March 17th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Welcome to another sunny Sunday filled with top-tier criticism and commentary from the world of gaming! Contrary to previous reports, I, your senior editor, will be taking the reins again this week, while Mattie Brice rounds off the last two weekends of March. Consider me the necessary middle-woman.

But enough talk. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

ANALYSIS

We start things off with this compelling and quite thorough analysis of what author Line Hollis dubs the “minigame montage” format, in which different sets of mechanics are introduced to the player.

Elsewhere, GA Tech instructor Celia Pearce has updated her course blog, Game Design as Cultural Practice, with a host of this semester’s student work. This essay by Mary Macheski Preston in particular stands out as a lucid analysis of Pokemon Black/White’s treatment of race, gender and sexuality.

CHARACTERS

The AppleCiderMage notes an interesting quest line in a recent World of WarCraft patch in which female warriors take center stage.

Meanwhile, at The Border House, Samantha Allen puts her foot down regarding the scarcity of female protagonists in games: “We pride ourselves on being a young but fast-moving medium. Let’s kick it into high gear and give Lara Croft some company.”

And speaking of the leading lady herself…

PROTAGONISTS

Reacting to a recent news story about a suicidal teen finding solace in the new Tomb Raider, The Mary Sue’s Becky Chambers suggests that we need more vulnerable heroes:

I won’t deny that playing an over-the-top hero can be an awful lot of fun, but for a story to really grab me by the heartstrings, it’s got to appeal to my humanity. The typical heroic message of “don’t be scared” can bolster my resolve for a little while, but “be scared and do stuff anyway” is far more resonant.

On Play Like a Girl, Cary shares of her complicated relationship with the Tomb Raider franchise and observes that the inclusion of sexual assault in the recent series reboot isn’t “realistic” (CONTENT WARNING: discussion of rape):

I know what you may be thinking. They’re trying to make it more realistic and, sadly, rape often used as method of terror against women.

True.

But until I can get shot numerous times, hide behind a barrel, and after a few moments emerge back into fray at full health, video games will not be reality and while Tomb Raider is more realistic is it not realism. Still, the developers felt in necessary to include this scene. Why couldn’t the man have simply threatened to kill her? Pull a knife to her neck? Put a gun to her head? Why did he have to objectify and sexualize her? Bring to life a very real fear for millions of women all over the world?

[…] If you think I’m being a little too sensitive about this, I’ll ask you to picture one of the games I mentioned above – Uncharted, Far Cry, or Dishonored – and image one of those male leads being threatened with rape. Seems silly and out of place, doesn’t it?

Over on Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez has a conversation with fellow columnist Kirk Hamilton (yeah, he co-wrote it, BUT) on a certain inevitable compare-and-contrast: Tomb Raider vs Uncharted.

LIFE AND SUCH

Writing in her own blog, Leigh Alexander meditates on what really attracts us to simulation games:

What’s interesting is the way games that simulate life slot into our real lives. They give us a sense of control over the uncontrollable, they flex the part of our brain that make us feel like skilled managers of growth. Within the context of a system, elements feel manageable.

They call some large-scale simulations “god games” because you play god – but maybe they take a role in our lives like religion, a repetitive ritual that makes us feel less afraid, like success is always attainable because the system is fair.

Back on Kotaku, Tina Amini shares some even-handed tips on balancing a gaming hobby with adult life.

FEATURES

Kill Screen’s Michelle Young offers up an interesting essay on the new SimCity as modernist artifact.

On Not Enough Shaders, Emily Rogers relates the immense (and occasionally, difficult to believe) history of Howard Lincoln, former attack dog lawyer for Nintendo of America.

And the shining star of Polygon, Tracey Lien, has a new feature up on the birth and success of FTL.

DEVELOPMENT

Critical Distance doesn’t feature only critics– we’re also interested in the experiences and observations of designers from all aspects of development.

On her personal blog, interactive fiction legend Emily Short has posted some valuable design notes on why her new IF engine, Versu, is designed around Jane Austen’s world of “precisely defined manners.”

Meanwhile, free-to-play and social game veteran Laralyn McWilliams delivers a swift gutpunch in this recent Gamasutra feature, which connects her personal experience with the ethics of monetization:

Social and social/mobile companies are trapped. Faced with an aggressive marketplace and skyrocketing costs, jobs and even whole companies are at stake. It’s hard to justify turning your back on a proven model. To do that, you have to take risks. You have to look beyond data and understand its emotional context. You have to be in the game for the long haul and not for whatever increases tomorrow’s profit. You have to see players as your allies instead of test subjects.

You have to stop thinking like GLaDOS and start thinking more like Stephen Jay Gould.

On Gaming as Women, #1reason founder Filamena holds an interview with Gillian Fraser, lead developer of Wicked Fantasy. And on her studio’s Rat King blog, German indie developer Jana Reinhardt wonders why the local indie scene isn’t more prominent.

GET OUT THERE AND PLAY SOME GAMES

Never been to SXSW and wonder what it’s like? Leigh Alexander has a Twine game for you.

And everyone has by now heard about the dad who hacked Donkey Kong to let his daughter play as Pauline, but have you heard about the female animator who hacked Zelda to play as the titular princess? File under: awesome.

AND THE REST

There is still time to submit for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table theme on the subject of female role models!

As always, Critical Distance relies on your submissions to make This Week in Videogame Blogging the best that it can possibly be. Remember that we are always accepting your links by email and Twitter.

Finally, this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco is fast on the approach, and I am pleased to announce that no less than three of Critical Distance’s editors —Katie Williams, Mattie Brice and yours truly, Kris Ligman— will be in attendance at the conference. Drop by and say hello! Or at the very least pay a visit to Mattie’s panel on March 27th along with Brenda Romero, Robin Hunicke and more!