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Author Archives: Katie Williams

March 10th

March 11th, 2013 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

It’s been a noisy week, folks. Loud like the plaintive whirring of my PS3 as it struggles to keep up with all these games I’ve been playing (for research, I assure you). Loud like the fracas that’s been kicked up by the launches of SimCity and an Anita Sarkeesian video in the same week. Good grief! Let’s launch right into the madness. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

First up, issue two of the magazine helmed by BoRT coordinator Alan Williamson, Five out of Ten, is now out! For five quid you’ll get yourself ten essays penned by some of games criticism’s most prolific. Yours truly poked curiously at Sleep is Death and the female monsters of Silent Hill: Downpour, but my personal favourite? Denis Farr’s exploration of gender in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and The Sims. There’s enough material in this mag to fill its own TWIVGB post, to be honest, so definitely pick it up if you just can’t cram enough criticism into your cranium.

Meanwhile, over at Indie Game Magazine, Marc Isaacson describes the dangers of in-app purchasing. While this editor is not 100% sure she agrees with the idea of IAPs being scammy generally – I am sensitive to the fact that games are a business, and that developers need to eat, after all – I think it’s a conversation well worth having as the free-to-play model only grows more and more prominent.

The Globe and Mail has a fantastic long piece, by Ian Brown, which asks: “Are video games like Assassin’s Creed rewriting history?

This is one way history still gets taught: At 6 p.m. in a pink-and-beige lecture hall at the University of Toronto, 100 young men and women in HIS217Y are writing down everything, absolutely everything, Erin Black is saying about Woodrow Wilson and his efforts to keep the United States out of the First World War.

Here’s another way history is inhaled today: At 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in a precise, book-upholstered apartment, Mark Brownlie, 42, and his fiancée, Erin Dolmage, 39, sit before their 60-inch plasma TV and play Assassin’s Creed III, a $60 video game about the American Revolution.

Ah, I love this stuff: Jill Scharr of Unwinnable makes evident some really interesting links between videogames and well-known artworks.

Headline of the Week Award goes to Troy Goodfellow, with “The Pope as a Game Mechanic” at Flash of Steel. But, hey, once you get past that title, the actual text isn’t that bad of a read either. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly the Pope does, Goodfellow suggests looking through the lens of gaming to understand: “Well, if you play historical strategy games, then the Pope is there to make your life a little more complicated. He is a prize to be fought over, a lover to woo, or a dispensary of tasks.”

Critical Distance’s newest editor Mattie Brice, writing for her own Alternate Ending, examines how the design of games such as Depression Quest serve to drive home their message. It’s the first of her video series, but she’s helpfully posted a transcript as well.

Depression Quest is for a couple different audiences, and a player could fit into more than one. Mainly, there are two ways a person can approach it; looking for solidarity in a shared experience and gaining empathy through a shift in perspective. It is possible to do it both ways because this game both is and isn’t about depression, is and isn’t about a particular person.

And now, for a pair of Tomb Raider reviews. At the Gameological Society, John Teti muses that Lara’s promising story is unfortunately constrained by its narrow-minded game design; at the Mary Sue, meanwhile, the wonderful Becky Chambers praises the evolution of Lara Croft, videogame sex goddess, to Lara Croft, someone we can actually relate to:

Forget everything you’ve read about Lara needing your protection. Forget about her needing to be “broken down.” It’s nonsense, all of it, the remnants of some truly misguided remarks about a character who is, without a doubt, one of the best action heroes I’ve ever seen. Not female action heroes — action heroes, period, full stop.

If you’ve noticed a lot of articles here exploring women’s issues, well, that may be because we’re not the only ones celebrating Women’s History Month.

The Border House is doing a callout for submissions on women’s history in games, to be compiled in a pdf collection – check out the post for details.

This week also marks the launch of the project Women In Development (Games and Everything Tech), or: WIDGET! Run by Leena van Deventer and Liah Clark, it’s a website that says it will “support women developers by means of supplying resources, showcasing role models, and providing an encouraging space in which to ask questions and learn from others.” Successful lady developers, such as BioWare’s Karin Weekes, have already used the space to write about their craft, and I’m sure there’s only more to come.

And that brings us to one of the week’s two meatiest issues…

Anita Sarkeesian’s highly publicised web series has finally launched, following the huge Kickstarter campaign and the horrific haters that came with it. Part 1 of Damsel in Distress is pretty basic knowledge on the common trope, but still important; as I said on Twitter, I’m hoping this really makes its way into games studies classrooms. Check out the accompanying Tumblr, too, for further examples of the trope.

If you needed an example of why Sarkeesian chose to disable YouTube comments – and of why we so badly need a series like this in the world – see Mathew Jones’ round-up of what people are saying about Tropes vs. Women.

And for those who might ask “whers my tropes vs men vdieo???”… check out Stephen Beirne’s investigative piece on just what happened to that project, anyway. It’s fairly hilarious.

The other hot topic of the week? The disastrous launch of SimCity, whose always-online DRM kept many players from actually being able to play the thing. It’s brought up a lot of questions about the usefulness of the ever-expanding popularity of such DRM, and in the wake of Polygon’s twice-revised review score, it’s had many questioning how the review process works, too.

Tom Chick argues that those who reviewed it highly, despite the launch day server issues, were not necessarily misleading consumers:

SimCity does not work yet. And anyone who has reviewed it favorably at this point is reviewing it entirely on its promise. If that’s how you want to evaluate games, have at it. There is pretty much no reason any game shouldn’t get a stellar review. The industry should be grateful for your enthusiasm.

And finally, Raph Koster believes that always-online DRM is not going to go away; it’s a “march towards ‘everything you used to buy, you now rent as a service,’” he says, “With all the good and bad that entails.”

That’s it for this huge week of TWIVGB! Mattie Brice will be doing the next two weeks’ round-ups, so be sure to tweet or email to ensure your favourite pieces of the week are submitted for her consideration. Why not contribute to our themed Blogs of the Round Table topic, too, while you’re at it?

March 3rd

March 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

It’s a party in here! We here at Critical Distance are filling the halls with cheerily-coloured, but still very meaningful balloons in celebration of Women’s History Month. I am Katie, here to deliver the first of March’s This Week in Videogame Blogging round-ups curated by CD’s women editors. Lots of tasty stuff here this week, friends, so let’s toss a few streamers and get the funtimes started.

It’s very good that games can give us feels and all that fun stuff, but besides the ability to make us cry, you know what else videogames explore? MONEY! And, okay, the possible feels associated with it. That’s what Chris Dahlen’s looking at over at Unwinnable, with his analysis of Cart Life both as a retail simulator and a sadface-inducing story of people down on their luck:

While Cart Life has been tagged a “political game,” it doesn’t deliver a simple critique. After all, you’re not just a struggling member of the underclass; you’re also a budding capitalist. The crushing anxiety of the first half of the game turns into relief, satisfaction and even pride once you finally get your stand going and start to bring in some money.

Also at Unwinnable, Stu Horvath once again exercises that muscle of his that endlessly impresses me with its application of non-videogame knowledge to, well, videogames, with a comparison of Dunsany’s asymmetrical variant of chess to the way today’s gamers still can’t fight that urge to tinker with the ruleset here and there. “When children play amongst themselves, the rules of play are malleable,” says Horvath. “Changing the rules – seeing just how much one can get away with before exhausting the patience of the group – becomes the game more than the game itself.”

At Kotaku, Evan Narcisse and David Brothers ping-pong to each other a series of letters that explores “why we need more black people making games.” I mean, we know this already; hell, even the devs know it, if the developer quotes that Narcisse reveals are anything to go by. “One day someone’ll realize that there’s an opportunity here,” Narcisse says, “just like they did with hip-hop, hood movies, blaxploitation, and more besides, and then it’s gonna be on and popping.”

Over at Pop Matters’ Moving Pixels blog, my brother in the art of Williamsing, G. Christopher Williams, has a really cool take on those people who are all, “Dude, relax, it’s just a game.”

But I do worry about you guys, sometimes. You do know that all those pixels on a screen mean something, represent something, communicate something, right? You do know that the flickering images on a screen make you feel something, make you laugh, make you cry because, you know, they’re familiar, not real, but they remind you of real circumstances, real moments of joy, real moments of tragedy?

Meanwhile, Williams’ brother in the art of pixel-moving, Nick Dinicola, also has something weighty to say. About doors. Never let it be said again that the doors of Dead Space 3 are not a big deal, because they’re significant constructs in the building of the entire world, man.

Timely right now, especially with BioShock: Infinite’s ever-nearing release, is Kaitlin Tremblay’s thoughts on the use of nostalgia in the BioShock series:

When talking about BioShock, Levine stated that the game acted as a Rorscarch for people (one that usually ended up in negativity, infuriating gamers who chose to engage with it on that level), and this is exactly how nostalgia is operating: it’s letting us, as players and as an audience, look at the game (the mechanics, the setting) and project our own political discourse onto it.

And while we’re on the topic of BioShock Infinite (as well as in the midst of Women’s History Month!), our German-language correspondent this month suggests Marcus Dittmar’s article on the representation of women in videogames for 99 Leben, starting with what I feel is a rather problematic developer quote on the visual design of the character Elizabeth:

“Originally we had a very different outfit for her, and it was a little bit more true to the period. And I thought, ‘a user is going to look at this and be like, why the hell would I want to hang around with her?’ She wasn’t attractive at all. Revisiting that to keep it true to the time, but also so it has a little bit of appeal to the modern eye.”

Ugh. Chilling.

At Gamasutra, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail has a thoughtful, well-constructed piece on the place of academia and games studies in games development, as well as the press’ misconception’s about his stance on the subject. As a former games student who once felt like she was “doing it wrong” in both the academic and the technical side of things, like a helpless spider whose legs are pulled in opposite directions… Rami, I know that feel, bro.

Also at Gamasutra, Mike Rose wonders if we can address the free-to-play model’s problems via a game jam: “An avenue by which inspirational and creative individuals can attempt to tackle the free-to-play space, and hopefully show the average gamer how free-to-play can universally be done in a respectful and entertaining way.”

And, finally, we end with some of the nerdy videogame-to-real-world comparison stuff I just can’t get enough of: trained geologist Jane Robb, writing for Gamespot, investigates the accuracy of Skyrim’s geology, and whether it’s up to a standard that might allow for its use in educational training.

And now it’s time for me to kick y’all out so I can get to work on the cleaning the place up. Sigh. But don’t take this to mean the party’s over: Women’s History Month has only just begun, and as usual, we’ll be fielding all your recommendations on Twitter or via email. And while you’re at it, check out Alan’s excellent new BoRT topic, too. See you next week!

August 5th

August 5th, 2012 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

“Hey, can you do the round-up, I’m busy,” said Kris to me this week. I was about to protest – my weekends are usually reserved for an oh-so-taxing mix of gaming and feeling sorry for myself after Friday night, you see – but then I learned just what was keeping Kris so busy. So you know what, Kris? I’m happy to handle This Week In Videogame Blogging if it means you can have all of the cats.

First off, Josh Straub at Game Informer enlightens us on his definition of game “accessibility”, as informed by his being a disabled gamer. He says that it’s not about dropping a game’s difficulty, as many of us might believe, and relates his experience of playing Uncharted 2:

I am a disabled gamer and I am determined to keep playing. Sometimes, my disability prevents me from moving my hands fast enough to execute certain sequences in games. For example, one of my favorite games of all time is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Near the end of the game Drake is in a Tibetan temple, in which there are levers he must crank to open doors. The way the player makes Drake open these doors is by tapping the triangle button repeatedly. Because of the delay in my muscles, there is no way for me to tap fast enough to get him to open the door. When I realized this, I was forced to confront the idea that I had just spent $60 on a game, progressed most of the way through it without help and now had to rely on somebody else to get me past that point. Beyond that point, however, the game was easy for my hands to handle. It was literally two small sequences, opening two small doors that made the game inaccessible. For me, game accessibility is not an empty phrase or a buzzword – it’s a part of my life.

At the New York Times (gasp! Mainstream coverage!), Amy O’Leary traverses the well-beaten path of sexual harassment in online gaming. While the first half of the article mentions topics you’ll be familiar with by now – the fighting game community, Anita Sarkeesian, et cetera – it’s worth a read for the second half. O’Leary digs up some interesting stuff, most notably the experiences of XboxLive’s former head of enforcement.

Okay, now. I thought our own Eric Swain was pretty full-on with his love of Driver: San Francisco, and now Brendan Keogh is in on it too. Through the lens of Driver, Keogh discusses players’ need to make a world make sense, and describes how we react when things don’t go as we expect.

Next up is something we’re a couple of weeks late on, but it’s still worth a watch: a video analysis of what makes horror games actually, you know, scary.

Meanwhile, at the Fengxi blog, there’s an interesting write-up on Anna Anthropy’s use of metaphor in her game Dys4ia:

Anna’s uncertainty and anxiety regarding her body is represented through a tetris piece that can’t properly fit through a wall. The aggravation of her breasts during hormone therapy is translated through a pair of breasts dodging obstacles as it floats upwards. The harmful words of naysayers berating her and denying her goals are represented by projectiles which a shield that you control needs to avoid. And the beauty of it is that it makes so much sense! Anna as a shield, words as dangerous projectiles, a body as a tetris piece, trying to properly fit-in with its environment? Dys4ia’s use of metaphor is straightforward and effective, and we as players instatntly understand what it’s telling us. That’s the power of comparison.

At Moving Pixels, G. Christopher Williams actually attempts to answer the question of “u mad?” He’s a braver person than I, evidently. His piece is an interesting consideration of why League of Legends players so obsessively want to know if they’re hurting their opponents. The answer speaks quite directly to the lack of consequential signifiers in online competitive play, he says.

The Mary Sue’s lovely regular contributor Becky Chambers does it again with a look at the concept of “flow” in games, or as she puts it, That Time J.R.R. Tolkien Wrote A Short Story About Video Games.

Excitingly, Robert Yang of the Radiator blog has a piece on the level design one of my all-time favourite games, Thief. He says: Thief 1 and 2 didn’t have an “open world” structure. They got around this constraint (and arguably, surpassed the “open world” as an organizing principle) by inventing their own level design conventions and expectations.

Kotaku’s Jason Schreier addresses the divide between the people who make games and the people who play them. He wants to talk.

The biggest problem in gaming today is that the gaming industry thinks we’re all out to get them. They think gamers are the enemy, a group that needs to be treated with disdain and avoided whenever possible. They think the only way to fool us into buying their products is to cover everything in a shroud of secrecy, only drip-feeding us pretty trailers and juicy soundbites during carefully-tailored marketing campaigns. They think we should just sit there and lap it up.

Alan Williamson has a similar sentiment, only he feels that gamers need to discuss their hobby with each other, too. If you’ve ever been told to “relax, it’s just a game”, you’ll know where Williamson is coming from. Over at Nightmare Mode, he says:

Games are evil. Games rot your brain. (I say: let’s rot!) Games are toys. Games are ‘only entertainment’, with the lofty aim of being taken as seriously as whatever trash Hollywood is promoting this week. No matter how many Journeys we make or how many people are pissed off with Mass Effect 3‘s ending, it seems we’ve barely scratched the surface of games becoming acceptable mainstream art. How many people do you know that own a Wii or love Angry Birds, yet have a real problem identifying themselves as a gamer? An elitist culture surrounds geekdom, where you’re not a ’real geek’ unless you’ve got a Super Mushroom tattooed across your face and speak only in arcane memes. This is where the term ‘newbie’ arises in the gaming lexicon: it’s there to discourage non-geeks from encroaching on ‘our’ turf.

And speaking of Nightmare Mode, I’d like to end this week’s round-up with a heads-up for you. If you’re keen to contribute to the happy party of games criticism we’ve got going on here, Nightmare Mode is currently seeking contributors. If you feel you’re a good fit for the site, then it’s time to get pitching. Who knows; maybe we’ll see your name here on TWIVGB in the future?

As per usual, if you have any sweet articles you’d like to see mentioned here, hit us up on Twitter or send an email our way.

February 12th

February 13th, 2012 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Whoa, but that’s a lot of words! Our Critical Distance update is full of good stuff today, people, so let’s get right into it.

Firstly, The Mary Sue’s Becky Chambers discusses what she dubs the ‘Hey Sweetheart Scenario‘, using Dragon Age as an example of a game whose NPCs treat a female player character as something to be taken aback by. Says Chambers,

If you, as a game writer, are tasked with creating a story in which the player feels like a bonafide hero, then what purpose does it serve to point out that my heroine is going to have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, purely because of her gender? That’s a feeling I already have in the real world, and it’s not one that I want to experience within a game. If you’ve actually got something to say about gender norms within the narrative of a game, then say it. Tacking it on just because it’s what you’re used to takes away from the integrity of the story and kicks female players right back to an uncomfortable reality.

In contrast to this, Ben Chapman at the Pixels or Death blog has some fascinating insight into gender in the world of Mass Effect in his piece ‘Dispatches From the Villain, Fem Shep‘. While he admits that he plays his male Shepard as a hero and his female Shepard as a borderline sociopath, he is amazed that his own “accidental misogyny” is not supported by the game world: “… scarcely anyone calls my Fem Shep ‘a bitch’. There are virtually no derogatory remarks belittling my capability to fight on account of my virtual boobs. No one makes a sarcastic remark about “my gender” and driving ability when I accidentally ramp the M35 Mako upside down into a crater.

At Nightmare Mode, Mattie Brice frankly shares her experience of growing into a transgender identity through the lens of Katawa Shoujo‘s Hanako. Brice says, “I saw her do something that triggered a muscle memory from my past: She covers her face.”

Paul Tassi, contributing to Forbes, has some things to say about piracy and the entertainment industry in his article ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Piracy‘:

I would argue that releasing crappy movies has a far greater effect on the film industry bottom line than piracy ever could. Similar things happen when a hyped TV show bombs or an anticipated game is a letdown. Companies don’t rise and fall due to piracy, but they do based on the quality of the products they release.

The point I’m trying to make is that piracy is not this mammoth specter killing the entire entertainment industry like they would have you believe. I am not saying that there has never been a dollar or job lost because of it, nor am I encouraging the illegal practice in the least, but the natural ebbs and flows of the industry with big hits and misses are far more significant than miniscule piracy loses among a specific, young, tech-savvy group who knows how to get their media for free.

Over at VG 24/7, Patrick Garratt tours Finland, with some excellent and quality reporting on what he learns of the Finnish development scene.

The Border House has picked up an intelligent analysis of ‘Analogue: A Hate Story’ by our own lead curator Kris Ligman, in which she touches upon topics such as games-as-fun, its modelling on Korean history, and its relation to the Star Trek series.

Additionally, Critical Distance contributor Eric Swain is at it again with an examination of Driver: San Francisco, this time looking at it alongside the movie Drive. Most memorable is his comparison of how the two works are firmly anchored in the act of driving:

Ryan Gosling’s character is solely defined as a person by his most potent ability: driving. He has no name, no past, and all the human contact that he has is filtered through driving. The dates that he goes out on? They’re night drives. The business ventures that serve as his main means of human contact? They are his job at a garage and stock car racing. He meets his “love interest” by helping her with her car. In an action video game, the protagonist is solely defined by the verb that the player uses to interact with the game. In the case of Driver: San Francisco and John Tanner, that verb is “drive.”

At Kotaku, Kate Cox looks at the David Jaffe’s blundering self-promotion of his newest game, Twisted Metal, asking us: ‘Does David Jaffe Really Recommend His New Game As A Sexual Aid?‘ Says Cox,

The part that Jaffe seems to misunderstand is that someone doesn’t need to be waxing a handlebar moustache and tying young ladies to railroad tracks to make a sexist or misogynist statement. Most trouble doesn’t actually come from villains and it doesn’t come from people who actively stand around shouting, “I hate women.” It comes from thoughtlessness.

By framing his statement as “let her win and she’ll give you a blowjob,” Jaffe’s said a few things he may or may not have meant to. The first is that only straight men could possibly develop an independent interest in playing his game. The second is that the best way for a man to get what he wants is to come up with some underhanded trickery to apply. The last is that a girl or woman couldn’t actually win a co-op match on her own.

Patricia Hernandez also made a splash at Kotaku this week with an epic-length piece called ‘The Rules of Religion, And Why The Next One Might Just Be A Game‘. She looks at a handful of games as well as the possible gamification of religion, but most striking to me, personally, was her retelling of his own family’s attitudes towards religion, as well as the sweetly self-aware acknowledgement of her Kotaku debut. It’s a long piece, but fully worth it when you reach the final few paragraphs.

Over at Gameranx, Brendan Keogh doesn’t believe that Skyrim is cold:

I was told that Skyrim was a harsh, desolate region, whose terrifying weather chiseled the toughest men and women in all of Tamriel. But then I walk its mountains and cities and I see adults and children alike strolling through a blizzard in sleeveless attire, not even flinching. My character swims in arctic conditions and doesn’t even gasp. I’ve come across bandit camps that are bedrolls completely exposed to the elements beside a campfire that couldn’t possibly be burning without an unhealthy dose of napalm. There is a whole heap of snow in Skyrim but there is no cold.

Also at Gameranx, John Vanderhoef looks at the trope of the male main character and his female companion in ‘The Princess and the Knight: Companion Games and Missed Opportunities‘.

There’s something about L.A. Noire that lends itself to incredibly intricate and pensive writing, and Daniel Golding’s post on it at his Crikey blog Game On is no exception. Though Golding calls it a “review” and admits that it’s only eight months late, to him, this “slowness” becomes an integral part of the game itself:

Reviewing a videogame within a week of its release can force you to overlook its subtleties and emphasise aspects that, with time, reveal themselves as far more important than apparent at first blush. Yet leave it too long and you risk falling into the cracks, the familiarity of a videogame massaging over the faults. Each game may have a rhythm, but so does every player, critics included. I am stuck in the spaces between L.A. Noire’s four-note musical motif.

But by now, I know L.A. Noire, and I know that it’s worth playing, worth watching, and worth spending time with. It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth contemplating.

And finally, the hot issue of the week was studio Double Fine’s Kickstarter venture to fund a new point-and-click adventure game, which at the time of writing has raised $1,659,095 of its $400,000 goal. No, really.

Craig Wilson of Split Screen presents ‘A Double Fine Audit‘, speculating what say fans will have in the development of a game they funded. Wilson writes,

What alarmed me was how willingly people donated given how little details had been made available. Sure there’s the usual tiered list of donation gifts and a funny video but Double Fine promise involvement in the development process. But outside of the documentary what does that mean? What does my money actually buy me? To what extent, as a financial stakeholder, am I actively involved?

On the other hand, Seb Wuepper at Gameranx asks passionately, ‘Are You People Insane?‘ Addressing the controversy around Double Fine’s crowdfunding, he says,

This seems like another case of gamer entitlement. The reasons escape me, since the downsides of this approach to funding seem minimal at best. If the worst happens, gamers are out by a mere $15 at the least. Which at this point seems highly unlikely since the project is already funded with more than a month to go. Make no mistake, this is not a risky investment. It’s a—for the lack of a better term—preorder for a highly passionate company producing what’s seen as a niche product.

Finally, Rowan Kaiser sits between the two as he writes ‘Double Fine’s Kickstarter Effect: What Happens Next?‘ Despite his expressing satisfaction that an older genre is given some attention, he outlines a number of reasons why he is “highly skeptical that this will create meaningful change within the industry”.

And that’s every last drop of the gaming goodness we have for you today. If you have any delicious recommendations for next week’s post, please do send them via email or Twitter.

October 30th

October 30th, 2011 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Hello there! I’m Katie, and I’m doing Critical Distance duty today. We have a great selection of reads this week, so get comfortable and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate. (Hot chocolate is an excellent accompaniment to games criticism, and I should know; I’ve had three cups of it while compiling this list.)

On to the latest edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging, then.

We’ll start with an intense interview piece, courtesy of Rock Paper Shotgun. In the first of a new series called ‘Level With Me, Dan Pinchbeck’, modder Robert Yang chats with the aforementioned Pinchbeck, who’s currently working on a reboot of his 2008 Source mod Dear Esther; Pinchbeck especially has some interesting ideas on whether “lazy” narrative really needs to be “saved”. The discussion later shifts focus to the design of a Portal 2 map, a collaborative project between Yang and Pinchbeck. This is the first of a seven-parter – Stick to the end of this series, and you’ll get to download and play the map that they’re putting together!

Blogging at The Machination, Jack McNamee suggests that the stories of 1001 Nights may have been an early example of gamification:

Princess Shahrazad finds herself married to King Shahriyar, who takes one bride every night and cuts their heads off in the morning. Thinking quickly, she invents Gamification, doing in one night what would take the rest of the world thousands of years to rediscover. 1001 Arabian Nights – the collection of stories she tells to the king keep herself alive – is made of wheels within wheels. Instead of tasks, though, it’s wheels are made of stories.

Following a previous piece on sexism in Arkham City (which we linked last week), Film Crit Hulk has now posted a great follow-up, addressing the criticism his first piece received. Read on for his thoughts on why realism, freedom of speech, and context do not necessarily excuse the sexist language used in the game.

The ever-excellent Kirk Hamilton, writing for Kotaku, imagines what it would be like if buying a book was like buying a game, in the process making some great commentary on the inconsistent marketing decisions made when publicising games. It’s so true! Just consider if you had to face this dilemma every time you bought a book:

Hmm, it’s been a month and I still can’t decide: Should I pre-order through Amazon, or through Barnes & Noble? It looks like Amazon gets a special bonus of a foreword from the author… that would be pretty cool to read. Oh, but Barnes & Noble has a special bonus chapter in the book itself, which folds seamlessly into the narrative. Hmm. I remember preordering from Barnes & Noble once and when I went to get the book, they didn’t have it.

In another neat example of games criticism featuring in a more general-audience publication, Hayley Tsukayama interviews Irrational Games’ Ken Levine for the Washington Post. It’s an intelligent discussion about the politics of Bioshock Infinite’s world in relation to that of real world events, particularly the Occupy movement.

‘Off Book’ is a PBS arts-focused web series that in this episode takes a look at videogames. It features comment from a healthy blend of games designers, journalists, and academics, and is worth a watch.

Meanwhile, Dan Cox at Digital Ephemera looks at the concept of “asymmetrical knowledge” in tragic stories. Cox writes,

If “audience member who knows that the big fall is coming, but doesn’t know when” then there is not a symmetry between what the character knows and what the audience knows. The audience knows more than the character. In books, plays and film, this is what builds dramatic tension. The audience is watching “the slow-motion train wreck” about to happen and is transfixed by their sheer curiosity of how the situation will resolve. Will the character escape their fate (made manifest by their flaw) or not? Can Oedipus escape the Oracle’s prophecy?

Cox goes on to examine asymmetrical knowledge in games, a significantly less linear medium than plays and film, with some interesting discussion of how in-game achievements can alter the narrative’s tension.

At the Brindle Brothers blog, John Brindle looks at the way that physics has been replicated in touchscreen phones’ operating systems, and how the tiny touches of physics simulation supports the verisimilitude of the virtual. He says, “This facsimile of physics lends a material weight to immaterial. It exists in part to meet the demands of the new and still not completely intuitive gestural vocabulary which smartphones and pads have introduced.”

The Brainy Gamer’s Michael Abbott, in ‘Little Nuggets of Truth’, discusses an IndieCade speech on the nature of creating puzzles, delivered by Jonathan Blow and Marc ten Bosch:

So, how do you design good puzzles? By not trying to make hard puzzles, say Blow and Bosch. Not even by trying to make good puzzles. “Look for the truth and illustrate it with a puzzle.” The point of the puzzle is to show some truth, and the designer must know what that truth is in the context of his or her game. “Eliminate anything that is not about that truth.”

In an opinion piece at Gamasutra, Richard Fine writes about the role of music in shaping a gaming experience, more so than many other factors of a game. With my own recent re-immersion in the soundtracks of Darwinia and VVVVVV, both of which Fine namedrops, this is a topic that hit home with me. As he says, “Music is, I think, the only thing you could use if you needed to set my mood in 30 seconds. And if you picked the right music, you’d be guaranteed success.”

In a great piece that sits on the margin of games criticism and games criticism criticism, David Lake at his blog, Meditations on First Gaming Philosophy, discusses the player character’s place in Kieron Gillen’s concept of New Games Journalism:

In terms of a game’s narrative, the PC is the entity that kills the monsters, returns the princess to the castle, but also who rampages into innocent villagers’ houses, stealing their possessions and then high-tailing it to the nearest dungeon. The PC is the catastrophic effect the human player has upon the game world. This is in contrast to the Main Character, the in-lore hero who we control. The Main Character is the one reacted to in cutscenes, who never commits any of the ridiculous acts us players have them during gameplay. Where the Main Character is the game’s official report of a hero, the Player Character is the reality.

At the new and well-written blog Ambient Challenge, Lee Kelly annotates his playthrough of Metro 2033 in ‘Learning Russian’, looking in particular at the game’s unique handling of post-apocalyptica, and how his own gameplay decisions strengthened the story. He says,

Had I set the game to its lowest difficulty settings, I could have just gunned down the man and his comrades with no trouble. I probably wouldn’t have been skulking around in the first place. It would have also completely undermined the story, which would have continued insisting that Artyom was in danger despite evidence to the contrary. It was only by genuinely pushing my limits that the game could deliver on its narrative and thematic intents, but a lot of people just don’t want that kind of challenge. An attempt to make Metro 2033 more accessible to a casual audience would inevitably just prevent it from succeeding on its own terms.

Critical Missive’s Eric Schwartz examines the automation of player skill in game design, in response to a recent Gamasutra feature (found here). For instance, in the case of auto-aim, Eric says, “Shooters on consoles can still be fun and complex games, but taking out the aiming reduces skill involved and cheapens the play experience.”

And now for what was likely the most talked-about event of the gaming world this week: Blizzard’s controversial decision to end this year’s Blizzcon with a video of Cannibal Corpse’s singer using homophobic language to describe his hatred of World of Warcraft‘s Alliance faction. Gaygamer.net has coverage of this speech, including an uncensored version of the expletive-riddled video.

This prompted Denis Farr to write a very brave, personal piece about his own experiences with homophobia over at his blog Vorpal Bunny Ranch, where he explains why such language cannot be excused as “just words”. He says:

Because, if you think I am oversensitive, I dearly hope you never go through a fraction of what I have. Otherwise, you might find that your skin isn’t so much thick, as it has been largely untested. I am still here. I have been suicidal, but I am still here, ready to raise a middle finger, yell, and demand that I not be subhuman.

Following the feedback of Farr, as well as numerous other players, Blizzard issued an apology, and it’s a notable apology in that the company takes responsibility and does not try to shift blame. Bravo, Blizzard.

And finally, in light of the controversy shadowing Simon Parkin’s Uncharted 3 review, Critical Distance is pleased to present the following: a review of a loofah.

That’s it for this week. If you have any great links to share, you probably know where to find us by now (and if you don’t, that’s at both Twitter and via email). Thanks for reading!

September 4th

September 4th, 2011 | Posted by Katie Williams in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Hello, and welcome back to This Week in Videogame Blogging. My name’s Katie, and I’m new here – I’m very pleased to be able to bring you this week’s instalment. There’s some good stuff to get through this week!

First up, we have Joel Goodwin with the final entry in his ‘Where We Came From’ series over at Electron Dance, a moving piece about his gaming childhood. He writes:

I was obsessed with video games during the first decade of my life. I remember having many dreams that ended up at a video game arcade; it was a particular place that my dream-self knew well, although it did not exist in the waking world. I never really played much there, as I usually woke up pretty quickly after I grabbed the controls of one of the machines. It was more about the signature of the arcade than its function, a perfect amalgamation of every arcade I’d ever visited.

But, in time, this place eventually slipped out of my dreams and I forgot all about it.

Ben Kuchera, writing for Ars Technica, calls Gears of War 3′s trailer music an ‘emotional cheat’, arguing that its song evokes emotions that are not found in the game itself:

I wish we could have trailers that pull from the actual game in order to provoke an emotional reaction, instead of relying on juxtaposition to make the point. I wish there were moments in Gears of War that actually made me feel like these trailers do. It’s not that the games aren’t emotional—I can think of one or two moments off the top of my head that hit hard—but these trailers are painting the picture of a game that doesn’t really exist. It’s a ploy, a shortcut to an emotional connection, and it’s becoming a formula when it comes to sell action games.

And speaking of the Gears of War series, Tom Bissell provides an excerpt of his forthcoming book The Art and Design of Gears of War at Grantland, describing through personal anecdotes and developer commentary how Gears of War‘s design had drawn him so deeply into the game.

Ryan Henson Creighton, blogging at Untold Entertainment Inc., asks, ‘Are We Headed for a Second Video Game Crash?

i’m no economist, but i have heard the phrase “supply and demand” bandied about. What we have now is an oversupply and an under-demand. There are too many people making games, and not enough people to play them – and more importantly, not enough people willing to pay fair market value for them. When the president of Nintendo takes to the stage at GDC 2011 and implores people not to sell their games for a buck, something alarming is happening. And when you get a trend of people reducing the cost of their games from $1 to FREE because $1 was too expensive, it’s time to consider jumping ship. And then setting that ship on fire.

Taylor Cocke at Scoreless is working on some more short vignettes of games (remember his Far Cry 2 stuff?). Now he’s doing Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Line Hollis at Robot Geek discusses what she terms ‘Leaning Games‘. Their choices, as she describes, are also employed in choose-your-own-adventures and AAA titles, to varying effect:

What this style really resembles is the story structure found in mainstream games with a “moral choice system,” like Bioshock, Infamous, or Mass Effect. The dead simplicity of the system in Bioshock is a particularly close match. Each Little Sister offers a chance to lean in one direction or the other. Your decisions to save or harvest the Little Sisters only barely affect the storyline, but they do affect which ending you get.

In a three-part series, Matt Barton of Youtube gaming-focused series Matt Chat conducts a video interview with independent game designer Jonas Kyratzes: parts onetwo, and three.

Over at the blog Insult Swordfighting, as an addendum to his recent article at Joystick Division, Mitch Krpata asks a handful of games writers: ‘Are game reviewers bad at games?‘ He says, “I’ve always found it interesting that game reviewers tend to be modest about their own abilities. They might claim to know a lot about games. They are confident that they can write about games better than the average player. But, when it comes to skillz, it seems to me that most critics are happy to accept their limitations.”

Johannes Koski, blogging for Persona Matters, takes a look at the difference between ‘The Leading Man‘ and what he terms ‘The Second Man’, looking especially at the kinship between Final Fantasy XII‘s protagonist Vaan and secondary character Balthier:

All along while playing Final Fantasy XII, I had the feeling that Vaan was the one in whose place I inserted myself, the one through whom I operated in the game world, the interface if you will, and Balthier was the one I emotionally related to. Balthier, as a character, is a lot more resolved and stern than Vaan. Vaan has the drive and motivation to challenge the Empire, yet Balthier is the one I felt most strongly drawn to. In cut-scenes, Balthier seems to be the one who comments on things, whereas Vaan is used mostly when someone has to say something obvious or funny, or when the occasion clearly calls for the player character to participate in the action. In a sense, Balthier was what I expected from the protagonist of a Final Fantasy game, and Vaan was more of a… I don’t know, a viewpoint?

In the first of two contributions from Pop Matters this week, Jorge Albor examines the way puzzle-platformer The End handles the topic of mortality.

And next, in ‘Thematic Confusion in the Branching Narratives of Video Games‘, Nick Dinicola explores the branching plots of games such as Mass Effect 2, Dead Space: Ignition and Heavy Rain, the latter of which he says:

Maybe David Cage of Quantic Dreams had the right idea when he suggested people play through Heavy Rain one time only. After all, you can’t recognize the inconsistency of branching plots if you only see one of them.

Quinnae at The Border House blogs about the hyperreality of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and Dragon Age: Origins, in particular looking at their treatment of sex workers and transgendered characters:

Much work has already been done on the nature of ‘lenses’ as held and espied through by the powerful. That is what hyperreality is, fundamentally, a lens through which the lived reality of the less-powerful is warped and distorted. What makes this pernicious is that the distortion is then presented as the real. The ‘easter egg’ style gags with the trans sex workers at the Pearl were clearly meant as ‘mature’ jokes for a ‘mature’ audience that could handle this ‘reality.’

At the blog Your Critic, Kate Cox looks at Fable III in ‘Let’s Talk About Sex!‘, examining instances in games in which sex can be used as more than just a story arc:

Still, the real surprise for me with sex in Fable III is not that it exists; sex is implied in plenty of games.  The surprise is that its existence is announced independently.  By adding “sex” to the bed options, and indicating NPC sexual orientation (and flirtatiousness levels) in info boxes, the game is putting out there the idea that sex is a thing your PC might do for any combination of fun, profit, and love, depending on any number of whims, emotions, and circumstances.

Eric Heimburg over at Elder Game writes about the moment he realised that he wasn’t really a game designer, and became one:

That was an important day for me…because I realized I wasn’t a game designer, despite thinking I was. I’d played tons of games, I knew all the mechanics they used. But here I was, unable to defend the simplest concept. It was frustrating.

We’ve previously linked to a Kill Screen interview about the game Smuggle Truck, which Tanner Higgin describes at his personal blog as ‘failed satire’:

Smuggle Truck tries to be Colbert and ends up as South Park. The reason: it’s aim is off. Instead of effectively parodying the inefficient, extended, impossible, and downright racist U.S. immigration system, Smuggle Truck ends up making fun of the border crossing experience, which itself is equal parts harrowing and horrific.

And finally, Andrew of the site Andrew on Everything, discusses what  he calls ‘Overlearning the Game‘. While he doesn’t look at it strictly from a videogaming perspective, he describes a problem that certainly covers gaming ground. He says, “I think this problem, of overlearning the game to a point where you exploit the rules to achieve goals that are far removed, or even opposed, to the original intent of the game, is systemic in human society and permeates almost all aspects of our lives.”

As usual, if you have any good reads to check out, tweet us, or hit us up via email.