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Author Archives: Ben Abraham

Thank You Kris!

November 19th, 2013 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Announcement: - (14 Comments)

Hello readers, fans, and friends of Critical Distance!

Back in 2009 when I started this little website, I had no idea what would happen. I thought, at best, it might become a moderately useful resource for the game blogging community. In the years since, Critical Distance has become something of an institution, part of the landscape.

In 2011, after two years of running and managing the site with a bit of help from some friends, I had reached the end of my endurance. Luckily, Kris Ligman was there and willing to take over the site, and since then it has been almost entirely her project.

It’s now 2013, two years since Kris took the reins and now she too is stepping down to take a well earned break while we reorganise a bit. So this first announcement post is to say thank you to Kris for the awesome and wonderful work she has poured into the site at great personal cost for over two years now, and to let you know that we’ll be making some changes over the next few weeks. The second post, coming in the next few days, will be to explain what’s next for Critical Distance, and to outline what our ideas are for the site to keep it going in a more sustainable way. Kris isn’t “leaving” Critical Distance, but she will be stepping back from leading TWIVGB every week and hopefully when we come back with the new TWIVGB it’ll be easier for all involved (and we hope to get you, dear reader, involved a little more as well – but more on that later). We’re still not quite sure right now whether we’ll miss any weeks of TWIVGB coverage between now and when we transition to the new format, but we’ll do our best.

Last week I contacted just a few people from the community who have been involved with Critical Distance over the years and asked them for a short message for Kris. If you would also like to leave a message of gratitude or appreciation for Kris and the work she’s done, please leave them here in the comments.

Brendan Keogh

Kris, the time and effort you have put into keeping TWIVB running for more than two years now has been utterly crucial to the sense of a real, emerging ‘scene’ of games criticism that has matured the past few years online. Without your sacrifice of your time and your strong curation, we wouldn’t have the great community that so many of us depend on. Thanks so much for all your work!

Cara Ellison

The attention Kris paid to my work was profound and beneficial in so many ways, and often helped me think that I wasn’t writing for nothing. Basically, Kris helped me build my career into something I could do on a weekly basis after I lost my job and had to go full time. That’s an incredible impact on me and has provided me with a way to pay my rent. Knowing I was being appreciated by someone who receives a lot of games criticism was important, and I’d like to continue this favour for others. Thank you, Kris.

Kate Cox

Being regularly featured on Critical Distance quite literally changed my life.  It drew attention to me and my writing that I otherwise would not have had, and gave legitimacy to what I was putting out there.  That attention led directly to my being hired at Kotaku for 2012 and completely changed my career path and trajectory forever.  That is one hell of an impact and I owe y’all, and Kris in particular, a drink or seven for making it possible.

Richard Clark

Kris, thanks so much for all the hard work you’ve done on Critical Distance. I’ve always thought of Critical Distance as a place where I can be regularly challenged by games writing rather than pandered to, and I know you had a lot to do with that. I’m especially grateful of the way you have featured a spectrum of perspectives and voices that I wouldn’t otherwise read or consider. I hope you realized how crucial and appreciated your work has been!

Richard Lemarchand

Dear Kris, I just wanted you to know that I think that the work you’ve done for Critical Distance is extraordinary. The energy and effort that you have put into the site has allowed it to remain one of the most – even *the* most – important places on the internet to get an intelligent, even and humanistic view of the state of games criticism and culture.

But beyond the editorial and intellectual chops you’ve brought to the gig, what amazes and delights me time and again is the well-considered wit with which you frame everything. I never thought games criticism could be so funny. Thank you for all your hard work. You’re brilliant!

Kate Simpson

Hey Kris, congrats on two years of CD. Thank you so much for all your hard work on your amazing link roundups, and everything else you do for the community! – Kateri.

Patrick Lindsey

I think Kris has done a fantastic job and I’m a huge admirer of what she’s done with CD.

Chris Dahlen

Thank you so much for all your awesome work!  Critical Distance is one of the last sites out there leading people to smart game crit, and the world would be poorer without it – I know I would be, too.  Thanks for keeping it going!

Johannes Koski

Hey, Jason!

Please tell your most excellent human that her contributions to Critical Distance have been the highlight of my week, month after month both pre and postdating your arrival to the scene. I know Kris spending time compiling CD posts might mean less petting for you, but you know, Jason, I think ultimately it has been in your favor too. Not that you’d read the blogposts or anything, but surely CD has a better blog-to-petting ratio than if Kris did, say, This Week In Investment Tips Blogging. So, thank your most excellent human for me, and tell her that she’s awesome!

Eric Swain

I remember what was not too long ago, but seems like an aeon away, when an excited neophyte who squeed with glee at being followed on twitter and over time evolve into the hard nosed, no nonsense, typewriter pounding professional we have before us. It takes more than enthusiasm and intelligence to do this week in and week out (but certainly needs them), it requires a certain endurance of mind, eyes and spirit. It’s one thing to do it once in a while, but quite another to keep at it. Thank you for your tireless ongoing effort.

Alan Williamson

Where do I start? Kris has given her time, often thanklessly, to reading and curating thousands of essays over the past two years. If it wasn’t for her work at Critical Distance, I wouldn’t have kept blogging at Split Screen – never mind joining the CD team to give back to a community that I found so encouraging and supportive, then launching Five out of Ten with the friends I had made including Kris herself! I owe a lot more to her than I can realistically cover in a paragraph.

Kris, thank you for your superhuman efforts over the past couple of years. You make me proud to be a part of Critical Distance, and you’re a great friend.

Matthew Burns

Every so often a cultural commentator poses the question: “where’s all the good games writing”?

Thanks to the efforts of Kris Ligman and her co-contributors over the past two years, we’ve been able to point to a ready answer each time– Critical Distance. The site’s weekly roundup of notable games writing tracks important issues, highlights breakout work, and helps to amplify voices that might otherwise become lost. And its regular publication serves as a valuable record of the trajectory of the discussion over time.

Please join me in thanking Kris, Ben, Eric, Alan, and everyone else who works hard to make Critical Distance happen!

April 29th

April 29th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Oh dear look who left the keys to TWIVGB on the kitchen table for me to find. Yes, in her distracted exam-cramming state, Kris left me in charge of TWIVGB once again. I’m sorry.

Look, here’s a little secret I’m going to share with you: sometimes writing about videogames is… how do I put this…. not weird enough. I’m going to try and pick out some of the weirder stuff this week.

For instance: At the architectural/landscape/urbanism blog M.ammoth, Rob Holmes regales us with a short anecdote about a student designing a game as part of an investigation into the ramifications of the Mississippi river diverting it’s course:

One of the student projects proposed a kind of abstracted board game which attempted to codify the interactions between the insurance industry, various economic activities in the Atachafalaya Basin (such as gambling), floods, disaster management systems, public space, and citizens of the flood-prone Basin. This project intrigued me greatly — but it did so less because of its resonance with the recent vogue for “gamification” (where I am inclined to agree, for the most part, with Ian Bogost), and more because it helped me articulate a set of problems related to aggregation, complexity, perversity, and misalignment in the design of landscapes.

It’s only a brief little mention amongst a sea of tranquil information-overload, but it’s interesting. It’s weird.

Sufficiently weird enough for me is also Darshana Jayemanne’s ‘Do It Differently’ essay for Killscreen which argues we should stop playing up the ‘uniqueness’ of videogames interactivity. It’s a powerful and unpopular argument, but I think he’s right.

Look around you. Architecture is an art form—you’d be brave indeed to claim the Sistine Chapel or the Patio de los Leones are not art, and only slightly less brave to call them “linear.” Robert Venturi and Fredric Jameson didn’t have to wait for ludology to be invented so they could wrap their heads around the nonlinear spaces of Las Vegas and the Bonaventure Hotel, respectively. Similar observations could be made for sculpture or improvisational music. In these art forms the distinction between linear and nonlinear is just a nonsense. It does not even arise as a problem in the first place.

Go read his whole argument and then tell me you don’t get a sense that Things Could Be Wholly Other about videogame writing and criticism. Weird indeed.

Not entirely sure if this really hits the high point on my ‘weird’ metric, but it’s an interesting piece and it goes well with Jayemanne’s piece above – at Medium Difficulty Kyle Stegerwald discusses whether writers and critics can actually be bad at games and still be good critics. I don’t think he’s wholly right, but neither is he wholly wrong, primarily because games writing could be so, so many things and Stegerwald seems to have just one particular thing in mind. Still – definitely worth reading and thinking about. For Stegerwald:

…skill in games resembles critical understanding in literature, and nobody sneers at someone who advances a well-reasoned opinion of a piece of literature by calling them a “minmaxer.”

Also at Medium Difficulty this week is neat little discussion by Adil Sherwani on ‘The State of Music Games’ (by which it is meant the Rock Band/Guitar Hero style music game). It’s sort of history, really, and History, as anyone who knows anything about it will tell you, is Really Weird.

Oh yes! And this is a sufficiently strange offering from the always-intriguing David Carlton who paid a visit to France’s Musée d’Orsay and took inspiration from the range of nudes and other paintings, sculptures, etc in the museums collection:

A couple of years ago, I took inspiration from musicals and proposed that narrative video games should present themselves as a sequence of set pieces that are as well-crafted as possible, with just enough connective tissue to let you go from set piece to set piece without being jarring. And my experiences in the Musée d’Orsay gave me a new perspective on that argument: each of those set pieces should have the unity and impact of a painting. There should be a vision, a scene, an interaction at the core of each set piece with the rest unfolding from it.

Brilliant stuff. Go read it, if only for all the brilliant images of paintings the Museum holds.

Also brilliant this week was Cara Ellison’s discussion of Christine Love’s ‘Don’t Take It Personally, Babe’ and ‘Being Single in Public’ for the Unwinnable blog:

Playing Don’t Take It Personally, Babe when you’re single, and have been for a while, is an alienating experience. It’s a wonderful shorthand of the messages that are going on around us every day. Couple culture is everywhere – it’s in every televisual soap or drama, it’s in every advertising campaign.

As a young man who has spent the vast, vast majority of his life within the kingdom of singledom I know exactly what Ellison is talking about, and it can be a very, very weird place.

Also from Unwinnable this week is Kate Williams piece on Dear Esther, describing it as “a sudden heartbeat in a flatlining relationship”.

G. Christopher Williams writing for PopMatters’ Moving Pixels blog this week thinks Ms Pacman is the Platonic form of games. That’s kind of a strange argument, but that’s kind of the point. More strange please!

Mattie Brice writing for Paste Magazine this week asks ‘Who’s the bad guy?‘ and discusses being a demographic actively excluded from videogame marketing and taste-appeal (which would be a very weird feeling).

Jeffrey Wilson at 2D-X has a cool little anecdote about ‘The Night Castlevania and Wu Tang Clan owned NYC’ and the hunt for a Castlevania sample heard (imagined? Auditory hallucination?!) in a 90s hip-hop track.

And here’s another weird little thing from BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh who has a little think about some game-applications for MIT’s distributed robotics’ ‘Smart Sand’:

…perhaps in some future game brought to you by BLDGBLOG and Big Robot—you have to battle your way forward through infinite sandstone buildings that rise up, one after the other, like endless violent waves rolling as far as the eye can see, a desert of shapes lurching and unbuilding themselves toward you, forever. You jump through doors, up stairways, over walls, never advancing forward more than a few feet at a time, blinded by clouds of sand crashing on all sides, always another building ready to rise up out of the moving dunes and block you.

At Sneaky Bastards (possibly the best named videogame blog on the internet) James Patton has words about the Maltese Falcon and Games and Society and stuff. The piece describes itself (blogs these days! They do all your work for you!) as “Examining the stealth genre’s depictions of society and culture, as seen through the stark, shadowy lens of The Maltese Falcon.

Vying for the ‘best videogame blog name’ competition is Full Glass, Empty Clip (I’m surprised that I’ve not stumbled upon this site before), where blogger ‘Stavros the Wonder Chicken’ aka Christopher Kovacs talks about ‘Living in First Person’:

Part of growing up isolated and insulated, for me at least, was burning curiosity about Other Places. Ever since I could remember, every new thing I learned about the world out there filled me with ever greater desire to see it for myself.

And here’s a funny new tumblblog ‘Postplay’:

POSTPLAY is a project founded on the fundamental principle that a video game is only as relevant as the contemplations or debates it provokes may be equally worthy of note; that the most significant games are, by definition, those which are capable of stimulating an edifying discussion and different degrees of contemplation. This, however, does not insinuate that a widely discussed title is, by definition, pertinent; quite the contrary, for this same criterion presupposes that the character and corollaries of the dialogue it incites provide an authentic intimation of its veritable merit.

Oh and I very nearly forgot – Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer blog, inspired by Taylor Clarke’s essay/profile of Jon Blow in The Atlantic, has started a crowd sourced catalogue of “Smart Games” to counteract the notion that games are only Hollywood dumb. Go check it out, it’s a weird lest (yes!) and it can get weirder if you choose to add stuff to it. Go forth and submit strange and eclectic games!

Hmm, so that’s the week in weird videogame writing, but it could always be weirder, more eclectic, more ambitious. Take that under consideration.

Here, one final parting curio: a mind-blowingly beautiful Vietnamese Café. Think about that and level design. Lets see that in a game.

I hope you enjoyed some of the weirdness. As always, we rely on your submissions to make it through the week. Send them via twitter or email, if you please!

March 18th

March 18th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

Guess who’s back! Back again. That’s right, Ben is back and in charge of this week’s entry in the neverending story that is This Week In Videogame Blogging. Okay so, here’s the skinny. My  week was eaten up first by jet-lag, then by the GDCflu, and then by a gig and a birthday party, so this week’s entry is, shall we say, ‘TWIVGB lite’.

At the GameChurch blog, Drew Dixon talks about the ‘idealistic world of videogame pacifists’ and ends up discussing those who play games in strange, alternative ways.

Speaking of weird alternative ways to play, Sean Sands at Gamers With Jobs dares to ask the question of players, “Could you be playing it wrong?” and it’s not necessarily such a bad thing to ask.

At the ‘Empty Wallet Gamer’ tumblr, Shawn Trautman ruminates on  ‘The future of DLC’, having never actually bought any himself. His point is tied in with game preservation efforts, and discusses how, having just bought 2004’s number 1 shooter Halo 2 (props to Shawn, Halo 2 is a personal favourite), it made him wonders what will happen when DLC becomes unsupported.

At the consistently excellent Play The Past blog, Rebecca Mir talks ‘Guns, Germs and Horses’, looking at Civilization: Colonisation and “how cultural influence and exchange is (and isn’t) represented in the game.”

Our newest addition to the stable, Johnny Kilhefner wrote this week for Nightmare Mode about something he calls ‘Darwinian Difficulty in Metal Gear Solid 3’. It’s a theory about the relationship between the player and the character, one based on torture and difficulty, and well worth reading.

Also one of our own, Eric Swain at The Game Critique has been writing a ton about Genre this week. The introduction to his series is here, and he really needs to make an index page for them all, or something.

Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer wrote a little piece this week, provoked by the Independent Games Festival that ran throughout GDC. It’s called ‘The Indie Ethics Problem’:

Fez precipitated a major ethical crisis at the GDC this year, when Phil Fish entered his game for a second time into the same competition purely out of self-interest (Note: I am not singling out Phil Fish – he seems like a decent enough guy, I’m just using this as a recent example). His appearance in Indie Game: The Movie similarly reveals the indie games’ industry’s sad history of shameless self-promotion, endless navel gazing and cult-of-the-celebritization.

Tom Francis (who I had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting at GDC) reproduces his short talk from the Independents Games Summit on ‘How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole’, and there’s good stuff in there for writers, players, critics and anyone who wants to explain games to people:

“This isn’t really about indie versus mainstream, or arthouse versus commercial. It’s just about communicating efficiently enough that everyone who would like your game ends up playing it. I think it’s a shame when that doesn’t happen.”

The penultimate piece, and certainly the most creative this week, is this beautiful pictorial review of Journey by Games.on.net’s Tim Colwill. Indescribable.

And lastly for the week (I did say it was TWIVGB lite!) is from Dan Golding’s incredible Game On blog, which has lately been churning out fascinating and insightful pieces. This week Golding scoured the Australian Parliament Hansard Record to tease out what Aussie politicians think and say about games. But it’s not what you think – it’s actually quite surprising.

And that’s a wrap! I’m off to go and enjoy the rapidly diminishing remains of my weekend as much as I can while trying to avoid the harsh rays of a cruel sun.

Blogs of the Round Table: February ’12 Round Up

February 29th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Uncategorized - (4 Comments)

Well I’ve managed to just sneak this post in before the end of the month – where the heck did it go?!

No matter – let’s see what the blogosphere has cooked up in response to our theme of Love:

How do games communicate love? Can they? Do they? Can we find something approaching love in our relationships to games? When we say we love a game, what does that really mean? I’m interested in the the capacity of programming, silicon, and input/output devices to convey or impart feelings we can truly characterize as love. I’m guessing each of us has a story…and maybe for some, the answer is simply no.

I neglected to add the code snippet for this month into the announcement post, but if you want to add it in now, copy and paste the following:

<iframe src=”http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=February12” frameborder=”0″ width=”600″ height=”20″></iframe>

Which should look like this:

Okay, who’s first?

Alan Williamson at the Split Screen blog writes about ‘LoveGames‘ and Bad Romance:

It’s hard to imagine a medium that is less concerned with love than gaming: in films, music, art and literature, we take it for granted that it’s going to receive a mention. Although most people are probably sick of Adele by now, you have to admit that if the album 21 were penned in response to a mediocre Pokémon collectathon, it would lose some of its appeal.

At Taufmonster’s log, the author tells us about love in Shadow of the Colossus.

Cody Steffan at Where’s Your Belly? tells us a sweet tale of gaming with his partner, and with his two year old daughter.

At The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps asks ‘Is Marriage Too Boring For Video Games?

Dan Cox at Digital Ephemera struggles with the topic and ends up talking about why we don’t feel the same thrill of love or attraction in his post ‘Bits of Love‘ .

And lastly, Rainer Sigl at Video Game Tourism reckons that ‘In games, love is just a lie, made to make you blue‘, and looks at the issue through the lens of the ending to the 2008 Prince of Persia game.

And that’s it! Thanks again to everyone who contributed, by joining in the discussion or by posting their own entries. If we missed yours please let us know in the comments below.

We’re taking a skip month in March, as GDC is likely to preoccupy a few of us for the first half of the month, but we hope to be back in April.

Blogs of the Round Table: February

February 6th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Welcome to the second month of Blogs of the Round Table, and thanks again to everyone who participated in January’s great discussions. Don’t forget that you’re more than welcome to post a response or addition to someone else’s Round Table entry, and in the past that’s been some of the most interesting stuff to come out of this little exercise. But seeing as it’s February now, that means it’s time for a new topic to inspire out collective blogging imaginations. This month Michael Abbott of The Brainy Gamer has kindly given us our topic for the month, and he’s chosen…

LOVE.

How do games communicate love? Can they? Do they? Can we find something approaching love in our relationships to games? When we say we love a game, what does that really mean? I’m interested in the the capacity of programming, silicon, and input/output devices to convey or impart feelings we can truly characterize as love. I’m guessing each of us has a story…and maybe for some, the answer is simply no.

Love! I don’t get enough of it / All I get is these vampires and blood suckers… ahem. I don’t know about you, but I’m extremely excited about this topic and although a double bout of tonsillitis kept me from contributing last month, be sure I’ll be doing my best to get a post in this time. The topic actually reminds me of many of the things the Digital Romance Lab have been interested in, and you can check out their blog here. As always, questions, comments, and links to your own responses to the theme can be left here in the comments, sent in via twitter to @critdistance with the #BoRT hashtag, or you can send us a plain ol’ email.

UPDATED: Blogs of the Round Table: January ’12 Roundup

February 3rd, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Welcome to the first Blogs of the Round Table round-up post for 2012, first let’s remind ourselves of the theme we’re talking about this month.

Being Other:

Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.

So, we’ve got our theme, and we’ve got a few entrants already. We’ve also got a handy dandy iframe code (care of Darius Kazemi) for you to embed in your BoRT posts, allowing for everyone at home to jump from post to post via an easy drop down menu. To do that, just past this code somewhere in your post:

<iframe src="http://www.tinysubversions.com/bort.html?month=January12" frameborder="0" width="600" height="20"></iframe>

Which should then look like this:

And as you can see it working up there, each entry for the month is listed! Huzzah! (NB: The list has to be updated manually, so there will be some lag between submitting posts and being added to the drop menu).

So what’ve we got so far?

At Nightmare Mode, Aaron Myles talks about ‘Mass Outbreaks of Xenophobia and Inbreeding: A stroll through the ghettoes of San Andreas’.

David Carlton does some musing on the theme of the Blogs of the Round Table itself, as well as raising the point that there are very few games in which he identifies with the protagonist.

Tami Baribeau at The Border House writes that ‘In games, I’m always someone I’m not because I’m fat’, with a particularly illuminating story of a former coworker who encountered online incredulity that they would create a ‘fat’ avatar.

Adam Burch at Thus Spoke Pi writes about the collision between Brave New World’s ‘feelies’ and a story about an acquaintance of his experiencing the effects of racism.

Amanda Lange at Second Truth writes about her experience role-playing as a straight man in ‘On Gettin Ladies…In Games‘.

Matt Kopas wrote this piece for The Borderhouse Blog which he admits wasn’t written with the theme explicitly in mind, but which still fits well enough under the heading – it’s on ‘Gameplay, Genderplay‘.

At Nonfiction Gaming, Eric Howell writes about empathising with the characters he played in both Mass Effect and Bastion in his contribution, ‘Choosing to Be the Other‘.

Patrick Stafford writes about ‘Roleplaying games and the fundamental problem of sympathetic characters‘ on his blog The Problem With Story, talking about how the more constrained characters of Mass Effect and Deus Ex: Human Revolution gave him more of a sense of empathy and connection than the blank slate of Fallout 3.

Rainer Sigl at the delightfully named ‘Video Game Tourism’ blog explains that ‘Being a criminal psychopath sucks – but what did you expect?‘.  So apparently it can suck to be ‘other’ when that ‘other’ is a murderous psychopath. Who knew?!

Mark Serrels at Kotaku Australia has a touching and poignant piece on meeting his daughter for the first time (in the sims) and how it made him feel and think about potential childrearing in his real life.

At Second Quest, Richard Goodness wrote about ‘Role-Playing a Pervert in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories‘. I’m just going to grab this little excerpt to whet the appetite: “…Shattered Memories gave me a very weird, disturbing little glimpse of what sex addiction feels like.

Yolanda Green at the Althogether blog wrote about what playing a role means in an RPG.

At The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps talks about ‘Punching a Woman in Assassin’s Creed‘ which was for her a rather novel experience: “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be a powerful man, but I think playing Assassin’s Creed helped me see why it’s a fantasy for some people.

At Digital Ephemera, Dan Cox wrote about ‘One Soldier in a War‘ and the distinction between first and third person perspective, the value of ‘life’ and what happens when he stands around looking at butterflies in Call of Duty.

The Arcadian Rhythms blog has a double-header, with thoughts from the sites’ bloggers AJ and Shaun. AJ didn’t find he identified with many game protagonists, and talked about Dead Rising‘s Frank West as an excellent example of an unsympathetic protagonist that doesn’t diminish the game. Shaun wonders “if the theme itself overestimates the extent to which videogames are structurally capable of genuinely conveying an experience other than one’s own” and then goes off into some quite interesting territory.

And the final post of the month goes to Denis Farr, blogging at the Border House about ‘Mayday; Or, How I Learned to Love Grace Jones‘. It’s a great story about the classic N64 game Goldeneye, self expression and fighting the power.

That’s it for the January Round Table! Thanks again to everyone who contributed this month, we’ll be back soon with another great theme for February real soon.

Help send Mattie Brice to GDC

January 30th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

So you may remember a certain campaign run about this time two years ago to fly me all the way from the other side of the world to GDC in San Francisco. Well, this year David Carlton & co. have teamed up to send rising star Mattie Brice to GDC and I can’t think of a better candidate for it at the present. Below is friend of Critical Distance Brendan Keogh’s post explaining why you might like to contribute to the campaign, and any assistance is greatly appreciated.

———

There are a lot of excellent writers writing lots of excellent things about videogames. You already know this. Across blogs there is a vastly diverse collection of writers looking at games from all different kinds of angles and making all different kinds of insights.

But on the bigger, professional sites, everybody seems just too agreeable. It’s not that people aren’t writing good articles or are saying things that are uninteresting, but, simply, there are just too many of us from similar backgrounds saying similar things while the dissenters, saying equally interesting things, are stuck on blogs.

Slowly but surely this is changing. It has to change if videogame criticism is to advance and mature. We need more writers approaching more videogames from more perspectives. And, more importantly, we need these writers to have exposure and actually be read.

This is why I am super excited that there is a fundraising effort to get Mattie Brice to GDC this year. Mattie appeared out of nowhere in 2010 and is now writing for a range of places. She’s all over Popmatters; She writes candidly about sexuality and games for Nightmare Mode; and she’s even had the intestinal fortitude to take on Kotaku‘s cesspit comment sections head on.

I don’t always agree with what she writes, and sometimes her forward-gazing optimism just outright frustrates me. But this is why games journalism/criticism/whatever needs her and those writers like her: she is saying interesting things that many of us wouldn’t or won’t say. She is starting interesting discussions and debates.

GDC is the biggest annual event in the game’s industry and is exactly the place any budding game’s writer needs to be if they want to “Make It” as a games journalist. 2010 was the first year I went to GDC and in the eleven months since I have written for EdgePasteArs Technica, and a whole heap of other amazing outlets I could never have imagined writing for a year ago.

If we can help get Mattie there this year, I don’t doubt she will have just as many opportunities out of it as I did, if not more. She has already marched confidently onto a stack of mainstream websites with very alternative views, and attending GDC will only help bring her alternative, interesting writing to larger and larger readerships.

So this is why you should chip in a few dollars and help get Mattie to GDC. Do it for games journalism/criticism. Help expand the angles and voices and articles and topics that people are writing and reading about. Games criticism needs more dissenters, and there are few writing at present with as much potential as Mattie.

Announcing the return of The Blogs of the Round Table

January 11th, 2012 | Posted by Ben Abraham in Announcement: - (11 Comments)

Hello Dearly Devoted Critical-Distance Readers!

So the most attentive amongst you may remember that I teased a ‘new thing’ that would be starting in January here at Critical Distance – well, it’s January and I can now announce that we are officially re-launching ‘The Blogs of the Round Table’.

For those who might not have been around for as long as the rest of us, The Blogs of the Round Table was a great monthly program run by Corvus Elrod. Corvus would provide a theme upon which to write a blog post, everyone else would go off and have a think about it and write something based on the theme for that month. The responses were incredibly varied and diverse, working more as an inspiration and motivation to post than anything else.

One of the best things about The Blogs of the Round Table (or the BoRT) was that we all got to read each others writing, which often inspired our own responses and conversation pieces, encouraging a real sense of being an open and inclusive community full of life and lively discussion. Progressively throughout the month, Corvus would compile all the entries in a big ongoing post that linked to all the posts and kept similar discussions together. It really was a pretty excellent idea, but as Corvus got increasingly busy with other projects (particular the successful ‘Bhaloidam’ storytelling game) the Blogs of the Round Table eventually tapered off.

But no more! It’s back with a vengeance, and it’s our pleasure to be hosting the initiative right here at Critical Distance. Corvus has even done us the honour of providing our first monthly theme.

So what now? Well, if you want to be involved in the Blogs of the Round Table, read Corvus’ outline of the theme below, have a think about what you’d like to say on the topic, then write! Post the final piece on your blog, or a friends blog, heck we’ll even take Google Plus posts, and then let us know about it by emailing or tweeting to us @critdistance making sure to use the #BoRT hashtag. From there, depending on how many pieces people write and what our team of tireless editor’s workload is like, we’ll collect them into a post with links to all the pieces, which we’ll update throughout the month. Easy! The other alternative is to just read, enjoy and comment on the excellent work the fantastic community produces.

One last thing before we reveal this month’s theme – we’ll be periodically inviting some of our favourite writers, thinkers, and whoever else we enjoy to pick a theme for a month. But for January 2011, the theme Corvus has been kind enough to kick us off with is Being Other:

Games, like most media, have the ability to let us explore what it’s like to be someone other than ourselves. While this experience may only encompass a character’s external circumstances–exploring alien worlds, serving with a military elite, casting spells and swinging broadswords–it’s most powerful when it allow us to identify with a character who is fundamentally different than ourselves–a different gender, sexuality, race, class, or religion. This official re-launch of the Blogs of the Round Table asks you to talk about a game experience that allowed you to experience being other than you are and how that impacted you–for better or for worse. Conversely, discuss why games haven’t provided this experience for you and why.

So get cracking, the flood-gates are now open. There’s no limit to how many posts you can write on the theme in a month, and no min-max word limit – all we ask is that you include a link to the main monthly theme post (link back to this post for this first one) and, of course, that you let us know you’ve written it. The comments on this post are also open for questions.

An Announcement

November 18th, 2011 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Hello dearly devoted readers!

I’ve taken the almost unprecedented step of posting a non-TWIVGB post to let you know about some changes that are happening here at Critical Distance. There’s one main thing to appraise you of, and that is that I am handing over weekly TWIVGB duties to the extremely talented and accomplished Kris Ligman, who you’ll know from her own excellent work here and at her blog Dire Critic. Kris has been slowly taking over my role with her own Roundups of Unusual Size (or perhaps more accurately, Roundups of Unusual Regularity and Worth) and it’s one I’m more than happy to hand over to her. In April of next year it will mark three years (Three! Count ‘em!) of Critical Distance and in that time I feel I’ve had gotten at least as much from the role of chronicler and collector of great writing and blogging about videogames as I have given.

So I want to thank some people – first, to all my helpers and editors here at CD, both past and present – you’ve been an amazing help, all of you, and a special thanks to Eric Swain for propping me up with his own contributions of links for so long and so tirelessly. Thank you to everyone who ever sent in a link, be it via twitter, email, smoke-signal, telepathy, telegram, or just personally mentioning it to me. And a special thanks to all those people who wrote the amazing pieces we link to every week – you are the real hard workers here, and without you we wouldn’t exist.

Last week’s post will be effectively my last as person-in-charge of TWIVGB – but fear not! – the same great collection of links will still appear every week, but it’ll be headed by Kris, rather than myself. I’m looking forward to whatever direction she chooses to take it in. But I won’t be disappearing either – I’ll be helping her out when she needs a break, or can’t otherwise cover TWIVGB – and in January I’ll be launching a new endeavour for Critical Distance that I think will be a really great community fostering, conversation spurring exercise. But more on that as we get closer to the end of the year. For now, please join me in saying “I for one welcome our new TWIVGB overlord“. Okay your turn…

November 13th

November 13th, 2011 | Posted by Ben Abraham in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

A Nordic tundra. A distant figure is spotted running with great haste, all arms flailing and apparently trying to shout over the sound of the howling wind. As the figure approaches you make out “The dragon is coming! The dragon is coming!”

As the figure approaches you see it is none other than your trusty host of This Week In Videogame Blogging! Clearly something serious is going on. The figure arrives in a near-breathless state:

“The dragons are here! There’s no time for a full run-down of the week’s best blogging, writing and about videogames – we’ve got to get back to fighting the dragons!

Brendan Keogh writing for GameRanx talks about Dark Souls in ‘A time to grind’.

Jonathan McCalmont’s regularly irregular column at Futurismic is also about the Demons/Dark Souls series, talking about the meaning and import of virtual death.

Martin Falder at Oh no Videogames! describes “the fascist politics of infinite respawn”!

At the Ambient Challenge blog Lee Kelly talks about ANGER MANAGMENT (and LA Noire). When those dragons get here we’ll be in need some of that anger.

This week sees an expansion of an Ambient Challenge post, in the form of ‘The Assassination of Rockstar by the Coward John Brindle (or, three design failures in Red Dead Redemption)’.”

A dragon swoops overhead.

“Oh no! We must hurry! It’s nearly here!

Joel Goodwin at Electron Dance went to the BAFTAs and saw the IGDA writers’ panel. What did he think? Enough to write two parts.

At Systems Operational, Richard Naik writes about ‘If Team Fortress Two Were A Baseball Team’.

Richard Goodness at Second Quest writes about not understanding why Sword and Sworcery was such a critical darling.

At PopMatters G. Christopher Williams wrote about Batman and “Bitches”, riffing off something Kirk Hamilton wrote at Kotaku a few weeks back.

A dragon roars somewhere overhead, our poor beleaguered chronicler winces visibly before pushing on.

“At Gone To A Strange Country Andrew Lavigne writes about CODBLOPS.

Stu Horvath talks not really about trolls but about consensus and disagreement and diversity for the Unwinnable blog in a post called ‘The Ecology of the Troll’.

Patricia Hernandez at Nightmare Mode writes about ‘Playing Catherine as a Cheater’,  and aaaaaaaahhh!!

A dragon swoops out of the clouds and lands beside our figure. A change comes over him – an inner peace and composure – and then from his mouth blasts forth a shouted word of power. The dragon issues an answering roar and jet of flame, and our figure becomes shrouded in smoke and flame, the sound of spell and steel echoing across the tundra…

Apologies for the thinness of this week’s post but, well… you know.