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.
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.