea – Benj Edwards in an opinion piece for Gamasutra wonders “Can Games Become Virtual Murder?” This is going to be a very important issue for the industry and they currently seem reticent to having it – somewhat understandable given the historic demonization of videogames in the media. However, if those of us that want to claim videogames have the potential to affect people emotionally (and otherwise) we’re going to need to have that conversation about good vs. bad affect, otherwise we’re just trying to have our cake and eat it too.

Okay, time for some lighter fare – Hard Casual gets the scoops again this week, reporting that Pro Gamer Fatal1ty has tested positive for Dew. His message: “Kids, don’t do the dew.” Apt.

Jason Rohrer was interviewed by Edge Magazine about his move into the ad world this week, and he makes clear some of the more troublesome issues about working with an ad firm. It looks like Tool are more of a talent and branding agency than your typical flash-banner ad creators and Rohrer says that,

It seems Tool are quite sensitive: they’re not going to ask me to do an ad for the new Hummer. It makes sense for me to be doing things that resonate with me.

Jason Morin is a colleague of CLINT HOCKING and a Lead Game designer at Ubisoft Montreal. He has also started a new game design journal called ‘Design Cave‘ which, if he can remember to blog regularly, looks to be quite promising. In his introductory post discussing Plato’s Cave as a metaphor for game design, he says

The frustration generated from [the] inability to share thoughts based on radical differences in perception is beautifully illustrated and I think is a very accurate image of what game designers have to face every day. I feel it is essential for creators of any kind to be in peace with the fact that others perception cannot be controlled. At least, I always feel better facing a design problem when I remind myself of that.

Go and give him a reason to keep posting, won’t you readers?

Evan Narcisse of The Crispy Gamer has got 15 years on me and I still found myself nodding along in agreement with his notes on certain videogame tropes that he’s getting too old for. Using the Lethal Weapon catchphrase “I’m getting too old for this shit”, he picks a few things that he’s too old for, the first being,

I’m too old to be playing as a plucky young lad — with a unique destiny — who sets out from his small village in search of adventure.

In my choice for must read of the week, Alan Jack writes on his blog about ‘Sam Fisher’s design revolution’. He makes a great point about the shift from cumbersome control schemes that require a lot of skill and finesse, to a more ‘experience based’ mode of play that translates player input into more high-level actions:

In previous games, we weren’t really being Sam Fisher. Instead, we took control of his body, with the capability to be like him, and were tasked by the game to learn how to behave in the fashion he might…When it worked – when we pulled off a move that Sam might have performed without our intervention, the game was on form, but all those little moments where the Sam on the screen didn’t move like the super-spy he was supposed to be made the game feel … well, like a game.

Indie Gaming Web TV Show Bytejacker is great and their Birthday anniversary show is no exception. Also, I think it’s pretty crazy when an Indie game can create this level of hype (the good kind of crazy).

PS – I found a font that’s inspired by the Bayeux tapestry: King Harold!