As 2012 comes to a close and we look forward to 2013, we at Critical Distance look back at all the great writing from this year. We dug deep through the 1080 links from all the 2012 entries of TWIVGB, narrowing it down before also checking the 150 additional articles you, the readers, submitted to us for consideration. From there we did our best to create a list of the most memorable, most important and most representative writings of 2012. Critical Distance is proud to present This Year in Video Game Blogging.

In the past this category has been called “print,” but the world has changed in that time and things that would have been traditionally published have in some cases moved into digital representations of the same. Not in every case, but we honor both here.

One of the most talked about critical efforts this year, Brendan Keogh’s ebook Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line is a massive achievement for game criticism.

The book has received its own share of in-depth responses as people weighed in on its take of the game. Both Cameron Kunzelman and Darius Kazemi offered up their reviews of the book.

Another end of year project is the inaugural issue of  Five Out of Ten magazine. It features the stellar work of Bill Coberly, Brendan Keogh, Lana Polansky and our own Kris Ligman and Alan Williamson. The magazine, for which Alan serves as founder and editor, is set to be put out bimonthly.

Meanwhile, print publications are still hanging in there, as Anna Anthropy (aka Auntie Pixelante) proved with her developer call to arms Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreams, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives and People Like You Are Taking Back a Art Form.

Critical Video Game Blogging
Every year the majority of the talking is about the games themselves, ranging from looking at the title as a whole, to one particular aspect of it, or to connecting it to the greater trends and themes of the medium. This goes for both games of this year and games of old.

By far the most talked about game of the year was That Game Company’s Journey. Ian Bogost for the Atlantic looked at the studio’s evolution as a creator entity in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio.”

Michael “brainygamer” Abbott contends Journey is not another retelling of the ‘hero’s journey’, but connects it to the sapta bodhyanga of Buddhist Enlightenment.

Robert Yang writes that Dishonored fails as an immersive sim during its tutorial as it closes off possibilities to learn mechanics.

Tami Baribeau of The Border House says that the portrayal of women in Dishonored flits back and forth between tired stereotype and commentary on a sexist society.

Where many others found a disgusting brutality in Max Payne 3 towards foreigners, Fernando Cordeiro found a certain catharsis in shooting his countrymen with regards to his lifelong frustration with the mindset of Brazil.

The Extra Credits crew uses Max Payne 3 as an example of Hard Boiled in games and how the industry has confused it as mature.

At Unwinnable, Jamie Dalzell detailed his experience in the Arma II mod Day Z through a four-part first person account.

Drew Dixon at Game Church grapples with his faith in humanity after his time in the land where society had been torn asunder.

Chris Bateman looks at The Thin Play of Dear Esther and breaks down the excuses made to delegitimize Dear Esther as a game.

At Medium Difficulty, Miguel Penabella writes “An Ode to Stanley & Esther” and to the concept of a game delivered through only walking and existing in an environment.

As part of his A Sum of Parts feature on Gameranx, Brendan Keogh looks closely at Binary Domain in how it creates and represents the other and on the concept of posthuman humans.

Maddy Myers writes about the American narrative towards violence and masculinity and how it relates to Hotline Miami for the Boston Phoenix. This reading was done in the wake of, and touches on, the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Patricia Hernandez wrote one of the best personal pieces of the year as she explores how Fallout 2 disillusioned her of the American Dream and shaped her life against the more traditional family ideology she grew up in.

Christian Donlan sat down with his father who was a member of the LAPD in the 1940s to see what reaction L.A. Noire would elicit. What he got was a unique method of traveling down memory lane.

Mattie Brice uses Persona 4‘s Naoto to look at gender identity, its presentation and the world’s treatment of trans people in the game and in her own experience.

To David Carlton, Super Hexagon is less of a game and is more akin to learning a language.

Tevis Thompson says that Zelda has been going downhill since the original and he wants to save the franchise.

Alex Curelea explains “Why Diablo 3 is less addictive than Diablo 2.” He explains that the missing reward loop is to account for the real money auction house, but it kills the quality of the game.

Robert Rath, in his column Critical Intel at The Escapist, looks at how drone warfare is represented in three very different 2012 releases: Spec Op: The Line, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Unmanned.

Helen Lewis gave John Brindle the floor at her column at the New Statesman to explain how text-based games are examining war in ways that traditional games either choose not to or simply can’t.

Jordan Rivas explains how Splinter Cell is the true post-9/11 game for him and his brother. The word has changed in the decade since and so has the series.

Our own Kris Ligman calls Analogue: A Hate Story a work of scholarship in the guise of an interactive experience.

Kate Cox looks back to Dragon Age II and says the mistake so many others have made about it is to look at it through the lens of the hero’s journey when it is more akin to a Shakespearian tragedy.

Drew Dixon chastises a number of reviews who still evaluate Papo & Yo through the traditional lens of challenge and fun instead of the artistic merits on which the game is working.

Eric Swain at his PopMatters column wrote a number of pieces on Driver: San Francisco, starting with “Magical Realism as a Game Mechanic.”

Destructoid’s Jim Sterling thinks there is more to the gender politics of Lollipop Chainsaw than is immediately apparent due to the treatment of Julia Starling’s boyfriend and how it ends up flipping the script on otherwise tired clichés.

Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance, started off the year by looking in depth at 2011’s indie marvel Cart Life.

Anjin Anhut of How Not To Suck At Game Design compares Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line in “A Man Chooses A Slave Obeys – from Rapture to Dubai.”

Taylor Clark wrote an expose on the creator of Braid and the upcoming The Witness, Jonathan Blow, for The Atlantic. He called Blow “The Most Dangerous Gamer.”

Sam Machkovech explores Fez as the real extension of Phil Fish in lieu of the “idiosyncratic crazy-man, played up for entertainment’s sake” that Indie Game: The Movie presented him as.

Matthew Weise saw a decline of anti-American sentiment in the Metal Gear franchise.

Space-Biff! has an index of in depth writing on Metro 2033 by Daniel Thurot.

The International House of Mojo has a fairly deep retrospective on the LucasArts masterpiece Grim Fandango.

Pat Holleman of The Game Design Forum reverse engineered the design of Final Fantasy 6.

Finally, this year has been so jam packed full of game from every strata and of every description. There would be almost no way to cover them all. Sparky Clarkson came close as he enlisted 12 critics to help him out in explaining the greatness of as many 2012 releases in alphabetical order as possible.

Theory Blogging
While many focused on specific games, other pieces looked as concepts themselves. They looked to what games are, how we criticism them and how we view them as a culture.

Games as art is the debate that will never die. But Jimmy Brindle of the Brindle Brothers has put their unique stamp on it by saying what art really is: a flaccid penis.

Sophie Houlden likewise undermined the entire question by flipping it and asked “Can Art be Games?

Shifting gears to criticism itself, Jonathan McCalmont says that we live in a post-critic world where such gatekeepers of culture are useless. Instead the art world has turned towards curation and perhaps game critics should as well.

Richard Clark looks the difference between reading something into a text and getting something out of a text and how that relates to criticism of video games.

The jury is still out on the “proper” way to write about games and I think this is the way it’s supposed to be – there is no agreed-upon method for movie or music criticism. As games writing matures, it will become broader, more varied and more confident.

What game writing needs isn’t less personal writing, but more voices, more brutal honesty and more grappling with diverging viewpoints and perspectives. More than anything, we need a community of writers who are open to second-guessing themselves, in their writing and otherwise.

L. Rhodes at Culture Ramp, conducted a series of interviews on video game journalism and criticism that he called The Ludorenaissance.

Katlin Tremblay laid down the 101 on gender criticism for gamers at Medium Difficulty.

Design Blogging
While many focused on specific game, others looked towards design itself. Some looked at aspects of games while others looked at the purpose and nature of design itself.

Robert Yang turned his No Show Conference talk into a 3-part essay for Rocks Paper Shotgun, collected here, called “A People’s history of the FPS.”

Andrew High went in depth on what he sees as the next great barrier for video game creation, the proper use of audio with detailed descriptions and many examples of music and mixes.

Jonas Kyratezes says what he aims for in his design is grace.

We say games are art, but do we mean it? We certainly don’t behave like it. A comparison with other art forms immediately highlights the difference. No-one sells a book with a feature list. Not even blockbuster movies, the most commercial of all film types, are sold as if they were haircare products or power tools. Only games are.

In response to the Jennifer Hepler debacle, Tom Auxier comes to her and others’ defense by explaining, “Why some game developers shouldn’t like games.”

Culture Blogging

Gaming is more than just code or artifacts. It’s a culture. And any art form is only as good as the culture that surrounds it. I can only hope that these are the signs that things are getting better. Art affects people. People affect people. To understand games as a whole, one must look at the people as well.

I had things organized by general subject and put related things together. But given the nature of some of links I had to switch things around for the sake of this: Trigger Warning for Rape, Harassment, Shaming, Death Threats and all the bile that goes along with them. I’ll post when this section ends.

Anita Sarkeesian was the target of one of the vilest campaigns of targeted harassment ever. Here she details the image-based and other visual based harassment to shed light on what was going on.

The R Word” by Anonymous is the autobiography of one victim’s struggle and the burden it has place on their life. This was to show the debate on rape’s use wasn’t about offense it was always about harm.

I put this here to defer to Brendan Keogh’s own trigger warning. He describes to those who still don’t get it what Rape Culture is. As other commentators have said, including Brendan, he wouldn’t have been listened to or gotten such a tepid reaction if he was a woman.


Katherine Cross wrote “Game Changer” for Bitch Magazine listing down the biggest of sexism clusterfucks of the year.

Our own Katie Williams details her experience with a PR rep at E3 and her desire to simply be allowed to play and do her job.

Maddy Myers waded into the Boston fighting game scene to learn and improve and found a bastion of sexism and unwelcoming atmosphere at every turn.

Cara Ellison repurposes Ginsberg’s poem Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox into Romero’s Wives.

Sometimes sexism is so ingrained that you bring it to bear against yourself as Jenn Frank describes in her piece for Unwinnable “I was a Teenage Sexist.”

Patricia Hernandez fell into the same trap during a match of Gears of War where she uttered three words so common to multiplayer gaming, but offered her no solace against her opponent.

Lara Croft was an important figure to Cara Ellison, as she explains how the recent treatment of the character makes her feel in a male dominated culture.

J.F. Sargent describes how certain video game designs turn bigotry into a form of play by teaching the systems and ideas of oppression and reinforcing the status quo.

Author John Scalzi created the best metaphor of how sexism, racism and all the other -isms affect how one lives in the world. The straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting in life.

W, a solider now working with a PMC, wrote a guest piece on the type of person that exists as a solider in a modern warzone: a sociopath, himself.

Patricia Hernandez, writing for Gameranx, talks about how shooters now perpetuate war as the new normal in our lives. A never ending conflict that happens somewhere else to someone else. “War is routine, war is spectacle, war is sanitized, was is surveillance.”

Bill Coberly looks at what games are actually teaching their players about guns by how they are portrayed.

Steve Boone wrote two pieces in response to the violence smorgasbord that is E3, in particular The Last of Us and the modern war shooter genre.

Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times was asked to participate in the GameCity prize, specifically because she was an outsider. She details her experience and thoughts with the games nominated.

Our own Alan Williamson, wrote for the New Statesman that we shouldn’t dismiss non-gamer voices when they talk about games and begin critically examining their place in our culture.

Jonas Kyratzes looks at what the $100 barrier to entry for Steam Greenlight means for a struggling indie developer.

John Brindle explores the elitism of gaming and how gamers are like the posh twits looking separate themselves from the plebes.

Also at Nightmare Mode, Porpentine goes to epic lengths to explain the Twine revolution and how it relates to capitalism, how it can be used and a short expose on the hacks to create with it.

Robert Rath has a two part examination of the conflict minerals in nearly all of our electronic devices and the awful conditions in which they are mined and shipped from the Eastern Congo and what the west can and is doing about it.

Miscellaneous Blogging
Then there is the stuff off the beaten path that doesn’t really fit anywhere else.

Two years ago, Brendan Keogh started a Minecraft blog where he would play a nomad and always travel Towards Dawn. That journey ended this year after two in-game months and several updates.

Rainer Sigl wrote a piece entitled “The Art of in-game Photography” on just that. In addition, he wrote “Confessions of a Videogame Tourist” where games offer a substitute for real travel.

Richard Clark helped President Obama get over a tough time this year by playing some games with him.

Rob Zacny published on Polygon a long expose on the management failure Kaos Studios for the dead on arrival Homefront.

Cara Ellison wrote a love letter to the games that she will never finish due to the connection they have to her life.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words
For all the digital and real ink spilled on games and issues trying to describe the complexity of the problems or bring truth to light. Sometimes a single image can do what a dozen articles could not:


E3 Booth Babes
Blogger of the Year
And now a brief interjection by our Senior Editor, Kris Ligman:

It’s been customary for those of us at Critical Distance to name one or more authors as the breakout blogger of the year. For the first time, we’ve elected to make this custom an official part of our end-of-the-year roundup.

In the past, the honor of “best writer” has gone to such stellar talents as Kirk Hamilton, Kate Cox and L.B. Jeffries. These breakout names went from standing near the periphery of our reading of games writing to taking center stage in the critical discussion, and each year, they help raise the discourse to new heights.

This year, we are proud to name Brendan Keogh our Blogger of the Year.

Brendan, as should be evidenced by the inclusion of his book and many articles peppered throughout this roundup, has proven himself to be a prolific, evocative writer with a lot to say and the means to say it. We salute you, Brendan, and look forward to your future work.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
This year has been fruitful. Games writing has never been better with a higher quantity and quality of work than ever before. So much happened and came out this year beyond the messy confines of this round up that we could not hope to contain the whole zeitgeist. Going through the TWIVGBs of this year reminded me of so much has happened that some felt like it was different era. So much has changed and we at Critical Distance hope for a bright future as we march forward. A big thank you to all those who emailed us suggestions and to all my colleagues at Critical Distance.

Next weekend we are back to our usual routine. So please continue to send your suggestions for TWIVGB to our email or our twitter. From all of us here at Critical Distance, have yourselves a Happy New Year.

And here it is. After much loss of sleep and sanity the 2012 end of year podcast has finally arrived. After last year’s hopefulness of things being better, on one front 2012 proved to be an even worse year than its predecessor. And on the other hand, proved to be one of the best years in gaming. Those of us willing to brave the recording hours tackled it all.

The first three parts deal with the events and controversies in the gaming community. The third one was a trigger warning for the entire thing. Then in the last four we talk games from Katawa Shoujo to Far Cry 3.


Eric Swain: The Game Critique

Kris Ligman: Dire Critic

Alan Williamson: Five out of Ten

Ian Miles Cheong: Gameranx


38 Studios Downfall: The Gamasutra Report

Lost Humanity 18: A Table of Doritos

Game Theory

Why are we still so bad at talking about video games?

Killing is Harmless

Five out of Ten Magazine

Take This Project

Image Based Harassment and Visual Misogyny

#1 Reason Why

Part 1: Direct Download

Part 2: Direct Download

Part 3: Direct Download

Part 4: Direct Download

Part 5: Direct Download

Part 6: Direct Download

Part 7: Direct Download

Opening theme: ‘Close’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

Closing Theme: ‘Wishing Never’ by The Alpha Conspiracy

We’re approaching the end of 2012 and, alas, our intro gimmicks are running thin. Thanks to all our readers for another great year. We’ll be back next week with our year-end roundup, but for now, please join me in ringing in the final This Week in Videogame Blogging of 2012.


This week sees Culture Ramp wrapping up their excellent four-part series on writing about games for non-gamers.


On Gamasutra, developer Lars Doucet caps us off with a great post-mortem on the design process of Tourette Quest, a game in which the player can “explore what it’s like to have Tourette’s Syndrome through the lens of game mechanics.”

Meanwhile at Polygon, Patrick Stafford takes a peek inside the world of faith-based gaming.

And at VG Revolution, Clayton launches into an essay on the importance of characterization in game narratives, with particular attention paid to characters in the .hack franchise.


On Medium Difficulty, Kaitlin Tremblay poses the interesting argument that the first-person perspective can have a way of sidestepping the male gaze.

On the flip side, as part of Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Gaming Made Me series, Cara Ellison discusses Tomb Raider and being embodied as Lara Croft:

When I played I was Lara, experiencing everything through her character. My male friends sat there identifying with the camera – with the looking, the controlling, with the interfaces. They were outside her body. I was her body.

Writing in reference to Persona 4‘s Naoto for Nightmare Mode, Mattie Brice hones in on how we enforce our gender perceptions on others:

What is Naoto’s identity? It’s possible he doesn’t know yet. And with the absence of genderqueer characters in media, we don’t have a cultural reference point for what to make of him.

There is a concept in postmodernism of a fact versus an event. We see facts as undeniable, objective information that we all can perceive and agree is reality. Events explode the idea of facts into an intersection truths from different perspectives, even if they are, and often so, contradictory. Take the film, Rashomon. Several witnesses to a murder all say different things, and they aren’t lying, just relaying what happened from their own perspective. What has happened to us in life, the philosophies we relate to, change the angle we see information at. When it comes to identity, facts are pretty much useless.

Naoto is an event. To me, he is a product of my experience as a transgender woman exposed to how society treats queer people. I see the anxiety of choosing a label, of having to change my body in order for people to treat me the way I wanted to be treated. Naoto doesn’t actually have a factual identity; he is an apparition of numbers. What we all decide he is, ultimately, isn’t important. Rather, the why’s and how’s reveal our cultural perspective of people who don’t fit into cisgender norms.

In a similar vein, Zoya Street of The Border House responds to recent calls to ‘out’ League of Legends champion Taric as gay, challenging the assumptions taken in assigning Taric’s gender and sexual identity:

[M]aybe Taric is not gay. Maybe he loves women almost as much as he loves gems. Maybe he doesn’t identify as a guy. Maybe he just doesn’t know yet. Maybe he doesn’t need to explain his gender expression in terms that fit your worldview.

Or maybe he is gay, and he doesn’t feel the need to navigate the complex network of social connections between the League and the LGBT community through the rather culturally-specific rite of passage of coming out. Maybe Taric belongs to a culture where coming out isn’t the best option for him or for his family. Perhaps his privacy is very important to maintaining his connection with the community he grew up in. It doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t doing his bit to break down homophobia in that community, but the challenges might not be navigable by the same means that they are in your culture.

UPDATE: Also recommended is Todd Harper’s response post.


Back at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, John Walker sits down for a rather strange interview with Far Cry 3 writer Jeffrey Yohalem, who calls the game’s narrative a “satire” and claims critics have misunderstood. Writing in response at Gameranx, Holly Green offers up this succinct response: “Sorry Jeffrey Yohalem, We Understand Far Cry 3 Perfectly.

Ultimately if your intent is to “expose” a trope, then you have to challenge it. Presenting a string of accepted video game status quos with a couple of Alice in Wonderland references isn’t enough. While good satire can–and should–fool at least some of the public (that is in fact the point), it shouldn’t fool everybody. When your audience has no reason to take your material at anything less than face value, a little more effort must be made. If Jason is supposed to be an “unreliable narrator”, then his narration has to actually be challenged.


(NOTE: Most of this section deals in some way with the events at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th, as well as with cultures of violence in general.)

Writing in his regular Critical Intel column for The Escapist, Robert Rath performs a close look at three games’ treatment of unmanned military drones.

On Buzzfeed, John Herrman posits that we need to be talking more about violence and games, not less:

[W]hile uninformed anti-game sensationalism may be unproductive, gamers’ reflexive defensiveness is worse. It’s prevented us from having a meaningful conversation about an industry that is emotionally and morally stunted, where per-title revenue can dwarf even the most successful films of all time but which seems immune from discussions of taste and artistic merit. […] young men’s most influential entertainment products, the cultural touchstones they do and will reminisce about in adulthood, are built around the premise of empathizing with a man with a gun in his hand, who kills not in the crudely symmetrical and grim manner of war but gleefully commits mass slaughter.

Writing in his personal blog, developer Shane Liesegang shares his own reflections and addresses his fellow developers in regards to defending the prevalence of violence in games:

As developers, we like to point out the violence in films, TV, books, Shakespeare, the Bible, etc, hoping that deflection will absolve games. But even the most hopeful among us has to acknowledge the stark disparity in Percentage of Time Devoted to Violent Acts among the different kinds of media. Even in a summer action flick, the amount of time spent punching and shooting things is substantially lower than it is in the video game tie-in for that same summer action flick.

Also writing in her own blog, Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander also calls for a little self-reflection:

Any games writing that questions that right to bear virtual arms with joyful impunity is often accused of having some irrelevant political agenda, of ruining the fun, of refusing to accept the all-important fact it’s just a game. Like disassociating ourselves from any intellectual consideration of the content we consume or any emotional response to it is a basic requirement for participation in this community.

I can’t accept that.

The top-grossing games of all time are about marching in a straight line and shooting people. I’ve felt confused and sad about that for a few years now and I feel moreso this week. Our recent Hollywood gold-encrusted televised awards ceremony cheered the boyish joy in “shooting people in the face.” Nobody would say that if the VGAs aired tonight. Because they’d have the good sense to have a fucking think about what that means.

Lastly, writing for The Phoenix, Maddy Myers touches upon Hotline Miami and asks us to question the hyper-masculinization of violence.

As a shooter fan who happens to also be a woman, I often find myself feeling alienated by the masculine-centric narrative on display in all of these games. But that alienation allows me to see this particular form of social brainwashing from an outsider’s angle.

The brainwashing goes deep, here. It happens in real life, not just in these fictions. To what extent have we internalized the narrative? We need not look far to see this view of masculinity in American society – as an unstoppable, uncontrollable force of power and violence. Why do we agree with this supposition in so many of our stories? Why do we accept violence as the “natural” way that men behave?


This is kind of a down note to end on, but the same could be said for recent events in general. However, the world didn’t end, so there is that, yes?

We hope you enjoy the seasonal tidings of your preference in the week(s) ahead. Keep your ears open for a brand new Critical Distance Confab podcast later in the week, as well as next Sunday when we release 2012’s This Year in Videogame Blogging. As a reminder, it’s not too late to send in your submissions for the Year-End roundup!

And for that matter, time is running out to submit entries to the Games Journalism Prize as well! Winners will be decided in early 2013, and there is a cash prize involved, last we checked. Enticing, no?

December 16th

December 16th, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on December 16th)

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of only three Sundays left to 2012. Let’s start your morning off right with This Week in Videogame Blogging, shall we?


Capping off his recent feature on text-based war games, John Brindle shares a roundup of his extended interviews with high-profile interactive fiction authors including Emily Short, Porpentine and Paolo Pedercini.

On Eurogamer, Wesley Yin-Poole shares a nice long retrospective on what went wrong in trying to bring the Xbox to the Japanese market.

Over on Nightmare Mode, Canadian Reid McCarter and American Jordan Rivas get together to discuss Canadian-produced Assassin’s Creed 3‘s take on the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, on his own blog, Jordan Rivas relates how Call of Duty reminds him of a Katy Perry song.


We catch up with John Brindle again back over on Nightmare Mode, where Brindle outlines a pretty compelling critique of gamer elitism:

[Jim Rossignol wrote that] we shouldn’t worry about what non-gamers think of games, because “in this instance,” he wrote, “we are the highly educated elite.”

It’s a good point. It arouses in me the instant desire to defend the fruits of the traditional education I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy (a word I choose advisedly) in both games and ‘real life’. Complexity of the kind impenetrable without years of copious and counter-intuitive study is valuable and beautiful for those who want to dance with it and I will defend it forever and always on those terms. Not everyone, however, gets invited to that party – and others are denigrated simply for not wanting to go.

This article is about how if the comparison of games to education is taken seriously and to its logical extent, it gives context and clarity to some of our loudest critical debates. But it’s also about how that comparison has cultural and political cultural dimensions we can’t avoid, because if gamers are an ‘educated elite’ they also act like one: valuing some kinds of game literacy over others, and restricting the provision of the higher forms.


Programmer Jean-Francois Levesque furnishes us with a wonderfully in-depth look at designing the fire propagation system in Far Cry 2.

Over on IGN, Rick Lane points out some noted shortcomings in games’ depictions of sword fighting, as well as design challenges the medium faces to portray it accurately.

Echoing some of the television studies work of Lynn Spigel, Crikey’s Daniel Golding shores up an interesting analysis of how the Wii’s marketing was in fact intended to render the console “invisible.”


Every week a good bulk of the criticism we see is devoted to particular games, from new releases to fond classics. Let’s tuck in.


On VGRevolution, Marc Price shares an emotional, personal account of grief, atheism, and finding ‘Heaven’ in Journey. Meanwhile, Bit Creature’s Patricia Hernandez provides us with a striking narrative of finding herself largely venturing alone in a game known for its imparted sense of companionship.

Bientôt l’été

This new project from Tale of Tales released mere days ago to positive response from many corners. Chris Bateman offers a substantial review including some worthwhile comment on the game’s imperfections. Moving Pixels’ G. Christopher Williams draws upon its chess game element to discuss the dialogue system.

Meanwhile, over on Video Game Tourism, Rainer Sigl criticizes the developers’ adoption of the term “notgames,” suggesting it rejects such works’ position as avant-garde. The comments below the article are worthwhile as well.

Far Cry 3

Unwinnable’s Stu Hovarth casts Far Cry 3 as a delusional fantasy which uses its problematic tropes consciously. Meanwhile, Gameranx’s Rowan Kaiser poses that the game is about colonization–literally, the white colonization of a tropical island, its resources and native population.

Star Trek Online

On Gamers with Jobs, Alex Martinez finds what’s missing from Star Trek Online: the franchise’s trademark optimism.

Persona 4

Twinfinite’s Matthew Kim approaches how Persona 4‘s villain embodies 21st century nihilism.

Max Payne

Andrew Lavigne tracks how the Max Payne series moves from Payne’s self-interest to a sense of social responsibility.


Game Shelf’s Jason McIntosh describes how X-COM: Enemy Unknown games the player into constructing a narrative.

Back on Nightmare Mode, Tom Auxier touches on X-COM as well, in particular asking if strategy games and horror are incompatible. In the course of his essay, Auxier brings up some counter-examples, including a board game, which makes this a nice companion piece for our next section…


On Kill Screen, Jason Johnson interviews Ralph Anspach, designer of Anti-Monopoly.

Meanwhile on Peasant Muse, Jeremy Antley wants to know why MoMA overlooked board games in the course of its recent game acquisitions.


In this harrowing piece for Kill Screen, Mary Hamilton draws connections between her mental illness and her time spent gaming. (Trigger warning: frank discussion of self-harm behavior.)


Filamena, Meguey and Brie Sheldon get together to share the story of inadvertently starting a movement.


Michael Abbott skips the conventional Game of the Year countdown list in favor of naming some of his favorite features, hardware, trends and special moments of the past year.


Remember, remember! Submissions for 2012’s This Year in Videogame Blogging is open from now until midnight of December 28th. Read this post for more details, then head on over to our email submissions page to send in your recommendations for this year’s best in games blogging!

And as always, you can send in your weekly contributions by email or by @ing us on Twitter.

Until next week, stay frosty and/or toasty as your hemisphere and preferences dictate!

Now Accepting Submissions for TYIVGB 2012 Edition

December 16th, 2012 | Posted by Eric Swain in Announcement: - (Comments Off on Now Accepting Submissions for TYIVGB 2012 Edition)

I’m getting around to this aspect of the process far later than I really wanted to. Like last year, we are opening submissions for our annual This Year In Videogame Blogging feature. We’ve had good success in the past and while I’m still trying to make this better, one of the things that went oh so right last year was asking for submissions from you, the readers.

Like last year, we are crowdsourcing posts in addition to our own due diligence. The rules and type of thing we are looking for in recommendations for the yearly round up are pretty much the same. The only real rules are the post or other form of gaming criticism must have a 2012 post date. That’s from January 1st to whenever you end up sending in your suggestion. And it must be of a very good quality to be considered one of the best or representative of the year. To help, here are so criteria to help understand what we are looking for.

1. Any piece of writing that just sticks out in your mind. Something that weeks, even months after it’s published stays with you and the culture as a whole just because they’re that influential or important. Pieces that get cited to this day. Examples from previous years include.

2. Any pieces that are an excellent example of a larger trends within the conversation from critical community surrounding the big games of the year. Last year the big, most talked-about games with extensive conversations around them were L.A. Noire, Portal 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Bastion and Skyrim. This year we want example pieces highlighting the discussion that took place around the games of 2012.

3. Any example pieces from the important bloggers/sites that stood out this year. These are the pieces that highlight or are representative of the critics’ writing and work throughout the year. You can nominate your own work.

4. Any pieces of excellence pertaining to gaming culture that highlights a conversation from this year. Large compilation pieces are preferred or pieces that otherwise capture the scope and variety of the conversation.

5. Any pieces that, while they may not fall under the previous criteria, are simply a exceptional piece of beautiful writing.

These are just rough guidelines to what we are looking for. Please send all links to our email. Please no @ messages or DMs on Twitter or messages on Facebook. Take your time in looking through and send us any pieces that were your favorites this year. The deadline is Midnight, December 28th, Eastern Standard Time. I know it’s cutting it rather close and I apologize for that.

You can send as many emails with as many links as you want so if you forget something you can send another email with it included. Please include one or two lines about why you think the piece should be included. Nothing too long- we still have to go through everything. I must stress this point. Last year we received a few full essays explaining their selections.

Thank you for your time and hope you have a happy December. And of course, be sure to tune in on December 30th for the results of 2012’s This Year in Videogame Blogging!

It’s late and my tailbone smarts from sitting in this chair so long. I’d like to get to bed before sunrise at least once this December, so let’s cut the fluff and get to the stuff: it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!


Michael Abbott kicks off what is sure to be a month filled with 2012 retrospectives by suggesting that we’ve arrived at something approaching another watershed year in terms of game design:

This year, the very definition of “game” was thrown into question more often and by more designers than ever before.

If the signature of a vibrant art is artists pushing conventional boundaries, questioning formal assumptions, and producing provocative, wildly divergent work, this was a very good year for the art of games.

Abbott also highlight a selection of games from the year, many of which he feel falls into this category of challenging design conventions.

Awesome Out of 10’s David Chandler is on a similar wavelength, as he looks to the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, and posits that games, too, are at a turning point of being more critical and self-aware.


Over on Medium Difficulty, Dan Solberg muses on the marketing buzzword “authenticity.”

Meanwhile, over on The Guardian, Keith Stuart puts together a worthy reply to last week’s Jonathan Jones piece, and includes interviews with Matt Adams, Richard Lemarchard and Dan Pinchbeck. Here’s a choice bit from the latter:

To be honest, I don’t think [‘are games art?’ is] actually a very interesting question. I don’t think games need to aspire to being art, like art is an inherently more worthwhile form of cultural expression – people were playing games long before they were making art, so it’s certainly not an older one. A more interesting question is, why is it so important to some people that games are NOT art? Why do they feel so threatened by games being art?

John Maeda, whose work is included in MoMA’s permanent collection, speaks up on Wired in defense of the museum’s decision to include games, and in doing so raises, I think, a fairly interesting argument on how to view the selected games:

Videogames are indeed design: They’re sophisticated virtual machines that echo the mechanical systems inside cars. Would anyone question a Ferrari or Model T or even a VW bug being acquired by MoMA?

Like well-designed cars, well-designed videogames are ways of taking your mind to different places. (Of course, I’m not speaking about the literality of playing driving-specific games like Grand Theft Auto).

I would argue that in some cases, games edge past being design to being art as well. […] As a genre, videogames take our minds on journeys, and we can control and experience them much more interactively than passively – especially when they are well designed. So the creators of a game haven’t “ceded the responsibility” of their personal visions; rather, they allow a space for users to construct their own personal experiences, or ask questions as art does.

No, this isn’t “overly serious and reverent praise” of games, it’s just what is.


Robert Louis McIntyre furnishes us with an engrossing video and how-to guide for reprogramming Pokemon Yellow from within, using a few simple machine tricks.


Following on the heels of Porpentine’s Twine how-to from last week, here’s Jay Weston with a feature on Gamasutra on how to get started with code-free game design using Unity and Playmaker.

Meanwhile at Unwinnable, Nels Anderson offers up a sort-of post-mortem on Mark of the Ninja, which doubles as an eloquent reflection on indie development:

Making games, at least good ones, is an almost total act of faith. Faith in yourself, faith in your team, faith in the audience, faith in your collective ability to transform the barely-playable, wholly uninteresting mess you’re currently looking at into something that will engage people. (I don’t think many folks admit it, but during creation basically all games are really shitty for a really long time. It’s just that the good ones get better.) Frankly, it’s pretty fucking terrifying.

I hope this doesn’t sound dour and anxious, because that’s certainly not how I feel. In some ways, having to rely on faith this way is liberating. Knowing that you can’t be sure means you just have to do your damn best and hope.


On Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl suggests that the tendency toward exploration in games hearkens back to our ancestral roots as wanderers:

Games’ virtual spaces allow us to roam farther than reality does – especially now, that the tools made to free us from fixed office spaces and the need to be physically present also, paradoxically, take away the necessity to leave our screens. There is, after all, a reduction in our daily lives’ radius; we’re living in the age of the “Great Indoors”.

It shouldn’t surprise us that, in exchange, the virtual spaces around us are growing. Games let us decamp and set forth. And they take us to places that are as outlandish as our wildest fantasies: Great underwater cities, showcasing madness and art deco; twisted death zones exhibiting the ruins of once proud civilizations; megalomaniac architectures between Heaven and Hell.

Games give us places, spaces, whole continents to explore and wander. And all of them are here for us to sate our curiosity, to satisfy that ancient human need to see what’s behind that hill, that mountain, that horizon. Why? For no other reason than the one the world’s highest peak was conquered: “Because it’s there.”

In a piece that serves so perfectly as a counter to Sigl’s that I’m not entirely sure it’s coincidental, Steven Poole writes on Edge questioning videogames’ fixation on corridors:

The corridor is inherently authoritarian, seeking to corral unbounded biological movement into unnaturally linear paths. Early man did not grow up in corridors but on wide savannah plains, which is posited by some evolutionary anthropologists as the reason why our field of vision is wider than it is tall. To put a human being in a corridor, then, is to create a tension between our sensory equipment, tuned to one environment, and the artificial new surroundings. It is to say to us, with a sneering challenge: ‘Adapt to this!’

The phenomenon in videogames of what I like to call the ‘jungly corridor’, then, may be taken as a sophisticated joke about man’s struggle to negotiate modernity using his woefully inapt primate heritage. What looks like lush, natural rainforest or tropical island vegetation turns out to be a series of corridors no less soul-destroying than your local council offices.


[This section carries a general trigger warning for discussion of sexism, racism, bullying and rape.]

Reacting to the hastily-pulled “Hire Hitman” Facebook app in which users could put out “hits” on their friends, Leigh Alexander writes on Gamasutra criticizing a persistent disconnect between game marketers and developers.

Writing for a more general audience on The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers discusses playing the recent Omega DLC for Mass Effect 3 and relates how while gender “shouldn’t matter,” as long as there are representational inequalities, it does.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s John Walker squints disapprovingly at Far Cry 3‘s racist tropes and rape subplot:

Because Far Cry 3, well, it’s a bit racist, isn’t it?

I said, rather flippantly, that the people of this island are the race they are, because it’s the island they’re native to. It is what it is, essentially. And that’s the case – that’s really not the issue here. It had to be set somewhere. The issue is the horribly worn tropes it so lazily kicks around when it gets there. As it is, you have the simple-folk-natives, and the immigrant white men with their mixture of South African and Australian accents. And one black guy. White people ask you to get involved in enormously elaborate machinations, ancient mysteries, and local politics. Locals ask you to help them kill endangered species, find their missing daughters, and point out when their husbands are gay. Essentially, the locals behave as if they’re helpless without you, but when you wield their tattoo-based magical powers then true greatness appears. And it’s here that the problems really kick in.

There’s a term for it. It’s “Noble Savage“. And it also falls under the remit of the “Magical Negro“. The trope is that the non-white character possesses mystical insight, magical abilities, or simply a wisdom derived from such a ‘simple life’, that can enlighten the white man. And it’s pretty icky. The premise relies on the belief that the individual’s race is in some way debilitating, something their noble/mystical abilities are able to ‘overcome’.

The further you get, the more revered your character becomes. The antagonists call you Snow White, a derisory name but one that pretty much points out that you’re the pure white American man in this land of colourful folks. And the locals begin to hear word of not only your helpful ways (which would seem fair – you’re being very helpful) but also your abilities with their customs, your wielding of their powers. You are the outsider who has come in and outdone them, shown them the true majesty of their savage abilities. They can’t fight against the pirates for themselves, but you can save them.


And then there’s the rapey bit. (Oddly, this paragraph is also a spoiler.) General rule: unless your game is about rape, or willing to truly deal with the subject, maybe steer clear of rape. It’s way too big of a subject to nonchalantly include, and it’s pretty abhorrent to use it as a mere plot beat. […] in the end, the reveal of Jason’s victimisation is flippant, and the ludicrous mystic-trippy scene in which you QTE kill Buck is just plain offensive in the context.

Touching off this, Kotaku’s Patricia Hernandez features a good roundup of discussion about the game and what motivates people not to pick up certain games.

On Bitch Magazine, Katherine Cross, aka The Border House’s Quinnae, highlights the real problem of the “it’s just a game” or “it’s the Internet” defense:

That phrase is the machine to which oppressive power dynamics are the ghost. How many times have you heard someone say “It’s the Internet; you shouldn’t take that seriously”? This kind of thinking supports the idea you can do anything you want with no consequences, when in all actuality, virtual actions like sexual harassment, stalking, abuse, prejudice in all of its forms—racism, sexism, transphobia, or all of the above—do have consequences.


The real issue is a lack of accountability, fostered by the idea that what happens online does not have “real world” consequences. Whether people write their hate using a pseudonym or with a real name and picture attached, they’re culturally supported in doing so because “it’s just a game.” But one’s avatar or screen name can be a vehicle of accountability as surely as any other. When you level in an online game and garland yourself with the rewards of dungeon-delving, raiding, or player-vs.-player combat, you develop a personality and reputation that you cannot easily shed. Even if no one ever knows your legal name or face, accountability and responsibility can still accrue to that avatar. Such a person becomes unaccountable not because of anonymity, but because too many gamers throw their hands up and say “This is the Internet, what can you do?” It’s similar to “boys will be boys” in its handwashing of responsibility.


On Nightmare Mode, Kim Moss points out the ways relationships are modeled in games are not just flat, they can be downright sociopathic:

In any Bioware game, kindness is a currency. You make regular payments to earn affection points. You pay by listening to someone talk about their problems and giving them cheap gifts. Put in enough coins and sex falls out.

After that, the relationship is over. Sex was your end goal, the reason for everything you did. There was no reason to stick around after you got it. That was what you were paying for.

It doesn’t matter if you find Morrigan’s Ayn Rand inspired morality to be utterly repulsive. Just sit there, nod your head, and she’ll fall for you. It doesn’t matter that your Shepard is a paragon of virtue and integrity. If you play at being anything but when Jack’s paying attention, she’ll love you someday. In these games, telling women what they want to hear and listening to their problems is all it takes to get laid.

Of course, that’s not how the real world works. A Nice Guy will tell you this is unfair; that they paid for a service they did not receive. A human being knows better.


John Brindle appeared as a guest on Helen Lewis’s column on New Statesman this week writing about how textual games, especially interactive fiction, disrupt the “glamor” of war. In it, Brindle covers the work of several IF writers; he’s also posted a valuable coda on his own blog containing a more extended interview with one of these writers (and a name who’s been getting quite a bit of well-deserved traction of late), Porpentine.

Bit Creature contributor Alexandra Geraets writes in her own blog in an effort to hone in on what it is exactly that games do to their players:

Spec Ops didn’t do anything to me. It’s a game. I’ve never believed that video games make people violent, nor do I think that shooters ‘train’ people to kill.

It made me pay attention a little more, yes, and it gave Jace and me plenty of late-night conversation, where we realized that we were both seeing a commentary on the nature of military-themed games, shooters, and on the nature of good and evil, especially on how good men can move from sense and reason to madness and destruction simply because they believe they are in the right. If you believe you’re right, you can convince yourself of anything.

Captain Walker is one of my favorite video game characters. I don’t like him, but he’s found a special place in my gamer’s heart of characters whom I’ll never forget.

Games as a whole have shaped me as a writer – certainly my fiction feels different than it did when I was in college, just starting out as a gamer – and when I see games exploring real world themes – war, history, action and inaction – I pay closer attention.

Has any one game ever done anything to me?


Geraets’s fellow Bit Creaturer Drew Dixon draws a spiritual conclusion from the illusion of choice in The Walking Dead.

On Unwinnable, Jill Scharr gets elbows-deep into the narrative structure of Final Fantasy X.

Over on Ontological Geek, Hannah DuVoix explores the existentialism of Fallout.

On Gameranx, Brendan Keogh has been plumbing the depths of Binary Domain for a while, but his recent discovery that he can use the voice recognition system to disrupt combat is fascinating.

Nightmare Mode’s Matthew Schanuel discusses locating gaming’s negative space, particularly within Dark Souls.

And at Bomb the Stacks, musician Daniel Korn takes a vinyl lens to Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP in order to get at the heart of its magic.

Meanwhile at Spin, Alex Eaton cuts together a sick video history of game samples in rap.


On Youtube, Shaun Inman presents us with a seriously interesting, seriously close look at the camera behaviors in Super Mario World. Don’t be put off by Inman’s voice work–as the video continues, you’ll get a clear impression of just how much he knows his stuff.

The singular Jesper Juul satisfies this week’s statporn quota with these incredible graphs charting the rise and decline of both platforms and genres over the decades.


Writing for Unwinnable, Jordan Mammo takes us on a peek inside South Korea’s tireless affection for StarCraft.


On Digital Spirit Guide, Katherine Owen shares an autobiographical tale of using games to cope with a chronic injury.


Helen Lewis’s recent New Statesman piece asking “Why Are We Still So Bad at Talking About Video Games?” sparked a flurry of response pieces, well, pointing readers to where all the good games criticism is. To that end she’s graciously handed over the reins of her column to these writers.

The tireless Brendan Keogh an excellent roundup of go-to sites for good criticism (we’re proud to say, including this one) and a lot of this year’s stand-out articles.

Following up, Liz Ryerson presents a critical reader including many from blogs off the beaten path.


For those who missed it, Alan Williamson has (mostly) settled into his new place and thus has gotten around to posting November’s Blogs of the Round Table Round-up. BoRT will return in January.

As always, we depend heavily on readers’ contributions to point us toward the latest and greatest games blogging from around the web. If you have a piece that you’d like to see on This Week in Videogame Blogging, please be sure to send it in to us via @-replies on Twitter or our email submissions form.

That’s all for this week! Till next round-up, stay frosty or toasty as your hemisphere dictates, and keep an eye out for our annual This Year in Videogame Criticism call for submissions post coming later in the month!

November Roundup

December 7th, 2012 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off on November Roundup)

It’s winter! Or at least, it is where I am. As we enter one of the coldest winters in British history (according the hyperbolic mainstream media), it’s hard to think our southern hemispheric friends will be enjoying the sunshine and not lamenting its absence.Whether you’re curled up by a roaring fireplace or lazing by a smouldering barbecue, I hope you enjoy this month’s Blogs of the Round Table.

November’s theme was Origins. I had my own origin experience when I launched my new videogame culture magazine Five out of Ten, and if you thought I wasn’t going to plug it here then I’m sorry to disappoint you. The first issue features the work of our own Kris Ligman and friend-of-CD Brendan Keogh. The theme is ‘New Horizons’, which you might remember was the BoRT theme for September. It’s like bonus BoRT! Buy a copy! It’s the perfect Christmas gift for that special someone in your life.

Anyway, on with the show…


“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?”

Christopher Floyd writes about the multilingual wonders of Sega manuals. While American and Japanese game manuals (remember those?) were presumably wafer-thin, European manuals were case-bursting tomes. Either way, it’s a shame that manuals have been reduced to controls stamped on a card, as they were great to read on your way home from the store (remember those?)

Mike Schiller had an Atari 2600 and remembers imagining lumps of misshapen pixels as Pac-Man, football players and ET – the latter a bit misshapen by design, of course. He talks about the arcane magicks required to load a game on the PCJr: it’s interesting how far we have come in the age of one-tap downloads, but also how basic computing knowledge is being eroded as devices are simplified. Is that a good or bad thing? That’s probably a topic for another BoRT…

A poignant moment with Qbert in Wreck-It Ralph made Matt Krehbiel cry. This is a meditation on ‘gaming for the sake of fun’ – put away your pitchforks, academics – and it’s got a picture of ET if you didn’t believe my joke in the last paragraph. Seriously, he’s got a face like a melting scab.

Michelle Baldwin talks about how early games required more imagination. Is that part of the reason why they linger in the mind more than modern releases? This imaginative requirement, Michelle argues, fostered a creative streak that has influenced her life and career.

George Blott often prefers to watch games rather than play them. Now he watches web streams rather than acting as a live audience- because he spends his time making games rather than playing them.

A blogger mysteriously known as ‘TifaIA’ regards Final Fantasy IV as the most important game of their childhood. It’s really interesting to read about a game I’ve never even played before (the only FF I’ve ever finished is XIII, sorry), especially one that is influential on so many levels for at least one player.

Finally, a more personal origin story from myself for Five out of Ten about Ecco the Dolphin, writing my first real piece of games work and growing up as a gamer.

Thanks again to all of our contributors: great to see new faces… err, avatars every month.

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="" 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.

We’re going to take a break this month as we’re working on some Critical Distance end-of-year festivities. BoRT will return in January – see you then!

December 2nd

December 2nd, 2012 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on December 2nd)

A little later than we expected, but here we are! Thank you for your patience while the French-Canadian down in Engineering sorted out the dilithium crystals or whatever it is that keeps the U.S.S. Critical Distance running. We’re ready to go, so full speed ahead, Mr. Sulu. Engage!

This Week in Videogame Blogging CLXXXIII:
Return of the Subheaders


Let’s get this one out of the way right at the start. Jonathan Jones catches word that more games are being inducted into New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and takes umbrage at the idea of games being featured alongside traditional art. Sophie Houlden, tired of the “are games art?” debate, reverses the question in this terribly on-point riposte:

Having situated the art on a wall in the living room, I asked Emily if there was a special way to look at it to make the art work. “No, you just look at it.” she explained, clearly as frustrated with the experience as I, “Like a TV?” I asked. The look on Emily’s face then became that look you get when you’re at risk of losing a friend, so I quickly said “Oh never-mind, I think I’ve got it figured out.” and stared at the lifeless picture, pretending it gave me a similar sense of emotion I got from actually exploring the beautiful landscapes that developers craft for their games.

After Emily left I checked on the internet and it turns out she was right, you really do just look at it, that’s all!

Where was the engagement-building interaction of games? Where was the sense of teamwork and community you get from multiplayer games? Where was the emotional investment you can only get from stories and characters that actually involve you, a real person?


Saul Alexander has a great interview with Obsidian’s Chris Avellone up at Gamasutra.

Meanwhile, at Flash of Steel, Troy Goodfellow suggests that Molyneux is out of touch with developments in his own field of expertise.

In the wake of the Rab Florence Affair (or Doritos-gate, if you prefer), Florence has ventured to tumblr to pursue a less regulated platform for his strongly-worded criticisms. On the chopping block this week: Kickstarter, or rather the industry veterans who are increasingly turning to it to fund their games.

[T]hese capitalist animals, Molyneux and Braben to name but two, are transforming Kickstarter into a shopping website for products that don’t yet exist. They package their products with ridiculous “bonuses” that the gaming audience are paying small fortunes to secure. This is the same game audience that, just a few years ago, was laughing Bethesda out of the room for charging a small amount of cash for horse armour. And we at least knew something about that game.


Also on the subject of the crowdfunding platform, Cliff Harris likewise has some criticisms for the “fixed dreams” it sells the comfortably well-off: “Kickstarter is the absolute poster-child for inequality amongst gamers, based on income.”


Here’s a nice article, courtesy of Kill Screen, profiling the upcoming LA Game Space, games’ “first high-profile residency program.” Predictably, it too has a Kickstarter. (Although arguably, this project better fulfills the intentions of the service as a charity platform than many of the greenlit projects that have gained notoriety in the past.)


Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman returns to his own blog to advocate for a more inward-facing style of game criticism:

Instead of writing about the internal human process of playing a game like Dishonored, Game Centered Criticism takes the game as its own self-supporting entity. Dishonored‘s diegesis and mechanics do not exist wholly for the player–rather, Dunwall exists for itself, and its own history, just as much as it exists for me to “read” it or interact with it. It has a life of its own. It has a complex universe and being that rewards careful attention.

Obviously, isn’t a conservative appeal for Old Games Journalism, whatever that was. This also isn’t a denigration of New Games Journalism on the whole. More than anything, I’m just kind of tired of games only having worth because they were transformative for a human subject. We need a critical toolbox that allows us to talk about the digital and material qualities of games-in-themselves, not just as extensions of human minds into ludic spaces where we get to vacation sometimes.

Kotaku’s Tina Amini proposes that sometimes the most fun you can have with a game is exploring its glitches. In a similar vein, check out this humorous video by Nick LaLone which explores the same idea, of glitches as “disruption.”

Rachel Helps of Nightmare Mode reminds us that humans don’t just eat food–we have complex cultures of preparation and consumption, and games serve as a unique venue to explore that.

On Gamasutra, Nick Halme argues for a more sophisticated understanding of “difficulty.”

Michael Brough makes the unconventional suggestion that games are too mature:

The days of the arcade, where every second game was new and strange and different, are long past. (The rest were clones, but never mind those.) That cacophony of ideas has been replaced by fixed genres, mostly the fully consolidated FPSRPG – a powerfully mature setting for a certain kind of interaction and storytelling, but a very limited thing to be the main thrust of our medium.

Meanwhile, back at Nightmare Mode, Bill Coberly writes at length about how gun games miss the haptic reality of guns as physical devices, creating an abstraction which doesn’t “respect” their lethality:

Most modern military shooter-games heavily market the authenticity of their weapons and equipment. Medal of Honor: Warfighter has an entire section on its marketing website dedicated only to descriptions and photographs of the various real-life weapons modeled in the game. The implication is clear: the marketers behind these games want you to think that this is how real warfare works, and that these are the tools used by real warriors.

The idea that these are real weapons that mimic real life is contradicted by the unembodiedness of firearms in the game. Gun usage in the modern military shooter does not foster the necessary respect for firearms. By using the same grammar as more obviously preposterous games such as Borderlands, these games teach that firearms are neat toys, magic wands to be used to “solve problems” and neutralize targets. Behind their cosmetic differences, smart-talking laser guns in Borderlands 2 and AK-47s in Call of Duty: Black Ops behave exactly the same.

This lack of respect seems to foster dissonance in both discussions of military action and civilian gun ownership. Even ignoring all the other ways the modern military shooter has little in common with real war, by ignoring the physicality of the soldier holding the gun and fostering a lack of respect for that particular gun, these games gloss over the fact that real war is fought by human beings against other human beings. […] It’s a deeply physical and embodied experience, and decisions around if, when and where we should send American soldiers to shoot people need to be made with this in mind.

On a similar note, Scott Juster of Moving Pixels writes of Call of Duty‘s troubled relationship with reality.


Buzzfeed contributor Chris Stokel-Walker gives us a lengthy but rewarding history of Pong.

On Eurogamer, Simon Parkin furnishes us with a vibrant tale of the Grand Theft Auto player who “spilled” Hot Coffee.


It wouldn’t be TWIVGB without a few in-depth critiques of specific games. Let’s get to it.


Josh Bycer wraps up his analysis of X-COM: Enemy Unknown‘s strategic and tactical layers.


Joe Flood, a Native living on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota, engages with gaming’s first high-profile Native American protagonist.


Michael Clarkson digs deep with The Walking Dead‘s take on the Hobbesian “state of nature.” Also worth reading is Clarkson’s close critique of the series’s second chapter, Starved for Help.


Lana Polansky experiences an unexpected paratextual gutpunch while going through the game’s campaign missions.


Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line released last week to generally enthusiastic response. Now Keogh brings us a roundup of some early and very worthy reviews of his book, acknowledging what his critique does and doesn’t accomplish.


At Unwinnable, Jenn Frank pens this emotional introspection on her work in games, the death of her mother, hanging on and letting go. Also worth reading is this very valuable B-side.

Daniel Starkey pays tribute to his own ailing mother in this Gameranx feature about dealing with his mother’s failing health through the Commander Shepard he modeled on her.

And over on Kotaku, guest contributor Phil Owen offers up this strong self-examination of his suicidal depression, unemployment, and how his gaming habits may have helped or fed into that depression.


(This section carries a general trigger warning for descriptions of sexual harassment and verbal assault.)

One of the sweeping stories of the past week has been the #1ReasonWhy hashtag, in which women game developers, journalists and players from around the globe share personal experiences of harassment, isolation and invalidation within the game industry and gaming culture at large.

Alex Raymond starts us off with an overview of the hashtag mini-movement as well as choice tweets and links.

Critical Distance contributor Katie Williams takes to her personal blog to outline her own myriad reasons, noting finally: “Because I’m scared to post this on Twitter.”

Rhea Monique adds her own voice as a critic and a hardcore player. The women of Not Your Mama’s Gamer weigh in as well.

Tami “Cuppycake” Baribeau relates a harrowing first-person experience with industry sexism and gender inequality.

Gamespot editors Laura Parker and Carolyn Petit share a discussion on the importance of addressing sexism in the games industry.

On Gamers With Jobs, Colleen Hannon provides a good dismantling of some of the common derails and criticisms written in response to the hashtag. (Skeptical readers are encouraged to read this thoroughly before deciding to leave their own comments.)

Johnny Kilhefner storifies a virtually inexhaustible roundup of #1reasonwhy tweets from all sources.

Writing for the Guardian, Mary Hamilton shares a good treatment of the hashtag as well as the need for proactive responses to inequality. To this end we’ve seen quite a few answers: Rhianna Pratchett initiated the #1ReasonToBe hashtag, and almost immediately in its wake emerged #1ReasonMentors, designed to create a support network for women developers. Elsewhere, IndieCade speaker and LA-area developer Akira Thompson has set up Be the Solution, a new tumblr intended as “a proactive response to #1reasonwhy.”


Many articles this week tackled discrimination in the industry and gamer culture at large beyond the scope of the #1Reason hashtags.

On Polygon, Tracey Lien profiles Iron Ribbon, a grassroots effort to end discriminatory trashtalk and other behavior in gaming.

Edge observes that the representation of women in the industry is at its lowest point in a decade and asks several devs and advocates how the trend might be reversed.

Emily Short provides us with an excellent roundup of women game developers both AAA and indie.

Merritt Kopas discusses using games to educate on systemic social inequality and injustice:

Because [anna anthropy’s] dys4ia requires active participation by the player, it draws them into the logic of a system bigger than the individual. It gives non-trans players a tiny glimpse of the frustrations of living in a society that tells you over and over that you do not exist, and that, when it on occasion deigns to admit that you do, then drops obstacle after obstacle in the path of your desires and goals. Here, one student said that the game helped them to better understand the process of transition and all of the institutional and societal barriers involved. Another told me that the game helped them to better understand the idea of ideology as a force bigger than the individual, something that can structure one’s options and choices in life without one’s knowledge or consent.

Much has been made of tactics to remove the barrier for entry into game development. Writing for Nightmare Mode, the mononymous Porpentine provides us with a brief history, and stirring manifesto for the creation, of interactive fiction including a good Twine how-to. In conjunction with this, here’s a recommended interview with Porpentine about her Twine work Howling Dogs, conducted by IF luminary Emily Short.

Lastly, from the desk of Cara Ellison, have a poem:

Had to be screamed from the studies of businesswomen
Had to be hissed under breaths in bars in San Francisco in March
Had to be ummed by women games designers
Had to be thought in elevators at conferences
Had to be leant over a keyboard at 3am with Merlot eyes half shut
Had to be seen in absence
Had to be seen in the lack of trying
Had to be seen in statistics of applications
Had to be segregated in schools
Had to be guided away from sciences
Had to be a self-taught programmer
Our apathy and the games industry are in cahoots

*drum tap*


That’s all for this week, but as always we look forward to your submissions which you can send to us via Twitter or email.

Please note that the tireless Alan Williamson is in the process of moving house so the December Blogs of the Round Table should be a bit delayed. Take advantage of this opportunity to sneak something in for November’s “origins” theme!