As 2012 comes to a close and we look forward to 2013, we at Critical Distance look back at all the great writing from this year. We dug deep through the 1080 links from all the 2012 entries of TWIVGB, narrowing it down before also checking the 150 additional articles you, the readers, submitted to us for consideration. From there we did our best to create a list of the most memorable, most important and most representative writings of 2012. Critical Distance is proud to present This Year in Video Game Blogging.
In the past this category has been called “print,” but the world has changed in that time and things that would have been traditionally published have in some cases moved into digital representations of the same. Not in every case, but we honor both here.
One of the most talked about critical efforts this year, Brendan Keogh’s ebook Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line is a massive achievement for game criticism.
The book has received its own share of in-depth responses as people weighed in on its take of the game. Both Cameron Kunzelman and Darius Kazemi offered up their reviews of the book.
Another end of year project is the inaugural issue of Five Out of Ten magazine. It features the stellar work of Bill Coberly, Brendan Keogh, Lana Polansky and our own Kris Ligman and Alan Williamson. The magazine, for which Alan serves as founder and editor, is set to be put out bimonthly.
Meanwhile, print publications are still hanging in there, as Anna Anthropy (aka Auntie Pixelante) proved with her developer call to arms Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreams, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives and People Like You Are Taking Back a Art Form.
Critical Video Game Blogging
Every year the majority of the talking is about the games themselves, ranging from looking at the title as a whole, to one particular aspect of it, or to connecting it to the greater trends and themes of the medium. This goes for both games of this year and games of old.
By far the most talked about game of the year was That Game Company’s Journey. Ian Bogost for the Atlantic looked at the studio’s evolution as a creator entity in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Game Studio.”
Michael “brainygamer” Abbott contends Journey is not another retelling of the ‘hero’s journey’, but connects it to the sapta bodhyanga of Buddhist Enlightenment.
Robert Yang writes that Dishonored fails as an immersive sim during its tutorial as it closes off possibilities to learn mechanics.
Tami Baribeau of The Border House says that the portrayal of women in Dishonored flits back and forth between tired stereotype and commentary on a sexist society.
Where many others found a disgusting brutality in Max Payne 3 towards foreigners, Fernando Cordeiro found a certain catharsis in shooting his countrymen with regards to his lifelong frustration with the mindset of Brazil.
The Extra Credits crew uses Max Payne 3 as an example of Hard Boiled in games and how the industry has confused it as mature.
At Unwinnable, Jamie Dalzell detailed his experience in the Arma II mod Day Z through a four-part first person account.
Drew Dixon at Game Church grapples with his faith in humanity after his time in the land where society had been torn asunder.
Chris Bateman looks at The Thin Play of Dear Esther and breaks down the excuses made to delegitimize Dear Esther as a game.
At Medium Difficulty, Miguel Penabella writes “An Ode to Stanley & Esther” and to the concept of a game delivered through only walking and existing in an environment.
As part of his A Sum of Parts feature on Gameranx, Brendan Keogh looks closely at Binary Domain in how it creates and represents the other and on the concept of posthuman humans.
Maddy Myers writes about the American narrative towards violence and masculinity and how it relates to Hotline Miami for the Boston Phoenix. This reading was done in the wake of, and touches on, the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Patricia Hernandez wrote one of the best personal pieces of the year as she explores how Fallout 2 disillusioned her of the American Dream and shaped her life against the more traditional family ideology she grew up in.
Christian Donlan sat down with his father who was a member of the LAPD in the 1940s to see what reaction L.A. Noire would elicit. What he got was a unique method of traveling down memory lane.
Mattie Brice uses Persona 4‘s Naoto to look at gender identity, its presentation and the world’s treatment of trans people in the game and in her own experience.
To David Carlton, Super Hexagon is less of a game and is more akin to learning a language.
Tevis Thompson says that Zelda has been going downhill since the original and he wants to save the franchise.
Alex Curelea explains “Why Diablo 3 is less addictive than Diablo 2.” He explains that the missing reward loop is to account for the real money auction house, but it kills the quality of the game.
Robert Rath, in his column Critical Intel at The Escapist, looks at how drone warfare is represented in three very different 2012 releases: Spec Op: The Line, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Unmanned.
Helen Lewis gave John Brindle the floor at her column at the New Statesman to explain how text-based games are examining war in ways that traditional games either choose not to or simply can’t.
Jordan Rivas explains how Splinter Cell is the true post-9/11 game for him and his brother. The word has changed in the decade since and so has the series.
Our own Kris Ligman calls Analogue: A Hate Story a work of scholarship in the guise of an interactive experience.
Kate Cox looks back to Dragon Age II and says the mistake so many others have made about it is to look at it through the lens of the hero’s journey when it is more akin to a Shakespearian tragedy.
Drew Dixon chastises a number of reviews who still evaluate Papo & Yo through the traditional lens of challenge and fun instead of the artistic merits on which the game is working.
Eric Swain at his PopMatters column wrote a number of pieces on Driver: San Francisco, starting with “Magical Realism as a Game Mechanic.”
Destructoid’s Jim Sterling thinks there is more to the gender politics of Lollipop Chainsaw than is immediately apparent due to the treatment of Julia Starling’s boyfriend and how it ends up flipping the script on otherwise tired clichés.
Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance, started off the year by looking in depth at 2011′s indie marvel Cart Life.
Anjin Anhut of How Not To Suck At Game Design compares Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line in “A Man Chooses A Slave Obeys – from Rapture to Dubai.”
Taylor Clark wrote an expose on the creator of Braid and the upcoming The Witness, Jonathan Blow, for The Atlantic. He called Blow “The Most Dangerous Gamer.”
Sam Machkovech explores Fez as the real extension of Phil Fish in lieu of the “idiosyncratic crazy-man, played up for entertainment’s sake” that Indie Game: The Movie presented him as.
Matthew Weise saw a decline of anti-American sentiment in the Metal Gear franchise.
Space-Biff! has an index of in depth writing on Metro 2033 by Daniel Thurot.
The International House of Mojo has a fairly deep retrospective on the LucasArts masterpiece Grim Fandango.
Pat Holleman of The Game Design Forum reverse engineered the design of Final Fantasy 6.
Finally, this year has been so jam packed full of game from every strata and of every description. There would be almost no way to cover them all. Sparky Clarkson came close as he enlisted 12 critics to help him out in explaining the greatness of as many 2012 releases in alphabetical order as possible.
While many focused on specific games, other pieces looked as concepts themselves. They looked to what games are, how we criticism them and how we view them as a culture.
Games as art is the debate that will never die. But Jimmy Brindle of the Brindle Brothers has put their unique stamp on it by saying what art really is: a flaccid penis.
Sophie Houlden likewise undermined the entire question by flipping it and asked “Can Art be Games?”
Shifting gears to criticism itself, Jonathan McCalmont says that we live in a post-critic world where such gatekeepers of culture are useless. Instead the art world has turned towards curation and perhaps game critics should as well.
Richard Clark looks the difference between reading something into a text and getting something out of a text and how that relates to criticism of video games.
The jury is still out on the “proper” way to write about games and I think this is the way it’s supposed to be – there is no agreed-upon method for movie or music criticism. As games writing matures, it will become broader, more varied and more confident.
What game writing needs isn’t less personal writing, but more voices, more brutal honesty and more grappling with diverging viewpoints and perspectives. More than anything, we need a community of writers who are open to second-guessing themselves, in their writing and otherwise.
L. Rhodes at Culture Ramp, conducted a series of interviews on video game journalism and criticism that he called The Ludorenaissance.
Katlin Tremblay laid down the 101 on gender criticism for gamers at Medium Difficulty.
While many focused on specific game, others looked towards design itself. Some looked at aspects of games while others looked at the purpose and nature of design itself.
Robert Yang turned his No Show Conference talk into a 3-part essay for Rocks Paper Shotgun, collected here, called “A People’s history of the FPS.”
Andrew High went in depth on what he sees as the next great barrier for video game creation, the proper use of audio with detailed descriptions and many examples of music and mixes.
Jonas Kyratezes says what he aims for in his design is grace.
We say games are art, but do we mean it? We certainly don’t behave like it. A comparison with other art forms immediately highlights the difference. No-one sells a book with a feature list. Not even blockbuster movies, the most commercial of all film types, are sold as if they were haircare products or power tools. Only games are.
In response to the Jennifer Hepler debacle, Tom Auxier comes to her and others’ defense by explaining, “Why some game developers shouldn’t like games.”
Gaming is more than just code or artifacts. It’s a culture. And any art form is only as good as the culture that surrounds it. I can only hope that these are the signs that things are getting better. Art affects people. People affect people. To understand games as a whole, one must look at the people as well.
I had things organized by general subject and put related things together. But given the nature of some of links I had to switch things around for the sake of this: Trigger Warning for Rape, Harassment, Shaming, Death Threats and all the bile that goes along with them. I’ll post when this section ends.
Anita Sarkeesian was the target of one of the vilest campaigns of targeted harassment ever. Here she details the image-based and other visual based harassment to shed light on what was going on.
“The R Word” by Anonymous is the autobiography of one victim’s struggle and the burden it has place on their life. This was to show the debate on rape’s use wasn’t about offense it was always about harm.
I put this here to defer to Brendan Keogh’s own trigger warning. He describes to those who still don’t get it what Rape Culture is. As other commentators have said, including Brendan, he wouldn’t have been listened to or gotten such a tepid reaction if he was a woman.
( END TRIGGER WARNING SECTION. )
Katherine Cross wrote “Game Changer” for Bitch Magazine listing down the biggest of sexism clusterfucks of the year.
Our own Katie Williams details her experience with a PR rep at E3 and her desire to simply be allowed to play and do her job.
Maddy Myers waded into the Boston fighting game scene to learn and improve and found a bastion of sexism and unwelcoming atmosphere at every turn.
Cara Ellison repurposes Ginsberg’s poem Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox into Romero’s Wives.
Sometimes sexism is so ingrained that you bring it to bear against yourself as Jenn Frank describes in her piece for Unwinnable “I was a Teenage Sexist.”
Patricia Hernandez fell into the same trap during a match of Gears of War where she uttered three words so common to multiplayer gaming, but offered her no solace against her opponent.
Lara Croft was an important figure to Cara Ellison, as she explains how the recent treatment of the character makes her feel in a male dominated culture.
J.F. Sargent describes how certain video game designs turn bigotry into a form of play by teaching the systems and ideas of oppression and reinforcing the status quo.
Author John Scalzi created the best metaphor of how sexism, racism and all the other -isms affect how one lives in the world. The straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting in life.
W, a solider now working with a PMC, wrote a guest piece on the type of person that exists as a solider in a modern warzone: a sociopath, himself.
Patricia Hernandez, writing for Gameranx, talks about how shooters now perpetuate war as the new normal in our lives. A never ending conflict that happens somewhere else to someone else. “War is routine, war is spectacle, war is sanitized, was is surveillance.”
Bill Coberly looks at what games are actually teaching their players about guns by how they are portrayed.
Steve Boone wrote two pieces in response to the violence smorgasbord that is E3, in particular The Last of Us and the modern war shooter genre.
Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times was asked to participate in the GameCity prize, specifically because she was an outsider. She details her experience and thoughts with the games nominated.
Our own Alan Williamson, wrote for the New Statesman that we shouldn’t dismiss non-gamer voices when they talk about games and begin critically examining their place in our culture.
Jonas Kyratzes looks at what the $100 barrier to entry for Steam Greenlight means for a struggling indie developer.
John Brindle explores the elitism of gaming and how gamers are like the posh twits looking separate themselves from the plebes.
Also at Nightmare Mode, Porpentine goes to epic lengths to explain the Twine revolution and how it relates to capitalism, how it can be used and a short expose on the hacks to create with it.
Robert Rath has a two part examination of the conflict minerals in nearly all of our electronic devices and the awful conditions in which they are mined and shipped from the Eastern Congo and what the west can and is doing about it.
Then there is the stuff off the beaten path that doesn’t really fit anywhere else.
Two years ago, Brendan Keogh started a Minecraft blog where he would play a nomad and always travel Towards Dawn. That journey ended this year after two in-game months and several updates.
Rainer Sigl wrote a piece entitled “The Art of in-game Photography” on just that. In addition, he wrote “Confessions of a Videogame Tourist” where games offer a substitute for real travel.
Richard Clark helped President Obama get over a tough time this year by playing some games with him.
Rob Zacny published on Polygon a long expose on the management failure Kaos Studios for the dead on arrival Homefront.
Cara Ellison wrote a love letter to the games that she will never finish due to the connection they have to her life.
A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words
For all the digital and real ink spilled on games and issues trying to describe the complexity of the problems or bring truth to light. Sometimes a single image can do what a dozen articles could not:
Blogger of the Year
And now a brief interjection by our Senior Editor, Kris Ligman:
It’s been customary for those of us at Critical Distance to name one or more authors as the breakout blogger of the year. For the first time, we’ve elected to make this custom an official part of our end-of-the-year roundup.
In the past, the honor of “best writer” has gone to such stellar talents as Kirk Hamilton, Kate Cox and L.B. Jeffries. These breakout names went from standing near the periphery of our reading of games writing to taking center stage in the critical discussion, and each year, they help raise the discourse to new heights.
This year, we are proud to name Brendan Keogh our Blogger of the Year.
Brendan, as should be evidenced by the inclusion of his book and many articles peppered throughout this roundup, has proven himself to be a prolific, evocative writer with a lot to say and the means to say it. We salute you, Brendan, and look forward to your future work.
Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot
This year has been fruitful. Games writing has never been better with a higher quantity and quality of work than ever before. So much happened and came out this year beyond the messy confines of this round up that we could not hope to contain the whole zeitgeist. Going through the TWIVGBs of this year reminded me of so much has happened that some felt like it was different era. So much has changed and we at Critical Distance hope for a bright future as we march forward. A big thank you to all those who emailed us suggestions and to all my colleagues at Critical Distance.
Next weekend we are back to our usual routine. So please continue to send your suggestions for TWIVGB to our email or our twitter. From all of us here at Critical Distance, have yourselves a Happy New Year.