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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!

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.

WHAT IS A GAME? A MISERABLE LITTLE PILE OF SECRETS

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.

SCIENCE!

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.

SCIENCE! …OF TETRIS!

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.

Housekeeping

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!

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.

October Roundup

October 31st, 2012 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (Comments Off)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

<iframe type="text/html" width="600" height="20" src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=October12" 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.

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

Let’s start with some frightfully insightful game analyses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short version, however, goes like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it has to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

DISHONORED

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

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

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

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

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

KELLAWAY’S FINANCIAL TIMES ARTICLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDEPENDENT GAMES

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

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

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

BUY LOCAL

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

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

FEEL ALL THE THINGS

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

INCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(HER)STORY

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

(HIS)TORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

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

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

Let’s look at what might need to happen.

MOVIES AND GAMES

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

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

INTERESTING READINGS

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

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

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

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

DEFINE: GAME

Adam Maresca advocates for a taxonomy for games:

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

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

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

SNEAK KINGS

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

WHEN WILL SENPAI NOTICE ME

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

THE END

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

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

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

CLOSE FILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All videogames speak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awwww.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t have a good transition here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that just makes me feel old and tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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