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Hello Critically Distanced Fans,

Blogs of the Round Table is back. “But wait!” I hear you cry. “You’re not Ben Abraham!” Despite many attempts to impersonate Ben over the years and frame him for various crimes, it is true: I am not. To those of you who know me, lovely to have you here, and for those of you who don’t know me, we’re going to have a great time.

Did you miss Blogs of the Round Table? I sure did. I loved reading such a wide variety of opinions and discussions. It was a real positive community effort, and we can never have enough of those. This feature is about encouraging you to write; there is no barrier to entry. Even if you think you’re the worst writer in the world- and you aren’t!- we want your words, and the more you write the better you’ll get.

The rules are simple: every month we post a new topic to stimulate your scrivenings, you send us a link to your blog or website, and we publish a synopsis in a mega-post at the end of the month. It’s that easy, so there are no excuses for getting involved! It can be on your blog, a public Facebook or Google Plus post- even a series of interconnected tweets, but I’d rather you didn’t do that if you can help it.

September’s theme is New Horizons:

2K’s Chris Hartmann recently said that achieving photorealism was the key to opening ‘new genres’ of games. Without discussing whether or not this is true (it isn’t), what genres or subjects have games left uncovered, and what should they be focusing on? Alternatively, if photorealism isn’t the limiting factor on the diversification and evolution of gaming experiences, what is? Were Belgian Eurodance group 2 Unlimited right with their assertion that, in fact, there are No Limits?

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag, or tweet me @agbear. A couple of points:

  • Your article does have to be connected to the topic. We’ll let you know if we think it’s too tenuous.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a trigger warning at the start of the essay. Obviously, no hate speech etc. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercial or not. Write early and often!

So get writing! We can’t wait to read your work. We’ll be accepting all blogs on this topic until the end of September; then we’ll have a brand new one.

Just the facts today, ma’am. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Let’s start at the scene of the crime– war crimes, that is, where Ken Hannahs muses at Gameranx about the ludonarrative dissonance of modern “counter-terrorism” games actually performing the many acts one is supposed to be ideologically opposing:

Perhaps this is what living in a post-9/11 world is for Americans. Perhaps modern military tactics have become so clandestine as to have become impossible to discern from the very thing we are fighting against. These are our military heroes in videogames: men who break international law with the same flippancy that you might jaywalk or loiter. Flash to E3 and watch as Sam Fisher rips information out of people before slamming his blade into their necks. Go back to Modern Warfare 2 and listen as the general tells you that “You will lose a bit of yourself, but you will save countless lives.” What we’re talking about here is brutality in the name of the nebulous demigod of democracy, beset by evilness all over the world. We’re inundated constantly with the message that anti-terrorism is fought by terrorism and torture.

Elsewhere, Michael “Cid Highwind” Abbott takes a step back to remark on how Sleeping Dogs catches players in the act of dissociation. Ryan Gan of Sidequesting accuses Assassin’s Creed: Revelations of acting in bad faith in regards to its mechanics, and Eric Schwarz wonders where a promising young game like Star Wars: The Old Republic went wrong (as he tells it, from a lot of places).

This AAA City is for the birds, you might tell yourself. Don’t worry, partner, I got you covered this week. First we have Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku giving us the insider details of Indiecade finalist Analogue: A Hate Story. Joel “Harbourmaster” Goodwin gives us the good, the bad and the ugly of Nicolau Chaud’s Polymorphous Perversity. And then Ben Milton offers this first-rate tour of the Biblical allusions in Dear Esther‘s island:

This journey through the caves is marked by three falls, a parallel to Christ’s three falls on the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering, which leads to Golgotha. Further symbolism is found at the bottom of a pool in the caves, where Roman coins are scattered, an allusion to the story in which Christ draws a Roman coin from the mouth of a fish to pay the tax, saying, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” an apparent response to the tension between rationality and transcendence witnessed before in the game. The player also plunges into and re-emerges from water three times within the caves. The sacrament of baptism, as well as its death/rebirth symbolism come to mind.

The fall into the caves has gravely injured the narrator’s leg, breaking the femur, and the last leg of the journey is make in excruciating pain, up the side of the mount to the aerial. Like Christ’s accent to the top of Golgotha, the narrator knows that he will die once he reaches the summit. However, in doing so he in some way realizes that his suffering was not in vain, that it came from a place, not of coincidence but of overwhelming purpose.

In a different register, Alex Pieschel’s ventured back to Cart Life and what makes the little game so interesting:

A friend saw me playing Cart Life the other day and compared it to Clerks after a few seconds of observation. It’s absurd, but almost perfect. Cart Life is a grittier Clerks, realized in interactive form.

Except it’s entirely different. Clerks also focuses on the mundane, but Cart Life’s is an active, frenetic kind of banality. Cart Life doesn’t stop at boring. It understands that the mundane can be both exhilarating and boring at the same time. Working Melanie’s coffee stand is exciting because of the feverish pace and relentless progression of time, but it’s boring because game actions are interpreted as multi-tiered processes. Cart Life, unlike every other game ever, doesn’t believe a single keystroke adequately represents a significant action. The act of pouring a cup of coffee is broken down into its component mental and physical parts: 1) Remember what the customer ordered. 2) Make small talk. 3) Make correct change. An intense empathy emerges from these methodical motions, and it’s a specific kind of empathy that can only emerge from a game.

You get to the point where you repeat a task so many times that it’s muscle memory, like breathing, and you could probably still improve, but your improvement would be negligible. You’ve plateaued, and this thing you keep doing everyday may not be the most important or impressive thing in the world, but at least you’re performing some discernible service, fitting into society in some way, fulfilling some expectation, maybe improving someone’s day, and while you’re doing it at least, you forget about other important things and feel like everything might be ok and some things could even be beautiful.

And you should definitely read Simon Parkin’s piece in Hookshot about the refreshing note of difference that is Papo & Yo. You should also read his long-form review of the same.

Lastly on the topic of smaller alternatives to AAA, Craig Stern is after a more practical question, namely: can we methodically arrive at a universal definition for the indie game?

Enough on the games themselves; what about the folks who make them tick? Alan Williamson of Nightmare Mode says “entitled” isn’t the word you’re looking for to describe gamers; Adam Ruch of Kotaku Australia believes “elite” isn’t fitting either:

In reality, the elitist notion of a pure, hardcore games culture is a fantasy. There is no such thing as a video game culture hermetically sealed-off from the rest of the world. Of course there are concentrations, where or when individuals focus on some things over others, but cultures do not exist in Tupperware containers sitting neatly organised on shelves.

By being a gamer, I do not stop being a man, a university lecturer, a mediocre sports fan, an American, an immigrant, a husband, a son, a musician. I am not a one-dimensional creature that is composed entirely of, and sustained by, video games. I am not defined by gaming and only gaming.

That anyone should want to be is morbid.

That anyone should demand it of anyone else is evil.

Leigh Alexander contends that the onus is on game journalists to demand a better games industry. Mattie Brice, meanwhile, laments another of gaming and game criticism’s gatekeepers– money:

The worth of my writing and advocacy is constantly augmented by my relationship to money. In order to keep up with critical conversation, I must constantly buy games. And not the cheaper ones, but the sixty dollar hits that many of my peers get for free. I feel compelled to constantly add to the sprawling Steam library and Kickstarter backing lists. Despite the growing debt, I have to get a new TV for my consoles, buy a gaming rig, and consider obtaining one of the latest handhelds. And for what? Gaming criticism, the one bastion for minority writers in games media, isn’t seen as valuable enough writing to pay.

You may have heard about the recently announced documentary about the still-building game news website Polygon, which basically rubbed the entire internet the wrong way. Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker, here writing in his own blog, calmly (or at least, with fewer expletives than in the previous link) explains why this happened.

Josh Bycer defines what he means by a “gamer tax,” and Kotaku music man Kirk Hamilton humorously attempts to predict the plot of Halo 4 based on its tracklisting– and in doing so reveals the sort of paint-by-numbers framework we’ve come to expect out of sci-fi action franchises.

Let me leave you with one for the road, before we hit it back to the station. Call it a long goodbye. It’s this eloquent piece on New Games Journalism from Richard Clark’s “Navel Gaming” column at Unwinnable:

In exegesis, which means to “lead out of,” the reader diligently examines every aspect of a text in order to discern the actual intended meaning. The reader then applies the actual meaning of that text to his or her own personal life, whether it is instruction, a type of life philosophy, or some kind of biblical warning. Eisegesis, on the other hand, means to “lead into” and refers to the reckless appropriation of a biblical text to one’s own assumptions and whims.

Practiced readers will recognize this as a helpful distinction for reading any text; it is better to get something out of a text than it is to read something into a text, particularly when that text is meant to be an infallible guide to life, the universe and everything. Even when a text is mere entertainment or art that implies a subjective response on the part of the consumer (and videogames certainly fall into this category), simply reading into that artifact whatever meaning I like is self-serving.

[…]

Personally-skewed games writing doesn’t have to be that way. Paramount to writing any kind of good personal essay is the necessity of absolute honesty on the part of the writer. The reader needs to be able to trust the writer, or else the piece becomes a deceptive and useless hypothetical. The ironic nature of the personal essay is that through the sharing of a subjective experience, the reader stumbles across some form of objective truth. This may not happen if the writer is lying or stretching the truth, and it will not happen if the reader discovers or senses the lie.

And that’s a wrap. Not sure if I’d call it case closed– the beauty of this place is that every week something new turns up. Got something good you want to bring to our attention? Be sure to tweet or email it to us. A game’s alibi might depend on it!

Welcome back. Kris is on break this weekend so I’m here to fill your TWIVGB needs in the meantime.

The Extra Credits crew finishes up a two-parter talking about mechanics as metaphor using the flash game Loneliness to weld to discussion together.

CNN has done a number of in-depth articles on several subjects with how games are intersecting with real life in interesting ways; from South Korea’s Pro Gaming/Game Addiction dichotomy to gamifying the prison system to great success.

This week the community blew up in response to Borderlands 2 lead developer calling a skill tree in his game ‘girlfriend mode.’ Our own Eric Swain says a few words on various aspects of the whole situation before creating a list of all the responses he could find.

That wasn’t the only controversy this week. EA recently launched their Medal of Honor Warfighter official website with links to weapons manufacturer sponsors where you can buy the real life counterparts to the weapons in game. Ryan Smith of Gameological brought attention to it. He ended his piece by saying,

I can’t say for certain whether or not my nephew would have brought a gun to school without the role of military video games, nor can I say if gun sales will increase because of Medal Of Honor: Warfighter. But if we want the vicarious thrills of violent video games to remain morally justifiable, we need to protect the fourth wall between the first-person shooter and real life. EA’s willingness to make a connection between a video game gun and an actual firearm is the strongest evidence yet that we’ve already let the wall crumble too much.

Violence in video game, particularly war games was a major theme this week. Patricia Hernandez criticized the current military themed games for contributing to the idea that endless war is normal. “War is routinized, war is a spectacle, war is sanitized, war is surveillance.”

Tadhg Kelly compares video games to porn and the lessons it can learn from it when bigger/better/faster/harder is no longer enough. Zoya writing for The Border House asks, “Should game developers avoid triggering players’ PTSD?

Meanwhile, Adam Maresca, at Medium Difficulty, talks about the real price of game violence and how we talk about them matters, “not because they dictate how is going to go on a rampage, but because they’re a part of a larger cultural mechanism which dictates how we view both military and private violence.”

Denis Farr on the same site turns his eye towards Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story and the meaning of the experience by the game forcing your responses through a filter to match each AI’s world view.

Bit Creature had a pair of great posts this week. Drew Paryer’s piece on the game that only lets you play one time in the face of the end of the world, One Chance. And Richard Clark on Happy Street and what it has to say about happiness.

Skyler at Nightmare Mode wrote about the early DS game Contact and what is has to say about free will. Alan Williamson, meanwhile, bring up the topic of writing for free on the internet and how it devalues everyone else’s work.

At PopMatters, Jorge Albor talks about “The Extremes of Human Systems.” Looking at John Krakaer’s book Into Thin Air, Albor looks at how games fail to combine their human systems with their game ones. G. Christopher Williams talks about game difficulty in “The Pleasures of Playing in an Economy of Pain.” He explores the change in focus of games over the decades and why we would play difficult games.

Jim Ralph considers the same subject over at Ontological Geek.

Michael “brainygamer” Abbott asks, “Why we JRPG.”

Michael “sparky” Clarkson says you can’t lampshade camp, because camp has to be some part sincere.

Line Hollis writes on the characters of the Dragon Age series and how they are defined by the role they are given. No matter who their master is, their role remains the same. They cannot escape it.

Adrian Forest decides to write for his blog, Three Parts Theory, again on the changing nature of city space from above and from the ground and the transition between the two as exemplified in the Prototype games.

Jamie Dalzell at Pondering the Pixels blog, decided that ‘Journey is a Game About Fear.’

Rob Parker writes a personal account that ends up talking about Tribes: Ascension, but there is more to it.

And finally I’m closing out on something fun. Two somethings in fact. A short movie by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo on what our future looks like with the new “iPhone.” And some ukiyo-e woodblock prints of video game characters.

We accept links every week sent to our twitter account or via email. Don’t forget to submit.

There’s good reason for my glistening skin, and how I shine, and how my pores are so clean and clear. When you read This Week in Videogame Blogging, you’ll wink, and nod, and high-five each other with great enthusiasm. This is a special time.

Let’s begin.

First, A is for Accessibility. Josh Straub brings us a followup to last week’s essay on game accessibility with this thoughtful top ten list of ways and means to achieve that accessibility.

A is also for Academia. The newest issue of Well Played is out, on the subject of “romance in games.” And educator Ian Bogost writes in defense of competitive play, saying that a focus on collaborative rather than competitive play is limiting, even selfish:

There is a war on sport and on competition, waged in the name of equity and openness and participation. […] The problem with having winners and losers isn’t that there are winners and losers. It’s that we fail to respect and acknowledge all the different ways that victory and failure can play out while still taking seriously the specific conditions of a particular individual or group in relation to a particular sport, game, practice, or circumstance that can be won or lost. To hate competition is selfish. It means caring only about what one can do or can imagine doing, and refusing to take a broader look at the massive variety of talent that coarses [sic] through the collective veins of humanity. It’s the opposite of collaboration.

B is for Boring, because that is what the Baining are. In an article a little outside of games but very much on the subject of play in its relationship to human experience (and brought to our attention by the marvelous Rock, Paper, Shotgun), Psychology Today’s Peter Gray offers us a profile on the Papua New Guinea natives, “the dullest culture on Earth”:

[Jane] Fajans studied the Baining in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s. Like her predecessors, she found that they lacked the cultural structures that are the stock-in-trade of anthropology, such as myths, festivals, religious traditions, and puberty rites, and that the method of trying to learn about them through interviews produced little response. They did not tell stories, rarely gossiped, and exhibited little curiosity or enthusiasm. […] the Baining shun the bush, which they view as chaotic and dangerous, and they derogate play, especially that among children.

[…]

According to Fajans, the Baining eschew everything that they see as “natural” and value activities and products that come from “work,” which they view as the opposite of play. Work, to them, is effort expended to overcome or resist the natural. To behave naturally is to them tantamount to behaving as an animal. The Baining say, “We are human because we work.”

C is for CAPSLOCK, of the FILM CRIT HULK style. He has reviewed Mass Effect 3 and has found, not the game, but its fans wanting:

WHAT YOU DIDN’T REALIZE IS THAT WITH YOUR RAGE WITH THE ENDING, YOU ACTUALLY WANT THE DEATH OF STORYTELLING. SERIOUSLY. YOU ASKED HULK TO RAIL AGAINST SOMETHING THAT OFFERS GORGEOUS STORYTELLING, SO REALLY YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT IT WAS BAD AT VIDEO GAME INDULGENCE. SO HULK JUST HAS TO SURMISE THAT YOU DON’T ACTUALLY WANT STORIES AFTER ALL. PERHAPS YOU WANT TO BE LIKE THE PERSON IN THE VIDEO ABOVE, SCREAMING ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE “OWED” LIKE SOME SELFISH MALCONTENT. YOU WANT TO BE INDULGED. YOU WANT OPTIONS. YOU WANT GLUTTONY. WE HAVE A WORD FOR THAT KIND OF VIDEO ENTERTAINMENT AND IT’S CALLED PORNOGRAPHY. AND IT’S PERFECT AT SATISFYING YOUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL IMPULSES SO HAVE AT IT.”

D is a horrid letter, and shall be skipped.

E, however, is for Eurogamer. Here is an excellent piece from there by one Robert Florence on how anti-piracy measures treat a symptom rather than a cause:

The first thing we have to do, right now, is accept that we are all pirates. At some point we’ve all done it, and many of us are doing it now, so the term has no real meaning. We’re talking about people here, and people only pay for stuff if they love it, love the people who made it, or it’s so cheap that they don’t even question it. A corporate acceptance of normal human behaviour would mean the end of these ridiculous DRM situations, where people who have legitimately paid for things get hassle they wouldn’t have to deal with if they’d just taken the stuff for free. (And by the way, we can’t stop fighting DRM because we’re a bit fatigued by the subject. The fight must go to the final bell.) Let’s just accept that whatever a thing is, only some people will pay for it, and only if they care enough to do so. This mythical creature we call the “Pirate” does not exist.”

F is for Florence, because you should read this piece of his as well.

G is for Gambling, and how it’s converging with games. H is for Hate that Becky Chambers wishes to stop.

I is for Interview and this fantastic one Matthew S. Burns conducts with the lead designer for Modern Warfare 2 “No Russian” level, and his subsequent commentary thereon:

“In the sea of endless bullets you fire off at countless enemies without a moment’s hesitation or afterthought, the fact that I got the player to hesitate even for a split second and actually consider his actions before he pulled that trigger– that makes me feel very accomplished.”

When he puts it that way, I feel like I understand Alavi’s reasoning up to the decision to create No Russian, whether or not I agree it was the best way to tell the story of the game. When one works in the medium of first person shooters, one must work with the forms the medium provides. Alavi simply wanted to “sell” (in his words) the story of the game and reinforce the badness of the bad guys to the best of his, and his chosen medium’s, ability. The choices that led to No Russian were choices along a series of logical steps followed to their inevitable conclusion: in a world where dozens of marionettes of human beings are constantly killed, something even worse has to happen to snap us awake.

J is for Jason, for which you press X. K is for Kris, who won’t let go of that joke.

L is for Lollipop Chainsaw, for which Patricia Hernandez has developed a certain fascination:

Juliet, the protagonist of Lollipop Chainsaw, is what you’d call “perfect” – as dictated by the most stereotypical features of western beauty ideals, anyway. Blonde. Blue eyed. Big chest.

She knows her place, and her role very well, too. She’s bubbly and airheaded. The camera pans around and she willingly bends over, or she giggles when a character says something crass or untoward.

I should dislike her and everything she stands for. I should reject such a flippant depiction of gender and sex in a medium I want to see grow, see mature. I should be repulsed.

Should.

I don’t. She’s the woman I’ve desperately wanted to look like all these years.

M is for More, as Yannick LeJacq takes on the same:

The problem with Lollipop Chainsaw, Richard Clark explains, is that Juliet has been coerced by some force greater than herself to “accept and revel in her reality.” But while it may be a reality to her, it’s a fantasy for us. And there’s a real difference between the two, one that terms like “rapey” flatten into a violent epistemological collapse where there is no separation between our virtual selves and our real selves, our fantasies and our actual desires.

N is for Nolan Bushnell, gaming’s absent father. O is for Oh, I Wish I Could Write As Well As Simon Parkin.

P is for Prototype and Q is for Queering, as those are the two that Merritt Kopas brings together:

Much in the same way as some have argued for a queer cinema, I want to argue for a queer gaming that reclaims “bad” representations of gender and sexual minorities, and that recycles and reinterprets content that was never intended as queer. Ultimately, I see queer readings of “non-queer” games as having a place alongside pushes for greater visibility of marginalized groups and an expansion of authorship beyond the traditional circle of white men, in the project of making games more interesting, useful, and accessible.

R is for Richard Moss, on “The Perils, Challenges, and Uncertainty of Collecting and Preserving Video Games“. S is for Set Theory, and what Christian fundamentalism has against it.

T is for Till the End of Time, the Star Ocean game Alfred MacDonald says is cleverer than you think:

After you’re thoroughly invested in the politics and relations of characters in this previously foreign territory, the game uproots you […] You think, at this point, that you’ve got it all figured out. Your priorities are back in order, because you’re trying to overcome this rival federation. At this point, you’re as top-priority as you could be.

That is, of course, until you figure out that the situation which just happened — a higher society invading a pathetically lower society — has been flipped on you. Everyone in your universe, including the rival society which just invaded your planet, is in serious danger. Because this time, a higher universe is invading a lower universe, and the lower universe is your universe, because your universe is that universe’s video game.

The game’s storyline is a manipulation of your sense of scale. By the time this happens, you’ve grown such a familiarity with everything around you that to have it disrupted this way is jarring. It causes you to distrust everything around you in a way that I have not seen a book do. It disallows you to become too familiar or trusting with anything, such that even a minor place you thought would always remain constant is now variable and weird.

U is Uncooperative, and shall be sent to time out. V is for Video, especially this Making of Silent Hill 2 which you may not have seen.

W is for WASD, the One True Way. X is for Jason, as I might have already said. And Z is for Zombie Apocalypse, but then, it always is.

Thank you for joining us for this special time, my friends. Please, keep sending us tweets and emails with all the stuff you like. They are so very, very delicious.

“Hey, can you do the round-up, I’m busy,” said Kris to me this week. I was about to protest – my weekends are usually reserved for an oh-so-taxing mix of gaming and feeling sorry for myself after Friday night, you see – but then I learned just what was keeping Kris so busy. So you know what, Kris? I’m happy to handle This Week In Videogame Blogging if it means you can have all of the cats.

First off, Josh Straub at Game Informer enlightens us on his definition of game “accessibility”, as informed by his being a disabled gamer. He says that it’s not about dropping a game’s difficulty, as many of us might believe, and relates his experience of playing Uncharted 2:

I am a disabled gamer and I am determined to keep playing. Sometimes, my disability prevents me from moving my hands fast enough to execute certain sequences in games. For example, one of my favorite games of all time is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Near the end of the game Drake is in a Tibetan temple, in which there are levers he must crank to open doors. The way the player makes Drake open these doors is by tapping the triangle button repeatedly. Because of the delay in my muscles, there is no way for me to tap fast enough to get him to open the door. When I realized this, I was forced to confront the idea that I had just spent $60 on a game, progressed most of the way through it without help and now had to rely on somebody else to get me past that point. Beyond that point, however, the game was easy for my hands to handle. It was literally two small sequences, opening two small doors that made the game inaccessible. For me, game accessibility is not an empty phrase or a buzzword – it’s a part of my life.

At the New York Times (gasp! Mainstream coverage!), Amy O’Leary traverses the well-beaten path of sexual harassment in online gaming. While the first half of the article mentions topics you’ll be familiar with by now – the fighting game community, Anita Sarkeesian, et cetera – it’s worth a read for the second half. O’Leary digs up some interesting stuff, most notably the experiences of XboxLive’s former head of enforcement.

Okay, now. I thought our own Eric Swain was pretty full-on with his love of Driver: San Francisco, and now Brendan Keogh is in on it too. Through the lens of Driver, Keogh discusses players’ need to make a world make sense, and describes how we react when things don’t go as we expect.

Next up is something we’re a couple of weeks late on, but it’s still worth a watch: a video analysis of what makes horror games actually, you know, scary.

Meanwhile, at the Fengxi blog, there’s an interesting write-up on Anna Anthropy’s use of metaphor in her game Dys4ia:

Anna’s uncertainty and anxiety regarding her body is represented through a tetris piece that can’t properly fit through a wall. The aggravation of her breasts during hormone therapy is translated through a pair of breasts dodging obstacles as it floats upwards. The harmful words of naysayers berating her and denying her goals are represented by projectiles which a shield that you control needs to avoid. And the beauty of it is that it makes so much sense! Anna as a shield, words as dangerous projectiles, a body as a tetris piece, trying to properly fit-in with its environment? Dys4ia’s use of metaphor is straightforward and effective, and we as players instatntly understand what it’s telling us. That’s the power of comparison.

At Moving Pixels, G. Christopher Williams actually attempts to answer the question of “u mad?” He’s a braver person than I, evidently. His piece is an interesting consideration of why League of Legends players so obsessively want to know if they’re hurting their opponents. The answer speaks quite directly to the lack of consequential signifiers in online competitive play, he says.

The Mary Sue’s lovely regular contributor Becky Chambers does it again with a look at the concept of “flow” in games, or as she puts it, That Time J.R.R. Tolkien Wrote A Short Story About Video Games.

Excitingly, Robert Yang of the Radiator blog has a piece on the level design one of my all-time favourite games, Thief. He says: Thief 1 and 2 didn’t have an “open world” structure. They got around this constraint (and arguably, surpassed the “open world” as an organizing principle) by inventing their own level design conventions and expectations.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier addresses the divide between the people who make games and the people who play them. He wants to talk.

The biggest problem in gaming today is that the gaming industry thinks we’re all out to get them. They think gamers are the enemy, a group that needs to be treated with disdain and avoided whenever possible. They think the only way to fool us into buying their products is to cover everything in a shroud of secrecy, only drip-feeding us pretty trailers and juicy soundbites during carefully-tailored marketing campaigns. They think we should just sit there and lap it up.

Alan Williamson has a similar sentiment, only he feels that gamers need to discuss their hobby with each other, too. If you’ve ever been told to “relax, it’s just a game”, you’ll know where Williamson is coming from. Over at Nightmare Mode, he says:

Games are evil. Games rot your brain. (I say: let’s rot!) Games are toys. Games are ‘only entertainment’, with the lofty aim of being taken as seriously as whatever trash Hollywood is promoting this week. No matter how many Journeys we make or how many people are pissed off with Mass Effect 3‘s ending, it seems we’ve barely scratched the surface of games becoming acceptable mainstream art. How many people do you know that own a Wii or love Angry Birds, yet have a real problem identifying themselves as a gamer? An elitist culture surrounds geekdom, where you’re not a ’real geek’ unless you’ve got a Super Mushroom tattooed across your face and speak only in arcane memes. This is where the term ‘newbie’ arises in the gaming lexicon: it’s there to discourage non-geeks from encroaching on ‘our’ turf.

And speaking of Nightmare Mode, I’d like to end this week’s round-up with a heads-up for you. If you’re keen to contribute to the happy party of games criticism we’ve got going on here, Nightmare Mode is currently seeking contributors. If you feel you’re a good fit for the site, then it’s time to get pitching. Who knows; maybe we’ll see your name here on TWIVGB in the future?

As per usual, if you have any sweet articles you’d like to see mentioned here, hit us up on Twitter or send an email our way.