Hello, readers! If you live in America, you might be in a small frenzy of making shopping lists and devising seating charts for your guests; if you don’t, you’re probably bored to tears hearing the rest of us worry about it. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there sure was a lot going on This Week in Videogame Blogging!
It’s About Games Journalism
You may have seen Kotaku’s recent reveal that Ubisoft and Bethesda have blacklisted them. Over at Ars Technica, Kyle Orland responds, exploring the way games journalists and PR interact in a changing news landscape.
Today, the market for gaming information and opinions is far more fragmented. Kotaku remains a major outlet, but many players now get their gaming news and opinions directly from the publishers’ own blogs, from cult-of-personality YouTubers and Twitch streamers, or from a firehose of tidbits that they happen to see on Twitter or Facebook.
Similarly, Stephen Beirne explores the relationship between games journalists and designers in a writeup of his recent Eargoat talk about how games criticism is like cooking a roast chicken dinner.
People Who Need People
A lot of people sat down with a lot of other people this week. First, Critical Distance’s own Eric Swain had Cara Ellison on his podcast to discuss her recently published book Embed With.
At The Mary Sue, Emma Fissenden spoke with Ann Lemay, a current writer for Bioware, on the ins and outs of working with games narratives:
There’s a lot of iteration in our work. There’s a lot of having to let go of ideas you really wanted to run with, there’s trying to make something that needs to be in the game fit, and then there are the times when a plan comes together and you just giggle at yourself and hold your breath while hoping it won’t be need to be cut.
Keith Stuart chatted with Nina Freeman about her recent game Cibele:
Has [Nina] ever been concerned about the implications of putting herself out there so honestly? “Putting myself into these stories in a vulnerable way has definitely taken practice. I’m more and more comfortable with each project. I have learned to separate my present personal life from them, because it could be uncomfortable to feel like critics are talking about me when they talk about the game. Yes, they are talking about me, in a sense, but they are really talking about the character I created based on me. That distinction is important.”
Dean Takahashi at Venturebeat talked to Amy Hennig and Jade Raymond about Star Wars and story in games during the Montreal International Games Summit.
Lastly, at Kill Screen, Chris Priestman interviewed alt games creator Dylan Barry about his newest project, Uriel’s Chasm 2:
Barry didn’t realize that bringing these games to Steam would seemingly offend so many people. He saw in their reaction a familiar “religious behaviour,” as if he had walked into their temple and smashed their stone commandments, which laid out what games were and how they should be… It was for aspects such as this, along with its esoteric narrative and peculiar challenges, that Uriel’s Chasm was labeled “bundleware”… But Barry wore this label as a badge of honor. This is exactly what he was going for. “My aim was to potentially change a person’s life with something made for mass bundling,” he tells me. “I wanted to play right into the pigeon hole I’d been put in, then feel around for the walls, the limitations of exactly what could be achieved in that dark place.”
The Elephants in the Room
AAA is going strong this week, with the recent releases of both Fallout 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. At Gamasutra, Simon Parkin looked at the conflict between narrative and violence in games like Tomb Raider, noting how, for instance:
Nathan Drake becomes an unsettling blend of chirpy wise-cracker and insatiable murderer. This kind of observation has become so prevalent with regard to blockbuster games that even its mention in critical writing is now considered cliché.
Carolyn Petit responded to critiques of her Rise of the Tomb Raider review, expressing concern for how players:
[…] are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.
And at Remeshed, Cassidee Moser used Tomb Raider as a jumping off point to talk about how we portray mental illness in games, finding that “it’s sadly a rarity to see [mental illness] depicted well in media, thanks to various stigmas that have plagued conversations about this topic for decades. But, that doesn’t mean it cannot be found.”
Meanwhile, if Fallout 4 is still taking up most of your time, Zak McClendon praised the jankiness you love to hate over at Wired, boldly claiming:
[R]eviewers and players [are] calling out its creaky engine, poor companion AI, sub-par animation, and many other glitches and bugs. Some see this as a failure of Bethesda to get with the program and embrace modern-day AAA polish. I don’t. Each time a new release is as rough and buggy as those that came before, it shows Bethesda is focused on the right things.
And on a different note, Carli Velocci looks at how Fallout 4’s design grapples with and reimagines the city of Boston.
It’s the Little Things
Many writers went in depth on the bigger meaning of small nuances in games this week. At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alex Layne took a deep dive into the role of food in games (see also: Games and Food dot Tumblr –ed). On a similar note, Gita Jackson took to Hopes and Fears to examine furniture.
Several people took a fine-toothed comb to the role of characters in games as well. Sarah Warn asked what the addition of switchable protagonists can offer to diversity in games, finding that “while it’s clearly possible for a strong story, diversity, and switchable protagonists to co-exist, that needle must be threaded very carefully–and not every studio appears to be up to the challenge. At least not yet.”
Back at Kill Screen, Ed Smith worried about how children are presented as characters:
You encounter humanity in games not in people but through simpler, more tangible non-human vectors. You never speak to people, because people are complicated. Instead, you straightforwardly learn about people through architecture, diaries and robots, objects which can purport an essence of humanity but also be used to conveniently sidestep the pressures and expectations of writing and creating a believable human character.
Lauren Clinnick looked at bisexual representation in games, writing that “Being bisexual can feel like you’re a glitch in a game – unintended, invisible to some and annoying to others. A needless complication. Game developers and writers sometimes treat us like this too, intentionally or not.”
Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game
Several writers looked at the role of the player this week. Brendan Keogh imagines videogames without players:
Designed without a human player, the system would work perfectly, without hiccups, and much faster. While the computer can smash out thousands of decisions and act on them in a microsecond, the player has to drag their lumpy fleshy digits from one button to another and press it while also pushing on a thumbstick and thinking about what to do while also not being distracted by a barking dog or the afternoon sun glare on their television screen.
Mattie Brice provided her own counterpoint in her reflections on attending the NYU Game Center’s PRACTICE conference. She exhorts designers to “kill the player” through a self-proclaimed “treatise on dealing with fairness, consumer-player enculturation, and the propagation of imperialist values through the design of games” that runs the gamut of the conference’s conversations.
And Brock Wilbur looked inside himself to consider what it means to shoot virtual and real guns in today’s world:
I don’t think that the video games or even the guns are bad — they’re nothing more or less than beautifully consumer products made for a predominantly male audience — just that they may no longer be good for me. I can’t be alone there. I can’t be the only one starting to suspect that if he’s not a survivor, he’s something awfully close. I can’t be the only one starting to behave accordingly.
Last, Gita Jackson heads over to Paste to reflect on what her experience at Indiecade says about the sustainability of the industry, responding to the recent resignation of Indiecade coordinator John Sharp:
When I got back home, I emptied my backpack and dumped business cards on the floor. It wasn’t that I thought people weren’t happy to meet me or that I didn’t think genuine connections were being made. But I was also very aware that everyone at Indiecade was kind of there to make a sale. It’s the nature of the beast. You want to be an artist, but you have to eat.
And There You Have It
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