December 13th

I’m awake at a most unusual hour, chillstep flowing through my YouTubes and coffee flowing through my brain tubes. That can only mean one thing: I’m on deck for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Body Counting

Kiva Bay explains the importance of seeing her body represented positively in games like Saint’s Row 2, an opportunity even later games in the series withholds from her:

So why should videogames include my body in their character creators the way Saints Row 2 does?

Because it’s hard enough, okay? Because the first step to normalizing my body and showing people that I’m NOT a bad person is letting them play as me as a hero.

Meanwhile, over at Loser City, Hannah Dwan discusses how Julia Kristeva’s understanding of abjectness in the horror genre applies to different videogames:

This border, the precipice of humanity, is something that someone backs away from through a process of catharsis – the abject reaction itself. Fainting, vomiting, and certain abject reactions can elicit the pleasure that catharsis brings about, while stepping back from this border and solidifying a sense of identity, separating the concept of the self and the grotesque other.

How to Belong

On Remeshed, Mariko McDonald argues that game jams are important in resolving the problems of representation in game development: “Game making, especially independent game making, can be a very isolating experience, but local jams encourage collaboration and force developers out of their comfort zones.”

The Ontological Geek continues ther column, “What It’s Like to Play” based off L. Rhodes’s column of the same name for Culture Ramp. The column’s newest edition comes from Michael Evenden, who approaches digital games for the first time in his late fifties:

I write as an outsider, but one interested in and sympathetic to games. What, then, might this outsider account offer to insiders?

[…] I really think this could be easier. Can’t someone create a graduated list of games for adult-onset players, a series of games to take on, in sequence, that would build familiarity and component skills and even attitudes, in a conscious way?

Anybody up to Evenden’s challenge?

Back on Remeshed, Sarah Warn reminisces about Eve Online, a game she enjoyed and found generally welcoming, until her experiences in a larger community alienated her:

I still miss Eve sometimes–when I see a screenshot of one of the many majestic vistas of New Eden, or when the nullsec drama bubbles over and makes mainstream gaming news. But not enough to go back, at least not now. I already spend enough time in real life dealing with the consequences of sexism and racism, I don’t want to spend my leisure hours dealing with it, too.

[Header Missing, but It’s the JRPG One]

Over at ZEAL, Austin Howe describes Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter as a JRPG that mechanically mimics poverty. It’s a nuanced argument with too many juicy quotes to pick just one, so I’ll leave it to you to check out on your own.

Though less concerned with the RPG element, The Mary Sue’s Megan Patterson wonders why Japanese games are so fashionable. Though it varies from one case to another, for Patterson fashion in games means what it does outside of them: a way to express oneself:

Giving players clothing options can give them a deeper sense of ownership over a character, which just gives the player a new way to interact with the game world and create their own stories. This, of course, isn’t something that applies to every game, but it can certainly apply to a lot of them.

In the Spirit of Science

G. Christopher Williams writes an essay for PopMatters that’s equal parts personal and analytical about how Cradle unravels the binary between religion and science:

[I]n Western culture, we have the idea that the distinction between science and religion is a strict dichotomy. Two conceptions of the world that should have little in common. You know, like transhumanism and idea of the preservation of consciousness in a new body and reincarnation, as examined in religious texts like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Those two things have nothing in common, right? Oh yeah, except that they both concern the essential nature of human consciousness.

Nelson, founder and editor at Videogames and The Bible discusses Republique as a more effective dystopia than the supposedly “Mature” rated games that lean on explicit imagery:

All I can tell for sure is that in my roughly 10 hours of play, I was more disturbed by suggestions of the dark goings on in the game’s world than by any of [Bioshock antagonist] Andrew Ryan’s tirades.

Rob Rath muses on the missed opportunities of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s Charles Dickens missions over at Playboy. Rath is frustrated by the game’s reticence to explore Victorian England’s fascination, anxiety and culture of fraud connected to the occult:

Though the movement was rife with fraud, Spiritualism did have benefits as a belief system. At a time when science began eroding the Biblical creation story, it offered reassurance about the afterlife. Séances, which sometimes involved kissing or fondling the medium, offered a rare form of sexual liberation. (It’s no accident that many mediums such as Cora L.V. Hatch, an American medium who toured England in the 1870s, were attractive young ladies.) Families torn apart by war or illness could gain closure by “contacting” loved ones.

The Terrible, Hopeless Future

On the blog, Women Write About Comics, Eve Golden Woods takes a break from comics to discuss Read Only Memories as an alternative cyberpunk story. Cyberpunk being one of the key words to immediately catch my attention, I had a hard time pulling a single passage to represent the whole, but this is what I came up with, “In spite of its serious themes, R.O.M. is not a stuffy or serious game. It strikes a marvelous balance between wry humour and genuine emotion.”

Since I’m on the topic of cyberpunk, this is a great opportunity to bring up Invisible, Inc. which Jake Tucker believes is the ‘Best Strategy Game of 2015’ according to his article on Vice:

The reason Invisible, Inc. is the highest-placing strategy release on VICE Gaming’s end-of-year round up, and my own personal game of the year, is that every single decision matters. Whether it’s closing a door, upgrading an agent or leaving half my team behind in an enemy stronghold, either/or moments that seem trivial or incredibly important can both lead to significant consequences.

And on the more operatic end of science fiction, some of you keeners may be aware that there’s a new Star Wars film on the horizon. The tireless group at Unwinnable will mark the occasion next week with an all Star Wars issue next weekend so if you’re still humming and hawing about that subscription, now might be the time to take a look.

Etc.

Dr. Nathan Altice contemplates why we consider “remakes” like Square’s of Final Fantasy VII creatively bereft when covers, adaptations and updates are regular aspects of most media landscapes:

Homage, quotation, cash-in, revision—it doesn’t matter. The structural, cultural, and economic reality of the newer installment is that it is made by a wholly different assemblage of individuals filtered through a wholly different assemblage of contexts, influences, and expectations.

Tabletop Game Master, Sarah Porzelt writes some advice for new GMs on Fem Hype. Specifically, Porzelt describes how she comes to understand the personality of the player-characters in her game and how she adjusts her campaign to those playing it:

I’ll admit it: I’m new to the tabletop gaming community, and very new to gamemastering, but I know fiction, by gum, and as a compelling writer and a determined thinker, I want to walk you through the use of personality to develop your games. A little knowledge in this area will make you a better storyteller, and better at creating challenges that complement the unique preferences each of your players bring to the table.

I hope Porzelt doesn’t mind if I incorporate the phrase “by gum” into my own tabletop adventures.

Last in this list of tenuously connected articles, Emily Short summarizes some recent interactive fiction that has captured her attention. Take a look at her Short list (I couldn’t help myself) and see if anything catches your eye as well.

[Insert Generic Closing Headline]

I think that will just about do it. Critical Distance remains a community project that keeps moving forward with the help of its readers. If you happen across a piece of games writing you’d like us to feature, give us a heads up either on Twitter or by email.

Funny story, readers: apparently I wasn’t scheduled to round this week up at all! I only found out half way through putting this list together. That’s okay, though: I’m so excited by all the amazing games criticism I couldn’t stop once I started!

If, like me, you’re looking for more opportunities to round up the great videogame crit on this world wide web of ours, be sure to submit your favourite  piece written in 2015 to our year-long list. And in case you’re wondering, self-submission is allowed and encouraged.

If you’re not interested in looking back, consider submitting either a piece of your own to December’s Blogs of the Round Table on the topic of ‘Joy’ or giving us a heads up about any already out there that fit the theme.

Lastly, if you’d like to keep our staff and projects funded, consider offering a monthly donation by Patreon or Recurrency or a one-time donation by Paypal. I wish all the best to everyone in the coming holiday weeks and a very happy New Year to come.