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Author Archives: Kris Ligman

About Kris Ligman

Senior curator for Critical Distance. Newsie for Gamasutra. And Ben Abraham's ex-wife, but only on Facebook.

August 31st

August 31st, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (4 Comments)

Hey there, everyone.

Before we start today, a bit of signal-boosting: Digital Love Child is putting together an ebook collection on gun games and has put out a call for submissions, deadline sometime mid-September.

Also, the new videogame StoryBundle is out, containing books by Anna Anthropy and Zoya Street as well as the first six issues of Five Out of Ten magazine. You should get it.

Now that that’s out there, let’s bring it in close and get comfortable today. I have a long one for you and you might need to take a few breaks.

I don’t often dedicate This Week in Videogame Blogging to a single topic, but in this case it was more or less unavoidable. There were a few articles on other subjects, but they would be drowned out by the conversation which follows below, so I’ve bookmarked them for next week. Don’t worry, nothing’s been lost.

I also want to note that this edition of the roundup has a general content warning for at least the following: sexual harassment, stalking, rape threats, death threats, and misogynist slurs, with a liberal peppering of ableist slurs thrown in for good measure. Please use your discretion when proceeding.

Additional article-specific content warning markers will be noted after relevant links.

Tropes vs Anita Sarkeesian

If you haven’t seen it yet, Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames series has released the second in its two-part episode on “women as background decoration.” (Additional content warning: graphic sexual violence.)

The release of Sarkeesian’s video, amidst the ongoing tensions and attacks on women in the industry, has led to Sarkeesian receiving credible death threats on her and her family, forcing her to leave her home. It’s also led to quite a bit of discussion elsewhere, mainly on the subject of the sustained harassment against her.

At The New Statesman, Ian Steadman takes a couple cues from Sarkeesian’s own videos to provide an excellent breakdown in the logical fallacies used to “debunk” and derail the criticisms present in the video series.

While not referencing Sarkeesian specifically, this post by former GameSpot critic Carolyn Petit does a good job at countering the argument that games are beyond cultural criticism:

Games are not politically neutral. Neither are mainstream romantic comedies, or action films, or any novel I’ve ever read. They may sometimes appear politically neutral if the values they reinforce mesh with the value systems of the larger culture, but our culture is not politically neutral, either, and it is not outside of the role of a critic to comment on or raise questions about the political meanings embedded in the works one evaluates. In fact, it is often impossible to review something apolitically, because to not comment on or challenge the political meanings in a work in your review is to give them your tacit endorsement.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Jennifer Justice suggests that for a lot of the kneejerk negativity directed at feminist games criticism, something more fundamental is at play:

A lot of the fear I see about feminism comes from the idea that giving in to feminists means giving in to censorship. For some, that fear takes its shape in nonsensical arguments about threats to masculinity or stealing of power from one group to another [...]

Those who fear censorship could read my posts as an argument to “clean up” narratives… to remove sources of conflict in order to avoid disturbing female gamers who play these games. But I believe women are made of tougher stuff than that, and most of us want a good story as much as the next gamer. It’s not that I want games to be without conflict or to always end with some moralistic theme. I just want more stories.

At The Verge, Adi Robertson also expounds on this theme, in particular the assertion that depictions of women in games can be defended as “realistic”:

“Why is it video games need to be politically and societally [sic] correct? The whole point of video games is to escape reality and have fun.”

If that’s the goal, games like Watch Dogs are failing horribly.

You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims. [...] Oddly, when someone raises these issues, the people who have been stridently defending their games as “just games” switch to explaining why having women in other roles is unrealistic. A gritty, stylized world built on the corpses of women is defended as a way for gamers to escape from reality, but if someone points out that it makes them uncomfortable, they’re told that they’re supposed to be uncomfortable.

XO Jane’s Lesley Kinzel adds that the attacks only drive home how relevant Sarkeesian’s criticisms are:

It should go without saying, but you don’t stop an activist or a critic by propagating the exact behavior that they are organizing or arguing against. In fact, doing so bolsters their cause.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Women in Games

In addition to these renewed attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, this marks the second week of a harassment campaign against independent developer Zoe Quinn. At The Daily Dot, Aja Romano has an effective recap of last week’s attacks and also showcases how the incident differs from the Josh Mattingly harassment scandal from earlier this year.

(Side note: You may have heard that actor Adam Baldwin is involved in this somehow now. The Mary Sue’s Victoria McNally has a good writeup on it.)

An interview with Quinn’s ex-boyfriend has also circulated a lot this week and was originally pinned for inclusion in this roundup. I’ve removed it, in light of this post by Critical Distance alumnus David Carlton, who warns of the false equivalence we risk creating in the press by covering the voices of abusers as valid:

[T]he media likes to find two sides of the issue to present, and to present those sides without any sort of context that might cause one to evaluate one side more favorably than the other. It doesn’t matter if one of those sides is supported by essentially all experts on the subject while the other is only supported by loons (sic) or guns-for-hire; it doesn’t matter if one of those sides is engaging in behavior squarely within our political norms while the other side is doing historically unprecedented attacks on the very concept of majority rule; and, as here, it doesn’t matter if one of those sides is behaving with simple compassion while the other side is lacking even a shred of simple human decency. False equivalence demands both.

At The Globe and Mail, Emma M. Woolley concurs, asserting that the claims of “corruption” only obfuscate a far greater problem:

Gaming’s most pervasive issue isn’t corruption, but the people who’ve taken ownership of something that isn’t solely theirs to begin with. In trying their damnedest to limit the appeal of the medium and use online harassment to achieve their goals, this group of toxic trolls are proving themselves to be gaming’s biggest problem.

In his tumblr, Australian media scholar (and definitely not Polygon contributor) Brendan Keogh covers this as well, in an open letter to a friend in which he laments that games journalism does indeed suffer from a kind of corruption, but not the kind in the Quinn “scandal”:

What all these people who are part of the attack on women who make games don’t seem to understand is that they are exactly the status quo that is fostered and served by games journalism and its problems. The good parts of games journalism (the critiques of the industry, the coverage of non-commercial games, writing on gender and race and the such) are a sign of games journalism getting better, but, to these people, it is their privileged position being brought down a notch so all they see is conspiracies.

Badass Digest’s Andrew Todd notes that apart from opposition to what “social justice” seems to represent to them, those involved in the attacks have no plan or goal:

Central to the self-centred psychology of these people is that they see themselves as the targets of a grand conspiracy of feminist, progressive journalists and game developers that seeks to destroy their ability to…something. They have no actual issue. It’s all perceived persecution at the hands of political correctness. These “theories” are so narcissistic, so devoid of substance, that the only way to explain them is through delusion. And I mean, I get it – justifying one’s shitty behaviour with a made-up conspiracy probably feels better than confronting the painful truth that one is an asshole. They think they’re part of a “silent majority”, but the real silent majority is the one that either isn’t aware of their ridiculous conspiracy theories, or understands that there’s simply no reasoning with [them].

Developer Elizabeth Sampat draws into sharp focus how Quinn is only the latest in a march of countless women who have been harassed in the industry, many to the point of being forced out:

I could tell you stories about the voices we’ve lost, the women we’ve scarred, the people we’ve left behind. I want to, but I’m not sure you’d get it. I tweeted earlier today, We should have a war memorial for all of the women we have lost to this. We should lay flowers and grieve and see our reflections in stone. And I meant it. I wish there were a way to honor the people our industry has wronged, and a way to visualize the enormity of what we have lost because of it— some representation of the gap between what games are and what they can be, and the pieces of the bridge between that have fallen away.

(Since its posting, artist Paul Reinwand painted a concept piece of what such a memorial would look like. I’ve included it below.)

memorial_reinwand

The subject of erasure turns up in the latest Not Your Mama’s Gamer podcast as well. Podcast co-host Alex Layne notes that while women in the industry have been terrorized in this way for years, it is only the recent wave of abuse coinciding with a bomb threat called in on a male Sony executive that the conversation has finally, seriously turned to acts of terrorism against members of the industry. This topic starts at around the 1 hour part.

Speaking of great podcasts concerning current events, the latest Idle Thumbs episode does it justice. I believe it’s Chris Remo who declares early on in the recording that trying to engage with the torrent of abusers has been “like Buzz Aldrin dealing with that Moon [conspiracy] guy.”

I leave the final word on this to Zoe Quinn herself, who weighs in with some self-declared final thoughts, washing her hands of the debacle. (Additional content warning: Quinn links to multiple screenshots which include 4chan-typical slurs.)

Beyond Nomenclature

In an empathetic post, Polygon’s Chris Plante suggests that games “culture” now stands on the brink, teetering between a new identity and its old familiar one.

This is a theme Leigh Alexander picked up and ran with this week at Gamasutra, saying in a strongly-worded editorial that it’s time to retire the ‘gamer’ paradigm:

By the turn of the millennium those were games’ only main cultural signposts: Have money. Have women. Get a gun and then a bigger gun. Be an outcast. Celebrate that. Defeat anyone who threatens you. You don’t need cultural references. You don’t need anything but gaming. Public conversation was led by a games press whose role was primarily to tell people what to buy, to score products competitively against one another, to gleefully fuel the “team sports” atmosphere around creators and companies.

[...]

Yet in 2014, the industry has changed. We still think angry young men are the primary demographic for commercial video games — yet average software revenues from the commercial space have contracted massively year on year, with only a few sterling brands enjoying predictable success.

It’s clear that most of the people who drove those revenues in the past have grown up — either out of games, or into more fertile spaces, where small and diverse titles can flourish, where communities can quickly spring up around creativity, self-expression and mutual support, rather than consumerism. There are new audiences and new creators alike there. Traditional “gaming” is sloughing off, culturally and economically, like the carapace of a bug.

[...]

Developers and writers alike want games about more things, and games by more people. We want — and we are getting, and will keep getting — tragicomedy, vignette, musicals, dream worlds, family tales, ethnographies, abstract art. We will get this, because we’re creating culture now. We are refusing to let anyone feel prohibited from participating.

“Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.

In a community post, Devin Wilson goes one further than Alexander and speaks directly to industry members about the things professionals can do, starting right now, to be better:

We need to consider the very real possibility that the offensive behavior displayed by gamers in recent weeks is not unrelated to the artifacts they rally around (which I doubt are especially obscure). These people didn’t come from nowhere to fight about nothing. They came from games to fight about games. They’re organic results of the medium we’ve all played a role in cultivating, and they won’t go away if the medium doesn’t change significantly.

Star Wars: The Old Republic lead designer Damion Schubert took to his dev blog Zen of Design this week to call upon communities — including but not limited to developers — to call out and oust toxic individuals:

I’m issuing a call to arms – a call to arms not just to developers (who in the last two weeks have risen heroically in defense of our comrades under assault), but also to the large contingent of ‘good guy fans’ that I know are out there, and I put it on them to work with us to address this issue. Call out the assholes as you see them doing assholish stuff. Welcome and foster healthy, mature, respectful debate on the forums. Kick players from your groups and your private servers who can’t treat other players with a modicum of genuine respect. Do what you can to create a welcoming environment for ALL new players, no matter their demographics.

Back on Gamasutra’s blogs, Robert Fearon issues the (almost radical) proposition that the real force “ruining” games for the hardcore set is, in fact, the AAA industry itself:

The death of the videogame is not at the hand of women, queers, PoC or more human white men, it did not happen at the hands of journalists reporting on the more disturbing aspects of videogame culture, it did not happen because people decided that “gamer” was maybe something not so great to identify as. It did not happen because someone made a video pointing at a few things videogames have the habit of doing.

It happened because the big box money machine found itself more people to make money from. The very people who pandered and supplied the wares shifted their focus. And that’s when the hardcoreiest of hardcore, the vocal screamers who just want to play videogames with none of this ethical rubbish or DLC or microtransactions or or or lost their fight.

Critical Distance’s own Mattie Brice raises a similar point, suggesting that our communities need to be built on sterner stuff than what products we buy:

Petitioning gamers, companies, and publications to make a stand for the values we care about won’t happen at a healthy speed without strings attached. Everything will be mediated by consumerism, and simply buying or not buying from certain places isn’t going to solve core issues. So the next time you’re wondering what to do when things seem so bleak, reach out to the people around you, and tell them it’s time to get together, and form a supportive community. One that has, from the beginning, at its center, the ideals and ideas we want missing from industry.

Dubious Ethics

Another recurring topic this week was Kotaku’s announcement that it would forbid its writers from supporting the Patreons of independent developers (but not other crowdfunding and early access platforms).

At Unite Youth Dublin, Stephen Beirne challenges the decision, asserting that it will have little effect but punishing already marginalized devs. Brendan Keogh is also skeptical, comparing the situation to a hypothetical one between a music critic and a busker.

At Game Bias, Jed Pressgrove doesn’t much like Keogh’s analogy, reminding readers that old media has no clear answers for this either:

To put this another way, ethical concerns involving Patreon or Kickstarter are relatively new; ethical concerns related to the review of purchased or free products are quite old.

But, as Samantha Allen points out in The Daily Beast, this goes beyond sites or individuals — the next social media technologies need to be designed with the safety of the marginalized in mind.

Hand in Unlovable Hand

I’ll spare you all the regular song and dance usually reserved for these ending sections. Though, as always, be aware that we welcome your submissions through email and by Twitter mention.

And to reiterate, anything that was submitted this week but was not included is being kept for consideration next week. This subject just needed its own space.

If this is all a bit much, I’d recommend this roundup on Ars Technica by Casey Johnston, which refers to many of the links above and many more besides.

Lastly, for newcomers who may be confused about the format or purpose of this site, I’d like to direct you to our Mission Statement and Support page, which contains our anti-harassment and funding policies respectively.

Be safe, be well, sleep. We’ll be announcing something cool in a few days.

-KL

July 27th

July 27th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging, everyone!

Cult of Celebrity

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a massive moneymaker, and it’s provoked quite a bit of discussion. On The Daily Dot, Samantha Allen lauds the game and its central figure for flouting the highly gendered negativity being directed at it:

Kim Kardashian is surfing this wave of male tears all the way to the bank. In a world with limited opportunities for famous women as they age, Kardashian broke the Internet simply by lending her likeness to a single mobile game. And to read Kardashian as a vapid figure who does not deserve her fame is to fundamentally misunderstand the ways in which women exercise agency within the sexist constraints of celebrity culture.

At Paste, Gita Jackson goes one further by pointing to how the by-now familiar mechanics of the free-to-play genre reflect the game’s subject matter:

My avatar is whisked from engagement to engagement to engagement. Literally — as soon as I leave a cover shoot, I get a “call” from my “agent” with another offer with the implication that I should run over now. At these engagements, each action takes a bit of energy. When you run out, but try to continue, the game tells you that you are tired.

It does seem tiring. [...] For Mrs. Kardashian West, however, this isn’t a diversion. This is her reality. She doesn’t have a choice on whether or not she is scrutinized. She had a choice when her sex tape was released—be forever known as a woman who had a sex tape, or try and take control of that situation. She no longer gets to have “off the clock.”

Let’s Talk

This article by Dan Grilopoulos on Eurogamer delving into the origins of Minesweeper could have gone further into today’s competitive scene, but it is still an interesting piece on the ubiquitous software. In it, he interviews the original developers behind the game and Microsoft’s better-known plagiarism.

Back on Paste, Ansh Patel interviews Arvind Raja Yadav, game designer of the recently released Unrest, a game set in ancient India. (Full disclosure: I am a backer of this game.)

Meanwhile, at Sufficiently Human, Critical Distance contributor Lana Polansky and alumnus Zolani Stewart get into discussion over several recent topics, including Brendan Vance’s “On Form and Its Usurpers,” our flash-in-the-pan obsession with Mountain, and our problem with technological ahistoricity. Or as Lana puts it: “Be skeptical of the narrative of the new… the constant distraction of the immediate.”

A Matter of Interpretation

At Sinister Design, Craig Stern asserts there are, indeed, ‘wrong’ interpretations of games, or at least interpretations unsupported by the body of information within and surrounding that work:

If the creator of an artistic work leaves gaps in the work for the player to fill in, then yes, the creator will have to expect that players will fill in those gaps themselves–but this does not change our conclusion. The player’s interpretation must still be consistent with those elements for which the game does not leave gaps. Otherwise, the interpretation will be built upon false premises–which is to say, it will be wrong.

[...]

[T]he “no wrong interpretation” theory does not just promote interpretations from marginalized voices; it provides cover for unsupported interpretations from every perspective, including racist, homophobic, and misogynist perspectives. For instance: some have interpreted the inclusion of a gay character in Dragon Age Inquisition as a cynical bid on Bioware’s part to push “the gay agenda” [...] If it is not possible to provide a wrong interpretation, then that loathsome interpretation must also be “not wrong.”

In a direct response to Stern, Stephen Beirne contends that there is a middle path to walk between authorial intent and the critic, or player, as authority:

[W]hat we can do to reconcile these two forces of text and meaning is to produce with our criticism, not data or reference work, but folklore. Communally existing knowledge that is inseparable from consciousness on a social plane, as extelligence, inverse to intelligence, consciousness on an individual plane. Much like geist suggests the mindfulness of ideas, extelligence sees ideas and consciousness embodied in cultural artefacts. [...]

The value of this comes as I accept the existence of the social world and my place in it, and contribute to it my consciousness as given in the experiences and perspectives representative of a game’s narrative through me. I accept my fallibility and fragility as a condition of this. And in admitting myself as a participant in your world, rather than maintaining we each live in distinct bubbles, I accept responsibility for my message appropriate to my failings in the context of it as a socialized text and me as a socialized person, rather than appropriate to everybody’s individual imaginations.

Marginalization

On Polygon, Patrick Lindsey stresses the ways various (chiefly mainstream) games pathologize and stereotype mental illness, while also offering a few productive alternatives. (Content warning: ableism.)

This next link requires some background: last year, when the Entertainment Consumers Association named Gerard Williams, better known as HipHopGamer, as its new brand ambassador, the move was met with criticism as news outlets called attention to Williams’s past use of sexist and homophobic language. While these issues oughtn’t be downplayed, Williams’s new video brings to bear on the racially-inflected respectability politics which played into how his appointment was discussed in the media.

Back at Polygon, developer Brianna Wu presents four brief case studies of high-profile women in games journalism and development and the harassment they’ve experienced, as well as her own. (Content warning: sexist and racist slurs, descriptions of stalking, harassment rape and death threats.)

Wu’s article provoked several response pieces. First, Crystal writes that it’s stories like Wu’s that make her afraid of diving further into the industry. Second, at Gamasutra’s Member Blogs Elizabeth Sampat responds particularly to the way Wu’s article opens with a racial slur but subsequently elides the racial underpinnings of games industry inequality.

Lastly, this Tumblr post by ‘eponymous-rose’ cuts right to the heart of how we talk about gendered fandom, and it’s just short enough that I’ve elected to quote it here in full:

Like, let’s talk about how gaming fandoms often have an official forum that skews heavily male. Let’s talk about how that forum is almost universally an unfriendly locale for female contributors. And let’s talk about how that forum is often the only point of direct contact with devs, and how it shapes their perception of fan preferences and trends, and how that shapes their future work. Let’s talk about how the female-dominated online spaces are considered intrinsically easy to dismiss, the butt of a joke. “Man, tumblr overanalyzes everything and hahaha ships what’s with that anyway. Oh hey so this guy did a sweet 360 noscope montage to dubstep music let’s publicize that!!!”

Let’s talk about how folks in fandom were rewriting [Mass Effect 3] in a massive variety of creative and clever ways for over a year before that one dudebro did it, in horribly out-of-character quasi-prose, and was the subject of front-page Kotaku articles showcasing his devotion to the series.

Let’s talk about how female-dominated fannish spaces have been around for decades. Let’s talk about how “fans brought back Star Trek in the 70s!” always brings to mind stereotypical Trekkie dudes and not the women who were actually organizing and running conventions.

Let’s talk about how women are over 50% of moviegoers. Let’s talk about how women make up nearly 50% of gamers. Let’s talk about how, despite all this, the industry is still almost entirely guys making content for guys.

I’m just saying. Let’s fucking talk about this.

Building Blocks

In the latest Errant Signal, Chris Franklin contends that while Valiant Hearts is at times successful in striking a balance in gameplay and tone, it ultimately shows no confidence in the story it wants to tell:

[T]here’s this whiplash inducing indecision between “Let’s make this a moving, powerful game about a small number of characters” and “Let’s make this a super fun video game that people want to spend fifteen dollars on” and you never know which direction the next scene’s going to go.

[...] The game demonstrates that it’s perfectly capable of being maudlin without ever falling into mawkish or manipulative but also without attempting to overreach and deliver a story deeper or more complicated than its lush drawings and simple mechanics can tell. It knows how to be a quiet, somber eulogy those we lost during the Great War punctuated with warmth and humor to remind you why we should mourn and what we lost. It just, for whatever reason, doesn’t or can’t commit to that vision.

At Medium, Robin Sloan compares Minecraft‘s metagame with Star Wars‘ expanded universe, in which a core work which “calls forth” volumes of secret knowledge and spiraling fan creations. And at The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps recently came across some articles on adding explicit educational skills to traditional board games and balked at the idea:

This kind of modification makes games less fun, because it introduces tasks that are irrelevant to game mechanics. How about using games that involve math facts or words directly, instead of inserting them into otherwise perfectly good games? We go to educational games to get away from the worksheets and flashcards. When a game uses math or reading relevantly, it helps motivate children to learn those skills.”

Helps then goes on to outline several ways that existing and upcoming board games can introduce explicit learning, integrated with the games’ mechanics.

Unseen Academicals

Wai Yen Tang of VG Researcher rounds up four recent studies on game genre preferences by gender.

Also, Critical Distance contributor Lindsey Joyce recently presented at the Videogame Cultures and The Future of Interactive Entertainment conference held at Mansfield College in Oxford, and provides an overview of the event for those who missed it.

Finally for this section, this 2010 article on Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly resurfaced recently on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, albeit with a busted link. I’ve elected to run it despite its age, first because of the subject matter, and second because its author, William Huber, is one of the savviest games scholars I know (though in the interests of full disclosure, I should add I’m also a former student of his).

Dollars and Sense

Using iD Software and the proliferation of the first-person shooter as a touching-off point, Higher Level Gamer’s Erik Bigras argues compellingly that the why, how, and who of information distribution has at least as much influence on game design trends as having a good idea:

In the case of video game design, the ethic of access that was present in the early years of shooter design [shareware and engine licensing practices] was able to be coopted by the discourses that promoted an increased militarization of society in general and leisure in particular. Because of this increased in militarization discourses and of the ethic of access, the shooter design strategy was able to spread out to many other game genres. Video games that can neatly be classified into a single genre are now very rare. The spread of the shooter design — through the ethic of access and the militarization of information technologies — enabled an hybridization of video games that is heavy slanted towards military themes, which allows military discourses to access the private spaces of American citizens.

In a similarly incisive vein, Leigh Harrison looks to how Game Dev Story, by itself not seemingly all that controversial, in fact replicates some of the cutthroat and anti-worker practices of its subject matter. She notes:

Now, I’m not saying that the indentured game developers featured in GDS are somehow more important than all the ostriches, golfers, firemen, alien meat-curers or even medieval brewers in all the other management sims ever created for all of the computers. It’s just that I’m more familiar with the caveats and weirdness of their tumultuous real life job market. It’s this added knowledge which makes the game quite difficult — morally speaking — to play in its intended way.

On that note, Simon Parkin has turned up in The New Statesman this week to discuss why framing independent game development in terms of financial success is a dead end:

If the incentive that we present to young people for making games is predominantly a financial one [as in Indie Game: The Movie], then we are all the poorer. Video games allow people to express themselves and present the ways in which they experience and interact with the world and its systems in a unique way to others. [...]

This focus on financial gain rather than artistic gain is, arguably, at risk of turning video games into a cultural backwater. The big business side of the industry is characterised by creative conservatism, sure-fire bets based on bankable precedents.

In the Palm of Your Hand

At Lookspring, Margaret Robertson looks back at 2007’s Coolest Girl in School, a game made by and for young women in an era when small titles such as this were only beginning to appear. She observes:

Contemplating 2007 from 2014 is a really good exercise in understanding how weirdly time moves for the games industry. Is 7 years a long time ago? Obviously not. Except it’s an eternity ago.

This near-yet-remote history of mobile games prior to Apple’s App Store is the subject of a new book by Dreamcast Worlds‘s Zoya Street. It’s currently seeking funding and could certainly use your help.

Ten Seconds to Air

Thank you for reading! Remember that you can send us your recommendations for This Week in Videogame Blogging by tweeting at us on the twitters or emailing us on the emails. Go on, say hi!

There is still some time (mere days!) to get in on the June-July Blogs of the Round Table.

And you know the score, folks — Critical Distance is kept running entirely through the generous support of readers like you. If you like what we do and are eager to see that print anthology I keep talking about, consider signing up for a small monthly donation! We really do depend on you.

July 20th

July 20th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

I’m back from GaymerX and I have a whole trenchcoat full of new genders to pass out. Many thanks to our deputy curator Zach Alexander for covering the roundup in my absence.

Let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Mountain Phenomenology

We start out by following up on last week‘s lively Mountain discussion with this analysis from Ian Bogost, who finds the game exemplifies the concepts of alien phenomenology.

(My own mountain presently has a glittering meteorite, an enormous chair, an even larger analog clock, a bowling pin, and a bottle of rotgut embedded in it. Game of the year.)

Standard Models and Their Derivations

From Kill Screen’s Joshua Calixto we find a compelling look into the fighting game community which has emerged around Super Smash Bros Melee and Nintendo’s resistance to acknowledging these hardcore players:

For [game director Masahiro Sakurai], Melee was more than a sequel, more than a game even. It was his idée fixe, his impossible ambition to create something infinitely deep and comfortably shallow at the same time. Now Melee has become his Pinkerton: A revitalized cult masterpiece, a bolt of lightning caught in a bottle, and the one puzzle piece that could fix everything… if it didn’t already belong to another era.

At Paste, Ansh Patel contrasts Kentucky Route Zero‘s third-act music number to the operatic detour of Final Fantasy VI. And speaking of JRPGs, at Gamers with Jobs Alex Martinez shares a personal history concerning the cousin who inspired him, the name he would take, and the first game he experienced start-to-finish on his own: Earthbound.

While we’re looking back, Play the Past’s Angela R Cox asserts that by categorizing games as ‘retro’ (aesthetically or chronologically), we fundamentally change what they are:

That is, when we consider a text as a socially situated object, we find that as textual practices change around a material (or digital, in the case of code) object, the text itself changes as cultural perception and use of the text changes.

Empathy

At Game Bias, Jed Pressgrove blasts Always Sometimes Monsters for what he perceives as a sort of shallow pessimism.

And at PopMatters Moving Pixels, regular columnist Jorge Albor analyzes how The Wolf Among Us keeps its sympathies with the marginalized and victimized throughout its five-part arc.

New Cartographies

At Killing of a Goldfish, Jesse Mason has set out on an ambitious historical game criticism project oriented around Magic the Gathering, viewing its early expansion sets in the context of their release.

Meanwhile, at Medium, Zoya Street continues to do important scholarship translating from Japanese-language games criticism. Here, he draws upon Nobuki Yasuda’s framework for ‘omoshiroi’ (‘fun’ or ‘interesting’) and ‘tanoshii’ (‘enjoyable’) to ask what role, exactly, ‘fun’ (and semantics thereof) should play in discussions of games.

New Paths

If this article by Kirk McKeand at IGN on accommodating red-green colorblindness in game design reveals anything, it’s that far too many developers continue to stumble upon accessibility issues by accident. However, it should leave you optimistic that things are, gradually, getting better.

Likewise, on Media Diversified, Jordan Minor foresees a convergence of the afrofuturism aesthetic movement and a new wave of racially diverse games:

“Afrofuturism is the intersection between technology, black cultures, the imagination, and liberation with a heavy dose of mysticism,” says Ytasha L. Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. “It is expressed through an array of genres including music and literature. It can also serve as the basis for critical theory around culture and/or race. It is a lens to see alternate realities through a black cultural lens.” And it is particularly prevalent in literature like sci-fi/fantasy novels and comics books, gaming’s geeky cousins.

[...] Adopting the aesthetic could also give games a chance to be at the forefront of black narratives, an area they are currently lagging behind in to say the least.

Switching gears to talk about the more commercial end of current trends in games, at Eurogamer the one and only Simon Parkin looks into a particular legal wrinkle in the growing world of Youtuber advertorials, in which some publishers or developers pay video producers for coverage.

In all the discussion on Twitch and Youtube that’s been going around lately, not much attention has been directed toward women reviewers and streamers, of which there certainly are many. Here, Kim Correa interviews popular Twitch streamer Jasmine Hruschak.

And Then There Was Silence

I’m leery of deploying the phrase “mic drop” too casually, but if any article deserves it, it’s this one. No less than five of our readers sent in this same link this week, and once you get a few paragraphs in, it’s easy to see why.

At his home site, game developer Brendan Vance has released a 10,000-word tour-de-force on the intersections of games industry, industrialization, and spiritual wholeness. Summing it up could hardly do it justice, but here are some choice excerpts:

We have hereby come to prefer our ‘content’ the same way we prefer our pig feed: Smooth tasting, from an Ikea-branded trough. Think about how a 19th century philosopher like Hegel might regard the concept of ‘replay value’. Would he commiserate with us about how the mind/spirit of romanticism just doesn’t make for large enough murals? Or would we have to pull out a bunch of obscure 21st century English words just to explain to him what the hell we were talking about? It’s important to realize that ‘replay value’ is not some timeless virtue sought by all media for all of history. It is a political viewpoint wrapped in a sales pitch perpetuated by people trying to improve the market position of their mass-produced entertainment products. By appropriating the word ‘content’, which denotes what we want, our intrepid capitalist marketers have steered us away from the conceptual, spiritual and artistic content Hegel envisions. All we want now is more stuff for a lower price.

When we observe today’s class of small, broke, powerless game studios subsisting from tiny mobile project to tiny mobile project, we typically attribute their existence to an apathetic audience and/or soulless business executives. We neglect to notice how convenient our ‘neutral third parties’ might find it that these developers are incapable of renegotiating the royalties they pay or, say, founding a new ‘ecosystem’ of their own. Today we see Valve travelling in the same direction as Apple, and we wonder whether Gabe Newell can ‘fix’ the madhouse (sic). If you’re Gabe Newell the madhouse is not broken.

We who Twitter views as ‘content creators’ now live in a world where, paradoxically, the most anti-capitalist measure we could take is to charge money for things. I believe we need to do this whenever possible. Offering your work free as in gratis might seem noble and kind to those who want to see it, but remember that giving things away ‘for free’ via services like Steam, the App Store or Twitter costs both you and your users far more in the long term than $5 would cost them right now.

You Know the Drill

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, we value your submissions, so please keep sending them in by Twitter mention or via email!

Next item: There’s still a bit of time left to get involved in the current Blogs of the Round Table, if the topic catches your fancy.

A timely call for papers: Zoya Street’s tremendously invaluable Memory Insufficient zine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming issue on labor and games history.

And hey, listen — Critical Distance is a public resource supported by readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us continue to signal-boost and connect the most interesting critical thinkers on games from across the web, consider pledging to our Patreon! Every contribution helps!

July 6th

July 6th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

In the not-too-distant future,
This Sunday, AD,
There was a dork named Kris
Not too different from you or me.

They worked at CritDistance Institute,
Just another curator in a red jumpsuit.
They did a good job updating the place,
But their bosses didn’t like them so they shot them into spaa-aaaace~

(Okay we’re not going to sing the whole thing but–)

It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging 3000!

Strangely British

America-to-UK transplant Leigh Alexander spends some time going to Rapture with The Chinese Room. Meanwhile, Feral Vector’s David Hayward takes us on a stroll through the countryside as he reflects on the one thing really holding back the games industry: the “industry” part.

Scottish national turned international sex icon Cara Ellison has released her latest embedded report, this time with Thirty Flights of Loving developer Brendon Chung and a side of Hyper Light Drifter‘s Teddy Diefenbach. (Be sure to check out her most recent S.EXE column on Rock, Paper, Shotgun as well.)

No Game’s Land

On the Three Moves Ahead podcast Rob Zacny and Troy Goodfellow hook up with Jon Schafer to discuss revisionist history — and to wonder why we don’t see more titles set during World War I.

One of the few games which does depict this war, Valiant Hearts, is under Andrew Dunn’s magnifying lens this week for its simultaneously cartoonish and raw depiction of history:

It’s torn between being a serious This Is How It Was telling of WW1, and a ludicrous steampunky romp which plays merry hell with the history it earnestly tries to impart when it’s not about fistfighting an evil German baron on top of two ruined tanks in the middle of the Somme’s No Man’s Land. To say the game is tonally inconsistent is an understatement. It’s full-out atonal, right from the main menu screen: a morose soldier and his dog standing in mud and ruins while the sad theme music plays, juxtaposed with a jaunty text strapline about how many collectibles the game has.

Binders Full of Women

Exhausted with recent arguments breaking out within and adjacent to game communities online, Leigh Alexander has some simple Dos and Don’ts for combating sexism in online spaces.

Speaking of not helping, Sara Clemens places her tongue firmly in cheek this week to praise all the men who write thinkpieces about what great allies they are by playing female avatars.

On Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon reacts with some pessimism to recent comments by Aisha Tyler about the state of women’s representation:

Aisha Tyler is right, female characters are everywhere in videogames. On every street corner, on every stripper pole, in every trash can, and in every situation where being scantily clad could be a possibility (or not). [...] [W]e have to consider is what a game “chock full of women” actually means and to determine when women in a game are actually a hindrance to the cause rather than a help.

Over at Kill Screen, Jess Joho has penned this analysis of games’ perpetuation of social taboos regarding menstruation, in particular BioShock: Infinite. While it’s a little cisnormative, the general points are good.

Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Over at The Escapist, Robert Rath has produced another satisfying fine-grained analysis, this time on the physics and technical hurdles that make water such a task in games.

At Eurogamer, Tom Bradwell engages with a woman commenter to discuss how that classic derail to defend marginalization in games — “it’s not historically accurate!” — is fallacious at best.

Bradwell’s article relates directly to recent discussions on Assassin’s Creed, so this History Respawned video with Bob Whitaker interviewing Jessica W. Luther concerning race and the slave trade as depicted in Liberation and Freedom Cry is a nice follow piece. While a bit unfocused, it’s a good history lesson.

Elsewhere, Seth Brodbeck mulls on board game Eminent Domain and observes that its science-fictionalized imperialism, while theoretically dodging the issue of discussing real history, “is not understandable absent the context of European colonialism, and the use of sci-fi euphemisms threatens to obscure what is really going on.”

Lastly, Person of Consequence has effectively compiled a (fairly exhaustive) Critical Compilation of Nier! If we could find their contact info, we’d love to republish this (hint).

Just Say To Yourself It’s Just a Roundup, I Should Really Just Relax

Thank you to all our readers who sent in submissions last week! Remember, you can send in your own recommendations (yes, including your own work) by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

Blogs of the Round Table is continuing its June-July theme of ‘VINPCs.’ It’s so rad.

And hey, just a reminder: Critical Distance is funded through our readership. So if you like what we do here and want to see us continue to exist and all that, consider pledging to our Patreon! That would be really cool of you.

June 29th

June 29th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

What a week, eh? Let’s get straight to the links. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

A Look Back to Look Forward

We kick things off with Austin Walker and Cameron Kunzelman, who over at Paste have offered up a productive postmortem of IndiE3, the counter-E3 “unconference” which took place several weeks ago.

Also at Paste, Cara Ellison pens a letter to dear ol’ mum on the palatability of games among the mainstream — including what makes a game, and why Google’s Star Trek doodle may prove an excellent example of how to make games ready and accessible.

At Abnormal Mapping, Jackson Tyler takes a look back at the Uncharted franchise and decides that its hero Nathan Drake is caught between “a wide-eyed naivete and violent paternalism”:

The universe visibly contorts to ensure Drake’s triumphant survival, as he freefalls out of a plane (the plane is exploding, but in this series that is always implicit), before somehow catching a parachute in mid-air, and landing safely on the ground. Drake is permanently accompanied by a literal Deus Ex Machina, the grinding of its gears louder than all the bombast and destruction it choreographs, and yet the camera angles, the soundtrack and pacing are all and perfectly designed to help the player buy into the lie and ratchet up the false tension.

That’s because the fantasy of Uncharted is not to be able to catch the parachute, the fantasy is to fall and pretend for a moment that you were ever in danger at all.

At Midnight Resistance, Owen Grieve animatedly challenges the idea that public criticism of game design is tantamount to censorship of game developers. Meanwhile, on Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, TownCraft developer Leigh Harris suggests a small and easy way developers can fight against the male-as-default problem of game avatars.

You Keep Using That Word

The ever-delightful Brendan Keogh shares some excellent thoughts on the underrated Final Fantasy XII, even if he defines (my old archnemesis) “ludonarrative dissonance” incorrectly. Sorry, Brendan. But also, for shame, Brendan.

On the contrary, this week’s Errant Signal video (by Chris Franklin) expertly captures the real meaning of ludonarrative dissonance as it applies to Entwined: when a game’s “big picture” themes and ideology are at odds with its systems.

Interviews

The good folks at Idle Thumbs have released their newest podcast interviewing Netrunner co-designer Damon Stone.

At First Person Scholar, Meghan Blythe Adams interviews LIM and Space/Off developer Merritt Kopas:

I think there is a push among, I guess, critical consumers of games towards this politics of representation, of wanting images that reflect who we are and that’s important and that’s really valuable, but I think that the risk there is that we come to believe that if we just have perfect representation, everything will be fine and that’s the end goal. It reminds me of the ways that the politics of inclusion manifest in other spaces, so things like the acronym LGBTQ–whatever, it’s this idea that if we just get the right combination of letters, everyone will be included. And you can’t possibly, that’s a fantasy. And in ways, that’s one of the promises of or impetuses behind words like queer, it’s this word that in ways encompasses things but also leaves a lot of room. I think abstraction [in game design] does the same thing.

And the Machine is Bleeding to Death

This week saw, as Rowan Kaiser put it, “several simmering pots boiling over concurrently,”* as a number of frustrated freelance and part time game writers came forward regarding the state of their field.

The first inciting incidents came via industry veterans Jenn Frank and Rowan Kaiser, who have both joined the growing ranks of game critics/journalists with Patreon accounts (Critical Distance is itself largely supported by similar pledges).

At issue here is not that scores of writers are out of work or struggling, but that their unemployment is posed as a moral or professional failing. The fact is that if even considerably qualified writers like Kaiser and Frank are turning to crowdfunding solutions like Patreon, any supposed meritocratic system is busted.

Paste associate editor and fellow industry veteran Maddy Myers puts it quite well in a personal blog post, in which she calls out, though not by name, the hurdles and invisible inequalities that make the ‘game’ of game journalism often not worth playing:

I began to realize, in that moment, that maybe I am just bad at this. And by “bad at this” I don’t even mean pitching, or writing, or editing, because I think I am good at those. [...] But I’m bad at “playing the game,” and “hustling,” and writing the “right” stories (a.k.a. don’t rock the boat with all the “gender issues”???) for the “right” publications (you know the ones) until I get my prize of a Staff Writer Position, which I may or may not ever get, no matter how hard I work.

If you’re lost at this juncture, Mary Hamilton sums up the aired-grievances-thus-far.

On the other side of the fence, Kotaku UK editor-in-chief Keza MacDonald turns to Gamasutra’s Member Blogs to reflect on how the landscape of writing about games has changed dramatically within the last couple decades — and even in the last seven years.

Seasoned columnist and scholar Samantha Allen, meanwhile, laments the emotional and psychological toll being placed on the provocative writers who don’t “make it” yet are expected to keep agitating for change. And fellow scholar Daniel Joseph contends that perhaps for this kind of writing to survive, it may need to divorce itself from capitalism:

Maybe the problem is that if games “journalism” wants to become Criticism or Journalism it needs to detach itself from the corporate publishers entirely, which structure and regulate its existence in relation to advertising revenue. If journalism is about truth and democracy and the fundamental importance of the Speech Act it can’t hitch itself to a horse like [web publishers] Vox or Gawker.

Moreover, as Maddy Myers also highlighted this week, written journalism and criticism is a dying medium, something she suggests is no better exemplified than through Youtube celebrity PewDiePie.

*For the sake of transparency I should acknowledge that I, too, was one of those pots who boiled over. I haven’t included those writings here for the sake of avoiding self-promotion. Besides, my points are well-covered by the others here.

Incidentally, if you want to help fund these or other writers, Critical Distance’s own Mattie Brice has compiled a page of many of them.

+1 Signal Boost

On Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Porpentine’s column of curated free indie games has come to an end, so it’s quite worth it to page through the archives for its many gems.

This site turned up in our inbox this week and may be worth a watch.

Soha Kareem and several others have started up a tumblr advocating for intersectionality at conference panels.

And last but certainly not least, the newest issue of Zoya Street’s Memory Insufficient zine is now live, covering the topic of gender and sexuality. Great stuff!

Usual Footer Business

Thanks again for reading! We love getting your submissions, so please keep sending in your links by dropping us a line over email or mentioning us on Twitter.

Blogs of the Round Table is continuing its June-July theme of ‘VINPCs.’ Go have a look!

And hey, just a reminder: like I said up above, Critical Distance is funded through our readership. So if you like what we do here and want to see us continue to exist and all that, consider pledging to our Patreon! That would be really cool of you.

June 22nd

June 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Hello. Hi. Oh geez, it’s late. I’m late. It’s like I haven’t been here for, what, a month? Oh geez. Oh dear.

Gosh, don’t even listen to me, let’s just get to this so I can get to bed and you can tuck into some nice reading material. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

All that Fantasy Jazz

At Game Crit Chats, Kaitlin Tremblay and Javy Gwaltney hold a conversation on the unexpected staying power of Fire Emblem Awakening, and in particular, their fondness for its seemingly endless rabbit holes of character dynamics.

At The Appendix, Alex Golub traces how the word ‘mana’ went from a word with a specific meaning in many Polynesian languages to be adopted as the default term for magical energy in fantasy games and novels.

Lastly, on her own site Infinite Lives, Jenn Frank has been playing Tomodachi Life and finds herself reflecting not just on the imperfect simulation it offers, about recollections in general, and people, and family.

Liberty, Equality, Unity

In his regular column at The Escapist, Robert Rath takes a look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity and tracks why, for multiple reasons, relegating women to NPCs in a game set during the French Revolution betrays the spirit of its time period, where women frequently formed the front ranks of political upheaval:

I find it particularly inappropriate in the French Revolutionary period, when women made a concerted effort for representation only to be marginalized and even killed by the government they’d helped bring to power. Though I’m certain Unity‘s campaign will shed some light on these issues, I worry Ubisoft will tell the story without hearing the lesson. Simply put, we should be able to play as a woman in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because playing as a woman is in itself a revolutionary act.

At Go Make Me A Sandwich, meanwhile, wundergeek has doodled an entertaining series of illustrations for why developing playable women in games is so difficult. My favorite is definitely: “Female pixels can only be harvested from special flowers that grow on the moon.”

Not too long ago, Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Games series tackled the narrative device of “fridging,” whereby important figures in a character’s life (usually women) are killed off to catalyze the character’s development. At Ontological Geek, Bill Coberly grabs hold of the concept and takes a particular look at fridging in the context of Baldur’s Gate 2, where it treats the death of two characters, one man and one woman, very differently.

Speaking of Anita Sarkeesian, the first in the next leg of her games-oriented Feminist Frequency videos, “Women as Background Decoration” has gone live. In it, she particularly challenges the repeated portrayal of women as sex workers to be used and discarded. (Content warning: apart from the scenes of sexual violence Sarkeesian warns for, I should note that some of the video’s language regarding sex work is poorly chosen and ends up, consciously or not, communicating the idea that sex work is inherently demeaning or lacks agency. Hopefully the second part of this arc will address this criticism.)

At Game Design Reviews, Krystian Majewski also responds to the video. While not rejecting Sarkeesian’s criticisms of sexism, he takes exception to her assertion that depictions of violence against sex workers in games are “worse” than in other media because of interactivity:

If the argument was true, the opposite should also be true. Games ought to teach more effectively. Games ought to makes us more virtuous by portraying morally positive themes. Games ought to convey stories in an even more griping way. Games ought to make art even artier.

However, this argument never seems to be made. Even in the Games for Change movement, the understanding is that games need to be specifically designed for tease out the positive effects. Meanwhile the negative influence seem to be always there whether intended or not.

To end this section on a warmer note, in The New Yorker we find Simon Parkin recounting what is, to the best of my understanding, the most complete telling to date of the origin of same-sex relationships in The Sims.

Big Fish

In this widely circulated video, Ian Danskin advances the argument that the highly visible negativity directed at Fez developer Phil Fish stems largely from a system of internet celebrity, in which Fish’s public statements are only part of the equation.

Problem Attic developer Liz Ryerson directly responds to Danskin’s video as being too charitable toward the primary actors involved, instead asserting that there is a pervasive background noise of masculine entitlement which undergirds the behavior of love-to-hate-them indies like Fish or Jonathan Blow — and it is part and parcel with the increased commercialization of the indie scene:

[Danskin's video], in its inert, smug navel-gazing, merely reflects back the entitlement of the indie world. in the end it offers no particularly controversial or new insights about celebrity culture, but creates a sense of being a relevant and no-holds-barred commentary to those who are intimately aware of the subject matter. it attempts to exonerate Phil Fish to a lot of the young white dudes who are involved in the indie game community and probably want to identify with Fish. [...] but this sudden well of empathy seems to dry up once it’s applied to an outsider like [Anita] Sarkeesian.

In a similar vein though leading to a much different artery, at Eurogamer Richard Cobbett characterizes the recent outcries regarding Mojang’s attempts to regulate player servers as conflicting with the personable public image of its founder:

We routinely call Markus Persson “Notch” and for that and other reasons, he can’t help but feel ‘one of us’ in a way that no other developer right now can claim – the guy who initially faced Bethesda’s guns over the name “Scrolls” by suggesting the two companies fight it out in Quake 3, dropped plans to work with the Oculus Rift due to fears of what Facebook might to do it [...] The same Notch talking about EULAs and lawyers doesn’t fit that playful narrative. It’s like being threatened with a restraining order by your teddy bear.

The End is Extremely Effin’ Nigh

The somewhat-anonymous Greg has updated his tumblr praising the tone of Stoic’s The Banner Saga, which he perceives as ignoring the tendency for games to create right and “fair” systems and instead present players with a world in which they will ultimately die. The wonder of the game, as he describes it, is in pressing on despite this.

On a similar bent, on Normally Rascal Stephen Beirne takes to the Dark Souls series again, this time borrowing from German philosopher Nietzsche to describe the game’s “optimistic” existentialism:

[D]eath is ubiquitous but it is also deflated as a barrier and as an existential burden. It is no longer the final hurdle of one’s life, now it is merely a condition of one’s continuing living that you may accept. I have to admit, putting it like that doesn’t make it sound so different to death in real life, except for the point that ‘one’s continued living’ in reality remains a point of mystery for those bewildered with existential dread. So I stress: in Dark Souls, death is simply another thing you can do. While all else in Lordran is ruined by decay, you have transcended death as a barrier to worldly life.

It’s Systems All the Way Down

Taking off from the spiritual themes hinted at by Beirne, we transition to Albert Hwang’s most recent piece for Ontological Geek. You need to offer something very compelling about BioShock Infinite to get into C-D’s pages these days, but this analysis of the game’s baptism imagery from a rigorous theological perspective does the trick. (It should go without saying, but heavy spoilers abound.)

Meanwhile, as Hwang engages with baptism-as-system in BSI’s narrative, PopMatters’ Nick Dinicola criticizes Watch_Dogs‘s failure to actually incorporate hacking as a real system engaged by its protagonist.

Wizards and Glass

At Eurogamer, our own Alan Williamson pays tribute to the original Unreal.

Edge has continued to produce some great retrospectives of late, and this week they have a charming feature via Daniel Robson on Keita Takahashi, an artist who came from outside of the game scene and, through Namco, produced one of its most idiosyncratic titles, Katamari Damacy.

Edge has also continued to post excerpts from Simon Parkin’s An Illustrated History of 151 Videogames, and we just couldn’t pass up this chapter where he traces the history of the Sega Saturn.

On the subject of books, SPACE/OFF co-developer Anna Anthropy is publishing the complete text of interviews which thread through her most recent book, ZZT, about Tim Sweeny’s eponymous MS-DOS title. Here is the first of those interviews, with designer Alexis Janson.

Oh, and you know who else have a book? Kaitlin Tremblay and Alan Williamson have a book. You can get it.

You know who doesn’t yet have a book, but wrote about E3 as being a series of ghost cheese sandwiches? That’s right, Cara Ellison.

And The Rest, They Say, is…

Thanks for reading! Remember that we are only half the site we could be without your submissions, so please keep sending us your recommendations by mentioning us on Twitter or dropping us a line over email.

And hey, we know this sort of self-promotion gets tiresome, but we really do depend on your help to keep Critical Distance chugging along. So if you like these roundups and our other content like podcasts and BoRT please consider becoming a Patron!

May 18th

May 18th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

Good morning, or other period of the day in which you find this. I’ll bet you just woke up, though. It’s okay, I won’t judge. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Game Studies

A great piece of entry-level reading for anyone wishing to get started in the more scholarly side of writing about games, Stephen Beirne here bridges the concept of ‘intentionality’ as advanced by critic/developer Clint Hocking and the same term as it appears in philosophy, applying it to the player’s actions (and inaction) in games.

Elsewhere, Cameron Kunzelman continues his series of analyses on Assassin’s Creed, this time focusing on the series’ crowd blending mechanic as falling under what Alexander Galloway terms a ‘parallel aesthetic event.’ It appears that Karl Steel, a medieval studies scholar, caught wind of this piece and lent his own two cents on Kunzelman’s analysis, and more particularly, how Assassin’s Creed approaches the retroactive historicity he deems ‘medievalism.’

In the Creases

At Gamasutra, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander interrogates the idea of ‘passion’ as a characteristic for game playing and development, and suggests the stigma around the ‘casual’ label is more than a little undeserved.

Not Your Mama’s Gamer had a strong showing this week. In one post, Jennifer Justice, wonders why we sweep under the rug the scenes of domestic abuse encountered in Final Fantasy VII. In another, Sarah Nixon questions the ‘humorous’ womanizer character who seems to keep popping up in games, whose behavior may be frowned upon but is usually tolerated and played for laughs. (Content warning for both links: sexual harassment and verbal abuse.)

I happened to miss this earlier, but MolleIndustria’s Paolo Pedercini delivered a bruising talk at Games For Change earlier this month, challenging the attitudes and capitalist models being advanced at the same conference. If the video isn’t your speed, Pedercini has also helpfully posted his slides and notes on MolleIndustria’s website.

Interviews

At First Person Scholar, Meghan Blythe Adams interviews Analogue and Hate Plus developer Christine Love on taking games beyond the scope of power fantasies into real explorations of human beings, including a frank and realistic take on sexuality. Also, there’s a bit in there about Hideo Kojima.

Meanwhile, at Racketboy Dave Heineman holds an audio interview with Daniel Johnson, author of Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4.

And back at Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander catches up with Shawn Alexander Allen, lead developer behind the recently Kickstarted Treachery in Beatdown City, a game which seeks to present a diverse and class-aware vision of New York City.

Place and Space

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster observes that with modern day smartphones serving as real-world ‘minimaps’ for many of our lives, the feeling of being ‘lost without even a landmark is a vanishing phenomenon. Juster describes rediscovering that feeling through Miasmata.

Likewise, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a compelling essay from Nick Rush-Cooper, who strikes upon the unsettling, intangible similarities between visiting Chernobyl through a virtual space — games — and visiting it in real life:

It wasn’t until I was actually in the Zone myself that I realised to what extent the games manage to capture the sense of the Pripyat landscape itself as a malevolent, even antagonistic, presence. Of course, guided tours in a hot, sunny summer bear little resemblance to Stalker‘s world. But, as an invisible presence known only through little blinking, chattering devices, I never really got used to radiation during my two-dozen trips to the Zone. Without any visual cues to radiation ‘hot spots’ my yellow hand-held Geiger counter was a constant companion, even if it was not the most reliable of friends [...]

[W]hether I am taking radiation readings or scanning for anomalies, the thought is the same.

I am standing in the middle of Pripyat.

And in the game.

Design Notes

Moving from Geiger to Giger, at The Guardian Keith Stuart pays tribute to the recently departed Alien designer H.R. Giger and the artist’s influence on games.

In Gamasutra’s member blogs, David Kuelz advances an interesting theory on why many games struggle with subtle storytelling. On more of the longform side, How Not to Suck at Game Design’s Anjin Anhut has posted a very in-depth guide offering approaches to improving gender representation in games. The comments are a worthy read as well.

And at Wired, Alan Levinovitz has penned a great, meaty feature piece on the challenges programmers face cracking the ‘code’ of Go, a game so deceptively simple in its design and so complex in its permutations that it’s stumped the field of artificial intelligence for over 60 years:

At the beginning of a chess game, White has twenty possible moves. After that, Black also has twenty possible moves. Once both sides have played, there are 400 possible board positions. Go, by contrast, begins with an empty board, where Black has 361 possible opening moves, one at every intersection of the 19 by 19 grid. White can follow with 360 moves. That makes for 129,960 possible board positions after just the first round of moves.

The rate at which possible positions increase is directly related to a game’s “branching factor,” or the average number of moves available on any given turn. Chess’s branching factor is 35. Go’s is 250.

[When it comes to AI,] what works for chess — and checkers and Othello — does not work for Go.

Foreign Correspondence

Following on fellow Dutchman Rami Ismail’s post last week, scholar and Critical Distance Scandinavian Correspondent Oscar Strik highlights the extreme English-language bias games discourses have and how we might address it (including through venues like Critical Distance!).

In the meantime, via our German Correspondent Joe Koeller, we have Eike Kuehl’s coverage a recent dust-up in the German games sphere, as the German Videogame Awards introduced a controversial new vetoing system that prevents any game with a dissenting vote (for reasons such as violence) from winning a “real” award accompanied by prize money. In the eyes of some, the move further marginalizes games as “toys” in the German media space and has led to several game journalists stepping down from jurying positions in protest (something the journalists in question, Andre Peschke and Heiko Klinge, explain for themselves here).

Elsewhere, Adrian Froschauer has reached out with this two-part, German analysis of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Miscellany

Just because these pieces didn’t fit into an easy category doesn’t make them any less of a read!

At Edge, Tony Coles has a nice piece on the world of high score chasers for arcade classics post-King of Kong.

Polygon also had some robust writing this week. Alexa Ray Corriea goes in-depth on the (growing) world of fan-translated games and patches, while Connor Sears visits the home-grown game development scene in the sovereign Arab emirate of Qatar.

And a bit of fun: a joke on a Team Unwinnable livestream about Hulk Hogan romancing Fabio grew into a real design document for a dating sim, and now, for your pleasure, it’s a real game you can actually play.

And All That Remains Is…

Thanks for reading! If you have a link to an article, video, podcast or other piece you think would do well in This Week in Videogame Blogging, please send it in to us by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

(Our inbox shows that no one has actually sent us a link by email since about mid-April, so we aren’t sure if you’re all suddenly very shy or our submissions form is eating things. If you submitted a link to us by email lately and we haven’t featured it, please let us know so we can look into this!)

Lastly, the ever-present reminder: Critical Distance is entirely funded by readers like you. We also recently saw a massive drop in financial support, so if you are at all able to do so, please consider heading over to our Patreon and signing up for a small monthly donation! Normally I include a snarky fanciful wish about desiring world domination here but, seriously folks, I’m in constant pain and can’t afford medical treatment, so this is kind of important.

(Sorry for ending on a downer note! Here’s a picture of an okapi.)

May 11th

May 11th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

So how about that Eurovision? Eh? Eh? I am a worldly American, I know these cool things all my European friends are into.

No, seriously, Moldova should’ve made it into the final.

Anyway, the dust has settled and France somehow squeaked by with a non-zero score, so let’s turn our attention to your reason for Sunday. Yes, it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

In the Creases

On his personal blog, Ridiculous Fishing and Luftrausers developer Rami Ismail breaks down by numbers just how very biased toward English computer technology and the Internet actually is, and the implications this has on everything from communications to inclusivity in game development.

On Kill Screen, David Wolinsky wonders why there has been so little discussion of Letters from Incarcerated Gamers, a zine produced by Alejandro Quan-Madrid and Mare Odomo containing the unanswered letters of prison inmates to game magazine. More broadly, Wolinsky explores why incarcerated players are not something we tend to talk about.

At PCGamer, Emanuel Maiberg ventures into the sneaky, sordid, lucrative arms race of game cheats. And at Electro Bureau, Tony Sarkees gives us this stellar analysis of Square’s Legend of Mana, in particular one subplot of the game which Sarkees saw as mirroring his own experience as a gay youth:

[The Jumi people] are whispered of in dark corners, and some claim to even have seen them, but these reports are viewed with a skeptical eye. Many of the worlds’ citizens derogatorily refer to them as “dirt” due to their more mineral qualities.

[...]

It is revealed that not only are the Jumi living among us, but they are actively searching for each other to reassemble their fallen race. The Jumi have been searching the world in pairs for many years, balancing their need to blend in with their need to connect with others like them.

I could drag the comparison out, but it’s clear: the Jumi are closeted. But what drives a need for such furtiveness? In Legend of Mana, genocide.

Tomodachi Waifu

On the subject of queer themes, Nintendo’s North American PR touched a raw nerve this week when it told the Associated Press it would not be including same-sex marriage into its upcoming life sim/toy Tomodachi Life, implying that to do so would be a “form of social commentary.”

In an opinion piece at Polygon, Samantha Allen blasted Nintendo’s remarks as “hatred, pure and simple.” Chuck Jordan of Spectre Collie feels differently, saying:

[F]rankly, I think calling it “hatred” is lazy. [...] Nintendo’s initial statement comes from a place of more subtle and systematic prejudice. It’s like the aunt who insists on calling your boyfriend your “friend,” and who keeps trying to set you up with a nice girl.

At Gamasutra, my former colleague Christian Nutt shares his hands-on impressions of the game, obtained via his husband. He notes that to treat the game as a ‘sim’ is a mistake:

Tomodachi Life just isn’t intended the same way [as Animal Crossing]. It does not have that possibility space. You can’t even exert much control over it. To see it in action it is to immediately understand that.

At the same time, no matter how shallow, we expect our pop culture to reflect reality as it is, not as its producers envision it. Demanding that it does has long been a tool for social change.

[...]

Funnily enough, what bothered me was not so much is the omission of same sex marriage, but the enforcement of heterosexual marriage: The idea that whether I wanted it to or not, my Mii — an image that has represented me since the Wii launched eight years ago — would marry a woman.

That, in some way, seemed to vacate my identity. Not just that: For a second, it almost seemed like it would eradicate my marriage, much more thoroughly than the impossibility of getting married to a male character would.

Halls of Learning

At Play the Past, Angela R Cox wraps up her four-part series on teaching games as classroom texts. And at Quarter to Three, the one and only Tom Chick lauds Imperialism II as a critical comment on empire and exploitation.

At The Escapist, Robert Rath breaks apart Vice and Activision’s new Call of Duty “documentary” on private military contractors (PMCs), which he argues distorts political and economic facts to suit the upcoming game’s fiction:

Here’s the worst part: I want [Activision] to make a good documentary about PMCs. You have the resources and connections to do it and it could be a great public education tool. The rise of military contractors is indeed an emerging trend, and brings many questions with it [...]

I’m willing to bet that if you geared your documentary trailers toward information rather than exploitation, they’d prove just as popular force others to see you in a new light. You have the potential here to get lots of young people interested in global politics — why not take it?

Apart from hosting Call of Duty ads, Vice also serves as the latest platform for Jenn Frank, who returns with a tale of the heyday of college campus piracy and shareware procrastination that seems almost transcendent and mystical. And she’s talking about Snoods, for gossakes.

Space and Place

For his latest Patreon-funded piece, Stephen Beirne has produced a dense, satisfying analysis of worldbuilding in Demons Souls.

Meanwhile at Paste, Gita Jackson questions the apparent whitewashing of Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch_Dogs, which despite great attention being paid to the verisimilitude of its virtual Chicago, seems unconcerned with actually representing its citizenry.

Eurogamer’s Graeme Mason offers up an interesting retrospective on Computer Artworks’ 2002 adaptation of John Carpenter’s idiosyncratic The Thing.

World journo extraordinaire Cara Ellison has released her second embedded piece, heading to France to interview Escape from Woomera‘s Katharine Neil and Dishonored‘s Harvey Smith, two expat devs with incredibly storied histories.

And the Kitchen Sink

With the shuttering of Free Indie Games, James Patton has penned a loving eulogy for the site, and in particular what it meant as a community space in a growing independent scene:

These games were not about pushing out a finished product ready to sell, which preoccupies a lot of indie dev culture at present. They were about playfulness, exploration, a breathless desire to just throw some assets together and make something real. These games were working on the frontier, going to strange, unexplored places and unlocking our ideas about games and our potential to make them in unexpected ways.

At Videogame Tourism, Eron Rauch continues his series of (English-language) essays by asking what does the current wave of indie and art games have to do with the art scene of 19th century Paris? Quite a lot, it turns out:

You see, most people would like to think that if they were alive in Paris in 1874, they would have been cheering on the Impressionists’ effervescent break with tradition, been one of their champions, and slugged down wine in the courtyard bars as they argued the finer points of their work. But that is a fantasy. Most of us would have been just like everyone else in Paris and lined up to go see the grand history paintings and voluptuously rendered Venuses in the massively anticipated yearly art show at the Louvre.

[...]

What other people have a massive interest in pushing the edge on smoke and light effects in three dimensional spaces? What other group of producers strive to hide the made-ness of the object behind shine, polish, slickness, lens-flare and even literally has options you can check in the menu to turn on “full screen glow”? Who else holds suspension of disbelief and immersiveness as their highest goals?

And back with Eurogamer, Tony Coles poses: is Solitaire the first roguelike?

A/V

At Gamasutra, Mike Rose has the story of how the unusual party game compilation Sportsfriends came to be.

Indies are also on the minds of the fine people over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, who in their most recent podcast interview Dominique Pamplemousse developer Deirdra Kiai.

Past Critical Distance contributor Zolani Stewart has posted the latest installment of his “Let’s Crit” Critical Let’s Play of Perfect Dark. And at The Border House, Samantha Allen interviews veteran games journalist and musician Maddy Myers on her recently released Metroid-inspired EP, “Peace in Space.”

Last Call, Last Call

Thanks for reading! If you have a link to an article, video, podcast or other piece you think would do well in This Week in Videogame Blogging, please send it in to us by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

A bit of signal-boosting: Good Games Writing has announced its second Pitch Jam, which is a fun way for writers to engage with seasoned editors to get feedback on their work. You may want to check it out!

Did you know? Critical Distance is entirely funded by readers like you. And unfortunately, we also recently lost our biggest patron. So if you enjoy what you see here and want to support us (in this and perhaps our future infiltration of the Eurovision Song Contest), please head over to our Patreon and sign up for a small monthly donation!

April 27th

April 27th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

The magic circle. You opened it. We came.

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging. We have such sites to show you.

Sound Advice

Liz England offers up a useful analogy for thinking about the role of the game designer. Meanwhile on Videodame, former theatrical sound designer Sara Clemens shares a story of a particular sound bug in Ico and how such errors can have a catastrophic effect on a game’s emotional storytelling.

Go Make Me a Sandwich has continued its series on how to combat offensive game design, with a particular focus on race and depictions of Asia/Asians, the latter co-written with Chris Chinn. Very useful in general for thinking about the art and character direction of your games.

Wise Mind Skills

Content warning: the links in this section deal with traumatic personal events such as depression, suicide and child loss.

Midnight Resistance has an anonymous entry from an expectant couple who, having experienced a lost pregnancy, found a means to cope through games.

Elsewhere, Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin compares and contrasts Actual Sunlight and Depression Quest, two recent semi-autobiographical games about living with depression, and analyses how each approaches its subject and informs the other.

(End content warning section.)

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Nate Ewert-Krocker blows the dust off an old favorite from the 1990s and finds a case of gender, sexual and racial representation that exceeds much of today’s offerings. Meanwhile, Ontological Geek continues its Romance Month with this essay from Sara Davis, who criticizes the treatment of fantasy races in Mass Effect and Dragon Age as ‘sex classes’:

[T]hat is precisely what troubles me about the sexualization of certain races in BioWare fantasy worlds. Sexual and racial discrimination is written into these games in a way that shows awareness of and sensitivity to real-world social inequality [...] But the games want to have it both ways: characters like Liara may exhibit agency and self-determination, but like most romanceable NPCs, her ultimate purpose is to give in. For that reason and because her entire species is designed for the galaxy’s pleasure, her resistance is largely ornamental. This picturesque struggle with systemic oppression is the best case scenario for the sex class: even if you play the game for purity points, your playable character and yourself are made complicit in the fantasy world’s objectification of its sexualized demographic.

The news isn’t so hot elsewhere either. On her personal blog, Kate Reynolds recently dug into Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls and discovered that the game subconsciously eases its players into participating in certain patriarchal tropes. And Irish critic Stephen Beirne seeks to pin down why the sexualized violence of Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes feels so dissonant compared to its predecessors (content warning: discussion of rape, body mutilation):

Why was it that when Volgin beat the life out of Naked Snake in MGS3, I was ready to murder him? Why was it that when Solid Snake crawled through the microwave corridor in MGS4, my heart was in my throat? It was because these felt like natural agents and circumstances colliding together, so I was enrapt in the narrative. MGS has used the brutalization of beloved characters to fantastic effect in years past. In the here and now, [a woman]’s torment in GZ feels like the hand of Kojima moving pieces around a board to be edgy and, in a twisted way, cool. It left me a little frightened, but mostly cold and distant.

Redeemers and Wastelands

Problem Attic developer Liz Ryerson shares a poetic rumination on the darker side of the boyish ‘great outdoors’ narratives of Zelda games. And on a public Pastebin, Canabalt developer Adam Saltsman has dropped a great essay comparing Shinji Mikami’s critically dismissed Vanquish with the Wachowski siblings’ Speed Racer, as two works of little-understood, self-contained masterpiece. (He’s absolutely right, at least about Speed Racer.)

Also, on her own site, Katherine Cross has a great piece on religion, the Greek concept of tuche, and how Alpha Centauri avoids defaulting to cliches as it explores an ideological spectrum.

Easy Mode

Links in this section bear a content warning for sexual harassment, including rape and death threats.

On The Mary Sue, game developer Brianna Wu has some harsh words for GitHub’s so-called ‘investigation’ into a recent sexual harassment scandal, and notes that it’s the latest notch in a well-worn belt for women in software development:

This is not a story with a happy ending. The message is chilling for women in software development: you can be destroyed at any moment. No one is coming to help you. Your harassers will say what they have to say, but the only person suffering fallout will be you.

On Polygon, Jonathan McIntosh lays out in plain language much the same criticism of male privilege as other articles have done, but using an approach I find quite effective — he unpacks his invisible knapsack.

I want to emphasize that this list is not meant to suggest that everything is always a cakewalk for male gamers. Male critics, developers, and gamers are also at times bullied or subjected to online nastiness, but it is not based on or because of our gender. This is a critical distinction. The pattern of unearned advantage also does not mean that all men are powerful as individuals or that all women are powerless as individuals. It simply means that men in gamer culture can, on average, count on these advantages, whereas women can not.

(End content warning section.)

Oooh

I don’t know where else to file this, but I hardly know how to resist linking to something about these two. At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Cara Ellison profiles Tale of Tales husband-and-wife team Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey, covering how the couple met, their early forays into interactive performance art, and the sensuality that has become a trademark of their games.

Conditions of the Nerve Endings Et Cetera Et Cetera

That’s all for this week! Thanks for joining us. Remember, we really love receiving your submissions by Twitter mention and our email submissions form, so please let us have it! Give – us – more!

And hey — Critical Distance is entirely funded through the generous support of readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help us escape this hell-dimension labyrinth with our skin still mostly intact, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

April 20th

April 20th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Left unfulfilled by last week’s shorter-than-average roundup? Never fear. I have an outpouring of goodies for today’s pagan rite of spring. Hoist up the maypole and grab a flagon of mead — it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Safer Spaces

PAX East was held last weekend and we have not one but two articles from volunteers who worked at the event’s (much criticized) Diversity Lounge. Royel Edwards came away from the experience cautiously optimistic, while Lexi Leigh offers some much-needed context to that miniature meme we had going around of showrunner Mike Krahulik ostensibly “taking over” the lounge. In all: the news is good, or at least better than expected, according to some who were there.

It’s not all sunshine, however. The next few articles bear a content warning for rape, child abuse, and description of misogynistic and homophobic harassment.

Ria Jenkins laments the failure of the games press to adequately cover or criticize Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes‘ depiction of rape, not only of an adult woman but also an underaged boy. She includes a detailed description of the (now-infamous) audio log and wonders why UK regulatory board PEGI declined to even assign the game the “sexualized violence” label present in the American rating.

Kim Correa, whom we featured several weeks ago for her bracing account of a sexual assault experience in DayZ, has followed up with a report of some of the comments her post generated, and additionally connects her experience with Julian Dibbell’s 1993 article “A Rape in Cyberspace,” which has also been making the rounds lately (including here):

What strikes me most [about Dibbell's piece] is the willingness of the community to pull together, to work toward mending a problem and taking appropriate actions for what most everyone seems to have realized was an inappropriate action. “A Rape in Cyberspace” was first published more than twenty years ago. A concerned, thoughtful group of players banded together to make their online community a safer environment for everyone.

[...]

We are 20 years past the time “A Rape in Cyberspace” originally was published. And yet what I hear echo in every one of these comments, in all of these words, is the same phrase, over and over again: we haven’t made progress. We’ve gone backward.

The subject of online abuse, and the normalization thereof, is also on the minds of Giant Bomb writer Patrick Klepek and game developer Zoe Quinn, who co-hosted an hour-long talk at PAX East on how users can start turning the tide of internet toxicity. Among the solutions they propose: speak up, refuse to tolerate, build positive experiences.

Likewise on The Escapist, Shamus Young lends an outsider’s viewpoint on the positive outcome of the ill-fated GAME_JAM, in which developers were baited with sexist drama for the benefit of a reality show narrative:

One of the questions they asked Robin Arnott was, “Do you think you’re at an advantage because you have a pretty lady on your team?” [...] Keep in mind the “pretty face” in question is Adriel Wallick, who left her job programming weather satellites so she could make quirky, experimental indie games. It’s like having Neil Degrasse Tyson on your team at the science fair and having someone ask how having a “black guy” impacts your chances of winning. It’s mind-bogglingly offensive.

[The participants] not only saw through the manipulation, they also correctly identified the only proper response, which is non-participation.

(End content warning section.)

Taking That Step

On Polygon, Emily Gera interviews Adam Bullied on writing storied, minority characters into Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Meanwhile, at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Phill Alexander has a detailed take on how Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption subverts the “noble savage” stereotype of its Native American characters.

On Medium, Sidney Fussell has furnished us with a stellar personal account on growing up isolated, nerdy and black — and why, rather than an escape into ‘apolitical’ power fantasy, he found that games, too, need their race politics interrogated:

The image of black masculinity as criminal and terrifying, remarkably uniform across videogames and newsmedia, not only led to me questioning and resenting my own blackness, is part of the fear of black men that caused the desegregation anxieties which led to [school desegregation] programs like M to M shaping my entire childhood. How astonished my 14 year old self would’ve been to learn that video games, my bulwark against racism, borrowed the very same portrayals of black men on the nightly news that fed my distrust of “thuggish” black men.

So ask me again why I have to object, loudly and uncompromisingly, to problematic racist imagery in my favorite medium. Why I balk at the notion of “choosing” to be offended at something. Why I’m incensed when I’m told black people “aren’t realistic” for a setting or race “doesn’t matter” in designing heroes?–?being a minority means even your fantasies are regulated by white believability.

In Gamasutra’s blogs section, Fragments of Him developer Mata Haggis also responds to that old canard that diversity “brings an agenda” to games, by pointing out (in a rather brilliant little analysis) how the likes of Halo harbors just as much of an agenda — just an already hegemonic one.

It is a sign that our industry needs to mature, that the presence of any character outside of a standard heteronormative binary system (people who do not fit a modern stereotype of youthful, aggressively heterosexual vigour) is read as an ‘agenda’. Master Chief fits the system, so he is not viewed as a political statement, but a gay protagonist is outside the norms of gaming lead characters, and so the game is likely to be assumed to be intentionally making a statement.

Design Notes

At Chic Pixel, Anne Lee interviews Ben Bateman, former localization editor for Aksys with credits including 999, Virtue’s Last Reward and Sweet Fuse. Elsewhere, on Ontological Geek, Albert Hwang presents us with a staggeringly detailed survey of romance arcs in BioWare games, and suggests that perhaps BioWare could still learn from some of its early experiments in this area.

Speaking of BioWare, on Unwinnable Rowan Kaiser has shared an excerpt from his upcoming book Possibility Space, here detailing why beloved turian Garrus Vakarian is the moral heart and soul of Mass Effect.

The recently launched Kotaku UK has an interesting feature from Dave Owen on the aesthetic possibilities of drawing upon Middle-Eastern and Islamic art in games, not just for art, but also for mechanics. And on the subject of interesting geometries, Jamie Madigan has a piece up on Psychology of Games on the particular psychological process that leads us to anthropomorphize the rectangular characters of Thomas Was Alone.

At Mammon Machine, Aevee Bee observes that Fire Emblem: Awakening has so deemphasized the franchise’s trademark permadeath mechanic as to make it nonfunctional. Meanwhile, over at Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne criticizes the recent mainstream depictions of parenthood in games as essentially power fantasies, and wonders if instead there are other mechanics which can model the experience of caring for a child.

We don’t usually run preview features in these roundups, so consider the inclusion of this SideQuesting article by Dalibor Dimovski as an indication of its quality: drawing on a terrifying experience within his own family, Dimovski describes how upcoming survival game This War of Mine — about civilians caught in an armed conflict — hit tremendously close to home.

On the subject of survival games, Iris Bull at Feminist Games has an academic analysis on the ways by which the verbs of Minecraft reinforce a highly masculine frontier fantasy. By contrast, Luke Pullen casts a spotlight on Unreal World, a survival game which chooses to depict a ‘state of nature’ quite different from the Hobbesian anarchy endemic to the genre.

Futures Past

As part of its Easter week of ‘revival’ articles, Edge has been running quite a few compelling retrospectives, with this article on the enduring legacy of Resident Evil 4 perhaps being the best of the lot:

No matter the tools you acquire (rocket launcher aside) it will always outmanoeuvre you, tightening its noose as effortlessly as a Robotron or Geometry Wars. Having drilled the same rules of engagement deep into your head over several games, it switches them with malicious glee: headshots trigger dangerous mutations, enemies hide their weak spots, paces quicken and slow to disrupt your tactics. It’s as though Capcom had always meant to drag its feet a bit with earlier titles, encouraging just the right smidgeon of complacency to creep in before delivering its knockout blow — and doing so, remarkably, without any apparent sacrifice.

At The AV Club, Anthony John Agnello offers up a thrilling analysis of Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as atypically morally ambivalent, even nihilistic. Meanwhile, on Eurogamer, Simon Parkin again shows us his amazing skill to cast his interview subjects as empathetic without assigning judgments, in this post-mortem of the original BioShock revealing the office politics, interpersonal friction and long months of crunch leading up to its release.

Curios

At The Daily Dot, Samuel Lingle has an interesting story of how Swedish politicians have begun a tradition of competing in games of Starcraft ahead of national elections.

The Guardian Tech Weekly has posted a full-length edition of its most recent podcast, featuring an interview with Kieron Gillen on what has changed since he first coined the term ‘New Games Journalism’ in 2004.

And, back on Gamasutra’s blogs, Lars Doucet has posted a piece that’s sure to cause a commotion: discovering the formula to finding ‘hidden gems’ on Steam or the App Store.

Dispatches from Vienna

German-language correspondent Joe Koeller is back again with stand-out articles from the German-speaking games blogging community.

First up, Christian Alt comments on the Let’s Play phenomenon, spectatorship, and the Roman Coliseum. Meanwhile, Nina Kiel has posted the listing to her upcoming book on gender in games, an abstract for which is available in English.

The German games festival A MAZE recently concluded in Berlin and Superlevel’s Benjamin Filitz has returned with impressions from the event. And for the same publication, Sonja Wild has an interview with Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle, developer of the iOS game Rules.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

That’s it for this week! Thanks once again to everyone who sent in links via email or by Twitter mention. It’s all for you, you know.

Budding writer, or looking for some inspiration? Our Blogs of the Round Table feature is still open for submission, so swing by here to learn how to get involved!

This was a great week for game zines, as Unwinnable Weekly made its Kickstarter goal (mazels!) and Arcade Review has released its second issue. So it sounds like you have a lot of reading ahead of you!

Thanks for joining us today. And hey: Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help us invoke ancient, nameless gods no one will be able to control, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.