November 25th

November 25th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 25th)

I spent my week watching the Desert Bus for Hope 6 charity drive, which finished up this week. The Desert Bus crew managed to raise $442,204.15 over the course of 152 non-stop hours for Child’s Play. If there was ever a sign of goodness in the world, it’s the sight of so many people willingly making fools of themselves for over six straight days to help the quality of life of children in hospitals. May all involved have a restful weekend of recovery. If you missed the show, you can catch most of the highlights on their youtube channel and check out the event flickr page.

Onto This Week in Video Game Blogging.

A new blog came to my attention and in reading through Specs + Headphones’ archives I found these two pieces worthy of note from earlier in the year. First, an examination of the games design in Final Fantasy XIII. And second, a piece spotlighting the video games that explore the social impacts of technology and how they show it.

Now for this week’s business.

Helen Lewis of The New Statesman published a piece asking where all quality video game criticism was outside of the usual news/preview/review cycle of most mainstream gaming sites. To be fair her focus was looking for penetration into mainstream outlets on radio and television, but did so in a way that to anyone not acquainted with Critical-Distance or the critical culture in general (i.e. the majority of The New Statesman’s readership) it would seem like there was nothing there at all and they were missing nothing, reinforcing the mainstream status quo view of video games and those who play them.

Of course the internet lost its collective shit. Though we did much better than usual. Eerily relevant is this piece from Impossible Mansion by J. Chastain on a major hurdle in gaming for those that haven’t grown up with the medium and what it says about the people who put up with it. In addition, L. Rhodes of Culture Ramp wrote a subtle rebuke of her piece “Why are we still so bad at talking about video games?” stating, “Despite that lede, the author, one Helen Lewis, never answers the question, and never makes a very concerted pass at looking for why.” He was also nice enough to point out the great irony of the day.

This week might be the single greatest boon for long form game criticism I’ve seen since I’ve started doing this.

Brendan Keogh has finally released his book, Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, for purchase. If you like criticism and want to see it properly supported and hopefully allow the medium to take one more step forward, buy it. It is available until December 21st for $2.99 and then on will be $4.99. If you want to pay more, Brendan says it would be more than appreciated. You can read an excerpt on Kotaku or check out the critical compilation we republished earlier this week.

Additionally, our own Alan Williamson has launched his own online quarterly magazine focusing on long form criticism, Five Out of Ten, this week as well. The inaugural issue features pieces from our own Kris Ligman, previously mentioned Brendan “does he ever sleep” Keogh, freelance critic Lana Polansky, Bill Coberly of Ontological Geek and Alan Williamson himself. It is available for purchase now.

At Unwinnable, Jill Scharr looks at Giant Sparrow’s PSN game The Unfinished Swan and they ways it defies conventions and perception by placing you in an all white world. At the same site Cara Ellison bears her heart out “To the Games I will Never Finish: A Love Letter.”

No. Videogames are a hazy cocoon in which I can work out where my passion and hurt comes from: as if in therapy, I wrap myself in remembering them. Videogames are something that I participate in, am active in. They are intrinsically part of my romantic life, my sex life – any life in which I have been around people or loved people or been upset with them. There is rarely a time when I have not associated the men that I have loved with their favourite game, or by the act of my playing a certain game when I am in love with them, or the act of lending a game, talking about a game, the game that in between sex you play together, like foreplay.

There has never been a time where I have not associated someone I loved with how they played a game. Relationships are life co-op.

To cry, to cry over a keyboard. That is a thing.

Patricia Hernandez appeared on RockPaperShotgun, to write about Fallout 2 in their Gaming Made Me series. It is a powerfully personal piece on how she grew disillusioned with the American dream and the game that was responsible for it. I would insert a quote, but I’d end up copy pasting the whole thing.

Over at Nightmare Mode a trio of articles caught our eye. First, Jordan Rivas calls the depiction of religion in games awful for both the non-religious and religious alike. Then Merritt Kopas talks about using games in the classroom to help the students understand the systems behind the oppression rather than anecdotal stories in film or books. And a rabbi, a rabbit and a robot walk into a bar in Jonas Kyratzes’ conversational discussion on stories in games.

At Medium Difficulty, Adam Maresca does “A Thoroughly Modern Reading of Revolution X” a game featuring Aerosmith from the SNES. Supposedly. Maybe. Moving on. Medium Difficulty also gave us “An Ode to Stanley & Esther” by Miguel Penabella. Due to the similar structures of The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther, I’m surprised nobody has written a piece of comparative criticism before.

Our David Carlton wrote a lengthy piece going point by point everything Dragon Age II does right with regards of stepping away from the RPG norm. He also has a piece on Super Hexagon where he compares learning the game to the similar struggle of learning to read.

Joseph Bernstein in his Black Ops 2 review at Kill Screen calls the game “An atrocity exhibition.” He tries to examine his feelings towards the game in the larger cultural contexts and why most won’t ever bother.

Meanwhile, Kyle Derkson at Push Select Magazine says, “If heroes actually exist, being one must be hell.”

Ben Milton writing for The Ontological Geek, asks “Are rules art?

Brendan Keogh continues his A Sum of Parts series on Binary Domain by looking at the gimmick that his the trust system and how integral to the game. Robert Rath concludes his look at Conflict Minerals in the gaming industry by explaining the progress and the setbacks.

Cameron Kunzelman writes “On Final Fantasy VIII” in twelve points on what it’s about and what it does. There are also lots of screenshots.

Mary Goodden at God is a Geek, wrote a character study of Francis “York” Morgan from Deadly Premonition and how the game connects to Lynch’s works Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive.

Jordan Rivas has a post about Skyrim and Self Deception.

We, gamers, are perhaps the most skilled self deceivers on the planet. That in and of itself is not good or bad. We can only ascertain it’s value or danger as individuals, because it will vary from person to person. We have to measure the result by how we use this skill.

Leigh Alexander is at it again with a letter series, only this time with Quintin Smith on Gamasutra. They discuss Dyad.

Mattie Brice talks about the strange new iOS phenomenon Boyfriend Maker at The Border House.

Daniel Joseph has posted this video that, in his words, “addresses the political ramifications of the shift in production of videogames for oppositional froups known as ‘Counterpublics.'”

Edge has a piece on the opera level of Hitman: Blood Money that has some interesting class and performance implications.

And speaking of Hitman, remember that whole kerfuffle with the stripper nuns being killed in the Hitman: Absolution trailer several months ago. Well Carol Pinchesfsky of Forbes decided, now that the game is out, to interview an actual former stripper. If nothing else, it’s entertaining.

Thank you for reading. I hope all our American readers had a lovely Turkey Day. As always, please submit any links you find to our email or @ message our twitter account.

Depending on who you ask, Yager’s military-themed cover-shooter Spec Ops: The Line is either the most exciting game of recent time, or the most disappointing. Some argue that it is incredibly insightful and provoking, challenging many of the most rigid and ingrained conventions of videogames generally and military shooters specifically. Others argue that its own adherence to these conventions voids any insights it might make. Either way, the wealth of critical attention the game has received rightfully demonstrates that The Line is an important game

This split of the critical reception has afforded an outpouring of articles and blogs around the game covering a vast range of perspectives and opinions. Personally,  the game inspired me to try my hand at a long-form critical reading of the game called Killing is Harmless. As an appendix to this book, I compiled a Critical Compilation of posts written about the game that I will reproduce here.

Needless to say, this list is far from exhaustive, and I am sure to miss something out there on the ever-growing network of game blogs. Further, the game’s relative newness means many more conversations are likely to happen around it in the coming months. If you think a piece deserves to be here, please email me at, and I will update it accordingly.

Welcome to Dubai

Often, some of the most succinct critical overviews of a game are made in the reviews. Edge thinks The Line has issues, but claims that it fires the first shots “in the battle for a smarter, morally cognizant shooter.” At Game Critics, Brad Gallaway applauds the game for trying to do something special, but ultimately believes that it is held back by a rigid adherence to genre conventions. In a “Second Opinion” Corey Motley agrees, and goes so far to call out The Line for “cheap, bulls**t guilt tactics”. RockPaperShotgun’s Alec Meer is largely positive about the game. Or, perhaps, is positive about how negative the game made him feel.

Unenjoyable Play

Surprisingly, where one would expect the most negative reaction, The Line receives a somewhat insightful and introspective look from Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee Croshaw. In between his obligatory crass jokes, Croshaw makes several interesting musings on whether or not a shooter has to be ‘fun’. Similarly, Penny Arcade has a twopart video review that looks in-depth at just how The Line works, what it says about PTSD, and how the mechanics intentionally make you feel uncomfortable.

Indeed, many people did feel uncomfortable when they played The Line, and many people thought it was a better game because of this. Not only does The Line make us feel terrible for what we do while we play it, but it can make every violent act we have committed in videogames up to this point feel equally terrible. Bruno Dion at Medium Difficulty looks at how The Line makes virtual killing feel bad in a way few games bother to make it feel. Nick Dinicola, meanwhile, discusses how The Line shames his happy, violent memories of videogames past, and in another post discusses The Line’s endings in more detail.  Brandon Karratti, too, retrospectively reconsidered the many virtual murders he committed once he played The Line. Richard Cobbett thinks The Line tries to make us feel guilty by association, but believes other games have done this better.

Back at Medium Difficulty, Karl Parakenings felt terrible when he played The Line for an entirely different reason: because he hated it, claiming that the game is “largely about the question of why one would spend money on a game which does its best to make you stop playing.” Parakenings is certainly not the only critic who thinks the game fails at its message. Raymond Neilson agrees, and takes issue with various things that lead writer Walt Williams has said about the game in interviews. These two video essays, too, take issue with the apparent contradiction in what The Line is saying and how it is saying it.

Playing With Conventions

At Pixels or Death, Patrick Lindsey argues that The Line can’t be profound as long as it rigidly sticks to shooter conventions. David Sadd responds to Lindsey’s piece, however, and argues that The Line works specifically because it plays with shooter conventions to tell a personal story.

Similarly, Errant Signal’s video essay on the game discusses how The Line can only deliver its messages through the most conventional mechanics, and how it plays off the player’s expectation.

On the topic of whether or not The Line is ‘won’ by not playing it, Jim Ralph decides to call The Line’s bluff by not playing it, and finds this a particularly interesting way of engaging with a game.

One interesting aspect about The Line is how the characters evolve over the entire course of the game. At The Escapist Grant Howitt looks at how this works in detail with comments from narrative designer Richard Pearsey. Blogger a_g, meanwhile, writes three posts as he plays the game, detailing his attachment (and increasing detachment) to the members of Delta squad as the game progresses.

Who’s To Blame?

On the question of just who the bad guys are in The Line, Bernardo Del Castillo doesn’t think that is the right question to ask, and thinks The Line shows that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are often just in the eye of the beholder.

Beyond its own story, The Line raises questions about just what shooters do and what our responsibilities are as the players of shooters. Tom Bissell uses The Line as a jumping off point to look at depictions of violence in recent videogames more broadly in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Shooter”. Dan Golding notes that among all its themes, The Line is “most clearly an attack on videogames” and goes even further to say that it is “an attack on those of us who play and uncritically enjoy military shooters.” However, Sparky Clarkson wonders just how critical The Line can be of the player’s actions while simultaneously avoiding the question of just what the responsibility is of a developer that makes such games in the first place. Matthew Burns at Magical Wasteland similarly compares and contrasts The Line with Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” level, finding each wanting in the way they deliver their message to the player. Patrick Stafford, however, sees The Line as a crucial turning point for the shooter genre, and claims that The Line demands that shooters raise the bar. Anjin Anhut doesn’t compare The Line to the shooter genre broadly, but to Bioshock specifically in his journey from Rapture to Dubai.

Breaking It Down

Various other writers dissected the game in great detail, or took elements or themes of the game and discussed those at great length. At Twenty Sided, Shamus Young and some companions have several long and detailed posts looking in-depth at various aspects of The Line. The first two posts break down the entire game, bit by bit. Another post looks more generally at The Line’s themes and how it conveys them, and another post looks in-depth at The Line’s visual art style. Similarly, Cameron Kunzelman found the game wanting, but celebrates the game’s art direction.

Co-Op Critics break down The Line into a serious of thematic categories, and analyse each of these in turn. At Unwinnable, I look at The Line, Mark of the Ninja, and film Inception to look at how various videogames of late have depicted purely subjective worlds that we can never experience in any objective way.

At The Society Pages, Sarah Wanenchak looks at The Line in great detail in the third part of a three part series looking at war games, war stories, and the various ways war and culture collide. The entire series is well worth a read.

Developer Commentary

This first wave of players were so enthralled by The Line, largely, because they were surprised that such a game could possibly come to exist in the current triple-a space, where few publishers are willing to take the slightest risk. However, David Rayfield looks at how the popular conversations around The Line perhaps diluted, if not damaged, the game’s effect on the second wave of players who came to the game after the first wave raved about it.

The developers spoke to many curious outlets about the process and ideas and motivations that went into the game. Before the game was even out, journalists were intrigued by the game’s promise to channel the themes of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. At Kill Screen, Yannick Lejacq interviews producer Tarl Raney about just what the team were hoping to do with the game, giving one of the first hints that this game was going to be something different. In response to this, Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku voices his justified concerns that videogames’ fixation with Apocalypse Now might just be an excuse for artsy violence.

Russ Pitts at The Verge has perhaps the most comprehensive breakdown of the full story behind The Line, with interviews with lead writer Walt Williams, lead designer Cory Davis, and narrative designer Richard Pearsey as part of a much longer article.

Richard Pearsey writes an essay himself for Gamasutra on The Line’s narrative design. Also at Gamasutra, Brandon Sheffield interviews Cory Davis about many of the game’s themes and design decisions.

At Giant Bomb, Patrick Klepek talks to Walt Williams to get some insight into just how 2K allowed the game to be what it is. Finally, on an incredibly insightful podcast at Gamespot, Walt Williams discusses many, many aspects of the game in great depth.

Late Edition

Marc Price watches Apocalypse Now again after playing The Line to compare and contrast the two works, looking at how the two take different approaches in different media to approach similar themes.

Stephen Malone had a particularly strong reaction to the game, and writes about how he doesn’t think he can kill people in videogames any more.

Anthony Salvatore looks at The Line from a psychology perspective, using Philip Zimbardo’s “psychology of evil” model to analyse Walker’s evolution.

Our own Kris Ligman at her blog Dire Critic discusses The Line with her high school friend who has since joined the marine corps and completed two tours of Iraq. In a follow up post, Ligman’s friend returns to Dubai for a second playthrough of the game from his unique perspective, and Ligman concludes with a call for more “military criticism” within games criticism.

John Brindle looks at the binary choice of pulling the trigger or not pulling the trigger, and the elusive sensation that is to actively choose to do nothing in a game.

November 18th

November 18th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 18th)

It was a dark and stormy night. A night… for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

First up, something you might’ve missed: over on Harper’s, Christopher Ketcham brings us this great feature on the antimonopolist origins of Monopoly.

Elsewhere, also on the subject of games and economics, Tim Fernholz tells the story of Valve reaching out to Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis to bring stability to their Steam and in-game economies.

On FAIR, J.F. Sargent breaks down several ways in which games, as systems, reinforce prejudices through play. Here’s one example Sargent lists:

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim features the option to choose to be one of the “Redguard,” a dark-skinned people whose culture closely resembles the Moors, and receive an “Adrenaline Boost” perk to augment their ability to run and jump beyond that of other races–which reflects obvious stereotypes about African-American athleticism. Earlier games in this same series also gave the Redguard a penalty to intelligence, which meant that playing as a dark-skinned character was mutually exclusive from playing as a smart character, forcing you to “role-play” a racist stereotype. White characters faced no such limitations.

Maddy Myers takes a look at women in horror games, focusing on the protagonists of Lollipop Chainsaw and They Bleed Pixels.

Dishonored continues to inspire a great deal of writing throughout the blogosphere, from a wide spectrum of perspectives. This week brings us articles from such writers as Jim Ralph at Ontological Geek, Rowan Kaiser at Gameranx, and G. Christopher Williams and Scott Juster, both of PopMatters Moving Pixels.

This week also saw a fantastic new Gamasutra blog post from former Dishonored dev Joe Houston, on why he’s going indie.

Also turning up on Gamasutra, Eric Schwarz discusses why X-COM: Enemy Unknown didn’t work for him.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier writes on the seductively “perfect” little world of Persona 4. Meanwhile, Brendan “Hotshot” Keogh continues his “A Sum of Parts” column on Gameranx this week with a second essay on Binary Domain, this time on its treatment of posthumanism.

And not to be outdone in terms of ambitious analyses, this week Play the Past’s Roger Travis brings us an interesting interpretation of Halo as an analogue for Homer’s Odyssey.

Several high-profile indie games continued to spur discussion this week. First, Terrence Jarrad laments how treating Journey “like a game” ruined his experience. Then, our own Eric Swain, writing for Moving Pixels, analyzes why Papo & Yo failed to connect with him.

Over on The Creator’s Project, Leigh Alexander profiles Ian Bogost’s latest project, the iOS game/religious altar Simony. And on his tumblr, Chris Chapman provocatively likens Peter Molyneux’s Curiosity to a Skinner Box experiment.

Metagame has finally released to a few quite attention-worthy pieces, including this review by Nico Dicecco at Medium Difficulty, and this feature by Nils Pihl on Gamasutra.

Moving on from the subject of specific games to more overarching trends and themes, Craig Stern at Sinister Design praises unpredictability in turn-based systems. Back over at Medium Difficulty, Hari MacKinnon explores the avatar as self/other. And on Ontological Geek, Hannah DuVoix asks: if games face the unique problem of obsolescence even within their own franchises, how can publishers correct for that?

On Nightmare Mode, Mattie Brice reflects on a talk she attended at last month’s IndieCade and the larger reality of “the magic circle.”

At that very moment, somewhere in his secret base in the Antarctic, John Brindle writes in defense of the “juvenile” term ‘videogames’:

Accepting ‘videogame’ with our whole hearts precludes being ashamed of our medium. It is populist and demotic, familiar to everyone. It accepts – neither defends nor apologises for but accepts – the history of the medium so far. It sounds like a word by 8-year-olds for 8-year-olds. And as critics we must banish the idea that only those po-faced seriousness are worth our time. We should make a virtue of trashiness, embrace the garish, valorise the vulgar, fuck the haters. Clearly, videogames are about instructing computers to hallucinate vast mazes of desire which channel the human will to knowledge through strange and beautiful paths where Princess Petit a will always have another crystalline castle to get lost in – but, equally clearly, they are also about travelling through time and capturing monkeys in a big net.

Meanwhile at his own blog Problem With Story, Patrick Stafford suggests something pretty controversial: we play games too quickly.

Lest you think the Rab Florence Affair was well and truly behind us, we have a couple new pieces this week that call for a more moderate response. First, music blogger David Rayfield turns up at Kotaku Australia to remark on how other industries respond to critic-publisher faux pas. Then, writing once more for Gameranx, Rowan Kaiser suggests that the problem is, rather, too little honesty and too many standards:

We’d also be much better served if we didn’t adopt a holier-than-thou attitude toward these ethics. A few weeks ago, Polygon posted a bit of news that was essentially a repackaged press release on the grounds that it was of potential interest to their readers. True or not, they were widely attacked and mocked for it. Why? Because they’ve built themselves up as something serious, special, and significantly better than anyone else. That’s basically begging to have their behavior policed and then mocked for any kind of hypocrisy. Those kinds of high, perhaps even impossibly high, standards, also come from the same anxiety about game journalism not being any good, even when it often is. Relaxing those demands, on ourselves and others, would be healthy.

On GameChurch, Richard Clark criticizes the “stuffing” that fills our games and our lives. On Push Select, Rob Horsley performs an excellent reading of the 1994 Street Fighter film in the context of contemporary American militarism.

Also at the intersection of military, politics and entertainment, Robert Rath kicks off a two-part series on the role of conflict minerals in gaming:

Tin. Tantalum. Tungsten. Gold.

The minerals used to make our game consoles. And cell phones. And computers. On their journey from the ground to our TV stands, these minerals fund ethnic bloodshed, slavery, sexual violence, and a war that has killed somewhere between 2.7 and 5.4 million people.

These are what have been dubbed “conflict minerals,” the biggest shadow export from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We hear about the game industry’s use of conflict minerals from time to time, but mostly in a broad sense that doesn’t provide much context to understand the problem or how the industry is making progress to address the issue.

Likewise on the subject of war, Nightmare Mode writer and our own newest contributor Cameron Kunzelman questions why games confront us with ethical issues if the player already knows the answer:

The strangest, and maybe saddest part, about all of this is that the player knows instinctively how to play. I knew immediately that I was going to have to torture aliens and genetically modify my soldiers in order to play that game. The possibility for cooperation was always-already closed off, though I can’t articulate why. I just knew. There is no question. The ethical question, then, is a beautiful failure. Why have the debate in game? Why pretend like there is some kind of grey area that the player is having to navigate? Is is supposed to make me ask questions?

Ethics are also on the mind of Daniel Starkey, who describes how Fallout 3 gave the act of theft some real gravity.

Mattie Brice recently completed her first game, Mainichi. On The Border House, she offers up her post-partum on the game and the ideas motivating its creation.

UnSubject brings Christmas early with some super sexy statporn quantifying the actual progress of successfully funded Kickstarter games to date.

Two Nightmare Mode contributors also share their particular passions with us this week: Dylan Holmes describes the legacy of poetry of and on games, while Line Hollis professes her life-long affection for game maps.

Steve Lakawicz pens a response to Andrew High’s “Is Game Music All It Can Be?“. And over on Wired Game|Life, Ryan Rigney takes us inside playing MMOs with autism.

Culture Ramp’s Luke Rhodes is back this week with an interview with Brendan Keogh, specifically about his upcoming ebook on Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless.

And a bit of signal boosting for the road: James Week reached out to us over email about his current Indiegogo crowdfunding project Pwned!, “A feature-length screwball comedy for the internet age of which 100% of proceeds go to charity.” It has a ways to go on its (admittedly ambitious) funding target but if you’re interested, I’d very much encourage you to check it out!

Thanks for joining us, dear reader. As always we greatly appreciate all your contributions over Twitter and email. Remember to check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, and tune in next week for more of the best of games criticism and commentary!

November 11th

November 11th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 11th)

Welcome to Armistice Day. Or Remembrance Day, or Veterans’ Day, you may take your pick. Whichever suits you best, it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging. So let’s get right into it.

Medal of Honor and the War Game

Writing in his regular Critical Intel column, Robert Rath laments the “brown shooter” cliché that has taken over the military action genre.

The tragedy of the grey-brown palate is that it doesn’t reflect reality. Speaking as someone who grew up in Hawaii and has hiked World War II battlefields around the Pacific, I can tell you for a fact that Saipan isn’t a dim jungle under a faded denim sky. Pearl Harbor doesn’t have grey water capped with red-shot clouds. The men who hit the beaches at Normandy and Guadalcanal didn’t see the battle through an antique camera lens, they saw the horror and, yes, sometimes the beauty too, through eyes as sharp and color-sensitive as ours. The antique film aesthetic is fundamentally incompatible with games as a medium for one simple reason: In a movie we’re watching history, but in games we’re there. Private Ryan‘s motif assumes that the audience is an observer, but in games, we’re a participant.

The Heart and Soul of Dishonored

Eric Schwarz follows up his previous article on Dishonored‘s failings by noting where he believes the game shines. Meanwhile, Robert Yang takes us through a rigorous analysis of the game’s much-discussed Heart mechanic.

Patricia Hernandez, however, pauses to reflect on how empty Dishonored –and indeed many games– feel:

As Corvo landed his final blink, all I could feel was a thrill. Not so much of reaching my summit, but instead of conquering the night, of conquering my skills. A sense of control that came with doing whatever I wanted: the city was mine. But as I looked around from above, everything under me looked empty and unpopulated.

I thought about the kingdom under the tyranny of the lord regent, I thought of the great whale beasts that we killed to fuel our everyday conveniences—both things that I never really got to see in the game. I’m more acquainted with the rats of Dunwall, with the books of Dunwall than its actual everyday citizens.

Up a Creek with Assassin’s Creed III

Dr. B of Not Your Mama’s Gamer (while caveating that she is still going through the game) criticizes some problematic racial and narrative implications in Assassin’s Creed III‘s choice to start the player out not playing the biracial Connor Kenway, but his white father Haytham:

Ubisoft pulled a bait and switch, it promised us (ok me…but it is all about me, right?) one thing and then proceeded to deliver us something else. With all of this Haytham in my face and in the construction of Connor as an assassin, he (Connor) becomes less of the Native American badass and more of the assassin who harnesses/overcomes/incorporates his savage side to do what all of his great white ancestors have done. Kill Templars (and anyone doing their bidding) rather than a man on a mission to right the wrongs that have been committed against his people (despite his own connection to them via bloodline).

And then, right before I started this post it struck me. I know why Haytham just sticks in my craw! He is the personification of the infamous letter of authenticity that precedes every slave narrative. Yes, I recognize that Connor is neither African (American) nor a slave, but the feeling is still the same. Connor, as Ratonhnhaké:ton, is unworthy of being an assassin. He is tainted. He can only be an assassin (and avenge the deaths of his Native people?) as Connor Kenway, the son of a white man and not the son of a Native American woman. While Ubisoft tries to play up his Native heritage he is another instance of the great White savior coming in to save/avenge the lowly savage.

Knowing X-COM: Enemy Unknown

Over on Venture Beat, Rob Savillo spends a bit of time musing on what makes you care for your soldiers in X-COM.

Binary Domain

On Gameranx, Brendan Keogh praises Binary Domain’s unexpected depth:

Binary Domain is one of those deceptively smart games that I initially ignored as just-another-shooter. When I finally played it recently, however, I was surprised to find a plethora of subtle and nuanced things happening alongside the absurd action and archetypal characters. Binary Domain wants to tell you about class struggles, about climate change, about Japanese nationalism and insularism, about posthumanism, and most of all, about discrimination and othering.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

This was a good week for retrospectives on older and/or overlooked titles. Let’s have a look.

Over on Unwinnable, Tanner Higgin muses on Red Dead Redemption‘s location between space and ideology:

I think of RDR as meditation on the American politics of space and territory. With keen attentiveness to what the U.S. and Mexico border region landscape signifies historically and culturally, RDR reveals itself to be not only about exploration and the achievement of a pastoral individualistic ideal, but the human cost required to maintain that myth.

Edward Smith shares a compelling tale of one man’s time spent “going mental” in Fallout 3. And on Play the Past, Jeremy Antley writes on Skyrim, “Medieval+,” and the game’s validation of folklore through alchemy.

Matthew Schanuel likens Dark Souls to religious self-flagellation, remarking: “I have begun to understand playing Dark Souls as an experience of suffering.”

Also on the subject of Dark Souls, Alex of Nightmare Mode describes the descent into becoming the Hollowed Killer of Lordran:

Months before I played Dark Souls I came across a long list of the things players should finish up at the end of their first playthrough. Fight optional bosses, farm humanity, collect and upgrade weapons, kindle bonfires. Trade for useful items, level up covenants. And last of all, quite simply: kill everyone.

As someone who hasn’t played Dark Souls, I would nevertheless highly recommend this. Without a doubt, one of the most compelling articles from this week.

Edge has a great retrospective up on cult RPG Vagrant Story. Our own Eric Swain finds that pleasure is in the details in his repeated trips through Journey. And Dear Esther dev Robert Briscoe shores up a wonderful post-mortem on the game.


Adrian Chmielarz of The Astronauts poses that gameplay must die, and we must be the ones to kill it:

If we understand gameplay as something that a challenge is a crucial part of, then none of these moments features any gameplay. You just walk, or swim, or ride a horse, but that’s it. You cannot die. You don’t make choices that have any long term consequences. No skill is involved.

There is no gameplay.

In other words, certain things worth remembering from certain video games are not what these video games are all about.

That’s fucked up.

But also great.

Because it means we still don’t understand video games. And if love them so much already, imagine what will happen when one day we will actually understand them.

Way to Fall

Josh Bycer writes on making failure fun. In a Gamasutra Feature, Tristan Clark offers us a post-mortem on his small New Zealand startup, Launching Pad Games.

On Kill Screen, Chris Chafin brings us a profile on a recently shuttered independent game shop in New York.

Baby I Was Designed This Way

Independent developer Rami Ismail makes a compelling argument in favor of “easy achievements”: “It is often wrongfully assumed that accessibility means sacrificing challenge or complexity, but it is neither – it is a way to allow people that otherwise couldn’t to experience the challenge and complexity that a game can offer.”

On Gamasutra, Andrew High wonders whether game music is really all it can be. On the subject of hypotheticals, Jim Rossignol muses on whether we’ll ever see Warren Spector’s fabled One City Block RPG.

Nightmare Mode’s Tom Auxier declares that Borderlands 2 is funny, but it isn’t a comedy. What’s the difference, you ask?

Games are defined by their verbs. Borderlands 2 is a shoot, loot, and level sort of game: you shoot enemies, loot guns, and level yourself up. None of these are funny verbs. They’re all deadly serious. Tokyo Jungle, meanwhile, has you eating, marking, mating, and dying. These are comedic verbs in part because of their rarity, and in part because of how much they defy video game logic.


Over on Discover’s Not Rocket Science blog, Ed Yong sheds some light on a medical study which uses Dungeons & Dragons to help sort out how humans follow gazes. With, you know, Beholders and stuff like that.

Writing for Kill Screen, Ryan Bradley writes on the fast-approaching use of biofeedback technologies in games.

And writing for Bit Creature, Patricia Hernandez argues that while we may game virtual relationships, it’s borne out of our desire to game real relationships as well:

When we criticize games like Persona or games like Dragon Age, which structure personal relationships into levels and sliders, delineating clear methods to gain benefits from these relationships, is it wholly because they reduce complex interactions into something too simplistic, or something inhumane? Let’s be real, I think many of us would have trouble abstaining from looking at the numbers if we could actually see them in real life judging by how important useless statistics like how many friends we have on Facebook are to us.


I have to be honest with you: Tetris is the game I’ve been playing the most lately, so imagine my delight when I reached the end of this terrible desert devoid of Tetris blogging into a veritable wealth of internet-words on the subject.

First up, writing for BBC Future, Tom Stafford suggests that Tetris is addicting because it taps into our human impulse to “tidy up.” Meanwhile, writing for io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell explores how Tetris seeps into the minds of patients suffering from anterograde amnesia.

The Art of Play

Culture Ramp’s Luke Rhodes is back with an eloquent essay on the game and ‘way’ of Go:

The game itself is not an art, but a well-played match becomes a work of participatory art. We see that sentiment dimly reflected in the Western concern with sportsmanship; likewise in our preoccupation with cheating. The bombastic and epochal tone of NFL Films‘ narrative shorts may be our society’s most glaring illustration of the artistry of a match, but even the prosaic institutions of the sports page, the chess transcription, or the video game speedrun all testify to our implicit conviction that, under the proper conditions, play can become a work of art.

Link, You’ll Be a Woman Soon

One of the most-shared blogs from this week came from Best Dad Ever Mike Hoye, who shared how he modified a copy of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker to give his daughter a girl hero to relate to. He explains, “I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.”

Parenthood was also on the mind of Mark Yohalem, in this interview with Amanda Lange about his upcoming game Primordia:

In Primordia, I really wanted to make a female character whose primary characteristic in the player’s eyes isn’t her femininity; at the same time — having two young daughters and caring a lot about role models — I wanted to have a character who reflects the kind of tough, professional women who have made such a difference in my own life.

Meanwhile, the Dear Ada blog, in which writers from all backgrounds as gamers, designers and critics write open letters to Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer, is still going strong with a new entry from “White Mouse”, a female AAA developer caught between complicity in corporate attitudes and the risks posed by entering indie waters. Great, heartfelt read.

The Shame Game

In a guest piece for Kotaku, Samuel Sattin discusses overcoming a sense of shame associated with the ‘gamer’ label:

I used to be ashamed of my love for video games because, in short, I was ashamed of myself. It wasn’t the medium that was the problem. It was me who couldn’t see beyond the slipshod cloud of my youth, and the superficial relationships I thought would gain me footing if I decided to lie about myself. I needed to grow up to appreciate, and yes, critique video games, not the other way around. The truth is that video games represent a cutting edge of creativity, whether for good or bad, and there’s a lot to be missed by those refusing to offer them the seriousness they are going to deserve.

We Need to Go Deeper

Also on Kotaku this week, Stephen Totilo weighs in on the Rab Florence Affair (or as he insists on calling it, Doritos-gate). Meanwhile, on her own blog, Leigh Alexander has put together a deathly serious rant on how to get your passionate games journalist chops.

You must keep in mind that everyone who is more experienced than you are is always wrong. Doing games journalism is not a want, it is a need. You have suffered in silence too long, praying quietly at the altar of your living room console while all of these boring jerks do all this work in the industry. How have you let them ruin everything for so long? Why have you deprived them of the change engine fueling your single voice? Rise now, tell them what’s broken and how to fix it. You can make, like, two bucks a word telling people how to fix things. Didn’t you know that?


You must root out corruption wherever you find it. Don’t stand for it. Everyone but you accepts junkets, bribes and freebies. This is just how the games industry is, and you don’t even have to work in it to know that. You’re just that special. And if you’ve been at this for a long time, like a year or something, that’s when you get really good at calling people out on their shit. Think about it: One day they’re names on your most favorite website, the next they’ve got a lot of explaining to do. They’re accountable to you. That’s part of your job.

No one is spared when Alexander gets her rant on. Not even the children.

You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal

Here’s a blog-of-interest via the good folks at Rock, Paper, Shotgun: The Ninth Life, a collaborative blog chronicling three friends’ permadeath adventures through their entire PC games library.

And here’s a very important bit of signal-boosting: The Border House is looking for writers! GET. OVER. THERE. RIGHT. NOW.

…I said NOW. I’ll wait here. Go on.


As always, Critical Distance depends upon link submissions from our reader base every week to keep This Week in Videogame Blogging going strong. Don’t wait for us to discover your blog or your best friend’s article– send it into us, over Twitter or our email submissions form! Your contributions make TWIVGB stronger and stronger with every passing roundup. So, we’re like a reverse Peter Molyneux game, in a way.

Lastly but not leastly, Alan Williamson has posted this month’s Blogs of the Round Table theme– “Origins.” Head on over to Alan’s post to learn how to get involved!

It’s November! Didn’t that happen fast? I swear those leaves were still on the trees last time I looked. Then again, I’ve written a roundup post for October’s Blogs of the Round Table, so we just have to accept that time has passed and move on to another month’s blogging.

My name is Alan, and I’m an adventurer of fictions. If you’ve watched my Retrocity video series you’ll know this already, if and you haven’t I’m never one to skip an opportunity for shameless self-promotion. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a gaming origin story, though…

This month’s theme is Origins:

Like it or not, our early years in life are formative. The people we meet and the experiences we share influence the course of our lives. Why should the video games we play be any different?

What are your earliest memories of gaming? How do you think your childhood (or childish adulthood) experiences of gaming have influenced your life, if at all? Are there any game origin stories that reflect your own?

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!

Let’s make some memories. Get writing!

November 4th

November 4th, 2012 | Posted by Cameron Kunzelman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 4th)

I am Cameron Kunzelman. I don’t have any gimmick. I just have links to things that were written this week. Let me tell you, as an occasional person who does this, that curating this is a special kind of hell.  Imagine a infinite row of tabs scrolling into a human eyeball forever. It is a little bit like that.

This is This Week in Videogame Blogging. Here are the links. There isn’t a real order to them–no beautiful cataloging like Kris would do. But you will deal with that just fine.

Rob Zacny writes about the implosion of Homefront developers Kaos Studios over at Polygon. It gets deep in the nitty-gritty; names are named. Go check it out. For the reverse story, read Dean Dodrill’s narrative of how he created Dust: An Elysian Tale out of nothing but blood, bone, and bits.

A key theme of the week, based on this distinction that I just made up, is violence. Rachel Helps, writing at Nightmare Mode, explains “How Mormons Get Away With Murder In Videogames“. She writes:

The fantasy aspect of a game is necessary to distance ourselves from videogame violence, and by extension, intending to apply it to real life. It’s the reason why most parents are perfectly comfortable with their children slaughtering innocent goombas, but get nervous about them playing Uncharted. If videogame worlds are completely unlike the real world, it’s harder to transfer the virtually practiced actions of killing (unconsciously or otherwise) to real life. In real life you can’t jump high enough to jump on top of your enemies like Mario does. But you can carry around a gun and shoot someone in the head like in Uncharted.

Speaking of Uncharted, Greg Weaver writes about the theme of that game and how it is totally rad. I will admit to both having no idea what music is and to also thinking the article is awesome.

Daniel Golding writes about watching Robin Hunicke play Journey. The piece will turn you into a giant weepy baby.

Hunicke eventually put down her controller. had reached its climax, and she would not go beyond the early scenes of snow. It was too personal to continue, she said. Though it would have been thrilling to see her play through perhaps the most moving section of Journey, she was right. Some things need to be experienced alone—or with only an anonymous internet user who could be hundreds of kilometres away.

Jamin Warren thinks games are too long, Yannick LeJacq thinks gamification and freemium politics has exploded outward,  and Stephen Beirne thinks long and hard about determinism.

Alice Kojiro writes about content in games. (I want to interject here and just say that Alice writes some of the most content-full posts about games on the internet.)

Speaking of appropriate levels of content, there’s a rising trend that really bothers me about most newer RPGs: postgame content. Such a thing shouldn’t really exist; postgame is going online and telling your friends, fans, and whomever else wants to listen about the game you’ve just finished. Or otherwise, telling your real life friends, if you’re one of those people with non-digital friends; filthy socialites. When you finish a game, it should be finished, but many developers are insisting upon putting a little something extra for which you must return to the game to experience, often taking place in a continuity shattering place in the timeline before the battle with the final boss that you’ve already killed.

Andrew Vanden Bossche brings us an all new, all better scoring system.

The rest of the links that I have to show you are based around three recent games: Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, Dishonored, and Hotline Miami.

Two links about Liberation: Daniel Kaszor interviews Jill Murray, the writer of the game, about, well, the story of the game. Evan Narcisse points out that, surprisingly, a game about a black woman in America actually contains a little information about what it would have been like to be a black person at the time.

More and more Dishonored posts pop up every week. Rowan Kaiser points out how the game uses its steampunk aesthetic as shorthand of class criticism. Justin Keverne explains that Dishonored is all about how poorly you treat those you choose to treat poorly. Cameron Kunzelman, in a moment where he chooses to promote his own writing, puzzles out the ethics of the world of Dishonored and finds them painfully and artfully sad. Oh, and Scott Juster thinks that river krusts are creepy.

One second. Let us check ourselves lest we wreck ourselves. Joe Martin wants us to pause of a minute and realize that Dishonored is a lot like Thief. XCOM is back, too, and we’re all drooling and the thought of a new Sim City. Are we…back in the 1990s?

For years now, I’ve felt the games industry was stuck in a cynical and boring rut. It seemed like there was an endless cycle of games which were moving us in the wrong direction, that were getting bigger instead of better. Modern Warfares rolled by like they were coming off a production line and, it turns out, they kind of were. Publishers were getting us excited over all the wrong things – release platforms and the amount of playtime and polygons and 3D. The sort of stuff that’s good to know, but which isn’t why games actually matter.

Do you want to know the reason that Call of Duty hasn’t had a new idea in five years? It’s because it hasn’t needed one.

Oh well! Lets just power through it and get all the way back to the sweet, sweet 1980s (I’m told the 1980s air was much more fresh!).

Hotline Miami has made a lot of people excited since it was released. Kyle Carpenter makes the comparison with Drive and with at-home dentistryRami Ismali does some amazing work to try and get at why Hotline Miami is so important, finally coming to the conclusion that

The trick that Hotline Miami employs perfectly is offering no time for thought during its violent gameplay and then offering abundant need for reflection through pause and uncertainty of narrative. All of that was not achieved by telling me to feel this way, nor by voice-over or dialogue – it was that unique combination of interactivity, visuals, audio, dialogue and atmosphere that only games can offer.

Hotline Miami took a daring step forward into an uncharted territory in which ego, player, avatar, autonomy, trust, action, responsibility, justice, morality, games and gaming all hold relevance, but never are quite clearly defined, never quite take shape and often overlap, exclude eachother or challenge eachother in impossible ways.

That is all I have for you this week. Please remember to send in your link suggestions by Twitter or email. And be sure to check out Alan Williamson’s roundup for October’s Blogs of the Round Table.