October 31st

October 31st, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 31st)

This week we have a plethora of interesting writing, gathered from the furthest ends of the videogame blogosphere. Let’s start with the stuff that got lost in the editors’ inbox for a few weeks:

Matthew Gallant writes in to suggest we take a look at Nav Alang’s piece at his blog Scrawled in Wax. ‘A date with the Taliban’: Dating Sim, meet contemporary global conflict, you’ll be fast friends.

Erik Germani at Weapons-Grade Ennui also looked at Medal of Honour a few weeks back, synthesizing quotes and positions from many of the people who wrote about the furore at the time.

Benjamin Garratt wrote in recently to let us know about his blog-mate Erik Lockaby’s excerpts from his novel ‘Kickaround Nixon’ which Lockaby describes as “…a fictional account of the 1983 U.S. National Video Game Tournament, with a focus on a few members of the team and their attempts to pass the 256th screen of Pac-Man.” It’s weird and intriguing stuff, consisting of largely assembled quotes about Pac-Man. Here’s part 1 of Kickaround Nixon and there’s a part 2 here but I’m not sure what (if anything) the latter has to do with videogames.

Jamey Stevenson lets us know that he’s written about Hidden Agenda, which by the sounds of it is a game well worth playing, and with friends:

From a design perspective, it is notable for providing a complex and nuanced political simulation that expertly leverages the inherent strengths of interactive systems to engage players in a deep exploration of its subject matter.

Radek Koncewic of the Significant Bits blog has been playing Final Fantasy IV and has found that its design has held up well over the years:

FFIV is a relatively simple RPG by today’s standards, but its overall structure still holds up. In fact, I prefer its setup to most current entries in the genre

Zachary Alexander at the Hailing from the Edge blog has been playing Super Meat Boy (along with the rest of the world apparently) and writes this week about ‘Super Meat Boy and Signalling’.

Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer blog continues the SMB love-fest by riffing on the idea of the platformer as videogames own version of Jazz – something original, based on standards, and performable in a myriad number of ways.

Speaking of platformers, Sara M. Grimes at the Gamine Expedition blog looks at the Arts & Crafts aesthetic in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.

Adam Ruch at Flickering Colours talks about ‘The Great Undiscovered of Minecraft’, dissecting the appeal of the game by breaking it down into two primary feelings: The first ‘is akin to being a small God in a simple universe’ and the second is ‘a strong feeling of presence. Tele-presence one might call it in the parlance of the late 90s game scholarship.’ I do love me some late 90’s game scholarship.

Alex at Batrock explains ‘Mass Effect: The Road to Shepardition’ and why a Mass Effect film would miss the point:

That every Shepard belongs to the player means that there is no single Mass Effect canon. Different Shepards created different universes, and to watch a movie that asserts that something you know in your heart is blatantly wrong is to bring pain upon oneself.  The movie removes power and agency from the hands of those most dedicated to the subject matter: the players.

Michael Clarkson at Discount Thoughts believes we’re witnessing the emergence of a new videogame genre, and documents the ‘Values and Characteristics of the Cinematic Action Game’. The CAG could catch on, I reckon.

Ben Medler at Tread Digital looks at ‘Why Mirror’s Edge is Modernist and Assassin’s Creed is Postmodernist’. I’m not entirely sold on this idea, as modernism/postmodernism are both more pernicious ideas than the article seems to portray; that said, it’s certainly well worth a read.

For GameSetWatch, Andrew Vanden Bossche opines: ‘The Games as Art Debate is Dead, Long Live the Games as Art Debate’, which is about how I feel.

This week Kotaku thought they might look at the state of PC gaming, and in this video Mike Fahey examines at the ‘Many, many deaths of PC gaming’. I think the general rule of thumb is, whenever anyone says something is ‘dead’ we can in all likelihood say it’s actually alive and well.

Robert Yang completes his fourth-and-final part on The Philosophy of Game Design for The Escapist magazine. This has been one of the must-read series in recent memory, in my opinion. Catch up on parts one, two and three.

Point-Counterpoint: still at The Escapist, the Extra Credits video series looks at ‘Symbolism’ and horror for Halloween. While at the Seeking Avalon blog, the author of a post looking at the Extra Credits video is suitably horrified (har har) at the video own lack of self-awareness or criticality about its own use of Symbolism:

…in choosing symbolism, they talk about horror symbolism and ‘The Self’, ‘The Uncanny’ and ‘The Other‘ and apparently no one involved thought about the symbolism and unconscious message in the episode’s art.

Case in point: “There’s no little stick people of colour in this episode, not even when they bring up the concept of ‘bigotry’. So when they’re talking about ‘expectations of the self’ and ‘things that are just a little bit off’, there’s no darker than pale-beige image associated with what’s right and normal.”

At PopMatters, G Christopher Williams examines ‘Fallout: the scrounging simulator’, for what its teaching kids and adults alike about the benefits of frugality in these tough economic times. Staying with the PopMatters crew for the moment, and Fallout: New Vegas, Rick Dakan looks at ‘Sex Workers and Sex Slavery in Fallout: New Vegas’:

For all its bugginess and slightly outdated graphics and stiff animations, this is the area where Fallout: New Vegas shines most brightly, presenting you with compelling moral quandaries and letting you make decisions.

And then to round off the PopMatters trio, here’s Nick Dinicola talking about (what else for the week of Halloween) the sadistic horror of the kids in survival horror game Rule of the Rose.

At The Border House blog, Quinnae Moongazer has a very lengthy post examining a Pen and Paper RPG called Eclipse Phase. Here’s its brilliant and intriguing introduction:

When we’re children we’re often taught that great ideas are the product of great minds; blessed ideas that spring forth from the creator’s cranium like Athena from Zeus, fully formed and miraculous. But the truth is that ideas of the most compelling sort have no one source, and can come from the most intriguing of places assembled from seemingly dissociated bits and pieces. Recently in my writing about theory I’ve tried to convince you to look at it as something that grows from daily life and is itself a kind of practise as a result. What this way of looking at things enables you to do is see ‘theory’ as being more ubiquitous than it may first seem when you, say, look at a college textbook.

Remember Chris Green’s post at Chronoludic about Demon’s Souls as Epic Poetry last week? Well, here’s the follow-up.

At Bitmob this week, Adam Corando looks at the sexist visual imagery in Test Drive Unlimited and concludes that ‘Sexism in Games Is More than Skin Deep’. I’m just going to quote the editors note in full:

Portrayals of women in this medium need serious examination. While some defensive gamers like to tout traditional gender constructs of men as evidence that we don’t have a problem, this dismissive attitude fails to recognize the inherent differences between the stereotypes in question. We wonder why so few women seem interested in games development; the industry has embraced a “boys club” mentality for far too long, and Adam makes the case that Test Drive Unlimited is a prime example.

Whether inspired by Corando’s piece or just the result of a happy accident, Darry Huskey writes that for ‘Women in Games: It’s About Strength, Not Sex’ which views the issue through the lens of Miranda from Mass Effect 2.

Thanks goes this week to Eric Swain doing most of the hard work in collecting these links. Enjoy your Halloween!

October 24th

October 24th, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 24th)

Another week, another haul of the best game writing and criticism the internet can provide.

First up this week is Chris Green’s look at ‘Demon’s Souls as Epic Poetry’ for Chronoludic. It’s worth reading because it’s an attempt at actually writing some epic poetry about Demon’s Souls; whether it works or not, it’s a step in an original direction that is worth pursuing and promoting.

Speaking of Demon’s Souls, Matthew Armstrong at SnakeLinkSonic continues his discussion of the game linked to last week in his latest piece ‘Dying to Speak’.

Mike Schiller wrote a piece for the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog this week, all about ‘Sacrificing horror for the sake of human competition’. Schiller looks at whether multiplayer compromises the horror elements of Dead Space 2 and if the trade off is worth it.

The single most outstanding piece I read this week was undoubtedly Christopher Thursten’s take on Metro 2033 at the Exit/Warp blog. Here’s a significant excerpt to whet your interest:

Like Bioshock, Metro 2033 is a game about the relationship between ideology and personal agency, set in the crumbling remains of a society trapped in a destructive and unsustainable holding pattern. Also like Bioshock, Metro 2033 treats conflict, in gameplay terms, as a transaction between the player and the game. Both are in this regard closer to first-person survival-horrors than first- person shooters, preferring to challenge the player with the threat of running out of ammo rather than the threat of receiving a surplus of ammo to the face. More broadly, Metro and Bioshock alike confront the player with decisions and revelations that ask them to reflect on themselves as game-players as well as player-characters; both share an interest in the ontology of interactive fiction, and to this end are willing to push up against the fourth wall.

The real surprise comes in Thursten’s conclusions about the ‘morality’ system that Metro 2033 employs, and the games commitment to “tactile fidelity”. Persuasive stuff.

Leigh Alexander writes for Thought Catalogue about Facebook games and Cow Clicker. It’s a solid take on the Cow Clicker tale and its implications for Facebook gaming, and gaming in general.

Pippin Barr goes ‘Strolling in the Zen Game Garden’ and is inspired to consider strolling causally through videogames more often:

What would it feel like to play Baseball Stars for the NES and to think about the smooth swing of the bat, the greenness of the field, the beauty in the curve of a pixellated pitch? What if, in returning to Final Fantasy XIII, I spent more time taking a walk, either skirting the enemies in my path or even pausing just to admire them? How about if in Kane & Lynch 2 I had dawdled along in the restaurants and alleyways to look more closely at the world, to resist the impulse to progress, to run forward only to hide behind another pillar, shoot another head as it pops up.

Angelo of the Bergsonian Critique blog places ‘a critical eye on tear’ from Tales of the Abyss. We’ve seen quite a few character analysis and profiles of interesting JRPG characters of late – is there something in the water?

Jorge Albor at the prodigious Experience Points blog (who just recently celebrated their 100th podcast – congratulations Jorge and Scott) thinks about ‘Master Chief After Reach’, and comes to the conclusion that,

In many ways, Halo: Reach retroactively makes Master Chief a more interesting and compelling character. I cannot help imagining what sort of camaraderie he may have had with Noble Six and other Spartan soldiers on Reach.

Likewise, Albor’s blogmate Scott Juster has been busy writing for PopMatters this week about ‘Dusty Pixels and Patchwork Stories’, looking at how easy is it for developers to retroactively patch the endings or elements of their game, to drastically change the meaning and overall experience. It matters because it presents a challenge to maintaining games in their original ‘pristine’ condition.

Here is a game: Fairy Princess Escape” is a piece by Kirby at The Border House looking at what seems like a really interesting, progressive and open videogame made just for girls. And yet,

“Everything was going so well! …Until I beat the game and saw the win screen…”

Lisa Foiles writes for Kotaku about ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall: Clever Gimmick or Slap in the Face?’ Foiles observes,

Games poking fun at themselves, by proudly proclaiming their fictional nature, is a gimmick that works well for [comedy games]; it keeps things light-hearted and fun. However, this technique feels awkward when used in more serious games that involve life-or-death situations. It almost feels like a slap in the face.

Also at Kotaku, the new Australian editor Mark Serrels talks with games writer and academic James O’Connor about games stories, discussing Gears of War and Call of Duty’s meta-narratives.

Margaret Robertson spends Five minutes with Minecraft and comes up with the best, most succinct description of the game I’ve yet read:

Minecraft is a game where you mine stuff and make it into other stuff. In Survival mode, which is mostly what the people who are talking about it are talking about, it’s a single player game set in a vast algorithmically generated landscape of beaches, mountains, and plains. Everything in the world is made of blocks, and every block can be “mined”, which will remove it from the world and convert it to a resource the player can use.

Robertson goes on to touch upon mechanics, ‘the religion of notch’ and ‘finely tooled’ design.

Observant readers will remember Michael Abbott’s take last week on Medal of Honour’s missed opportunity for meaningful engagement with real world issues, and so I present this as a counter-point to Abbott: Grayson Davis at Beeps and Boops writes in a piece called ‘Medal of Ice Cream’ advocating a more pragmatic attitude towards the FPS genre’s likelihood to convey meaningful messages. Davis argues, quite persuasively I think, that:

…we look too hard for insight in a genre that is fundamentally about pointing a gun at something and killing it; a genre defined by the immovable presence of a lethal weapon aimed at anything you happen to be looking at; a genre defined by the shooter, not the first-person.

Fraser Alison at RedKingsDream hits one out of the park this week with ‘The biggest problem facing the games industry’:

Not the suits: they’d disappear in a month if we stopped supporting them. Not the angry ranty geeks: for all their lack of social graces, they often reserve their passion for the things that deserve to be supported. No, it’s the ordinary people who keep handing over their money for overproduced, soulless shit that doesn’t need to exist, either because they don’t know any better, or worse: even though they do.

At BitMob this week Alejandro Quan-Madrid has some “Concerns of Addiction, Race, and Penises in Call of Duty: Black Ops Multiplayer”,

When asked if they were concerned that Black Ops would have the same addictive hallmarks as traditional gambling, minus the real-world money, Olin responded that he “hopes so” but then backtracked a little bit.

Mitu Khandaker talks Kandinsky and Game Design – looking at emotionally affecting games, music and art, and a whole lot more besides.

Daniel Purvis makes his triumphant return to game blogging/criticism while taking a few minutes to reflect on his time as a game critic writing for his now defunct blog Graffiti Gamer. It’s an honest take on what it’s like to put your ideas out there on the internet about these crazy things we call videogames:

I never felt like I found my voice when I wrote for Graffiti Gamer. It wasn’t just a place to dump words, I tried to write like I had something to say, and to make it entertaining, yet I was forever doubting the validity of each topic and every word. Posting to Graffiti Gamer felt like a return to adolescence. It was a place to voice an awkward opinion, to puff my chest and talk tough, pretend I was smarter for a time while in the company of adults. But, I was there. I read the articles, posted the comments, and got into debates out of my depth. And, I was accepted.

And lastly in a week of big hits, here’s Jason Nelson’s newest digital poem (or ‘videograph fiction’ as he calls it) about Pac-Man, A Family of Dead Eaters. Well worth the two minutes it’ll take you to figure it out.

October 17th

October 17th, 2010 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 17th)

Ben is away for the weekend and has asked me to step in once again at the last minute. So here we are, another weekend, another This Week in Video Game Blogging.

Last week a few good pieces were submitted late and as a consequence weren’t included. Matthew Armstrong has a duo of posts examining Demon’s Souls. Ian Bogost looks at the hubbub around the most recent Medal of Honor, saying free speech is not a marketing plan. The blog ThinkFeelPlay continues its exploration into why we play. Margaret Robertson from Hide&Seek looks at the word gamification and why it doesn’t mean what marketing people think it means. And Sinan Kubba looks at Nier as a caregiver.

Okay, onto this week.

Robert Yang at the Escapist continues his series ‘Philosophy of Game Design’ with parts two and three.

Lauren Wainwright writes on her personal blog ‘Sex Sells. But who’s buying?‘ responding to a defensive argument on the nature of video game “journalism.” Lewis Denby does the same looking at the same “news” blogs’ need for ‘Hits and Tits.’

Meanwhile, the Border House has an entry in their series Characters Done Right looking at Grace Holloway from Bioshock 2.

Extra Credits has a great introductory video on the need for ‘Diversity‘ in video games, promising future episodes exploring different types. Also this week at Before Game Design is a heavily annotated post about diversity not only in games but in our cultural mindset.

This week Matthew Armstrong does a close reading of the Maiden Astraea encounter in Demon’s Souls and exactly how it affected him and why. Richard Castles at The Age also does what amounts to a close reading of the iPhone game Angry Birds.

Jorge Albor in his Moving Pixels column looks at confined spaces in games and the sensations we elect from them.

Jason Killingsworth writes a review of Metal Gear Solid 4 that expresses disdain to the overblown nature of the series and has become intolerable with the latest entry, a series whose theme was subtlety that completely lacked any.

Amid the overcooked dialogue and thinly veiled Iraq war commentary of the aforementioned cinematic, Snake describes the new face of war: “ID-tagged soldiers carry ID-tagged weapons, use ID-tagged gear. Nanomachines inside their bodies enhance and regulate their abilities. Genetic control, information control, emotion control, battlefield control-everything is monitored and kept under control.” And just in case you missed the symbolism of this narration early on, Kojima introduces the Screaming Mantis boss character in Act 5 who hijacks the movements of Snake and a secondary NPC with-wait for it-puppet strings. (I see what you did there!)

Thomas K.L. on Frictional Games’ official blog writes what is missing in gamers’ understanding of what story is.

Upon hearing the word story, most people probably think of a chain of connected events. For example: “A princess is kidnapped; a brave knight rides to save her; the knight faces a dragon, the knight slays dragon and saves the princess; finally the knight gets half the kingdom and marries the princess”… This is not the right way to think of stories. The chain of events is just the plot, and it is a device used in order to get the story across to an audience.

Kris Ligman writes ‘Disney and Square: A failure of Synthesis‘ at Popmatters.

This week we say goodbye to the writings of L.B. Jeffries as a video game critic. His parting post is about video game criticism itself, how many are doing it wrong and how easy it can be to do a design-centric criticism. Best of all we get to see the inner workings of a critics mind and briefly what shaped it into the way it is.

Finally we have two posts looking at the shooters that have entered the modern era. Michael Abbott writes about Medal of Honor and in its attempt to honor the subject matter disables any attempt at portraying truth.

Ironically, EA’s decision to avoid ambiguity ultimately disables Medal of Honor’s narrative and impairs the game’s authenticity. MOH’s refusal to address complexity (or go anywhere near it); its saccharine deification of the American soldier; and its persistent refusal to allow the player to think for himself, neuter what might have been a powerful interactive experience.

And the best for last. Written by Joshua Casteel, a former Abu Ghraib interrogator, this is an article about how he sees Modern Warfare 2, hovering in that strange realm between realism and reality. If you’re going to read only one piece of writing from this post, make it this one.

October 10th

October 10th, 2010 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 10th)

This Week in Videogame Blogging returns with a fresh showcase of the best writing and criticism about videogames the internet has to offer.

First on the list is a thoughtful article on the Brainy Gamer blog, where Michael Abbott writes about how games can provide meaningful narrative experiences through gameplay, rather than stories delivered through forced cutscenes. He does so by juxtaposing Etrian Odyssey III with Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, suggesting that the latter suffers from an impotent narrative.

EO3 doesn’t try to keep your attention by doling out backstory and plot twists. You’re glued to your characters because they’re your babies – evolving works-in-progress that you must wisely and patiently help along if they are to reach their full potentials. It’s not paint-by-numbers. Classes can be played differently depending on how you spend your skill points. It’s in your hands. There is no single right choice, but you can make plenty of wrong ones. Sort of like life.

True to form, Hellmode’s Ashelia penned an insightful piece to share her experiences of Final Fantasy XI and her impressions of Final Fantasy XIV in a piece entitled “The Final Fantasy MMORPGs: Roads Less Traveled“.

My overall conflicted experience with Final Fantasy XIV still didn’t stop my jaw from dropping the first time I saw a dust storm settle over the sky of Ul’dah at night.

But for better or worse, Ul’dah and its dust storms are something that many gamers will never see. Unfortunately, not many saw its distant cousin Bastok either. The roads to the cities of Bastok and Ul’dah, to the games of Final Fantasy XI and XIV, are one and the same. They’re all roads less traveled in a world covered by interstate. Still, I like to believe that the scenic route is worth taking time to time–if you aren’t afraid of getting lost.

In a new piece on Kotaku, Leigh Alexander takes a close look at her personal gaming habits and how they define her. In this intimate piece, she writes about how she’s never gamed alone and how she now misses the companionship.

On Gamasutra, Alexander has a report of Richard Bartle’s GDC Online talk on the creation of the first multi-user dungeon that definitely merits a read. In his presentation, Bartle discusses the immersion offered by text-based MUDs and explains how present day MMORPGs suffer from limitations imposed by graphical representations and inconsistent physics.

Bitmob returns to us this week with a new piece by Rob Savillo who tears into Front Mission Evolved and its failure as a mech game, arguing that it plays more like a standard third person shooter than anything else.

Pippin Barr has a short piece on his love of videogame glitches and how they can impact his experience of playing a game in a positive way by taking him to a place out of the ordinary.

At Popmatters, L.B. Jeffries talks about the fragmented perspectives of Fatal Frame 2 and how the game’s insistence on leaving the player in the dark to its secrets strengthens its narrative as a survival-horror title.

For this reason, a Japanese horror game is often unconcerned about resolving spiritual issues. Ghosts just exist. There is a unique advantage of not getting bogged down in explaining supernatural details in the narrative because the whole point is to play on the person’s worst fears. Leaving the dark unspeakable evil unexplained is better because the moment you reduce it to words or images the player’s imagination no longer feeds it. The abstraction loses traction.

Also on Popmatters, Nick Dinicola takes apart the ending of Mass Effect 2, calling it the least suicidal suicide mission he’s ever experienced — at least after his second playthrough. Nick examines the strengths and weaknesses of the endgame and postulates on how it could have been better executed. He writes:

Attacking the Collectors’ base in Mass Effect 2 is far from suicidal. If I have even a vague sense of what to do, it’s easy to keep everyone alive.

GamerMelodico’s Kirk Hamilton writes about his return to PC gaming and looks at how tweaking his system settings is a joy in itself.

Alex Raymond of the Border House has something to say about the “Dickwolves” issue on Penny Arcade and how the whole episode has left her feeling excluded by a gaming community she wanted to be a part of.

Rob Zacny writes on his blog about the difficult decisions he’s had to make while playing Valkyria Chronicles in a new piece about the game’s rescue mechanic.

Rounding up this compilation is a post by Clint Hocking on his personal blog discussing the problems that current fashion design games face in a post titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Hocking proposes a theoretical game that not only solves those issues but enables such a title to share its content across a wide variety of different games in a meaningful way.

October 3rd

October 3rd, 2010 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on October 3rd)

Welcome to another fine week of videogame blogging and criticism, let’s start at the beginning and see where it takes us.

Spanish Language blogger Rass, responsible for the videogame blog ‘Botón B’ has a piece called ‘Cadáveres y polígonos’ (or in English ‘bodies and polygons’) which seems interesting. Here’s a Google translation to pick up the gist of it.

Robert Yang covers a bunch of bed-rock western philosophical concepts and how they’re embodied or represented in game design for The Escapist. I enjoyed this feature immensely and can’t wait for more.

Evan Stubbs of RedKingsDream is making his kids play games. Why? Because Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer found his class of college students struggled to play some ‘classic games’ and Stubbs doesn’t want those skills lost:

To me, their reactions are a sad indictment on how games have been progressively moving from an intellectual challenge to what my parents were always concerned they were – a timewaster.  Growing up with these games taught me stuff, damn it; games were more than mere mechanics, they were personal and social challenges.

Sean Beanland writes on his blog Alethiometry about the original Diablo this week in a post titled ‘Clicking In A Technicolor Dreamcoat’.

This is a sad week for those of us who have consistently enjoyed the work of Kieron Gillen. He has left his position at Rock Paper Shotgun, and thus, his foot is almost entirely out-the-door of videogame journalism, depriving the rest of us of his unique talents. How better to go out than by looking at a few things he wrote this week: first, ‘Mechanic Spoilers: Beyond I Am Your Father’ which looks at potentially messing up the impact of mechanics in games by revealing their tricks. Not covered is the issue of whether or not reading about a mechanic can substitute for actually encountering it, but that’s probably beyond the scope of the piece. And in the week that Planescape Torment became available again for purchase, Gillen re-published a retrospective of Planescape Torment. An appropriate note to leave on.

Matthew Burns at Magical Wasteland does not review Kayne and Lynch, revealing instead that,

The only reason I played it all the way through recently is because someone once told me he thought the anger and annoyance that this game evokes in you, the player, was a respectable achievement because that’s, like, the whole point of the story– that these men are angry and annoyed and ultimately impotent in the face of the world even though they kill a lot of people.

Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer revisits Super Mario 64:Even today, fourteen years and five flagship Super Mario games later, when Mario springs out of that green pipe and shouts “Wahoo!” I still get a little chill up my spine.

Speaking of Super Mario 64, David Carlton also talks about that game in addition to Mario Galaxy 2, beginning like this:

More and more, I’m valuing video games for their density; to that end, might I not get more out of my (quite limited) gaming time if I were to make my way fairly directly through games, or even not to finish them, bailing out once I’ve gotten most of their novelty? Or, alternatively, maybe I should dive into video games in more depth, really trying to plumb their depths, to master them? When contrasted with those alternatives, my current state of affairs looks like a middle way that speaks more of spinelessness than Buddhist virtue.

A trio of pieces from Melbourne Freeplay games festival director Paul Callaghan this week, the first about Flower and answering the question of whether there will ever be a game that makes us cry:

My answer to the question of ‘will a game ever make you cry?’ was when do we see characters in games cry? In other mediums, the reason they affect us so strongly is because we feel a connection to their journey, to the earned emotional context or to the specific emotions they are going through.  Flower manages to capture that emotional arc, despite the barrier of no human characters to easily identify with.

In the second, about games and ‘The Need for Rockstars’, Callaghan says that “The business case is easily made, and has been made repeatedly in the past, but to really capture the eye of government and balance the arguments of established cultural crusaders, we need more than the business case – we need rockstars of our own.” The third is about the impact of the Global Financial Crisis of ’08 and how it severely impacted the Australian games industry.

Another trio of posts, this time at community site Bitmob: Jon Porter looks at ‘Heavy Rain and the destruction of traditional game design’ which is a catchy title if ever I saw one; Richard Moss writes about ‘The Sound of Falling Tetronimoes’; and Rob Savillo brings us ‘Two Stories of Conquest and Catastrophe in Civilization 5’.

At Pop Matters, Jorge Albor writes about ‘Photo Opportunities in Videogames’, suggesting that rather than detracting from player engagement, viewing a game world through an in-game lens can contrarily serve to draw us in further.

David Tracy at GamerMelodico takes us back with Valkyria Chronicles and X-Com. Always good to see games outside this month’s releases getting another look.

Nels Anderson at Above49 muses on collectibles, using the oft-pilloried Alan Wake collectible thermos to explain why we should ‘First, Do No Harm’:

But why are “bad” collectables bad? If some people don’t like them, they can just ignore them, right? The problem is poorly designed collectables can have subtle but dramatic impact on the game’s pacing…

Steven O’Dell at Raptured Reality is doing a kind of live-blog of a whole season of Codemasters’ F1 2010, calling it ‘Living the Life’. This kind of cross over between criticism and creative writing is a rich and interesting area that is cropping up all over the place.

At Gamasutra, Andrew Vanden Bossche writes about ‘Skippable Cut-Scenes And How Words Work In Games, suggesting “two rules for the use of all words, written or spoken, in a video game: 1. Words must never interrupt the game. 2. Words must never be skippable”, and still at Gamasutra, Simon Parkin does some analysis of Uncharted 2 – ‘One Year On’.

At GameSetWatch, Emily Short’s Homer in Silicon column is about ‘The Only Way To Win’ this week.

At Gamers with Jobs, Alex Martinez talks about Halo: Reach and

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, as much as it pains me to commit to electronic paper, my takeaway from Reach is a sense of epic grandeur. But it’s something that has little to do with anything pressed onto the silicon disc that faithfully sits in my living room: it’s a sense of epic camaraderie.

Jonathan Stickles at Preparing for the Apocalypse tries to nail down the elements of the games he finds stick with him the most: Civilization, Starcraft, Team Fortress.

This week I have the pleasure of pointing you towards a very promising blog entitled ‘Think Feel Play’ by Shoshannah Tekofsky. She uses her computer science and psychology background to full effect – check out ‘You Are Who You Play You Are’, which looks at the current state of MMO research. Mostly she calls for ‘More research please’ which is always A Good Thing.