February 7th

The games blogs are coming in two by two this week. With great discussions of friendships, dualities and Street Fighter II, it felt fitting to arrange everything in pairs. We’re going head-to-head on discursive battlefields from psychology to politics.

Power

We’ll start by looking at the videogame hero from very different perspectives. G. Christopher Williams looks at the exposed torso of Kratos in God of War as a visual signifier of his power, while in contrast to the buff nude killing machine, Fabian Fischer looks at the mortality of roguelike heroes.

“[…] the nearly nude Kratos belongs to the tradition of the figuration of the romanticized and unclothed (or unarmed, perhaps) heroes, like Beowulf, King David, Samson, and Hercules.”

“This omnipotence of typical videogame heroes is also the reason for almost any game that actually contains the ability to “lose a match” being labeled “roguelike” these days. The idea of “permadeath” has become a sign of quality and a unique selling point to players looking for intrinsically motivating games.”

G. Christopher Williams in fact appears again this week, now looking at how the difficulty of games relates to how we are taught to play them, while ZAM Editor-in-Chief Laura Michet offered an extremely enjoyable read on the interplay between friction and freedom in survival sandboxes.

Both Polygon and Gamasutra published vox-popathons on Street Fighter II on its 25th anniversary. Both will likely prove to be useful resources for years to come.

Psychology

In The New Inquiry, Alfie Brown discusses the position of mobile games in relation to labour, arguing that rather than being counterproductive uses of workers’ time, they are designed to maximise compliance. Over on Medium, Alex Fleetwood discusses the difficulty parents have deciding how much digital distraction their children should be allowed, and offers his mixed digital-physical project Fantastic Beasts as an alternative for parents who feel alienated by screen-based play.

“These distractions, far from being as useless as they pretend to be, are productive and powerful tools that transform us into suitable workers. They set into motion a strange guilt function that turns one into a good capitalist and ultimately makes more money for the company.”

“I hope that we can start to shift perception of game design as a profession — from ‘glinty-eyed exploiters of the lizard brain’ to ‘empathetic explorers of what gives us cognitive pleasure’.”

The driving force in the next two articles is the idea of energy: Jamie Madigan introduces the concept of “Newtonian Engagement”, while Nathan Savant considers the “momentum” at work in Kirby games.

A number of critics this week considered unreality and ambiguity as a storytelling technique in games, arguing that designing for co-authorship with the player can enhance their ability to imaginatively project into the work. Leigh Alexander interviews Firaxis producer Garth DeAngelis, and Kym Buchanan discusses the imaginative power of sensory limitation.

Continuing on the theme of ambiguity, Vincent Kinian discusses the storytelling power of the dreamlike half-reality of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, while Miguel Penabella describes the dreamlike experiences portrayed in Off-Peak.

Pathos

Gamasutra and Polygon went head-to-head another time this week, on the topic of game development in Africa. At Gamasutra, Richard Moss offers a fascinating survey of several studios across the continent, while at Polygon Basim Usmani focuses on developers in South Africa.

“Well-known South African games as they exist today, like Broforce, Toxic Bunny and Desktop Dungeons have an understated South African quality that is in contrast to the games developed in Nigeria and Kenya where locally created games are so culturally specific they couldn’t exist anywhere else. Highway Free, a phone game about sitting in a Nigerian traffic jam is one example.”

“Everyone consulted for this article stressed that, despite the massive diversity across the continent in terms of language and local customs, success for one African developer is good for all of them.”

At Gamechurch, M. Joshua Cauller discusses how the limited verb set of Oxenfree contributes to the poignant sense of intimacy in its friendships, At Vice, Kaitlin Tremblay looks at Oxenfree alongside Tales from the Borderlands and Life is Strange, to discuss the value of platonic relationships in storytelling.

Yet more talk of friendship comes out in a video about Undertale by Rantasmo. Also on Undertale, a meta-post about Let’s Play videos on Looping World discusses the game’s “manipulative soul”.

Prejudice

Matthew Kumar’s post on Watch Dogs and Ed Smith’s article on Grand Theft Auto both call out the games’ racism in connection with portrayals of urban crime.

Watch Dogs is the kind of crap where you don’t feel like whoever laid the egg even really needed a shite in the first place. It’s not just crap, but pointless.”

Watch Dogs is a racist video game. That’s not to say it is a bigoted video game—this isn’t pointed. It’s simply the kind of thoughtless everyday racism that infests most cultural works.”

“In an act of rewriting of history so blunt and tactless only game critics could miss it, Rockstar doesn’t [simply] attempt to justify the white system – it tries to extricate it from implication entirely”

Frida Svensson shared the first part of her study on how character creators handle race, while Sara Rodriguez wrote a piece interviewing women of colour in game development about how ethnicity affects their work.

Politics

Two writers this week pointed out the right-wing rhetoric at work in videogames: Edward Smith at the International Business Times, and Joe Köller on Medium.

“They consistently advocate right-wing ideology; ideology that has become particularly visible during the lead up to this year’s US Presidential election. Jingoism and capitalism rule in video games. To that extent, they act as a mouthpiece for the American right-wing – they are themselves Republican demagoguery.”

“Games criticism, in its current form, is the eager accomplice of canon. We happily turn the alleged importance of “smart” games into self-fulfilling prophecies, placing their creators on the thrones of a history we’ve allowed them to write.”

A trio of writers (Jace and Taylor Hidalgo and Riley MacLeod) gave their unbiased critical assessments on journalistic integrity sim The Westport Independent, and Dante Douglas also chimed in with criticism of the game’s politics.

Finally, a pair of videos on the history of conflict in game development and game settings. First, a “past mortem” on Hideo Kojima’s troubled relationship with Konami, and then a leisurely chat between Bob Whitaker and John Moran Gonzalez on how Red Dead Redemption portrays the Wild West:

Wait, hang on…

These final articles have nothing to do with each other, but I couldn’t bear to leave the two wallflowers out in the cold while all the others got paired off. Here’s Simon Schreibt sharing some interesting technical details about the design of videogame fishtanks, and Todd van Luling explaining why it’s very likely that Michael Jackson wrote the soundtrack for Sonic 3.


And that’s all for this week. I hope you enjoyed travelling together on this little discursive road trip; if you want to comp us for gas/petrol, you can do that with PatreonRecurrency, or Paypal. Got suggestions about some spots we should visit next week? Send them through Twitter or by email.