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If there’s something strange in your neighbo(u)rhood… who you gonna call? Don’t call anyone. Just stay indoors and read this month’s entries for Blogs of the Round Table until the weirdness subsides. We care about your safety.

This month’s theme was Fear and Loathing in Game Spaces:

“Since their inception, games have explored that most primal of human emotions: fear. Whether it’s shambling zombies, ghosts, relentless killers or arachnophobia, we’ve never been short of scares. Some can’t stand horror games, while others thrive on them.

Are games uniquely suited to instil fear in the player, beyond a film or a Stephen King novel? Does your skin crawl at the mere thought of being scared, or do you relish the surge of adrenaline? Have you ever been scared or felt uncomfortable in a game that wasn’t intended to make you feel that way?”


Christopher Floyd writes about the fear of death, specifically dealing with the consequences of death Silent Hill: Downpour and the tangible loss of a squad member in XCOM: Enemy Unknown rather than the death of the player character.

Peter Shafer talks about how horror games force us to look on, unable to cover our eyes unlike if we were watching a scary movie. Silent Hill again! It’s times like this I almost wish I owned a Playstation instead of a Saturn. Actually, that’s the real stuff of nightmares.

Cha Holland conquers her fear of the sadomasochistic platform game VVVVVV and its infamous ‘Doing Things the Hard Way’ section. It’s good to know someone finished that bit.

Shawn Trautman introduces us to Andrew Shouldice’s lo-fi indie horror game Hide, which was released before Slender and makes the latter seem like an… interesting homage. The fear of being pursued without hope of escape is quite prevalent in other indie horror games, like SCP: Containment Breach.

Kim Shier points out the difference between the “armchair apocalypse” of cinema and the active participation of video games. However, this actively leads to greater emotional investment, as with The Walking Dead, where tensions comes from making a bad choice in a world packed full of bad choices.

Cameron Kunzleman’s expansive Designing Horror series covers a lot of interesting indie horror games I’d never even heard of before. It’s been running for the past couple of months and is well worth taking an hour or two to read through all of the entries. Possibly before sunset.

Marc Price was so scared by Resident Evil as a child that he embarrassed himself in front of his mother. Better than wetting yourself in a shopping centre, I guess. Now he laments the death of the survival horror genre with new action-focused titles like Resident Evil 6 and Dead Space 3. Yet if there’s one genre that can rise from the dead and walk the Earth, it surely must be survival horror.

Richard Moss revisits his childhood fear of crowds with At the Carnival. Is it just me, or is there something inherently creepy about those screenshots, phobia or not?

Nathan Blades compares the demonic shopping mall of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey with the real-world horrors of the London riots. He goes on to talk about Westfield Stratford: I’ve been there too, and let me tell you, the queues in that Primark are nothing short of terrifying.

Cody Steffen offers an omnibus of his experiences with horror games. Like Kim, Cody explores the idea of heightened interactivity keeping our eyes fixed on the television instead of cowering behind the sofa.

Eric Swain has been writing about horror games all month at PopMatters (and now that I’ve mentioned it, hopefully he’ll stick a link in his blog) and sees them as more thought-provoking than other games: not just those annoying chess piece puzzles in Resident Evil 2, but because players are “complicit in their own fear.”

Nathan Altice argues, very convincingly, that Silent Hill 2 understands temporal horror and the slow psychological buildups that are more effective than monsters bursting out of closets. How bad of a port Silent Hill HD Collection? I really want to play SH2. There is no punchline here. It’s a serious question.

John Brindle takes a different angle on the topic with a look at ‘The Political Uses of Fear’ (trigger warning for street harassment, passing anxiety, rape culture). As well as fear for fear’s sake, the more ‘everyday’ horror of a game like Hey Baby or Lim can be far more terrifying than the mutant freaks of Dead Space, because those are nightmares from which we can’t awake.

Bonus I Can’t Believe It’s Not BoRT Halloween Content: Craig and I played the point-n-click-n-jump horror game The House 2 for Split Screen and recorded a video. Contains very strong language, mostly from me.


There is a small chance I may have missed an entry due to paranormal activity. If your entry isn’t listed here, you haven’t been snubbed- please email me or send me a message on Twitter and I’ll add it to our roundup.


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If you have trouble embedding the Linkomatic 5000, let me know on Twitter and I’ll try my best to help.

Ahh, the most wonderful time of the year! Fall and/or spring is in the air, children are about to go door-to-door accosting their neighbors for sugary hand-outs, and the denizens of Twitter are trying to out-camp one another with (candy-)corny themed username switcheroos. So it can only be time for This Week in Videogame Blogging, Halloween edition!

Let’s start with some frightfully insightful game analyses.

Dishonored, which merits inclusion in this week’s list if just by dint of being a game about a guy in a skull mask named Corvo, has continued to generate some interesting discussion pieces from around the web.

First, The Border House’s Tami Baribeau responds to last week’s featured piece by Becky Chambers on the representation of women in the game, questioning whether its depictions of inequality aren’t in fact a huge missed opportunity.

Next, Eric Schwarz argues that Dishonored falters as a stealth game:

Thief gave players a wide variety of tools, from flash bombs, to moss arrows, to grappling hooks, to climbing gloves, to water arrows, and more. Deus Ex didn’t offer quite the same selection, but even it had the courtesy to offer non-lethal alternatives like the stun prod and gas grenades. Dishonored, even with its Blink power that lets players teleport around the environment quickly, feels like it’s missing several critical stealth tools with its paltry poison bolts for the crossbow and the ever-popular stealth takedown. There is almost no evolution of stealth gameplay over the course of the game, which is a real shame when it’s apparently the focus of the title.

Medium Difficulty’s Karl Parakenings, meanwhile, believes Dishonored represents a regression in terms of design:

I think the problem is in exactly the kind of nostalgia that’s powering the success of all these Kickstarters. Yes, I miss Black Isle, Ion Storm Austin, and Looking Glass. No, I don’t particularly want them back. They did some fantastic and innovative things when they were around, but shouldn’t we be looking forward? As a loose community of fans and developers, when we focus so much on what’s behind us, we’re liable to trip over something. We end up with Dishonored. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air compared to Gears and Max Payne 3, but it’s really just as stale, only we forgot what it used to taste like.

Red Dead Redemption, the Western sandbox game from Rockstar that keeps on giving, is the subject of David Chandler’s musings on modernity and the closing of the West:

Marston can’t explore the true West because it’s no longer there; all he has is the defined space set by digital parameters. By the architecture of the video game, the West in Red Dead Redemption is always closed, always confined to an invisible mass of data stored in a machine–a modern West indeed.

Indie darling The Unfinished Swan released to positive reviews and critical discussion last week. Yannick “If An Interview’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Right” LeJacq sits down with Unfinished Swan creator Ian Dallas to discuss the game’s development and tone.

From there, head on over to GameChurch, where Jonah Stowe discusses The Unfinished Swan‘s treatment of the theme implied in its title:

Even in its conclusion, which carries with it a certain degree of ambiguity, The Unfinished Swan remains tenuously committed to being incomplete. And while the game includes some unlockable bonuses for locating various balloons that are scattered throughout the chapters, I’m convinced that the best way to honor the game is to purposefully avoid finding all of them. What The Unfinished Swan celebrates is that capacity of being human in which we strive to achieve a creative ideal. We all carry a sense of unattainable perfection; and our creative output will continually struggle with a dissatisfaction, with a frustration that we didn’t get it quite right. Too often this sense can lead to unnecessary and incessant revision, and The Unfinished Swan offers itself as an appropriate corrective to this compulsion.

Moving away from game-specific pieces toward more overarching subjects, Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Jim Rossignol chats about the role of fear and insurmountable odds in certain games:

What’s thrilling about X-Com is coming out on top when so much is against you. Half your men are in the infirmary, half in the grave. The rookies that make up the team seem hopeless, and half the world is in the grip of panic over the alien menace. And yet you still manage to come out on top. The worse things in a game can become, the better it feels when you beat it.

And then I wonder why I don’t want to play more Dishonored. And I think the reason comes from Arkane’s own admission that the game is a power fantasy. In some ways, games are better when they are – and this is a peculiar-sounding phrase – a vulnerability fantasy.

Over on his Brainy Gamer blog, Michael Abbott (whose Stan Bush costume always wins first prize at the Wabash College costume ball) suggests we need a better critical vocabulary for games:

There’s nothing wrong with words like “emotional” or “experience” per se. Most games do convey a “world” and deliver “gameplay,” but too often these terms function as generic placeholders. They communicate a vague sense of something richer, more vivid and complex. In a mush of overused terminology, they’re essentially meaningless.

[…]

If we are to see games clearly, we must show how they are what they are. Part of that work is structural and systemic, and part of it sensual and aesthetic. We’ve made inroads to the first, but little progress with the second. We need more words. Different words. Better words. Finding them won’t get us all the way there, but it’s a good start.

Tevis Thompson appears to agree, in this guest editorial for Kotaku on the subject of mystery, lasting impressions, and moments of wonder:

Mystery is not just something in games. It responds to how we approach games, our attitude towards play. When my object is encounter not victory, surrender not sovereignty, awareness not oblivion. I am plunged into the very weirdness of virtual experience with my body intact and my whole nervous system alight.

[…]

What resonates as mystery for me will not be the same as for you. This is wonderful and necessary. Because mystery requires human transaction. It’s not eternal and unchanging. The experience of mystery depends on time and place and person and context. Just as the experience of a game does.

We lack the vocabulary for videogame experiences. They are so strange and diverse and fugitive. But we must dare to reach beyond our grasp and wrestle with these experiences we can barely articulate. Mystery is a dialogue, and insatiable.

[…]

I hope games do not arrive soon. I hope we are not satisfied with what we have. I hope videogames push us into deeper contact with the world, and ourselves.

This is a theme Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Adam Smith touches upon as well, in reflecting on the importance of a bit of abstraction in our representation. “I love games that tell a story and I love games that present a challenge and a threat,” he writes, “but mostly I love games that give me some blocks and ask me to build.”

Rob Lockhart recounts his visit to the Pinball Expo in Illinois, accompanied with some thoughts on pinball’s influence on digital games.

Patricia Hernandez has a great bit up on Kotaku about some of the stumbling blocks found at the intersection of games and activism. Meanwhile, Jorge Albor conducts an interesting interview with Chris Worboys, developer of iBeg, the game which lies at the center of Hernandez’s article.

On the subject of independents, over on Pixels or Death, Joshua Dennison conducts an interview with Zach Gage, about his new board game, Guts of Glory.

I’m also pleased to note that molleindustria’s Paolo Pedercini has posted the slides and transcript from his microtalk held at IndieCade earlier this month, for which Gage was also a participant, on the subject of games, subversion, and activism.

molleindustria, as you probably well know, collected this year’s IndieCade grand jury prize for their game Unmanned, about a day in the life of a remote drone pilot. It’s an interesting launching off point for this thought-provoking piece brought to us by the good folks at Medium Difficulty: a response W’s noteworthy “Call of Apathy” essay, from the perspective of precisely the kind of active service drone pilot featured in Unmanned.

It wasn’t until one particular mission, late in the summer, when a call was made to fire into a tree line by two Apache helicopters, that a light bulb went on. Everyone was so sure and so complacent that our target was hiding in the treeline that the order to fire was given without a second thought. As it turns out, he was indeed hiding in the treeline, but was using a large group of women and children to shield himself. After the Apaches fired, women with children in tow went scattering as fast as they could to the shelter of the mosque about a hundred yards away across an open field. Once we realized this, the firing stopped. However, I honestly don’t know how many people were injured that morning. Maybe none at all. However, there was no mission report and all video data went to some classified server somewhere; nothing to see, nothing to confirm. This doesn’t bother me as much as it raises questions about the status and effects of the future warfighter.

Am I the product of 20 years of desensitization? With the decrease in infantrymen and the increase in bomb-dropping drones, am I the model killer the military wants–or needs? It strikes me that the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without Call Of Duty or Battlefield is now coming of enlistment age, right as the military shifts to a digital battleground. If you were born when the original Mortal Kombat was released, you are now 19 years old — possibly a year into your first tour. If anyone wants to pay attention to the potential effects of game violence on human behavior, now is the time.

Desensitization is, to be sure, a recurring discussion point when it comes to games. It came up again for Unwinnable’s Gus Mastrapa this week, as he reflects on real vs virtual violence. [WARNING: graphic descriptions.]

Anjin Anhut of the aptly named How to Not Suck at Game Design blog tackles feminine versus masculine signifiers as they tend to crop up in games. From more of the business end of inclusion politics, The Border House’s Zoya describes the pervasiveness of a particular sort of upper-middle-class, white, heterosexual normativity influencing game design.

You may have heard the news that a little site named Polygon finally launched last week. The centerpiece of its opening week offerings was definitely this well-researched article by Tracey Lien on the state of game development in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Digital Humanities quarterly has released a nice academic article by Kari Kraus and Rachel Donahue on the role of player communities in game preservation.

For many, the biggest story (and most salient conversations) this week came in the form of what many have referred to as The Rab Florence Affair. This is a biggie, so I’ll defer to Stuart Campbell’s excellent breakdown of the events if you are interested in the particulars.

The short version, however, goes like this:

  • Rab Florence, writing for Eurogamer, posts condemning the PR-funded Games Media Awards and journalists perceived to be shilling for corporate interests.
  • One of three journalists named in the piece, Lauren Wainwright of MCV, goes through her employer’s legal department in order to ask for the removal of remarks from the article she considers libelous.
  • Florence resigns from Eurogamer, claiming Wainwright and/or her employer threatened legal action to see the comments removed.
  • Wainwright garners a torrent of negative comments on Twitter, including misogynistic insults and rape jokes. She locks her Twitter account.
  • Many decry Wainwright’s actions as censorship, while others defend the PR-funded events Florence criticizes as ethically defensible.

In the course of all this, a number of people have been busy weighing in with their thoughts on various aspects of Florence’s article and the reactions to it. One of the most vocal comes from Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker:

Critics are rarely good at taking criticism, but what’s happening amongst many PRs and writers now is a Roman legion-style tortoise defence, as they loudly decry the piece without providing a glimmer of an argument opposing it, and hide behind their collective shields. The people who should be say, “Shit, good grief, look at how we come across” are instead saying, “He is a bad man!” and then sending each other reassuring tweets that the article is inaccurate (although failing to point out where) and calling Rab “bitter”. It’s sadly pathetic. And it’s deeply concerning, about an industry that now not only believes itself not deserving of criticism, but that criticism is an outrage.

Jim Sterling references his own past mistakes as a journalist and adds:

I feel that there is very little genuine corruption in this industry. As I’ve said before, our pathetic little lives just aren’t interesting enough to justify the conspiracy theories that often occur. However, when people respond to light criticism about sketchy appearances by closing ranks in a defensive formation, all while hurling insults and condescension at their critics, they take mildly suspicious behavior and use it as fuel for conspiracy. You’re enthusiasts. You’re fans of games. You like getting little toys and bits of tat from publishers, and you love being unpaid advertisement for games if you truly believe in them. Don’t be ashamed of that. Own it.

Or, if you ARE ashamed, maybe just don’t fucking do it anymore.

Phil Hornshaw believes the Rab Florence Affair is a teachable moment for all involved:

There’s not a lot to do in sitting around, complaining about the state of games journalism, but I also don’t really get how members of the press can go, “Oh, this again,” and pretend as if it’s just another day of high school-esque drama that doesn’t concern them. This is your industry, and the stupid [sic] actions of your colleagues don’t exist in a vacuum. They affect the reputation of all of us, of the very idea of what we do. Whenever you see someone doing something that calls their objectivity and ethics into question, it should be a reaffirmation: “This is not okay, and this is not what I do.” That is, if you’re serious about this in any way, because those actions call the objectivity of all of us into question.

…Which in turn brings us back to John Walker, who followed up his original remarks with a second post saying:

When a journalist feels they have been misrepresented, even if this so-called misrepresentation has arisen from their having been directly quoted, the response should not be to demand it be removed. The response is to offer to write a response column, or to publish a response in any of the public outlets to which they have access. To do anything else is to be an enemy of journalism, deliberately stifling discussion, and going out of one’s way to ensure further discussion is feared.

Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander advocates for a more moderate view:

Whether awarding games or looking at our press, why do we still feel the need to be all things to all people? Geoff Keighley’s work on Spike is mainstream pop culture in the most basic sense, but that doesn’t mean it can’t exist alongside other approaches to covering the game industry, other perspectives thereupon.

It’s when we start trying to hold an incredibly diverse game industry and an incredibly diverse array of voices to the same uncompromising standards we run into problems — especially, as Florence points out, because the standards are still relatively little-understood in a rapidly-changing landscape.

Finally, in a guest post on John Walker’s personal blog, Robert Florence himself comments on the whirlwind of the last few days:

I think [Lauren Wainwright] did one of the worst things one writer can do to another, but I don’t think she’s “on the take”. And her actions since, supported by people who know better, have made her a focal point for a piece that was never about her. She has faced the ugly side of these internet dramas, where people dig into your past and highlight all your mistakes. She’s faced nasty comments based on her sex and her looks, because that’s what some corners of the internet do to women.

And it has to stop.

Because here’s the thing. This story – my column, Lauren’s reaction, Eurogamer’s edit, my stepping down, the whole aftermath – is not about writers. It’s about PR. It’s about these marketing people who have a stranglehold over most of the industry, and control the narrative of the whole scene. They’ve even controlled the narrative of this disaster.

I would follow this with a glib “but who was phone??” in order to tie the theme back into this, but honestly, I believe Florence’s words are chilling enough. So let’s leave it at that.

Okay. One lighter note to end on. Just for you all, and completely for the holiday, here’s some Slender-themed latte art, courtesy of my handsome and talented predecessor, Ben Abraham.

Thanks for tuning in. Now for Carl Sagan’s sake, go out and get some candy before the Snickers bars are all gone. Remember to send us your submissions for This Week in Videogame Blogging via Twitter or email, and that there is still some time left to submit to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table. Stay safe out there, now!

WHO: You
WHAT: Reading This Week in Videogame Blogging
WHERE: At your computer, presumably
WHEN: Right now!
WHY: [OUTSIDE SYSTEM PARAMETERS]

DISHONORED

Joel Goodwin kicks off the week and this ginormous list by addressing Dishonored and the paradox of choice.

Rab Florence hypothesizes applying the stealth fantasies of the game to his real life.

John Brindle isn’t playing Dishonored yet, but reading about everyone else playing it had provided him for a launching-off point in talking about what happens when we bring outside objectives into our play:

If there is an opposition between ‘playing to win’ and ‘being playful’, what does the latter mean? Are those who play in alignment with the goals intended by developers playing any more ‘truly’ than others, or is their alignment of goals merely incidental?

Robert Yang finds the game’s tutorial lazy and disruptive. Meanwhile, Becky Chambers does a deep read on Dishonored‘s portrayal of women.

KELLAWAY’S FINANCIAL TIMES ARTICLE

Apart from recent game releases, this week’s major discussion trends seemed to revolve around this article by non-gamer Lucy Kellaway, writing on her (rather critical) impressions as part of the GameCity prize judging panel.

Our own Alan Williamson is himself highly critical of Kellaway’s article but argues that we shouldn’t dismiss outsider criticism, noting that “video games are often unashamedly elitist and obtuse.”

Jim Rossignol of Rock, Paper, Shotgun counters: “Actually, no, I don’t think we really need to worry about what non-gamers think of games. And that is because, in this instance, we are the highly educated elite.”

Mattie Brice opines that we can’t demand cultural legitimacy and then dismiss outside criticism:

The gaming community, or let’s say the ones with voices- popular developers, media, and maybe celebrities if we have those- have a cake eating problem. We want to be taken seriously as an artform but don’t often value critical analysis.

Luke Rhodes of Culture Ramp, meanwhile, takes the long view:

If novices like the GameCity panel find it difficult to arrive at meaningful answers to those question, they may find it consoling to know that veteran game critics run up against the same difficulties.

INDEPENDENT GAMES

Brandon Sheffield offers his overview of IndieCade and writes on the subject of its remarkable diversity.

Michael Abbott covers a particular panel talk from the same conference, a discussion among thatgamecompany’s Jenova Chen, Naughty Dog’s Amy Hennig and Unfinished Swan developer Ian Dallas.

Writing for Wired, Jason Tanz brings us the legacy of Peter Molyneux, including the influence of his parody (and probable looper), @petermolydeux, on his decision to leave Microsoft and go into independent development.

BUY LOCAL

Information dieting seeks to focus on local issues and direct sources rather than consuming our media through a filter. Ben Milton wonders if he can take that even further:

The question I’ve begun asking myself is, if I’m taking time to weed out junk information, how can I weed out junk games? What qualifies as a worthwhile game, something that I’ll be glad I played afterwards? What criteria can I start using other than, “That looks fun”? How can I make my gaming life saner, more grounded, and more human?”

FEEL ALL THE THINGS

Alexandra Geraets discovers an uncommon feeling of peace while playing Journey: “A video game is the last place I’d ever look for a peaceful, borderline spiritual experience, and yet I had one, a truly powerful, emotional adventure.”

INCLUSION

Maddy Myers brings us a personal account of visiting several local fighting game meets, where she is routinely the only woman in the room:

Marvel vs. Capcom? I love this game,” says one of the newcomers. “You all play this game? You guys all have Xbox?”

One of the other guys points at me. “I only have a PS3, but she has an Xbox. This is her game.”

The newcomer stares hard at me. “It’s your game?”

Time to go through the motions. “Yes.” “You play this game?” “Yes.” “You play video games?” “Yes.” “You have an Xbox?!” “Yes.” “Whoa! You gotta give me your gamertag!” “No, thanks.” “What? Why not? You have Xbox Live, right?” “I do, just . . . no, thanks.”

The guy turns and walks right out of the store. He doesn’t come back.

The guy who pointed at me says, “That was weird.”

“It wasn’t that unusual,” I say. “Not for me.”

“Oh, right,” he says. “You’re a girl who plays video games. And that’s pretty weird.” It’s not a compliment. He says it with a hint of concern in his eyes, as though he’s letting me know that I have a symptom of some larger, mysterious disorder.”

PopMatters’ G. Christopher Williams surveys the role of the prostitute in games versus in other media.

Katie Williams observes that the gaming scene is changing, and for the better:

The gaming community has seemed noisy lately, there’s no denying it. Every week we pick through the debris of a new controversy. There’s already a fatigue in relation to issues of sex and gender, but women have felt fatigued far longer by the prevalence of skimpily-dressed female characters and sexualised violence in our hobby. We’re noisy now because we’re finally able to speak up.

Krystian Majewski questions pop culture’s one-dimensional treatment of mental illness and entreats writers to do better. Meanwhile, the Escapist’s Andy Hughes examines several games’ fictitious representation of Dissociative Identity Disorder to explore how they do, or don’t do justice to their subject.

(HER)STORY

Read carefully, this is important: October 16th was Ada Lovelace Day, so it’s my pleasure to point you all to a new blog dedicated to the world’s first programmer: Dear Ada.

(HIS)TORY

Sean McGeady offers up his recollections of playing Metal Gear Solid with and alongside his father.

Dan Whitehead pays affectionate tribute to the recently departed Mike Singleton and his impact on games, noting: “If you’ve enjoyed an epic open world role-playing adventure in recent years, from Skyrim to Fallout, from Dragon Age to Fable, you’ve benefited from Singleton’s prodigious imagination.”

Chris Donlan takes his elderly father on a sight-seeing tour of the 1940s Los Angeles of his father’s boyhood, via L.A. Noire:

I’ll never forget the moment we found [the Richfield Tower]. Dad could just about remember the cross-streets – 6th and Flower – and I had a little trouble fiddling round in the game’s map to set a waypoint. Then we were off. On the drive, dad kept up a low-level muttering trail of recollections and fiercely specific critiques: the lamps on this bridge were right, but the large dumpsters in alleyways weren’t like anything he remembered seeing; a gas station’s Coke machine was just perfect, but little skirtings of exposed brickwork around the low walls of vacant lots ‘didn’t seem very Californian’; this was meant to be 1947? Why was that a 1950 Chevy, then? When we finally turned onto 6th, though, he suddenly stopped talking.

Like any son with a father in his late 60s, I assumed his sudden silence meant he was having a minor cardiac event. He wasn’t, however: he was simply back in the presence of a building he hadn’t seen in half a century.

We got out of the car and circled the mass of black marble. Dad didn’t say much for a minute or so, but I was astonished that this forgotten edifice had made the cut in Rockstar’s highly compressed take on Los Angeles. As landmarks go, it was long gone in real life, and in California, long gone generally means it’s also forgotten. It was never a world-famous edifice [...] It’s the kind of building that wouldn’t really be missed, and yet here it was, and dad was visibly shaken.

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

Robert Rath is concerned about the treatment-to-date of Mexico’s Cartel War in games:

None of the games I’ve seen, to my mind, are good depictions of the Cartel War, and most of them mischaracterize the conflict by reinforcing stereotypes, getting details wrong, or telling the story from an American perspective. The worst part is I think you could make a great game about the Cartel War, one that respects the lives lost and educates people about a conflict that’s largely experienced by Americans and Europeans through bloody headlines and political spin. This game, however, would look extremely different from the ones that have been made or are currently in development.

Let’s look at what might need to happen.

MOVIES AND GAMES

The development of the AAA games industry is intertwined with late-century Hollywood. In particular, Michael Clarkson seems interested in how Die Hard has come to resonate as a film, and how it’s gone on to inform so many action games.

Then there’s the flip side, when games try to give back to the world of cinema. Rob Horsley takes a look back at the much-maligned Super Marios Bros film and poses an interesting explanation for its reception and legacy.

INTERESTING READINGS

In addition to film, videogames overlap with a plethora of other media and disciplines, which can be very useful for analysis. Here are three which I found especially charming this week:

First for English majors: Matt Krehbiel performs a reading of Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces.

Second for the philosophy majors: Stephen Beirne unearths some interesting connections between action-horror franchise Resident Evil and German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

Third for the science majors: Daniel Accardi explores the twisty little passages of quantum mechanics and The Elder Scrolls.

DEFINE: GAME

Adam Maresca advocates for a taxonomy for games:

Some voice concerns over worries that improving our vocabulary will work solely towards exclusionary ends; they fear the power to call something “not a game” belittles creators and robs them of their merit like pulling at the ends of a slipknot. Some propose that a more refined set of terms to classify and categorize will stifle creative spirits and the coverage they would accrue. They are certainly real fears, but they’re clung to with almost superstitious fervor in their desire to not confront the question.

Meanwhile, Kill Screen’s Abe Stein questions why discussions of gaming rarely include the most popular fantasy game of them all:

Game criticism has come a long way in the past five years, and sites like this one are a testament to that growth, and yet I wonder why there is such a glaring blind spot ignoring fantasy sports. Why have we not turned our critical gaze onto these immensely popular, and truly fascinating game systems? Chuck Klosterman recently wrote for Grantland about the effect of fantasy sports on sports fandom, but that is for a largely sports-focused publication. Are fantasy sports not effectively videogames?

SNEAK KINGS

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is running an excellent little letter series on the stealth genre, with contributions from Andy Schatz, Raf Colantonio, Patrick Redding and Nels Anderson.

WHEN WILL SENPAI NOTICE ME

If you have not already listened to this interview between Eric Brasure and former Critical Distance senior curator Ben Abraham, you owe it to yourself to do so.

THE END

Please remember to send in your links via Twitter or email. We really appreciate it!

Also remember that time is running short on this month’s Blogs of the Round Table theme. As we’re all about promoting conversation here at Critical Distance, we really do encourage everyone to participate in these!

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!

CLOSE FILE

I’m back from IndieCade! Let’s see what you all left me. It’s time once more for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

First, some much-needed signal-boosting. I had the distinct pleasure of having dinner last Sunday with a certain Jim Munroe, writer of this year’s IndieCade Grand Jury Prize recipient Unmanned, and I would be remiss in not pointing to you to his blog, No Media Kings.

Next up, long-time reader Will Burgess wrote into us last week with the following:

I am a game designer that WAS working as a producer for 7sixty Games for the past year and a half, but I got laid off this past Friday. While I am taking the opportunity to re-build my portfolio and such, I also have a lot more free time to devote to my blog.

With layoffs seeming to come from half a dozen studios a week these days, it’s definitely a tough time for a lot of devs out there. Will, who has a background as a game studies academic, definitely lends an uncommon perspective to games blogging so it’s really good to see him making something positive out his situation. (But we’re also hoping someone has the good sense to hire him.)

On to the meat and potatoes of the links this week. First up, let’s make up for some lost time. Jason Johnson of Paste has caught up with what Jason Rohrer’s up to these days. Next, this unmissable piece from Moving Pixels’ G. Christopher Williams somehow, erm, got missed when it was first published: on brevity, death and replay value.

Over on Psychology of Games, Jamie Madigan writes on how game tutorials can be harmful to player creativity. And another Jamie, of the Dalzell variety, is up to some cool business at Pondering the Pixels, predictably pondering some pixels, namely the color language of games:

All videogames speak.

Whether it be in the blunt sentences of the First Person Shooter or the nuanced tongue of the Role Playing Strategy, every game speaks with its own vocabulary: a language that teaches us how we interact.

Yet many choose to speak the same dialect, born and bred and raised to speak the common language of the day, inspired by the dystopian landscape that is the regular videogame release schedule. […] Thankfully, then, not all developers are as allergic to colour as others, as if injected with some anti-allergy serum that saves them from the allergic reaction any other colour than drab elicits. And more often than not it’s in the ones that take a chance with colour that we see new worlds and languages brought to the videogame vocabulary, that so often stifles itself on the origins of cover and 60 Frames Per Second.

But wait, let’s talk about FPSes for a bit. For one thing, Brendan Keogh has fallen in love with a particular gun in Borderlands 2. For another, Game Church’s Steven Sukkau raises the interesting hypothesis that Halo-based machinima franchise Red vs Blue is the modern inheritor of Clerks.

Let’s telescope outwards a bit, shall we, from first-person to third-person. Kim of Co-Op Critics has been revisiting Silent Hill 2 and The Dark Tower alongside her play of Spec Ops: The Line and has some interesting reflections on how the three connect. And going well beyond game genre into the spanning world of global politics, Robert Rath explains how a global economy interconnected with Chinese censorship standards actually feeds into North Korean propaganda with fear-mongering titles like Homefront and the Red Dawn remake, saying: “In many ways, Homefront shows the North Korea Kim Jong-un wishes he inherited.”

To be certain, not all games or critical themes get a fair shake their first go-around in the critical sphere. That’s what is so exciting about doing This Week in Videogame Blogging, as it’s a good excuse to track down the sorts of articles on the kinds of games which unfortunately got overlooked on first release. For instance, take this fantastic metanarrative reading of Kingdom of Amalur by Matt Schanuel, or this meaty, deep reading of The Last Story by Andrew High.

Other games have gotten a fair bit of critical play, like thechineseroom’s Dear Esther, but new perspectives and critical takes are always popping up. Take this piece from our own Eric Swain:

Dear Esther isn’t your traditional horror story because it isn’t within the work itself that the scares reside. It’s what you bring out of this ghost story into the real world that scares the most.

Meanwhile, Adam Bishop offers up a point of view we don’t often consider with respect to Dear Esther: how game-breaking bugs or other flaws ruined the experience for him.

Over on Unwinnable, Chris Dahlen is teaching his youngster history via Civilization:

The king of not-really-educational games, the behemoth that I’ve been keeping in my back pocket since the day my son was born, is the Civilization franchise. If you’re a gamer parent, you probably have it on your list as well. You save it until your kid is old enough to enjoy it and, natch, conquer it – because nothing would make you happier than watching your child master its strategies, assimilate its lessons and rise to its challenge as a player who’s empathetic, wise and strong.

Civilization is loosely modeled on the history of the world, but when reality and gameplay come into conflict, gameplay always wins.

Meanwhile, back with G. Christopher Williams, Williams also found his teen daughter sporting a heretofore unseen interest in games recently. It’s very cute:

She entered Jerusalem and began stalking around an area that had a guard watching over it. She clearly wanted to proceed but was having trouble figuring out how to bypass the guard. “Kill him,” I said. “I don’t want to,” she replied. You’re an assassin,” I insisted, “You kill people.” “I don’t know how,” she responded. I realized that she didn’t really understand the mechanics of a stealth kill at this point and asked her to pass the controller over. I walked her through stealth killing that guard, then moved to a nearby rooftop and showed her how to take down a guard from such a vantage point before handing the controller back to her. She was soon on a gleeful murder spree throughout that holy city.

My wife called for her to take out the dog. “I can’t, Mom, I’m murder-urdling people,” she called back.

Awwww.

While Williams teaches his daughter the assassin’s creed, Aaron Gotzon is musing over some other big issues: “is it possible to draw moral teachings from videogames? ‘Life lessons,’ if you will? How might our experiences with games change if we let the games change us?”

On the subject of lessons, Richard Moss is not so much interested in the moral and ethical ones but the creative and design questions, encouraging designers to go digging through the archives. Also recently, Gamasutra’s Christian Nutt touched upon a personal favorite of mine when he wrote of the recent HD rerelease of NiGHTS into dreams…, saying there is plenty we can still learn from the unique little title.

On the subject of 90s games, meanwhile, Matthew Weise reflects on how hardware of the era informed a particular aesthetic and mood of darkness. He sums it up pretty neatly in his opening words: “Darkness isn’t what it used to be.”

In light of the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown releasing last week, Eurogamer’s Alec Meer delivers an unflinching retrospective on the original and how it stacks up– or doesn’t. Meanwhile, as part of the latest issue of the Games Studies journal, Carly A. Kocurek takes us on a look back at 1976′s Death Race, “the United States’ first video gaming moral panic.” In doing so, she asks a pretty pointed question: why do some kinds of violence get a stamp of approval in our consumable media, and not others?

Speaking of the provocative, Danielle Riendeau sat down with artist-activist-provocateur-professional-troll Johannes Grenzfurthner (whom I also had the pleasure of shaking hands with at IndieCade– and playing Massively Multiplayer Thumb War with) regarding 2012′s Arse Elektronika, “the world’s first sex-positive, sex-focused gaming conference.”

But if you’re saying to yourself, “That’s the most surreal article on games I’m going to read this week,” think again! Because have I got something for you. Did you know President Barack Obama has been trying to brush up on his vidya? And that he came to Bit Creature’s Richard Clark for a few lessons in gaming?

Now you do.

One last link for the road, shall we? James Dilks recently profiled JournoDevSwap for Kill Screen, a 48-hour game jam which answers the burning question hundreds of bitter, spiteful, overworked men and women have tried to put to rest over the years: what’s harder, being a game designer, or a game journalist?

(Spoiler: they’re both harder than either expected.)

That’s all for this week! Remember to shoot us your links by Twitter or email, and that we do absolutely welcome (and encourage) a bit of good old fashioned self-promotion. So you have no excuses.

Also, Alan Williamson is absolutely distraught over how few of you have submitted material for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table so far. As in, none of you have. Get on that! Or we’re going to have to have Words.

All of the party people are at Indiecade, so I am here to deliver some video game writing to you. My name is Cameron Kunzelman. I like video games. I like criticism. I like short, declarative sentences. I am not good at this.

Anyway, video game criticism is something that is really important to me, so I volunteered to take this week while Kris was off doing important things that I am not doing.

The first piece for this week is one that I have gone back to over and over again (as you can see in the comments). It is a piece by Kaitlin Tremblay about, well, “Borderlands 2 and the Surprising Feminism of the Siren Class.” She writes that

The Siren class is a subversion of a stereotypical female trope that points fun at the token female in many video games. Maya is not stereotypical as the Siren comparison initially implies. It’s part of the Borderlands joke: the game is seemingly steeped in machismo in order to poke fun at the machismo of video games. It’s aware at every turn of its own ridiculousness, and this is what makes the Borderlands franchise so great.

While I’m not sure that I am convinced by the argument (I can’t drop the subject position; I am a bad pretend journalist), I can say that it is getting at some interesting questions that the video game community should be dealing with.

I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention, at least in passing, the blowup that happened around this article by Wesley Copeland (TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault). Copeland had the audacity to suggest that women shouldn’t be groped in public, and the response was typical–read the comments to feel all the sadness in the universe drop down around you like a shroud.

But we shouldn’t let that cloud our entire week, as devastatingly depressing as it is.

I don’t have a good transition here.

Anjin Anhut’s “A Man Chooses A Slave Obeys” is a brilliant close reading of Bioshock and critical-favorite Spec Ops: The Line. Anhut focuses in tightly on what it means to perform an action in a game, and comes to the conclusion that maybe we do actually need to turn the machine off sometimes (also, the graphic design in that article is stunning. Go look.) Anhut starts asking questions toward the end, and all of them are important:

How many games made me do things in this hypothetical space, which I didn’t feel like doing? How many kills did feel odd to me, even within an exaggerated fictitious war scenario, but I still marched on? How many days did I spend just mindlessly following waypoints, screen prompts and nice voices? How many times did I accept pretty girls void of any personality as a bribe to save the day? In how many games did I reluctantly accept racial stereotypes as just what the enemy looks like?

In other close readings (my favorite kind of readings), Lana Polansky has written a wonderful piece on “The Poetry of Created Space” that combines analyses of Shelley’s poetry and video game space. You know you want to know things about hubris, decline, and their effects on video games.

Making a move to meatspace, Mike Schiller writes about his daughter and her use of video games to cope with Tourette’s syndrome.

In a time where pharmaceutical solutions often take the predominant role of treatment, video games are a welcome supplement. My daughter’s favorite games have become some of her most effective coping strategies. While I would never suggest that video games replace doctor-prescribed treatment, understanding the disorder and what engages her in meaningful cognitive activity has allowed my wife and I to give her one more tool in her set of coping strategies.

At PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams wrote about the “mini-roguelike” and why we like games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL so much. Describing mini-rogulikes as “anti-Bioshocks,” he asserts that

These are games that are about the development of a player, not a character, and as such celebrate the player’s skills and smarts in ultimately overcoming obstacles despite the fact that these games feature more failures than not.  Victories are made sweeter in the knowledge that the game does not expect me to run through from beginning to end successfully, it expects me to only reach a conclusion if I can develop myself as player enough to do so.

Video Game Tourism has a brilliant interview with David Adler. I’m not excerpting any of it, because the whole thing is interesting. 1916 looks properly terrifying if you think worms with teeth are scary (I do think that).

Anthony John Agnello wrote an article about the controls of video games. I wish that I had words to make that sound more interesting; I promise that it is actually really cool. A phrase that is used in the article: “Mastery leads to grand expression.”

Matt Marrone wrote about being a “deadbeat gamer”. I have a lot of feels (when you read this in the future, know that ‘feels’ was a thing we said in the fall of 2012) about this. There is something oppressive about the constant slog of content in games. Marrone remarks:

Even Skyrim, I have recently discovered, has a downloadable expansion pack. When I was 10, that would have been the ultimate dream come true – a never-ending adventure!

Now that just makes me feel old and tired.

Nathan Altice is doing a “cold run” of The Legend of Zelda. No walkthroughs; no FAQs. Just pure action. He is documenting it all, of course, and it is a fascinating read so far. For example, he has rightly pointed out that the beginning of  the game is a lot like Dark Souls.

The opening hub area in Dark Souls has the same structure. Multiple paths radiate from the Firelink Shrine, one of which is manageable at low levels; the others, less so. The player learns through exploration, not through pop-up text. What was once calledlevel design is now known as hardcore difficulty

Finally, Daniel Golding has an article up titled “Why Code is Not Poetry“. There are citations. Go have that argument.

September’s Blogs of the Round Table revival was a resounding success. Let’s do it all over again!

I have a confession to make: the only thing I had written for this month’s BoRT before today was “Scary games. Discuss.” Although I could probably get away with that, I’m already on thin ice with the Critical Distance overlords for accidentally tweeting a Shenmue joke from the official account, so I have elaborated a little.

As it’s October and Halloween at the end of the month, our topic is Fear and Loathing in Game Spaces.

Since their inception, games have explored that most primal of human emotions: fear. Whether it’s shambling zombies, ghosts, relentless killers or arachnophobia, we’ve never been short of scares. Some can’t stand horror games, while others thrive on them.

Are games uniquely suited to instil fear in the player, beyond a film or a Stephen King novel? Does your skin crawl at the mere thought of being scared, or do you relish the surge of adrenaline? Have you ever been scared or felt uncomfortable in a game that wasn’t intended to make you feel that way?

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag, or tweet me @agbear. Don’t forget the Rules of the Round Table:

  • 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.
  • Your article does have to be connected to the topic. We’ll let you know if we think it’s too tenuous.
  • 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!

And remember: you have nothing to fear but fear itself. Well, that and writer’s block.

I am delighted by the response to the BoRT revival. There were so many excellent submissions, and I hope you enjoyed writing them as much as I did reading them. If you caught our mid-September roundup, look after the horizontal line for the later submissions. Without further ado…

September’s theme was 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?


Amanda Lange argues that new genres rely on new means of interaction i.e. new input devices, and that gamers need to be developed with those new inputs in mind- something that will become apparent when the Wii U is released. By the way, does anyone want to buy my Kinect?

Nate Andrews talks about how games should include troughs of banality to complement the peaks of action, referring to how a future open-world Hitman game could play out. Although I’m not sure if I want to play as Agent 47 cleaning his bathroom and buying groceries, there are some obvious parallels with Léon here, which is never a bad thing.

Mike Schiller says that instead of looking for a Citizen Kane of gaming, we should be looking for its Taxi Driver instead. I think we need a new word instead of ‘game’. How about we call them ‘digics’ or something? Can I make up a word just like that?

Peter Shafer also wants new methods of input and feedback to make games (digics) less of a “one-sided conversation”. He argues that while digics are good at communicating, they’re not great at listening. They are that blustering guy in the pub.

Cha Holland favours “pulling the wings off fairies”, demystifying the digic development process and humanising digic creators. She also calls for a wider range of niche perspectives in criticism and development- you could perhaps call it ‘The Anthropy Principle’.

Trent Shaw uses the prevalence of violence in the modern digic as a springboard for talking about how mechanical limitations and character relationships that only occur relative to the player limit the possibilities for sincere connections.


Rachel Helps thinks that games’ innate strengths in simulation should be expanded to areas as wide as pregnancy, disease and debilitation, and or even a personality-driven spin on The Sims. Although based some of my past experiences with flatmates, that might fall into the “survival horror” category.

Jeff Wheeldon talks about the myth of redemptive violence and its influence on the concept of ‘heroes’ in gaming, arguing for a heroism that is for justice and not just the thrill of the fight.

Nathan Blades’ epic ‘A Future of Polygonal Friends’ is an omnibus on the current state of AI and where it can be taken in the future, focusing on AI as a character-driven narrative tool rather than mere opposition.

Morgan Brown’s grandmother doesn’t think much about video games, but he sure does: he points to the more absorbing and demanding qualities of games as a good basis for tackling societal issues at large.

Eric Swain wants an unrealistic future, where explanation is not required and our concept of ‘realism’ gives way to to a more abstract nature of reality that still imbues meaning for the player.


Alright, that’s the first hurdle out of the way. Thank you to everyone who contributed and made this an amazing first month back for BoRT!


Don’t forget to add the BoRT Linkomatic 5000 to your blog. Just embed the following code on your blog’s page:

<iframe type="text/html" width="600" height="20" src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=September12" frameborder="0"></iframe>

And you’ll get this:

If you have trouble embedding the Linkomatic 5000, let me know on Twitter and I’ll try my best to help.