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This Week in Videogame Blogging, now in rapidfire-mode since there’s so much to get through:

Fraser Alison at Red Kings Dream writes about ‘A grammar of games’.

Tom Francis writing for PC Gamer informs us of some Spade related violence in Fallout 3’s Point Lookout DLC. That’s two weeks in a row someone’s mentioned Point Lookout. Elsewhere, Francis has been reflecting upon and what his efforts with programming game AI have taught him:

It’s easy to code what you want. But you don’t really know what you want until you’ve tried to explain it to a very, very stupid person. That was Socrates’ thing, in fact: he acted like an idiot to make people explain themselves to him on the most basic level, which usually revealed they didn’t truly understand their own beliefs. These days we have silicon hyperidiots to explain things to. They’re able to be much more stupid, many more times a second, than Socrates ever was. Coding is the Socratic method as an extreme sport.

Jim Rossingol writing for his own blog about games presenting us with a ‘Prosthetic Imagination’ – attach game to brain for some cyborg imagination.

Roger Travis breaks down Halo Reach for readers of his Living Epic blog, and explains the argument Reach presented to him through play.

Chris Dahlen has concluded his series on World Building on his Save the Robot blog, with a look at ‘The World to End All Worlds’:

World War II is a world, but it’s not strictly a “fictional” world. And yet it sets the stage for millions of works of fiction. All its complexities have been boiled down to a narrative as linear as the one in Avatar: The Last Airbender. All of these made-up worlds aspire to the same complexity, the same drama and the same importance as this single, several-year conflict.

At Pop Matters, LB Jeffries takes on the world building subject in ‘Filling in the Details in Video Games’ and Andy Johnson writes about ‘Tribal Spirituality in ‘Populous: The Beginning’.

Steve Gaynor closed his consistently excellent Fullbright workblog this week, going out with a bit of reflection on the success of the Minerva’s Den DLC for Bioshock 2 that he headed up.

Nels Anderson also spent some time reflecting on a game he worked on, in ‘Deathspank: Reflections of Justice’.

N’Gai Croal’s Edge Online column asks ‘Do You Speak Game?’ and reminds us of the value of the outsider’s perspective.

David Carlton at the Malvasia Bianca blog asks why Cow Clicker users are more likely to post game messages than other Facebook gamers, and concludes that it may be because those of us who play cow clicker for the puns are “weirdos”. Guilty as charged.

Michael Clarkson at Discount Thoughts writes at length about Mafia 2 and the absence of the sense of power he feels should be driving a mob story like this.

The Game Overthinker posts Episode 40: ‘Heavens to Metroid’.

Denis Farr writing for The Border House blog wrote a piece called “Metroid: Othering Samus”.

Kirk Hamilton goes to PAX for Paste Magazine.

Luke Rhodes of the Mad Architect blog is considering ‘Videogames and the doors of perception’, which talks about Aldous Huxley’s ‘the doors of perception’ and some of the writing of Tom Bissell on games.

At No Added Suggar, James Dilks writes about the widely praised conclusion to Red Dead Redemption in ‘Red Dead Redemption and the strange case of the game with the satisfying conclusion’.

The last word for the week can go to Sara Corbett of the NYTimes in a piece called ‘Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom’:

And as the clock wound down and the students hollered and the steam radiator in the corner let out another long hiss, Doyle’s little blue self rounded a final corner, waited out a passing robot and charged into the goal at the end of the maze with less than two seconds to spare. This caused a microriot in the classroom. Cheers erupted. Fists pumped. A few kids lay back on the floor as if knocked out by the drama. Several made notes on their graph paper. Doyle leaned back in his chair. Had he taught anything? Had they learned anything? It depended, really, on how you wanted to think about teaching and learning.

We’re back for another week of top-shelf videogame blogging, writing and criticism.

First up, Rob Zachny writing for Gamers With Jobs talks about RUSE and ‘the Fall of France’. It’s a story about a young girl who meets a pianist… kidding! That was a ruse. It’s actually about the missed opportunity for telling a fresh and poignant story from a different perspective. Zachny says,

I am most disappointed by the campaign in RUSE because I know that one of the best chances to tell the story of the fall of France, Vichy, and the Free French Forces has just passed us by. A French developer without an Anglocentric point of view (the care taken with the French and Italian armies proves this) had a large budget for an innovative RTS.

Do we have any Dutch readers in our audience? Rainier Jaarsma sends us a link to a piece he wrote for the Dutch language blog Bashers, that (I think) is about the conflict between player agency and story. I offer this up to our non-Dutch readers as a reminder that not everyone who writes about games writes in English.

Chris Green at Chronoludic talks about ‘Nier – More than just a fishing mini-game’:

Nier is a game about games, a pastiche of the action-adventure/RPG genre and often more besides. To really appreciate what it has to offer you’ve got to be aware of at least some of the clichés it addresses, games it pays homage to and tropes it twists and borrows.

Also discussing Nier this week is Jeff Feeser of Spectacle Rock, who alludes to a line from Bioshock in his piece titled ‘A Slave Cannot Disobey’.

At the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog, Kris Ligman writes about ‘What ‘Ys Seven’ Seems to Have Against Its Protagonist’:

like any creature that’s evolved in relative isolation for one too many generations, there’s a specificity to Ys Seven‘s design the function of which I just cannot understand. Namely, it is the way that it integrates its silent protagonist.

Also at PopMatters, LB Jeffries wrote an essay this week on ‘Post-Structuralism in Video Games’ which is a review-meets-discussion of Bernard Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction which is a series of essays that “engage with the idea of applying Derrida’s theories about how people interact with meaning in art to architecture and space.” It’s a dense treatment of a complex subject but, as with much of Jeffries’ writing, it’s worth the effort.

Adrian Forest at the Three Parts Theory blog elaborates on the contaminated water that functions as a barrier for the player in Fallout 3 and how that relationship changes in the ‘Point Lookout’ expansion:

The prevalence of water in the area and the necessity of crossing it to explore serves to reduce the player’s aversion to water, to retrain them and accustom them to their new capabilities. Having to cross the water teaches you that, as a high-level character, water is less dangerous to you. Consequently, when the player encounters quests such as ‘The Velvet Curtain’ which requires them to swim out from the shore to a sunken submarine, spending so much time in the water will seem less dangerous.

Gerard Delaney is the first of many to write about Minecraft this week in a post on his blog The Binary Swan called ‘Childhood Again’.

Have you been reading Quintin Smith’s Rock Paper Shotgun series of game diaries called ‘Mine the Gap’? If not, you’re in for a treat. Those still attempting to resist the call of the Mine are warned to stay away, however.

Alex Raymond has one question for Team Ico and I’ll leave you in suspense as to what the question is, instead I’ll summarise the post as a solid backhand to Team Ico’s explanation for their choice to change the protagonist in the forthcoming title The Last Guardian from female to male. It almost makes me wonder if there’s some kind of publisher pressure, as per Leigh Alexander’s ‘No female protagonists at Activision?’.

Amanda Lange at The Second Truth blog chronicles the diminution of Samus Aran that, Lange argues, has been an ongoing process for the past twenty years:

Has Samus actually physically shrunk? Hm, hard to say; the portrayal of her height could just be chalked up as inconsistent. She looks pretty short in Other M, but then again she’s also standing next to other space marine types in big power suits. Has she metaphorically shrunk? Yes, definitely.

Also discussing the latest Metroid, Matthew Weise at the Outside Your Heaven blog writes about ‘What Metroid Other M Can Teach Us About 3D Game Design’, namely how it handles 3D combat in faux-2D environments:

The effect is somewhat like being trapped in an ant farm, but a slightly wider ant farm than normal, giving the player some limited room to move laterally.

Richard Clark writing for Gamasutra looks at ‘How Faith Is Treated In Red Dead Redemption’:

Rockstar has accomplished a fascinating and moving picture of a man running from his past, but it’s also a cynical and overly simple statement about the nature of redemption and spiritual concerns. By granting John and many of his acquaintances a three-dimensional personality but refusing to offer the same treatment for those who would seek to speak to Marston’s spiritual questions, they do their character and the player a disservice. The game is both less interesting and more oppressive as a result.

How do I link to this piece that a kind reader sent in? It’s a fairly colourful screed I wrote about the non-word “replayability”, and how it is contributing to the ongoing difficulty in writing about games with accuracy and clarity. Your mileage may vary, I suppose.

And in a similar vein, Matthew Armstrong of the Misanthropic Gamer blog dusts off and republishes an old post complaining about the ambiguous use of the word “gameplay”.

Jamie Madigan’s The Psychology of Games column for Gamasutra looks at ‘Priming, Consistency, Cheating, and Being a Jerk’. Madigan believes that games should make more use of priming, as “It’s a staple of advertising and surprisingly easy to do.

In a look at the processes affecting the men and women behind the curtain, as it were, Luke Halliwell of Real Time Words (developers of the now defunct All Points Bulletin) outlines “Where Realtime Worlds went wrong”. Says Halliwell,

In the end, I’ve settled for a set of observations that are cultural in nature.  With my knowledge of what happened, these are the closest I feel I can get to root causes.

There’s also a part two, and a part three.

Mike Dunbar looks at the design lessons of Pathologic and The Void in the second part of his series for Chronoludic.
Over at Bitmob David Banaham looks at the ‘One Button’ design aspect of classic game Another World/Out Of This World:

Things have just started, and you’re already drowning. Bubbles rise to the surface, reminding you that air is no longer in your lungs. Having no idea what to do, you frantically press anything. Your panic meets reward when you discover that every button is the “swim-for-your-life” button.

Still at Bitmob, Ben Cook tells us that ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Bad Games’ and Layton Shumway reckons ‘Casual Games Are Changing the Industry For the Better’:

As I wandered the show floor at PAX, I couldn’t help but notice how similar many of today’s “hardcore” games looked and how many sequels were on display. Another generic fantasy MMO. Another drab space marine shooter. Another zombie game. Where was the real outside-the-box thinking, the spark of creativity? In the independent, downloadable, and casual games, that’s where.

And lastly for the week, Hellmode’s Ashelia writes about the trend towards “digital deluxe” and collectors editions in ‘The Collectors Conundrum’.

I know it’s late this week, so let’s get right into it.

There are two video essays this week. Continuing his series examining Shadow of the Colossus and Ico, TheGameLocker published the third part this week. At the Escapist Daniel Floyd in his weekly video essay examines a single choice in Mass Effect 2, the implications and how only video games can present this moral dilemma as it does.

Michael Abbott explores the backlash G4′s review of Metroid: Other M inspired because actual criticism had the gall to slip into the piece.

Kateri looks at how Dragon Age: Origins escapes the women in the fridge trope, by actively playing on it and making use of the character rather than have them be part of the furniture, saying:

“I felt it like a punch in the stomach. It helped that the voice acting was a masterpiece of subtle emotion, but more than that – it was all true. She had been a plot device, her pain mere emotional leverage to set my protagonist on his journey. I had barely given her a second thought since the game proper began, focusing on my “important” quests, my “real” party members. But in that moment, she refused to let me do that. Screw you, hero boy, she seemed to be saying to my PC, you were the lucky one. I was raped, and you got to use it to your own advantage and then forget about it. I have never had the luxury of forgetting about it. Every day that you were triumphing over evil and hunting for treasure, I had to remember it, and live with it, and carry on anyway.”

Stephen Slota looks at what survival horror can teach us about math over at School in 64-Bits.

L.B. Jeffries looks at the classic debate of adventure games Sierra v. Lucasarts with a critical look at where each stood with respects to the genre. Also at Popmatters, G. Christopher Williams looks at how we market our games versus how book publishers market their product and the effect the absence of a name has on our particular medium.

Roger Travis at his blog Living Epic calls Halo: Reach an Epic and the implications of what it means for a game to be a classical epic.

“We should not turn away from a fundamental problem here: I’m a guy on a sofa, not a Spartan giving his life to save humanity. Indeed, the very interactive nature of the practice of playing Halo tends to emphasize, rather than cover over, the enormous gap between pretending to be Noble 6 sacrificing himself and actually dying nobly: when the game ends, we’re still on the sofa.”

The New York Times magazine has an interesting article by Chris Suellentrop, in relation to Call of Duty and the US military. While at Game in Mind, Matt Kaplan looks at the recent controversy of being able to play as the Taliban in the most recent Medal of Honor as an exercise of a Jew on Team Nazi.

Brendan Keogh writing at his Critical Damage blog, looks at how Liberty City evokes a real living, breathing city from the perception of the three inhabitants you can play and how each one gives a wildly different view of the same game space.

At Video Game Theory & Language, Christian Iconography is looked at in Dragon Age: Origins by Jeffrey Jackson.

CLINT HOCKING is back to blogging, looking at convergence in media and in our culture.

Zoran Iovanovici at Gamasutra writes about the theme of centralized power in the Metal Gear Solid series and what it can teach us about our present world, concluding:

“That’s arguably the true magic of the MGS saga – it makes players ask some pretty big questions. And for good reason, too. With real world organizations like the Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, the U.N., and WTO pushing for globalization, a global currency, a global court, and essentially a centralized New World Order; clandestine groups like the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg Group, and the Club of Rome calling shots behind the scenes; questionable global slush funds like the Red Cross hoarding money for unknown projects; and world threatening mega corporations like Monsanto seeking to control global food supply, the issues that MGS brings to light can hardly be glossed over.”

Sean Beanland goes back in time to play the first two Diablo games and examines the strangeness of some of their design choices, even among other rougelikes.

Chronoludic’s Mike Dunbar writes about Pathologic and the concept of death and disease therein.

And a post I never would have thought possible in the last decade, Charge Shot looks at Duke Nukem Forever, its history and the world that left it behind.

Critical Distance is back for another installment of This Week in Videogame Blogging. I’ll be filling in for Ben with a fresh round-up of the latest and most interesting pieces of analysis and criticism from all across the gaming blogosphere.

Kate Simpson at Falling Awkwardly has started a new series of articles on the metaphysics of Morrowind to remedy the dearth of critical analysis about the RPG. While the first entry is simply a primer to the series, the second and latest piece takes an in-depth look at a piece of Morrowind’s fiction, dissecting it as an attempt by its writers to explain save games in the context of the title without breaking the fourth wall.

It would appear that this Dragon Break has not been an isolated occurence. To explain the real cause of the phenomenon we need to rewind a little, to the ending of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Or, should I say, endings. At the climax of Daggerfall, the player is faced with a choice: to whom to give the power to control Numidium (“Anumidium”, “Big Walker”), the giant, world-stomping magic robot previously used by legendary Emperor Tiber Septim to conquer Tamriel. There are seven possibilities, and seven endings. Obviously, this left the writers ofMorrowind with something of a quandry – which ending to call canon, and write into the history books of Tamriel? The answer, which came to be known as “the Warp in the West”, was: all of them.

At The Artful Gamer, Chris Lepine tries to figure out how mastering a game is its own enjoyment, written as a response to Jamie Madigan’s article at Psychology of Video Games on how gaming can be good for your mental health. Lepine writes:

I see the “poetic imagination” as one source for the joys of play. When I imagine through the world that a story, a poem, or a game  has to offer, part of me is “in the game” and part of the game “is in me”. I cannot distinguish very easily between myself and this imaginary world. In those moments, where I allow myself to imagine freely while respecting the world the place has to offer, I am at my most playful.

Jamie Madigan also writes a piece on Gamasutra comparing jam reviews to video game reviews.

Puny humans are pretty bad at combining an array of weighted factors so as to arrive at a rating or decision –it’s just not how our minds were designed. Jelly or game review guidelines that require us to over analyze our decisions or check them off against a standardized list of factors (graphics, sound, etc.) can exacerbate this limitation and lead us to consider what should be irrelevant information when making our ratings. This corrupts the rating process and takes us farther from our “true” feelings or evaluations.

Chris Dahlen of Save The Robot has a new installment of his on-going series where he covers game universes. In his latest article, “The World to End All Worlds”, he talks about World War II as a world unto itself, which has been a stage for countless works of fiction including many games.

At The Escapist, Ben Croshaw, best known for his Zero Punctuation series of video reviews, argues against the use of the term “gamer”, stating that while we have no reason to feel ashamed of playing video games, we shouldn’t be too proud of it either:

The point I’m trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by. People don’t call themselves moviegoers, or TV watchers, or book readers. That’s the job of marketing agencies.

Robert Yang discusses the illegibility of the free roaming city at radiator blog, calling player agency in “god games” a complete illusion. On the topic of SimCity, he writes:

We aren’t actually creating a city; we’re just optimizing some preset numbers and formulas about how Will Wright thinks a city should privilege high property values or high density housing or nuclear power.

“For as often as I died while playing N+, maybe the best compliment that I can pay it is that I didn’t mind a single time,” writes L.B. Jeffries on Popmatters. Jeffries argues that instead of frustrating the player with its difficulty, N+ encourages the player to master its challenges.

This is a really tough problem to fix in a game because you really can’t predict what weird crap people are going to do. N+ perfectly resolves the issue because you die too quickly to ever invest in a particular strategy. You know that you’re doing something right in a level if there aren’t little bits of ninja scattered everywhere. It’s what helps turn the game into something that you play repeatedly even if you die because you’re puzzling out the correct sequence of moves, making death an intrinsic part of play and also one that feels rewarding.

Steven O’Dell of Raptured Reality brings up some very interesting points on video games and the industry’s seemingly adolescent obsession with violent behavior in “Weapon Overload“. He argues that game developers can and should look beyond the norm, and attempt to do much more with the game space available.

Also on the topic of violence, Ferguson of Interactive Illuminatus has completed a series of articles covering the very subject. In part 5 of the series, Ferguson discusses the role of violence in art:

The reasons for questions about the moral implications of experiencing works made in new artistic medium all boil down to the same thing–that while the violence may be depicting something already depicted by an earlier medium, the new medium is much more successful in its depiction.  New artistic mediums are a double-edged sword in this regard.  The reason for their rapid embrace by the public is exactly the same reason concerns over graphic content arise: they are simply more graphic.  Graphic violence is considered a kind of pejorative in today’s litigation-addled world, but artistically it’s nothing but a compliment.  To depict something more graphically than what came before is the entire goal of art.

Spectacle Rock’s Joel Haddock covers the subject of licensed games, with a look at some of the industry’s best and worst moments with its use (and abuse) of licensed intellectual properties.

At GamerLimit, Kyle MacGregor analyzes Flower’s environments as narrative spaces, which tell a subtle story of two clashing worlds–of man’s relationship with nature.

When the sun sets during the second level of Flower, it provides an absolutely breathtaking landscape where the silhouettes of turbines line a crimson-gold skyline slowly fading into darkness. This addition of wind turbines may not seem like a particularly huge development for the location in terms of beauty or tranquility, especially considering the environmental connotations associated with the structures, but this marks a distinct turning point for the title’s setting. The world of man and that of nature has begun to intermix. That environment is forever changed, and because the will of man differs from that of nature – a conflict is born.

Rounding up this week’s compilation is Ashelia’s comparison of Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain at Hellmode. She elaborates on their similarities, and expresses her disappointment on the wasted potential of the games. She sums up Heavy Rain’s problems as:

In Heavy Rain, it rains. It pours. A couple of boys are murdered. And then it rains some more. While it looks gorgeous–a collage of scenic cityscapes drenched in a torrential downpour–nothing else happens. It does very little and shows even less.