February 7th

February 7th, 2016 | Posted by Zoyander Street in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on February 7th)

The games blogs are coming in two by two this week. With great discussions of friendships, dualities and Street Fighter II, it felt fitting to arrange everything in pairs. We’re going head-to-head on discursive battlefields from psychology to politics.

Power

We’ll start by looking at the videogame hero from very different perspectives. G. Christopher Williams looks at the exposed torso of Kratos in God of War as a visual signifier of his power, while in contrast to the buff nude killing machine, Fabian Fischer looks at the mortality of roguelike heroes.

“[…] the nearly nude Kratos belongs to the tradition of the figuration of the romanticized and unclothed (or unarmed, perhaps) heroes, like Beowulf, King David, Samson, and Hercules.”

“This omnipotence of typical videogame heroes is also the reason for almost any game that actually contains the ability to “lose a match” being labeled “roguelike” these days. The idea of “permadeath” has become a sign of quality and a unique selling point to players looking for intrinsically motivating games.”

G. Christopher Williams in fact appears again this week, now looking at how the difficulty of games relates to how we are taught to play them, while ZAM Editor-in-Chief Laura Michet offered an extremely enjoyable read on the interplay between friction and freedom in survival sandboxes.

Both Polygon and Gamasutra published vox-popathons on Street Fighter II on its 25th anniversary. Both will likely prove to be useful resources for years to come.

Psychology

In The New Inquiry, Alfie Brown discusses the position of mobile games in relation to labour, arguing that rather than being counterproductive uses of workers’ time, they are designed to maximise compliance. Over on Medium, Alex Fleetwood discusses the difficulty parents have deciding how much digital distraction their children should be allowed, and offers his mixed digital-physical project Fantastic Beasts as an alternative for parents who feel alienated by screen-based play.

“These distractions, far from being as useless as they pretend to be, are productive and powerful tools that transform us into suitable workers. They set into motion a strange guilt function that turns one into a good capitalist and ultimately makes more money for the company.”

“I hope that we can start to shift perception of game design as a profession — from ‘glinty-eyed exploiters of the lizard brain’ to ‘empathetic explorers of what gives us cognitive pleasure’.”

The driving force in the next two articles is the idea of energy: Jamie Madigan introduces the concept of “Newtonian Engagement”, while Nathan Savant considers the “momentum” at work in Kirby games.

A number of critics this week considered unreality and ambiguity as a storytelling technique in games, arguing that designing for co-authorship with the player can enhance their ability to imaginatively project into the work. Leigh Alexander interviews Firaxis producer Garth DeAngelis, and Kym Buchanan discusses the imaginative power of sensory limitation.

Continuing on the theme of ambiguity, Vincent Kinian discusses the storytelling power of the dreamlike half-reality of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, while Miguel Penabella describes the dreamlike experiences portrayed in Off-Peak.

Pathos

Gamasutra and Polygon went head-to-head another time this week, on the topic of game development in Africa. At Gamasutra, Richard Moss offers a fascinating survey of several studios across the continent, while at Polygon Basim Usmani focuses on developers in South Africa.

“Well-known South African games as they exist today, like Broforce, Toxic Bunny and Desktop Dungeons have an understated South African quality that is in contrast to the games developed in Nigeria and Kenya where locally created games are so culturally specific they couldn’t exist anywhere else. Highway Free, a phone game about sitting in a Nigerian traffic jam is one example.”

“Everyone consulted for this article stressed that, despite the massive diversity across the continent in terms of language and local customs, success for one African developer is good for all of them.”

At Gamechurch, M. Joshua Cauller discusses how the limited verb set of Oxenfree contributes to the poignant sense of intimacy in its friendships, At Vice, Kaitlin Tremblay looks at Oxenfree alongside Tales from the Borderlands and Life is Strange, to discuss the value of platonic relationships in storytelling.

Yet more talk of friendship comes out in a video about Undertale by Rantasmo. Also on Undertale, a meta-post about Let’s Play videos on Looping World discusses the game’s “manipulative soul”.

Prejudice

Matthew Kumar’s post on Watch Dogs and Ed Smith’s article on Grand Theft Auto both call out the games’ racism in connection with portrayals of urban crime.

Watch Dogs is the kind of crap where you don’t feel like whoever laid the egg even really needed a shite in the first place. It’s not just crap, but pointless.”

Watch Dogs is a racist video game. That’s not to say it is a bigoted video game—this isn’t pointed. It’s simply the kind of thoughtless everyday racism that infests most cultural works.”

“In an act of rewriting of history so blunt and tactless only game critics could miss it, Rockstar doesn’t [simply] attempt to justify the white system – it tries to extricate it from implication entirely”

Frida Svensson shared the first part of her study on how character creators handle race, while Sara Rodriguez wrote a piece interviewing women of colour in game development about how ethnicity affects their work.

Politics

Two writers this week pointed out the right-wing rhetoric at work in videogames: Edward Smith at the International Business Times, and Joe Köller on Medium.

“They consistently advocate right-wing ideology; ideology that has become particularly visible during the lead up to this year’s US Presidential election. Jingoism and capitalism rule in video games. To that extent, they act as a mouthpiece for the American right-wing – they are themselves Republican demagoguery.”

“Games criticism, in its current form, is the eager accomplice of canon. We happily turn the alleged importance of “smart” games into self-fulfilling prophecies, placing their creators on the thrones of a history we’ve allowed them to write.”

A trio of writers (Jace and Taylor Hidalgo and Riley MacLeod) gave their unbiased critical assessments on journalistic integrity sim The Westport Independent, and Videodante also chimed in with criticism of the game’s politics.

Finally, a pair of videos on the history of conflict in game development and game settings. First, a “past mortem” on Hideo Kojima’s troubled relationship with Konami, and then a leisurely chat between Bob Whitaker and John Moran Gonzalez on how Red Dead Redemption portrays the Wild West:

Wait, hang on…

These final articles have nothing to do with each other, but I couldn’t bear to leave the two wallflowers out in the cold while all the others got paired off. Here’s Simon Schreibt sharing some interesting technical details about the design of videogame fishtanks, and Todd van Luling explaining why it’s very likely that Michael Jackson wrote the soundtrack for Sonic 3.


And that’s all for this week. I hope you enjoyed travelling together on this little discursive road trip; if you want to comp us for gas/petrol, you can do that with PatreonRecurrency, or Paypal. Got suggestions about some spots we should visit next week? Send them through Twitter or by email.

January 31st

January 31st, 2016 | Posted by Zoyander Street in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on January 31st)

This is my first post as the new Senior Curator! It’s been an absolute delight to start the role on such a strong week. While a lot of the active discussion has been about The Witness, I’m going to start this roundup with some excellent pieces on other topics that are worthy of your attention.

Observing through lenses

Developer-oriented analytical writing goes from strength to strength. Edwin Evans-Thirlwell explored spatiality and movement in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, highlighting some of the exemplary design choices that made it influential.

“[…] as freeing as it feels, the Prince’s moveset is all about serving the needs of the space rather than vice versa. It might allow you to defy gravity, but it’s designed to permit the elegant solution of problems within a rigorously mapped environment, rather than in order to be exploratory and transgressive.”

Jerome Bodin shed light on “navigation nodes”, an aspect of spatial design that will be instructive to anyone working on or writing about 3D first-person games. Mark Brown analysed how enemy design and level design came together in Doom (video) to create interesting problems that players solve through skilful use of space. Deanna van Buren built on the example of The Witness to advocate for the role of trained architects in game development. We’ll be looking at The Witness in more detail at the end of this roundup.

Beyond 3D game design, Joel Couture provided a guide to communicating through visual language, theme and puzzles, and Anjin Anhut published a super helpful guide on how to talk about art style.

Gazing in wonder

Chris Priestman gave a beautifully-written account of one of my favourite topics: inactivity.

“There’s a satisfaction to be derived in comparing our own motionless to the busyness of the world around us—to be the silence among the noise. This dichotomy can help us meditate on the glory of that singular moment.”

Hamish Grace offered a detailed overview of Brutalism, an architectural style that has been increasingly significant in games of late. For many, this style inspires awe and wonder at the majesty of concrete. PopMatters published a fascinating cinematic analysis of Kojima’s cut scenes, and how the meticulous, lingering gaze of his early work has been replaced by a faster-paced, minimalist single-shot approach.

Viewing in perspective

It’s often said that games allow us to walk in somebody else’s shoes, but what if the shoes don’t quite fit? It’s enlightening to hear from somebody who has directly experienced the situation a title purports to simulate. Reflecting on his past work as a journalist in a communist regime, Zach Hines argued that newspaper simulator the Westport Independent portrays a naive view of self-censorship.

“Even a good-hearted person can end up on the wrong the side of a repressive agenda, and yet still believe they are right. It’s too bad that The Westport Independent is far too blunt to carry this point home.”

Former US Marine Chris Casberg praised and problematised fantasy revolutionary violence in Just Cause 3Jay Barnson used his memories of playing Go and learning AI to put the news of a Go-playing AI in perspective.

Recognising erasure

[Content warning: racism and harassment] Tanner Higgin shared an article published in FibreCulture exploring the racial semiotics of 4chan raids on Habbo Hotel and World of Warcraft.

“[…] trolling more generally oscillates between harassment, lulz, and protest/intervention, creating controversy not just between troll and trolled, but between trolls. I would go as far as to say that all trolling has a version of politics; even those trolls who claim to do it just for fun have a stake in protecting that fun. It’s what’s behind the fun, or what’s truly at stake, that’s of more interest.”

Oscar Strik examined the way that depictions of racism often end up using fictional settings to depoliticise the subject matter, by separating it from the systems of oppression we participate in outside of fictional settings. The piece is itself something of a roundup of excellent writing on the topic, citing Sidney Fussell, Yusef Cole and Tanya D among others. Definitely worth checking out. [End content warning] Finally, Daycia Harley was interviewed on competitive Smash Bros and inclusivity at tournaments.

Celebrating love

Challenging the assumption that every relationship simulation has to be romantic, Lena LeRay leaned into the discomfort of role-playing relationships that feel incongruent with her graysexuality in Emily is Away and Cibele, and used it as a lens for better understanding what enables us to relate to a story.

“[…] love stories are generally regarded as universal and exploring the relationship between two people is a natural direction to take for a piece of interactive fiction that revolves around instant messenger conversation. But there are so many other ways of addressing intimacy and relationships between two people.”

In another take on the power of non-romantic love, Sloane Cee shared a postmortem of a debut project that offers a compassionate approach to a trans coming out story.

As always, some developers’ attempts at representation leave much to be desired. Andrea Ritsu played Atari’s Pridefest and found no mention of LGBTQ rights whatsoever: Pride is portrayed instead as a celebration of rainbow-coloured joy, put in place to revive a stagnating economy. Todd Harper also gave a no-holds-barred criticism of Pridefest‘s erasure, stereotyping and depiction of pink-washed gentrification, while still defending the symbolic pleasures it may offer players. 

Examining contexts

In Capitalism, games, and diversity work, CK Jong discussed how advocacy bends to economic conditions:

“We feel pressured to justify ourselves in terms of how capitalism values us, not as complex, fallible human beings, but as potential profit, as untapped markets, as innovators, as positive PR, as productivity, as a more “dynamic” workforce.”

Nathan Altice discussed the Pico-8 with an eye toward the social forces that turn a technology into a thriving platform. Meanwhile, back in the fictional realm, Austin Howe put JRPG landscapes in a socio-economic context.

Looking respectable

Gaming’s labyrinthine quest for institutional recognition seems to go on forever, and it can lead to some uncomfortable places. On the positive side, an avant-garde art blog covered a French festival featuring games as well as some remarkable digital art installations (part one | part two)

“One of the interesting phenomenons about game[s] is that techniques and experiments that were pioneered by artists, users and hackers feed into the R&D labs. And vice-versa, with innovations about interfaces, control systems and interactions bouncing back and forth between these two worlds and eventually seeping into mainstream consumption and culture.”

However, the notion that games have “arrived” at some promised land of artistic credibility can be toxic, as argued by Ed Smith in a well-crafted, acerbic takedown of some of the simplistic reasoning that is often applied to defend a product’s status as Important Art. A post on the blog for Concordia University’s TAG centre problematised the much-celebrated announcement of USC’s new publishing initiative which aims to provide credibility to artistic projects.

Beyond the institutional politics of art and academia, Rick Lane talked to developers about the things they cannot talk about, in a piece on industry’s overwrought use of non-disclosure agreements.

Witnessing the Genius

At last, we can turn our attention to the biggest topic of the week, Jonathan Blow’s much-anticipated island of mystifying puzzles. While much of the coverage has been effluent in its praise, some of the most interesting reviews have been frank about how it can frustrate, irritate and even enrage. Heather Alexandra’s review highlighted The Witness‘s arrogance as well as its charm.

“[…] you can almost feel how impressed with itself The Witness is. Like a giggling child sitting right over your shoulder, The Witness perches itself to watch and judge everything that you do.”

In a forthright piece that takes no prisoners, Lulu Blue captured what makes The Witness so galling.

“Perhaps it is clever that the island in the witness more closely resembles a mini-golf course than an earnest place. It carries with it all of the deep capitalist ennui and shallow tourism of places and cultures you might expect.”

In Paste, Garrett Martin argues that The Witness is not as deep as it thinks it is.

“Did you know that everything’s connected? Did you know that if you slowed down and truly observed your surroundings you might notice details you otherwise missed? Did you know that kid in college who became insufferable when they read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? If not, do you want to? Play The Witness.”

Bill Coberly composed a critique of gaming’s thirst for geniuses, which sits quite well alongside Ed Smith’s piece on gaming positivity mentioned earlier.

Finally, Darius Kazemi’s interactive review of The Witness is affectionate and illuminating; a lovely thing to observe and ponder.


That’s all for this week! Make sure you check out the latest call for entries to Blogs of the Round Table; writing for BoRT could be a great way of making sure that your senpai notices you. If you spot a piece that should be included in This Week in Videogame Blogging, send it along via Twitter mention or email.

Critical Distance exists thanks to your support. You can make a small financial contribution to us via Patreon, Recurrency, or Paypal.

It is an absolute joy to take on the role of Senior Curator. Please feel free to send comments or feedback to my Twitter: @rupazero, or for an overview of my other work check out rupazero.com.

January 24th

January 24th, 2016 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on January 24th)

I could say this on a lot of Sundays but I’m going to say it on this one: I’m flabbergasted by the quality of writing featured in This Week in Videogame Blogging! Let’s dispense with the pleasantries and hop right to it!

Reality, History and Violence

[Content Warning: violence, sexual assault, genocide] In a piece for The Guardian, Anna Moore discusses online grooming and Murder Games, a documentary about Breck Bednar, a London boy who was murdered after a man developed a relationship with him through an online game.

Erik Twice argues that This War of Mine is an opportunistic simplification of the real Sarajevo conflict:

All those elements; the scavenging, the threat of an unideological enemy, calling your house “our shelter”, the moral conundrums, the restriction of only being able to go out at certain times during the day,…they are not the elements of a game about war. Rather, they are the elements of a game about zombies and once one removes the shallow coat of paint that covers it, it’s impossible not to notice that its setup is identical to that of Dead of Winter or all those “zombie crafting survival” games that spawned in the wake of Don’t Starve.

[end Content Warning].

More broadly, Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Bianca Batti responds to E. McNeill’s argument that game choices, like history, are effective because they are rooted in truth. Batti agrees that choices in a game resemble history but she complicates the idea that either can be reduced to a universality. Games, like history, are difficult to link to something pure and detached from human relations:

What does it even mean to argue that history is rooted in truth? Whose histories get to be true? Whose histories get to be told? Whose truths are we talking about anyway? And I have some similar questions and concerns when it comes to games—what does it mean to say that a player’s choices are real or true? Can our gameplay choices be unrealistic? Can they be realistic? What makes a choice true? Can choices be false? Whose choices get to be true? Whose choices become false? And who gets to decide?

Less historical but certainly as pertinent to reality, Ed Smith interviews Ryan and Amy Green for Playboy, the couple behind the autobiographic That Dragon, Cancer about their son, Joel:

A Christian family who during their son’s illness turned frequently to God, the Greens do not shy away from discussing religion. Both in conversation and in their game, they recall periods when their faith has been tested, miracles they have witnessed and the times prayers have gone unanswered.

Current Mood: Doom

Rich Stanton covers John Romero’s newest level for Doom, “Tech Gone Bad” 22 years after the game’s original release:

Stanton’s piece details everything from Doom’s legacy, the personalities of the original Id Software team and the personal flourishes that have kept the game relevant, “Tech Gone Bad shows Romero’s still got it and, even more impressively, Doom’s still got it.”

Making Play

Justin Keverne writes a short and sweet gem on his blog about the systems of supplying resources in Super Metroid:

These pipe creatures are organic resupply points, where time can be sacrificed for a complete replenishment of resources. This dynamic is never explained, the act of discovery is a sign that you have developed an understanding of the underlying systems. You are rewarding for showing this understanding of how the game systems functions in a way that is in context and non-patronising.

Gamasutra’s blogs editor, Christian Nutt, reflects on one of his favourite games of 2015, the frequently overlooked Legend of Legacy, whose critics Nutt neatly counters with the following:

Many people who have limited time and love the JRPG genre tend to save what time they do have for the big games, but my philosophy is increasingly becoming: Fuck that. You need to dig deep and figure out which titles you’re genuinely going to enjoy.

Walk Around My Good Intentions

Jason McIntosh shares his feelings about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and offers a reading of its ending on his blog, Game Shelf.

None of it should have existed. On the aesthetic level alone, it seemed too beautiful and fragile to exist within the medium of video games. I hate how hokey that sounds, and I dislike how it sounds like I call the entire game a masterwork for the ages, because I’m not sure I would.

Plot details abound in the article’s second half but even if that sort of thing is important to you it’s still a strong piece and McIntosh gives plenty of warning for the spoiler-averse.

Returning to another acclaimed game-as-atmospheric-story, Simon Rankin has written an excellent deep reading of Terry Greenbriar, the father in Gone Home whose story is reputed as one of the game’s darkest but is actually one of considerable hope [Content Warning: discussions of child abuse, substance abuse and divorce]:

Terry’s struggles are cast in a new light, and it’s heartbreaking, but Gone Home doesn’t dwell on the abuse itself, so neither will I. What could have manifested as a sad statement on the powerlessness of abuse victims instead becomes a story of Terry’s transition from victim to survivor.

What Show Tells Us

PopMatters’s Moving Pixels editor, G. Christopher Williams,  investigates the connection between feminine heroism and costuming in light of the recent team-up of fashion designer Louis Vuitton and Final Fantasy XIII dev Square-Enix to dress up FFXIII’s heroine, Lightning, in the designer’s newest fashion line.

That which makes a woman “superior or iconic,” like, say, a Marilyn Monroe, is how she appears to others or how she has constructed herself to appear to others, something that can be comfortably achieved in a video game (like…character creation systems of many video games) or in virtual spaces in which we create avatars for ourselves.

Emily Short shares mixed feelings about Read Only Memories, praising its thematic and aesthetic novelty but finding some of the writing lacking on a concrete level.

Also on Gamasutra’s blogs, CJ Payne offers an in-depth look at how Dragon Age: Origins demonstrates several principles of social psychology through its companions.

First, Dragon Age: Origins does an impressive job of making use of the availability heuristic. As the companions are almost always with the player, especially when venturing out into the world, they act as the player’s moral compass, her checks and balances in a way. This affects the game in two ways: decisions made while adventuring (both primary story and side-quests), and companion availability.

View From the Top

Gita Jackson—who is, I’m proud to remind you, Critical Distance’s blogger of the year for 2015—pens a piece for Kotaku on Dwarf Fortress, escapism and life as a millennial under neoliberal austerity.

The point, really, is to build something that lasts. In Dwarf Fortress, “something that lasts,” is often a trial by very literal fire. Even if it doesn’t last very long, you have a real legacy to point at. “Look,” you can say, “I did something.”

I don’t mind saying that not many writers can connect these dots with the skill and humanity that Jackson does.

Wired hosts an article by Jake Muncy about the recent influx of metafictional “games about games”:

Some metafictional games certainly can come off as self-important while still having a lot to offer. The best strive to expand their boundaries and give players genuinely thought-provoking questions.

Sausage Recipes

Zack Gage proposes some changes to IGF’s categorizing scheme to more appropriately celebrate more games in their own context rather than awarding the same few games for the same metric multiple times.

Those interested in games in a less digital and more Jenga-esque form, I suggest you take a look at this interview with Leslie Scott (video), the inventor of Jenga, who shares where she got the game’s name, how she came up with the idea and the global popularity of the world’s least feasible drinking-game.

Re-Strategize

George Weidman of Super Bunnyhop fame covers the current legal climate in Japan around gambling (video) that has, in a roundabout way, prompted the development of a new entry in the King of Fighters series (albeit without the gorgeous pixel art it was once known for).

Gregory Avery-Weir, keeper of the blog Ludus Novus, entertains questions of how strategy optimizes or limits the depth of a game’s systems.

In the book Rules of Play, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman use the term “degenerate strategy” to refer to a dominant strategy which results in the player focusing on one narrow approach to play, making miss out on the full complexity of the game. If one unit type in a strategy game is universally the best choice to use, with no need for another type of unit, that presents a degenerate strategy. The most effective way to play the game is to use that unit at the exclusion of others. And that’s a boring way to play.

Avery-Weir uses X-COM: Enemy Unknown as a lens for his discussion but it’s easy to see a broader application of his article.

Signal Boosting

German speaking games academics take note that the University of Kassel is seeking a professor of games studies in their Department of Visual Communication.

For those on the reading side of games, Unwinnable has shaken up their structure a bit for 2016 and includes a litany of new segments as well as a return of their fabled “theme” pieces. I’ll refer you to their store page where I encourage you to pick up their new issue if for no other reason than Melissa Graf’s gorgeous artwork.

Not convinced? Well there’s over a hundred pages to this issue filled to the brim with the finest quality media criticism that we love so much here at Critical Distance.

Given the impossible task of finding a suitable excerpt from the newest issue I’ve chosen this one from Carli Velocci’s piece on the dialectic between art and the tools that make it:

How intertwined are art and technology? It all seems to go back at least to the invention of photography in the 19th century and even further back to innovation surrounding the printing press. The final product of a creation is heavily influenced by the innovations of the time period and crafts a certain look or feel that can only be achieved with the supplies and tools at hand.

Every End is a New Beginning

It’s no easy task trying to sufficiently round up so much games criticism, so we implore you to bring any you come across to our attention either by email or on Twitter.

And if you’re looking for more games crit, give a listen to our latest podcast wherein Eric Swain interviews game developer and Extra Credits writer James Portnow.

If you’re looking to contribute to one of our monthly features you still have just over a week to submit a piece to our Blogs of the Round Table focusing on the theme of ‘Progress’ or a video to our monthly compilation of critical let’s plays.

Critical Distance is made both by and for the community so if you’d like the projects that we offer take a look at our Patreon page or consider a one-time donation via PayPal.

Finally, it’s my great pleasure to welcome Zoya Street as our new senior curator. I’m sure I speak for everyone else when I say that I look forward to working with you from here onward.

January 17th

January 17th, 2016 | Posted by Melissa King in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on January 17th)

What’s up, Critical Distancers? DJ Melissa here, spinning the sickest new written beats in the gameosphere in This Week in Videogame Blogging!

That Dragon, Cancer and Its Emotional Impact

That Dragon, Cancer, an interactive look into a couple’s experience with their son’s fight with cancer, released on January 12th and touched many heartstrings.

Over at The Guardian, Keith Stuart compares his experience playing That Dragon, Cancer with his own experience dealing with the death of his father.

Stephen Addcox from GameChurch and interactive fiction author Emily Short examine the game’s usage of contradicting aesthetics to simulate the experience of losing a child.

At Kill Screen, Alexander Kriss focuses on That Dragon, Cancer’s methods to express the deep sadness of the Green family’s situation.

Our own Riley MacLeod specifically looks at the way that That Dragon, Cancer tells Joel’s, the Green family’s son, story when he is too young to tell it himself.

Intertwining an interview with creator Ryan Green with his own reactions to the game, Satchbag’s Goods reflects on the game’s greater implications on our purpose in life (video, no captions available).

The Art of Speedrunning

Awesome Game Done Quick, or as the cool kids call it, AGDQ, sparked discussion for two game bloggers. First, Games That Exist clarifies a point made in a previous work of theirs, classifying speedruns as “creative, anti-consumerist, community-driven performances that double as oral histories.”

Meanwhile, on her Tumblr, Carolyn Petit explains how speedrunning brings back the magic of videogames that she felt as a child.

Are Gamers the New Religious Right?

You, our kind and helpful reader base, pointed out to us that there’s a debate going on in the gaming blogosphere this week that simply asks “are gamers the new religious right?”

At Houston Press, Jef Rouner argues that yes, gamers are the religious right of today, stating:

The gamer right has its moral crusade, now. It wants gaming to be orthodox and traditional and easy to swallow without thinking too much about it.

In response, Damion Schubert posits a counterargument on Zen of Design: “So don’t call these people you refer to as ‘gamers’. That’s a term for good people. Go with ‘fuckwads’.” While his response was fairly concise, I also recommend checking out the discussion in the comments!

Party Like It’s the Classical Era

Other writers this week have been getting in touch gaming’s roots in classic art and literature.

Brick by Break’s Ario Barzan brings us a piece on the link between Dark Souls’ concept art and its environmental design, comparing the game’s concept art to paintings by Joachim Patinir, Friedrich Schinkel, and Caspar David Friedrich.

Meanwhile, at The Guardian, Holly Nielsen explores the idealized vision of country living in games such as Story of Seasons and Animal Crossing and how it relates to ideals from a variety of time periods in history.

Mechanics, Mechanics, Mechanics

A big chunk of videogames blogging this week highlighted mechanics usage in games:

Did you know that Bossa Studios is working on a VR version of Surgeon Simulator? Thanks to Jake Tucker at Pocket Gamer, now you do.

In Gamasutra’s blog sections, Chris Pruett tells us about the different elements of tension he’s found in the horror genre and how he applied them to his own game.

YouTube channel Game Maker’s Toolkit dissects the quest “Beyond the Beef” in Fallout: New Vegas and lauds it as a great example of sidequest writing (video, captions available).

Over at The Atlantic, Will Partin presents different case studies of an MMORPG’s version of the apocalypse.

Grayson Davis at Videogame Heart praises Emily is Away’s interface’s representation of the instant messaging of yesteryear.

According to G. Christopher Williams at Popmatters, if you take a good, hard look at the interaction between mechanics and storytelling in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, there’s another shocking twist to be found! And no, for once, it’s not Ocelot’s fault.

The packaging for a PS4 controller skin makes Brendan Keogh wonder what, exactly, we consider to be “cheating” in a videogame.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bianca Batti checks out the relationship between games, their mechanics, and life.

The Term of the Week Is: Ludonarrative Dissonance

Did you think we were done discussing mechanics? Sorry, bucko. A few of the works from this week brought up the term “ludonarrative dissonance,” which means a disconnect between a game’s mechanics and overarching message. The more you know!

Uninterpretative’s Zack Fair contemplates how Undertale’s theme of distrust affects whether the game features ludonarrative dissonance or not. (I’m totally digging the Hello Kitty blog theme, by the way.)

After some controversy over the previous game in the series, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days did not receive much critical examination, and Miguel Penabella at Thumbsticks wants to remedy that, featuring the game’s usage of ludonarrative dissonance to prove a point.

On Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs, E. McNeill ties history and videogames together, arguing that a contradiction in veracity cheapens the experience for both.

(Critical Distance alumna Lana Polansky already came up with a much better term and approach for all this, by the way. -ed)

For All Your Representation Needs

Another cluster of games writing aims to raise awareness about diversity in gaming and game design.

In another gem from PopMatters, Jorge Albor muses on the potential for VR games to provide us an empathetic view on the lives of marginalized folks.

Game developer Rami Ismail writes about the intersection of Islamophobia and opportunities for Middle Eastern game developers on his Storify.

Gamer mom Nicole Tanner tells the story of raising her young daughter as a videogame player.

At The Guardian, Simon Parkin interviews Helana Santos, developer of Epic Mickey 2.

In an incredibly detailed essay for Analog Game Studies, Aaron Trammell teaches us about Dungeons & Dragons’ appropriation of the “Orient” and its influence on modern gaming.

See You Later, Space Cowboy

Thanks for reading, friends! These roundups exist courtesy of your contributions, so we are always happy when you share your favorite brain food of the week with us via Twitter mention or email.

If you like to dish out your own brand of games writing, make sure to keep our monthly Blogs of the Round Table on your radar. This month’s theme is Progress! If you’re looking to expand your horizons in professional writing, Onological Geek is looking for new contributors, and are accepting applications throughout January. Applications close on February 1st.

We can support our writers (myself included!) because of your financial support, so if you like what you read, throw us a dime on Patreon, Recurrency, or Paypal. All questions, complaints and cute pictures of guinea pigs can be directed to my Twitter, @LongLiveMelKing. Toodles!

January 10th

January 10th, 2016 | Posted by Taylor Hidalgo in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on January 10th)

The turn of the calendar brings with it a new, shiny coat of life. New year, new goals, and new writers to Critical Distance! As one of these new writers, it’s my job to ferry my dear readers into the new year’s words with This Week In Videogame Blogging!

Getting a Different Angle

Over on Not Your Momma’s Gamer, Bianca Batti examines how literary examination can be used to explore videogames, and how the inverse can also apply:

To me, it seems, such a lens might allow us to more fully realize how video games converse with other new media forms and how it is they converse with other means of storytelling. And such an understanding of games can allow us to understand how it is that games expand the way we interact with and engage with narrative structures and with the stories we tell.

G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters Moving Pixels discusses how board games’ variable strategies lend poorly to artificial intelligence, but how the innate rules-based intelligence can still teach meaningful lessons on them all the same.

On the opposite hand, Alex Wiltshire over at Rock Paper Shotgun interviews developer Alex Vostrov while exploring Infected Planet’s mutation mechanic, and its special AI to counter single-strategy play.

Arcade Review and Ansh Patel explore willful intent and unified identity with indie game Crime Zone.

Elsewhere, on the Gamasutra Member Blogs, Jane Friedhoff takes the definition of “personal games” to task by examining game design based on the Riot Grrrl movement, explaining that “it means that a personal game must always be about making something legible to outsiders–which feels like the opposite of personal to me.”

Allegra Frank, over at Polygon, attends 2015’s No Quarter exhibit with a particular focus on the diversity of tone, style, and sociology.

Over at Overthinking It, a group of collaborators known as Think Tank discuss the nature of re-envisioning narrative, applying narrative reasons to what were originally mechanics, and how it all affects adaption.

What Life Isn’t

Converse to the new perspectives, some articles approach what isn’t there at all. Thomas McMullan at alphr follows in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde by saying our art imitates and organizes our lives, and speaks on how games do much the same:

Life is not an ordered experience. It is a mess. Pushing life’s imitation to its extreme soon betrays how inadequate the neat containment of a game is in dealing with the near-limitless possibilities of real-world situations. To take this tendency to its logical conclusion, I decided to treat a real-life situation as if it were a point-and-click adventure game. I found a door and I found a man. I needed to get past the man to gain entry to the door. In the real world, I’d find another way into the building, but in a game i’d (sic) approach a challenge as a puzzle to be solved – an experience structured around explicit, limited, solvable systems.

Ed Smith, for Playboy, writes about how games paint a beautiful, rustic facade of England that reflects on older, more conservative past, one that is dishonest about how it truly looks.

Elsewhere, Kate Kadowaki paints a picture of the Garden of Eden with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, one unattainable in actual reality.

Gina Roussos writes for Psychology Today by examining the way a game displaying the effects of poverty conflicts with the way games give players personal agency.

For the Articles That Don’t Color in the Lines

Buried in the halls of Medium, Patrick Miller tells a story of a fictionalized game developer who creates a monetized game for bots to save a sinking studio, with boggling results.

Pixel Popper presents a video from Doctor Professor, who speaks on the value density of tight game design, rather than pure scale (video).

Over on Inverse, Brock Wilbur interviews Gita Jackson, our 2015 Blogger of the Year. You can read our words on Gita Jackson and our best loved pieces of 2015 here, if you missed it the first go around.

Insert Coins to Continue

That’s it for this week’s pieces, and as always thank you so very much for coming by! We always value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter at @CritDistance or by sending us an email.

If the wise words above have inspired in you the desire to craft your own breed of wise words, we always welcome contributions to our own monthly Blogs of the Round Table, with a theme of Progress this January. Of further interest to interested writers, Onological Geek is looking for new contributors, and are accepting applications throughout January, with applications closing on February 1st.

We’re able to bring these things and more to you thanks to your generous support on Patreon, where we’re hoping to recover some of the support we’ve lost late last year. If you’d like to help us out, consider pledging to our campaign, if you can. If you prefer, you can also use Recurrency, or make individual donations via Paypal.

It was an absolute pleasure to bring you with me on this inaugural TWIVGB of 2016, and I hope that the coming year brings with you every bit of wonderment you deserve. Thanks for coming along with me this week!

December 20th

December 20th, 2015 | Posted by Joe Köller in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on December 20th)

Seasonal greetings, dear reader! It is my pleasure to welcome you to today’s game crit round up, the last of your regularly scheduled program before we close out the year with a series of delicious treats. So have a seat, have a read, and let us celebrate the good times.

It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging!

This One’s For The Players

According to a recent Pew study, nearly half of all American adults play videogames, but only 10 percent consider themselves gamers. Adrienne Shaw expands on the topic by talking about other research, possible explanations, and how gender factors into it all.

Some people suggest that we need everyone who plays games to identify as a gamer. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I do think it is important that anyone who does feel an investment in that label to feel the right to adopt it […]. But I also think that it is just as important and politically necessary to suggest that you don’t have to be a gamer to care about games.

In other news, Twitter hired a “Director of Gaming Partnerships” this week. Nobody is quite sure what that means, but Maddy Myers provides us with some entertaining speculation.

Meanwhile, Femhype contributor MostlyBiscuit interviewed Kayla Squires, who recently became the first woman to qualify for the Call of Duty World League.

On Unwinnable, our own Riley MacLeod talks about his response to the unreliable narration of Secrets Agent and Dr. Langeskov, and on PopMatters, Jorge Albor talks about his love-hate relationship with Fallout 4.

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

On Gamasutra, Brandon Sheffield brings us the most surprising 90s games, a list chock-full of doozies. While we’re on memory lane, John Romero recently provided us with this video showing the demo for a PC port of Super Mario Bros. 3 that never came to be.

December is the time of retrospectives and the boring canon of normative top ten lists. With that in mind, Kill Screen provides us with a series of more interesting looks at 2015, including Joshua Calixto’s The Year In Feels, Gareth Damian Martin’s The Year In Space, and Josiah Harrist’s The Year In Boardgames.

Brought To Mind

On Femhype, we have this interview with game designer Rachel Pope led by Miss N, and this article about fan-made patches queering up Harvest Moon by Pluto.

In the meantime, Eurogamer provides us with both an exhaustive history of the Kinect by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, and Keith Stuart’s look at game violence in the context of crime fiction.

Speaking of books, Joel Couture recently reviewed Nick Suttner’s volume on Shadow of the Colossus, and on First Person Scholar, Xi Rao reviewed Brian Upton’s book The Aesthetic of Play.

How The Bratwurst Is Made

On the German side of things, a new issue of the essay magazine WASD (to which I contributed) is available, and some articles have their way to other sites. For instance, Philipp Sickmann’s discussion of Christos Reid’s OCDemons and Roman Lehnhof’s look at the lack of leftist philosophy in games.

On Superlevel, Nina Kiel continues her ongoing discussion of sex in videogames, and Katherina Kavermann looks back at the 1997 game Overblood. Should this sound interesting to you, let it be known that the site has recently launched a Patreon campaign.

It’s The End, My Friends

That’s about it for this week, thank you so much for tuning in! Next week we are going to send off the old year with This Year In Videogame Blogging, and it’s not too late for you to submit articles for our consideration. Just email them to us, same as you would any other week, and use This Year in Videogame Blogging as the subject line.

You also have our traditional end-of-year podcast and our much-coveted Blogger of the Year award to look forward to, and of course there’s also still time to write something for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, themed around joy.

We are able to bring all these things and many more to you thanks to your generous support on Patreon, but unfortunately our funding has dropped significantly over the last months. If you’d like to help us out, consider pledging to our campaign, if you can. If you prefer, you can also use Recurrency, or make individual donations via Paypal.

It was my spectacular pleasure to welcome you to this last TWIVGB of 2015, and I hope that the coming weeks have nothing but wonder in store for you. See you next year!

December 13th

December 13th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on December 13th)

I’m awake at a most unusual hour, chillstep flowing through my YouTubes and coffee flowing through my brain tubes. That can only mean one thing: I’m on deck for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Body Counting

Kiva Bay explains the importance of seeing her body represented positively in games like Saint’s Row 2, an opportunity even later games in the series withholds from her:

So why should videogames include my body in their character creators the way Saints Row 2 does?

Because it’s hard enough, okay? Because the first step to normalizing my body and showing people that I’m NOT a bad person is letting them play as me as a hero.

Meanwhile, over at Loser City, Hannah Dwan discusses how Julia Kristeva’s understanding of abjectness in the horror genre applies to different videogames:

This border, the precipice of humanity, is something that someone backs away from through a process of catharsis – the abject reaction itself. Fainting, vomiting, and certain abject reactions can elicit the pleasure that catharsis brings about, while stepping back from this border and solidifying a sense of identity, separating the concept of the self and the grotesque other.

How to Belong

On Remeshed, Mariko McDonald argues that game jams are important in resolving the problems of representation in game development: “Game making, especially independent game making, can be a very isolating experience, but local jams encourage collaboration and force developers out of their comfort zones.”

The Ontological Geek continues ther column, “What It’s Like to Play” based off L. Rhodes’s column of the same name for Culture Ramp. The column’s newest edition comes from Michael Evenden, who approaches digital games for the first time in his late fifties:

I write as an outsider, but one interested in and sympathetic to games. What, then, might this outsider account offer to insiders?

[…] I really think this could be easier. Can’t someone create a graduated list of games for adult-onset players, a series of games to take on, in sequence, that would build familiarity and component skills and even attitudes, in a conscious way?

Anybody up to Evenden’s challenge?

Back on Remeshed, Sarah Warn reminisces about Eve Online, a game she enjoyed and found generally welcoming, until her experiences in a larger community alienated her:

I still miss Eve sometimes–when I see a screenshot of one of the many majestic vistas of New Eden, or when the nullsec drama bubbles over and makes mainstream gaming news. But not enough to go back, at least not now. I already spend enough time in real life dealing with the consequences of sexism and racism, I don’t want to spend my leisure hours dealing with it, too.

[Header Missing, but It’s the JRPG One]

Over at ZEAL, Austin Howe describes Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter as a JRPG that mechanically mimics poverty. It’s a nuanced argument with too many juicy quotes to pick just one, so I’ll leave it to you to check out on your own.

Though less concerned with the RPG element, The Mary Sue’s Megan Patterson wonders why Japanese games are so fashionable. Though it varies from one case to another, for Patterson fashion in games means what it does outside of them: a way to express oneself:

Giving players clothing options can give them a deeper sense of ownership over a character, which just gives the player a new way to interact with the game world and create their own stories. This, of course, isn’t something that applies to every game, but it can certainly apply to a lot of them.

In the Spirit of Science

G. Christopher Williams writes an essay for PopMatters that’s equal parts personal and analytical about how Cradle unravels the binary between religion and science:

[I]n Western culture, we have the idea that the distinction between science and religion is a strict dichotomy. Two conceptions of the world that should have little in common. You know, like transhumanism and idea of the preservation of consciousness in a new body and reincarnation, as examined in religious texts like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Those two things have nothing in common, right? Oh yeah, except that they both concern the essential nature of human consciousness.

Nelson, founder and editor at Videogames and The Bible discusses Republique as a more effective dystopia than the supposedly “Mature” rated games that lean on explicit imagery:

All I can tell for sure is that in my roughly 10 hours of play, I was more disturbed by suggestions of the dark goings on in the game’s world than by any of [Bioshock antagonist] Andrew Ryan’s tirades.

Rob Rath muses on the missed opportunities of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s Charles Dickens missions over at Playboy. Rath is frustrated by the game’s reticence to explore Victorian England’s fascination, anxiety and culture of fraud connected to the occult:

Though the movement was rife with fraud, Spiritualism did have benefits as a belief system. At a time when science began eroding the Biblical creation story, it offered reassurance about the afterlife. Séances, which sometimes involved kissing or fondling the medium, offered a rare form of sexual liberation. (It’s no accident that many mediums such as Cora L.V. Hatch, an American medium who toured England in the 1870s, were attractive young ladies.) Families torn apart by war or illness could gain closure by “contacting” loved ones.

The Terrible, Hopeless Future

On the blog, Women Write About Comics, Eve Golden Woods takes a break from comics to discuss Read Only Memories as an alternative cyberpunk story. Cyberpunk being one of the key words to immediately catch my attention, I had a hard time pulling a single passage to represent the whole, but this is what I came up with, “In spite of its serious themes, R.O.M. is not a stuffy or serious game. It strikes a marvelous balance between wry humour and genuine emotion.”

Since I’m on the topic of cyberpunk, this is a great opportunity to bring up Invisible, Inc. which Jake Tucker believes is the ‘Best Strategy Game of 2015’ according to his article on Vice:

The reason Invisible, Inc. is the highest-placing strategy release on VICE Gaming’s end-of-year round up, and my own personal game of the year, is that every single decision matters. Whether it’s closing a door, upgrading an agent or leaving half my team behind in an enemy stronghold, either/or moments that seem trivial or incredibly important can both lead to significant consequences.

And on the more operatic end of science fiction, some of you keeners may be aware that there’s a new Star Wars film on the horizon. The tireless group at Unwinnable will mark the occasion next week with an all Star Wars issue next weekend so if you’re still humming and hawing about that subscription, now might be the time to take a look.

Etc.

Dr. Nathan Altice contemplates why we consider “remakes” like Square’s of Final Fantasy VII creatively bereft when covers, adaptations and updates are regular aspects of most media landscapes:

Homage, quotation, cash-in, revision—it doesn’t matter. The structural, cultural, and economic reality of the newer installment is that it is made by a wholly different assemblage of individuals filtered through a wholly different assemblage of contexts, influences, and expectations.

Tabletop Game Master, Sarah Porzelt writes some advice for new GMs on Fem Hype. Specifically, Porzelt describes how she comes to understand the personality of the player-characters in her game and how she adjusts her campaign to those playing it:

I’ll admit it: I’m new to the tabletop gaming community, and very new to gamemastering, but I know fiction, by gum, and as a compelling writer and a determined thinker, I want to walk you through the use of personality to develop your games. A little knowledge in this area will make you a better storyteller, and better at creating challenges that complement the unique preferences each of your players bring to the table.

I hope Porzelt doesn’t mind if I incorporate the phrase “by gum” into my own tabletop adventures.

Last in this list of tenuously connected articles, Emily Short summarizes some recent interactive fiction that has captured her attention. Take a look at her Short list (I couldn’t help myself) and see if anything catches your eye as well.

[Insert Generic Closing Headline]

I think that will just about do it. Critical Distance remains a community project that keeps moving forward with the help of its readers. If you happen across a piece of games writing you’d like us to feature, give us a heads up either on Twitter or by email.

Funny story, readers: apparently I wasn’t scheduled to round this week up at all! I only found out half way through putting this list together. That’s okay, though: I’m so excited by all the amazing games criticism I couldn’t stop once I started!

If, like me, you’re looking for more opportunities to round up the great videogame crit on this world wide web of ours, be sure to submit your favourite  piece written in 2015 to our year-long list. And in case you’re wondering, self-submission is allowed and encouraged.

If you’re not interested in looking back, consider submitting either a piece of your own to December’s Blogs of the Round Table on the topic of ‘Joy’ or giving us a heads up about any already out there that fit the theme.

Lastly, if you’d like to keep our staff and projects funded, consider offering a monthly donation by Patreon or Recurrency or a one-time donation by Paypal. I wish all the best to everyone in the coming holiday weeks and a very happy New Year to come.

December 6th

December 6th, 2015 | Posted by Zolani Stewart in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on December 6th)

Hello Everyone, this is Zolani taking over for Kris on This Week in Videogame Blogging. Let’s get to it!

Big Box

Aevee Bee wrote two stellar pieces of writing on Destiny this week, one of them is a series of mini-reviews on the game’s flavour text, the other a longer piece on what makes Destiny curious and interesting as a massive budget title.

Over at Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez does well articulating Fallout 4’s struggle between its role-playing roots and its streamlining towards action-game systems. At the Mary Sue, Bryan Cebulski makes recommendations of literature for Fallout fans, and Joseph Cain writes on how Fallout 4 represents gender dynamics.

And Rich Geldreich writes an important piece on the toxic behaviours of programmer culture that reinforce the homogeneity of its communities (don’t read the comments –ed).

Black Box

At Gamasutra, Richard Moss has a fascinating piece on Return of the Obra Dinn, Lucas Pope’s follow-up to his IGF-winning Papers, Please, and the context of the 1-bit grayscale style it uses. Daniel Muriel also writes on Papers, Please, exploring the game’s representation of the political frontier.

Meanwhile at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams writes on Nina Freeman’s Cibele and The Videogame Confessional, and Jorge Albor reflects on how games represent personal experiences.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bianca Patti looks at the use of trauma in women’s stories such as Tomb Raider and Jessica Jones.

Sandbox

Also at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus writes on Open World experiences and how they fit into a definition of play.

Stephen Beirne has a new Two Minute Crit up on his youtube, where he talks about the Crouch and Zoom mechanics of the Metal Gear Solid games. And consider picking up Unwinnable Weekly’s new double issue on Metal Gear Solid, and there are three pieces you can read online: One on Metal Gear Solid V, one focusing on its character Quiet, and another on the game’s film inspirations.

Elsewhere, Gregory Avery-Weir writes on games that do well exploring villainy. Finally, Jake Tucker has an absorbing retelling of the development of the original Rainbow Six, and its impact on the military first person shooter.

Mailbox

That’s it for this now, friends. If you come across some work you’d like us to call attention to next week, don’t hesitate to give us a shout on Twitter or email. We depend on our readers and contributors to help call attention to the ongoing discussions in all sorts of circles.

Don’t forget to catch our most recent podcast with Giant Bomb’s Austin Walker and our new Blogs of the Round Table prompt for December.

If you like the work we do here with our weekly roundups, our monthly podcasts, let’s play coverage and round table themes and all the other features we offer please consider contributing a monthly sum via either Patreon or Recurrency. If you can’t commit to a monthly sum but still want to help, we also accept one-time payments through Paypal. Every bit helps us grow as an organization and helps us bring more work to more folks out there.

Take Care, and Keep Reading!

Zolani

November 29th

November 29th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 29th)

Once again, those of you who indulged in cooked fowl (or fowls within fowls) have hopefully enjoyed a long weekend with loved ones and have already begun making the next week’s worth of leftover sandwiches. As for the rest of us, hopefully the weekend was as outrageous or subdued as you wanted it to be. Geographically sensitive holidays aside, it’s time for our global weekly tradition of bringing you another This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Something Something Fallout 4

Wesley Yin-Poole tells all of Eurogamer that he loves Fallout 4’s skeletons, dang it! Not only do they build atmosphere, but they also convey the series’ characteristic tone caught right between humour and severity.

I wonder if it’s someone’s job at Bethesda to be “boss of skeletons”. This person is in charge of all the silly positions, I imagine, all of the props, the lighting, the scribbled notes and the terminal journal entries that reveal the back-stories to the skeleton vignettes players uncover as they creep about in the dark. Perhaps this person leads a team of environmental artists who specialise in skeletons.

On the subject of environmental storytelling, Robert Yang on his very own Radiator Blog describes and dissects the “Diamond City Blues” quest in Fallout 4. According to Yang, it’s a fascinating bit of design in that it builds the game’s setting while subverting genre tropes:

What I like about this quest is that it’s a “slow quest” that actually does the work of world simulation over the course of several in-game days.

in most RPGs, NPCs accept NPC deaths with supernatural stoicism and everything is instantly resolved. In this quest, stuff keeps happening.

Stephanie Jennings writes a piece for Cyborgology arguing that the lone hero thrust from ordinary to extraordinary trope used in Fallout 4 and so many other AAA games, while shallow, offers her an empowered position reality rarely grants her.

While we could dismiss the hackneyed and overused special-hero structure, condemn it, and call for its absolute eradication from the gaming landscape, I don’t think that this would be an entirely thoughtful approach (although this doesn’t mean that the AAA industry couldn’t cut back on its use). Instead, I think we could reevaluate the potentialities of these experiences for those that occupy marginalized positions.

Yussef Cole counters that the game’s emphasis on its 50’s aesthetic erases the racial politics of the time. Cole argues that as refreshing as it is to have a person of colour take the role of protagonist without constant commentary on their race, Fallout 4 incidentally whitewashes America’s history.

Bethesda’s random racial lottery does much to present traditionally marginalized people as well rounded characters. But it does so by erasing identity rather than adding to it.

Games That Aren’t Fallout 4

Vincent Kinian pens an in-depth review of Athena: Awakening from the Ordinary Life, a Japanese game released in 1999 on the Playstation and more recently digitally re-released on the PSP and Playstation 3. The game, according to Kinian, is both a frustratingly simple anti-science allegory wrapped in a dense and fulfilling character study:

The tension that Athena’s psychic power creates is more ambiguous than the anti-science shpiel was, which is precisely what makes it so interesting. The player finally has a reason to engage with the game: they can ask why Athena makes the choices she does, or how she must feel as she realizes what her sacrifices bring her.

Melody Meows takes a stop at Haywire to write to/about Tomorrow Corporation’s Little Inferno and Human Resource Machine.

Miguel Penabella revisits The Order: 1886 for Thumbsticks and argues that although the game didn’t — couldn’t, really — live up to its expectations, there is still a lot depth to it that many release-day reviewers glossed over. As Penabella summarizes:

To simply inhabit the world of The Order is a pleasure in itself, adorned as it is with a smorgasbord of visual and literary influences that inform our gameplay experience.

Not Your Mama’s Gamer regular, Bianca Batti, analyzes how mother and father figures are presented in games through the lens of Rise of the Tomb Raider.

A Look at the Past

Videogame Tourism has chronicled the extensively researched 8-part article series by Eron Rauch on the history of MOBAs. Happy reading those of you looking for depth.

Writing for the A.V. Club, Annie Zaleski interviews former “play counsellors” for Nintendo America who in the late 80’s and 90’s worked a hotline for struggling gamers.

This Means That

J.H. Grace describes the history and aesthetic of brutalist architecture on his dev blog, noting how games like the Assassin’s Creed series and Kairo communicate with the harshly functional architecture.

Meanwhile, Democracy Now has released a clip and short interview of the documentary Drone, which discusses how the American military targets gamers for recruitment into its unmanned drone program.

Lastly, over at Gamasutra, Katherine Cross argues that videogames more closely resemble opera than film based on 19th century composer Richard Wagner’s vision of the “total work of art” that encapsulates emotion in the synthesis of many art forms. For Cross, play is how games express this idea:

I’m on record as deeply disliking the unspecific nature of the word “gameplay” but in this case its capacious and slippery definition is actually quite helpful: everything that constitutes an interaction with the gaming environment is covered by “gameplay” here so far as I’m concerned. That vastness is our music.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

That will just about wrap things up for this week. If you’re like me and you just can’t get enough game’s crit, swing by November’s Blogs of the Round Table, where there’s still time to read and submit any work related to the theme of ‘Forgiveness.’

If you come across some work you’d like us to call attention to next week, don’t hesitate to give us a shout on twitter or email. We depend on our readers and contributors to help call attention to the ongoing discussions in all sorts of circles.

If you like the work we do here with our weekly roundups, our monthly podcasts, let’s play coverage and round table themes and all the other features we offer please consider contributing a monthly sum via either Patreon or Recurrency. If you can’t commit to a monthly sum but still want to help, we also accept one-time payments through Paypal. Every bit helps us grow as an organization and helps us bring more work to more folks out there.

November 22nd

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Riley MacLeod in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 22nd)

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

Hopefully this has given you a lot of food for thought (Get it? Ah, you get it…) If there’s something you’d like to see featured, let us know about it on Twitter or over email.

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