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Author Archives: Alan Williamson

April-May 2014: ‘The Right Touch’

April 1st, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (1 Comments)

We’re back! Cue the music! Did you miss us?

As part of an ongoing site-wide overhaul here at Critical Distance, Blogs of the Round Table will now be a regular bimonthly feature – that’s once every two months, not twice a month. We trialled this last year and it offers the best balance between getting great submissions to each topic and ensuring we can maintain a regular stream of themes.

April’s theme is The Right Touch.

Joysticks. Keyboards and mice. Mashing a controller with your fist. Touching. Poking. Waggling. Wiggling. Moving your head around a virtual reality world. Directing an arc of your own urine. The ways in which we can interact with games have changed from simple electrical switches into much more complex and nuanced forms. We can even adapt and alter controls for people who have difficulty using traditional methods.

Some of these methods work, and some don’t. Most of us we be familiar with complaints about the Wii’s “waggle” controls, the thumb-numbing frustration of virtual buttons on a touchscreen device, or the gyroscopic motions that ruin the 3D bit of the Nintendo 3DS.

How do we move forward with controls in games? Are the old ways the best, or a barrier to entry? Are you looking forward to playing Farmville on the Facebook-ulus Rift?

We’re accepting your blogs until May 31st. You can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=April14” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear with the #BoRT hashtag. Happy blogging!

Rules of the Round Table

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or for up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

January 19th

January 19th, 2014 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

This Week in Videogame Blogging is brought to you by Zach Alexander.

The Arcade Review is highly recommended. Pay a few bucks for more great games criticism!

From The Definitely-Not-A-Cylon Dept

Over at Gamechurch as part of their “Discomfort” week, Mark Filipowich discusses how bodies – filthy human organics! – are portrayed in games.

On Kill Screen, Paul King examines body horror. And over at IndieStatik, Chris Priestman examines a war game where injuries aren’t healed by hiding behind a corner.

In other news about Bodies, Dave Cook examines the working conditions under which commercial games are often produced. Meanwhile at Kotaku, an anonymous developer talks about the overwhelming negative feedback from fans. And Mary Hamilton talks about play and compulsion.

In the “almost certainly a Cylon, how are people so good at video games?” department, Polygon talks about e-sports and Super Metroid speedruns. (Kotaku has a link to a video of the event under discussion).

Via the Organization of Humans Are People, Too

Lexi Alexander talks about a subject that resonates with the games world – the difficulty behind employing women in Hollywood and how it’s structural.

A video interview with Christine Love continues a discussion of why representation is important in games. John Polson wants to include historically accurate attitudes to sexuality in his game. Kat Bailey examines Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2:

In the current climate, in which allusions to rape and sexual assault in video game culture have sparked extremely contentious debate, Lords of Shadow 2 manages to come off as both insensitive and more than a little tone deaf.

This sparked a predictable backlash, part of which was rebutted in this Storify.

Samantha Blackmon puts Metal Gear Solid 5 on blast for its inevitable depiction of sexual assault. Meanwhile, Nick Dinicola realizes how much he has in common with the new protagonist of The Walking Dead.

Back on GameChurch, M. Joshua Cauller talks about forgiveness in Metro: Last Light.

The Unchanging Empire of Wargamers, Wars, Gamewars, and Console Wars Bureau

Empire Down by Sam Kriss examines Age of Empires and the logic of its wars. “What’s really going on has very little to do with combat, and everything to do with resources.”

Robert Beckhusen asks, do 1,600-year-old Viking war games cause violence? The game in question is one of asymmetrical warfare, possibly meant to teach a common language of tactics much like we use sports metaphors today. Christian Nutt mulls on the toys we played with as kids and did the influence they had on us.

Owen Vince talks about Skyrim and “living by the sword”. And Zolani Stewart does a critical Let’s Play of an older FPS: Perfect Dark.

Tony Wilson dares to imagine Gone Home with guns. Amsel von Spreckelsen talks about portrayals of “psychopaths” in games. And at The Escapist, Rob Rath on Job, The Outsider and Dishonored.

The Universal Omnisociety of Structural Analysis Weekly Update

Raph Koster talks about how he analyzes a game. Of course, his way is far from the only way. Filipe Salgado talks about the structure of the Fjordsss and the SHARECART.

On PopMatters, Jorge Albor talks about Systems and Activism in Papers, Please. Elsewhere, Rui Craveirinha points out that Papers, Please is a great piece of propaganda but never turns its critical gaze away from Soviet-style aesthetics towards, for instance, American immigration practices, which are often just as bizarre and restrictive.

Writing for Polygon, Chris Dahlen reminds us that you can’t save everyone. As for other lessons we can take from the structure of games: learning is FUN-Damental! Back with Polygon, Ben Kuchera agrees by extension.

On The AV Club, Anthony John Agnello talks about the Ghostbusters game, and humor: “Since a game like this relies on repetition until you get things right, the lack of improvisation is comedy killer.”

James Lantz talks about score streaking in 868-Hack, but also about the difficulty of tracking player score in games that are defined by randomness and luck. Darran Jamieson goes deep into the role of luck in game design

The Expert Society of Non-Human Subject Report

Edge Online hosts an examination of the mythology behind the iconic hadoken. At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan examines authorship, artificial intelligence, and game jams. And at Wired, Tom Chatfield says difficulty in games is the point, not the problem.

The Actual, Literal, Not-Made-Up-For-A-Joke Foreign Correspondence Dept

Via German Correspondent Joe Köller.

Video games made the cover of print magazine Der Spiegel in an overall positive take on the subject, and nobody seems quite sure whether that’s a good thing or not. Anjin Anhut is quite certain that it’s not (English source), Christian Huberts details the cultural elitism of such praise from above. Meanwhile Markus Grundmann, criticizes the pedantry of videogame bloggers picking apart a general introduction in a general interest publication.

In other news: Jan Fischer wrote about the intersection of games and theater. Daniel Ziegener provides some thoughts on Master Reboot. Rainer Sigl and Christof Zurschmitten engage in some intellectual discussion about the roguelike genre.

Christof Zurschmitten again, this time with a review of Ken Baumann’s Earthbound book. Nina Kiel reports from the Next Level Conference.

And that’s all we have for you this time. Thanks for reading! As always we value your submissions via Twitter mention and email.

December 8th

December 7th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

*taps microphone* Is this thing on? Hello there! I am Alan Williamson, and this is This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Market, Research

Over at Polygon, Tracey Lien examines why games aren’t marketed at girls. It’s a well-researched piece that interviews marketing executives, early women developers like Carol Shaw and Lori Cole, and as is obligatory for videogame articles these days, Ian Bogost. Shame it perpetuates the old ‘Coke Santa’ myth, though!

Jim Rossignol writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun: games are best when things go wrong. Certainly, FTL’s constant sense of peril has generated lots of memorable moments, but I’m not sure about the comparison to Dishonored. Doesn’t the latter essentially let the player adjust their own level of peril? Also at RPS, they’re running down their favorite games of the year – worth a look.

There’s a lot to love about the Critical Path project; the design, the content, the classy search function. This interview with Clint Hocking about Far Cry 2’s weather systems is a highlight. Haven’t watched the rest of them yet – let us know your favorites and we can feature them in future. If we get all of the Critical Distance staff involved, it should only take a couple of years.

Ludodecahedral Blog Labyrinth

On his blog Fortress of Doors, Lars Doucet – inventor of the term ‘procedural death labyrinth’ – goes into more detail about the term. Meanwhile, Chris Bateman critiques the exploratory life labyrinth Gone Home. Also on the subject of Gone Home, Dan Cox feels like a ghost when he plays it (warning: story spoilers from the outset).

Carli Velocci has an interesting piece on Kill Screen about narrator gendering in Portal, The Stanley Parable and more, taking a slightly broader approach to Cara Ellison’s previous piece about engendered AI for Unwinnable. Cool fact: Siri has a male voice in the UK, which makes it sound like a robotic butler. Hopefully Apple will use their cash reserves to hire Ellen McLain and then we can make some ‘GlaDiOS’ jokes.

Gotta Read ’Em All

At the Atlantic, Daniel Gross investigates Pokémon Red, White & Blue, the latest PETA videogaming non-sequitur. As Gross points out, the world of Pokémon is much more ethically complex than PETA’s facile treatment: but of course, their games exist to make headlines, not real arguments.

Here’s a couple of good pieces about The Last of Us: over at Complicate the Narrative, Paul Bills discusses TLoU and Telltale’s The Walking Dead as works of Neo-Romanticism. Meanwhile, Stephen Beirne looks at how the game differentiates itself from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series by replacing the platform puzzling and Mayan mayhem with… a lot of ladders, apparently.

I think we mentioned the Video Game Foliage Tumblr last week, but maybe not this look at Counter-Strike’s de_aztec. It’s a great example of economical design.

Poking the Fourth Wall

Tearaway is now out on the PlayStation Vita, and if you played it at a trade show during the year, it will come as no surprise that the finished product is just lovely. Leigh Alexander talks about it for Gamasutra, finding its fourth-wall breaking nature compelling… and weird. Also playing Tearaway is Brendan Keogh, who is back at Unwinnable and has been reading a lot of Susan Sontag.

If you somehow missed the existence of Spelunky, this writeup by Nathan Altice at Metopal is as good as any. He also discusses the surprising compelling world of Spelunky Let’s Plays, of which I must also confess to having watched far too many. Moving from sublime games to terrible ones, Cameron Kunzelman plays Legendary. Legendary is not a good game. Well, I’ve not played it – just taking Cameron’s word for it.

Back to nice things, Indie Statik interview Jessica Curry, the composer behind Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Meanwhile, Scott Nichols’ Beautiful Machinery is a new biweekly column, debuting with a look at Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

And finally, Play the Past discuss the ‘ubiculturality’ of Assassin’s Creed as part of an ongoing series about Ubisoft’s third-person stabber.

Kritische Distanz

The following comes courtesy of our foreign correspondent Joe Köller, who says the translation above is close enough to ‘Critical Distance’.

The new WASD is out, a local bookzine and games writing powerhouse featuring practically every games writer in the German-speaking world. No digital version yet, but there’s a pretty substantial sample available.

On Glam Geek Girl, Ally Auner has a brief writeup on a recent talk on gender identity and sexual diversity by cultural studies person René Schallegger (audio online). Speaking of sex, Dennis Kogel of Superlevel interviewed Tale of Tales after they disagreed with his assessment of Luxuria Superbia. Hey, wait a minute… this piece is in English!

At videogametourism, Rainer Sigl talks about stylization vs. photorealism, originally written for local newspaper Der Standard.

Winter Wrap-Up

If all this week’s blogging wasn’t enough to sate your thirst for reading: our friends at First Person Scholar celebrated their first birthday this week and now have over 114,000 published words for your viewing pleasure. Closer to home, we wrapped up Blogs of the Round Table for this year with a roundup of our Game Changers. Slightly further away from home but still close-ish, the special charity edition of Five out of Ten is out and has all your favorite writers in it.

That’s all for us this week – don’t forget to send us your favorite writing of the week through our contact form or tweeting them in the general direction of @CritDistance.

Oct-Nov Roundup – ‘Game Changers’

December 1st, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (0 Comments)

Every few years, an event hits the gameosphere, forever changing the landscape. In November, we had one such event. That’s right folks: a new Mario game! Oh, and a couple of new boxes as well.

Generations come and go, but the distinctions aren’t as clear as the companies selling consoles like to make out. I got a message from my brother yesterday that he’s just bought a PS3. Think of all the great games he has left to play from the ‘last’ generation! If you missed out on an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii, now’s the perfect time to get one and check out what you missed. Still, the industry will move on whether we like it or not.

Our latest Blogs of the Round Table topic was “Game Changers”:

Some games are great because they are technically excellent; others because they change the way we play games; others because they change the world around us.

You have been commissioned to choose a videogame for an upcoming museum exhibit. You can choose any game released from November 2005 until the present day, on any hardware. Choose the most important game, or just pick your favourite. What’s your Game Changer?

Figure Arcade totally cheated and picked multiple games, but at least they threw some curve balls like Lugaru and Far Cry 2 among more obvious choices. A particularly interesting choice is Shadow of the Colossus, the PS2’s first-party swansong, which doesn’t seem to have changed the world as much as we thought it would.

Corey Milne chooses Dark Souls, and I doubt he’s the only one: it tends to inspire devotion amongst those who have played it. For the rest of us, it’s just lurking in the Pile of Shame. Corey’s submission also has the most disturbing Crash Bandicoot gif I’ve ever seen.

Erik Bigras at Higher Level Gamer picks Starflight, a game from… 1986? Oh come on folks, that’s as old as me! Still, this is an interesting look at a game which has influence even in present-day titles like Mass Effect, but doesn’t have the ‘safety’ of invincible NPCs and unavoidable story. To some extent, this generation was the era of the sandbox game, but games like Starflight managed free-form play within a massive universe long before that.

Also at Higher Level Gamer (I like these folks – add them to your RSS feed!), Gaines Hubbell doesn’t think this generation produced a game changer, but Mass Effect 3 comes close. Personally, I’d choose Mass Effect 2 over the final instalment – the fight between ME2 and Bayonetta in my heart will never end – but the third game is definitely 90% awesome. The line “it’s not the future of games, but you can see it from there” is an interesting one: who can say where the past ends and the future begins, after all?

Nick Hanford talks about the mythical Citizen Kane of Videogames, and as always when this conversation crops up, I’ve got three words for you: Super Mario Bros. Nick’s argument is that the discourse around the CKoVG actually eclipses the impact of any games themselves. I think we’re having an adolescent identity crisis: mainstream games are sulking in the bathroom, getting introspective, unsure of what they want to be when they grow up.

As for me? I chose Rapture.

Craig Lager’s perception of every other game has been changed by Dark Souls. I think that’s where the Dark Souls obsession stems from: not just the excellence of the game, but because of its impact on games you used to love. That’s practically the definition of a game changer, isn’t it?

Last but not least, Pete Haas chose to kill off Kaiden Alenko Who didn’t? He was rubbish. Mass Effect’s triumph was that your actions had consequences in subsequent games: in a medium where decisions can be erased by random data loss, they have to migrate beyond the game they originate in to have that kind of an effect. Of course, Mass Effect 3’s ultimate failure was to remove the player’s volition, to fail to live up to our lofty expectations.


Alright, so it’s time to choose a winner. As it received the most nods, the ‘official’ Game Changer is Dark Souls, with an honourable mention to the Mass Effect trilogy. Solid choices all round folks. I’m so proud of you for not picking Farmville. Unless all the other eligible voters were too busy playing Farmville to write a blog.

Thanks for a great year of writing, everyone! It has been a pleasure to read. Remember that we value your feedback: if you’ve got an idea for BoRT that would make it even better, drop us an email.

Blogs of the Round Table will return in January 2014.

December 1st

December 1st, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Once again, This Week in Videogame Blogging is brough to you by Zach ‘@IcePotato‘ Alexander. Thanks Zach!

Also, December? Where did that come from? (Well, it followed November, I guess)

(more…)

November 24th

November 24th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

This week’s This Week in Videogame Blogging is presented by Zach ‘@IcePotato‘ Alexander. Thanks a lot, Zach!


Hello and welcome to another week in videogame blogging!

What’s the happs this week? Zack Hiwiller googled for an old ZZT order form and mails a check to the listed address. What’s the worst that can happen? SPOILER: The most interesting thing happens instead.

Mattie Brice expands on locality. What are the different standards of play embodied by different communities?

Some new consoles were launched over the past two weeks. Leigh Alexander asks who really cares about this business model lurching forward into another cycle. Well, I care! How can I possibly experience the gritty reboot of Madame Bovary imagined by Matthew Wasteland if I don’t have the newest console. Of course, for indies, there’s always the other new console that just came out. You probably haven’t heard of it.

We don’t often feature Kickstarters on Critical Distance, but this (TW: gore) visual history of horror games is right up our alley! Speaking of horror,  Aaron Gotzon is talking out how Binding of Isaac uses horror over at Ontological Geek. What kind of game is Binding of Isaac anyway? Tanya X. Short says, “Don’t call it a rogue-like”, citing the egregious misuse of  “doom clones” back before “first person shooter” was a thing. Lars Doucet responds by proposing “Procedural Death Labyrinth” (catchy!) and a chart to back it up.

I had a college professor who said I turned into a real academic the minute I started to responding to his questions with, “I take issue with the premise”. Well, Ansh Patel takes issue with the premise of genres. Steve Swift takes it one step further, and asks what is the purpose of defining genres and mediums? Who are we helping?

Meanwhile, is chess a game? what’s your favorite chesslike? Marginal Revolution isn’t a gaming blog but Tyler Cowen talks about the concept of “nettlesomeness” in chess: “Using computer analysis, you can measure which players do the most to cause their opponents to make mistakes.”

Warren Spector stirred the pot this week by dropping “emergence” into his list of Best Game Qualities. Andrew Plotkin responds, and we’re back to talking about the folly of definitions again: “For twenty years, gamers have been dismissing Myst as a linear slideshow — while other gamers remember it as a completely open, unconstrained, explorable environment.”

Nick Dinicola talks about Batman: Arkham Origins using a “pre-hero” state for Batman to give him something he found lacking in the previous two games.

Jorge Albor talks about asymmetrical game mechanics, which give different meanings to different player’s actions.

Andy Robertson argues games are like poems, in the work they ask us to put in in order to extract meaning. Similarly, Nick Dinicola talks about Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us and how limited expressions can be more potent. Meanwhile, Critical Path has a video interview with Matt Boch talking about crossover of gender politics and motion capture techniques. “We’re taking things we understand, and we’re saying lets put them out in media and perpetuate these understandings… We can imagine elves and orcs, but men and women still behave in a particular way still”

I’m assuming you’ve heard there’s a new Tropes vs Women video out, but the Feminist Frequency tumblr also linked to a bit of fan-art imagining Mr Pac-Woman. Related, Rock Paper Shotgun has a remarkably uncomfortable ending to an interview with Blizzard when Nathan Grayson asks about the representation of women in Heroes of the Storm. “We like comic books” is pretty dishonest as far as these things go. Don’t miss the follow up article where Nathan explains why Blizzard’s response is so dishonest.

Stephen Beirne talks about dialogue in games, and how conversations are an important act of humanity, but in games, communication is often treated as a design obstacle.

Ya’ll know Forest Ambassador, right? Merritt Kopas has a post up pointing folx towards Jostle Bastard, as well as a link to the creator’s excellent conversation about satire and Hotline Miami.


Finally, let our foreign correspondent, Joe Köller, top you off with some good ol’ fashioned non-English writing:

On Kleiner Drei, Pablo Dominguez Andersen gives a decent summary of GTA V’s misogyny.

On Video Game Tourism, Rainer Sigl and Ciprian David started a new series about the intersection of film and games, and Christof Zurschmitten about Literature and Games. Here’s Rainer and Ciprian interviewing John Hyams because of reasons, and here’s Christof interviewing Jack King-Spooner, maker of Beeswing, and Robert Sherman, author of Black Crown. (Part 2)

On Superlevel, Benjamin Filitz brings us this smart feature on the actual significance of new console generations as technological baselines, and the fake importance attached to the whole Next Gen business.


And we’re done. Thanks again to Zach for writing this week’s roundup. You’ve still got one week left to contribute to the new Blogs of the Round Table: ‘Game Changers’. This is our last topic of the year, so don’t miss out!

October 2013 – Game Changers

October 8th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (4 Comments)

Ah, October. That time of year when you realise you’re never going to finish all of those resolutions you made in January. The month when you open long-forgotten lists of unfinished work and see articles with a deadline of ‘December 2012’ on them. You delete those items and go for a walk instead because CRUNCHY CRUNCHY LEAVES.

This autumn doesn’t just mark the end of a year: for games consoles, it’s the end of a generation (those who play games on a PC can excuse themselves for the rest of the paragraph). The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be launched imminently, which is great because it will drastically reduce the price of PS3 games. Seriously folks, I got a PS3 last year and they’re great! You don’t need a PS4.

Before the mainstream games websites publish their inevitable hyperbolic link-bait “Top 10 Games of the Generation” lists, let’s get the drop on them. Yet instead of writing a mundane list of games, let’s do something better – something with real meaning.

October’s Blogs of the Round Table theme is Game Changers.

Some games are great because they are technically excellent; others because they change the way we play games; others because they change the world around us.

You have been commissioned to choose a videogame for an upcoming museum exhibit. You can choose any game released from November 2005 until the present day, on any hardware. Choose the most important game, or just pick your favourite. What’s your Game Changer?

For a writing stimulus, I suggest your shelves, your Steam account and your soul. We’ll be accepting articles until the end of November: the game selection will be immortalised on Critical Distance, so try and capture why exactly you chose your game. You can write a review, retrospective or even a broader piece about the wider cultural context surrounding the game. Be bold!

You can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=October13” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear with the #BoRT hashtag.

Rules of the Round Table

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic and has been written specially for BoRT or up to one month prior.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

A Brief Guide to the Linkomatic

A few folks have had trouble embedding the BoRT Linkomatic on their blog, so here are a few pointers:

  • Rich-text editors tend to strip out HTML iframes. You should switch to an HTML editing mode before you paste the Linkomatic code into your blog.
  • WordPress.com and some other blogging platforms may not support iframes for security reasons.
  • Google is your friend: search for “(your blogging platform)> embed iframe”, or if you get stuck give @AGBear a shout on Twitter.

August-September Roundup

October 7th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (0 Comments)

For our last theme, “What’s the Story?”, we ran a little competition. Kris and I have read the BoRT submissions and made our decision, but until the end of this blog post… here’s a roundup you might be tempted to scroll straight through. Don’t do it! It takes me ages to write these things!

Auguseptember’s theme was “What’s the Story?”:

“Videogame stories are where interactivity meets cinematography, decisions change destinies and players become poets. How do games tell better stories than other media, and where do they fall short?”

Five out of Ten: Storytellers

For all the focus on game stories – press obfuscation of plot, spoiler warnings, post-release analysis – do they really matter that much? We have always played games that allowed us to create the stories in our own minds, and recent titles like Pivvot show we don’t need a compelling story to have a great game.

Although ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ usually refers to the tension between the narrative elements of a game and the actions it has our character perform, maybe the real tension should be our feelings towards the existence of the story itself. Is our reliance on stories holding games back?

Bad news: Tauriq Moosa’s submission includes spoilers for The Last of Us.. Good news: he labelled them, so I don’t have to kill him! Knowing Tauriq, this is probably a very interesting read.

Peter Shafer calls game stories another tool at the creator’s disposal, and a potentially hindering one at that. I reckon that’s an argument against crap stories in games rather than for the redundancy of stories as a whole. Or perhaps it’s the delivery of game stories which is the problem: Pacific Rim isn’t far off Half-Life 2 for character development, but they’re both successful stories through execution. Shafer goes on to discuss “foldback” story structures and how unravelling plot threads can be problematic by a story’s conclusion, but again – is this why Mass Effect 3’s ending was bad, or rather because the fault was in the telling rather than the tale?

Over on Medium – “That Place Words Go For Some Reason™” – Adam Boffa talks about the storytelling nuance of recent games Gone Home and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. I haven’t played either yet – the hyperbole surrounding Gone Home had its usual effect of puttting me right off, but I’m pretty sure Brothers will reduce me to a sobbing wreck – but as Boffa explains, these titles highlight the strength of gaming as a creator of context. In Gone Home, we can explore objects in an uninhibited way where films or books must focus an authorial lens on a few key points of interest. In days gone by, games had faux doors and newspapers painted onto tables, but Gone Home is about exploring the environment rather than traversing it.

Evan Conley talks about the ‘first rule’ of storytelling: “show, don’t tell”. Although, like all rules, they exist so you’ll think about your writing, not because they can never be broken! Conley invokes the dreaded ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ here, showing how far we’ve strayed from Clint Hocking’s original useful term and into Inigo Montoya image macro territory. If only there was a resource that existed to help illuminate these terms… one can dream. There’s a good example in Mega Man X here, unfortunately wrapped in an Egoraptor video, but it’s also an argument stemming from experience: with a modern game controller covered in buttons, how is a complete newcomer meant to know which ones to press? Perhaps mainstream developers should stop pretending that they’re aiming for an audience other than experienced players.

Leigh Harrison writes about Remember Me’s reliance on tired narrative clichés and gaming tropes (warning: contains spoilers): an evil corporation, mutant variants on standard enemies that appear around the halfway mark, an amnesic protagonist, a non-sequitur of a final boss. It’s enough to make you wish for amnesia yourself (or perhaps, Amnesia) and experience these stale gaming conventions for the first time.

‘Mistuh Pond’ has written a frankly bizarre Choose Your Own Adventure of sorts. He says (I think) that as military shooters are essentially linear roller coasters, it’s difficult to convey the feeling of unpredictable attack that comes with real-world terrorism. Although perhaps he is looking in the wrong place – XCOM: Enemy Unknown does a great job of this, albeit in a different genre.

Desmand King from Plus 10 Damage takes a look at Spec Ops: The Line and Year Walk (spoilers for both). There has been a lot written about The Line, but it’s still one of the standout games of 2012 – I was thinking about it last week while watching Apocalypse Now. It falls into the category of “mediocre story, well-told”. I disagree with King that our choices in a game start to matter when the player ‘becomes’ the character, because I think the limited decisions available to the player dull our capacity for empathy. We break the fourth wall every time we make such a decision, to an extent. There’s more to be said on this than a single paragraph, but now is not the time to say it! Also, don’t get me started on “a game is not about wasting time”.

Also on Plus 10 Damage, David Gutsche argues that games are good at stories, and cites as evidence… a big pile of Twine games. I find that argument tautological, since a Twine game is usually an interactive story, so you’re saying “stories are good stories”. Which is true, but come on! Yet besides Gutsche’s examples, Depression Quest offers an interesting story and a degree of agency within a Twine framework, so there’s definite potential.

Mark Filipowich over at Medium Difficulty started his piece with a sandwich metaphor, and I am starving right now. Be right back.

Alright, armed with a cheese sandwich I can push on through and finish this. Mark argues that games don’t just need a good story; they need good storycraft as well. We don’t need to look at it in such narrow terms as plot and character: even games like Super Mario Bros and Tetris have their own ‘design grammar’ that helps us contextualise their worlds. Story is one part of the language of game design, but if it is there, it has to make grammatical sense.

Sylvain L. looks at ‘cinematic’ storytelling in games.. I’ve just started a Film Studies night course to help me understand this kind of inter-disciplinary writing, but I can appreciate the argument that “the way cutscenes are conceived is inherently videogame-y: it may borrow the visual language of cinema, but only to the same extent that cinema borrows the dialogs of theater.” I think it is problematic to talk about games as ‘increasingly cinematic’ when, as Sylvain points out, cinema is hardly a pure artform itself. In a second piece, Sylvain goes into further detail about the problems of gameisms in narrative, which I whizzed through to avoid more The Last of Us spoilers.

Last but not least, Seb (last name lost in the Tumblrvoid) expands on the points made in previous articles. It’s always nice to read about games you’ve never heard of before, but I really hope A Good Husband is a parody of marital life and those Boyfriend Points I joke about aren’t being recorded somewhere.

And we’re done! As you may recall, this month we ran a competition to celebrate BoRT’s birthday. Kris and I judged all of the entries and the winner is…

Mark Filipowich with “Tighten up the Narrative in Level 3: The grammar of videogames”. Mark wins a copy of Ghosts in the Machine, a new short story anthology about videogames.

Thanks to everyone who submitted this month: it was by no means an easy decision to pick a winner (that’s why we don’t have a competition every month). Tomorrow we’ll be back with a new BoRT topic. See you then!

Happy BoRTday

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (0 Comments)

Happy BoRTday to you,

Happy BoRTday to you,

Happy Birthday Blogs of the Round Table,

Happy BoRTday to you!

On the 28th of August last year we relaunched Blogs of the Round Table. Since then, we’ve had 76 articles submitted – believe me, I’ve counted them – which is incredible. It’s great to see our blogging community developing; thank you to everyone who has written something for BoRT and brightened up my inbox over the past year.

To celebrate the first birthday of neo-BoRT, we’ve got a little surprise: skip to the end of this post to find out more.

Maybe you’re new to Critical Distance and aren’t sure what Blogs of the Round Table is or how it works. In that case, read on:

What is Blogs of the Round Table?

Blogs of the Round Table, or BoRT as we call it to save space on Twitter, is a regular writing club. Every month or two, we pick a new theme – August/September’s is “What’s the Story?” – and people write articles for their own blog or website. At the end of each round, we publish a summary of all the submissions on Critical Distance.

Is BoRT curated, like This Week in Video Game Blogging?

No! We’ll include everything we receive, as long as it fits the topic and was written during the time period. While we want new writing for BoRT, we’ll also accept pieces that you’ve written in the past month that also fit the theme.

How do I submit an article?

You can email them to alan [at] critical-distance.com – put BoRT in the subject line so I know you’re not trying to sell me something – or tweet them @critdistance or @agbear.

When should I have my writing finished?

It depends on the topic. We normally run each BoRT topic for one-two months. The closing date will always be on the post. If you’re running late, that’s OK: you can even submit pieces after I’ve written the roundup post and I’ll add them to our database.


OK, so what about that surprise? It wouldn’t be a birthday without presents, so we’ve got a little competition:

Whoever writes the best entry for the new Blogs of the Round Table theme, ‘What’s the Story’, will win a copy of the new videogame story anthology Ghosts in the Machine.

All you have to do is write an article that matches the theme ‘What’s the Story?’ – see the original post for more details – and at the end of September we’ll pick the ‘best’ piece based on what is the most original and insightful. It’s a prize for ideas, not technical excellence. Ghosts in the Machine is a short story anthology all about videogames, featuring writing from folks like Lana Polansky, Maddy Myers, Andrew Vanden Bossche and myself. The winner can choose between a physical or digital copy.

So get writing and good luck. Please visit the original ‘What’s the Story?’ post for more information on the topic and where to send your piece.

Happy BoRTday, everyone!

August 2013 – ‘What’s the Story?’

August 12th, 2013 | Posted by Alan Williamson in Blogs of the Round Table: - (1 Comments)

Sorry this month’s Blogs of the Round Table is running a little late. Don’t worry though, I was pardoned by the official @critdistance Twitter account – and it wasn’t even me tweeting from it this time. The accidental Shenmue jokes are always me, though.

This lateness was useful, because it got me thinking: the one month deadline is a little… arbitrary, don’t you think? We get a rush of submissions for BoRT at the end of every month, and a couple of people will always say “I didn’t get time!”. So let’s make more time to produce some really great blogs, rather than cutting off the discussion: this month’s Blogs of the Round Table will run from now until the end of September. Additionally, if you don’t get your blog finished before I post the writeup, let me know when it’s done and I’ll add it to the Linkomatic.

But we need a topic to actually write about. This time, it’s “What’s the Story?”:

“Videogame stories are where interactivity meets cinematography, decisions change destinies and players become poets. How do games tell better stories than other media, and where do they fall short?”

Five out of Ten: Storytellers

For all the focus on game stories – press obfuscation of plot, spoiler warnings, post-release analysis – do they really matter that much? We have always played games that allowed us to create the stories in our own minds, and recent titles like Pivvot show we don’t need a compelling story to have a great game.

Although ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ usually refers to the tension between the narrative elements of a game and the actions it has our character perform, maybe the real tension should be our feelings towards the existence of the story itself. Is our reliance on stories holding games back?

If you need further inspiration, check out Issue 4 of Five out of Ten. Its publication inspired this month’s topic; I felt like there was a lot more to say about the topic than we managed to cover. Right, that’s it – get blogging!

Your blog can be a direct response to the topic, or can explore the points raised by other blogs or articles you’ve read. I will update the BoRT Linkomatic automatically, you can see the current submissions here:


Use this code to embed the links in your blog:

<iframe type=“text/html” width=“600” height=“20” src=“http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=August13” frameborder=“0”></iframe>

Please email us your submissions or tweet them to @AGBear with the #BoRT hashtag.

Rules of the Round Table

  • Blogs of the Round Table is not curated. If you write it, we’ll publish it, as long as it’s connected to the topic.
  • This BoRT post is the home of the discussion: as I receive new submission blogs, I’ll update the ‘BoRT Linkomatic’ so new blogs are reflected on this page immediately. We’ll also use the @critdistance Twitter account to post regular updates, so follow us!
  • Your duty as a knight of the round table is to leave a comment on a blog to which you respond with a link to the response piece, to give them a ‘right of reply’. Keep the conversation going.
  • Your blog does not have to be in English. If you submit a German piece I’ll try my best to read it; if it’s another language I’ll find someone else.
  • If your work contains potentially disturbing content, please include a suitable warning at the start. Use your common sense.
  • You can submit as many articles as you like throughout the month, and it doesn’t matter if they are commercially published, paywalled or available for free. We will need a transcript for paywalled content to be approved.

A Brief Guide to the Linkomatic

A few folks have had trouble embedding the BoRT Linkomatic on their blog, so here are a few pointers:

  • Rich-text editors tend to strip out HTML iframes. You should switch to an HTML editing mode before you paste the Linkomatic code into your blog.
  • WordPress.com and some other blogging platforms may not support iframes for security reasons.
  • Google is your friend: search for “(your blogging platform)> embed iframe”, or if you get stuck give @AGBear a shout on Twitter.