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Well I’ve managed to just sneak this post in before the end of the month – where the heck did it go?!

No matter – let’s see what the blogosphere has cooked up in response to our theme of Love:

How do games communicate love? Can they? Do they? Can we find something approaching love in our relationships to games? When we say we love a game, what does that really mean? I’m interested in the the capacity of programming, silicon, and input/output devices to convey or impart feelings we can truly characterize as love. I’m guessing each of us has a story…and maybe for some, the answer is simply no.

I neglected to add the code snippet for this month into the announcement post, but if you want to add it in now, copy and paste the following:

<iframe src=”http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=February12” frameborder=”0″ width=”600″ height=”20″></iframe>

Which should look like this:

Okay, who’s first?

Alan Williamson at the Split Screen blog writes about ‘LoveGames‘ and Bad Romance:

It’s hard to imagine a medium that is less concerned with love than gaming: in films, music, art and literature, we take it for granted that it’s going to receive a mention. Although most people are probably sick of Adele by now, you have to admit that if the album 21 were penned in response to a mediocre Pokémon collectathon, it would lose some of its appeal.

At Taufmonster’s log, the author tells us about love in Shadow of the Colossus.

Cody Steffan at Where’s Your Belly? tells us a sweet tale of gaming with his partner, and with his two year old daughter.

At The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps asks ‘Is Marriage Too Boring For Video Games?

Dan Cox at Digital Ephemera struggles with the topic and ends up talking about why we don’t feel the same thrill of love or attraction in his post ‘Bits of Love‘ .

And lastly, Rainer Sigl at Video Game Tourism reckons that ‘In games, love is just a lie, made to make you blue‘, and looks at the issue through the lens of the ending to the 2008 Prince of Persia game.

And that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who contributed, by joining in the discussion or by posting their own entries. If we missed yours please let us know in the comments below.

We’re taking a skip month in March, as GDC is likely to preoccupy a few of us for the first half of the month, but we hope to be back in April.

We’ve been holding out for a hero, and we’re not gonna take it anymore. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Love is a battlefield, and we keep paying for map packs. Paul Tassi, writing for Forbes says we create our own problem by continuing to buy into the DLC schemes we decry:

It just isn’t correct to call these companies evil for attempting to extract more money from their industry. It may be eye rolling or exasperating, but it’s sort of like getting upset that auto companies charge extra for GPS, when really, all cars should come standard with it. The “exploitation” of gamers that I allude to in my title is really all in the control of the gamers themselves. Yet we all either fail to realize it, or simply don’t care.

(Trigger warnings for misogynist language and fat-shaming in the next block.)

One of the more toxic news items of the week was when the weeks-long campaign against Bioware developer Jennifer Hepler came to a crescendo. Many bloggers rallied to the writer’s defense, and several also pointed to the larger issues at work. Alan Williamson advocates for a change, saying “Passivity solves nothing.” Alex Layne, writing in Not Your Mama’s Gamer, wrote explicitly about the misogyny pervasive in the attacks against women in the industry and community:

We are called bitches, fat, whores, sluts, ugly; we are threatened with rape, beatings, and death; we are regularly hit on; we are told to get back in the kitchen, to cook some dinner, to shut our fucking mouths; and when we stand up for ourselves, we are blacklisted. Those in the industry continue to make games with all male protagonists, reinforcing the idea that gaming is for men; or they make female avatars with such enormous breasts and so little clothing that they become fan-fic porn stars; they hire men for the technical jobs, and leave women to women’s work. While game companies may not be casting stones, they are the ones bringing dumptrucks full of rocks and dumping them in front of an angry mob.

(End of Trigger Warnings section.)

Two posts took a closer look at some of the remarks taken out of context in the 2006 interview with Hepler and contended history would prove her right. Tom Auxier of Nightmare Mode argued that some of the best ideas for games derive from unpopular opinions. And Jeremy Klemm of The Pause Button declares Hepler “the Galileo of gaming,” writing:

[She's] ahead of her time, and she’s being punished for it. I don’t want to make too big a deal of this, but let me be clear on one thing: not only is Hepler right about her opinion, but I believe that history will prove it. Ten years from now, the option to skip (or automate) gameplay will be such a standard feature that no one will think twice about it, and this incident will be little more than an interesting footnote for everyone but Hepler.

The recent release of thechineseroom’s Dear Esther on Steam has also generated some (certainly less charged) commentary. The first, from Michael Abbott, suggests the unusual game’s influences should include Soviet montage. Jordan Ekeroth, meanwhile, dives headfirst into the psychological and spiritual crisis of the experience, writing:

In the end (and beginning, and all in between) Dear Esther is about being alone, and that can be a temporarily beautiful thing, but ultimately maddening.

Over on Play the Past, Roger Travis suggests that oral and bardic traditions were to be “played” with in much the same manner as modern games:

[In] each case, our play is bounded by a ruleset that controls the choices we make and the effect those choices have on the state of the performance in which we are currently engaged. Moreover, I want to suggest, those rulesets may be read comparatively in the way they specifically allow the player to play a mythic past.

Meanwhile, The Game Design Forum is in the midst of a very long and meaty deconstruction of Final Fantasy VI. On the leaner side, Patrick Garratt writes about how Far Cry 2 lends a sense of immersive plausibility he can’t seem to glean from its sequel.

Lest you thought we could go one week without getting into a meta-discussion on game blogging, Douglas Stewart suggests that game journalism is not the place for game criticism:

Writers for sites from IGN to 1up are video game journalists, performing the filtering and distribution function of a chain that starts with a publisher, lands with the consumer and ends in accounting. They serve to categorize, describe and quantify in their own terms the subjective worth of a game to potential consumers who are trying to make informed decisions of purchase. They’re also fans and gamers themselves, lest we forget. While I don’t envy game journalists, who have to deal with rabid fanboi’s, restrictive NDA’s and juggling authenticity with publishers demands, in the system I described there is no room for them for wholesale videogame criticism.

Wake me up before you go, go. But between now and then, how about a nightcap? Lewis Denby interviews Alexander Shcherbakov, the developer behind the lost cult game Stalin vs Martians.

That’s all for this week! Remember that you can submit your links via Twitter and email. Without your reader submissions, it’d be the end of the world as we know it.

The time has come, ladies and ladykins, for you to blog for your life! It’s RuPaul’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

We start off the week with a soft focus lens on the past, when the men were men and the games were ineffable. First, Jack McNamee at The Machination turns the spotlight on indie title Yume Nikki, whose obtuse nature is both nostalgic and a major selling point:

The moment you fully understand a game is the moment it loses the magic. You should never be able to get your head around an ideal game. Nevertheless, you should explore it, and make discoveries. By experimenting with these discoveries, you can use them to make more discoveries – never finding everything, but slowly building small islands of knowledge.

In a similar vein, Tevin Thompson challenges us to “Save Zelda“, saying the franchise’s “spirit of wonder, of potential secrets on every screen” has been diminishing with every sequel. Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer concurs, saying games as a whole have simultaneously grown easier to beat and harder to control. In doing so, Abbott brings up an argument left unaddressed by either McNamee or Thompson:

What role do accessibility and complexity play in these numbers? Are we making traditional games easier in hopes of attracting players that will never come? When we make these games more welcoming to newcomers by decreasing difficulty, adding help systems, etc., are we focusing on the wrong things?

From gameplay to story, several authors this week brought us narratologist realness.

Rich Stanton thinks sexual relationships in games need a facelift. And Tyler Jinks provides a clear and useful breakdown on the difference between a player-character and a player-avatar.

Meanwhile, Robert Walker proves that bigger is not always better with “The World is a Character Too!“: “Creating a world that is large is not the same as creating a world that feels large, and yet, one of these takes much more effort on the part of your artists and other talent.”

Nightmare Mode’s Tom Auxier, looking to harmonize structure and content, says that the boss fight can be saved– by using the device intelligently in the context of your game’s story. Using Fable II‘s final boss as an example, Auxier writes:

Were he a long, classical boss fight we would have triumphed: we would have won. Winning makes us feel good; it validates our revenge. Instead, Lucien takes one measly button press to go down. He dies before we can even process that we’ve killed him, before we can savor proving our mastery in the way of the classical boss fight, and that creates a very different reaction in the player. The revenge you pursued, that cost the lives of thousands of people and, more importantly, your beloved dog has consumed you utterly. In that one moment you can see plainly your failures over the past dozen hours of game.

And it’s brilliant. It’s a very modern boss fight, not challenge of mastery but instead punctuation.

Speaking of narratology and the recent lumps it’s taken from bloggers who don’t quite believe the Narratology-Ludology War is dead, Tadhg Kelly provides us with useful roundup of the recent discussion and adds his own commentary:

“What Is A Game Mechanic? Nobody knows. Or rather, everybody knows what they mean when they use the term, but nobody agrees.”

But two divas stole the stage by lending a musical flare to the debate. Gus Mastrapa thinks we should treat story in games as the score of a film. Kirk Hamilton goes one further and says that all games are music– and story are the lyrics.

Speaking of an awesome set of tunes, the International House of Mojo has a six-part retrospective on Grim Fandango, ending with an interview with Tim Schafer. The feature goes into some detail about the design of the game and the trajectory of its designer.

On the subject of design, Philtron Rejmer argues that games don’t involve choice at all: “Video games are like a series of multiple choice questions where every choice either lets you go to the next question, or forces you to repeat the current question until you figure out the correct choice. Actual multiple choice tests have more agency than this.”

As gamers we all have a choice, including the kind of culture we build for ourselves. That is the subject of the most recent Border House podcast, in which Mattie Brice sits down with guests Anna and Kim about the creation of safe spaces and community moderation. This comes at an apt time, as Anna Anthropy posts a strongly-worded critique of transphobic language in a recent Kotaku feature on Dani Bunten:

transphobia is rampant in games culture: it’s dangerous to all transgendered people and all women. it’s dangerous to everyone who participates in this culture. [...] to perpetuate incorrect myths about trans people and our identities is grossly irresponsible for a site like kotaku.

A couple articles this week sought to find the science in science fiction, a genre near and dear to the game world. Sebastian Alvarado kicks things off with the first part in a series analyzing the treatment of nanotechnology in Metal Gear Solid. Kyle Munkittrick, meanwhile, addressed a nongamer audience in effusively praising Mass Effect‘s rich SF setting, which not only measures up to the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars but introduces players to a cosmicist philosophy:

Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity. Amid the entertaining game play, the interspecies romance, and entertaining characters, cosmological questions about the value of existence influence every decision.

Seb Wuepper, writing for Gameranx, voices his dissenting opinion of the franchise, wondering aloud if we’ve all simply forgotten the “total thematic collapse of the franchise” present in the second game.

Wuepper might be throwin’ shade, but Patrick Stafford is serving up nothing but the T, criticizing game journalists who contributed to the Double Fine Kickstarter campaign in an essay in no small way reminiscent of AJ Glasser’s “No Cheering in the Press Box”: “There is a distinct difference between advocacy and participation.”

But we are all fans, or we wouldn’t be game bloggers, would we? If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? That’s the argument Rob of Mersey Remakes puts forward when he takes a more positive view of fandom, in particular calling out a rather critical Eurogamer article for its accusations of “fan entitlement”:

This isn’t the entitled generation. This is the generation where more people are more supportive of more things and they’re more supportive in the most wonderful of ways. There is no X-Factor generation, there’s just people and people are, mainly, pretty damn fucking good and do amazing things at the drop of a hat. [...] Being a fan is not just a case of sitting in a chair as the Eurogamer piece would have you believe, it’s a case of going out there and earning the money to buy the product, to support the developers, the publishers and whoever else has their skin in the game. It is the decision to choose us, to choose what we make, over something else.

Got a nightcap ready? If you don’t, you should really be reading Kate Cox’s trip through the feathery world of Hatoful Boyfriend. I’m not saying anything else. Just read it, honey.

(This week’s theme owes itself largely to RuPaul’s Drag Race, but also the always-fierce Denis Farr’s Pokedrag series. If you aren’t reading it already, you should definitely see about fixing that!)

Now, before you sashay away, remember to tweet and email us your hottest blog posts, reviews, critiques, commentaries, podcasts and smackdowns. We want it all, darlin’.

Whoa, but that’s a lot of words! Our Critical Distance update is full of good stuff today, people, so let’s get right into it.

Firstly, The Mary Sue’s Becky Chambers discusses what she dubs the ‘Hey Sweetheart Scenario‘, using Dragon Age as an example of a game whose NPCs treat a female player character as something to be taken aback by. Says Chambers,

If you, as a game writer, are tasked with creating a story in which the player feels like a bonafide hero, then what purpose does it serve to point out that my heroine is going to have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, purely because of her gender? That’s a feeling I already have in the real world, and it’s not one that I want to experience within a game. If you’ve actually got something to say about gender norms within the narrative of a game, then say it. Tacking it on just because it’s what you’re used to takes away from the integrity of the story and kicks female players right back to an uncomfortable reality.

In contrast to this, Ben Chapman at the Pixels or Death blog has some fascinating insight into gender in the world of Mass Effect in his piece ‘Dispatches From the Villain, Fem Shep‘. While he admits that he plays his male Shepard as a hero and his female Shepard as a borderline sociopath, he is amazed that his own “accidental misogyny” is not supported by the game world: “… scarcely anyone calls my Fem Shep ‘a bitch’. There are virtually no derogatory remarks belittling my capability to fight on account of my virtual boobs. No one makes a sarcastic remark about “my gender” and driving ability when I accidentally ramp the M35 Mako upside down into a crater.

At Nightmare Mode, Mattie Brice frankly shares her experience of growing into a transgender identity through the lens of Katawa Shoujo‘s Hanako. Brice says, “I saw her do something that triggered a muscle memory from my past: She covers her face.”

Paul Tassi, contributing to Forbes, has some things to say about piracy and the entertainment industry in his article ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Piracy‘:

I would argue that releasing crappy movies has a far greater effect on the film industry bottom line than piracy ever could. Similar things happen when a hyped TV show bombs or an anticipated game is a letdown. Companies don’t rise and fall due to piracy, but they do based on the quality of the products they release.

The point I’m trying to make is that piracy is not this mammoth specter killing the entire entertainment industry like they would have you believe. I am not saying that there has never been a dollar or job lost because of it, nor am I encouraging the illegal practice in the least, but the natural ebbs and flows of the industry with big hits and misses are far more significant than miniscule piracy loses among a specific, young, tech-savvy group who knows how to get their media for free.

Over at VG 24/7, Patrick Garratt tours Finland, with some excellent and quality reporting on what he learns of the Finnish development scene.

The Border House has picked up an intelligent analysis of ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’ by our own lead curator Kris Ligman, in which she touches upon topics such as games-as-fun, its modelling on Korean history, and its relation to the Star Trek series.

Additionally, Critical Distance contributor Eric Swain is at it again with an examination of Driver: San Francisco, this time looking at it alongside the movie Drive. Most memorable is his comparison of how the two works are firmly anchored in the act of driving:

Ryan Gosling’s character is solely defined as a person by his most potent ability: driving. He has no name, no past, and all the human contact that he has is filtered through driving. The dates that he goes out on? They’re night drives. The business ventures that serve as his main means of human contact? They are his job at a garage and stock car racing. He meets his “love interest” by helping her with her car. In an action video game, the protagonist is solely defined by the verb that the player uses to interact with the game. In the case of Driver: San Francisco and John Tanner, that verb is “drive.”

At Kotaku, Kate Cox looks at the David Jaffe’s blundering self-promotion of his newest game, Twisted Metal, asking us: ‘Does David Jaffe Really Recommend His New Game As A Sexual Aid?‘ Says Cox,

The part that Jaffe seems to misunderstand is that someone doesn’t need to be waxing a handlebar moustache and tying young ladies to railroad tracks to make a sexist or misogynist statement. Most trouble doesn’t actually come from villains and it doesn’t come from people who actively stand around shouting, “I hate women.” It comes from thoughtlessness.

By framing his statement as “let her win and she’ll give you a blowjob,” Jaffe’s said a few things he may or may not have meant to. The first is that only straight men could possibly develop an independent interest in playing his game. The second is that the best way for a man to get what he wants is to come up with some underhanded trickery to apply. The last is that a girl or woman couldn’t actually win a co-op match on her own.

Patricia Hernandez also made a splash at Kotaku this week with an epic-length piece called ‘The Rules of Religion, And Why The Next One Might Just Be A Game‘. She looks at a handful of games as well as the possible gamification of religion, but most striking to me, personally, was her retelling of his own family’s attitudes towards religion, as well as the sweetly self-aware acknowledgement of her Kotaku debut. It’s a long piece, but fully worth it when you reach the final few paragraphs.

Over at Gameranx, Brendan Keogh doesn’t believe that Skyrim is cold:

I was told that Skyrim was a harsh, desolate region, whose terrifying weather chiseled the toughest men and women in all of Tamriel. But then I walk its mountains and cities and I see adults and children alike strolling through a blizzard in sleeveless attire, not even flinching. My character swims in arctic conditions and doesn’t even gasp. I’ve come across bandit camps that are bedrolls completely exposed to the elements beside a campfire that couldn’t possibly be burning without an unhealthy dose of napalm. There is a whole heap of snow in Skyrim but there is no cold.

Also at Gameranx, John Vanderhoef looks at the trope of the male main character and his female companion in ‘The Princess and the Knight: Companion Games and Missed Opportunities‘.

There’s something about L.A. Noire that lends itself to incredibly intricate and pensive writing, and Daniel Golding’s post on it at his Crikey blog Game On is no exception. Though Golding calls it a “review” and admits that it’s only eight months late, to him, this “slowness” becomes an integral part of the game itself:

Reviewing a videogame within a week of its release can force you to overlook its subtleties and emphasise aspects that, with time, reveal themselves as far more important than apparent at first blush. Yet leave it too long and you risk falling into the cracks, the familiarity of a videogame massaging over the faults. Each game may have a rhythm, but so does every player, critics included. I am stuck in the spaces between L.A. Noire’s four-note musical motif.

But by now, I know L.A. Noire, and I know that it’s worth playing, worth watching, and worth spending time with. It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth contemplating.

And finally, the hot issue of the week was studio Double Fine’s Kickstarter venture to fund a new point-and-click adventure game, which at the time of writing has raised $1,659,095 of its $400,000 goal. No, really.

Craig Wilson of Split Screen presents ‘A Double Fine Audit‘, speculating what say fans will have in the development of a game they funded. Wilson writes,

What alarmed me was how willingly people donated given how little details had been made available. Sure there’s the usual tiered list of donation gifts and a funny video but Double Fine promise involvement in the development process. But outside of the documentary what does that mean? What does my money actually buy me? To what extent, as a financial stakeholder, am I actively involved?

On the other hand, Seb Wuepper at Gameranx asks passionately, ‘Are You People Insane?‘ Addressing the controversy around Double Fine’s crowdfunding, he says,

This seems like another case of gamer entitlement. The reasons escape me, since the downsides of this approach to funding seem minimal at best. If the worst happens, gamers are out by a mere $15 at the least. Which at this point seems highly unlikely since the project is already funded with more than a month to go. Make no mistake, this is not a risky investment. It’s a—for the lack of a better term—preorder for a highly passionate company producing what’s seen as a niche product.

Finally, Rowan Kaiser sits between the two as he writes ‘Double Fine’s Kickstarter Effect: What Happens Next?‘ Despite his expressing satisfaction that an older genre is given some attention, he outlines a number of reasons why he is “highly skeptical that this will create meaningful change within the industry”.

And that’s every last drop of the gaming goodness we have for you today. If you have any delicious recommendations for next week’s post, please do send them via email or Twitter.

Welcome to the second month of Blogs of the Round Table, and thanks again to everyone who participated in January’s great discussions. Don’t forget that you’re more than welcome to post a response or addition to someone else’s Round Table entry, and in the past that’s been some of the most interesting stuff to come out of this little exercise. But seeing as it’s February now, that means it’s time for a new topic to inspire out collective blogging imaginations. This month Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer has kindly given us our topic for the month, and he’s chosen…

LOVE.

How do games communicate love? Can they? Do they? Can we find something approaching love in our relationships to games? When we say we love a game, what does that really mean? I’m interested in the the capacity of programming, silicon, and input/output devices to convey or impart feelings we can truly characterize as love. I’m guessing each of us has a story…and maybe for some, the answer is simply no.

Love! I don’t get enough of it / All I get is these vampires and blood suckers… ahem. I don’t know about you, but I’m extremely excited about this topic and although a double bout of tonsillitis kept me from contributing last month, be sure I’ll be doing my best to get a post in this time. The topic actually reminds me of many of the things the Digital Romance Lab have been interested in, and you can check out their blog here. As always, questions, comments, and links to your own responses to the theme can be left here in the comments, sent in via twitter to @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag, or you can send us a plain ol’ email.

I can’t think of a clever intro. It’s This Week In Video Game Blogging.

The recently released Katawa Shoujo has garnered a lot of attention for how it came into existence and for it being a quality experience, something no one could have seen coming. Our own Kris Ligman says that Katawa Shoujo could be accused of many things, but cynicism is not one of them. And given where it came from, that is something. Know Your Meme, meanwhile, is heading off comments about the people saying “I’ll never meet a girl like that” countering with “You’re doing it wrong.”

Michael Peterson at Project Ballad writes extensively on Persona 3 and how the game presents the concept of free will.

Richard Clark writes a response at Christ and Pop Culture about one person’s reaction to Settlers of Catan who said the game is “fundamentally antithetical to Christian vision and existence.” Clark responds: “Perhaps the #1 rule of approaching a game rightly is as follows: take it seriously, but keep your perspective.”

Lana Polansky writes a review of Oíche Mhaith for KillScreen - it’s an indie game about a girl in an abusive home, and how it conveys the utter destruction of a little girl.

Matthew Schanuel, the Ontological Geek, examines Deus Ex: Human Revolution from the perspective of its mythic roots, borrowing from both the story of Icarus and Genesis.

Matthew Armstrong at The Misanthropic Gamer has just finished Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. He writes about how the game has granted him “a new appreciation for Castlevania‘s current state of affairs in today’s gaming landscape.” He thinks the fact it does not stick to formula should not be held against it.

Petros of Sparta at A Blog of Random Things, writes “What I would have changed: Twilight Princess.” Going over what was fundamentally off about the game and how it could have been great and innovative instead of the stagnant entry of the series.

Eric Schwarz of the Critical Missive blog is back again, this time writing about Rage and multiple design missteps it takes.

Rowan Kaiser in his weekly Joystiq column on role-playing games turns his eye to the two most recent Fallout entries, comparing the different rhythms to the quest structures in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The former is based on free form explorations whereas the latter was more stringent in its hub based structure. Meanwhile, at Insult Swordfighting, Mitch Krpata types out a series of “Rejected Endings to Fallout: New Vegas.”

Guest Blogger Apple Cider Mage posts “Let’s get rid of ‘slut plate’ forever” at The Border House. It isn’t about the skimpy armor of World or Warcraft, but the term itself.

Speaking of World of Warcraft, John Brindle of the Brindle Brothers talks about the moral psychopathy that Blizzard has continually displayed. They know they have a moral obligation to their community, but don’t seem quite capable or knowledgeable on how to execute their intentions.

From one company to another, Benjamin Jackson writes a piece entitled “The Zynga Abyss” for the Atlantic about games that treat players like rats in the Skinner Box, requiring little creativity. In a similar vein we have Jamin Warren at KillScreen focusing on Zynga’s practice of cloning games and the multiple factors that allow people to get away with it. Finally, Ian Bogost weighs in at Gamasutra comparing the Tiny Tower/Dream Tower cloning scandal to the myth of Bellerophon and Pegasus. Unpacking that essay could require an essay itself.

Shifting away from the specific toward more overarching themes, we have Pippin Barr giving a talk on what games are, how the boundaries are limiting and thankfully how they are now being pushed against. For some reason though, the video goes dark 17 minutes in.

At The Wall Street Journal, Conor Dougherty published a piece on the way some players are changing the way they experience games with pacifist runs. And Eric Lockaby talks about how critics and gamers are “Pretentious as Shit” when it comes to their snootiness towards difficulty and accessibility in games. Though I agree with the sentiment, I think ‘pretentious’ is the wrong word. Replace each instance with ‘jackass’ and it’s much more on the mark.

Joel Jordon from The Game Manifesto believes games are like music. He extols the inherent rhythm to a game’s actions, and sees similar qualities present in games from Dance Dance Revolution to Resident Evil 4 and Rayman Origins.

Alan Williamson of the SplitScreen blog looks at a quick history of cheating in games from the early cheatcode to modern hacking, to the publishers cheating gamers out of legitimately purchased content. To quote Williamson: “It’s hard for the modern gamer to be a cheater, but easy for them to feel cheated.

On a similar subject, John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun muses on the question of “Do we own our Steam games?” and discusses the issues around digital ownership that have yet to legally be answered.

We end with a few more responses to Raph Koster’s post “Narrative is not a mechanic“: Chuck Jordan questions whether Koster’s assertions are based in the fundamentals of what narrative and games are, or merely how it’s been done so far. And Mattie Brice in her PopMatters column outright contradicts him saying “Narrative Is a Game Mechanic.”

Witty closing remark. Hyperlinks to email and Twitter for submissions. Warm farewell!

Welcome to the first Blogs of the Round Table round-up post for 2012, first let’s remind ourselves of the theme we’re talking about this month.

Being Other:

Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.

So, we’ve got our theme, and we’ve got a few entrants already. We’ve also got a handy dandy iframe code (care of Darius Kazemi) for you to embed in your BoRT posts, allowing for everyone at home to jump from post to post via an easy drop down menu. To do that, just past this code somewhere in your post:

<iframe src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=January12" frameborder="0" width="600" height="20"></iframe>

Which should then look like this:

And as you can see it working up there, each entry for the month is listed! Huzzah! (NB: The list has to be updated manually, so there will be some lag between submitting posts and being added to the drop menu).

So what’ve we got so far?

At Nightmare Mode, Aaron Myles talks about ‘Mass Outbreaks of Xenophobia and Inbreeding: A stroll through the ghettoes of San Andreas’.

David Carlton does some musing on the theme of the Blogs of the Round Table itself, as well as raising the point that there are very few games in which he identifies with the protagonist.

Tami Baribeau at The Border House writes that ‘In games, I’m always someone I’m not because I’m fat’, with a particularly illuminating story of a former coworker who encountered online incredulity that they would create a ‘fat’ avatar.

Adam Burch at Thus Spoke Pi writes about the collision between Brave New World’s ‘feelies’ and a story about an acquaintance of his experiencing the effects of racism.

Amanda Lange at Second Truth writes about her experience role-playing as a straight man in ‘On Gettin Ladies…In Games‘.

Matt Kopas wrote this piece for The Borderhouse Blog which he admits wasn’t written with the theme explicitly in mind, but which still fits well enough under the heading – it’s on ‘Gameplay, Genderplay‘.

At Nonfiction Gaming, Eric Howell writes about empathising with the characters he played in both Mass Effect and Bastion in his contribution, ‘Choosing to Be the Other‘.

Patrick Stafford writes about ‘Roleplaying games and the fundamental problem of sympathetic characters‘ on his blog The Problem With Story, talking about how the more constrained characters of Mass Effect and Deus Ex: Human Revolution gave him more of a sense of empathy and connection than the blank slate of Fallout 3.

Rainer Sigl at the delightfully named ‘Video Game Tourism’ blog explains that ‘Being a criminal psychopath sucks – but what did you expect?‘.  So apparently it can suck to be ‘other’ when that ‘other’ is a murderous psychopath. Who knew?!

Mark Serrels at Kotaku Australia has a touching and poignant piece on meeting his daughter for the first time (in the sims) and how it made him feel and think about potential childrearing in his real life.

At Second Quest, Richard Goodness wrote about ‘Role-Playing a Pervert in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories‘. I’m just going to grab this little excerpt to whet the appetite: “…Shattered Memories gave me a very weird, disturbing little glimpse of what sex addiction feels like.

Yolanda Green at the Althogether blog wrote about what playing a role means in an RPG.

At The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps talks about ‘Punching a Woman in Assassin’s Creed‘ which was for her a rather novel experience: “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be a powerful man, but I think playing Assassin’s Creed helped me see why it’s a fantasy for some people.

At Digital Ephemera, Dan Cox wrote about ‘One Soldier in a War‘ and the distinction between first and third person perspective, the value of ‘life’ and what happens when he stands around looking at butterflies in Call of Duty.

The Arcadian Rhythms blog has a double-header, with thoughts from the sites’ bloggers AJ and Shaun. AJ didn’t find he identified with many game protagonists, and talked about Dead Rising‘s Frank West as an excellent example of an unsympathetic protagonist that doesn’t diminish the game. Shaun wonders “if the theme itself overestimates the extent to which videogames are structurally capable of genuinely conveying an experience other than one’s own” and then goes off into some quite interesting territory.

And the final post of the month goes to Denis Farr, blogging at the Border House about ‘Mayday; Or, How I Learned to Love Grace Jones‘. It’s a great story about the classic N64 game Goldeneye, self expression and fighting the power.

That’s it for the January Round Table! Thanks again to everyone who contributed this month, we’ll be back soon with another great theme for February real soon.