August 28th

August 28th, 2011 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 28th)

Hello! Welcome to another episode of This Week In Videogame Blogging, it’s been a busy week for the blogosphere, which has seen some heated but reasonably productive discussion. But we’ll get to that.

First, the loveliest thing I’ve read all week (indeed, the loveliest for some time longer) is ‘Games Saved My Life’ which is a collection of essays and stories organised by Ashley Burch (of ‘Hey Ash Whatchya Playing’ fame). They tell tales of salvation through games, featuring stories like this one in which “Morgan McCormick, a transgender gamer, talks about how video games were an essential part of her ability to accept herself and her identity as a woman”, and in ‘Game Therapy’ “Greg Kaperski credits Final Fantasy 8 as the only thing that helped him come to terms with the death of his first love.” This is brilliant, moving stuff.

Joel Jordon at Game Manifesto writes an extensive essay on ‘The Anticapitalism Allegory of No More Heroes’.

Steven O’Dell is celebrating 25 years of Metroid by discussing games in the series in some detail, and this week he looks at some of Metroid Prime’s Magic Moments:

These moments are small in comparison to the majority of the game, but they stand out because of their clever use of subtlety and implied storytelling; their demonstration of just how successful the transition from 2D to 3D actually was; and because of the way in which they compel you to keep on playing through the allure of exploration and discovery.

Daniel Vuillermin writing this week for the Australian Gamer site has a piece on ‘The Psycopathy of Violent Videogames’. Here’s how he sets up the discussion:

I have killed tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands. I can’t remember what most of them looked like let alone their names. And I couldn’t care less. Such a state of detachment characterised by a lack of empathy, guilt or remorse is symptomatic of what is broadly termed psychopathy yet it is also what gamers often experience when playing violent video games. But they’re just pixels right, so why should we care?

A pair of posts from PopMatters this week: “In defense of spoiler warnings” by Scott Juster looks at a recent study out of UC San Diego that investigated the nature of spoilers and found that such warnings may be unnecessary as “giving away surprises makes readers like stories better”. Juster’s take on it is that,

If anything, the study illustrates the difficulties of trying to empirically measure enjoyment and the dangers of imprecise definitions of pleasure.  Video games, perhaps more so than any other medium, are defined by the exploration, discovery, and the learning process. Because of this, spoilers often detract from what makes video games special.

And then if that weren’t enough contention for you, G Christopher Williams goes on a lengthy spiel about ‘Why Videogames Might Not Be Art’. But before you jump to conclusions, Williams takes a very thoughtful approach, identifying some real gaps in the argument against ‘it’s just a game’, and drawing on the history of aesthetics and aesthetic philosophy to bridge the gap between pure subjective response and rock-solid facts:

I personally very much dislike the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What bothers me about the phrase is its implication that recognizing beauty can solely be understood as a result of the perception of a thing and that somehow the object under observation has not in some way had the effect of provoking that recognition. In other words, sure, I might recognize that a rose is beautiful, but it isn’t merely because I decided arbitrarily that the rose is beautiful. There may be some qualities inherent in the rose that makes me respond that way. Both my subjective experience of the rose and the rose itself objectively have something to do with why I feel the rose is beautiful.

Williams goes on to tease out some implications from the necessary distance required for an aesthetic experience (and the lack-thereof, in games). Hamlet is only a cathartic tragedy for the audience, not for Hamlet himself. If it were ‘us’ that this were happening to it would be nigh impossible to have the kind of cool, dispassionate view required to appreciate the full scope of the tale. Contra videogames, in which there is no distance – we are Hamlet. Instead,

…there is a certain thrill that I get when riding on a rollercoaster that is quite similar to moments that I have had when playing Call of Duty. I don’t think that either of these “thrills” are aesthetic responses, and in that sense I can see a detractors point in not feeling like gaming is quite like viewing a work of art.

Williams doesn’t take it as far as saying that games never can maintain the requisite, ahem, critical distance from the work, and I’d tentatively suggest my favourite games are the ones that somehow flit back and forth across this divide.

Moving on, and this week at the Critical Missive blog, Eric Schwartz riffs off the words of BioWare’s Greg Zeschuk and looks at ‘The self-made irrelevance of RPGs’.

Richard Goodness at Second Quest asks a question in the headline and answers it himself: ‘Is LA Noire sexist? Well…yeah.’ Goodness is responding here to an IGN piece by Emma Boyes who argued that the game could tread a path through historically accurate sexism and still hold onto a modern commitment to equality (the difference between presenting sexism and condoning it, perhaps). That seems to be Goodness’ point:

LA Noire not only depicts a world where women are more peripheral, it doesn’t question this status. Women genuinely are relegated to the background. I guess what made this the most obvious to me was the Homicide arc, where every single victim is a woman, and every single death is sexualized. The women are naked, raped, beaten, violently killed. One rape/murder is an aberration, a violent crime which must be brought to justice. I don’t mind a gritty detective story which features that as a case. However, when every single case features the same MO, it gets a little…unnerving. After I examined the third body of a mutilated women, I began to suspect that the game possibly had some agenda against women. After the fifth, I was sure of it.

Joel Haddock at Spectacle Rock is revisiting the late 80s game Wasteland which he played as a kid (we mentioned the beginning of the series earlier). Well he’s up to part 6 and I have it on good authority that this is an excellent series. Part one is here, and the latest entries are parts four, five, and six. History!

Kirk Hamilton of Kirktaku fame and his daring companion Leigh Alexander of SVGL are continuing down the road that is the original Deus Ex, even as the latest game in the series is released this past week. They’re up to part three and they’re talking about choices.

Joel Goodwin at Electron Dance looks at what we’ve lost from the 80s in his ongoing series ‘Where We Came From’:

After the 70s, powerful computing technology moved into the home then invaded the space in our hands. The draw of the arcade waned. Pubs now make do with dreary quiz machines and one-arm bandits. No one wants to see the old coin-op any more. It is done.

At The Border House blog this week the blogger sidbiscuits asks fearfully… “Did she just money-shot herself with his neck-blood?” The answer to which is tied up in sexualised violence in games, priming the discussion with a rather disturbing finishing move from the character Skarlet in the recent Mortal Kombat game.

LB Jeffries series of posts on ‘Gamification and Law’ at Banana Pepper Martinis has been, without exception, excellent. This fourth instalment is the same:

To make better laws you have to get at the core of why it’s okay to enforce laws and why people obey them in the first place. Do people do it because it’s what the herd does when authority, sometimes with force, tells them to act or do they obey the law because they personally believe the law is correct and good? For gamification, the issue is are they buying your product because of its intrinsic value OR are they buying it because it levels up their stats? Because whether you’re marketing toothpaste to kids or organizing a reward program for recycling, you can’t fix it or improve it without understanding the underlying mechanisms at work. The problem is further complicated because the answers is not always crystal clear. As Ronald Dworkin points out in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Law, the problem is not which answer is right but how do you tell the difference?

And then, as if that weren’t enough for one week – Jeffries has also posted The Thrilling Conclusion.

And lastly, we turn to the furore surrounding last weekend’s Freeplay conference (which I attended) and try and sketch out how the conversation around the panel called ‘The Words We Use’ evolved.

The first response to the panel’s failings was by Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage, who sketches a tentative definition of videogame criticism and rejects some of the statements the panel made about the nature and existence (or lack thereof) of videogame criticism:

What ultimately caused the argument and its tone to be so, well, dumb, was due to what I think are much vaster issues in and around videogame writing, and the things that were said at this panel hit it home pretty hard that these things are really quite serious problems for those of us who care about videogame writing. So I think it is more constructive to talk about these problems than to throw harpoons at the speakers themselves. The fact they seem so oblivious to these following things should be a wake-up call to us that we need to do something about these problems. These problems, in list form are:

…in the original article, which you will have to go read.

Katie Williams of the excellent Alive Tiny World blog, who was also at the panel, wrote about why the controversial sessions shouldn’t mar the otherwise excellent festival.

Following a news write-up of the panel and the anger that it stirred up in the crowd, I decided that I wanted to set the record straight about why there was so much anger, and in the process discussed tried to explain why it’s not enough to just be ‘against’ sexism anymore, arguing for more challenging of sexist statements and attitudes.

Blogger Scarlet wrote her own feelings out for her personal tumblr blog, reiterating why it’s not okay for the panel to have done and said some of the things it did:

So here was the recipe for the perfect storm.  The dismissal, the ignorance toward women writers, then the attempt of diffuse utterly inappropriate dick joke, then finally the most mind bafflingly expression that “the way women treated in the industry is not a problem and it will fix itself” when  just a moment ago a panel of expert video game journalists couldn’t name a single worthy female writer while a Walkley Award winner was right in the room. That was when the audience, and Twitter, exploded.

Following that post, the chair of the panel, Leigh Klaver, created a blog just to respond to the post, now forever known as ‘THAT panel’ (and some more comments from the other panellists can be found in the comments sections of the posts linked here and above).

Lastly, two award winning games journalists Tracey Lien (who was present) & Laura Parker (who was not) discuss their experiences with being a female game critics. Lien’s opening is particularly eye-opening:

I was at Freeplay this year. I sat in the audience during the “Words We Use” panel, in silence, as the chair of the panel said that he felt that there was a divide in gender in video games, and that he didn’t “tend to get a lot of critical, serious comment or articles from females in games”. I sat there as a member of the audience suggested that we move off the topic of female games writers because “the problem would solve itself naturally as the industry matures”. I sat there and I said nothing. I said nothing for the same reason I have said nothing since I started writing about video games (unless we count the odd angry tweet). And that reason is fear.

To which Katie Williams bravely added her own experiences, in ‘It’s time to stop being afraid.

To these and other women in games criticism, journalism, and games writing I say: we are listening.

August 21st

August 21st, 2011 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 21st)

Kris was a little off last week. Apparently Ben is off gallivanting at FreePlay conference in the wiles of Melbourne, Australia with other game critics and academics. So while he’s getting panda with all them I’m taking over for a week.

Speaking of which, Ben sent me a piece by Ben Eltham at talking about #freeplay and how video games are an art form.

And two pieces we missed from last week. Martin Watts at Bits & Bytes Gaming wirtes “For the Love of Isometric RPGs” and a celebrity guest editorial by Amanda lange at Tap Repeatedly entitled “How I fell into the Generation Gap.”

Speaking last week, Kirk Hamilton and Leigh Alexander are at it again. Writing letters back and forth talking about a classic game of old, one of them has played it before and the other is a noob. Last time they did Final Fantasy VII and this time, it’s Deus Ex. And instead of Paste, the conversation is now at Kotaku. Part 1 and Part 2.

Troy Goodfellow, last week, finished all the writing on the nation characters, but this week he wraps it up with an Epilogue and the strategy focused podcast There Moves Ahead episode 130 with Rob Zachy. If you haven’t been listening to this show, you should start.

Meanwhile, Joel Haddock of Spectacle Rock begins his own series as he begins his playthrough the original post-apocalyptic RPG: Wasteland. He talks about his original experience with the game all the way back in 1991, his modern view of the character creator and finally his roleplaying as the Long Arm of the Law.

We keep saying that we don’t link to reviews, but it seems every other week someone is doing our best to prove us wrong. Filipe Salgado reviews The Stanley Parable, a Half-Life 2 mod, for Kill Screen. And a little more on The Stanley Parable at PopMatters, Aaron Poppleton writes “Even Winning Feels Bad: Agency in ‘The Stanley Parable.'”

Gregory Weir on his blog Ludus Novus asks, “Why so few violent games?

In some ways, it’s a historical aberration. If Gygax and Arneson had made some war-focused game instead of Counts and Courtship, or Will Crowther had decided to entertain his kids with his obscure caving hobby instead of an exploration of his childhood friendships, perhaps the focus of our games would be different. Doom wouldn’t have been an oddball niche title if there were a hundred other games at the time about shooting aliens with guns.

Robert Yang says “It belongs in a museum!” with regards to video games. Then he wonders if they really do: not because of the art question, but because we are human and can’t play normally in a public space like we can when experiencing something on our own.

Your Critic K. Cox turns her eye on death in gaming looking at the particular connection the player has to the avatar with regards to their ultimate fate.

Unlike Alyssa, I don’t get stressed when my first person player character “dies” in Portal.  Her death is impermanent; the player’s respawn is nearly instantaneous and the game replaces puts the avatar pretty much right back at the site of the player’s failure.  I no more stress out about launching myself into a turret (oops) than I do about laying a jigsaw puzzle piece in the wrong corner, or about missing a move in Tetris. Portal is ultimately about solving puzzles and although there’s a great narrative framework going on, I don’t feel personally affected by Chell’s ceasing to be; I only feel frustration at my lack of talent or timing.

Eric Shwartz at Critical Missive continues writing on the Encounter Design in shooters with the 201 level.

Guest Anna Anthropy at the Border House talks about the virtues of the Saint’s Row series with regards to inclusively in the character creator. Saint’s Row 2 in particular does this by letting you create whoever you want to be and then never judging you even if you play as a, say “as a burly man in a dress and heels, a woman with a beard, someone totally androgynous – I played through the game as a fat woman, and I can’t remember the last time a game, mainstream or otherwise, gave me that choice.”

Jonathan McCalmont gives us an epic length piece on why he is meh about inFamous 2, transforming it into an examination of mindless entertainment vs. mindful entertainment.

Becky Chambers does a write up about the first female StarCraft 2 pro, Eve, for The Mary Sue.

Eve, on the other hand, will most likely have to deal with this mess being dragged back up any time she loses a match. There’s nothing that can be said about that, except that I think it brings up something that most female gamers have felt from time to time. For many of us, playing the game doesn’t just mean being good enough. It means needing to be the best. We all, on some level, want to be the Disney after-school special in which the girl wins the championship for the underdog team. If we’re going to play, there is that underlying feeling that we damn well better be on top of our game. We had better be able to win.

Kick some ass, Eve!

Abe Stein on his blog A Simpler Creature, writes about how sports video games are made for sports fans and how it is improved with all the little nuisances put in there solely for making the game more real to those who know it best.

Part 6 of Andrew Doull’s Proceduralism series came out; this time, he focuses on the architecture created. The first 5 parts all came out last year, so you might want to catch up first. Links to the previous parts are in the above post.

And finally, because I’m lazy I’ll give this last one to Ben:

In the same week that Warren Buffett told the US to stop coddling the uber-rich, this Ponzi scheme was outed in Eve Online. I didn’t think it was necessarily worth including in TWIVGB – instructive, yes, even educational but hardly criticism, right? Well, Pat Holleman disagrees, telling me that “Oh, but it is a criticism! It’s a practical criticism of the players. It’s a criticism of banking. It’s a criticism of capitalism. I can think of nothing more critical than what they have done and said. It’s just not self-consciously critical.” and I think he’s right.

Please, if you read something interesting tweet it to @critdistance or email the link to us at our email.

PS. Check out for all the latest updates on our favorite Kotaku contributor. (I’m sorry Kirk, I had to do it.)

August 14th

August 14th, 2011 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 14th)

Welcome back for another edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging, your #1 source for critical and theoretical discourse on games.

You can tell Bogost has finished a book, because he’s writing regularly for the net again:

In his short treatise On Bullshit, the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt gives us a useful theory of bullshit. We normally think of bullshit as a synonym—albeit a somewhat vulgar one—for lies or deceit. But Frankfurt argues that bullshit has nothing to do with truth.

Rather, bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit.

Gamification is bullshit.

Bogost’s entry has provoked several response pieces, but here are my personal favorites. First, Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are asserts that the positivity advanced by Jane McGonigal and gamification should be embraced. The second, from David Myers of Post-Katrina Blog, explores philosophical definitions of happiness and beauty in relation to gamification and concludes:

…claims such as [Tadhg] Kelly’s ultimately misrepresent beauty, associating beauty and play less with art and the values ofaesthetics than with artifice and the politics of popularity.

Moving on to other topics, Voyou Desoeuvre draws our attention to “apocalyptic” capitalism in Portal 2. This week also saw Troy Goodfellow’s popular ‘National Character’ series on Civilization come to an end with ‘The Zulu National Character’:

The Zulu were, however, the most obvious of the African. Like the Babylonians, Meier probably used them in the game because, first, he needed an Africa civ that wasn’t Mediterranean Egypt, and second, people knew who the Zulu were. Recognition was the important thing here. The default name for the first Zulu city in Civ 1 and 2 was Zimbabwe – which is not even a Zulu city.

It is, however, the center of a great Bantu kingdom of the middle ages and if you see the Zulu as the most prominent of the Bantu people, then I guess you can squeeze it in. The Bantu migration through southern Africa marks that language group as one of the most widespread in the world; Rise of Nations in fact uses the Bantu as a faction with the special power of Migration. So you get to build one city over your cap and cities are much, much cheaper to begin with. If you want a quick landgrab, the Bantu are the proper faction in Rise of Nations.

Fans of Goodfellow’s series are encouraged to check out his coda of nations that didn’t quite make the list, with some rationale as to why.

For more on race but focusing on inclusivity practices among developers, Brandon Sheffield has concluded a stellar interview for Gamasutra with BioWare’s Manveer Heir on diversity in games:

I think part of it comes down to most games, I feel like can still be drawn down to the male power fantasy of saving the world effectively. When you do that, there are only certain types of characters that make sense for that, right. You’re not going to have an elderly woman save the world. If you did, and you pulled it off and it’s awesome, you’re amazing.

So, I think when we don’t try to do things that are out of our comfort zone, we fall back into comfortable patterns. And like you said, the lack of diversity just in the general industry, at least in North America… I think how to solve that is a much harder and bigger question. I think it’s having more minority people in video games recognized.

I don’t mean necessarily calling them out because they’re a minority. Rather that in general, game creators are not recognized. Besides a handful, people don’t really know them. And I only know of a couple that I can think of that aren’t usually white males.

And if you haven’t been following Kate Cox’s Beyond the Girl Gamer series, shame on you.

Even a game that has some excellent tendencies within, in terms of race and gender, can fall down in its universe construction. While taking on the universe from the deck of the Normandy, has Commander Shepard ever met a female salarian? (No.) What about a female turian? (No.) And of course no female krogan.

“There are reasons,” one argues. “The salarian matriarchy system! The genophage! Well, Garrus used to have a turian girlfriend!”

Those aren’t reasons. Those are in-character explanations for a design choice that a team at BioWare consciously or unconsciously made. […] A game can include female characters galore, and yet still find itself an example of incoherent world-building that doesn’t take gender or sex into account in any way.

Over on PopMatters, Scott Juster writes about getting to know Zelda as a character rather than an archetype. And Maggie Greene’s recent play with Okamiden has led her to write about Chinese literature, games, and the necessity of some narratives to be fuzzy at the edges.

And these three pieces on design may prove of interest. The first comes from Patrick Hollerman of The Game Design Forum about learning curves in casual and hardcore games. The second arrives to us from Critical Missive as an extensive look on encounters in first-person shooters, to which this older article by Steve Gaynor may prove a good companion piece.

Lastly, while we do not usually run reviews here at Critical Distance, Kill Screen seems to consistently make an exception of itself. And Jamin Warren’s Hunter S. Thompson-esque foray into Duke Nukem Forever simply cannot be denied:

Duke Nukem Forever is a bit like reviewing your adolescence. You are being asked to tell the drunken, spray-tanned uncle that his moment has passed, or you have caught your high-school teacher sipping margaritas as gargantuan as his loneliness at Applebee’s. Duke is having his Norma Desmond moment. “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

There is a tendency to think of modern games as acontextual—to ignore their past. We trick ourselves into ignoring those previous iterations, such as the gap between Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid, because frankly they do not matter so much. This is the future. We are beyond those childish days, and their constraints no longer shackle us.

Duke Nukem Forever is the diametric opposite. It is hard to conceive of its present without the past. Without the weight of expectation, the embarrassment and thrill of adolescence, the tinge of the illicit, Duke Nukem Forever is nothing.

That’s it for this week of This Week in Videogame Blogging! Stay frosty, citizens of the web, and we’ll be seeing you again next week–same Ben time, same Ben channel.

August 7th

August 7th, 2011 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on August 7th)

Hello world. It has been a strange and wonderful week, both within videogame writing and criticism and without. But we are only interested in the within because it’s time for This Week In Videogames Blogging.

And here to lead the charge is an entertainingly sweary Kieron Gillen and John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun arguing about Limbo, and whether or not the game is made from a ‘dickish’ design strategy. Gillen:

[Saying] “it’s your problem not the game’s,” is a silly argument. Of course it is. It’s like me saying you giving Magna Cum Laude 3% for its outrageous sexism was your problem, not the game’s. Something can be completely accomplished in what it’s trying to do and still be rejected, because the philosophy the object expresses is vile.

Strong stuff whether you agree with Gillen or Walker. Possessing a similar strength of conviction this week is Tom Bissell writing about iPad gaming ‘Beyond Angry Birds’ for Grantland, crystallising the differences between these types of ‘gamey-games’ and longer, larger, more spectacular console games:

Many of these pure games — less grandly known as “gamey games” — have little of the narrative ambition (or, to put it less kindly, bloat) typical to console games and, as a consequence, don’t bother trying to push the same emo-cognitive buttons. They get in your head, to be sure, but through different passageways. Another way of saying this is that console games do everything in their power to form a relationship with you, which can be great and rewarding and, just as often, aggravating and tedious. iPad games, on the other hand, are like someone you meet in a bar and find yourself screwing in the bathroom 10 minutes later. This is not a criticism.

Luke Miller explains for the reading masses at Australia’s independent online news outlet Crikey, “How Computer Games Became a Spectator Sport”. Probably most interesting perhaps as a demonstration of how a mainstream press outlet can write about games reasonably well:

Last month, 87,000 people watched the livestream of the grand final of the popular DreamHack Summer tournament, 5000 more than attended the 2010 NRL grand final in Sydney. While the television audience of more than 3.1 million for the rugby grand final dwarfs the audiences for any StarCraft II match, the 3.2 million registered players worldwide for the game suggest the potential viewership is not far behind the domestic competitions. The money involved so far is a fraction of that of professional sports, with the top 25 players earning on average $US48,000 in a year-long tournament circuit worth about $3 million.

Have you been keeping up with Electron Dance’s series called “Where We Came From”? I confess, I hadn’t. In this eighth instalment, Joel Goodwin discusses early LucasArts games in ‘Tomorrow’s Promise’.

Ian Bogost has had a remarkably prolific week, with two pieces exceedingly worth reading and discussing. The first is his Persuasive Games column for Gamasutra, which is essential reading for anyone interested in how designers, critics and players talk about games. It takes aim at a particular type of discussion of games that, to Bogost, feels proscriptive and is couched in problematic language surrounding normalcy and aberrance. It’s called ‘From Aberrance to Aesthetics’. Drop what you’re doing and go read it now.

And then when you’ve done that, go read the full comment by Frank Lantz way, way down the bottom of page which is perhaps equally important and timely. Here’s a short, powerful excerpt:

…it is never enough to apply the insights of neuroscience and behavioral psychology to the craft of making more powerful game experiences. We must invite our players into the tent, we must give *them* some of what *we* are smoking, we must recognize that every game, from the smallest Sudoku puzzle to the largest imaginary universe, is a trip into unlicensed neuroscience and irresponsible behavioral psychology, a Stanford prison experiment we run on the make-believe jail of our own consciousness. Because you can never, ever be simultaneously inside and outside of your own head, you can never, ever look into the past and the future at the same time, you can never, ever be here now, and that’s exactly what games allow you to do.

The second of Ian Bogost’s remarkably readable pieces from this week is on ‘Why Debates About Video Games Aren’t Really About Video Games’ for Kotaku, and you could certainly read the first piece in light of this. The crux of it is that:

The debate about newsgames’ value as speech turns out not to be a conflict between support and detraction but rather a conflict between the games themselves and the games as cogs in someone’s favorite discourse machine.

And while we’re at Kotaku, the site’s newest editor Kirk Hamilton lovingly skewers the character of Geralt from The Witcher 2, and looks at ‘The Videogame That Got Jazz So Right’. Well done Kirk. Weldokirk.

Matthew Gallant at The Quixotic Engineer has a remarkably descriptive mechanical analysis of Jamestown and the dramatic arcs its various mechanics bring out. Mechanics! Meaning! Together like one big happy family:

…the game’s lasting appeal rests in the strength of its peculiar Vaunt mechanic. When activated, Vaunt grants the player a seemingly arbitrary list of benefits: a brief bullet shield, followed by increased damage and a score multiplier for as long as the energy meter is kept filled. In practice, this mechanic gives Jamestown its own particular systematic rhythm of tension and respite. I’d like to use Vaunt to explore the idea that a game mechanic can have an inherent dramatic arc similar to those created by traditionally authored stories.

At the Throw The Looking Glass blog Paul Sztajer looks at ‘The Half-Cinderella’ riffing off a Kurt Vonnegut lecture looking at narrative arcs, and applies the same to videogame ‘ludonarratives’:

So what does your average game do with the Good/Ill Fortune ludonarrative graph? They, like the story of Cinderella, start somewhere between low to average on the scale, and then staircase upwards as the player gets better. And better. And better. And at some point the staircase becomes a Staircase to Heaven (sorry, couldn’t resist) as the player becomes God-like, and then they kill the other (notably more evil) God-like entity. And then the game ends. Midnight strikes and your gravity gun turns back into a pumpkin, but the player is long gone. Or the pumpkin can throw both people and objects around, making you more powerful than ever before.

Turning now to the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog, and a pair of posts to peruse this week – Kris Ligman talks Bastion and its attitude to death (or failure):

…the player gains an important lesson in mortality. But more than that, she is jerked into a sudden awareness of what we could most charitably call the game’s narrational safety net—and perhaps less charitably, its narrational leash. Death is possible in Bastion, but it is difficult to achieve. Even in the event that death does occur in an area, the Kid is merely warped back to Home Base and the bad end that he was just met with is excised as another of the old man’s tangents.

And G. Christopher Williams talks about how a particular mechanic in Catherine allows players to empathise with one character’s feelings towards time:

…the strength of these sequences in supporting the plot of the game aren’t merely representational.  The most clever thing about them is the way that they allow the player to not merely “get” what Vincent is going through but to put the player in a position to feel something quite akin to Vincent’s discomfort about what he is going through: a sense of the pressure of time itself.

K Cox of the Your Critic Is In Another Castle blog discusses the reactions to the vote on the appearance of FemShep in Mass Effect 3, in ‘O Commander, My Commander’ (and which also links to a great selection of other reactions to the game, for those interested):

One of the most remarkable things about this franchise to date has been the complete equality of both versions of Commander Shepard. The game, required to accommodate both characters, has been unable to go off the rails into hugely gendered territory in either direction.  When it comes to writing and to character animation, the existence of each Commander Shepard keeps the other in line.

Katie Williams at the Alive Tiny World blog found her gaming-self as a teen growing up in Malaysia. She says, “Moving to Malaysia transformed me from a kid who liked to play computer games occasionally to a full-on gamer – and I owe it to piracy.

Troy Goodfellow at the Flash of Steel blog has doubled-up with two entries to The National Character this week: The Mongol National Character and The Roman National Character. Wait, was Rome really a ‘nation’, or was it an Empire? Or is that part of the point?

Some Civ players would defend the overpowered [Praetorian] unit with the appeal to history, in general a weak argument against balance. The thinking was that Rome was special. Rome was different and huge. A modestly better swordsmen wouldn’t make the Romans the Romans. They need something big and amazing, appropriate for their empire. Where no Civilization game really tried to fit a faction to an historical model in any true sense, for many Civ 4 players, there was an expectation that if anyone should have an overpowered unit, it’s Rome.

The next post for this week is, well, really a series of short creative writing pieces about Far Cry 2 by Taylor Cocke at the Scoreless blog. Start with ‘Sunshine’ and then read all the stuff tagged ‘Far Cry 2’ in order. Players familiar with the game will find it uncannily evocative.

At the KillScreen daily blog Lana Polansky looks at ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ which somehow connects James Joyce’s Ulysses with Bayonetta, largely by way of comparing literary reception and game reception.

Finally, for our German-speaking readers, the German language website ‘Titel Magazine’ is trying to do something like what we do with TWIVBG for their German readers and the German games blogosphere. There is no shortage of non-English speakers interested in game criticism, clearly.