July 29th

July 29th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 29th)

Dog days may or may not be over, but the waiting is! It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Let’s set the tone right out the gate. Amanda Lange is settling the debate here and now on whether the thing you’re playing is a game. Hint: it is.

Last week, Raph Koster and Anna Anthropy had a disagreement, which was taken to Twitter, about whether Anthropy’s very personal work dys4ia is actually a game. Well, I say it is. dys4ia, as a work, is covered nicely by the broad [Bernard] Suits definition of a game: It is a series of unnecessary obstacles (maneuvering pieces across a screen for example) which I approach totally voluntarily, for the sake of learning about a personal story. It’s evident that Koster believes creating a more exclusive definition of what counts as a game is somehow valuable. I disagree, and believe that an inclusive definition is more valuable, and, makes us as designers more open-minded with regard to how we can approach the design of new games.

Over on Eurogamer, Marsh Davies offers us a retrospective on what made Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2 work and how the FPS has changed since their release.

Meanwhile in the Land of Singularly Interesting Reviews, Kill Screen, J. Nicholas Geist delights us with an interactive essay on ICO. And Games That Exist’s Alex Pieschel brings us this compelling review of Emily Short’s interactive fiction Bee, which certainly provides insights I did not expect going in.

From IF to RPGs, the ludodecahedron has indeed been quite active of late. Our own Eric Swain drew up this fascinating if very incestuous RPG genealogy. Meanwhile, on the subject of JRPG community and Atlus fans in particular, Jay Hutchinson responds to the “Boycott Atlus” protesting the company’s representation of transgender characters and suggests we need to take a second look at player interpretation.

MoonJulip has a long and necessary open letter to RPG developers, and specifically Bioware, on race representation and the politics of hair:

You could argue for some games, like Mass Effect, that it’s because a setting thing. “Shepard is a military woman so it doesn’t make sense for her to have an afro.” Ashley and numerous other human females can walk around with a full head of hair longer than most other women in the game though and no one bats an eye. The difference is their hair is straight.

The real reason has to do with how natural curly hair is seen as unprofessional, unkempt, dirty, unacceptable, undesirable, etc etc.. Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ that addresses this in part as do many other works detailing the specifics of hair politics, but the long and short is that the hair of those of afro-descent is very much tied in to feelings and expressions of worth and acceptance, especially in places of business. The history of how hair is treated among those of afro-descent is rooted in assimilating and conforming to a white standard of beauty. Intentional or not, by denying players the option to play characters who don’t look like their European counterparts these games are promoting and reinforcing that same assimilation.

Switching gears to narrative genre and the RPG, Nightmare Mode’s Bill Coberly has a different bone to pick with Bioware, on the order of fantasy games and why magic is difficult to model:

Magic, as a narrative device, resists systematization. In most fantasy settings, magic is all about the manipulation of forces beyond human understanding in order to accomplish things you shouldn’t be able to do. It’s about breaking the rules, and thus doesn’t do very well when it’s forced to strictly abide by them.

For this reason, magic systems in games have a tendency to become bland and boring, placing all of their hope for luster or wonder in whatever spectacular visual effects accompany them. You do not gain a feeling of wonder or mystery from Elika’s ability to rescue the Prince, or from Morrigan flinging fireballs, or even from Yuna’s summoning magic. You always know exactly how these things are going to work.

As a committed single-player, this well-written and meditative piece from Aaron Gotzon is near and dear to my heart:

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that, in light of death, association with the human species, and self-identification as but a singular individual therein, is a threat. To feel special, unique (in a significant sense, alone) is a basic human need. We all must strive to become heroes in our cultural environments: our schools, jobs, religious organizations, hobby communities. Not least, we also need this sense of heroism in our imaginative play.

Death, certainly, is on the minds of many game bloggers. It was clearly on the mind of Gus Mastrapa this week at the newly-minted Bit Creature, where he shares with us his Day Z diaries. I just eat Day Z adventures up with a spoon, don’t you?
Premise: I just eat Day Z adventures up with a spoon, don’t you?

Zooming out to figure in not just gaming but the larger sphere of geekdom, my hat is off to Amanda Marcotte, whose response to Joe Peacock‘s ill-advised CNN opinion piece deserves to be quoted at some length:

The fact of the matter is [Ryan Perez] who went on a rampage against Felicia Day is just a sexist who doesn’t accept that woman have anything to offer other than their bodies, full stop. No need to make excuses for him. Again, that type exists in all sorts of fandoms, and not just geek ones. […] I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard men say that women only listen to music in order to be more appealing to male music fans. I honestly don’t know what guys like this think women do with all our spare time that we’re not working, fucking someone, or trying to get fucked. As Perez’s non-apology showed, dudes who believe this of women are usually impervious to the piles of evidence that exist that show we have internal lives and actual interests outside of being as fuckable as we can be. Gosh, some of us even have interests that our boyfriends don’t share, and we pursue them anyway! Mind-boggling, I’m sure.

Peacock puts pretty much all the blame on women for confusing men about who is there because she’s paid, who’s there because she’s a geek, and who’s there because she’s a conniving bitch who has no interests outside of creating elaborate, time-consuming scenarios where men give her attention and she has a reason to live. (Hint: This last group doesn’t exist.) Because of this, the inevitable conclusion you get from reading his piece is that he believes that geek culture is rightfully owned by men, but he thinks he’s a big hero because he’ll let women in on a case-by-case basis, and only if they prove themselves in ways that men aren’t expected to do. Sorry, but cookie not granted. Women want in because they have a right to be there. They don’t have to prove themselves to you or anyone.

We run a lot of epic takedowns of other writers’ gaffs here on TWIVGB, but Marcotte’s definitely sets a new standard. A highly recommended read.

Because we started with an ultimatum, let’s end with a question. PBS’s Mike Rugnetta, whose Idea Channel vlog series has previously covered Bronies as a sign of changing notions of masculinity and famous fanfiction from the era of Sherlock Holmes to 50 Shades of Grey, poses in his latest video the following bit of futurism: can we read Minecraft‘s Create Mode as a window into a post-scarcity future?

Hmm. Post-scarcity, Mr. Rugnetta? Or post-apocalypse?

That’s it for this week’s short-but-sweet round-up! Remember to submit your recommendations to us by email or Twitter, and join us next week for more of the best of what videogame blogging has to offer!

July 22nd

July 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 22nd)

I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s time for This Week in Video Game Blogging.

First up for the week, Ian Bogost has reprinted his centennial retrospective on the life and work of Alan Turing. On a more personal note, Medium Difficulty ran Walter Garrett Mitchell quite touching and thoughtful eulogy for journalist, LGBT activist and old gaming friend Armando Montano, in doing so reflecting on the socialization games facilitate:

How desperately inadequate it seemed to me, when I heard the news of his death, that my memory of Mando automatically catalogued itself into a list of the games we played together: Goldeneye, Diddy Kong Racing, Zoombinis. It just seemed ridiculous. How could his diligent brilliance, his active occupation with questions of human suffering, be so reduced by anecdote? Am I so petty, so self-involved?

Of course not, I tell myself. Why should my memory of him, whatever its context, be any less valid others?


I don’t think anyone here would contest that the connections forged by videogames are real. But Mando’s death has forced me to look closer at what it was that made those times playing Goldeneye special, worthwhile, and I think what it comes down to is nonverbal communication. […] As Mando and I grew comfortable with our games and each with other, we became capable of communicating with action: we both knew Goldeneye’s maps by heart, so the irregularities in our ever-repeating movement through them could be interpreted as subtle aggressions, playful invitations, calculated feints. “Play” is a language you learn to speak over time, with all the opportunities for poetry that “language” entails.

From the somber to the insensible, the next stop on our tour of this week’s great reads is Ken Williamson’s most recent post for Gamasutra, regaling us in tales of game industry corporate incompetence. It probably won’t cheer you up, but the stories are so absurd they might just anyway.

Meanwhile, TWIVGB regular Josh Bycer takes aim at a few recent “hard” games and asks where their difficulty really comes from: “it’s easy to make a hard game. The quandary and where a good designer is needed, is being able to separate hard from challenging.”

For more in-depth textual reading, we turn to Michael Clarkson, who takes Spec Ops: The Line to task for the cowardice of its critical message:

BioShock admits, and Spec Ops retreats from, the complicity of the designer in the glorification of and lust for violence. This follows a rich tradition of one-sided blame, to be sure. Movies, comics, rock and roll, gangsta rap, and (of course) video games have all been blamed, sometimes simultaneously, for the decline of civilization and morality. These attacks ignore the role audience demand plays in the creation of popular art in a capitalist system. It is no better, however, for someone to spend years creating horrors and then bash the audience for having the temerity to experience, much less appreciate, them. It is, instead, an act of cowardice, an attempt to turn blame outward, without examining the parts of the structure that implicate the creators.

If you’re into even further deep analysis, The Game Design Forum have released a new Reverse Design series on Chrono Trigger. Enjoy, readers!

On the other hand, if the idiosyncratic is more your style, pop on over to John Brindle’s survey of the work of singular indie developer Pippin Barr.

On a more overarching topic, Cameron Kunzelman laments the state of New Game Journalism as it’s currently implemented:

We need fewer Bissell imitators. Ninety-nine percent of the readers of this blog know exactly what I’m talking about–cloying attempts at being smart, shallow readings of games to find some meaning that “speaks to us all,” and assertions that, yes, Final Fantasy VII actually is the best game of all time.

The way we get out of this pit is rigor. We have to play games and actually pay attention to how they are structured. We need to understand how they are assembled.

Most importantly, and this should be the takeaway, I think we need to realize that games are not places where we let ourselves run wild so we can write about it later. Is the value of a game really only in what we, as individuals, get out of it? Or is there something to be said about the game itself, the way it operates, the way it plays itself?

I would be remiss in addressing some of the higher-profile pieces of the week, starting with Leigh Alexander’s opinion piece for Gamasutra in which she speculates we’re finally seeing a positive, rising trend in the discussion of sexism and misogyny in the industry and in gamer culture– but she also notes we should address where the underlying issues of those attitudes lie:

[In] games, as well as comics and other male-dominated nerd arenas, the business model leverages risk aversion against a habituated, narrow audience. It doesn’t favor experimenting to try to give these people newer, smarter things. More importantly, neither do the traditions of geek culture, which is founded in misunderstood people prizing their special escapes from the uninitiated, keeping sacred the spaces that make them feel powerful.

For most people, this is their identity, and if you tell them you want to change it in any way they are going to fear losing their power. It’s not surprising that issues of privilege get tangled in the morass.

The other big sexism-among-gamers piece this week was this ill-advised opinion piece by Colin Moriarty for IGN, which in itself does not merit inclusion here, but to set the context for a couple of great response essays.

The first of these responses comes from (one of my personal favorite young game bloggers) Mattie Brice, who lays into Moriarty’s article with a heavy critique and adds:

[What] is cute about the “save creativity!” angle is how much people like Colin are protecting incredibly old, entrenched attitudes. There’s a push against how video games deal with sex because it is incredibly UNcreative. Scantily clad women with no other purpose than to be so? What is creative about that? There is nothing creative of our western culture appropriating and exotifying other cultures, we’ve been doing that way before free speech was written into law. Or the glorification of a war we had no business initiating as another excuse to shoot brown people? Something tells me that’s not the “fresh” Colin is looking for. The people that Colin’s article represent don’t want anything to change, unless you consider figuring out how to get a girl as close to naked as possible without financial retribution creative.

Touching off this, GayGamer editor and Border House contributor Denis Farr writes in his own blog that “90s Politics are Dead! Long Live 90s Politics!” critiquing the use of the terms “politically correct” and “offended” in editorials such as Moriarty’s:

[The] idea that everyone will be offended by someone is akin to just throwing your hands up in the air and saying we may as well not to anything and just let things be. There is a certain person for whom this is a viable response, and it is typically a person to whom the market is advertising. Even if it is in an increasingly puerile and stock manner. For people who are not represented fairly or equally, it is not just a matter of being ‘offended,’ it is a matter of desiring a more rich landscape. Leaving that to the free market might sound good, but unless a desire for better and more is expressed, companies, who are typically conservative in how they want to spend money, will continue pumping out the formulae they feel are safe.

On a little more positive note, we’re seeing an increase in the discussion of The Bechdel Test among gaming critics. In addition to this (woefully neglected) blog beginning earlier this year, the Gameological Society have treated us to a roundup of 15 games which (some of them, surprisingly) pass the test.

Lastly on the subject of sexism, we are rather late to the party on this one, but you simply must watch this hilarious dramatic reading and machinima by George Kokoris of a misogynist gamer screed. Which if nothing else is a lesson in minding what you post onto the internet, lest someone on the other end has a copy of Garry’s Mod and a booming voice.

Finally and most importantly, Gamasutra’s Frank Cifaldi has at last filled a niche in game blogging that has gone neglected for too long: the secrets to designing games for cats.


I know of no better way to cap off this week’s roundup than that. As always, remember to tweet and email in your recommendations, and in the meantime stay cool or warm as your geographical location dictates.

P.S. All future critical articles on cat games will be evaluated by our newest contributor, Jason.

July 15th

July 15th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 15th)

Another week for us to present the best in game writing from around the web, another This Week In Video Game Blogging.

First, earlier this month we have the release of the 7th issue of Ctrl Alt Defeat magazine. Of particular interest is Brendan Keogh’s piece on video games as comfort foods and our own Kris Ligman’s essay on hording in Skyrim.

Fernando Cordeiro at Nightmare Mode describes the living reality of San Paulo, the crime and the collective mentality that leads to it. Along with that he describes the view Brazilians have of Americans culminating into his personal reaction to Max Payne 3 in “The Ugly Paulistano.”

The Extra Credits guys released two videos, last week and this week, examining Journey step by step as a prime example of the Hero’s Journey. Meanwhile, Bruno Dion wrote a reply on Medium Difficulty to Steven Poole’s argument that Journey messed up its own ending.

Charles Wheeler, the writer of The Rules on the Field blog, writes “QWOP and Simulation Design” in two parts.

Another two parter, this time by Rampant Coyote on “Advancing the Role of Role-Playing” in video games, what they’ve done and where they can go.

Now come some back and forths.

Tom Bissel wrote another excellent essay at Grantland, this time on the new Heart of Darkness adaptation, Spec Ops: The Line in 13 distinct thoughts. Not everyone was impressed, however, Gobi at Fuyoh sees something fundamentally off in they way Bissel critiques calling them rather fuzzy and full of surface level critiques behind the wonderfully constructed prose.

Stephen Totilo asked several designers and academics the question ‘what makes a good video game‘ on his search for his own answer. Eric Zimmerman, one of the people Totilo asked, wrote his own response to elaborate on his quotes.

By all accounts the Game Masters exhibit in Melbourne, Australia is a rousing success and Daniel Golding goes into detail in his review of it for Game On. Two weeks ago, Alois Wittwer went to a panel featuring Warren Specter at the exhibit and writes on his own feelings towards player agency in games and given player’s reaction to it that it might be all right to restrict players a little.

Ian Bogost hypothesizes that in light of the OUYA earning, as of me writing this, $4.77 milllion that Kickstarter may not be an investment or pre-order, but just another form of entertainment.

Speaking of Bogost, Zynga. Matt Carey looks at Zynga’s slot machine game as a sort of metaphor for the company’s products as a whole and that investors are starting to get wise to game design.

Chris Batemen at ihobo writes about “The Thin Play of Dear Esther” and contextualizes some of the absurdity in determining whether or not it is a game because none of these objections helps to understand the play of Dear Esther.

Robert Yang looks at various heist games in honor of him recently attending BLDGBLOG/ Studio-X event on bank design. He takes it to the next level of “How does it affect the way we design video games and levels about heists. How should be we abstract the heist?

Jonas Kyratzes reflects on his early decision of what name to release his games under at a time when indie wasn’t a word and he could be argued to be the one who coined the term. It is about creating a persona to present as much as it is about creating games.

Jim Ralph at Ontological Geek explores the grammar of video games and how much of it is in the present tense and uses Dark Souls to highlight how it takes advantage of this.

David Auerbach at N+1 wrote “The Stupidity of Computers” as they try to parse out our language to help us find information and how we in the end bring ourselves down to the machine’s level to get what we want. Beware: this is really long.

Walter Garrett Mitchell writes “Alfred Hitchock Would Make Great Games” for the Escapist looking at auteur theory and thankfully as some of the misconceptions people have in what it means and applying it.

Speaking of auteur, the Eurogamer has a look at Chris Crawford and the hard times he’s had ever since his infamous Dragon Speech in ’92 that signified him leaving the industry.

Simon Ferrari has finally put up new content on his blog, this time in the form of a new podcast “The Review” (which apparently wasn’t a name being used by anyone) with himself and Charles Pratt talking about a single game.  The inaugural episode is them talking about Spelunky.

And finally, for Unwinnable, Jenn Frank’s “I was a Teenage Sexist.” Read it.

Don’t forget every week we take submissions via email here and on twitter here. I’m out.

July 9th

July 9th, 2012 | Posted by Ian Miles Cheong in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 9th)

We’re late. We know. Needless to say, the hamsters had to work overtime to get this late edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging to the printers. If you’ll excuse our tardiness, you’re in store for a great deal of reading ahead of you, so get comfortable and press on.

We’ll kick off this edition with a profile on Kaos Studios by Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander, a studio whose last title—Homefront—sealed their demise.

In relation to the decline and fall of so many studios as of late, Keith Stuart has penned a piece for Guardian which compares the current atmosphere (or at-most-fear-of-losing-your-job) in the games industry with the 1983 market crash that saw the death of Atari.

Even the attempt to harness new information infrastructures echoes back to this period. The Atari Gameline and Intellivision Playcable both sought to bring downloadable gaming and linear content services to consoles. Even then, there was an understanding that digital consumption of varied content was the future.

Emily Rogers’ piece for Not Enough Shaders points out the differences in game development budgets and Hollywood budgets—facts which, when added up, explain the current state of the industry.

In less depressing news, Neils Clark writes about how “fun is boring” for Gamasutra, and how it’s a process rather than some ethereal, nebulous concept. I take what I said about “less depressing” back.

Jonas Kyratzes has a similar piece on how if games are art, they certainly don’t act like it.

Veteran game designer Raph Koster responds to both those pieces in his own piece called “Two Cultures and Games.” He does not agree with what they’ve written, and offers a good number of counterpoints to their arguments.

Elsewhere on the internet, Daniel Cook of Lost Garden has written a detailed breakdown of feedback cues for play systems. If you consider yourself a game designer, or even a game reviewer who wants a deeper insight into how games offer feedback, Cook’s article is something you must read.

Troy Goodfellow has written an insightful reading of how Civilization 5 models religion in its latest expansion pack for Flash of Steel. I call my religion in the game “Rationalism” for the sake of irony.

Civ V‘s approach to religion is similar to its approach to society building. As you recall, the Civ social policy trees are a series of perks you choose to improve your empire. Open a tree, choose the perks and if you fill the tree, you get a bonus perk. (Fill five trees and build Utopia project, you win.) There are no negative policies, no trade-offs for choosing a policy. Everything you pick will help you, so you decide what kind of help you need and how quickly you can get it.

Chris Bateman shares his insights on how explicit rewards in games tend to reduce intrinsic motivations to do things.

John Brindle of the Brindle Brothers Blog writes about the representation of hacking in games and literature, a subject which—strangely enough—fails to be realistically depicted most of the time.

Han Cilliers’ piece on Watch Dogs and its “ubiquitous computing” makes for a great companion piece to Brindle’s article.

On Gameranx, the ever prolific Brendan Keogh delves into the narrative and design layers of Driver San Francisco and offers his insights into how the game’s protagonist is a game designer.

But what’s just as fascinating as how Driver SF shows how videogames are dreamlike, is how it shows how dreams are gamelike. Tanner dreams up goals and obstacles. He dreams up a game. In his sleep, he becomes a game designer.

Also on Gameranx, the inexhaustible Seb Wuepper stirs things up by saying—straight up—that console controllers are better than keyboards and mice because they were designed for games. They weren’t intended to be office equipment.

The pseudonymous GamesThatExist writes about establishing a communication between a game’s subsystem to arrive at meaning in a piece titled “The Videogame Intertext”. The article should prove especially interesting to literature buffs.

More on the subject of game systems, William Hughes has an essay on when game systems themselves—and not the characters within the game—lie to the player.

Moving on to the subject of morality and ethics, the ever readable Richard Cobbett gets on the Eurogamer soapbox to write about the games which get players to feel implicated in the actions of their characters even when the choice isn’t theirs. He has some interesting thoughts about the morally grey shooter, Spec Ops: The Line.

Kill Screen’s Yannick LeJacq also shares his views on the aforementioned game, extrapolating on the themes from Cobbett’s piece rather well.

There would be little point in ethics or morality if we didn’t stop to question our culture and the direction in which its headed every so often. It goes without saying that videogaming is currently facing a crisis of sexism, which has managed to permeate its way through almost every aspect of our culture—from the games themselves to the communities surrounding them.

We question the popular narrative that “videogames are for boys only” and that women have no place in games. Anita Sarkeesian has been a voice in dissent of this narrative, and she launched a campaign to examine popular female tropes in videogames, which have a tendency to depict women as caricatures rather than provide them with actual character.

Sarkeesian’s proposal to work on the subject has prompted a barrage of angry rebuttals that range from simple visual and verbal threats to a flash game promoting physical violence against her. She has charted the hate she’s received for the subject on Feminist Frequency (Trigger warning: rape, violence).

No less crucial is Jen Shaffer’s response on Gameranx to the unbridled and uncalled-for sexism geek actress Felicia Day received on Twitter for the simple crime of being somewhat famous. “Felicia Day is significant,” writes Jen Shaffer, who puts up a good rebuttal of the attacks Day constantly faces.

Videogames often invite us to reach outside our comfort zones, so why is it that some gamers feel so uncomfortable to share their hobby? Unwinnable’s Gus Mastrapa has the word on Spelunky as a game that encourages us to try new things.

I’ll leave you with two interesting curios to wrap up this edition of TWIVGB.

First up is Adam Ruch’s kidnapping adventure in DayZ, which is a game you should be playing if you aren’t already.

And last, but not least, is You Chose Wrong, a tumblr blog about the bad ends in the Choose Your Own Adventure stories.

Thanks for reading, and as always, be sure to send in your recommendations to us over email and Twitter!

July 1st

July 1st, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on July 1st)

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging! It’s almost my birthday! I can’t wait anymore, so let’s see what you all got me.

The first gift is from Chris Person, who brings us The Cosmology of Kyoto, the game Roger Ebert loved. This is notable somehow, although it’s my personal policy to just ignore the man. In any case, the game is lovely (and terrifying) so Person’s also followed up with instructions on how you can play it for yourself. So thoughtful!

More enigmatic is this interesting, inscrutable meditation on our connections with game characters, from Ryan Kuo:

The illusions of non-player characters complicated to the point that we could legitimately say we had “fallen” for Alyx Vance, Garrus Vakarian or a horse. They made the perfect motions and looked us in the eye and said what we wanted to hear. But each year we age, these creatures seem more dead than living. We notice their tenuous walk, as on a high wire; the way they numbly repeat themselves and react only to the right things in the right ways at the right times; their glassy eyes.

This brings up some difficult questions: Why do we care deeply about such a character, if her love for us is predetermined at birth? If one day this person can feel on her own, how are we supposed to trust that person? But shouldn’t we trust that she cares about us?

Characters are a treasure to Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku as well, who writes of why not finishing Mass Effect 3 is her own ideal ending:

I mean, really, that’s why I was there, right? It wasn’t about defeating Saren, or the Illusive Man, or the Reapers, and it’s especially not about saving Earth. Naw. Mass Effect is about the characters and their stories. Like Ike from Fire Emblem says, “I fight for my friends.”


I thought about the void I felt every time after finishing media that was important to me, how difficult it was to follow up on. I thought about how desperation would keep me reaching blindly to try to follow it up, anyway.

Why should I brave that? No more loss, no crappy ending, no blind, hungry search for something to fill the void. Instead, I crystallized the game and everyone in it at a good moment.

And because Kotaku under Stephen Totilo’s guidance has become the gift that keeps on giving, here’s another for you from Michael Peck, musing on the (though he doesn’t use the term himself) approaching technological/sociopolitical singularity and how it’s keeping games in past paradigms: “Why It’s So Hard to Make a Game Out of the 21st Century“.

And Maggie Greene must really love me, because her new blog post on the ethnocentrism lying behind critiques of playbor is just smashing:

I’m not arguing for an essentialist reading, some Protestant vs. Confucian face off (that’s silly), or saying that the labor-as-play model doesn’t work in a number of contexts (it does) – because really, the territory has yet to be adequately mapped. There has been precious little study of games in pre-20th century East Asia, slightly more regarding digital games in East Asia, and the Western press/blogging community takes a sneering and insulting attitude towards the Asian market (with the necessary exception of Japan, of course). It has always really rubbed me the wrong way – just because you might have no interest in playing XYZ game doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to discuss it. Turning up our collective noses at Korean or Chinese games (for a quick example) because they’re long, slogging grinds is short sighted at best.

Speaking of taking the long view, you know what a fan I am of delicious vitriolic rants, and Patrick Lindsey’s over at Pixels or Death is exactly what I asked for!

Consider this a worldwide wakeup call.

If we want improvement – honest to god improvement – if we want our videogames back, once and for all, we have to overcome our insanity and reclaim them. We need to stop excusing new franchise entries every single year because “well, I guess they’re still kinda fun.” We must shun the “cinematic” and the “setpiece” and instead demand actual game design again. All gamers, from the couch-sitting high schooler to the journalist playing a review copy from her office, have to snap out of the dementia we’re locked in and start actually loving videogames again. Forcing ourselves to find something to like in each new gritty FPS isn’t being accepting and open-minded, it’s fucking Stockholm Syndrome.

On Gamasutra, Victoria Earl takes us through the design secrets Chrono Trigger uses to feel open. In a similar vein, Play the Past’s Emily Bembeneck walks us through changes in space as storytelling both old and modern:

In folklore studies, Vivian Labrie has shown how oral storytellers recall the tales they tell via the spatial progression within them. It is the movement from location to location that helps them recall the story. Not the logic. Not the time. The space. Storytellers can map out their tales as pictures of spaces (holding characters) in a series connected by arrows. The logic of those connections comes out in the telling, but isn’t necessarily held in the memory. Location is. Even in Homer, we can see how the teller imagines narrative progressing between particular locations. There are temporal markers in the poem as well, of course, but the significance of that time, the change, is visible in the particular spaces themselves at different points in the story.

So why is this important? What does it matter if space tells story? For one, I think it is important to realize that our minds may value space more importantly than they do time. For designing games, this means particular spaces and the progression of those spaces will be able to carry meaning without text and without temporal markers. Change itself, whether change in one location or the change that comes from progressing to one location from another, is enough to tell story.

Following in Bembeneck’s wake, Robert Hunter offers up another look at Journey and how its physics and interactions bring us the impression of “water in the desert.” Very evocative.

And speaking of evocations, much has been made of Steven Boone’s recent piece criticizing E3 darling The Last of Us— so much so that he’s back now with a followup further extrapolating on his arguments. It’s a unique perspective to be sure, and you know how I love one-of-a-kind things:

The norm in 2012 is for shots to arrive on the screen with a silent crash, a new configuration of motion, light and perspective thrust on the audience, producing what film editing guru Edward Dmytryk called a “mental hiccup,” or speed bump. Each of these disruptions, flowing not from dramatic necessity but from a fear of losing the attention of a superficially engaged viewer, is an act of sensory violence. And, like actual violence, it can imprint the victim. The past decade of having our eyes dragged across millions of violent ruptures in even the gentlest narrative situations has encoded us with this expectation.

So now big commercial films run at ever-higher speeds over thousands of speed bumps, catering to an audience the creators seem to think of as frantic shoppers. The time it takes to watch the chemistry blossom between two actors in a two-shot, or for a powerful realization to light up a face in close-up, is a luxury they don’t believe they, or we, can afford.

The most violent, flashy video game does minimal violence to our sense of temporal and spatial continuity; it’s a built-in property (virtue, really) of the medium. The user is the protagonist and so must remain properly oriented to his environment as much as possible. In this sense, Mortal Kombat is far less “violent” than Bridesmaids.

Ever wonder what Quintin Smith’s up to these days? He’s over at Eurogamer, paying loving tribute to memorable start screens. Meanwhile, Kotaku Man of Sound Kirk Hamilton profiles barking— no, not the dog and seal kind, but the incidental dialogue filling gaming’s city streets and cover-based corridors.

And I know Earnest Cavalli knows it’s my birthday, because even he went above and beyond the call of duty this week, peeling back the narrative layers of Max Payne 3 to get at its historical and racial subtext. Meanwhile, Patrick Garratt paints a portrait of Tomb Raider as ‘business as usual’ in an industry tailored entirely for one kind of consumer.

(The next section bears trigger warnings for discussion of rape, misogyny, homophobia and child abuse.)

And while every article which appears in these roundups is truly a gift, my thanks especially have to go out to those writers who go places others can’t or won’t, often in venues which are openly hostile to any kind of provocative statement. So it’s an honor this week to showcase this powerful, candid personal account of a rape survivor and his confrontation with online gaming rape culture, featured on The Escapist earlier this week. The Border House and GayGamer’s Denis Farr, writing in his own blog, offers up a necessary coda.

(End trigger warning section.)

Lastly, as LGBT Pride Month just wrapped up here in the United States, I’d be remiss in not featuring the following from Kill Screen’s Yannick LeJacq, on the very significant social shifts underlying representation of sexuality in games, and the political doubletalk which accompanies it:

In the bifurcated sexual epistemology of 21st century Western culture—a world of gays and straights, men and women, closets and streets—Commander Shepard had to come out, an action that necessarily implies that he was hiding it before.

[…] It reflects a larger trend in queer activism today that tries to harness libertarian and neoliberal economic and political values to craft a new defense of sexual freedom ensconced in the rhetoric of personal choice. […] And it’s a political strategy echoed by BioWare itself, a sentiment Mac Walters reflected when I spoke to him—the effort to give every Mass Effect player the fullest sense that their Shepard truly is theirs. It’s a clever way to beat “traditional” conservatives at their own game. […] As Zeschuk said to Kotaku when explaining the choice: “If there’s a political bent to it, it’s very Libertarian.”

My point here isn’t to point out the silly rhetorical similarities between videogames and contemporary politics, or even to make some grandiose statement that perhaps videogames as the consummate medium of the 21st century have unwittingly enshrined some neoliberal mindset by demanding everyone obsess over “choice” in the first place. Really, it’s just to note that the concept of “choice” is a much easier thing to advocate for—in games as in real life—than something genuinely queer.”

A downer of a note to end on? Mayhaps. But it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

My thanks to all the writers featured here for such lovely presents! Yes, these were definitely too good to leave unopened one second longer.

Join us next week, where for my unbirthday I’ll be opening the other gifts people sent in… I’m not sure how I’d rank grandma’s hand-knitted socks on a 7-10 scale, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out by next week. That is, unless you all send in something better. So keep those tweeted and emailed recommendations coming!