November 29th

November 29th, 2009 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 29th)

What with new games to play, steam sales to snap up bargains from, and the never-ending deluge of solid games criticism it’s been a tough week to stay on top of it all. As always, please consider sending links to the Critical Distance twitter account.

Quintin Smith is a games journalist type, and here’s part 2 and part 3 of his advice to future games journalist types, “What not to say”.

Paul Bauman writing on his destructoid blog says that “gaming…appears to be entering the awkward, slowly evolutionary, “teenage” phase of its development“. It’s an interesting point he raises about the emerging bifurcation in game development, and argues that the indie game scene’s rise has contributed to,

…some very productive and encouraging moments of critical dissonance where expectations developed in one arena have been brought to bear upon the other.

This is something I had never really thought about before. For example – it makes sense to me that I’d bring the lessons and expectations about games I’ve gleaned from The Passage, World of Goo, et al. to bear on any reading and analysis of, say, Gears of War. But there are a lot of people who’d balk at the idea, I’m sure, and that’s kind of interesting in itself.

Steve Gaynor wrote this week about whether games should bother trying to get out of the ‘cultural ghetto’, saying,

And then I start to wonder, seriously, why do we care if the world at large cares about us? Why do we need the cultural legitimacy merit badge? And I start to wonder if it’s not all just insecurity on our part. And if maybe we’re not seeing the value and beauty of the space we’re in because we’re too busy looking over the fence at Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles.

Emily Short writes about HBO’s efforts at telling a story through interactive media in HBO Imagine. The takeaway:

…my real point is this: interactive storytelling — even when it’s not meant to be a game — still needs a game designer. It needs someone who will think about what the reader/player is supposed to do, and what that action means, and how it contributes to the story being told.

Two pieces this week from Michael Clarkson on Dragon Age: Origins, the first an examination of the segregation tactics employed by the games numerous races and cultures, the second about social rigidity in the game and how the game’s story says one thing and the game’s mechanics say another:

To varying degrees this kind of social rigidity appears in almost every social group in the game (except the elves). Through its dialogue and plot, Dragon Age: Origins repudiates these systems, but in its mechanics it supports them.

Gamasutra’s editor-at-large, Chris Remo, goes ‘Looking for Meaning in Games’.

Trent Polack writes about why Far Cry 2 is his game of the decade, and as any that know me will attest, I can’t disagree.

Please excuse the auto-fellatio of linking to something from myself, but I noticed a few people seem to have found it interesting so that’s good enough for TWIVGB – here’s a lengthy treatise on all the things I could find to criticise about Left 4 Dead 2 from my personal blog. The fact that so many are trifling issues speaks volumes.

David Carlton writes a big essay about his experience with Burnout Paradise.

And lastly for the week, I wanted to point readers to a brand new group videogame blog called The Borderhouse. If its roster of writers is anything to go by, it should be quite the one to watch.

Help fly Ben to GDC!

November 23rd, 2009 | Posted by David Carlton in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Help fly Ben to GDC!)

Ben Abraham, the editor-in-chief of Critical Distance, has been prolific through the video game blogosphere for the last couple of years, through his individual work, his discussions in others’ blogs and fora, and his work here on Critical Distance highlighting others’ writings.  Because of this, his absence at the Game Developers Conference earlier this year was sorely felt: it’s the center of in-person discussion of the art of game design, and I’m quite sure that Ben would have dug up discussions and perspectives that I completely missed.

So Michael Abbott and I decided that we wanted to do something about this, and have drafted Ben to serve as a sort of roving correspondent at GDC.  Ben has graciously agreed; in a further happy coincidence, Gamasutra is kindly providing an all-access pass for Ben at GDC 2010 as part of the agreement that allows them to republish Ben’s This Week in Videogame Blogging posts.

That gets the single largest expense out of the way; there are others, however, most notably the plane flight from Australia to the United States.  Which is where you, Critical Distance’s readers, come in.  We need to raise $1100 dollars to pay for that plane flight; if you’ve gotten something out of Ben’s writings here or elsewhere, if you’re as curious as I am to see what he’ll produce after a trip to GDC, please chip in (perhaps the cost of the last video game you bought, but any amount is welcome) and help bring that about.

You can do that by clicking on the widget below.  It’s a bit flaky, so you may not see your contribution show up immediately; I assure you that all contributions are being recorded, and I’ll make sure to e-mail you to confirm your donation.

On behalf of the staff of Critical Distance, I thank you in advance for your support.

November 22

November 22nd, 2009 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 22)

"Remember, non-Français"In the middle of the torrent of newly released games, Andrew Smale, aka gatmog, writes instead about the six-month old game Prototype in a post titled, “Prototype: With Great Power Comes No Responsibility”. His thesis – that “Prototype is advertised as a “superhero” video game. But Alex Mercer is no hero. He isn’t even an anti-hero. He is a plague on humanity.”

Clint Hocking writes “On Auteurship in Games” in response to a NY Times article discussing games as an art form and the rise of the indie auteur. Hocking critiques the article’s conflation of the issues of authorship and the medium’s status as an art form. Auteur theory has, I know, been discussed by others before, most notably to my mind by Mitch Krpata.

Matthew Armstrong writes as SnakeLinkSonic, and this week he writes about ‘sexual sadism’, continuing to reprise an older series of his posts on videogames as art.

GIBiz’s Matt Martin reports on research that finds ‘Marketing influences game revenue three times more than high scores’, and noting that, “the research came to the same conclusion; marketing is more important than game quality.” That’s a little bit depressing for game critics everywhere, but also for game developers themselves, as the original article notes.

Lyndon Warren takes a look at Dragon Age’s generic fantasy setting and takes a detour through contemporary fantasy writing trends, coming up with some interesting parallels.

Freed from the burden of creating interesting creatures or metaphysical systems of magic recent fantasy writers have instead decided to reflect on the complexity of the real world. …Which is what Dragon Age does, the world of Ferelden isn’t anything you haven’t seen before but its people and themes are. At least for a videogame they’re pretty original.

One of our readers sent this link in and its well worth sharing with you here – it’s the classic arcade game Outrun and the author’s thesis is that it was not so much a racing game as one about the whole driving experience.

Out Run is about driving, not racing. It is not about tense competition or white-knuckle action, though it does demand skill and precision. It is not about compiling good lap times or practicing the best line on a sequence of curves. What it is about, as the Wikipedia article so deftly puts it, is “luxury and relaxation.”

Never let it be said that there’s nothing to learn from older games.

One of the newer games criticism blogs around, featured on TWIVGB before, is Nicholas Shurson’s Form8 blog. His piece on BraidPlay for absolution’ made its way to me through two different channels this week, so does that make it doubly worth reading? You tell me.

Matthew Kaplan has been busy this week, soliciting comments from various game critic types about the Modern Warfare 2 ‘No Russian’ level, and I have myself a little bit to say in part one, alongside a number of humblingly intelligent comments. There’s also a part two, featuring yet more. And if that’s not enough people saying things about ‘No Russian’ for you, here’s a sort of mini-compilation of mainstream critical responses to MW2 in the UK, courtesy of the Guardian newspaper.

I mentioned and linked to Tom Chick’s piece on the level in question last week, but here are two more online game-criticism giants with things to say about ‘No Russian’. First, Tom Bissell at CrispyGamer says this:

I have now played through “No Russian” several times and behaved differently each run through it. My skepticism, I believe, was warranted. About the best one can say about “No Russian” is that it is morally confused and dramatically lazy. Yes, of course, it is affecting and provocative — but so is purposefully stomping on someone’s big toe. This is essentially what “No Russian” does when it desperately needs to do much, much more.

For the record, Kieron Gillen of Rock, Paper, Shotgun agrees, saying simply “It’s bullshit, isn’t it?” Not content to just leave it at that however, Gillen goes on to explain why – because essentially “Anyone else who tries it will be living in their diseased shadow”. I’m not personally content to leave that as the final word about Modern Warfare 2, as it were, so here’s Suki’s piece on the least examined aspect of MW2 – that the game is a chicken killing coup. That’s much better.

Kat Bailey’s Retronauts blog on 1Up talks about the omission of Princess Peach as a playable character in New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. The reason is that she’s once again the object of rescue, and the result is there remains no playable female character.

Shigeru Miyamoto’s official explanation for leaving her out of NSMB Wii is that it’s difficult to animate her dress. Apparently, her skirts require special processing and progamming, so she’s once again been captured by Bowser Jr. and the attendant Koopalings. Funny that — as she’s demonstrated time and again throughout her various appearances, Peach is more than capable of crushing Bowser and all of his attendant children by herself. Maybe the rumors are true and she simply enjoys being kidnapped.

Sorry Shiggy, you’re not fooling anyone.

Melinda Bardon writes about how Dragon Age: Origins actually changes the players experience if they play as a female character, unlike many other RPG’s which often simply slap a female skin on an otherwise male role. Bardon says,

In Dragon Age, however, I have already been questioned by my subordinate party member, Sten, twice as to my abilities to lead a group of warriors as a woman. I’ve also been subject to comments from NPC characters in passing, expressing surprise that the Gray Wardens allowed women into the sect.

Matthew Burns née-Wasteland wrote a highly readable piece on the compulsion to compare games to ‘Citizen Kane’ and the inferiority complex he sees it as reflecting in the gamer community.

This inferiority complex runs so deeply in the gamer mindset that we will often swear up and down it does not exist while we continue unbridled our wildly passive-aggressive approach towards the artistic establishment, equal parts brash and defensive, trying to look older and more experienced than our years: the hallmark of youthful insecurity.

I wonder if a stronger critical community, akin to institutionalised film reviewers and critics, would go a way toward curtailing this tendency?

Gamasutra this week featured an interview with Susan O’Connor of Gears of War/Far Cry 2/Bioshock writing fame and I’ll leave you with a link to Hardcasual’s piece on how 4 members of staff of EBGames survived the release of Left 4 Dead 2 through “teamwork and Molotov cocktails”.

A reminder that for all TWIVGB posts on Critical Distance comments are turned off by default to encourage discussion on the original entries, and we can always be reached via the contact page.

November 15th

November 15th, 2009 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 15th)

Early attempts to faithfully render the Space Opera unto the Bayeux tapestry were Minimally Affecting.Every week these posts seem to get longer and longer, so I’m going to endeavour to limit the links contained in This Week In Videogame Blogging to truly “the best of the best of the best, sir!” I hope it’s of some use.

In the week to November 15th, Cary from the Play Like a Girl blog wrote about female avatar design and asserted that better design could have pay-offs for the number of women interested in videogames.

…if more developers followed in Valve’s footsteps and made “normal” female avatars it would do wonders for getting women interested in gaming but in order to do that the industry would have to let go of a pretty deep-seeded sense of normalcy: that women are only exciting and enticing when they’re practically nude.

Mike Schiller wrote about Band Hero’s ridiculous disbursement of achievements, and it’s giving away of over half its gamerscore just for finding ‘secret notes’. Achievement points ahoy!

Quintin Smith wrote on his blog about ‘Games Journalism: What Not To Say” and his five points are all good, practical things, and I can see their inherent usefulness for anyone considering or currently writing about videogames. Smith also picked apart the differences between two indie MMO games – Eskil Steenberg’s Love and something called Neverdaunt. Yeah, I’d never heard of it either, but Quintin quite liked it.

My friend Eric Swain linked me to this – a piece on Gamasutra about ‘Why major publishers need an indie arm’. Good to see the indie revolution coming from all sides.

The Onion picked apart Modern Warfare 3 (THREE) and its realistic depiction of army life. I’ll just say that it’s really lifelike.

Tristan Kalogeropoulos argues that spoiler warnings are inhibiting videogame discussion, and I can certainly see his point.

It’s amazing what content revelations gamers will get their proverbial knickers in a twist over… perhaps it is because most games are more akin to fairground haunted house rides, filled to the brim with jumps and tons of tacky fun, but little in the way of substantive story. Revealing elements of gameplay lays out on the table the only things that these games have going for them. Daft novelties.

Elliot Maximillian Pinkus writes for the MIT Gambit Lab, in a piece called the ‘Confessions of an Impatient Cheater’, noting that

Braid requires 100% mastery just to progress to the ending. If the player wants to see the mind-blowing twist at the end, they are supposed to just tough it out….But what if the player isn’t as affected by fiero, if it isn’t their personal “ultimate Game Emotion”? What if their biggest emotional reward is curiosity or relaxation or excitement?

Well then we would cheat, naturally. Or stop playing the game, which is what I did.

Dan Bruno comes in from the cold after a long absence to write about the Wii remake of A Boy and his Blob.

Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer released a podcast this week featuring Brenda Brathwaite and John Sharp. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but I hear good things from people who have.

Anthony Burch, author of Destructiod’s ‘Rev Rant’ goes on about Modern Warfare 2 and narrative, gameplay conflict. This was the first thing I saw of the ‘No Russian’ level this week, but it was by no means the last. In this spoiler-filled video (oh the irony! I’m using a spoiler tag after linking to the above article about how spoiler warnings are impeding criticism!) I think Burch is reaching for the excellent term ‘Ludonarrative Dissonance’.

Trenk Polack elaborates on the his own response and feelings towards the ‘No Russian’ level, examining it within the wider context of the game’s plot and it failed to achieve the desired response from him.

For “No Russian” to work, I have to buy into the premise fully. I have to know that what I’m doing is vile but necessary. I have to have Vic Mackey’s conviction that what I’m doing is the right thing to do, as hard as it is. Being only the fourth mission in Modern Warfare 2, though, “No Russian” does not have the luxury of my trust or belief in its world.

Matthew Kaplan had a vastly different take on the level, arguing that it ‘succeeded beautifully’. Meanwhile, Charlie Brooker writing for The UK’s Guardian newspaper asserts that, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the Citizen Kane of repeatedly shooting people in the face.” Those memes – they sure do get around.

Decidedly in the negative camp when it comes to reactions to the “No Russian” level is Tom Chick, and his lengthy and thoughtful response is best served by directly quoting from the source:

When the previous Calls of Duty presented disturbing scenes — bringing down a building full of German soldiers, taking out insurgents from the cool quiet of an AC-130 gunship, presenting the point of view of an executed politician, nuking an entire city — they earned it. They were even, dare I say?, subtle. But this is just flat-out mercenary shock value, trawling for comments from guys like me on blogs and the sort of publicity that partly made Grand Theft Auto what it is today.

And last for This Week In Videogame Blogging, Krystian Majewski has finished his epic (yes, epic) trilogy listing all of the interface design flaws of Mass Effect (which, coincidentally I’m replaying on PC at the moment). Just about everything Majewski says I find myself nodding along with and going “Yeah, it would have been awesome if…”, which is a sure sign that he’s on to something. The tagline for the first post in his series is “In a world of bad design choices and poor execution, there was one game that ruled them all…” It’s quite telling. It’s also my pick for must read of the week, and you can start at the beginning of the trilogy here.

A reminder that for all TWIVGB posts on Critical Distance comments are turned off by default to encourage discussion on the original entries, and we can always be reached via the contact page.

ClapethtrapethThis Week In Videogame Blogging would like to acknowledge the useful contribution of everyone who’s been sending links to the critical distance twitter account. It’s been very helpful so please keep ‘em coming!

By the time I’d written last weeks post, a storm was already brewing regarding a certain Modern Warfare 2 viral PSA style video and its use of the acronym ‘F.A.G.S’. Denis Farr explains why, as a gay person himself, the tacit acceptance of the Xbox Live culture of homophobic insults is not a thing that can simply be laughed off. Michael Abbott also wrote about the ad from the perspective of a father and a teacher, talking about how if we want this kind of attitude to change, we need to start teaching kids why it’s not okay. Matthew Kaplan also came up with a great discussion piece on the video as a response to Abbott’s post in which he examines the current marketing attitude of playing up to the current social climate of cynicism and self-centredness. Kaplan says,

[Abbott] mentions how insensitivity is in and empathy is out in our culture, and I think this is true to a certain extent… among conservatives. I don’t mean to turn a discussion about video games into a political rant, but to be honest the word “conservatism” isn’t merely political these days. Conservatism in our society has now taken on the form of the man or woman who is self-serving, immediate surroundings first and thinking outside the box a distant second.

Deirdra Kiai also discussed the trend toward offensive marketing, a trend which sees that “if anyone’s in the least bit outraged by what one has to say, it’s become some kind of a badge of honour.” Infinity Ward in the end pulled the offending video, but the damage was done and the attention garnered by Infinity Ward’s “edgy” video probably resulted in a net gain for the company. But I’m speculating now.

Slightly overshadowed by the latest video has been the earlier leaked footage of a level featuring a player engaging in in-game terrorist activity. Richard Clark of the ‘Christ and Pop Culture’ blog writes about how the terrorist scenes made him second guess his choice of Christmas gifts. Clarke makes a similar argument to David Wildgoose of Kotaku Australia who also picked up on the terrorist level video, commenting on how he feels that the general response to it says much about the immaturity of the medium.

Activision says the mission “is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism.” Cinema has a rich history of taking viewers inside the minds of people who commit atrocities. As a more mature medium, we accept that films that portray serial killers, murderers, terrorists or just base thugs aren’t automatically promoting such activities but may in fact have something important to say about the human condition.

The prodigious Michael Clarkson writes about endings and The Lord of the Rings in ‘dénouement of the rings’. It’s an entry into Corvus’ Elrod’s September Blogs of the Round table and there are plenty of other great entries from September. You can check them all out here.

Hooray, my favourite grinning, cynical game blog is back! Indie Gaming Bingo, for our newer readers, is a blog dedicated to skewering trends in indie gaming and taking specific titles down a peg or two. This week Dustin Gunn played Indie Gaming Bingo with Tale of Tales’ ‘The Graveyard’.

Because as an Aussie I know how it feels to be under The Man’s thumb when it comes to gaming, consider this link a fist-bump of solidarity with New Zealand gamers. The situation is (or was) that Microsoft locked a number of them out of Xbox Live downloads a few months back, and Tracey Lien takes the time to explain the whole strange situation.

Jorge Albor explores the online world of League of Legends and its online culture in ‘The Blame Game’.

Not really one to link to reviews, this section nevertheless caught my attention in John Walker’s review of Dragon Age: Origins,

…these dwarves come with a history. The younger of the two is the only mentally handicapped character I can remember encountering in a game. He’s looked after by his father, and has a savant gift for enchanting weapons. Treat them as more than a shop, talk to them, and the details of their past emerge, along with a surprising ethical quandary.

I can’t think of any other game that has depicted a mentally handicapped character as anything other than a two dimensional crazy-person. Can you?

Michael Abbott (again) delivers a great treatise on what exactly pacing means in a videogame, placing it within the context of a discussion of Uncharted 2’s fantastic control of pacing.

Here’s a damn clever think-piece by Eskil Steenberg, talking about MMO’s, how people are often attracted to abuse, and whether Steenberg wants to go there with his game or not.

Chris Dahlen cooked up a Google Wave bot and it gave me a few chuckles this week. Dahlen compares Wave gaming to Twitter gaming noting that,

…the nice thing about bots in Wave, as opposed to Twitter, is that you can invite them in to specific waves. You only see them when you need them. Gaming on Twitter appears to have stalled because seeing other people’s posts and autoupdates is lethally annoying. But Wave is fertile ground for bots, and I see a lot of potential here.

Who knew that Google Wave had so much potential as a gaming platform? I wonder if I could somehow convert the old Chat bot that I wrote for my high school Software Design class into a wave. Dahlen elsewhere talks about ‘The most boring game of the year’ and wonders if that’s why no one else is really writing about Demon’s Souls that much.

Here’s a trio of good pieces; the first by Shamus Young who, writing for The Escapist, talks about Survival Horror. The second, an interesting post by the Aartform Games blog, asks “Are games art? I think they might be more like cooking” and Kris Graft interviews Valve’s writers about their creative process for Gamasutra. The last one is a quite lengthy and crammed full of interesting tidbits.

Mitch Krpata writes about ‘Your level best’, or the difference between pleasurable advancement and painful grinding as demonstrated by Borderlands. He notes,

Gearbox did such a good job of spacing out the rewards, and making sure that one is always visible around the corner, that it rarely falls into the trap of feeling like a simple grind. Sure, it’s like work, but payday is every day.

Sun B. Kim is an Indie Game developer from Korea, and in an extreme display of commitment to games criticism and discussion, is translating some parts of Critical Distance into Korean. Here’s the translation into Korean of Critical-Distance’s GTA IV Critical Compilation. Videogames make people do amazing things.

The pensive harpy blog investigates the online, free-to-play world of Wizard 101 this week. I’ve never played it but I was first intrigued by it when it was mentioned on one of the Videogames and Human Values Initiative’s podcasts, and then again on the Brainy Gamer Summer Confab podcast. Taken together, that’s now quite a case for what some might see as “just” a free-to-play Kids MMO.

This week, Lyndon Warren finishes his series on KOTOR 2 with a treatise on the character of Kreia, explaining how she problematises the ‘light side, dark side’ dichotomy of the Star Wars universe. In my pick for must read of the week. Warren says,

[Kreia’s] point is random acts of kindness don’t necessarily make the world a better place and even though the game is giving you light side points that doesn’t mean that what you did was right. She has proved that the force is fallible….

Something to think about, y’know?

A reminder that for all TWIVGB posts on Critical Distance comments are turned off by default to encourage discussion on the original entries, and we can always be reached via the contact page. We’ve also now completed the move over to our new webhost so please let us know if you encounter anything odd.

November 1st

November 1st, 2009 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 1st)

Another mammoth week for TWVIGB and games writing, so strap yourself in for a healthy dose of games criticism from this week plus some. We’ve also started syndicating TWIVGB to Game Set Watch and Gamasutra, so you can also catch us there from now on.

Last week Michael Abbott looked at the potential for simulation games to re-write history, using his obsession with sim-baseball and the newly released “Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars” as a jumping off for discussion.

This week Abbott's also working on a multi-part series on the different aspects of Uncharted 2 that make it so compelling. Hopping on the Uncharted 2 bandwagon, the latest episode of the 'out of the game' podcast features Shawn Elliott, Robert Ashley and N'Gai Croal going into a little bit of detail about why Uncharted 2 rocks so many people's socks, and Mitch Krpata in his post 'the minimalism of Uncharted 2' argues that it comes down to what isn't in the game. Another thorough treatment of the game is Brinstar's lengthy discussion of the game which makes a bunch of interesting observations. Oh, and here's another piece by Daniel Purvis on Uncharted 2.

This next piece comes by way of the twitter feed of N'Gai Croal: Keith Boesky suggests that EA should be going after a World of Warcraft style subscription model for their entire product lineup. Bizzaro indeed.

The latest Tigsource Compo is only open to artists and musicians rather than the usual indie game making crowd, with the submissions to be used in the follow-up compo to make indie games. Sounds like a great way to start some fine new indie game partnerships.

Mary Prince writes about how Neopets taught her complex maths concepts (for a 13 year old) like compound interest. Chalk up another win for games as implicit teaching devices.

Neopets was cunning: it taught me how to save money without me even realising. I learned about interest in a way that seemed real enough to be engaging, and I worked to meet my financial goals.

Denis Farr writes about the Wii game de Blob in 'Raydians: Persons of Color', in which he reads some interesting things into the implications of the games use of color.

At this point it is very difficult not to draw parallels to race relations; and particularly those of African Americans in the U.S. and Jews in Europe, and how they were viewed by Hitler and his ilk. For myself, fighting this liberation struggle, freeing these poor Raydians from their tenements that had lost their color (by giving them back their culture through color), and breaking them out of the prisons that held them struck a chord in me…

Adrian Werner's blog features what are the most comprehensive regular lists of game releases bar none. He also sporadically talks about other topics and in this piece he's discussing simulations as a game genre, weaving together recent industry developments and their implications for sim games.

Gregory Weir talks about last year's Prince of Persia and how it's dénouement affected him, feeling like “true roleplaying”.

The Something Awful goons preview their Top 10 most anticipated bulls*** games of 2010. I hear that satire is the thinking person's humour, and if that's true, Matthew Wasteland is a thinker then, as he reports for Harcasual on the fact that Square Enix is being blamed for the current Worldwide Belt Shortage,

As video game technology has advanced, the number of belts able to be worn on a single character has increased exponentially from the 8-belt characters of yesteryear. Today's big-budget blockbusters commonly feature 64-belt or even 128-belt graphics.

Mr Wasteland also wrote on his own blog about 3 games that do in-game food sensually, experientially, in other words, interestingly.

Bonnie Ruberg talks about 'The Beatles Rock Band and the female gaze', discussing who the player is positioned as a game of The Beatles: Rock Band. A nice counterpart to last week's piece on the game as 'non-fiction', and I think the two support each others argument quite nicely. Ruberg asks,

Where does this leave the presumed player? Does his male gaze become a female one as his viewing of these four attractive men gets elided with that of the all-girl audience? At the same time the game links him to the Beatles themselves as he – or she – plays the same notes as Paul or John.

Perhaps the question to ask of the 'non-fiction videogame' is then not 'who does the player become' but 'who becomes the player'?

The Edge Staff didn't enjoy Charlie Brooker's recent UK television special 'Gameswipe', and I think they outline most of the things I wasn't particularly fussed about either. While we're at Edge, Chris Dahlen talks about romance in games and elaborates his reservations with the kind of romance portrayed in Brütal Legend.

Kieron Gillen Quintin Smith writes about Entropia Universe and the 'Twelve Minute Shudder'. It's a fascinating look into a completely different world from the typical MMO's most readers will be familiar with. Gillen notes that,

People talk about dropping hundreds of dollars in a day, and I read one weirdly resigned user mentioning he'd spent upwards of $14,000 in total. In the same thread other players were complaining about the hourly cost of playing Planet Calypso. I say again: Not monthly, or even weekly, but hourly.

Shawn Elliott speaks into the Modern Warfare 2 controversy, and sees a storm brewing for the game in the mainstream US media.

For weeks, not one television network took the trouble to examine the context in which Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor made the “make policy” and “wise latina” remarks that fed this summer’s 24-hour news cycle. I can only imagine how they’ll handle footage captured from the forthcoming Modern Warfare 2 in which players unconscionably massacre civilians during a terrorist attack on an airport.

David Carlton recommended me this one, and just from a quick scan I think some of the questions the Tale of Tales interviewers ask of interviewee Frank Lantz are more interesting than the answers.

Lyndon Warren has been playing KOTOR 2, and is intrigued by the game’s examination of the 'Wookies as noble savage' trope that appears in the Star Wars extended universe and how the game exposes it for what it is.

I think it's telling that Chewbacca was never portrayed as a dumb savage but the various semi-official books and games surrounding the films often lapse into lazy stereotypes.  Something to consider no? Well Kotor 2 does exactly that, tearing to sheds the idea of the wookie life debt and depicting it as akin to slavery.

When people ask me what separates 'criticism' sites, from the straight news and reviews outlets, in future I think I'm going to have to point at this 'Wot I think' piece for the game 'Torchlight' by Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker. It's ostensibly RPS' intimation of the review format, but it says next to nothing positive. It discusses all the places where the game doesn't live up to its potential, where it's a bit iffy and doesn't quite reach the pinnacles of greatness. But somehow, somewhere in there it's also clear that he really, really enjoyed the game. Walker says he's spent the past week playing it. You don't spend a week playing a game if you don't want to. Walker writes about all the things Torchlight can be criticised for because he cares enough to want them to not be bad. To my mind, that's the crux of criticism.

A reminder that for all TWIVGB posts on Critical Distance comments are turned off by default to encourage discussion on the original entries, and we can always be reached via the contact page. We also  will be moving to a new host within the next week or so and if there is some downtime, that’s why.