A guilty pleasure of mine is critical writing that takes things to that meta level. Critical writing about criticism. This week, writers came up with taxonomies, heuristics, and semiotic analyses. I’ve had the pleasure of reading many pieces that reveal something about the very process of revealing things. I couldn’t be happier to be back at work right now.
First, some writing about how to do criticism – in writing, in video, or in design itself.
- Cinema Journal InFocus: Videographic Essays | In Media Res
Cinema Journal recently curated a selection of video essays. Although none of them concern games, there is some very useful accompanying meta-discussion about the boundaries and methods of “videographic criticism” as a form, which I think is important for games critics to look at as Youtubers become ever more important and more writers try to branch out into video.
- Gamasutra: Satoshi Ido’s Blog – Agential Structure Model, Classifying Fun Exhaustively
Satoshi Ido offers an alternative taxomony model of game enjoyment.
- Gamasutra: Sita Vriend’s Blog – Game design and Gestalt laws
Sita Vriend applies some traditional art theory from the 1930s to game design.
“The Gestalt laws were first put to paper by Wertheimer (1923, 1938). Later contributions have been made by Köhler (1929) and Koffka (1935). […] These laws are much like heuristics: mental shortcuts for problem solving. We use them to quickly make sense of what we see, they mainly apply to our visual sense.”
Existing, in the material sense
These pieces consider some philosophical issues that are raised in the midst of gameplay; what is time, how do we perceive the world, and what does it mean to be in the presence of God?
- How video games win back time • Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell muses on the semiotics of slow motion.
- Pygmalion’s Spectacles: Using Berkeley’s Immaterialism to Understand the Potential for Telepresence in Virtual Reality – Musings of a Mario Minion
A 1935 representation of VR leads to discussions about ontology, citing games studies leading voices such as Jesper Juul.
- Super Hexagon is a Simulation of God – henrique antero – Medium
Hernique Carai muses on a tough, hypnotic, abstract action game that made a huge impression five years ago, with reference to Kierkegaard.
“God is not a thing, as it does not exist in the material sense. Rather, God is a mode of being, a mode of relating with things around you. He happens in a relationship. Or we could understand God as an institution, like the State, or Family: not exactly a thing, but a situation that prescribes you a role in the world, or a way of being. And we enact these roles in the world through ritual.”
Leaving the myth
How we portray wars fought in the past continues to influence the way we perceive each other today. These two pieces consider that, with reference to two different wars.
- Searching for the past in the Call of Duty: WW2 beta • Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell actually finds the shadow of present day problems all over the latest design choices made by Ubisoft.
- Selective authenticity and the Spanish Empire in computer games.
Spanish journal of games writing Presura has started publishing in English. This piece, by Fede Peñate Domínguez, argues that the portrayal of Spanish conquerors in games tends to privilege outdated heroic narratives that were once used to justify colonialism.
“digital simulations of the past still draw from historical explanations dating from the 19th century. This is, they focus on the tale of great men and great nations that prove their right to rule by defeating their enemies through the use of violence (Venegas Ramos, A., 2016). However, nowadays the video game medium is mature enough to write the history of Humanity, and the Spanish Conquista in particular, by leaving the myth of the mounted musketeer back in the Iberian Peninsula.”
A kind of co-optation
The ongoing conflicts occurring in digital space, both fictional and real, are discussed in these two pieces that both offer takeaways for how to make best use of online communication media.
- Consent systems – Raph’s Website
Raph Koster identifies problematic assumptions about agency that date back to MUDs of the 1990s, and could become more relevant in emerging online spaces such as social VR.
- Dungeons and Discord: Virtual Tabletop and Platform Remediation – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Lee Hibbard makes some observations about the social dynamics that emerge through use of Discord for tabletop gaming.
“D&D is, in itself, a kind of co-optation, a way of taking a fantasy story and repurposing it into a game, a collaborative experience, and an adventure. In this way I think that it’s well-suited to a platform that has been co-opted by its user base into more than its intended purpose.”
Tap into our emotions
Empathy, sympathy, and connection are considered in these three pieces, where the complexities of relating to problematic media are never far from view.
- Horizon Zero Dawn, Joss Whedon and the Problem with “Strong Female Characters” :: Games :: Features :: Joss Whedon :: Paste
Holly Green considers problematic girl-power feminism and Horizon Zero Dawn.
- The Unspoken Horrors of KFC’s VR Game | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan describes how VR is used to build players connection to a brand using an intimate sense of presence.
- Sympathy for the Killer in Dead by Daylight
Daniel Motley discusses gameplay dynamics as an empathy-building practice. Regardless of where you stand on the controversial rise of empathy as a in game design goal, this piece offers some intriguing, and perhaps troubling, insights.
“Dead by Daylight allows me to empathize with my killer because I know he’s not actually a raging redneck out to saw me in two—he’s just somebody from Kansas looking to have fun. That is, until I drop a crate in his path… These moments are a testament to videogames’ capacity to tap into our emotions in unexpected ways—which is oddly redemptive when we come to empathize with the killers.”
- The Critical Distance Confab Minisodes Are Back |
Eric Swain explains where we’re at with the new minisodes.
- Minisode 14 – We’re Back – Critical Distance
Eric Swain and I talk about Masquerada: Songs and Shadows and Two Dots, games that we think should get more critical attention.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!