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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.

April 20th

April 20th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

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.

April 13th

April 13th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Short and sweet this week, and if you must blame someone, blame my old feed reader. The good news is, we have some great fresh faces in this week! So let’s get going with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Racefail

Stephanie Jennings of Ludogabble has a spoiler-filled critique of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2, which she derides as attempting to ‘redeem’ the core game in the worst way imaginable:

In this apparent effort to remedy a significant problem in Infinite, BaS2 has just found another way to further reduce the agency, power, and significance of Daisy and the entire black population of Columbia. In short, it’s found another way to be racist.

Meanwhile, on Media Diversified, Brittney White applauds BioWare dev Manveer Heir’s recent talk on inclusivity delivered at GDC, but points to some problems apparent within his own studio’s titles.

Digging Up the Past

Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek has a solid breakdown of recent discussions concerning the glamorization of Nazis in Luftrausers. Also worth reading: developer Rami Ismail’s classy take on the situation.

Elsewhere, on Kill Screen, Ben Meredith shares with us how games are like archaeology.

Always Going Forward (Cos We Can’t Find Reverse)

Storycade’s Chris Klimas has an interesting bit on the rise of Twine and other parserless engines in the Interactive Fiction community.

Over on Paste, our own Cameron Kunzelman bracingly addresses the sexualized violence of MGS V: Ground Zeroes in the context of the series to date (content warning: discussion of rape and brutalization):

For all of its baroqueness, the Metal Gear universe has a deceptively simple message: There is a machine bigger than any single human, and trying to conquer it or shape it to your own individual will is almost impossible. [...] The Metal Gear games present us with an augmented, nihilistic version of the phrase: War is always changing, and you can never catch up.

[...]

If war is the stand in for the designer in the Metal Gear Solid series, and war necessitates the perpetration of sexual violence against women in that universe, then there’s nothing casual about it. Instead, it signifies that Hideo Kojima has nowhere left to go.

Finally for the week, Martin Robinson is up on Eurogamer with a dose of cold, hard truth: why it may be for the best if games the likes of The Last Guardian, Half-Life 3 or Shenmue 3 never happen.

That’s All There Is, That’s All, That’s All My Dear

And we’re done! As always we greatly appreciate your submissions sent to us by email or as mentions on Twitter, so don’t let up, even for one minute. Don’t go easy on us!

Also, there are still a few days to send something in for the second issue of the Journal of Games Criticism. The current call for papers closes on April 19th with the issue itself due out this June. This is a great opportunity if you’d like to see your work in a curated collection!

Did you know? Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you! If you like what we do and want to see us continue to feature new and interesting critical thinkers like many of those featured here, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

April 6th

April 6th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Tie a knot at the end. Fold to the right. Fold again. Fold again. Again. Pinch the corners. Congratulations! You’ve made origami.

With all the careful craftspersonship of an unsung artisan of Etsy, we are here to fill your Sunday with colorful treats and goodies once again. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

GAME_JAM

(This section bears a content warning for discussion of sexually charged harassment and intimidation.)

We start on a low note, with the assurance that it all goes up from here. Recently, several well-known independent game developers participated in what they believed was going to be a filmed game jam, but in fact became more of a reality show. The environment was so inhospitable and toxic that the participants unanimously walked off the set after only one day of filming. Jared Rosen, a journalist who was present for much of the production’s meltdown, has the main thrust of the story.

Participants Zoe Quinn and Adriel Warrick have both weighed in to the extent that they are able (emotionally or contractually) about what went down. Meanwhile, fellow participant and SoundSelf developer Robin Arnott put things like this:

A particularly useful ethical code is knowing where your loyalties lie. Zoe’s loyalties lay with the young girls she teaches game-making to. She could be beacon for a safe and expressive community if she were publicly shamed as a coward, but she could not do that as an actual supporter of misogyny, lies, and the unsafe creative environment she claims to be fighting.

I think her code went something like this:

If your actions will directly support an unsafe space…
Then jack out. That’s it. No matter what. Abort additional consideration. You’ve found the right thing to do. Leave.

(End content warning section.)

I Think We’re A Clone Now

On Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander has a good, solid reading of the Threes/2048 cloning debacle with quotes from Ian Bogost and Adam Saltsman.

The Play’s The Thing

PC Gamer did the internet a favor this week by introducing us to Angelina Bellebuono, a goat rancher and non-player who was asked to review Goat Simulator. (Spoiler: it’s funny.)

On First Person Scholar, Michael Lutz tackles that old chestnut of Ben Abraham, “replayabilty” and asks — if “replay value” defies objective analysis, what are the subjective terms under which it can be understood? To which he goes on to say,

To account for videogames as performative media, then, we must think of gameplay as not merely mechanics, but the experience of the player as she interacts with them, becoming a co-performer in whatever drama has been scripted. Gameplay is not simply solving a puzzle or defeating an adversary; it is the moment of shock when we realize the game is something other than what we thought, of disappointment when we fail to accomplish an in-game goal, or of exhilaration when we succeed — all at particular junctures, at particular moments in time that can never be exactly repeated.

Manifestos and Manifestations

In a guest editorial for Polygon, queer feminist theorist and games scholar Samantha Allen maintains that there is value to mainstream representation of marginalized perspectives:

If I had played Gone Home or Dragon Age when I was twelve, my life might have unfolded differently. I pay attention to mass market titles because I know that some queer people are subsisting on them, even if they don’t know they’re queer.

As Todd Harper reminds us, they’ve “been making do with what matters to other people all [their] lives.” Some closeted queer people might not see themselves in a game until Call of Duty includes a gay soldier. I don’t want to burn down a forest in which people are still trying to find their way.

Continuing on this thought, on Errant Signal Chris Franklin has posted his latest video, a ten-minute dissection of how Assassin’s Creed handles subjects of race, passing, and slavery, and suggests the games might achieve this better through their playable protagonists than through story missions and NPCs.

As Franklin notes that Assassin’s Creed‘s historical settings are fraught with potential to reproduce the same systems of oppression the player is told they’re subverting, our next natural stop is over on Go Make Me a Sandwich, where wunderkind has penned a two part (thus far) series on avoiding appropriation and stereotypes when writing game settings.

Kotaku has delivered a trifecta of great articles this week, starting with this essay from first-generation American Patricia Hernandez, in which she shares her own anxieties about deportation, systematized marginalization, and how Lucas Pope’s celebrated Papers, Please is still a bit of a white power fantasy.

Next, Nathan Grayson provides us with an excellent write up of Deirdra Kiai’s stand-out GDC talk, as well as the cultural shifts (or lack thereof) occurring in spaces of the industry like the Game Developers Conference. And Phil Owen takes a look at six games that speak authentically to his experience with suicidal ideation (content warning: suicide, depression).

Sega Genesis Evangelion

On The Conversation, Brendan Keogh decries a recent project by games-for-good advocate Jane McGonigal as lacking a sound medical methodology — and overall, takes aim as “games evangelism” as a movement.

(I just wanted to use this header.)

On Stranger Tides

As part of an ongoing exploration into non-English games criticism, on Medium we find Zoya Street providing a fascinating in-depth reading of a turn-of-the-century Japanese game review by Nakagawa Daichi — and more broadly, he muses on how to start more thoroughly bridging the divide between English games writing and the rest of the world.

Over on The Escapist, Robert Rath furnishes us with an excellent narrativization of the charges raised against California state senator Leland Yee, anti-game legislator turned arms trafficker. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by John Woo, I’m sure.

Finally, Cara Ellison has released her first embedded report with the one, the only, the great Tim Rogers. Or as she sums him up:

He is wearing a purple and luminous green Michael Jordan sweater with long Michael Jordan shorts and socks to match. His hair is thick and dirty blonde, his self-confessed best feature. His fingers are long and calloused with the nails cut deadly short so that they can bond with his cobalt blue Gibson, and his glasses are something out of a 1950s drama. Tim Rogers is a non-fiction anime character. He is a writer, co-creator of Insert Credit, the CEO of Action Button Entertainment, and he has worked in games, AAA and otherwise, all his adult life. He is thirty-four years old and is the internet’s biggest rumour.

This is the End, the End, My Friends

That’s all for this week! As always, we greatly appreciate your submissions by Twitter mention and email. Please keep ‘em coming!

Also if you didn’t hear, BoRT is back! Yes, our own Alan Williamson has resumed our Blogs of the Round Table feature with an all-new prompt. Go here to check it out and get involved.

Some more signal-boosting: there is still some time to contribute to the Unwinnable Weekly Kickstarter, which we highly recommend you do! Also, the Journal of Games Criticism is still accepting submissions for its upcoming second issue. Get on that, writers.

And hey, listen: Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us expand into new, exciting features with the delicate taste and texture of real French macarons, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Thank you! See you all next week!

March 30th

March 30th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

GDC may have officially concluded more than a week ago but I, for one, am still in the midst of post-con fatigue. My greatest of thanks to contributors Cameron and Eric for picking things up while I was away in San Francisco. But now, readers, it’s time to get back to hitting the books! Brace yourselves, for it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

To The Metal

We start with a pair of interesting design documents this week. The first comes from Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, co-developers of the popular smartphone puzzle game Threes!, which has been liberally cloned. In a bid to show just how much time and iteration went into their game, Vollmer and Wohlwend have released a huge heaping pile of valuable documentation on Threes!‘s design process.

Meanwhile over at The Game Design Forum, Pat Holleman and researcher Amanda Lange have released their latest Reverse Design book, tackling Super Mario World with TGDF’s usual super-dense and fine-grained style of analysis. A long but worthwhile read!

Mechanics of the Heart

On Ontological Geek, guest contributor Andrei Filote proposes an analogue for the Bechdel Test pertaining specifically to worldbuilding: is your game’s world rich enough to foster the existence of a novelist?

Elsewhere, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, embedded journalist Cara Ellison has gone in search of a fabled gag in OutRun 2006, a game Tim Rogers once called Love: The Videogame.

And over on LudoNarratology, Michael Clarkson draws a couple interesting comparisons between Final Fantasy X‘s combat system and the sports culture that informs the story setting.

This Could Be Us But U Playin’

London-based critic Edward Smith pens a short but sweet piece contending that real controversy in game violence is hard to find:

Violence in games is only legitimate if committed against discernible individuals, whose deaths have a traceable, adverse affect on either the fictional world or the narrative. In Grand Theft Auto, neither of these metrics apply. Your victims are cartoon characters and their deaths feel less like tragedy, or drama, and more like housework.

In a similar vein, on Digital Love Child Reid McCarter decries Infamous Second Son‘s choice to use a real-world location but with completely fictionalized Native Americans, a copout he describes as “cultural cowardice.”

Rather than research the tribes native to Seattle and the area surrounding it, Delsin belongs to an invented one with no real history or culture to represent. With just the tiniest bit of effort audiences could have played a Duwamish or Suquamish character. Delsin could have represented real people with a culture that is under-served in mainstream entertainment. He could have been a character who, with only the tiniest changes to the game’s script, acted as a subtle reminder of a distinct people. Instead, by making him Akomish, Sucker Punch continues the long tradition of misrepresenting actual tribes and nations as some imagined, homogenous groups of “Natives.”

#1Reason

Dominque Pamplemousse developer Deirdra Kiai received a standing ovation for their ten-minute speech held recently at GDC’s #1ReasonToBe panel. If you haven’t had a chance, pop on over to Kiai’s website and see why.

On Gamasutra, Storm8 developer Elizabeth Sampat has also posted the full text of her GDC talk, concerning hiring discrepancies in the game industry. Don’t read the comments.

Or, if you were like Jenn Frank and you read the comments, head on over to Frank’s post on the same site, which serves as a direct response to the claim that studios should hire based on merit, rather than gender, as though the two were mutually exclusive criteria.

O Brave New World With Such People In It

How could we have missed this? Over on The Escapist, the ever-compelling Robert Rath has put together a great, well-researched two part feature on the complex interrelationship among wargaming, novelist Tom Clancy, and the modern first-person shooter.

Even more incredible (in the classical sense of the word), over on Eurogamer Robert Purchese presents us with this biographical profile of DayZ creator Dean Hall.

Dispatches from Vienna

Once again we’re honored with a brief peek inside the German-language games discourse via our German correspondent, Joe Koeller.

First, on Superlevel, Nina Kiel talks nude patches and mods, and by contrast, the “general prudery” in which base games find themselves. [Content Warning: Some images are not safe for work.]

Lastly, on Kleiner Drei, Lucie Hoehler reviews Leigh Alexander’s Breathing Machine, about growing up around computers.

Last Call, Last Call

As always we deeply appreciate your submissions by email and Twitter mention, so please keep sending them in!

Some of the usual business: the Journal of Games Criticism is still in open submissions for its second issue, due date April 19th. Also, the Unwinnable Weekly Kickstarter is chugging along, but could still benefit from your support. Give them a look!

Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us expand into new, exciting content that may or may not involve fitting my cat with laser eyes, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Thank you! See you all next week!

March 9th

March 9th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (1 Comments)

We’re back. We never exactly went away, but now we’re here, fully, renewed breath in our lungs. It’s time to sound the bells. It’s Sunday afternoon. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Dev Tools

Critical Distance’s audience can roughly be split into two halves: games bloggers, critics and scholars to one side, and game developers of various stripes on the other. It’s my belief that these two have more in common than even they may think. With that in mind, I’d like to start off this week’s roundup with some recommendations tailored particularly to devs, although anyone design-minded will benefit from them.

We start with Kill Screen, where several of its writers have devoted an entire week to the subject of game genres — in particular, where generic conventions may be going in the near future.

Games are not shoes, says Chris Bateman, who argues that Steam’s recent change to allow devs to set their own prices will not result in some catastrophic zero-sum game. And over on Unwinnable, we have the free-spirited Gus Mastrapa offering two highly exploratory concepts for the future of massively multiplayer online games.

Mirror’s Edge and Tomb Raider scribe Rhianna Pratchett turned up in the forums of The Escapist this week to share a bit of her experience writing for games. Meanwhile on Medium, Aevee Bee makes a case for ‘small writing’ and interstitial worldbuilding moments in games.

Microrevolutions

There are many ways we can challenge norms of play. Here, a collection of writers share their experiences playing against the grain, either in opposition to industrial logic or narrative conventions.

GayGamer and Border House alum Denis Farr muses on the limited impact of certain decisions in Dragon Age and The Witcher, and concludes that isn’t so much about a player’s character changing the world as deciding where they stand:

These are games that are built on decisions, and people seem disappointed when the decisions do not lend themselves to larger changes that carry over from game to game, or even from decision to decision in the same game sometimes. But, if we allow ourselves to inhabit the characters that would make such a decision, it does allow for a narrative to be constructed. These types of games are a collaboration of the players’ imaginations and reasons with the story being told.

Mark Filipowich has me at his opening line, in describing one game’s romp through peak videogame absurdity: “If somebody were to make a game out of that one twitter bot that proposes random situations (@AndNowImagine) the result would look something like Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.”

A Mind Forever Voyaging author Dylan Holmes spent the last year fighting the tide of the release cycle to instead work on his backlog.

Meanwhile, UK-based writer Leigh Harrison lauds The Bureau: XCOM Declassified for subverting a particular trend of modern shooters:

The Bureau should be celebrated for its bravery in swimming against the current of accepted videogame design. It fearlessly deconstructs the prevailing notion that videogames must not only constantly strive to look better, but also appear more naturalistic as the medium and its technology advances. As The Bureau progresses, it subtly strips away the layers of peripheral aesthetics normally seen as a necessity in modern games, until at its end it is visually little more than a VR mission from Metal Gear Solid; an experience completely defined by its mechanics alone, uninterested in anything threatening to overcomplicate the purity of its experience.

Half-Assing on the Holodeck

Ben Kuchera’s well intentioned, if perhaps poorly executed opinion piece on Gender Swap, a two-person VR simulation in which players briefly experience ‘inhabiting’ one another’s body, has garnered a bit of criticism.

Rose & Time developer Sophie Houlden outlines over the course of two articles what Gender Swap (and its too-eager embrace by cisgender writers) fails to account for:

You haven’t had to experience with how people treat that body. You haven’t felt pressure to change based on the expectations of having that body. The bodies we are born with force us to have experiences which are outside our control. These experiences shape us as people and who we are in our minds is not so easily separated from them. You can put on the headset and look at a mirror, but you have no idea what life the body’s owner will return to when you take the headsets off.

Or, as Jessica Janiuk sums it up in an opinion piece on Polygon (as part of a larger discussion of the therapeutic potential of games):

Here’s another example of how to understand this [gender dysphoria]. Imagine you slipped on an Oculus Rift, and in that virtual world you existed as a person that was not your gender in the real world. You’d look down and see a body that didn’t feel like yours. Your voice wouldn’t sound the way you’d like to express yourself. In some cases the sexual options available to your character don’t match your sexual feelings.

Now imagine you’d never be able to remove that VR helmet again.

Redshirt developer Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris weighs in as well, further challenging Gender Swap and similar VR exercises for proposing easy solutions to complicated problems:

The point is, this stuff is difficult, and complicated, and to think of it any other way does a disservice to how deeply ingrained and nuanced these issues are.

Perhaps there is some utility to this kind of VR experiment, but I feel like wider culture better representing and listening to minorities is a far better offering, which works to serve minorities and everyone else alike, rather than experiences which are specifically for people on those relevant axes of privilege.

In her post, Khandaker-Kokoris also links to her recent TEDxEastEnd talk on ‘One Weird Old Trick to End Sexism and Racism,’ which I cannot recommend highly enough.

A Rape in Cyberspace

(This section bears a CONTENT WARNING for discussion of rape, assault and harassment.)

On RE:roll, Angus Morrison conducts (rather, attempts) an anthropological study of DayZ, only to find that the deck is stacked against him — and, indeed, he’s not immune to the game’s psychological effects.

Elsewhere, avid DayZ player Kim Correa shares a traumatic experience in the game (TW: rape) and muses on the point at which the game’s sociopathy stops being harmless.

And back on Kill Screen, Matt Albrecht describes his recent visit to a showing of If You Can Get to Buffalo, an adaptation of Julian Dibbell’s 1993 “A Rape in Cyberspace,” and likewise asks where the line is drawn online.

(End content warning section.)

Crawling Toward Sunlight

Where the “Microrevolutions” section above paints ways for games and players to resist convention, this section offers up possible solutions for developers to counteract toxicity from the production side.

On GayGamer, Mitch Alexander adeptly challenges arguments that equivocate male and female objectification under a straight male gaze and explores what might developers do to “queer” the male gaze.

Go Make Me a Sandwich’s wundergeek observes the challenges of, and proposes a possible solution for, satirizing the straight male gaze in videogame art when game art is already frequently ridiculous.

Finally, Desktop Dungeons developer Rodain Joubert shares how his team chose to approach non-sexualized women avatars and rectify gender disparities for their game.

Within Four Walls

Even if we happen to be the most radical of indies, consumerism and corporate culture remains a fact of life for many in games. These pieces take a peek inside studio culture — or muse about PR from afar.

Toward the latter, Mat Jones of Oh No! Videogames wants to remind us (yet again) that Pac-Man is Back, but questions whether he was actually inside us all along, deteriorating with the rest of our internal organs.

Towards the former, Polygon offers up two features from within studio development. The first: the last years of BioShock developer Irrational Games, as told via Chris Plante. The second: a brisk post-mortem of Activision’s Singularity, as told by developer Keith Fuller: “This wasn’t development, it was triage. We had to save who we could and bayonet the dying, and we had no time left to do either with any subtlety.”

On the lighter side, The Escapist’s Greg Tito offers an interesting peek inside Civilization 5 studio Firaxis Games and a difference in player strategy which seemingly nearly tore the studio in half.

It Starts With Us

In the years since I started writing Critical Distance, I don’t believe I was at all opaque in my curatorial approach. However, this last week has brought a lot into sharp focus once again, including the reminder that, now and then, we need to reaffirm our goals and priorities.

In this case, however, I believe those goals are summed up best by independent critic and C-D contributor Lana Polansky, who, in acknowledging the shortcomings of crowdfunding, maintains a call to openly and consistently signal-boost the kind of work we want to see:

I’m going to make it a general policy to amplify voices in criticism or development or whatever else who deserve that amplification, not because of who they are but because of what they’ve said or made. This is my general policy anyway, but before right now I hadn’t fully declared and applied it. No more amplifying those who are already topical or popular just because doing so may, in some abstract way, be career-advancing. Fuck career advancement. Fuck trying to “make it.”

In the spirit of Ms. Polansky’s words, here is a selection of writing from the last week that I believe, though it may not fit easily into any of the cubbyholes of games blogging, is important and worth viewing.

First: on Gamers with Jobs, Alex Martinez shares a personal story of two formative experiences from his childhood — namely, the video game rental store in his neighborhood, and the LA Riots which ravaged it in 1992.

On Kill Screen, Rich Shivener profiles MIT’s recent QUILTBAG Jam organized by Todd Harper, and in particular the LIM-like Label Gear Solid — a game that is, by design, unbeatable:

In Label Gear Solid, it’s impossible to go unnoticed. In fact, the Suens admit there’s no way to win the game. [...] Every time you run into another square, labels physically obscure the screen, until you give up, possibly at the point where you can’t see anything. It takes the idea of label-making to absurdity. On Twitter, one player told the brothers it’s a “cruel world.” Ten seconds into the game, you might feel the same way.

On Paste, Cara Ellison profiles Deirdra Kiai, developer of Dominique Pamplemousse in: “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!” — which is presently up for four Independent Game Festival awards.

Porpentine’s weekly roundups of free independent games on Rock, Paper, Shotgun is, as ever, a valuable resource.

Lastly, I would be remiss in failing to mention Starseed Observatory, a compilation of analysis, criticism and discussion focused on Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim.

Dispatches from Vienna

Our German-language correspondent Joe Koeller has hooked us up with the latest from the German language games blogging scene.

On her personal blog, Valentina Hirsch chats feeling ownership over games as medium. Meanwhile, at Polyneux (arguably the best name for a games blog we’ve seen this week), mayaku talks about deserted servers in World of Warcraft.

Gratitude and Departures

We usually end these roundups with a word of thanks to all those who submit recommendations through email or by Twitter mention. You are, as always, incredibly invaluable to what we do here.

However, I want my thanks to extend much further this week, to the many (nearly 150) patrons who have already contributed to our new Patreon. Your support allows us not only to remain open and ad-free for the foreseeable but will also us to finally go forward with our many community-building projects, which will include a wiki, archive, job board for writers, and much more besides. Do you want to see more podcasts like our recent one on Black History Month? So do we. And with your help, we can make that happen.

A last point: while I will be scarce on the site for the next two weekends due to the Game Developers Conference, if you are in San Francisco during that time, I am giving two talks you may wish to attend!

On Sunday the 16th, I (along with quite a few other members of the C-D team) will be presenting at Critical Proximity, our sibling conference headed up by Zoya Street. Then, on Thursday the 20th, I will be speaking at Lost Levels, a GDC-adjacent “unconference” organized by Robert Yang. Neither event requires a GDC pass to attend, so I hope to see many of you there! Please check out Critical Proximity’s and Lost Levels’ respective websites for more.

That’s all from me this week. So, from all of us at Critical Distance, thank you again for all your patronage and support. You’ll be seeing more from us soon!

You Can Now Directly Support Critical Distance

March 5th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in Announcement: - (0 Comments)

Hello, Critical Distance readers!

I’m pleased to announce that as of today, you can directly lend your support to Critical Distance through our Patreon page.

Critical Distance has existed as a free publication since its inception in 2009. On a weekly basis we have brought to you dozens of links to the most interesting writing and commentary about games around the web, entirely through the efforts of our hard-working volunteers.

Now, in addition to maintaining that tradition, we want to turn C-D into the definitive archival resource for writing about games. We have been working on a wiki for several months which is almost ready to launch, and have plans outlined for several projects, including a cross-referenced tagging system, a job board, and even a print anthology. But to get anywhere with any of these ideas, we need your help.

The goal of our Patreon page is twofold. First, it is to ensure that I can commit full-time as the senior editor of the site. I’ll then be able to start bringing in people to expand Critical Distance’s horizons and launch a full-on, archival effort — one which can properly compensate everyone for the time they put in.

We will soon be setting up a Supporters Page to thank all of our contributors. Please help us make this site as great as it can be by visiting our Patreon page and clicking the ‘Become a Patron’ button. You can even earn exclusive cat pictures!

Whether you join us as a patron or just signal-boost the link among your peers, we thank you from the bottom of our cybernetic hearts for your support! Thank you!

February 16th

February 15th, 2014 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Hi. Kris Ligman again. I seem to be taking this whole semi-retirement thing pretty hard, because here I am again. Let’s hit the books and/or bricks and get cracking on a great new roundup of the week’s best in games writing! It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Teachabilly

On Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne contrasts a mob scene in Bioshock Infinite to a similar moment in Spec Ops: The Line:

It is forever the failing of the medium that Decisions must be made with a capital-D, structured for presentation of both sides, as if both sides are equally opportune, fuelling the fairy tales we tell ourselves about concepts of free will [...] It is my experience that the only choices that can have meaning are the choice that agonizes, and no choice at all, for in the latter I can point back to afterwards and see a ghost of myself living in it.

Meanwhile, on Play the Past, educator Angela R Cox posts the first article in a series of primers on teaching games in the classroom. In a similar vein, over on Videogames of the Oppressed, Mike Joffe shares some valuable musings on the role of play and games (and how those two do not necessarily always intersect) in the animal kingdom.

Elsewhere, Paul Reid proffers up an interesting (but only preliminary) analysis into the correlation between genres of gameplay and the politics of players who enjoy them. And on Paste, Cara “Best Bunkmate” Ellison wonders at the disparity in gender representation that exists across media, and how games such as L.A. Noire seem to actually be regressive compared to the historical reality.

Over on Gamasutra, Mike Rose asks a small question: what happened to that $10 million the U.S. government set aside to research connections between videogames and gun violence?

Our Mobile Lives

UK-based writer Leigh Harrison suggests that microtransactions can, themselves, be a game mechanic: “I’d like to posit that, instead of implementing the looming shadow of microtransactions to gouge players of cash, developers are simply using the threat of having to pay for something as a means of heightening tension within their otherwise risk-free games.”

Aesthetes are We

On Exeunt Magazine, A.E. Dobson explores interactivity and the returned gaze. Meanwhile, at Game Manifesto, Joel Jordon posits that like as not, the aesthetics of triple-A games have defined games’ history. The question becomes: what do we do with it now?

At Higher Level Gamer, Jason Coley lays out the first article in a series on the virtues of persistent world play experiences, drawing upon popular reception to Dean Hall’s DayZ.

Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman continues his analysis on Assassin’s Creed, this time focusing on its micro and macro time scales.

And on The Escapist, regular columnist Robert Rath brings us this whammy of an article, arguing that while videogames may not have a Citizen Kane, games as an industry very much provides a parallel to citizen Charles Foster Kane, the character:

Then there are games – even successful ones – that get pushed out the door unready. Games that still carry the scars from the industry’s policy to release now and patch later. It’s a strategy that amounts to throwing the devs over the cliff and ordering them to build a parachute on the way down, so of course games ship broken. Take Battlefield 4, for instance, which still has systemic problems three months after launch. By all accounts it’s a well-made and financially successful game, but rushing it to market marred what could’ve been a successful launch.

Except according to EA leadership, the launch was successful, and don’t tell them otherwise. Like Kane, they’re sitting in their opera box, doggedly clapping to drown out the lukewarm applause.

A Flap in a Pan

The Flappy Bird debacle continues, drawing a wealth of incisive responses from around the web.

Developer and educator Robert Yang notes the racist undertones to the internet’s reception of Flappy Bird and its Southeast Asian developer. Elsewhere, Mattie Brice criticizes the game’s negative backlash as necessarily holding up a capitalist status quo:

Capitalism is informing what creations are considered good and of value, and what are bad form and derivative. Gamers and others see quality in games that show high production value, and defame games that seem to be a waste of money in this model, EVEN IF THEY ARE FREE GAMES.

Stephen Beirne turns back up again to expound upon Brice’s remarks adding that there is an important colonialist/’in-crowd’ layer being overlooked in this discussion — particularly with respect to the reactive Flappy Jam.

Where Candy Jam was activism against corporate greed, with a very clear line drawn between something King.com wanted to stamp down on and a clear expression of resistance through celebration of that thing, it’s unclear how Flappy Jam offers moral support by opposing criticism of derivativeness and difficulty [...] Perhaps the idea is to show how it’s actually acceptable to make a derivative game if it’s made by the right people, to highlight the double-standard of the gaming press and community against ‘outsider’ developers.

On Unwinnable Brendan “Steam Tag” Keogh delves into a substantial analysis of what actually makes the game a compelling play, noting much of the negative responses boils down to cultural elitism:

It’s a lowbrow/highbrow false divide not dissimilar to the one that tries to privilege ‘literature’ over genre fiction. Innovation is only important if a game is trying to be innovative. I am far more interested in how well a game does what it is trying to do [...] Flappy Bird realizes what it set out to accomplish. It is not the greatest game ever made, and it should go without saying that you don’t have to like it. But it is a good game, and its popularity is a testament to its quality.

On The Daily Beast, Leigh Alexander likens the rise and backlash of Flappy Bird to the 1990s grunge scene. Lana Polansky sees the game as earnest if it is anything at all. And Aevee Bee believes the situation says more about games journalism than it does about Flappy Bird‘s developer.

Dispatches from Vienna

German language correspondent Joe Köller shares the latest happenings from the German games blogosphere.

On Spiegel Online, Dennis Kogel discusses streaming and Binding of Isaac League Racing in particular. Elsewhere, Sarah Geser talks about browser-based music game The Silver Gymnasium and the history of games inspired by specific bands.

On Superlevel, Nina Kiel looks into Fort McMoney, a German-language “docu-game.” Meanwhile, for the same publication, Peter Klement interviews Cay Kellinghusen and Cyrill Etter about the Game Science Center, a “permanent independent exhibition space” in Berlin.

At Videogame Tourism, Christof Zurschmitten closes off his series of interviews on procedural generation, one with Pwnee Studios, creators of Cloudberry Kingdom and one with Michael Cook, creator of Angelina, the AI that designs games. Both of these interviews are in English.

Pleasure of Systems

On PopMatters Moving Pixels, Jorge Albor takes a peek at the politics lying under the hood of popular card game Netrunner. And on Stay Classy, MIT post-doc Todd Harper looks to Saints Row IV as exemplifying a particular way in which players both resist and submit to a game’s system at the same time.

Lastly, just for fun: Leigh Alexander collects colloquialisms from around the world for regional ways players say they “finish” a game. The parallels, more than the differences, will surprise you.

Housekeeping

Thanks, as always, for reading! We deeply appreciate all of your submissions sent in via email or as mentions on Twitter.

Finally, an announcement:

Next week, Critical Distance will be running a special edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging in honor of Black History Month. Similar to how our Women’s History Month roundup worked last year, this special will exclusively feature work by and curation from black writers.

We strongly encourage you to submit links for this roundup — including your own, if you have something you’d like to share. Keep in mind as well that This Week in Videogame Blogging does not limit itself to works of strict written analysis. If you have a video, a series of microblogs, a storify of tweets, even a Twine game that you feel explores or responds to games in an interesting way, we want to see it! You are not limited to work produced within the last week, either. (This has never been a rule, but we want to reemphasize it here.)

General roundups will resume in March. In the meantime, we hope to have one or two more Black History Month-themed special features to share with you soon. Keep an eye on our Twitter for more!

December 22nd

December 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

As the year draws to a close, keep your loved ones close, and your copies of Edge closer.

Welcome… to This Week in Videogame Blogging

New Horizons

On Paste, Stephen Swift offers an interesting analysis of how Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies evolves the franchise for the better.

Meanwhile, on PopMatters Moving Pixels, regular columnist Jorge Albor muses on recent pro player frictions at Riot, and this brave new world of eSports labor relations we find ourselves in.

You may have heard about Youtube’s recent Content ID crackdown affecting, among other things, quite a few gameplay reviews and Let’s Plays. Gamer Law’s Jas Purewal provides a useful primer on where this puts video reviewers and LPers on the platform right now.

New Aesthetics

Back on PopMatters, our own Eric Swain explores Kentucky Route Zero‘s rejection of a ‘Platonic Ideal’ of game-ness:

While Kentucky Route Zero does ostensibly exist within a video game space, it is more interested in the function of spaces within that space. It is based on the expressive forms of experimental theater, installation art and modernist literature, not on the ideal of the holodeck. It creates non-Euclidean spaces that cannot exist, not as an expression of the possibilities of video game space when unshackled by the constraints of the real world, but as an outright rejection of the common standard of video game spaces.

New Voices, New Faces

Confused about what this hubhub about ‘diversity lounges’ is all about? Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander puts it all into context and speaks with diversity advocates for their thoughts on the initiative.

You may have also heard, recently, that a white supremacist group in all seriousness adopted imagery from BioShock Infinite (without Irrational or 2K’s involvement) to advance its views. On Design Is Law, Jeff Kunzler remarks on how unironic this is, reminding readers just how fraught with problems the game’s race representation is.

Lastly, over on Kotaku, Evan Narcisse — the son of Haitian immigrants — shares a very affecting essay on seeing some of his own heritage explored in Assassin’s Creed IV‘s new DLC:

Never in a million years did I ever think I’d hear Haitian Kreyol in a video game. And yet, there it was in Freedom Cry, as lilting and percussive as when my mom spoke it. For the few hours I steered [protagonist] Adéwalé through his saga, I didn’t feel horribly under-represented or taken for granted in the medium I write about. It’s a feeling I could use more of.

Out with the Old…

Thanks for reading! As you may already have guessed, this will be our last This Week in Videogame Blogging of 2013. Next week, our very good Eric Swain will be presenting the 2013 This Year in Videogame Blogging mega-roundup. There is still some time to send in your own nominations!

We will be resuming TWIVGB as normal the first week of January, so please keep weekly submissions coming via Twitter mention and the appropriate part of our email submissions form.

That’s all from us for now. Stay as warm or as cool as your hemisphere and personal body regulation demands. Be sure to stop by next Sunday for our year-end roundup, and — uh — sometime for our end-of-the-year podcast! Happy holidays!

December 15th

December 15th, 2013 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Hello. Hello. It’s me again. Kris. I know it’s been a while. I assure you, longer than I intended.

Rest assured I have read all your kind words, and that despite a less-than-ideal turn of events since Ben’s announcement I am doing well. I hope you, too, are doing well. I hope all of us, alone or together, are doing well.

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Histories

Let’s start with a solid foundation. On Play the Past, Angela R. Cox praises the historical specificity of Sierra’s 1999 release, Pharaoh. Elsewhere, Owen Vince explores the enactment of histories as stories in Rome: Total War:

Games cannot just be stats and routines and hierarchies of actions and responses ii for many players, like myself, it is impossible for me, for us, not to identify with the world that we are participating in. This is one of their central qualities – that they enable narrative and meaning and identification even when, in their rawness, these things are not immediately obvious. Rome is easy for this, because there are characters, with postage stamp sized portraits and names and habits.

Nomenclatures

Simon Parkin kicked off an energetic discussion this week with this piece written for the New Statesman. In it, Parkin contends simply and emphatically, that the term ‘gamer’ has become too charged to reclaim, and the idea of a ‘gamer community’ is a non-starter. “If you love games,” Parkin says, “you should refuse to be called a gamer.”

Writing in her own blog, Mary Hamilton maintains that the term ‘gamer’ is not beyond reclamation, and indeed there is a lot of value in doing just that. Meanwhile, Stephen Beirne — while agreeing with Parkin’s larger point — takes issue with the class assumptions behind some of Parkin’s remarks, in particular the idea that games are “the great contemporary leveler.”

(In fairness to Parkin, I believe his remarks in the New Statesman piece actually refer back to this 2010 piece written for Boing Boing — one of my favorites of his, by the way.)

In summing up some of these discussions, Australian games scholar Brendan Keogh maintains that the term ‘gamer’ is fraught with problems largely for how gendered it is, and avoiding its use is an important symbolic gesture:

Not using the world gamer doesn’t solve everything. But just as using the male pronoun in a paper about policepeople perpetuates the idea that every policeperson is a man, using the word gamer in a paper when you are not actually talking just about people who self-identify as gamers perpetuates the idea that ever person who plays videogames identifies as a gamer, which is far from the truth…

My issue with ‘gamer’ is not that people identify as gamers. My issue with ‘gamer’ is it is a word that when used in discourses around games is not actually representative of everyone who plays games and its uses as such often excludes and obscures a much broader and diverse spectrum.

Architectures

On Medium, Liza Daly provides a great analysis of games as fulfilling jobs the same as (or different from) many other diversions.

Elsewhere, on Higher Level Gamer, doctoral student Erik Bigras shares the interesting tale of the collective worlds built among his colleagues in Minecraft, all of which explore interesting takes on geometry, architecture, and efficiency. And on his personal blog, Canadian critic Zolani Stewart offers a fantastic textual analysis of how Mortal Kombat 4‘s level design reflects isolation.

Basic Human Decencies

On Salon, Sidney Fussell observes how kneejerk reactions to the word “racist” prevent evolved discussion of problematic race representation in games:

So how do we start the conversation on racism in video games? We start with the right question: “Are gamers willing to call out video games for their racist elements?” We start by confronting the stifling, retaliatory climate that forecloses all conversation. We start by questioning our comfort with other players’ erasure. We must examine why massive anxiety is triggered by accusations of racism and sexism, but not by the huge disparity in the treatment of players according to their race and sex. We start by believing this is a medium bound only by the limits of users’ imaginations and not by the limits of racial palatability.

On Madness and Play, Amsel von Spreckelsen discusses depictions of the mentally ill as convenient enemy units in action games, while on Videogames of the Oppressed, Mike Joffe shares a wrenching personal account of how Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest not only helped him identify his own depression, but also recognize that he was in an abusive relationship.

Bryce Mainville offers a compelling breakdown of the sexual dimorphism of masculine and feminine character classes in Carbine Studios’ Wildstar. Meanwhile, looking toward the positive, Patrick Lindsey (co-developer on Depression Quest) shares a nice piece on Unwinnable about the progress of AbleGamers, a very important non-profit charity and advocacy organization for improving accessibility in games.

(The rest of this section contains a general content warning for discussion of sexual harassment, transphobic and sexist language, and cyberbullying.)

Writing for OnGamers, Cassandra Khaw reflects on a largely overlooked incident at a recent eSports event and makes the case for more proactively calling out inappropriate behavior. And on The Border House, in a post which partly inspired Parkin’s column above, Samantha Allen condemns the transphobic “jokes” made at Spike TV’s recent Video Game Awards show.

Two other significant cases of harassment went down this week, one concerning Depression Quest lead Zoe Quinn and the other concerning Mighty No. 9 community manager Dina Abou Karam. The Mary Sue has a good breakdown of both.

This video lampooning the outcry against Karam is also worth a viewing or six.

(End content warning section.)

Sensualities

On Gamasutra, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander provides an excellent introduction to Merritt Kopas’s unmissable Consensual Torture Simulator. And on GameChurch, April-Lyn Caouette shares her experience with Tale of Tales’ sensual Luxuria Superbia, and how it helped her rethink cultural pressures about sex — and games, for that matter.

Derivations

On The Gaming Intelligence Agency, Fritz Fraundorf furnishes us with a fond and insightful analysis of the often underrated Final Fantasy X-2, both as variations on a theme and as a story of its protagonist’s self-actualization.

And on Edge, Richard Wordsworth draws attention to a worrying trend in recent Call of Duty games, particularly Modern Warfare 2 and the recently released Ghosts:

The goal of these games isn’t peace – it’s the restoration of the status quo, with America’s military dominance reasserted and its enemies utterly vanquished. That’s a disturbing message to propagate – the digital equivalent of the World War propaganda posters of caricatured, malevolent foreigners that can only be stopped by other caricatures of our brave, devoted men and women in uniform.

On Kill Screen, our own Erik Fredner muses on Typing of the Dead: Overkill as Dada-inspired surrealist art. And on Gamasutra’s member blogs, law professor Greg Lastowka has shared a valuable overview of his recently released report on user-generated content in games and player communities.

Independencies

On PopMatters Moving Pixels, our own Eric Swain has become taken with the idea of certain games as “critic bait” — perfectly tuned games which nevertheless manage to feel disingenuous.

And back with Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs, Ben Serviss decries the idea that games — particularly the current independent scene — are headed for a collapse.

Dialogues

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Doom, Wired’s Chris Kohler sits down for a retrospective with id Software co-founder John Carmack. And on PC Gamer, Philippa Warr interviews Charles Cecil on Broken Sword 5, the Gnostic Gospels, conspiracies, and religion.

Dispatches from Vienna

Here’s the latest and greatest from the German-language games blogosphere, via our correspondent Joe Köller.

Superlevel has released the full text of a Choose-Your-Own-Interview with Thomas Hillenbrand and Konrad Lischka, co-authors of Drachenväter: Die Geschichte des Rollenspiels und die Geburt der virtuellen Welt (or: Dragon Fathers: The Histories of Roleplaying and the Birth of Virtual Worlds, if you’ll forgive my 4 am translation).

On Krautgaming, Christoph Volbers discusses the popular subject of the ephemeral nature of digital games. Meanwhile on Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl has a useful holiday gift-giving guide — geared specifically to buying games for non-players.

Letters from Paris

Critical Distance is also pleased to introduce our new French-language correspondent, Laurent Pointecouteau.

Two new French-language games publications have recently sprouted up, each supported by veteran writers. JV Le Mag, edited largely by former writers of Joystick magazine (now defunct), has an interesting feature on the inception of Grand Theft Auto. Here’s a review by French blogger Cyril Berthout. Meanwhile, the new French Games Magazine appears to offer some great opportunities for French-language bloggers shooting for print. You can follow them on Twitter.

As for online features, Canard PC editor-in-chief Ivan Gaudé sat in for an interview with Ragemag, and has a few strong words for the state of games criticism and certain American publications.

“We don’t think that video games are art, so we don’t see exactly why they couldn’t be given scores,” says Gaudé, who in particular says that American games websites such as Polygon are “eating themselves up” through controversy. How do you say “shots fired” in French?

Invitations

Thanks once again for reading. As always, we greatly value all your support and submissions. Be sure to submit your weekly recommendations to us by mentioning us on Twitter or sending us an email.

Second order of business: if you haven’t yet, please swing by our call for reader submissions for our upcoming This Year in Videogame Blogging roundup, curated by longtime contributor Eric Swain.

Also, a little bird (really, the blue one that twitters a lot) tells us that Engagement Game Lab has opened a new scholastic journal, Level 257 — and they’re looking for your submissions.

Finally, many of you may have already seen Dreamcast Worlds scholar and Memory Insufficient editor Zoya Street’s recent invitation for feedback for a proposed games criticism event happening adjacent to the Game Developers Conference in 2014. If you haven’t yet, here’s where you can go to lend your voice. We hope to see a lot of you there!

October 20th

October 20th, 2013 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (0 Comments)

Your games criticism is not impossible… but it is also not very likely.

Welcome… to This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Holders of the Keys (or: Things Critics Say)

First Person Scholar interviews developer/critic/man-about-town Cameron Kunzelman on the many areas of his expertise, and also his recent comments on Grand Theft Auto. Speaking of those comments, here are more.

On Paste, photographer Brian Taylor takes readers on a tour through Pittsburgh — the real one, and the one from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.

It’s Horror Month at Ontological Geek. Tune in, and then hide.

A Whisper into Various Voids (or: Things Critics Say About Other Critics and/or The State of Things)

On Errant Signal, Chris Franklin takes aim at the cake-having problem of wanting games to be considered art and yet insisting they have no political underpinnings.

Tevis Thompson argues for far greater diversity in how we evaluate games.

Matthew Burns lends the final word (for now) on all this arguing over games criticism.

The Seven and a Half Cardinal Natures (or: Things Developers Say)

Raph Koster reflects on responding to criticism.

Chris Bateman poses the idea that interference is, itself, a sort of game. And on Edge one finds the story of Gone Home‘s The Fullbright Company.

On Gamasutra’s expert blogs, Eric Zimmerman posts the first in a series of articles breaking down how he, as a game design instructor, teaches game design.

Trip to Europe (or: German correspondence)

We have a bit of a backlog here so bear with us.

Papers, Please has reached a bit of a critical mass in the German-language games scene. Balkantoni of Shodan News wonders why such praise is lavished on the game if not for a certain baseline ignorance of how abuses in immigration have gone down. Jan Hoppe of 99leben shares how he, too, had to be brought around on the subject of immigration, while Dejan Lukovic shares how he had to stop playing the game after it cut too close to personal experience, as an Austrian with a Croatian passport. Jagoda Gadowski emphasizes the value of differing interpretations with a game like Papers, Please.

Onto other subjects. On Videogame Tourism, Christof Zurschmitten laments the hyperfocus on a few triple-A titles in general interest or arts journalism, to the exclusion of a more nuanced conversation. And on Superlevel, Sebastian Standke has republished an article on Portal‘s GLaDOS and testing rooms as having an embodied presence.

On Kleinerdrei Miriam Seyffarth takes a feminist lens to Video Game High School. On Superlevel, Marcus Dittmar criticizes games’ treatment of love and romance (and in doing so invokes Alexander Ocias’s Loved, among others). And elsewhere on Superlevel, Markus Grundmann muses on why World War I is such an uncommon subject for games.

Deep Subversions (or: Games Could Be More)

On Culture Digitally, Adrienne Shaw criticizes the lost queer potential of Fable.

And now, the weather

On Paste, Cara Ellison suggests that pop music and games were made for each other.

Goodnight, Ludodecahedron, Goodnight

We greatly value all the recommendations sent in via email and Twitter mention. Please, don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.

This month’s Blogs of the Round Table is still ongoing.

That’s all we have, so until next time, readers, stay safe out there. Or, relatively safe, for most of the time.

This week’s proverb: What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets. Also organs. And teeth.