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Author Archives: Mattie Brice

September 30th

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Mattie Brice in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

Look up. There is a vast, majestic void filled with thousands of stars looking down at you. But are they really watching? Are they actually real? The horror of empty void fills your heart with terror.

With Kris Ligman gone for the week, Intern Mattie takes the mic to lead this precious town through the day. I know not to go to the Dog Park.

Welcome, to This Week in Videogame Blogging.

The Illegal Seizing of Motor Vehicles

Local scientists have blamed traffic congestion on the decline of car robberies in town, most likely due to so many people busy stealing virtual cars in Grand Theft Auto V. Concerned townsfolk worry about children growing up learning to not steal cars, but Alisha Karabinus pens a reassuring statement that children can tell the difference between reality and videogames with assistance from their parents. Anjin Anhut agrees that the game will not play tricks with our minds, since it doesn’t have a well enough grasp of satire to challenge the status quo:

When joking about any form of oppression out there, you need to make the oppressor the punchline, NOT the oppressed. When joking about any form of inequality, you need to make privileged people the butt of your joke, NOT the marginalized and disenfranchised.

I have just received a message from our vague, yet menacing government. It is tattooed on the arm of a faceless child who, somehow, still makes crying noises. They want me to announce a reminder that women are still considered the dominant gender, and all videogames would do well to remember that. Over at The Border House, right by Aunt Jenn’s Pizza Shop, Quinne asks when is enough enough, citing the toxic behavior and somewhat apathetic reaction of community leaders to gamer’s sexism and other horrible qualities. I know it’s unprofessional for me to editorialize, but I must say listeners, how long will we let publishers of all kinds who take our money to continue such rude, and illegal like everything else in this town, behavior? Paul Tassi seems to have an answer, saying that as long at GTA doesn’t have a lead woman character, none will be given the depth that such a game can afford.

Taking a different route, Tom Bissell shares a letter, hopefully not made with contraband writing utensils, to Niko of the previous GTA game, saying how the games resent gamers, and how he is aging out of that demographic. A truly touching piece. Rather than turn away from life-rending horror, Nate Ewert-Krocker embraces the grotesque qualities of the game and likens it to the horror genre, where everything is meant to be disturbing:

Both the world and the characters of GTA are meant to elicit both disgust and pity in the player. The counterpoint of those two emotions is what makes a grotesquerie so compelling: the player (or reader, or viewer, or what have you) wants to continue the narrative because they want to see whether or not the characters come to a place that’s less disgusting, less pitiful.

Mayor Leigh Alexander held a press conference this week, mostly staring at the sun, mouth agape, and emitting noises of unspeakable horrors. She concluded it with a list of government-sanctioned subversive games, to which she pointedly dismisses GTAV as a contestant. In the pressbox, journalist Brendan Keogh was too busy trying to take selfies within the game during her speech, and was promptly escorted to the ReEducation Camp.

Some Words From Our Sponsors

Is the world ready for the decadent evils of digital sports? We say yes. Jorge Albor recaptures how we are witnessing the emergence of a new sporting culture, that follows traditional sports’ footsteps.

Dan Solberg goes back to SimCity 2000 to talk about the architecture it predicted we’d have by now, and how real life stacks up to its vision. Don’t despair, dear listeners, I’m sure there’s an ominous, oak door that will take us to that promised world.

Our own Eric Swain goes to grips with Endgame: Syria, and reassures us of the inevitable: there is no paradise for those looking for it in the horrors of humanity. He says:

At one point, I thought I had done it. The regime was ousted with no sectarian violence, no destabilizing of the region, and no religious extremists emerging. The only downside was the loss of hospitals, utilities, and other basic facilities from functioning properly. I mentioned this on Twitter and got the response I deserved. “So you made a desert and called it peace?”

This segment is brought to you by PopMatters!

Stay Home, Or Else

The Secret Police are relieved to report that Old Man Ian Bogost has finally finished an oral rendition of his review on Gone Home, much to the enjoyment, or possibly chagrin, of his neighborly angels. I must admit listeners, I was concerned it was an evil incantation for an actual display of viscera whenever anyone said ‘visceral.’ Despite the tight watch on his modest home by the car lot, Daniel Joseph was able to spread subversive thoughts gained from Bogost’s words before the government could censor it:

There is nothing literary about Gone Home, if we are to weigh it against the history and progression of the last 200 years of western fiction. And yet it is beautiful (and wildly effective) in its simplicity and earnestness because our own lives are actually quite simplistic. Or at least we perceive our own lives simplistically, amateurish, forced, and heavy handed even when they are almost certainly never only those things. To use Heidegger’s tool analysis, most of the wild complexities of our lives fade into a series of interlocking sequences of events and objects ready at hand, a series of moments linked and made sense of through widely available tropes.

How he knows this restricted knowledge is currently under investigation.

Community Reading Corner

Despite books being illegal in our humble town, much talk about narrative elements persists around social media watercoolers and bloodstone circles. Angela R Cox reframes Phantasmagoria, a community favorite, under Gothic literature instead of its usual film comparison:

The house governs nearly every part of the game: it is the source of isolation; it is the containing structure for both the supernatural demonic presence that drives the plots and for horror and terror; it tells the story itself through architecture and spatial distribution of plot elements.

This week has seen an uptick in grammatical analogies, so make sure to lock your doors and keep your children firmly preoccupied with television. The story vs mechanics tension often comes up in our community, but Mark Filipowich aims to take it a step further and adamantly tries to fuse story and mechanical elements into a language we can talk about games. On the same note, Mitch Krapta refocuses current game conversations on looking not at the rules of play, but the verbs the game affords the player. If you see either of these two men approaching your residence, pray to your family obelisk for a quick and painless departure from this plane.

What does it mean to be a character? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be you? Chris Batemen explores these terrifying questions digging through a strange paradox: why does a personality-absent cipher character like Gordon Freeman win fan character contest polls?

And now, to Germany

After some strange happenings around the Critical Distance office bathroom, we are sure to have Joe Köller on the job of translating any strange German transmissions we get from the strangle black and purple hole in the wall. He recently translated a message from Rainer Sigil, about the recent horrors of Amnesia – A Machine for Pigs:

Instead, it presents primarily an aesthetic experience, atmospheric horror, living on the moment of fear and, beyond that, dreadful suspicions. Its rationality is faked time and again – just like the fragments of Dear Esther don’t amount to a full story, A Machine for Pigs offers no conclusive whole. Why and how should it, when its themes are taken from a century of mass murder and ideologies of genocide?

Troubling words.

Joe also just now slipped me this note, but with a tentacle arm, before being sucked into the portal. It reads:

Marcus Dittmar wrote about environmental storytelling and the limits necessary to appreciate open worlds, Markus Grundmann covered Cookie Clicker and consumerism and Dennis Kogel interviewed Jasper Byrne of Lone Survivor and other things. Superlevel is also providing smaller features on entries in the Experimental Game Pack 01 over here.

If anyone can translate the foreboding warning hidden in this, please call the station’s number immediately.

All Is Well

There goes another day in our lovely community. Remember that if you spy any shadow monsters leaving the bowling alley or notice your romantic partners turning green, to let us know via Twitter or email. Just want to send us some thoughts? Submit to Blogs of the Round Table and hopefully some powerful demons will take a liking to you.

Until next time, good night videogame bloggers, goodnight.

March 24th

March 25th, 2013 | Posted by Mattie Brice in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

I thought glasses only clinked in movies, but nothing made people get closer than $3 Sangrias and a mural of a woman lying across a pool table. Yes, it is the eve of the Game Developers Conference, or as the game industry calls it, “Christmas”. But even with such tempting distractions in store, and Google Reader threatening the existence of our RSS feeds, it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Being Women’s Herstory month, the gaming community still has gender issues on its mind, and this week showed many different perspectives on the evolving conversation. We would be remiss if we didn’t include this insightful conversation between Yannick LeJacq and Rhianna Pratchett about the videogame woman of the year so far. The interview refuses to take a strong, one-sided stance on the game, as does the personal disclosure about the game from Rhea Monique:

Tomb Raider triggered me, sure. But it didn’t do it needlessly. It didn’t do it tactlessly. It didn’t do it for a cheap rise. It instead captured a real emotion and a real experience millions of women will encounter in their life. Some of them won’t be as lucky as I was. Some of them won’t be as lucky as Lara Croft was, either. Some of them won’t survive. Some of them will be silenced forever.

Some of them will die and some of their attackers will live.”

But for most, Lara Croft isn’t enough. Samantha Allen at The Border House outlines why enough is enough, there should be more women protagonists in videogames by now. In the same vein, Maggie Greene illustrates via her knowledge of the brave women in Chinese history, noting that the kinds of women we need in games aren’t necessarily the most obvious ones:

“I don’t mean to imply that it’s only these types of ‘quiet’ strength that are worthy of attention, just that perhaps we don’t give it as much attention as it deserves. It’s something that is harder to valorize than the more obviously ‘heroic’ qualities. Qiu Jin is a clear hero, and she hits some of those points we like: she shunned the expected female roles of her time (leaving her husband and children to head to Japan), she embraced the idea of revolutionary violence, she was photographed with weaponry. Delicate Chinese flower she was not, despite having bound feet. But there is heroism in Xu Zihua’s story: it is not bombastic, and it doesn’t involve assassination plots, but it speaks to a person who willingly bore a tremendous responsibility in a volatile time.”

Making an unexpected appearance at BuzzFeed, Courtney Stanton explains why she isn’t shocked about the reaction surrounding Adria Richards, and in fact, has come to expect it:

“One time I was afraid to leave my house because of the internet. My unforgivable sin was refusing to just be cool about rape jokes in a gamer comic and its associated fan convention’s merchandise. Sometimes the hill you find yourself dying on is weird and unexpected; I feel a lot of empathy for Richards in this. But as final lines in the sand go, “I would like to attend a professional conference without multiple instances of men being juvenile, unprofessional, and just plain gross” doesn’t seem like an outrageous demand to me.”

In an interesting twist, Michael Thomsen makes a case against the irresponsible use of ‘dudebro,’ and how the community’s lack of rigor actually marginalizes certain experiences key to understanding the typically overgeneralized demographic of shooter fans.

Tell Me a Story I’ve Never Heard Before

The blogosphere is often grappling with the way videogames deal with narrative, and this week is no different. Over at PopMatters, Mark Filipowich extrapolates how homes are underused in games as narrative contrast and our own Eric Swain teases out similarities between cinematic time jumping and that of Thirty Flights of Loving. Line Hollis talks about how Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable work as interrogations of typical narrative structures in games and the determinism therein:

“While both games are about storytelling, they approach the theme from opposite directions. A story, traditionally, is a sequence of events that follows a chain of cause and effect. The Stanley Parable is about how story structures mock the idea of free will. Dear Esther is about how people force incomplete and untrustworthy information into story structures. One features a protagonist trapped in a deterministic world, and the other a protagonist trapped in a non-deterministic one. One of these turns out to unsettle players much more than the other.”

Worth mentioning also, back in June of last year an unnamed author over at Still Eating Oranges talked about how not all narrative structures rely on conflict, and the assumptions we have are very much ethnocentric.

It Hurts So Good

The strange relationship between pain and pleasure that games give to players has been a focus of interest with gaming thinkers lately. Kyle Carpenter at Medium Difficulty talks about the satisfying play in Trials Evolution and how it relates to J.G. Ballad’s Crash. On his blog, Robert Yang muses about how The Elder Scrolls games deal with murder and how the games set up an interesting system to communicate gravity to their murder. And thought notoriously painful, Brendan Keogh also reflects on his isolated nature in games and how Dark Souls complicates his single-player experience with multiplayer influence.

The Bonds Between Us

Relationships and intimacy is a long standing fascination of game critics, and writers continue to push our thinking on how relating can happen in games. Jordan Rivas speaks to the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3 and how it created a feeling homecoming, of friendship that essentially fulfilled your needs for some bonding. This time on Medium Difficulty, Mark Filipowich renews the conversation about intimacy in games through the Prince of Persia games, and how they explored the Prince’s lack of emotional bonding. Over at his personal blog, Brad Galloway shows the subtle ways sexuality politics works against diversity in the newest Fire Emblem while Matt Marrone exercises his relationship anxieties through playing Spaceteam with his girlfriend and friends at Unwinnable:

“Is your former college roommate’s wife overseeing the V-pod? She’s furthest away from you at the table. Maybe you’re not saying it loud enough. Maybe she’s never really liked you.

Or perhaps it’s your girlfriend who’s ignoring you. You’ve been training her to do it in your spare time, anyway, with your incessant rambling, and now you’ve doomed yourself to an eternity floating through the empty vacuum of space.”

Utter Miscellany

Sometimes game bloggers don’t like to be easily categorized, much like the confusing experiement that is presenting Dwarf Fortress as a museum exhibit, as highlighted here by Bill Coberly. Megan Patterson speaks to Actual Sunlight‘s Will O’Neill about the nebulously personal, but inspiring direction game development is headed. Going in a different direction, Mohammed Taher gives a detailed run-down on the influences and progress of game development in the Middle East.

And if all that was too heavy for you, perhaps instead of the top 40 lists of attractive women in tech, why don’t you try out Darius Kazemi’s ClickBait, created in response to the piece?

In San Francisco this week? Make sure to say hello to your favorite Critical Distance contributors, and come see my panel with the very timely theme of women in the games industry. If you cannot join in the wonderful festivities that is GDC, fear not, as we will be back here, same time and same place, with even more juicy videogame blogging. You can still reach us by email and Twitter for recommending good reads, which is always immensely helpful! And don’t forget about this month’s Blogs of the Round Table.

Until next time!

Tomb Raider triggered me, sure. But it didn’t do it needlessly. It didn’t do it tactlessly. It didn’t do it for a cheap rise. It instead captured a real emotion and a real experience millions of women will encounter in their life. Some of them won’t be as lucky as I was. Some of them won’t be as lucky as Lara Croft was, either. Some of them won’t survive. Some of them will be silenced forever.
Some of them will die and some

February 17th

February 17th, 2013 | Posted by Mattie Brice in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off)

The sun over the Critical Distance virtual offices was blotted by clouds and naked branches scratched at the windows. I was alone in the room, listening to the howling wind that matched my intentions, full access to the site at my fingertips. When Kris Ligman is away, Mattie Brice gets to play. LiveJournal open, it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

05:28 PM February 8th, 2013

It’s the first day of the Mattie take-over, and I’m not quite sure what my first move should be to dethrone the powers that be and make Critical Distance mine. Reading Robert Yang’s meditation on Cardboard Computer’s Limits & Demonstrations, how some more conceptual games resist being played, and players’ relationship with cheating. Maybe I should make a post that defies being read?

09:34 AM February 11th, 2013

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up with my journal, I had to initiate my first phase in weakening games criticism for my eventual rule:

Herein lies the problem- when you leave out the personal, all that’s left is the status quo. Because that ‘standard’ consists of the values of a particular type of culture associated with the hegemonic, privileged class, there is actually something personal and subjective going on all the time. Thus, by leaving out the particular experiences of the silenced and marginalized, it bars anyone from revealing the bias that exists within this supposed stoically neutral discourse. It takes away the vocal chords of a person in a room full of shouting.

But enough of such grand schemes. Today, Gus Mustrapa spun a legend of eternal struggle, an overlooked opera I felt represented the toiling emotions in my heart. The last time that happened was when I was 8 years old on my first art museum visit, when I, much like Richard Terrell, questioned whether I was fully capable of understanding the full experience of a piece. With a swing of a paddle, I bounced back to reality when Andrew Vanden Bossche sharply criticized the zeitgeist of mainstream reviews, in this case Arthur Gies’s Dead Space 3 review, much like my 5th grade teacher scolding me for calling out answers in class.

2:53 PM February 12th, 2013

I have a lot of feels swirling around today, mostly about how Anthony John Agnello’s observations on voice and silence affecting the game experience reminded me of the correlation between my habit to talk to myself in empty rooms and the commodification of pink haired girls in visual novels.

The rest of my day was gloomy, having to consider David Cage might be right about something, or so says Brad Gallaway when it comes to the non-gamers’ perception of videogames. To make matters worse, Simon Parkin over at New Statesman further complicates the violence in games issue more than my paradigm can handle.

10:15 PM February 13th, 2013

Did you know videogames made me an atheist? It totally makes sense now that Tom Dawson explained how games exercises our relationship with religion and how gods can be parasites:

I wonder, did anyone sit down to consider their own understanding of God before making these games? After all, these two examples can be viewed as commentaries on the nature and necessity of religion: in From Dust the Breath is created by the Men to aid them in their quest for survival amidst an incredibly hostile world, and Black & White’s opening sequence shows the god of that game being called into being by the fervent prayers of humans in need. In neither case is the god pre-existing, never claimed to be a creator – they are invented by societies which feel the need for them. The obvious insinuation is that is that people create gods, rather than the other way around, to benefit themselves. From these parallel beginnings the two games part ways and the nature of the human/deity relationship branches.

It also looks like many in the critical community are thinking of relationships the day for Valentine’s. I see Liz Ryerson’s questioning Duke Nukem 3D’s design and her intrigue as an allegory for the post-feminist Marxist’s plight with receiving chocolate on February 14th. Or take Lana Polansky’s experience with belonging and labels as the descent of neo-Derrida horsemen onto the videogame landscape.

8:29 PM February 14th, 2013

Dear internet, I had a wonderful Valentine’s Day! Let me tell you all about it:

At first, I woke up with a sense of panic, much like the vulnerability Jorge Albor speaks to in the tension between horror and co-op modes in games. Even worse, when I arrived to surprise my boyfriend at work with gifts, he wouldn’t answer his phone! But I remembered Keith Stuart working through the nuances of difficulty, and knew I had to be patient to win my prize:

So frustration is not a universal commodity. It’s okay in some games, let’s say, but it’s not necessarily okay in all of them. Indeed, some studios have developed clever ways to sidestep frustration. The Easy mode is the obvious one, and it has become prevalent now that games are a mass entertainment medium. Most narrative adventures will offer an option for players, ‘who just want to experience the story’. However, I can’t help but wonder if this is a dereliction of duty on their part – if you have produced a game with a win state, there should be a way of challenging inexperienced players without spoon-feeding them narrative sequences in between one-hit kills and dozens of lobotomised enemies.

Soon enough, I found him lying in the park where we whispered words only lovers should hear, much like Jason Rice’s memory of Talana from Star Control II and their intimate scene together. If there was ever a clearer metaphor for the last hours of Valentine’s day, is it Sean Sands’s confession on his personal relationship with violence and protecting his daughter’s innocence.

6:01 AM February 15th, 2013

My heart wants to sing like how critics want games to tell stories. Nick Dinicola at good ol’ PopMatters explains storytelling decisions in action games, akin to past lovers who ignore me at Starbucks but are friendly over a cheap bottle of wine:

[Binary Domain’s] Dan is a very plain [person] when you think about it. There’s not much to him beyond the white, rugged male soldier cliché, but because the game encourages us to forge multiple personas for him depending on the group, he comes out in the end feeling like a well rounded, fully realized person. Not an archetype.

Throughout my life, I’ve wanted to be in a game or live as a musical, and now I know that combination isn’t as absurd as it might sound, according to Aaron Matteson. And it seems like things have been getting too personal for some peoples’ tastes, so Andrew comes to task again to interrogate the lack of conversation surrounding the craft of personal writing. He will be a great number one for my eventual rule. So would Sam Machkovech, who’s frankness about the impossible position game critics are in is, like, so meta. To make up for it, Ian Bogost writes three reviews for Proteus, which spoke to my experience of being in a bar with a game critic, performance artist, and a synesthete on an acid trip.

11:59 PM February 16th, 2013

My first wave of subversion is almost complete. All I need left is L. Rhodes’ plunge into the murky waters of narrative and puzzles in games, an obvious analogy to my anxieties of post-feminism and choosing which shoes to wear:

Puzzles, as it happens, are one of the things that distinguishes games from many forms of narrative art. Not that those narrative arts don’t contain puzzles. It is, rather, a difference in kind. Both Agatha Christie and Professor Layton present crime and punishment as a kind of puzzle, but it’s doubtful that a novelization of a game like Antichamber will ever be able to achieve more than an awkward approximation. That’s something to celebrate, if you ask me; in the Venn diagram of games and art, it’s the critically ignored spaces that don’t overlap which interest me most.

12:00 AM February 17th, 2013

This might be over for now, but I will be back again. Send me leads of subversive content through the site’s email submission form or mention a piece to Critical Distance’s Twitter. Make sure to use code words, so Kris doesn’t catch on to my plan.

And check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table too.

Until next time!