November 1st

Hello once again friends of games criticism. I hope that if you indulged in international cosplay-and-candy day that you had an extra special night with some extra special people, if your celebrations skewed less North American then I hope you enjoyed an extra special Saturday. Once again it is my pleasure to bring you a new edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Shocking Bios

A number of writers remain intrigued by Bioshock Infinite and continue to write engaging pieces exploring it. Amsel von Spreckelsen pens one such piece focusing on Bioshock as “temperance fiction” like the 1956 film, Carousel (Content Warning: domestic violence, alcoholism, incest):

It is a fairly common mechanism of patriarchy that violence against women is framed as being bad, by and for the understanding of men, on the premise that ‘you wouldn’t want this to happen to your daughter,’ that a victim is ‘somebody’s daughter.’ Fundamentally what this says is that men can apparently only view women as an object in relation to a man, not as a person in their own right.

Gadgette’s gamer-in-chief, Emma Boyle, asks why feminine clothing is so polarised in games, using Bioshock Infinite as the prime example of how feminine sexuality is either neutral or monstrous with no compromise:

A fear of female sexuality runs throughout Bioshock Infinite; Elizabeth’s first outfit infantilises her; she’s locked away from the public who think of her as nothing more than a holy infant; her powers (which are supposed to reach their height after her first period) are seen as frightening. It’s significant, therefore, that after she kills, as she becomes a character who acts through violence, a cold self-assured woman determined to get revenge and exercise the full extent of her powers unrestricted, she changes into a more sexualised outfit. The game really seems to tie female sexuality and female power together. Elizabeth’s outfit is feminine throughout the game, but the femininity is used to either highlight her as harmless or a dangerous threat.

Games That Could Have Been

Chris Suellentrop of Kotaku looks back at articles from 2006 anticipating Spore and compares the hype to articles on No Man’s Sky that promise a similar intellectual revolution.

Instead of transforming the human race’s understanding of itself, or even our understanding of video games, Spore became the last game—at the moment, at least—that Will Wright ever designed. Alongside Howard Scott Warshaw’s E.T.Spore became a punchline, a game remembered only for being a letdown.

Konstantinos Dimopoulos on Gamasutra goes over the design notes for Kyttaro, the RPG he and a small team had been developing for over a year and will probably never be able to finish.

Friendship! (Friendship? Again?)

Two conference talks from the last week highlight some of the more nuanced problems in forming/maintaining game communities. Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer’s published talk from Indiecade 2015 illustrating how developing a game is ultimately for the people who it will speak to:

Like I said earlier, I make games for people, but making games for people doesn’t mean only giving them what they want. It means challenging them. It means expanding their idea of what a game can be. And not everyone’s going to understand, but some people will. And those people make it all worthwhile.

In a similar vein, our lead curator, Kris Ligman, transcribed their talk from QGCon discussing sex, Dark Souls and community gatekeeping. While I took their advice in the epigraph to not “take this too seriously” I still found enough gems that I couldn’t help but include it here:

It seems funny to me that even within my own social circles, frequently self-identified as progressive and inclusive, we police each other in this way. ‘What do you mean you haven’t played this critical darling indie game because you work two full-time jobs to keep a roof over your head, and even if you could play a game in your off hours your machine is too outdated to run it? What do you mean a game is too physically demanding for you, and you already can’t afford to go to the doctor? What do you mean you’re just not into that sort of game?’

Digital Architecture

Brian Crimmins at First-Person Scholar takes a look at Phantasy Star II’s dungeon and town layouts as narrative devices:

…when we analyze the game’s dungeon design, we see a series of shifts according to the narrative’s demands. These shifts complement the narrative, exploring new facets of the game’s themes and suggesting new developments where the narrative remains silent.

I wonder if Robert What would agree that videogame architecture is more about the expression of culture than a reflection of reality. His response to Deanna Van Buren’s piece on digital architecture from earlier this month suggests that he wants more games to appreciate the ideology that builds our buildings even before the blueprints are drawn:

Perhaps from a professional architect’s viewpoint games may not be up to Standard™, but then some people also wonder what role architects and their glittering technological visions have in the actual construction of edifices to modern hyper-capital

The Code Speaks

From Ludus Novus, Gregory Avery-Weir explains how Skyrim’s city of Riften is doomed to perpetual crime and poverty because the thieves and thugs running it are “essential” in the game’s code and therefore can’t be removed:

When games portray fictional worlds, they make implicit statements about the nature of the real world. By placing the Thieves Guild — one of the game’s three major employers — in a corrupt town ruled by a coldhearted mead magnate, Skyrim makes a statement about criminals and morality. Criminals come from bad places, and there’s nothing you can do to improve the situation.

Writing for FemHype, the writer known as Nightmare describes how the pacifist possibilities in Undertale make it such an inviting game, especially for the LGBT+ community.

Kill Screen’s Jess Joho is sceptical of the tech demo for Detroit: Become Human. Like many works with developer David Cage’s signature on it, Detroit seems as though its best ideas are lost in the game’s overall thematic clumsiness:

In the trailer to Detroit: Become Human, a half-assed allusion to slavery is attempted instead—I think? (I hope not, but I think so.) With the title’s uncomfortable juxtaposition of Detroit—a city known for its history of race riots and current race-related drug, education, and housing problems—and the tagline “Become Human,” coupled with the heavily implied metaphor to slavery, Quantic Dreams appear to be drawing unavoidable parallels.

Last word on this topic goes to Bianca Batti of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, who discusses mama’s in gaming. Batti argues that horror games like Among the Sleep and Alien: Isolation need to explore representations of motherhood outside a hard binary between victims and monsters:

In these two texts, motherhood becomes binaristically constructed between the two poles of good mothering and bad mothering, with no other options for maternal identity made available.

Championing Ordinary

Vincent Kinian writes on his blog, Game Exhibition, that more games need to explore “the minutia of ordinary life.” Kinian comes to this conclusion based on a review of Ihatovo Monogatari, a SNES adaptation of Kenji Miyazawa’s short stories.

Similarly, back on Kill Screen Frances Chiem argues that the “gut punch” of futility in Life is Strange’s conclusion is effective because Max doesn’t get to be the hero. As the title of Chiem’s article succinctly argues, “We Need to Stop Letting Everyone Save the World.”

Metal Gear Sordid

Writing for PopMatters, Scott Juster describes how, despite his best efforts while playing Metal Gear Solid V, he found himself falling into the exact military-industrial complex he had hoped to bring down:

By the time that I reached the third (!) set of credits, I had unwittingly participated in a series of events that was disturbingly similar to how the history of modern war, industrialism, and colonialism played out in our world.

Finally we return to FemHype, where Melissa has catalogued some of the fan art that reimagines the outfit of Quiet, the game’s notoriously underdressed sniper.

[Insert Closing Pun]

That’ll do it for me. Which is good, because after munching away at all this candy I think I’m hitting a sugar crash.

That doesn’t mean we’re finished here, though. Oh no. Keep a close eye in the next few days while I round up October’s Blogs of the Round Table and Lindsey Joyce wraps up a month of Let’s Plays and comes up with a theme for November’s BoRT.

If you’re feeling impatient, feel free to check out Eric Swain’s latest minisode, where he and Nick Dinicola talk about their favourite indie horror games.

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With that I think it’s time for me to sign off and start scouring my apartment for a vegetable to ease my chocolate-coated conscience.