August 29th

August 28th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 29th)

It’s time once more for This Week in Videogame Blogging, in which we take a look at some of the most interesting pieces of criticism and analysis from across the blogosphere. I’ll be taking a break from compiling TWIVGB for a few weeks, but TWIVGB will continue. These weekly posts are already a collaboration with all the numerous people who send in great links via twitter and email, and thank you to all who do so. With that out of the way, what’s worth reading this week?

Adam Ruch at his Flickering Colours blog writes about ‘Attempting to appreciate Gears of War’, saying:

Tom Bissell explores videogames in a deeply personal way in his book Extra Lives, and comes to the conclusion that Resident Evil made it possible for videogames to be stupid.  If Resident Evil paved the Roman road, this makes Gears of War a German autobahn.

Speaking of Resident Evil, Steven O’Dell at the Raptured Reality blog writes that Resident Evil 5 loses by omitting silence.

LB Jeffries at PopMatters looks at the difficulty in making game parodies: “The general traits of a video game parodying another video game are simplification of both content and design to show how inane the bare bones interaction of that game really is.

Michael Clarkson looks at Nier and ‘the curious case of Kaine’; “So here you have it: a character who basically compiles every single sexist trope in JRPG character design into a single body.

Eric Swain at The Game Critique argues in defence of Ludonarrative Dissonance.

Brendan Keogh of Critical Damage writes about ‘Feeling Every Punch’ a follow-up to his ‘Player Privilege’ post, looking at the interesting amount of overlap between the real and virtual worlds:

the player takes meaning out of a game (both positively and negatively) through the ways the game affects the player in the real world. To twist this around: the real-world consequences of the player’s virtual actions communicate meaning to the player.

The first time I realised this was happening was a few years ago when, as part of a quest, I tried jumping from a great height in World of Warcraft and my body tensed up, completely in response to what I was seeing.

Evan Kilham writing for community site Bitmob about ‘Making “Wrong” Decisions in Open-World Games’ says,

There’s a conflict, then, between the developer’s story of a mission and the player’s. With “Eva in Peril,” Rockstar wanted to tell a tragic story about how misfortune perpetuates itself unto death. I wanted to tell a story about how John Marston efficiently rid the West of a drunken, pimping fuckstick. The developer’s intentions won, as always, even if that meant arbitrarily removing options from the equation. In many cases, then, the most audacious part is letting players think they have any choice at all.

And from same, Rob Savillo looks at the Rogue-like in ‘Every Death Is Progress’:

Progress in [a Rogue-like] is not progress in the traditional sense. Descending lower in the dungeon and advancing in character levels are secondary to the real meat of the experience: understanding gameplay systems and how they interact. Through experimentation and exploration, which are core design tenets of the genre, you slowly become a better player.

Chris Green at Chronoludic asks ‘Are Games Too Easy?

At The Escapist, the ExtraCredits series looks at ‘the God of War trilogy’s triumphs and failings as a narrative.’ That sounds like it could be fun.

Ashelia at Hellmode received a glowing endorsement from Epic Games’ own Cliff Bleszinski for her piece ‘Videogames are undeniably art’. Her argument is that “…gamers and their attitudes are why video games aren’t perceived as art–even if we’re why they exist in the first place.

Leigh Alexander tries to catalogue every videogames console she has ever owned, in chronological order (she’s up to part 2). Back when the whole “it’s a new decade!” thing was still new, I briefly considered trying to do this for the previous decade’s worth of videogames I had played, before realising that it would be quite impossible. Much better to look at the consoles themselves, I think.

Alexander has obviously been keeping busy this week as she’s also written a long essay on whether or not Videogames are “just consumer products” like soap for Kotaku.

I’m one of those who’d like to see gamers be a little more moderate about reducing games to “consumer technology product.” Remember the old five-category “product guide” review system – in which “graphics,” “sound” and the nebulous “fun factor” were disparate and separately-scored categories? Yeah, we ditched that, because games are more complex than that now.

Chris Dahlen’s well received series of posts on world building in games ‘Just another world’ continues with entries on Planescape Torment, ‘This Creepy Circle of Trees Near My House’ and, um, ‘The Phantom Menace’.

Roger Travis is a professor of classics at the University of Connecticut who is collaborating with Karen Zook and Kevin Ballestrini on using game mechanics to teach students Latin. In a post called “Operation LAPIS” on his blog Living Epic, Travis looks at the HUD mechanic and wonders, “What if learning how to read Latin were like learning to use a HUD?

I missed this last week but it’s worth taking a look at – the always persuasive Tanner Higgin makes ‘A Case for Narrating Gameplay’ – don’t read it wrong, that’s narrating gameplay – which is all about why “there’s immense untapped analytical and political potential in mining the voices of critics and members of the game community.” Higgin says,

Consider how frustrating it is when writing about games to describe the game in the traditional mode of literary or film studies. What precisely are we describing? Working within the conventions of traditional academic writing we rely on a description of the plot, setting, and controls and some cursory depiction of visuals perhaps bolstered by screenshots. But this ends up being ultimately unsatisfying because this is only a partial explanation. We’re not getting at what a game does.

The difficulty in maintaining interest when describing games, game mechanics, and even game experiences, is an issue that Dan Bruno raised the other week in a post on his Cruise Elroy blog about Tom Bissell’s novel Extra Lives.

Matthew Armstrong of the Misanthropic Gamer blog writes about ‘Fats, Blacks and Gigantic Racks’ in which he opens with a blistering “Not even with a twenty-foot pole will you currently see the realm of videogames touch upon a realistic conception of body image.He’s not wrong.

At the Second Person Shooter blog, Laura Michet has been playing the original Starcraft for the first time. Saying that she might have stuck with it when she was younger “if its single-player campaign hadn’t struck me as such an awful piece of crap”, she’s now found how to get through it:

I’ve been slowly plowing through it these past few weeks, and I’ve been enjoying it. I’ve also been watching many, many Starcraft II replay videos. Together, I think they’re helping me understand something about the role that story sometimes plays in multiplayer-enabled RTSes. Both campaigns and replay commentaries serve, in part, the exact same purpose. They’re translations.

David Carlton takes a stab at answering the question ‘What is it you see in social games?’, and David is probably as good a person as any to attempt an answer as his day job involves developing social games for Playdom. However he’s quite forthright that he doesn’t have all the answers, and is after your help in finding some. Won’t you go give him a hand?

August 22nd

August 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 22nd)

Just a quick one this week, as my country heads to an election and I spent all day at a polling booth spruiking for a grassroots organisation unaffiliated with any party. But that’s neither here nor there; it’s time for This Week In Videogame Blogging.

First up, and right from the very tail end of last week, Ashelia at Hellmode looks at her ‘darker competitive side’. A thing I’d like to see more of: writing, analysis, criticism of multiplayer gaming.

At The Last Metaphor Benjamin Garratt writes about ‘choices, entertainment, Pynchon’ in a conversation with a friend. Garratt has an interesting back catalogue of posts you might also like to dip into, like say ‘The Metaphysics of the Instance’ or ‘Spingtime for Helghan: the story of a Killzone clan’.

At Game Set Watch, Jamie Madigan writes about ‘The Psychology of Immersion’, a topic which has been getting a bit of a run again over the past few weeks. What sparks this reinterest in immersion?

Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog looks at player autonomy, what constitutes autonomy, and what prerequisites exist for making autonomous informed decisions as a player.

G. Christopher Williams writes for PopMatters about ‘Mountains of Men: The Mythology of the Male Body in Video Games’ which comes highly recommended.

The pseudonymous author Spitfire at the Game-ism blog writes about ‘A Narrative Trumping Mechanic’ which returns to the highly regarded Batman: Arkham Asylum and looks at who really is the big bad, and how solving the Riddler’s riddles made him feel more like the Caped Crusader:

Joker’s men (and even Joker himself) were truly nothing more than a nuisance, something for me to backfist while I wasn’t even looking in their direction while I had my Bat-Visor turned on looking for Nigma’s riddles to solve.  That sensation felt like Batman.  There’s always something else going on in Batman’s head; he’s a cerebral detective, not just a pugilist who breaks bones but doesn’t kill.

From Checkers, to Chess, to Super Mario Bros. and Assassin’s CreedCorvus Elrod looks at jumping on his blog the Semionaut’s Notebook, looking at “what a few games communicate with the verb jump.”

Chris Dahlen’s got a pair of posts this week, looking at World Building for Edge Online and elaborating on the issue by looking at Crackdown in particular on his personal blog.

At Bitmob, Pat O’Malley writes about ‘How Square made Kingdom Hearts Work‘ and Isaiah Taylor laments the death of local coop.

Pippin Barr writes for his personal blog ‘On the inability to “Stay Frosty”’ in Modern Warfare 2.

Sebastian Wuepper writing for the Chronoludic blog explains the German Game ratings system, Germany being notoriously strict about videogame violence.

And lastly Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer blog looks at how Portal got onto the course reading list for all freshmen students at a small liberal arts college.

Since last week’s instalment, Justin Keverne completed his annotated walkthrough-meets-examination-meets-deconstruction of Deus Ex’s first level – Liberty Island. Weighing in at six lengthy parts, it’s very thorough.

Missed this one in the shuffle last week but it’s too brilliant to omit; Auntie Pixelante teaches us some level design lessons by way of Castlevania.

After Leigh Alexander’s expose about Activision discouraging its developers from taking creative risks and, in particular, having female protagonists, Dilyan Damyanov at the Split/Screen Co-Op blog writes in defence of the much maligned company, in a post titled “Activision’s all-male games are quite okay, really”. And Dilyan’s blogger-mate Vanya Damyanova concurs, in a follow-on post about “Evil game makers and women’s rights”. Are they convincing?

Pippin Barr writes about ‘Playing With Your Dinner’ on his personal blog:

Being a modern couple, we watch a whole shitload of movies and TV series when we eat our meals. Yeah, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks – we’re watching something. That’s what meals are for. Surprisingly, though, Tales of Monkey Island has taken over all of that.

Over at the PopMatters’ Moving Pixels blog, G. Christopher Williams looks at ‘Brutalizing Children in Limbo’ and, um, stares longingly at Chun Li’s thighs.

Chun-Li’s sexuality becomes something more than an incidental quality to be admired merely because she inherently possesses an extraordinary physical trait.  Chun-Li’s thighs might be eroticized, but they represent an earned physical extraordinariness.

Williams’ blogger-mate Nick Dinicola comes back with another piece on Limbo in ‘Dreaming in Limbo’.

Mark Cullinane at the No Added Sugar blog has a rather different reaction to Limbo, turning his attention to the critical response to the indie XBLA title and finds its reception unwarrantedly hyperbolic. Cullinane says,

Starved for such avant-garde minimalism, visual novelty and effective mood-setting elsewhere, Limbo has become a receptacle for the hopes and dreams of a videogaming generation: and it is here that the problems begin- because it simply can’t bear such a weight on its slim shoulders.

On the subject of the critical response, George Kokoris looks at the Echo Chamber nature of our responses to media and videogames in ‘On Echo Chamers’. Kokoris explains himself, saying,

I’ve found that I’m really uncomfortable with the world of videogames. With all aspects of it; commercial, indie, academic and journalistic. My reasons for this are still largely intuitive, but I know enough to say that homogeneity is at least partly to blame.

At the Border House blog, Quinnae Moongazer asks “Ain’t I a Gamer?” It’s an unfortunate tale that seems to indicate Microsoft doesn’t think that any women use their Xbox LIVE service:

Chantaal describes a customer service letter that was sent to her by Microsoft that assumed she was writing about an issue her nonexistent son was having, instead of making the correct inference that she was the gamer in question.

Jake Adelstein writing for Boing Boing involves some real life Yakuza in an assessment of Yakuza 3.

S: I don’t know any ex-yakuza running orphanages.

K: There was one a few years ago. A good guy.

M: You sure it wasn’t just a tax shelter?

K: Sure it was a tax shelter but he ran it like a legitimate thing. You know.

Steven Poole’s ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Read’ for Edge Online made me chuckle this week. It’s a short piece about an imaginary world in which books are treated like the moral degenerates games are often assumed to be.

And similarly, Kieron Gillen at Rock Paper Shotgun writes about parallel universes in games. Well not in so many words, but that’s the implication I took from what he’s talking about here – it’s regarding StarCraft 2’s method for dealing with certain player choices in the campaign.

Emily Short writes this week on her personal blog about Braid, Tom Bissell’s book Extra Lives, and explains her unique diagnosis of the issue afflicting many (dare I say, most?) indie/art games:

This ghastly indie-art-game prose: it’s writing that tries to communicate ideas in the same way that game mechanics communicate ideas. Such writing offers allusions and suggestions, hints for the player to assemble, but it shies away from specifics or a through-line plot. Characters often go unnamed, or are named something thuddingly symbolic, or are Everyman. Theme is presented heavy-handedly (you wouldn’t want players to miss it!) and via the most cliché images.

Robert Yang at his blog Radiator takes a very quick look at a particular videogame title and why it’s so good. Which videogame? “Sins of a Solar Empire”. It does have a certain ring to it. Click through to hear why it makes for such a great title.

Adrian Forest at the RedKingsDream blog makes a case that Ian Bogost’s Facebook game Cow ClickerIsn’t Exploiting You Enough’. Forest’s exceptional thesis applies only to a particular kind of social game, one that “…is running a social structure, and treating it like a business.” Essentially Cow Clicker, while an excellent pastiche of the act of playing this type of game, fails to replicate the social forces involved in playing a game like this.

A game that might follow the logic of Bogost’s procedural rhetoric in a way more relevant to the social gaming system might be something along the lines of a management sim about running a social gaming development company.

David Carlton at Malvasia Bianca looks at ‘Operas, Musicals and Videogames’ and wonders why,

If these well-respected art forms can use a threadbare narrative as a vehicle for glorious set pieces, why on earth shouldn’t we do the same?

Kirk Hamilton on how Grand Theft Auto IV should have ended – I never got around to playing GTAIV so this one’s all Greek to me.

Linda Holmes at NRP debunks some of the myths surrounding the market for the Scott Pilgrim film. It’s interesting in that it exposes the pervasive level of game-awareness that exists outside the stereotypical ‘gamer’ culture.

Gus Mastrapa looks at how “Game Designers Can Be Cursed By Their Successes” for the Joystick Division blog.  Mastrapa says,

Somehow the Scorsese principal doesn’t quite translate over to games. In games, it seems that you’re almost forever indebted to your first hit. Only multi-hit geniuses like Shigeru Miyamoto get to flit from one idea to the next like a beaming fairy with a magic wand.

And finally, Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer is compiling something like a list of “What makes each game fun” and is asking for your help. It’s called ‘The Fun Factor Project’.

August 8th

August 8th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 8th)

I spent the latter third of this week recovering from an operation to remove my wisdom teeth, so if anything seems a bit off in This Week In Videogame Blogging, I’m going to blame it on the drugs.

First up this week is a trifecta of posts from Game Set Watch – Zoran Iovanovici is back talking about Metal Gear Solid 4 and the War Economy this week, and Jamie Madigan looks at a concept called ‘psychological reactance’ in the games of Bioware. The third is Ian Bogost who is rightly afraid that his Facebook game ‘Cow Clicker’ may become his most well known (certainly his most virulent) project to date, as he tells Leigh Alexander. I’ll admit I’ve kind of become attached to my Soviet Cow in ‘Cow Clicker’.

In response to Bogosts’ ‘Cow Clicker’ and the interview above, Nels Anderson asks ‘What does free really cost?’ in which he looks at the non-monetary costs associated with the compulsive social game.  On the flip side of the social game discussion, Erin Hoffman’s ‘How Social Games Ate Our Lunch‘ reports on the surprises that she uncovered in her “full immersion” into the social game realm, leading to her conclusion that,

we should be acknowledging and welcoming this new kind of gamer, and listening to what they have to say. From Senet to Settlers of Catan to Counter-Strike to FarmVille, we are all gamers, connected through the electric muse of interactivity, chasing the same brain state. And that, especially when it unnerves us, is a beautiful thing.

David Wildgoose at Kotaku Australia kicked off the healthy amount of discussion seen around the XBLA game Limbo this week. Wildgoose, inspired by a Kyle Orland piece at Gamasutra talks about game durations in ‘Does length matter?’ He relates a common occurrence at tradeshows like E3 stating that,

Almost without fail, a game demonstration at events such as E3 will conclude with one of the assembled media enquiring as to how many hours of gameplay are contained within the game we just saw. If I’m rolling my eyes, the developer giving said demonstration would surely want to do likewise. After all, it’s a stupid question.

Continuing the discussion, Brian Longtin at Under Culture discusses ‘Death and Education’ in Limbo, saying that “By setting its action in a literal out-of-body experience, Limbo changes our perception in two major ways that make it essentially and marvelously different than its peers.” Go check out the full piece for the details on those two ways.

Mitch Krpata had a rather different response to Limbo, however, proving the rule that not all games are made for all people. Krpata felt the game was,

Some clever ideas thrown onscreen with no regard for how they fit together, and no semblance of anything I recognize as good game design. Games are about rules, with the occasional exception that throws you for a loop. Limbo is all exceptions and no rules.

Kirk Hamilton of Gamer Melodico also wrote about Limbo this week, but focussed mainly on ‘That one puzzle in Limbo’ which seemed to give everyone grief and uses it to launch into a discussion of how much can be expected of a gamer, and how much they are able to draw on the knowledge of a community. Is it safe to assume, for instance, that everyone has access to the internet & gamefaq’s?

Andrew Kauz at Destructoid also wrote about Limbo this week in piece titled, ‘Violence, mystery, and meaning in the dark world of Limbo’.

Moving on from Limbo, John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun demonstrates with some pretty graphs the definitive connection between the Grand Theft Auto series and the rate of deaths/divorces, etc. This is a post with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. Graphs can’t be wrong, right?

Brendan Keogh looks at ‘Player Privilege: Why It Is Still Just A Game’ in a thought provoking post on Critical Damage. Here’s what he has to say about it:

The majority of games hand the player all kinds of privileges that affect how they experience the game. The player has received these privileges for so many years that not only is there a presumption that these privileges are required, but most players are so comfortable in the current environment that they do not even know such privileges exist. I want to abolish the player’s privileges—or at least challenge the player’s dependency on them.

The phrase ‘Ludonarrative Dissonance’ has been a contentious once ever since it was introduced by Clint Hocking in his famous essay on Bioshock. This week, Corvus Elrod took the phrase to task in a post for his Semionaut’s Notebook, saying,

When we use the term ludonarrative dissonance to describe gameplay that does not support that plot and theme of the narrative, we are saying that gameplay is fundamentally other than storytelling. That gameplay and story are somehow haphazardly stapled together in an uncomfortable union. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kris Ligman at Pop Matters writes about ‘Worlds Without Words: What German Expressionism Can Teach Us About Game Design’. This piece comes highly recommended.

Another must read this week was Leigh Alexander’s in-depth look into creative and managerial direction at Activision which, citing a number of sources, alleges pressure is often put on developers to conform to focus testing, and in particular to conform to profitable sterotypes. The result, as investigated by Alexander, is often to the detriment of the representation of female protagonists, and the practice is so much in evidence apparently that there are “No Female Heroes At Activision”. Top shelf journalism, the likes of which is all too rarely seen in the enthusiast press.

Daniel Primed at his personal blog attempts to ‘deconstruct the Mario franchise on the Game Boy’.

At Bitmob Omar Yusuf asks “what techniques should developers employ in order to achieve the same verisimilitude which Speilberg injected into [Saving Private Ryan]?” which, while an interesting thought exercise, seems to miss a bit of the point about the differences between the two media. It also presents a good excuse to link to Clint Hocking’s “Live and Let Die” post from (coincidentally) this same week last year, in which Hocking explains why he feels aping cinematic techniques in games is a bit of a dead end. Hocking notes that,

By mastering these narrative techniques and wedding them to our designs…we can arrive at Saving Private Ryan. What that means is that 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, we will deliver a brand new entertainment medium that is as powerful and moving as one we already have. That’s great, I guess. But if I am going to dedicate my life this, I want to end up with something that is more, something that is better than what we have now.

Also at Bitmob: Ben Maxwell looks at the upshot of hardware limitations of earlier periods that resulted in some of the most iconic character design videogaming has seen, and Brett Bates looks at whether or not Alan Wake’s new DLC has improved its use of collectibles (remember those oft-criticised thermoses?  Gone but not forgotten).

Quinnae Moongazer looks at how her relationship with the World of Warcraft has changed as she herself has undergone a change:

It was no longer ‘my’ fantasy, a fact that intruded quite violently on my mind during the RealID crisis and in other recent events on the WoW forums where the mass of the game’s population poured scorn on transgender people. What had made it clear to me was the fact that my own comfort in the game was now “political”- not in the classical sense of the personal being political, but in the sense of ‘politics doesn’t belong in my game, so keep it out.’

And in a similar vein, guest blogger ‘Pewter’ writing for GeekFeminism in a piece called “I don’t see your problem: Sexism, World of Warcraft and Geekery” says,

When I log in to WoW, I don’t get discriminated against because I am a woman. My opinions are valued by my fellow officers and guild members (and a wider community of people on my realm.) This blog is my voice, and I have power over the comments. I am surrounded by intelligent, clever, eloquent people in the communities I have chosen to interact with. I have been educated by their words, by their examples. If I want I can exist in an online bubble and chose to believe that this way of thinking is mainstream. …And then I poke my head out of my friendly little bubble, and the magnitude of crap out there makes me wibble and want to hide away again.

Andrew Leonard was a game reviewer for until he fell off the wagon, but though he doesn’t write reviews anymore, someone forgot to inform Blizzard and so this week he considered ‘The temptation of Starcraft II’. Leonard notes the crucial difference between videogames and other media, saying:

A compelling video game is not like a good movie or a book that captures a few hours or days of one’s available attention. A compelling game is a voracious invader that takes over your life and won’t let go.

Back at Gamer Melodico, Annie Wright took an in-depth look at Zombies and suggested that ‘The Zombie Apocalypse is the New American Dream’. I’m not sure it’s an entirely new idea, but she certainly puts an interesting slant on it.

Sebastian Wuepper seemed to be the only one still talking about Red Dead Redemption this week, making the assessment on his blog Tellurian’s Petshop that “Rockstar’s latest masterpiece suffers from a disease a lot of current games have contracted. Minigamitis.” .

And lastly for the week, Steve Gaynor at the Fullbright blog writes “On the old vs. the new”, discussing the issue of immersion, inspired by yet another Clint Hocking thing – this time a talk he gave late last year at MIT.

August 1st

August 1st, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 1st)

I missed this because I was away last week at the snow, making snowpeople and snow forts and having an all around great time: Tim Stone invents a fanciful interview with The Flight Sim Genre (yes, the genre personified) in which some telling truths and interesting things are discussed. For instance – why was the genre so popular in its heyday and what changed? What would it take to see a resurgence of aeronautical combat games? I recently went looking for a copy of a flight sim game I played in my early teens called A-10 Cuba! as I had a rush of nostalgia for it; coincidence?

Roger Travis looks this week at whether Bioshock belongs (in the classical tradition) to the Epic or Tragic genre:

The question I want to consider in this post is whether it’s helpful to think about these ancient genres together in connection with our ongoing attempt to figure out what video games are good for.

I’ll resist the temptation to respond with a Brownian “Absolutely nothing!”

Matthew Armstrong of The Misanthropic Gamer writes about ‘The Pokémon Ego Agenda’, saying

It’s pretty damn easy to point out that Pokémon is a series that needs to change. The trick however, is dealing with what is an established and deeply set-in formula that has lasted over a decade now.

Denis Farr, having moved his blog the Vorpal Bunny Ranch over to a new site, writes about the independent XBLA game Limbo in an aptly named post, ‘Before Limbo’.

And at Bitmob, Patricia Hernandez also looks at the game in, ‘Limbo: A Journey Through Hell’, a beautifully written piece about humanity’s relationship with travelling:

Today civilization is defined by the industrious stationary cityscape. Civilized men, you will find them in towns, in cities, in an office. The others, the ones that render themselves illegible to society — nomads — their world is travel.

I could definitely see this being spun out into a much more lengthy and in-depth piece. It’s a rich topic for discussion at any rate.

The Game Prodigy blog turns its attention this week to ‘Focus, Atmosphere, Limitations: Learning from Shadow of the Colossus.

At the Grey Wardens, Emily Bembeneck writes about ‘Shale and Gender Stereotypes in Dragon Age’ examining the DLC character of Shale.

On a related tangent, Andrea Phillips at Deus Ex Machinatio looks at the choose-your-own-adventure style games by Choice of Games and the way they handle gender choices. Phillips’ argument centres on the fact that merely changing the gender of the avatar results in a superficially “female” character as it won’t reflect a true female experience. She notes,

…one of the things I found so captivating about [Dragon Age] was the overt sexism of some characters. It was incredibly satisfying to me to have a character take a dismissive attitude of me in the game, because I was a woman — as in real life — and have the power in the game to rise above it and prove them wrong, in a way I don’t always have the courage or capacity to do in real life.

Of course it’s a supremely tricky line to walk, and she goes on to outline some of the ways to approach the issue, each of which has unique drawbacks.

You might like to read the next in light of the above, as Leigh Alexander explains what she discovered by playing Persona 3 Portable as an in-game girl for Kotaku. It’s interesting as it’s not quite same situation Phillips found herself in, as Alexander notes:

I didn’t realize a virtual sex change would make the experience anything but the same as before.

LB Jeffries writing at Pop Matters considers ‘Morality in Shiren the Wanderer’. I’ve always wanted to play Shiren, ever since Iroquois Pliskin mentioned, way back in January of 2009, that he’d spent a delirious week walking the line between consciousness and unconsciousness while playing Shiren with a horrible tropical fever.

Also at PopMatters, G Christopher Williams has one of the most punchy openers to any blog post I’ve read recently, noting:

Pac-Man will die. / The space invaders will win. / Donkey Kong will get the girl.  And you won’t.

It’s about ‘Cynicism and Retro Game “Endings”’.

Psychology of Games looks at Immersion in videogames taking a more theoretical approach to the subject than some of the recent more philosophical discussions.

Simon Parkin’s ‘maps’ for BoingBoing was an interesting read. I thought it was interesting that the map of the Final Fantasy world depicted at the top was so characteristically Final Fantasy-esque, even if it was from a game I hadn’t actually played, I could still tell it was Final Fantasy.

Evan over at the freshly minted Fickle Cycle blog writes ‘On why Far Cry 2 and STALKER are some of the most important games this gen’. I couldn’t resist.

Michael Abbott writes about Deathspank for GameSetWatch in ‘Blood, Steel and Bacon’. And on his Brainy Gamer blog, Abbott writes about the ‘Arab Shooting Gallery’ that is the WiiWare game Heavy Fire: Special Operations. In response to the points raised by Abbott, Jason Young on the Beeps and Boops blog writes about why he felt outraged by the aforementioned game in ‘Destroy All Arabs!

Kirk Hamilton attended ‘Jesse Schell’s “Visions of the Gamepocalypse”’ talk at the Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco this week and helpfully wrote up the talk for everyone to dissect and enjoy.

Radek Koncewicz looks at the difficulty in localizing exclamations, taking the example of FFXIII:

As things stand, vocalizations often come across as alien and awkward. They break the flow of conversation and the suspension of disbelief, and can leave a new audiences feeling put off.

Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage writes about his first faltering steps with Final Fantasy VII in ‘imagined interactions’, using the tale to advocate the use of more player imagination in gaming.

Paul Sztajer at Fabula Ex-Machina discusses Inventory Management in games.

Nels Anderson asks, quite pertinently, ‘Why Are So Many Indie Darlings 2D Platformers?’ spurred on by a twitter conversation. Anderson says,

I’m not using ‘indie darling’ pejoratively, and I’m going to sidestep splitting hairs about what is and isn’t “indie.” Suffice to say, edge cases aside, I think there’s a common set of games we can agree on. As for why there are so many 2D platformers, there are at least two significant reasons. One is purely pragmatic, the other more related to the medium itself.

Go read the whole thing to find out what Anderson thinks those reasons are.

Matthew Burns spoke to Tom Bissell, author of Extra Lives: Why Videogames Matter, about the game Alan Wake and what he thought about a fiction writer as game protagonist:

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear about a video game whose protagonist was a fiction writer. Then I read that this fiction writer protagonist could sprint for only about ten feet or so, and I thought, “Yes! They’ve done their research!”

It’s short, and won’t take you more than two minutes, but there are some real gems in there.

Thanks again to Eric Swain for covering TWIVGB so thoroughly in my absence.