Ben kindly asked me to take over this week as he would be away from the internet and, as you can imagine, that makes it difficult to complete one’s duty of rounding up the best the blogosphere has to offer.

To start off I want to note two works that comment on an ongoing debate and criticism of the larger video game culture, namely the video game review. Jim Sterling at Destructoid does his best to give the public what they want, a completely objective video game review. He does a magnificent job on Final Fantasy XIII, ending with the strong and irrefutable declaration that: “In conclusion, Final Fantasy XIII is a videogame.” In contrast, Kirk Hamilton, writing for Paste Magazine, eschews all of the normal expectations of a video game review and instead focuses on the nature and impact that Limbo instilled in him. I wish there was a little more to it that would explain the game to someone not in the know, but I think it is a step in a much better direction. See reviewers, this can be done.

As preamble to the rest of this week’s This Week in Video Game Blogging I’ll note the strangely interconnected nature of much of the material. It is almost as if all of the writers were working in tandem, for much of the same thematic space is covered and interwoven, to the point where posts begin to inform on other posts deepening the subject matter. Each delving into deeper and deeper layers only revealed by the other works that come later or before. Almost like it was an inception…

A review of Christopher Nolan’s Inception at Kotaku is done as if it were a video game review, noting many of the video game tropes it borrows and alludes to. SnakeLinkSonic takes a step back and writes a review of reviewers of Inception by looking at the actual film. In many of his comments on what makes bad reviews, he could as easily have been talking about video game reviews or ones done like them as about a film. Kirk Hamilton, again, reviews Inception‘s “tutorial” 1st act and how well it presents the user interface to the audience and juggles the mechanics Nolan chose to include.

Moving from the self searching of Inception to the self searching of immersion, VooRFACE writes a follow up to last week’s post in response to Ben’s comment on the different concept of self in eastern philosophies. To immersion in RPGs, Jonathan McCalmont from Futurismic looks at “Roleplaying Game and the Cluttered Self,” saying,

“The history and evolution of roleplaying games teaches us that the search for the self is a process of rendering something that is abstract and elusive into something that is concrete and substantial.  Whether as individuals or societies, we are constantly trying to define ourselves, to scream into the void that we exist.”

With Sartre saying the self is defined by action and the choices we make, Game Critics looks at the types of choices offered in Dragon Age: Origins. Joel Haddock of Spectacle Rock laments about the by gone days of the western RPG where you created a whole party that you defined as a group and didn’t boil down of size and personalization that he says is the definitive Japanese influence on modern western creators. Laura Michet from Second Person Shooter notes the emotional alienation that factors in many of the modern western RPGs and how it distances the player from the character they are suppose to be. Robert Yang at Radiator Blog, however, explores the meaning and emotion he experienced through Dragon Age: Origins with the application of a single mod. To travel to the other side of the Pacific, Nick Dinicola at PopMatters talks about how the party divisions in Final Fantasy XIII is its characterization. Allen Kwan at Bitmob discusses how the player character’s avatar is characterized through their romantic relationships and how the RPG seems to be granting Equal Opportunity for Love. And for one last shot at the existential self in video games, L.B. Jeffries looks at A.I. and how it tricks the player into thinking it is real, even if only for a few seconds.

But what could be more intricate towards the self than death. Richard Clark asks “Is Death in Games Cheap?” on Gamasutra. A few days later Jeffery L. Jackson at Video Game Theory & Language wrote A Response to “Is Death in Games Cheap?”

Turning death outwards, Steve Gaynor explores the concept of violence in video games as a method of creating meaning and being meaningful unto itself. Alex Raymond at The Border House looks at such a game that tries to use violence to get a point across and does a link round up about Hey, Baby. Fraser Allison looks in the other direction at games that would have been better served if they had toned down the player’s ability to be violent more or removed it completely. And Bruno Dion at Bitmob talks about at how violence should be addressed and how most enemies are faceless entities that carry no emotional impact.

Ferguson at Interactive Illuminatus looks at what it takes to craft a worthy opponent: “when the player is defeated, the player should not say, “I lost,” but rather, “The villain won.” Sam Shahrani from Gamer Melodico runs down a list of Proper Villains in video games.

All of the above topics, the self, characterization, death, opponents and so forth come together in the comprehensive, conversational examination of Indigo Prophecy (aka. Fahrenheit) done over at Raptured Reality by Michelle Baldwin (the fresh eyes) and Steven O’Dell (the re-visitor).

Finally, there are the stragglers. Leigh Alexander analyzes how the three sections of the game industry, creators, journalist and consumers treat the other two and themselves fostering a cycle of unhappiness. Whether you agree or not, she brings up points that should be considered.

Ashelia at Hellmode, writes on the general failure of StarCraft‘s ability to tell it’s arguable great story as limited by the genre conventions it created and StarCraft II‘s possible inability to do the same.

Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage looks at Dues Ex Machina in Games. Ironically ending this round up on a note of fatalism after starting from a point of individualism. Ok, I’ll stop now. Ben will be back next week.

Sunday’s are for being at the snow – yes, it’s winter here and I’m at the snow. Thankfully, I’ve had the foresight to prepare this week’s instalment in advance. It’s almost like I’m speaking to you through time.

Speaking of time, I’m not sure how I missed including this last time I compiled TWIVGB – it’s Margaret Robertson with a piece she originally wrote for a Polish newspaper, freshly dusted off and popped online. It’s about ‘games as dating tools‘.

Sent in by Matthew Gallant and continuing the trend of sourcing from outside this week in blogging, Lost Chocolate Lab performs an ‘Informal Game Sound Study‘ by looking at the sounds of footsteps as heard in a number of games. Footstep sounds are a microcosm of the broader issues of game development. Gallant also recommends Brilliam’s piece ‘Pretense, Affectation, Videogames‘ in which Brilliam diagnoses what he sees as the problem of affectation in the game enthusiast community: “the real problem: we, as game nerds, are too embarrassed by our pretentiousness to call it what it is.” Not sure I agree with this one, but thought provoking nonetheless.

Keeping the contrarian theme going is the blogger known as Voorface, who writes in a post titled ‘Against Immersion‘ that “Pretending that videogames are real is a way to avoid living. One of the definitions of the verb “to immerse” is “to embed; bury”. Immersion is nothing less than a death wish.” To offer a quick alternative – my understanding is that in some spiritual philosophies the letting go of ‘self’ can be a path to enlightenment.

The ‘Game Narrative Triangle‘ by Fraser Allison is a thing worth reading. Allison takes the usual author/player dichotomy in game narrative and storytelling and adds a third element to the mix – the computer.

Found via Rock Paper Shotgun’s always worth reading Sunday Papers – as videogames (or at least hardcore/mainstream videogames) are a very dude dominated subculture I thought this tangentially related piece had real applicability to the industry and to videogame communities – How to ‘Make your dude dominated subculture more accessible to women‘.

At the intriguingly named Wing Damage blog, Jesse “Main Finger” Gregory asks ‘Will We Still be Able to Play our Games in 20 Years?‘ Another pertinent question might equally be will we even want to play these games in 20 years?

Michael Abbott has the following to say in post on The Brainy Gamer called ‘The Waggle Wanes’:

…. it seems to me developers (especially 3rd-party) have finally embraced the notion that waggling the Wiimote may not always be the best or even necessary option. Looking over the list of Wii games I’ve played over the last 6 months, I see lots of terrific games that made little or no use of motion-control (or rendered it purely optional), and none suffered for the loss.

Zoran Iovanovici continues series for Game Set Watch on ‘What Metal Gear Solid Has To Teach Us’, this time looking at Metal Gear Solid 3 and Baudrillard’s concept of Hyperreality. Also from Iovanovici is this piece at Gamasutra analysing ‘Humanism And The Virtues of Violence and Patricide in God of War’.

Jeffrey Jackson at Game Language comes out swinging with a pair of posts on ‘Cultural Hegemony within the world of Mass Effect’. Part one has this to say,

In the universe of Mass Effect, the organization called Cerberus is either a terrorist group or a pro-human organization. In cultural studies, however, it could be considered something else: an instrument designed to combat cultural hegemony.

And then read the follow-up, part two.

LB Jeffries writes for Pop Matters about the ‘Transparent Difficulty in Order of Ecclesia.

Also at Pop Matters, G Christopher Williams has been playing the new Prince of Persia game and finds ‘an aesthetics of demolition’ in the game. From there he goes on to discuss ‘Abusing the world‘ and the games like Red Faction Guerilla that involve some level of subtraction from the world as part of their game mechanics.

Even games without obvious opponents frequently depend on the idea that erasure is the solution to the problems that games pose and that some measure of satisfaction is derived from such erasure.  Indeed, a similar pleasure is evoked in a seemingly less destructive game like Tetris.

Paul Sztajer, now blogging at Fabula Ex Machina, writes in ‘A Matter Of Perspective’ about the separateness of gameplay genre from the issue of perspective. He says,

There’s an innate problem in defining the narrative form of a game: the gameplay genre may point towards one form, while the narrative essence of the gaming medium points in a different direction. Yet this description seems to underplay the sheer complexity of the issue, a complexity which seems to lie mostly in the concept of perspective.

And finally for this instalment, Matthew Weise at Outside Your Heaven explains “Why Red Dead Redemption Is Disappointing”. We Must Dissent!

July 11th

July 11th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 11th)

According to my working document naming convention this is the 70th TWIVGB I’ve assembled. That’s somewhat mind boggling, and so is the number of posts this week!

Greg J. Smith at Serial Consign usually blogs about architecture, and occasionally, we are blessed with an essay like this one where he “consider[s] two broad themes in examining the delineation of urban space by architects and game designers. These themes are a top-down, consideration of the city as a system and the charged notion of “play” in urban space.” Smith notes that,

Advances in computer graphics and a need for increasingly sophisticated in-game navigation and informational systems have made gaming an R&D lab for exploring methods of representation derived from not only architecture, but interface design, cinematography, cartography and data visualization.

Nick LaLone at Before Game Design tries his hand at defining the term ‘video game’.

Michael Clarkson looks at ‘The Dunning-Kruger reticule’ which is a deceptive kind of reticule occasionally employed by RPGs that belies the fact there are hidden calculations behind the shot that determine where it’s going:

The steady reticule that doesn’t really represent where the bullets are going to hit isn’t a very satisfying representation of the character’s lack of skill. Indeed, it isn’t a representation of this at all. This is a problem because the visual language of games, and specifically the visual language most frequently experienced by the audience these games are meant to attract, attaches a certain meaning to the reticule, which the probabilistic calculations of an RPG violate.

Michael Abbott of the Brainy Gamer says kids are a ‘tough crowd’.

Chris Green at the RRoD blog is attempting to render Dostoevsky’s classic ‘Crime and Punishment’ using only the game-cum-story-machine Sleep is Death. He writes about some of the things he’s learnt from the exercise in a blog post entitled ‘Playing Monomania: A protagonist in the throes of madness’. What’s monomania, you ask? Says Green: “Monomania bares a resemblance to Paranoia because of its tendency to make the sufferer believe that their reality is the real one, that others are wrong and are plotting against him/her.” I swear I’ve had that at least once.

Ian Cheong says that he “played Uncharted 1 & 2 in the span of a week. It may have been the shortest amount of time I’ve taken to play two games and it’s because I never wanted to leave” and he’s been enjoying discovering the quality of the series. He says it mostly comes down to smart and believable character writing: “Dude Raider he is not. Unlike Lara Croft, Nathan Drake is a multidimensional character–one full of personality.

The big story this week was the blow up around Activision/Blizzard’s RealID, but the only piece on it we’re going to mention here is from the Pensive Harpy blog. The author of this post says that the abortive move to force players to use real names on the World of Warcraft forums shows that, in the eyes of the company, ‘We are not the customer anymore’:

I think for many of us, this change from ‘small tight-knit company to mega giant’ is a sad one, especially if you’ve been in MMOs a long time and remember when things were smaller and more personal…. I think we’ve finally crossed that line in the MMORPG sphere. Sure, it means bigger budgets, flashier graphics, bigger expansions and tie ins, and more prestige. But I think the MMORPG as a genre has lost a part of its soul; a part that had originally appealed to many players in the first place.

Jason Young at the Beeps and Boops blog writes about ‘Videogames as Propaganda’, starting with the BP Oil Spill situation and the prescient “BP Offshore Oil Strike” board game and moving onto others including the intriguing Redistricting Game and the eponymous America’s Army.

Julian at LittleBoBeep on ‘How Board Games Explain Everything – Pt 4, Utopia, Sex, Art’ and for the sake of completion, here’s part 3 which I don’t think we linked to at the time: ‘How différance can be understood in terms of games, play and Calvinball’.

Angelo at the Bergsonian Critique blog writes about ‘Understanding the Narrative of Final Fantasy XIII’. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether that’s mean disparagingly or not. It’s probably a neat companion piece to Simon Ferrari’s analysis of the FFXIII combat system. It’s certainly about as lengthy.

Brendan Keogh at the Critical Damage blog has a post this week called “Understanding My Allergy To BioWare Games” and it looks at the old bugbear of telling versus experiencing story.

Mashup, remix, pastiche, borrowing – whatever you want to call it – should only be a good thing for games, or so says Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog in a post titled ‘Theft and Recreation’.

After mentioning Leigh Alexander’s excellent Jeremiad ‘Who Cheers for War?’ last week a number of writers have come out with responses to the piece.  First is Roger Travis at the Living Epic blog who being a Classics professor has

…a very long view of the question “Should we be worried that so many video games are about armed conflict?” In fact, that long view makes me like to ask the question somewhat differently: Why is traditional epic always about warriors? Why are so many of the most popular video games about soldiers, super-soldiers, and super-duper-soldiers?

Which are probably better questions to be asking in the larger scheme of things. The full piece is ‘Games of Armed Conflict: a question of narrative technology’ and I strongly encourage you to go read it. Similarly introspective and interrogative is Nick Dinicola who muses on “Why do I cheer for war?” and realises that “It’s not something that I’ve ever specifically thought about, but I now ask myself—why do I love shooters?” Which, if nothing else, is an endorsement of Alexander’s call to think about the subject a bit more critically and more often.

In a similar vein, Michael Thomsen at IGN makes the case that games should be even more violent, including a deeply disturbing and visceral description of the experience of cutting the throat of a chicken, illuminating quite powerfully (and perhaps upsettingly – reader discretion is advised!) how devoid of bloody reality games almost invariably are:

It’s been six years since I did all that and I can still remember the small details and the irresolvable emotions I felt in deciding my will should trump the right to life of another being. Making that judgment of another human, even in the safely authored realm of fiction, ought to provoke at least as much emotional conflict and self-doubt. Likewise, if killing a chicken is so complicated, it’s safe to assume killing a human being might require more than a melee attack or a few quick button presses.

At community site Bitmob, Jon Porter writes about backtracking in Metroidvania style games. I’m awarding bonus points for working a screenshot from Futurama into the article.

Laura Michet at the Second Person Shooter blog ‘failed to restore oxygen to the moonbase‘ and thinks NASA needs to take some game design lessons from the commercial sector. The problem?

I was convinced, throughout the whole playthrough, that the astronauts would die, that they would suffocate to death if I didn’t save them. Dead astronauts are the creepiest things modernity has offered us in the past fifty years.

And instead, all that happened was a minor setback, a day of productivity mysteriously ‘lost’. Sounds like Michet is looking for a Permadeath mode.

Touché Bitches has a nice illustrative post called ‘Beautiful Games’ drawing our attention to the beauty in a number of games and their art.

If you’re like me you’ve probably heard Johan Huizinga’s “Homo Ludens” referenced in just about any and every journal article about games ever written and yet somehow neglected to read it yourself. Well, now you don’t have to as LB Jeffries is here and he’s gone and made us a cliff notes version.

Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer blog writes about ‘The Changing Nature of Gaming Interfaces’ this week.

On a more sombre note, the Press Pause to Reflect blog is, well, pressing pause to reflect for an extended, even indefinite period. Thanks for the all great work over the years, Daniel and CT. Enjoy the break.

The last word for the week can go to Leigh Alexander’s video about What’s Wrong With Videogame Journalism. It made me laugh.

July 4th

July 4th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 4th)

It’s my own fault. Last week I suggested a summer lethargy may have overtaken the games blogosphere, so naturally this week we’re swamped with cogent posts about all manner of games.

First is Dan Bruno at Cruise Elroy who has been playing Mass Effect, and who says, “I am not Shephard”, comparing the decision to record dialogue for the player character’s voice in ME to Dragon Age’s mute protagonist.

Matthew Armstrong at SnakeLinkSonic talks about ‘Pissing in your games’.  He’s talking figuratively here, of course, but it’s about marking one’s territory and owning a particular game. It’s interesting to think about, at any rate.

At the Experience Points blog, Jorge Albor writes about games that present players with a youthful or child-like avatar in ‘To be young’.

Journalism graduate Lauren Orsini was a Kotaku intern, and she’s written a brace of worth-reading posts this week. In the first she discusses how ‘In video games, non-linear does not equal interactive’, and while you’re there, check her story about ‘the day I pissed off 4chan’ which is a timely cautionary tale for anyone on the internet, but writers and bloggers in particular.

Richard Clark at Christ and Popular Culture talks about ‘Red Dead’s particular brand of redemption.’ For Clark,

“The ends justify the means,” has been as much the mantra of video games as they have been the mantra of action films. The hero simply must do wrong so that a greater wrong may be avoided. No game developer has exploited this fact more masterfully than Rockstar.

Visiting a Parisian videogame exhibition, Tracey Lien of the ZeroLightSeeds blog is nonplussed.

Leigh Alexander wrote a terrifically evocative piece for Kotaku called ‘Who Cheers for War’ in which she questions why it is that games are so fixated on war. The issue hits close to home for Alexander, as she tells us, “The cousin of someone dear to me got all but one of his limbs blown off in Iraq. This is our most popular way to play together? And we are all okay with this?” I’ve long advocated the position that if games can be art (and the community seems to be in agreement that they can), then, like all art, there is the potential for it to have a real effect on people. And that effect doesn’t have to be positive. I think that’s what Alexander is alluding to here.

What continues to concern me is that we don’t think about it and we don’t discuss it. We’re able to witness grenade-flung bodies, we’re able to crush enemies under the treads of our vehicles, we’re ourselves able to die in trenches. And get up again, and keep doing it. How far can we push things before video games like these stop being a way to interact with and process the human experience, and instead cross a line to where they’re trivializing it?

Over at Futurismic, Jonathan McCalmont has an excellent entry looking at the social forces at work behind a piece of technology like Microsoft’s newly announced ‘Kinect’. McCalmont argues that,

Products like Kinect are responding to an increasingly universal desire by humans to retreat from the world and back into the womb. A womb provided by technology.

Andrew Kuhar, writing for community site BitMob, talks about how a certain time and place in the summertime and the attendant heat, always reminds him of a particular game (in this case the original Left 4 Dead). Says Kuhar,

Whenever I think of L4D, my mind always leaps back to that field trip. At the same time, I can’t see myself ever forgetting how hot it became back in our studio/lab, surrounded by 10-foot-tall windows facing the sun any moment it was up.

Also at BitMob, Andrew Lynes looks at the impact naming your own character has on the game experience, and on the player’s sense of immersion. As he notes,

The key issue this question speaks to is the role of the player in a video game. Is the player actually participating in the game universe? Am I Link? Or am I simply bearing witness to Link’s quest?

Keith Ferguson at the blog Interactive Illuminatus writes about difficulty, suggesting that designers ‘Slow it down – don’t dumb it down’.

Looking at narrative arcs and dramatic intensity in other media, Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage seeks to apply those lessons to games by ‘Keeping Pace’. This reminded me of Clint Hocking’s GDC ’09 talk about the unique and cyclical Composition/Execution pacing of Far Cry 2.

This week we have a new blog to watch out for, as Jeffrey L. Jackson, a self-confessed videogame scholar from Syracuse University, has started blogging under the heading of Video Game Theory and Language. His post on ‘the human condition’ that looks at Mass Effect 2 and how games can go about making players care about the actors in their stories is well worth a read.

…a single loyalty mission is not quite enough to make me really care about [a] death, if that should happen. Rather what needs to happen, and what developer BioWare is usually good at, is getting different NPCs to interact with each other during the mission.

Now to look at another academic, this time MIT researcher Matthew Weise of the Outside Your Heaven blog, with a pair of archive posts from April and May. Do we dare include such non-contemporary posts? Yes, we so dare. The first is ‘cold war punk’ and then the more recent post is ‘Letting the World Be – The Inherent Politics of Stealth?’, both about the Metal Gear Solid series of games.

Lastly, a pair of posts to put a knowing smile on your dial from the First Person Observer, which is reporting on a curious case wherein an ‘Assassin Experiences Ancestor’s Memories, Connection Problems’. Also a completely unrelated story, apparently this week a ‘Seminar On Improving Doorway Navigation Skills Delayed By Doorway’.

And a Happy 4th of July to our readers in the United States.

A quick reminder that comments are disabled to encourage discussion on the original postings.