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.