April 30th

This week saw some social media drama in the games criticism sphere, as Georgia Tech Professor Ian Bogost invoked the pantomime conflict that is Ludology vs. Narratology. Beyond that discussion, it’s been a busy week for quality writing, with a lot of people taking on the topics of death, memory and identity.

Discoursed to death

The responses to Bogost’s article primarily centered on the shifting goals of game designers.

“There is something charmingly outdated in how What Remains of Edith Finch plays itself completely straight — right down to its narrated diary entries and blinking red beacons — that makes the whole game feel like a time capsule, a callback to a not-so-distant past when we believed non-violent first-person games were fertile ground for gameplay innovation, instead of just another genre that had been discoursed to death.”

The blueprint

The metadiscourse wasn’t limited to this old rhetorical battle, with some critics examining other issues regarding how we think about games.

“This speaks to the problem with the term Metroidvania. By positioning particular games as the blueprint, the term has limited the ideas of what constitutes a legitimate approach and erased alternatives. It doesn’t allow space to deviate from those ideas, or allow games to be understood on their own terms.”

Reverse entropy

Discussions on how spaces function in games returned this week, intersecting with some particularly morose topics that seem to have been on people’s minds.

“as a thought experiment, it’s quite interesting. If we could draw energy from… somewhere else, what would its limits be? How much would we be able to increase local entropy? How much could be changed about our existence if we could reverse the direction of entropy—an underlying physical factor in things like aging, decay, and death?”

Death drive

The announcement of the latest Call of Duty game has people talking about history, while others have been thinking about time and memory in relation to the body.

Automata‘s death drive takes on an odd metaphorical resonance. It becomes, in essence, a sort of queerness—a means of rejecting the values of heterosexual reproduction, principle among them the emphasis it places on the future. For Adam, 2B, 9S, and the whole of artificial life that wars over the earth, there is no future. In the absence of that hope, new possibilities emerge.”

Long-restless spirits

Survival, death, and killing remain important topics for games criticism, with a particular interest this week on how killing is justified in games’ narratives.

“We, as players, occupy these border characters, avatars of the boundary separating life from death, and fight to bring peace – even if it’s the peace of a shared grave. We are recontextualized from a murderous opponent into a kind of shaman, helping long-restless spirits find peace at last.”

Human thoughts

We got a few articles this week on the gaming of human, and also non-human, relationships.

“Respawn Entertainment humanized BT by very subtly reinterpreting human thoughts and reactions in a way that a machine would perceive them. Over on Eurogamer, James Bartholomeau suggests that BT asking Cooper to trust him further humanizes the machine. I agree with him, but only from the perspective of the player and Cooper. If we recontextualize BT, his words and actions still make sense as a machine.”

Value systems

Finally, these pieces consider how game mechanics affect the player experience and the narrative portrayal of non-player characters.

Torment also uses experience points and statistics to form a coherent value systems. Certain actions yield more experience. It’s one thing to clear some cranial rats out of the sewers but another thing altogether to spend hours learning about your companion’s religion. Which you might have helped create in a past life. Knowledge and wisdom are incredibly important in Planescape Torment and you often gain more experience for learning a new fact than completing a fetch quest.”

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