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June 28th

June 28th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 28th)

Facebook feed getting you down? Clear those tabs and get ready to open a bunch more, it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

What’s Old is Shenmue Again

Stu Horvath explains how the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) surrounding both Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Shenmue 3 are two sides of the same bad penny, but David Carlton has a different outlook, choosing to refute several opinions of Yu Suzuki’s Kickstarter:

Of course it’s true that there are other funding models possible for the game: doubtless, in a many-worlds version of the universe, there are universes where Sony decides to pay for it out of pocket, universes where a collection of fans somehow scrape together money to buy the IP, universes where Warren Buffett is a huge Shenmue fan and decides to pay for it himself!

It’s Business, Not Personal

Getting away from Shenmue 3, Austin Walker slides into his new role at Giant Bomb nicely with a thoughtful piece on public funding in the games industry:

Yet every year, around E3, I feel like we have this conversation: “Why do so many games feel so focus tested, so same-y?” And the answer is (again and again) the same: “Because it’s risky to take chances.” So I find myself wondering: What if there was more consistent, predictable funding? What if small studios had access to the same sorts of public support that some major developers do? And hey, what if those major developers had more support, too? How might that encourage a little bit of creative risk taking? A new IP instead of another sequel? The adoption of new, expensive technologies like VR? Maybe (could you imagine?) a little less ‘crunch.’

While at Gamasutra, Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey talk about the liberating feel of trying and failing to make a game for gamers.

Josh Bycer looks at game development from artistic and business viewpoints, and Rob Fahey examines Bungie’s decision to produce Destiny content without a subscription.

Elsewhere, Stephen Winson looks back at World of Warcraft’s gold economy:

But what is true in the rest of the world is true in the world of gold farming: reducing your labour costs is a fast and easy way to increase profits in the short term. And as in the physical world, farmers had three basic choices to make in how they went about it: automation, theft, and slave labour.

Higher Level Gamer’s Nick Hanford writes about capturing nostalgia as a game publisher. Johannes Köller muses on the insipid dizziness of E3 in “The Circus of Values” in Unwinnable Weekly. Jackson Tyler, meanwhile, writes about his victories and defeats in “These Lost Three Years”.

The Ghost in the Machine

At the New York Times, Nick Bilton discusses how online playgrounds mimic real-world social constructs through the eyes of 10 year olds.

In “Footsteps in Movies,” G. Christopher Williams posits that audio visual representations in media do not have to agree wholeheartedly with their real-world counterparts, while at Kill Screen Devin Raposo discusses silence in videogames and Jess Joho examines surrealism in Tangiers.

Stephen Beirne talks weapon degradation over at his blog, Normally Rascal, which you can fund here, and A.L Brown schools us on competitive symmetry in games. Over at The Dweeb Jar, Jake Crump delves into why we love boss fights.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus avoids combat, and Matthew Jenkin talks about the pointless grind at Gamasutra while Brendan Caldwell weighs the benefits and pitfalls of fast travel.

Javy Gwaltney dives into the character of Batman and Why Dishonored Is The Best Batman Game Ever Made. While, back to Gamasutra, Felipe Pepe gives an abridged history on 21 RPGs.

Sex, Exclusion and Art

Katherine Cross uses Night Witches to define the “difference between a ‘sexist portrayal’ and a portrayal of sexism.” Meanwhile, in response to another Katherine Cross piece for Gamasutra, Lana LeRay argues AAA games are making progress with depictions of sex and intimacy.

Over at FemHype, Jillian looks at exclusion in GTFO The Movie:

What was most uncomfortable for me to watch in GTFO was when women’s experiences were explained through the lens of cis white men on several occasions, most notably concerning Miranda Pakozdi. The sexual harassment she faced and subsequent media frenzy following her time on Capcom’s reality show Cross Assault was bad enough to witness, but hearing it explained by a man with only peripheral knowledge of the incident was deeply troubling. I’m not saying we should be completely dismissive of men’s opinions whenever the topic of ~women in the games industry~ is brought up, but I am saying that maybe GTFO wasn’’ the appropriate space for that dialogue.

In “More than Representation,” Mattie Brice talks Tale of Tales and the burning out of marginalized creatives.

While Sidney Fussell asks “are black nobles and paladins really too fantastical to exist, even in worlds of sorcery, wizards and unicorns?

Brendan Keogh explores the oeuvre of Robert Yang’s works in “Immersion Phallicy,” and at Kill Screen, Jake Muncy takes Hatred to task for its violence:

By taking on such a subject matter, the game places itself at the nexus of a number of powerful issues and veins that real transgressive art has let bleed — anonymous violence, the relationship between spectacle and real destruction, the pernicious discomfort of simulated death — but it doesn’t seem particularly interested in any of them. It doesn’t even seem to understand them.

Over at Medium, Elise Wehle taps the Impressionists to say angry mobs shouldn’t dictate art and Samantha Blackmon and Alish Karabinus respond to criticism to the critical analysis on Not Your Mama’s Gamer.

Lastly, Salvator Pane uses his affinity for Spring Breakers to explore the notion of entertainment in media:

It will not be our generation who unlocks the artistic potential of videogames as a medium, it will be the next, the one that grows up on BioShock and Noby Noby Boy, the generation who goes into gaming without any preconceived notions about fun.

Until Next Time

That’s it for this week! Remember to send us your crit picks for consideration by email or Twitter mention, and share our stuff on Facebook.

You have a little time left to submit to June’s This Month in Let’s Plays and Blogs of the Round Table.

As always, Critical Distance is completely reader-funded, so please consider supporting us with a monthly Patreon donation.

June 21st

June 21st, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 21st)

Phew. Bit of a brief one this week, readers. Not sure why — something about a giant days-long series of ads and trailers occupying most of everyone’s time? Well, who knows. Let’s cleanse your palettes with a short-but-sweet This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Design Notes

There have been a few essays connecting the film Mad Max: Fury Road to games, but this piece by Matthew Codd is by far the most effective I’ve seen, identifying how the film’s writing mirrors that of successful games.

At Terrible Minds, author Amanda Gardner discusses the writing of Perception, an upcoming independent game developed by Gardner, her husband Bill (formerly of Irrational), and a robust team of industry veterans. As a novelist, Gardner shares her impressions of working in a collaborative medium:

When you’re writing a novel, it’s yours. Sure, you may have great critique partners and a stellar agent […] but at the end of the day it’s your baby. You own it, regardless of how much input you’ve listened to or how many eyes have edited it.

Writing a videogame is quite different. […] I was a piece in this very intricate puzzle of designers, artists, musicians, voice actors, and more. And each of these people have different, and often game-changing ideas that they contribute. You have to be flexible and not get too precious about your ideas, because in one day, an entire level can be struck from the game, or two characters could end up becoming one.

(A necessary caveat: while the author mentions some of her influences in crafting Perception‘s blind protagonist, I didn’t see any reference to the team bringing on co-writers or consultants with any sort of sight impairment. However, the game is still in development.)

Past is Present

Don’t Die continues to profile some of the lesser-known names in game development, this week offering up a laid-back interview with Microsoft alum and founding Xbox team member Ed Fries. Don’t Die’s David Wolinsky also wants me to let our readers know his site has a Patreon.

Shifting from real histories to the imaginary, in the latest Memory Insufficient Mark R. Johnson explores how the Command and Conquer: Red Alert series communicates its alternate history timeline through its art direction.

And on Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon notes a few of the problems inherent in Cuphead‘s reference to 1930s-era cartoons, which are often rife with racial caricatures (such as blackface and black minstrelsy). As she points out, some of this may be entirely invisible to those who don’t have to navigate racism in their daily lives:

My life, my experiences, and the body that I live in makes Cuphead and its artistic style problematic to me because of all that it has come to mean in the last 85 years or so and that’s something that I just can’t let go of. […] The game threatens to draw upon racist caricatures to inform the narrative and give players a series of racism infused bosses and obstructions to justice to properly hate. Perpetuating the stereotype and, in some cases, feeding the racism that is foundational to the art style itself.

Blackmon and NYMG co-editor Alisha Karabinus extrapolate further on this in an excellent video analysis, while also taking care to note Cuphead is still in development.

(Content Warning: both of the above links include examples of racist imagery.)

Players Playing Play

On his blog, Andrew Brown proffers an engrossing analysis of symmetrical competitive game design, and in particular the simple-yet-effective systems in place in Nintendo’s Splatoon.

Meanwhile, at Psychology of Games, Jamie Madigan has a brand new, fantastic interview with Riot Player Behavior Team leader Dr. Jeffrey Lin (podcast). If you haven’t heard Lin speak on some of the strategies Riot Games has experimented with over the last few years to reduce toxic player interactions in League of Legends, this is a highly recommended listen.

Inversions

At First Person Scholar, Mark R. Johnson has this fantastic long-form article on danmaku (bullet hell shooters), the player culture surrounding them, and the particular ways in which the adaptive enemy generation system of Warning Forever turns the genre’s tropes on their head. As he explains:

[W]hereas in most danmaku games the player learns the bosses’ patterns, the reverse is true in Warning Forever. The bosses — or rather the AI which generates them — learns the player’s pattern, and constructs each subsequent boss to be more and more effective at defeating that particular type of player. This means that the player is forced (if one wants to seriously compete at a world-class level in this game) to adjust their strategies as the game goes on; adhering too long to certain strategies will meet with increasingly challenging foes as the AI zeroes in on the player’s strategy and adapts to challenge it.

Paired with the above interview with Jeffrey Lin, these two pieces have some excellent observations about machine learning intuiting player behavior.

And last but by no means least, on PopMatters Moving Pixels G. Christopher Williams praises the attention-based systems which differentiate Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker from other games modeling human relationship dynamics. Nothing revolutionary, but certainly an uncommon approach!

That’s All, Folks

Thanks for reading! I warned you it was a short one. Have a link to submit for consideration? We very much welcome your recommendations by email or in a mention on Twitter!

Also, you have a little more than a week to submit to June’s Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays!

Did you know we have a Facebook page too? We totally do, and you should totally Like it.

And as always, a reminder: Critical Distance is entirely funded by you, the reader. If you like what you see and want to help us continue doing what we do, please consider lending your support with a small monthly donation on Patreon! We really do depend on all of you.

June 14th

June 14th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 14th)

Greetings, fellow travelers of roads perhaps sometimes better off not taken to begin with. As I write this, it’s early Sunday morning, so here we go: it’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

It’s (Still) Not About The Witcher 3

The discussion on race representation in games which reached a fever pitch last week is still going strong. First, Austin Walker blogs a bit on Giant Bomb, noting any criticism of a game like The Witcher 3 must take into account its country’s history as well as its present social politics:

It’s not that the game isn’t aware of this stuff. It’s that despite its engagement, despite the greater context of race in games right now, despite the fact that the game is not a pure replication of Polish history and myth, and despite what Ian Williams calls its “relentless humanity,” it misses this one opportunity. And some fans want to lay on a sword over this. And whether its intentional or not, when those fans say “Why should they include a person of color?” it ends up sounding a lot like “I’m glad they didn’t include people of color. It was right of them not to. The game would be ruined otherwise.”

And would it? What would be ruined? It’s can’t be their escapism, a fear that they’d suddenly have to care about ethnic and racial politics — because again, the game already touches on those. Would their “immersion be broken” the first time a brown or black face walked down the street or into a tavern? I have my doubts.

Walker later expounded upon his points in a full-on editorial, challenging the argument that criticisms such as his “force” an agenda on developers:

Those of us who write about things like race, gender, class, and sexuality in games do so because we fucking love games. […] We want to figure out how a game might fit in a larger cultural context or try to communicate how it fit just so into our lives. We often see the faults in these games we love because we’re so close to them. And sometimes, pointing out those flaws doesn’t mean we love them any less. Even our most brutal critiques–the ones that come closest to head shaking and dismissal–are rooted in a broader love for the medium.

On Gamasutra, Katherine Cross echoes Walker’s sentiments, questioning the premise that a series like The Witcher is bound by cultural influence — or that any game should be:

Being influenced by something should not mean being shackled to it; that’s the opposite of creativity. Influences are merely that: ways to flavour your creation, expressions of what you have learned over the course of your life, the threads that comprise your unique creative fingerprint. But they are not a prison, and they most definitely do not demand prejudice.

Finally, inspired by these recent discussions, the writers for FemHype recently together to list off their recommended games featuring non-white protagonists. While the list is admirable, it should also be observed how often the same titles are repeated — which is just what cultural critics like Cross and Walker are getting at.

Moving on:

There Will Probably Be Blood

At Vice, Javy Gwaltney argues not for less violence, but for more realistic consequences for violence in games. Meanwhile, at IndieHaven, Joe Parlock criticizes Life is Strange‘s stigmatization of disability as tragedy and poetic justice.

Design Notes

In reviewing Puzzles & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition for The Washington Post, Michael Thornsen strikes upon a difference in design philosophy between console and free-to-play mobile games which should ring true for many developers straddling that divide:

Free-to-play games are designed around creating conflict between short-term desires and long-term plans, inducing purchases on essentially useless in-game goods. If you die mid-level in the free-to-play versions, you can buy Magic Stones that allow you to continue without having to lose all of the items and upgrades you have collected. But in the 3DS version you simply collect them as in-level treasures. Stripped of their real monetary value, these stones and the systems they connect to, feel strangely disruptive.

[…]

[T]he design ethos of Mario games isn’t the threat of loss, but delight in variation and discovery, games designed to engineer success rather than failure.

At ZedGames, Jody Macgregor lays out an analysis of Akira Yamaoka’s compositions for landmark survival horror series Silent Hill. At Paste, videogame critic cum fashion blogger Gita Jackson takes aim at the historical inaccuracy of the costume design in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. And writing for Offworld, independent developer Anna Anthropy contends that game design can learn a lot from the simple playfulness of children’s books.

Over on Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs, Michaël Samyn pops the hood on his two-person studio’s newest title, Sunset, to show some of its inner programmatic workings. Meanwhile, Don’t Die has just released their latest interview with lesser-known industry voices, this time with producer Maxwell Neely-Cohen.

Also, a blog recommendation for any and all designers: Tiny Design is a fantastic Tumblr dedicated to “an in-depth look at the smaller bits of game design.”

Beyond the ‘Single Story’

Latoya Peterson delivered a powerful one-two this past week, first showing up on ESPN to question the relentless focus on harassment narratives when we talk about women and girls in games. Instead, Peterson argues, we should celebrate the diversity of these stories, and has announced a new series for Fusion dedicated to just that.

The Steam Refundpocalypse

Valve recently introduced system-wide refunds on its industry-dominating distribution platform, Steam. That this also landed around the same time as Steam’s annual summer sale got a lot of developers talking about the economics of Steam and how it helps or harms the business.

One dev, Rob Fearon, is particularly concerned with modern sales practices like bundling and frequent Steam sales, which he argues may move copies in the short term but don’t build and retain an audience. Meanwhile, Craig Bamford contends that while Steam refunds have the potential to be a boon for indies (for example, by reducing the amount of post-purchase customer support for technical issues), without facilitating in-depth feedback, Steam refunds don’t really help a developer understand what they need to improve.

I Don’t Know Where To Put This

This didn’t exactly fit within any of the sections above, but it’s so good I can’t not include it. At Videogame Heart, Grayson Davis provides a complex breakdown of the emotional stakes of getting “salty.” While he notes the slang precedes games by decades, its particular inflection in the competitive game scene is pretty engrossing:

The driving thesis of salt is not “I should have won” nor “you should have lost.” To be salty is to believe that there is a “should” at all, that competition has a moral arc with a rightful conclusion.

[…]

One match from a 2013 fighting game tournament perfectly summarizes the problem of salt and the plateau it can represent. FSP, a talented Street Fighter IV player, squared off against a random competitor named, in a delightful irony, Gandhi. Gandhi played in a spectacularly terrible fashion, making random, sometimes bizarre choices. He played the game at an astoundingly low level for someone attending a major tournament. […] The problem is that FSP is trying to play well, but Gandhi doesn’t behave like any rational player. You beat such players by playing patiently and defensively, two qualities compromised by frustration. FSP is visibly upset on stream, but you hardly need to see his face to recognize his anger. The commentators state that he shouldn’t lose, but that doesn’t change the fact that he does.

(The link above contains video of the match in question, if you’re curious.)

End Notes

Did you enjoy this week’s roundup? Many of the links we feature here come from readers just like you! If you find or create a piece of writing (or a video, podcast, or virtually anything else to be honest) you think would suit these pages, please send it in to us! We take submissions on Twitter and through email.

We also welcome submissions for our other ongoing monthly features, Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays!

Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by its readership. If you like what you see and want us to reference poems in our openings a little more esoteric than Robert Frost, consider kicking a small monthly donation our way on Patreon! We’re on Recurrency too!

See you next week!

June 7th

June 7th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on June 7th)

Greetings, Sunday readers! It is I, your senior curator. Did you miss me? I’ve been off fighting a few dragons of a more mundane variety (see: taxes, traveling, and day job), but I trust my capable team have kept your eyeballs busy while I was gone. Let’s get right to it, then, with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

The Things We Don’t Talk About Enough

Over on Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, Felipe Pepe raises a good point: for every lost game like P.T., there are countless other game histories that are being lost without apparent outcry. In particular, Pepe calls out the dead archives on game sites of days gone by (something that matters quite a bit to us and our own anthologies project!) as well as a lack of interest in interviewing some of development history’s smaller names.

As if in answer, David Wolinsky’s audience- and developer-focused Don’t Die has just released an interview with Purple Moon founder Brenda Laurel which is enlightening as it is bracing:

I remember when we showed our website to [Microsoft co-founder] Paul Allen he said, “Oh, this is cool. Can you make this for boys?” Now this is after $4 million and four years’ worth of research on girls he says this. I don’t think they ever got it, honestly. And that was true of Atari, as well. Investors in those days, they rarely understood what they were doing. And those of us who were doing the work were trying to do stuff that mattered.

Turning from developer histories to the current state of the industry, Brendan Sinclair has been doing some important legwork following up on game hardware manufacturers’ use of conflict minerals — another aspect of the business which could benefit from more active discussion.

Design Notes

At his Radiator Blog, Robert “Cobra Club” Yang has adapted his recent GDC presentation on level design and architecture to point to a philosophical disconnect in how large studios approach matters of design, instead advocating for what he calls “local level design”:

The idea here is that these gray boxes ARE the soul of the level, and art assets and detail are just “ornament” — and according to the high modernist architects of the early 20th century, ornament is not “real” architecture. This is VERY different from ideas of early level design […] Industrial level design views every design problem as a problem of production time, dependent on the ability to scope and plan and manage human labor.

In contrast, local level design views every design problem as a problem of dialog and methodology, it is a “compassionate formalism” that tries to collaborate on conceptual frameworks rather than imposing them. I hope these already existing examples of locally-oriented practice across architecture and level design demonstrate that it is something possible, important, and real.

Also from a past GDC, the good folks at Gamasutra have revived this 2012 design talk by Timothy Cain (video) about the development of the first Fallout.

Meanwhile, at Play the Past, Gilles Roy has published an interesting two part interview with developer Jos Hoebe, developer on the recently released World War I-themed game Verdun. From the interview’s first half:

Hoebe: All the studios were mainly driven by a commercial agenda. [You] just take the biggest subject, like World War 2, with a clear narrative of Good versus Evil, which doesn’t exist in World War 1. There are reasons why there have not been World War 1 games made, especially from a first person perspective, which at bottom is the lack of Good versus Evil narrative, which is better for selling games to a broader audience, etc. […] [There] are other titles which have something to do with World War 1, like time travel, and zombies, etc. But we wanted to take a realistic approach, in a similar fashion how the Red Orchestra series — and to some extent the earlier Call of Dutys — went about it.

The Play’s the Thing (Or Sometimes, Isn’t)

Gamasutra columnist Katherine Cross sings the praises of Darkest Dungeons‘ minimalist characterization, which acts on the player’s tendency to create closure out of the elements presented to them. And over at The AV Club’s Gameological Society, Jake Muncy takes a turn at Republique and muses on the omnipresent voyeurism of games.

Paste’s Maddy Myers wonders why so few women protagonists are given love interests and interrogates a few of the reasons developers have offered in the past. And on his Worldmaker blog, Max Battcher challenges the idea that a “skip combat” feature is either novel or, in any sense of the word, “cheating.”

It’s Not About The Witcher 3

Much has been written in the last few weeks concerning the disproportionate whiteness of the game industry and its resulting products, versus the increasing racial diversity of its players. But Tauriq Moosa’s opinion piece on Polygon turned the flame into a firestorm when he called particular attention to the all-white cast of The Witcher 3:

The Witcher world itself features Zerrikania, whose inhabitants seem very much inspired from the Middle East. In the first Witcher, a prominent Zerrikanian character is named Azar Javed, an Arabic name. Like mine! Culture and names are welcome, but skin color, it seems, is not.

You’ll often hear “based on mythology” as well as “historically accurate,” in the same breath, even though it can’t be both. If it’s based on mythology, then it’s fiction. If it’s historically accurate, then we must talk about our ancestors’ legendary fights with sirens on shores of [the game’s] Arg Skellige.

It is incredibly unwelcoming to be shown the door by the same people who open it for fantasy creatures.

(If you’re not yet swayed, consider this breakdown of the “it’s based on Slavic mythology” defense presented by Actual Slavic Person Luke Maciak.)

But this extends far beyond The Witcher, as highlighted by the #GamesSoWhite hashtag which saw a revival in response to Moosa’s article. Jelani Greenidge provides a great overview of #GamesSoWhite as well as why racial representation matters in games. Quote Greenidge:

American society has so traditionally catered to the needs, whims and desires of white people that often people of color feel like we are invisible. So when teams of exclusively or mostly white people assemble to develop a video game, even if none of those people have racial animus in their hearts, they inadvertently perpetuate white supremacist norms by filtering their narrative through white lenses. They think only of the stories, issues, foods, clothing and other cultural signifiers that matter to them. The reason why the #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained so much steam is because PoC in general and African-Americans specifically are told, again and again, through examples from popular culture, that their cultural priorities, tastes, or experiences are at best tangential and at worst completely irrelevant to the American story.

It goes further. At Houston Press, Jef Rouner did some digging and managed to find only 14 playable black women in the entire history of videogames, discounting avatars whose skin color can be chosen by the player. And at RH Reality Check, Shonte Daniels reflects how recent pushback on this topic together with current events have turned videogames from a hobby into a source of distress (Content Warning: discussion of violence, racism, mental health).

Virtual Bodies

At his blog Arms Folded Tight, Daniel Parker muses on the aesthetics of games’ “power fantasies,” many of which go beyond our conventional understanding of the term. In doing so, Parker surveys several recent articles on the subject of avatars and how these writers engage in a “power fantasy” of embodiment.

Elsewhere on the subject of virtual bodies, Kat Hache opens up about their childhood affinity for Legend of Zelda‘s Link and how it continues to influence their self-image.

Meatspace Bodies

And at last, we come full circle, back to the subject of the faces behind the screen. On Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs, Laralyn McWilliams writes bracingly on the “culture fit” of the tech world and the creative diversity this mentality has helped suppress. Speaking as an educator, Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Alex Layne reflects on the games brought into the classroom and how they may influence the next generation of young developers. And finally, we find The Mary Sue’s Emma Fissenden interviewing Catt Small, game developer and co-founder of Tech Under Thirty and Code Liberation.

Further Reading

Want more? Of course you do. Co-editors Reid McCarter and Patrick Lindsey have just released SHOOTER, an ebook collection of essays on the first-person shooter. The book is available on Gumroad and Amazon. If you’re interested in a preview, McCarter and Lindsey have a feature in the most recent issue of Unwinnable Weekly which should be right up your alley.

Further Listening

But wait! There’s more. Paste’s and Offworld’s Gita Jackson has been on a bit of a podcast high of late, not only appearing on the (fantastic) Spawn On Me podcast but also launching a new, Chicago-based podcast with Kotaku’s Patrick Klepek and former developer Sam Phillips, Match 3. Both are very much worth a listen.

Did I Forget Anything?

No, seriously, did I? As always, we greatly appreciate your recommendations and self-submissions, so please keep sending them in over Twitter and email!

The past week saw a new This Month in Let’s Plays roundup as well as the conclusion of May’s Blogs of the Round Table theme, “Plans”. And you’ll love June’s BoRT prompt: “Pets”!

Did you know we run a twice-monthly podcast now? Be sure to tune in to our full-length episode featuring Kaitlin Tremblay as well as Critical Distance’s own Alan Williamson and Lindsey Joyce, and then check out latest minisode featuring ZEAL‘s own Mammon Machine, Aevee Bee!

“Wow,” you must be saying, “Critical Distance actually runs a lot of features these days. I remember when this was all field.” So do I! Want to help us continue this breakneck pace of ours, as we also embark on our own print anthologies project? Consider kicking a small monthly donation our way via Patreon! We really do depend on you to keep this car running, in my now hopelessly mixed metaphor.

Be well!

May 31st

May 31st, 2015 | Posted by Joe Köller in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 31st)

You are in a maze of links, all alike. Obvious exits are Forward, Back and [x].

>n

You can’t go that way.

>i

You are carrying: a lantern, a blue keycard, a can of chainsaw fuel, a sense of existential dread and an indistinct scroll.

>read scroll

You need to unroll it first.

>unroll scroll, read scroll

It is signed by one Joe Köller. “The date is May 31st 2015,” it begins. “and this is This Week In Videogame Blogging!”

[press any button to continue]

An Ouroboros of Trouser Snakes

(Content warning: sexual discussion and imagery.)

Continuing his series of gay sex games, Robert Yang released the dick pic simulator Cobra Club this week, accompanied by an artist’s statement detailing his intentions to explore both the aesthetics of these images, and concerns over sharing them opposite the game’s fictional dating platform and twist ending.

Patricia Hernandez shared her own experience with the game, and many, many screenshots on Kotaku, while Todd Harper responded on his blog, arguing that the game may accurately represent the weirdness of taking one of these pictures, but that its inconsequential interactions with would-be matches fail to capture the inherent dread of sharing them.

[W]hat’s missing from Cobra Club that problematizes it as a “devastatingly honest” look at the relationship between dick pics and gay male identity is the dick pic as a measure of a person’s worth. At no point in the game is the player’s cock or pictures of said cock given any sort of real, qualitative evaluation. Every potential viewer engages it at the level of acceptance: “I asked for a dick, you gave me one. Thank you.” And there it ends.

What Is Love But A Second Hand Emoji

Last week saw an interesting triptych of mediations on the state of our medium.

First off, Gita Jackson took to Offworld to critique the abysmal state of games archival, noting that our failure to preserve “extends beyond just the games themselves and into our collective database of knowledge, criticism and practices within our field.”

The next day, Leigh Alexander described, among many other things, the personal effects of working in an industry more concerned with achieving legitimacy than with achieving permanence and stability: “Our ongoing memory crisis […] means we are all afraid to stop lest we be swept away and forgotten. If I were ever to stop, then five years from now, someone quite like me will not have known of me.”

Responding to both, but also responding to neither, Stephen Beirne examined his own reasons for writing about games, and whether we should even want to preserve them.

Sick Bio Warez

Writing for Gamasutra, Katherine Cross compares the systemization of morality in D&D, Pathfinder and Bioware games. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Sampat wrote a blog post about othering, fantasy racism and the evolution of the portrayal of the Qun across the Dragon Age series.

Written between 1937 and 1945, The Lord Of The Rings was actually the final story in a world Tolkien had been working on since 1917. His work was inevitably influenced by the end of Britain’s “Imperial Century” and the beginning of decolonization, which lead to waves of new immigration.

Over on Femhype, Jillian looks at some of the stereotypical writing and problematic comments (Content Warning: transphobia) that turned her off Sera in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Gamesculture.biz

Exciting news broke last week when EA announced that women’s soccer would at last be included in the latest installment of their FIFA series. Mary Hamilton talked about the predictably terrible reactions to this absolutely minor effort at inclusion.

In Fifa 15, the last instalment of the franchise, there are more than 16,000 players. All of them are male. (Many of them are not as good at football as the women’s World Cup players.) There are 23 players in a World Cup squad. This suggests that approximately 1.7% of the players in Fifa 16 will be female.

Elsewhere, Megan Condis looked at the consequences of Rust‘s decision to randomly assign skin colors to its players. Chief among them “a definite uptick in overtly racist language.”

Time for some poetry. Take it away, Savannah Winter.

And Then There Were Videogames…

Chris Franklin looks at the mess that is Only If and is left wondering if an absurdist videogame (video) is even possible.

Claris Cyarron compares Rothko’s multiforms to the games Forska, A Cosmic Forest and Condor. Also in the latest Arcade Review, Eve Golden Woods compares Dan Olson’s Resist to James Joyce’s The Dead.

In case you’re curious what the kids are playing these days, you may want to check out David Wolinsky’s interview with a 13-year-old gamer in the latest issue of Unwinnable Weekly.

Holly Green shares her experience playing games with OCD.

Ultimata Ratio Regum developer Mark Johnson examined the advantages and disadvantages of unlocking additional content over time in roguelikes, arguing that it ultimately distracts from the intention of learning through failure.

Reminding us not to get carried away with our analogies, Amsel von Spreckelsen points out that Bloodborne is nothing like an abuser (Content Warning: discussion of abuse and domestic violence).

Kim Foale examines the tendency of both video- and boardgames to gloss over problematic aspects of history.

G. Christopher Williams has found the game design equivalent of trashy movies: making them play fast.

Making a different analogy than the usual film or book comparisons, Naomi Clark asks: Where is the Brie of videogames?

On The German Side of Things

Ally Auner has a recent radio interview she did on gender roles in games available online for listening.

Nina Kiel reviewed the LGBTQIA* documentary Gaming in Color.

Video Game Tourism’s latest monthly discussion covers Bloodborne and the Souls series. It includes an essay by myself, which I won’t link, but do check out Agata Goralczyk interpreting the games using Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, and Robert Glashüttner’s contrary opinion to the games’ critical adoration.

Another One Bites De_Dust

That’s about it for this week folks! Until then, why not listen to the latest two episodes of our podcast? Blogs of the Round Table just wrapped up, but this month’s summary and the announcement of next month’s theme is going to be out soon.

If you have any interesting links for us, be sure to throw them at us on Twitter or by email. Please remember to tag any links meant for Blogs of the Round Table or This Month in Let’s Plays with #BorT or #LetsPlayCD. And don’t forget that we accept German and French submissions as well, and are always looking to expand to more languages if you know anybody who’d be interested in helping us out with that.

Oh, and did you know that I just started a weekly discussion group for reading seminal games criticism and critical theory? We are wetting our beaks with a bit of Wittgenstein this week. Why not join the fun!

Lastly, a reminder: Critical Distance is funded entirely by you, dear readers. If you appreciate our work, or have an interest helping with our own curatorial and preservation efforts, please consider pledging to our Patreon. My birthday is coming up soon, hint hint.

See you next week!

May 24th

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 24th)

I haven’t done this in a while, so excuse me while I shake some of the rust off. Welcome to another round of This Week In Video Game Blogging!

The Look Back

Starting off today we take a look into the past.

Richard Moss wrote a feature at Polygon on the very first First Person Shooter, Maze Wars, talking with the people who were there. Meanwhile, Jeffery Matulef at Eurogamer, explores the legend behind the maybe government experiment, maybe not real arcade cabinet Polybius and those making a documentary about it.

Bryant Francis at Gamasutra asks, “Where in the world did the blockbuster educational games go?” Mostly it focuses on the companies that managed to balancing the earning with good, not-boring game design and what happened to those studios through the 90s.

And Richard Cobbett doesn’t go quite as far back to postulate exactly why Doom 3 doesn’t work both as a classic that its predecessors were or as a game of the trends of its time.

Meanwhile in a new Critical Switch episode, Austin C. Howe takes a look at another form of nostalgia, a longing for a past that never was, at what benefits such a goal could mean for games, as seen through the lens of Shovel Knight.

Additionally, Critical Switch hosted a guest episode by Devon looking at the JRPG genre and what underlies it beyond numbers and skills.

The Identity

Who are you? Who, who?

At Femhype, Shel Shepard wrote how representation matters through the example of Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition and how it’s more than just being in the work, but being a convincing part of it.

Bianca Batti, writing for Not Your Mama’s Gamer, looks at Alien: Isolation and how it genders the player activity of inaction as female in deference to many other examples where such design and progression of abilities may not be accepted with a male character.

Kaitlin Tremblay writing for Dorkshelf talks about her choices in characters and classes in Borderlands she feels more comfortable with the non apologies hulking brutes than with the crafty Sirens.

Brendan Keogh typed up a version of a talk he gave at DiGRA, using Binary Domain as a launching platform to explore the concept of cyborgs and binaries established early on between hackers and the other in the video game communities.

And writer of the upcoming adventure game Herald, Roy van der Shilden reflects on the challenge of telling a story that is both universal and personal as well as about a person who is not him. He did a lot of research into the effects of colonization, struggling to find the voices of the colonized instead of the colonizer.

The Game Messages

What a game has to say for itself.

Mark Filipowich explores what he calls, “The Ludic Rashomon.” He went looking for examples in order to dissect the craft of a Rashomon story in video games and what they say about subjectivity.

At PopMatters, Jorge Albor looks at Bloodborne as a representative of our human want and need to learn from our mistakes. He also takes umbrage that reviewers should have warned “regular people” it wasn’t for them, wondering what that term is supposed to mean.

Eron Rauch continues his series “Bridging Worlds” at Videogame Tourism by comparing the veracity of the cultures in Ready Player One and Gone Home and how they represent their larger world.

Carolyn Petit on her tumblr, A Game of Me, explores the meaning behind keeping the two occupants of the apartment in Sunset separate. At first it seems a cheat to the potential message about class and race, but instead turns into a story of feeling intimacy.

The Critical Sphere

Self reflection in the face of discord.

Heather Alexandra expresses our current model of interaction as a critical community as a “Broken Discussion” and the main reason medium as a whole remains in arrested development.

As if to prove it true, Catherine Ashley at Girls on Games, comments on the controversy surrounding Arthur Gies’ review of The Witcher 3. One industry person calling the review “poisonous to the industry: to gamers, to game developers, to game journalists” all because it brings up ideas for consideration.

Meanwhile, Cara Ellison says goodbye to the “new wave” of games criticism, whatever that means. She doesn’t quite know, so she supposes a meaning and works from there. Goodbye, Cara, and good luck in your future endeavors.

The Culture

How gaming sees itself verses how it actually it.

Bob Mackey wrote “The People vs. ‘Nerd Culture’” for US Gamer. He uses Simon Pegg’s recent words about the co-opting of this demographic term to explore the insidious nature of “nerd” as a false identity in the present culture.

Holly Nielsen, at The Guardian, explains that the game industry does indeed have a dress code despite the more free wheeling image it likes to present and the pressure that invites to anyone outside of narrow ideas of masculine dress.

G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters says that what is missing in competitive video games in an inherent behavior of sportsmanship: “In a sense, League of Legends players lack good coaches, who step in to define the boundaries and etiquette of competition, not just how to play the game.”

The Grab Bag

And the rest…

We’ve heard the argument before how big Kickstarters take money away from indies and the numbers that prove that argument to be hyperbolic at best. However, Katie Chironis approaches the issue from a different angle, one we are just starting to see the effects of, how it may not be damaging directly, but how the big Kickstarters distorts how much it takes to make a game making it harder to the little projects that don’t have the institutional support.

Though, Rob Remakes counters that a lot of the problem of perception aren’t as big a problem as its made out to be because it’s always been there. If anything, Kickstarter has made the process the least opaque it has ever been. That, plus the view and use of Kickstarter is vastly different to the audience than it is to developers.

Responding to Dinofarm Games’ Blake Reynolds and their renouncing of pixel art, Brandon Sheffield explains why Necrosoft Games will not being abandoning the art style.

Anna Jenelius gives a primer entitled “Armor for Dummies and/or Game Developers” to explain logistically the major and minor problems with game armor.

And finally, Devin Vibert explains his awesome practice of creating music for the tabletop game sessions they just played over at Memory Insufficient.

The End Times

Thank you for stopping in for your weekly dose of game criticism. If you liked what you read, please consider supporting Critical Distance through our Patreon.

If you have any recommendations for the weekly round ups you can send them via our email or @ message us on Twitter.

Our Blogs of the Round Table feature is currently accepting submissions for its May prompt. And Lindsey Joyce is accepting recommendations for the monthly critical round-up of Let’s Plays.

Thank you and have a great Sunday!

May 17th

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 17th)

Whoa, talk about a lot of good writing to get through in This Week in Videogame Blogging! Let’s get right into it.

In trying to figure out what to say this week, and by say, I mean figure out how to structure what these other writers were saying in such a way as to best complement their work, I found this piece by Maddy Myers to really say it all:

Creating art and music is not just about the glamorous act of being inspired and pouring out your soul. It, too, is rife with the thoroughly unromantic grind of production and editing and refinement and polishing. The grueling march of notating, measure by measure, every single not that every instrument must perform, and at what time, and in what way. The rote memorization required for performance. The expectation of acknowledging an existing “canon,” even if only to rebuke and subvert it. And even when the code loads or the right notes get played, all art can fail, in its own way. That’s exactly why creation is terrifying.

It might be my own background in music, but what a beautifully succinct description of creators of art. I hope you’ll find the selections this week to be a phrase of individual notes, the different tones creating a harmonious melody.

What’s In a Story?

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander asks, “Why are the stories in video games so bad?

The writers of FemHype want to make you cry, or at least, relive what games made you shed a tear or two in “Press F to Grab Kleenex: Our Top Emotional Moments in a Video Game” (Content Warning: descriptions of sexual assault).

Elsewhere, Drew Toal writes of two games recently released that both take place in Victorian London, but only one of them gets it right.

Sam Zucchi riffs on the narrative defining tracking shots of Daredevil and True Detective, comparing them to the camera in action games, and it’s not pretty:

Yet the very elements that tracking shots can transmit are too often the very same elements that action games neglect, producing their opposites: linear environments instead of complex ones; buggy, stodgy action instead of grace; the lazy expression of a vicarious power fantasy instead of legitimate tension.

Over at VICE, Ed Smith writes about Watch Dogs‘ Aiden Pearce and how the music on his smartphone makes him an even worse character.

While at MotherBoard, Soha Kareem takes on “The Dirtiest Job in Video Games

In light of Koji Igarashi’s Kickstarter campaign, Michelle B. took to FemHype to examine Igarashi’s history with women protagonists in “What Is a Woman?! Bloodstained & Koji Igarashi’s Female Characters

Blake Reynolds comes to terms with pixel art and his desire to communicate with his audience in a language they understand, even if it means foregoing the form he loves.

While at Offworld, Jon Peterson writes about the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy by not the players, but the authority figures.

Finally yet importantly, Carolyn Petit looks at how a graphic novel challenges the convention of videogames:

Why do we simply accept that so many games present violence as the only way to solve a problem? Why do we accept so many narratives about brave heroes fighting evil and rescuing the girl without ever questioning how the narratives are constructed precisely to leave us with no room to ask questions about whether the bad guys are really so bad or whether what we’re doing is really so good?

Actually, it’s about…Ah, Screw It

At Tech Crunch, Tadhg Kelly takes videogame journalists to task for rigidity in their thinking:

However in videogamemedialand the idea that iPhone and Android games matter more than PC or console games is still heretical. This is because gaming journalists are still operating from an older paradigm with a richer cultural heritage. Theirs is the paradigm of console as blockbuster-cinema, PC as arthouse-cinema and a few darlings like Nintendo doing their own thing. This kind of thinking is so prevalent as to be unconscious. It’s the conventional wisdom, but it radically needs updating.

In “Not So Hot: GamerGate’s Deep Freeze and the ‘Facts’ on Game Journos”, Alisha Karabinus struggles with the latest iteration of GG confusion in the form of a website dedicated to upholding journalist integrity without personal bias but only when personal bias is needed, or some such.

Meanwhile, David Wolinsky grapples with defining “games journalist” and concludes that we’re all just in marketing.

Over at Forbes, Michael Thomsen posits “A More Robust ‘Valve-Is-Evil’ Hypothesis“:

But considering its success alongside an epochal transformation of employment that’s allowed relatively small pass-through companies like Valve to amass more profit than they would have as content producers, there is a real argument that a fully commercialized and professionally polished Gone Home isn’t an adequate upside to the downsides of THQ going bankrupt, Konami and SEGA slowly cutting their investments in console game development, a massive surge in outsourced labor and short-term contract employment leading to long-term precarity and emotional suffering for families.

Fire Dancers, Speed Runners and the Cruelty of the Industry

At VGChartz, Corey Milne bemoans the loss of P.T. and the need for a culture of digital conservation:

There’s a cultural numbness here that dictates that if a product is not actively generating capital then it is rendered worthless. To compound the issue, while publishers actively seek to dismantle the past, they try to sell us on the lie that our digital-only future, as inevitable as it is, will mean that our games will live forever. At least until they unplug the servers.

Elsewhere, Simon Parkin deftly navigates the intersection of the real and virtual in Eve Online.

In keeping in the spirit of immeasurably vast expanses of digital spaces, Raffi Khatchadourian of The New Yorker profiled No Man’s Sky chief architect Sean Murray:

Because of the game’s scope, and because he had decided not to reveal key features, he feared that it had become a Rorschach test of popular expectation, with each potential player looking for something in it that might not be there.

Jeffrey Matulef dives into the world of speed running in “The Loneliness of The Long-Distance Speedrunner”.

Meanwhile, at Kotaku, Jason Schreier reluctantly goes into “The Horrible World of Video Game Crunch” and over at The Guardian, Keith Stuart reminds all of the Sega fans of their grueling years begrudgingly clinging to their Saturns in “Sega Saturn: how one decision destroyed PlayStation’s greatest rival“.

Elsewhere, Scott Juster writes on PopMatters of the excitement of the unique discovery in “Fighting FOMO in Bloodborne”.

Virtue Ethics, Mental Health and Online Confessions

Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Jennifer McVeigh talks virtue ethics in Life is Strange in “Doing the Right Thing: Life is Strange and Virtue Ethics“, while Carly Smith talks about the importance of support for students in “Mental Health and the Do-nothing Adults in Life is Strange”.

Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman plays Selfie: Sisters of The Amniotic Lens and finds the bottled despairs of relative strangers as “beautiful” and even “new to videogames.

On FemHype, Doc Martens gives a harrowing account of a family member’s sudden terminal illness:

I can’t hack and slash my way through cancer no more than I can pummel my coworkers when they are driving me crazy to deal with stress. But I can hack and slash 10,000 attack squads, armored golems, Cactuars, and Master Tonberrys instead, watching my character’s attributes and my gil keep climbing higher.

Mechanical Error

Josh Synder’s attempt to review Ether One on the PlayStation 4 was called into question by a blurring of game mechanics and bugs from shoddy porting:

Each time, after a couple minutes, the game will magically reappear, as if load times of that length are normal. Granted, one could argue that this is intentional design, given the game’s subject nature, and I may be willing to buy that with the texture pop-in (a literal translation of someone’s memories slowly coming back to them, I suppose) but when looked at alongside the inexcusable load times, I begin to suspect that there is nothing intentional here.

PopMatter’s Nick Dinicola discusses the relationship between horror, tension and control in “She Who Controls the Flashlight, Controls the Horror” and over at the Haptic Feedback blog, Austin C. Howe talks “republican dad” mechanics in Dark Souls.

Ray Porreca at Wizards of Radical talks about his favorite RPG of lateMLB 15: The Show, and Shawn Trautman played Modern Warfare and found the perfect analogy for what bothered him so much about it.

Lastly, on Gamasutra, Katherine Cross writes about game manuals functioning as alternative game mechanics:

The manual becomes, here, another vector for expressing Minkomora’s aesthetics and sensibilities, conveying the game to you as you read it. Simple though it may be, lacking my beloved appendices and subsections, it still effectively conveys a strong sense of what Minkomora is and means, lending character and colour to the game world before you even set foot in it. It also shows a path to digital distribution for cost-conscious developers; you no longer need to expensively print copies of a manual in order for it to perform these functions.

This is The End, My Friends

Whew! I told you it was a lot to get through, but I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did.

Don’t forget to check out May’s Blogs of the Round Table as well as Lindsey Joyce’s critical round-up of Let’s Plays.

As always, we’re entirely funded on the generosity of our readers, so if you haven’t already, please take a look at our Patreon page and consider donating!

And don’t forget to keep those links coming via Twitter mention or email.

Until next time, I’m going to see about ascending in Kanye Quest!

May 10th

May 10th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 10th)

Friends, it has been too long. I’ve been looking forward to kicking back, pouring a hot beverage and sharing a leisurely Sunday afternoon with you over another This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Sensual Design

Let’s start with a few pieces on how game design creates meaning through the senses. In part 3 of his ongoing series on lighting, Robert Yang discusses the particularities of lighting 3D games. The three-point lighting system often found in film and 2D games is a great standard most of the time, but, according to Yang, it can’t be the standard in 3D spaces:

[developers] think their goal is to achieve great screenshots, and in film / photography / theater / 2D games that is an admirable goal. But as people working in 3D games, our actual goal is to craft some sort of navigable 3D space, experience, or system, and our lighting needs to be part of that context.

Over at Castle Couch, Oliver Bouchard describes how adventure games, Grim Fandango in particular, nurture the development of nostalgia with the design of their spaces.

By the time I was done, I knew the city and its many intricacies. I had exhausted every possible conversation option with all of the people that live there. I wandered around for hours solving puzzles without knowing how they would add to the main story. I was a resident like any other (although it’s possible I was the only one with a purpose). Suffice to say, I lived there.

In a similar vein, Miguel Penabella compares the similar cinematic and writing techniques in The Last of Us and the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers.

Switching from sight to sound, our own Zolani Stewart hosts this week’s episode of Critical Switch and plays some of the background noises in Mirror’s Edge to illustrate how its sound effects ground the game’s setting and the avatar’s body.

Finally, Ashley Barry, describes the isolating silence that accompanies and deepens both Shadow of the Colossus and Journey.

Representative Character

Ben Gabriel responds to Ian Bogost’s systems-centric contention that “Video Games are Better Without Characters” by arguing that characters are themselves systems. If this is a topic you’d like to dig a little deeper into, than I recommend taking a look at John Osborn’s submission to April’s BoRT, where he offered his own position on this subject.

Likewise, on PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren discusses the ways that a player’s avatar and in-game behaviours influence the real world, specifically through race. Warren discusses the subject in light of Facepunch Studio’s recent decision to randomize avatar ethnicity in Rust.

Alisha Karabinus at Not Your Mama’s gamer also digs into the systems of representation in games by looking character diversity in the top selling games on the Xbox 360.

Finally, Heather Alexandra closes the topic for now in an article in Paste magazine. Alexandra argues that “Videogames Have a Pessimism Problem” that can only be solved by restoring a lost sense of heroism. Her diagnosis of the kinds of games published in the last decade doesn’t pull any punches:

Created works always reflect the times they are made in and we all contribute to the tone of our time. The American zeitgeist is dominated by hopelessness. How could it not be? Debt cripples our students, the people meant to protect and serve citizens are little more than militarized thugs and our politicians vote to restrict the rights of the marginalized. This hopelessness isn’t unique to America; there are problems everywhere. It’s global.

A Personal Look

At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky profiles the work of indie developer, Strangethink. Polansky describes the aesthetic commonalities from one game to the next. As Polansky summarizes,

Strangethink’s games have many aesthetic and conceptual calling cards. They’re all pink and blue and made in Unity. They’re all on some level preoccupied with player exploration of space, with designed, virtual space as architecture, and with architecture as guiding not just naked interaction but also the internal work of interpretation. They tend toward a tension between “magic”, the metaphysical and affective, and to the science of construction, the math of procedural generation.

Christopher Malmo interviews the creator of Bitcoin Mining Profit Calculator: Gaiden, Totally Not Satoshi for Motherboard. Their conversation covers their games, cryptocurrency and internet libertarianism.

Little Games

Rachel Helps offers a brief overview of Taarradhin, a dating sim where the player’s objects of desire really don’t have a lot of interest in them:

The “true ending” only unlocks after you’ve seen the other endings, as if you, the player, needed to get your selfish romancing desires out of the way before you could start to care about the characters on a deeper level.

Johannes Koski, keeper of the blog Persona Matters, has been overwhelmed with work lately, but has nonetheless found some comfort in the Alarm Playing Game, Dreeps:

For a person labouring under intense stress and lacking free time, Dreeps offered a window to another world. I plucked away at my keyboard all day, and every hour or so I would check on how Ishida (my little android – you get to name it) was doing. It was walking down the long road, encountering hardships that I very much sympathised with. Sometimes Ishida needed to be picked up. Often I felt I needed picking up too.

Weighty Ghost

Writing for Offworld, Aevee Bee describes the agency involved in controlling how her avatars make contact with others. Whether through dodging attacks or controlling the flow of a fighting game, Bee describes the pleasure and power in being the one who “controls the conditions of touch.”

Todd Harper uses Bee’s essay as a launching pad for one of his own. Harper discusses the bodies and movements in games that erase or diminish his own body, along with the ways he’s found to build himself in a game:

Perhaps because there is a strong note of aspiration. I didn’t make my Lady Boss to “reflect” me; I made her of something I wish I could be, and which was just close enough so that I could believe it wasn’t that far off.

Jillian from FemHype describes how games have influenced the perspectives on her body (content warning: discussion of eating disorders). Although games were there when she was too overwhelmed to socialize any other way, they kept their body standards:

In Second Life, the smaller and slimmer my avatar was, the more attention I’d receive. People (in this case, their avatars) would actually initiate verbal contact with the character I created—and it wasn’t to shame me! I was being acknowledged as a human being, which is kind of hilariously pitiful, since my assembled collection of pixels wasn’t human at all. At my lowest, I remember wishing that I, too, could be computer generated like the person-shaped avatar with decisions made by keystrokes.

Mothers and Babies

Bianca Batti discusses gender norms in the baby-protagonist of Among the Sleep. Batti details some of the changing gender expectations the community have brought to the character’s onesie along with the expectations involved in their actions and objectives.

Speaking of babies, Jillian from FemHype has written a very good essay about motherhood, magic, and the monstrous feminine trope in the Dragon Age series.

Strength in Design

The folks at Shut Up and Sit Down have taken Cards Against Humanity to task this week, detailing how its needless, immature, embarrassing and boring design makes it a poor ambassador to the growing board game community. From Paul Deen’s writeup:

In an age of greater awareness, where more and more people push for social change, this game is winking at you and telling you it’s okay to indulge those backward prejudices.

Chris Bateman pens the final chapter in his three-part retrospective of roleplaying and games history, which describes how the tabletop has shaped and reshaped the different ways players can expect to roleplay in various genres.

Stephen Beirne describes ascending an exceptionally long ladder in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to a disembodied singer as a moment of game-breaking clarity, one with analogues in a pair of Sherlock Holmes-themed games.

… Snake Eater’s ladder is wonderful in being perhaps the most subtle act of media-bending in any Metal Gear Solid, but which acts its magic through channels which are perfectly ordinary in nature. We see the past, the future, we become absorbed in the moment at the same time as we sail high up above in adoration of its dramatic structure.

Finally, our own Eric Swain explains on PopMatters how The Charnel House Trilogy is designed to evoke a sense of theatricality,

We are both an actor going through a set of motions and audience watching the story play out before us. If you think about it, this is really true of any adventure game. Except instead of being incidental, here it is the central design focus.

Dispatches from Vienna

Courtesy of our German Correspondent Joe Köller, let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the German-language games blogosphere.

The A Maze Independent Games Festival took place in Berlin recently, and audio recordings of all talks are available online. Reporting on the triple A meetup that preceded it, Lisa Ludwing concludes that the German games industry isn’t all that exciting.

Sebastian Standke has been interviewing Ludum Dare contestants for a series of 21 profile pieces. Also on Superlevel, Josefiene Pertosa translated the third part of Magnus Hildebrandt’s comprehensive guide to the inspirations and cultural reference points of Kentucky Route Zero.

Nina Kiel wrote about the FEMICOM game jam challenging the supposedly masculine history of games, and has also been continuing her column on sex games.

Oh, and there’s an interview with the director of a Monkey Island theater production, which is the second most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.

Until Next Time

Once again, I thank you all for inviting us into your home and sharing another week of videogame blogging with us. If you’re looking for more, though, don’t be discouraged, because our Lindsey Joyce has compiled a whole month’s worth of critical Let’s Plays for your viewing enjoyment.

Additionally, don’t forget to keep an eye on May’s Blogs of the Round Table, where contributors are invited to discuss the theme of ‘plans.’

On top of that, guest editor Rollin Bishop has put together a critical compilation of a whole swath of articles on Dragon Age II.

We’ve been a busy bunch here at Critical Distance, but that’s the way we like it. So if there’s a great piece of games criticism you come across that you’d like to see us feature please get in touch with us on Twitter using the appropriate hashtag or through email.

Lastly, Critical Distance remains a community funded project and if you enjoy the projects we’re a part of please take a look at our Patreon page and consider contributing a small monthly donation. We’d really appreciate it!

May 3rd

May 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Lana Polansky in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 3rd)

Hello, dearest games literati, and welcome to another edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging! This week’s theme is that there is no theme; instead, enjoy a mixed bag of thoughtful bites on everything from international politics to level design in Dark Souls to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Around the World in 80 Frames

Let’s begin with a short video report by Al Jazeera on Saudi Arabia’s Prince Fahad al Saud, whose initiative, New Arab Media, aims to support the development and distribution of games for a growing, billion-dollar Saudi audience. In particular, al Saud seeks to encourage more games geared toward Saudi girls.

By contrast, Skoryh Tatyana takes to Kotaku to discuss how economic sanctions and structural upheaval in Russian-occupied Crimea has affected the games industry, and for that matter the communications industry, in the region. Tatyana writes that despite relative peace in the region, the sanctions and bureaucratic changes have been trouble for developers especially. One subject, an IT professional and developer named Ignat, lamented:

The only option now is either to move to continental Russia or to Ukraine, and by officially registering there we can revive our internet business. In fact, going by what I’ve heard and read amongst my friends and on forums, about 1,000 developers have already left Crimea because of these sanctions.

Meanwhile, and on a happier note in the Netherlands, a new English-language podcast hosted by Erwin Vogelaar brings together interviews from game-lovers from all walks of life, including developer Adriel Wallick, a local writer and even a catholic priest in one very well-executed radio package. Listen to Vogelaar’s dulcet tones on The Life We Play here.

Sexism in Games, By the Numbers

At FemHype, a new comic by Kiva Bay expresses a moving, personal argument for how classism and misogyny intersect in gaming. Her story reveals how those who lack the funds to participate in this relatively expensive hobby tend to be socially excluded, no matter how much they may love the form.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Sarah Nixon discusses the double-bind of self-representation that female streamers often have to grapple with in “The Female Streamer’s Dilemma“, while Jennifer McVeigh’s “Let’s Clear the Air: A Closer Look at the Sexist Games=Sexist Gamers Study” describes the dubious research methods employed in a German study which some say demonstrates how games don’t make gamers sexist. McVeigh notes that the study, by the researchers’ own admission, doesn’t actually prove very much at all, writing:

While this research is interesting, it is difficult to assess whether the study offers any new information regarding sexist video games and their effects. The study suggests that future research be conducted on more specific genres and subgenres to determine if any correlation between video games and sexism exist and ultimately admits that the research is limited due to location specificity. Certainly, the study does not offer quantifiable proof that games do not cultivate first order attitudes nor does it disprove Anita Sarkeesian’s claims regarding video games. All this study really reveals is that we should shift our focus from investigating the belief that games cause certain behaviors and instead concentrate on the attitudes that allow and promote sexism in games.

This is Not a Phase. Mom, I’m An Adult Goth

At The Serious Work of Play, Corey Milne compares and contrasts the subtext and symbolism of level design in both Dark Souls’ Lodran and Demon’s Souls’ Boletaria.

Over at Kill Screen, David Chandler traces a literary history between Bloodborne and Stoker’s Dracula, remarking in which ways the decadent, gothic death-sex-fest by From Software emulates the thematic preoccupations found in Stoker’s decadent, gothic death-sex-fest.

Finally, at Offworld, Leigh Alexander pens a heartfelt apology for Silent Hill, mourning the death of an era of Japanese games marked by the departure of Hideo Kojima. Alexander revisits Silent Hill 2 to see if the moody, abstract, deeply symbolic and elusive horror game still “held up.” She poetically recounts:

But somehow it was better and more beautiful. Though as uncomfortable to play through as a belly full of battery acid, it was somehow graceful in its age. Its rattling cages, its nauseating architecture, inhuman shapes. My radio hissing as a silent executioner in a red metal pyramid mask followed me down an apartment building’s fire stairs. My flashlight throwing a headless dress form into sharp relief, my wife Mary’s clothes still on it. The way I ran, with purpose, up the broad carpeted steps of a fateful hotel, almost to her room, only to suddenly come up against a rusty gate, the sound of my own name murmured urgently, sepulchral, from beyond it.

Au Revoir, Mes Ami(e)s

That’s all we have for this week! If you have an thoughtful piece of writing you’d like to shove in our faces, please submit it to us via Twitter or email.

And don’t forget, Critical Distance is reader-supported. If you want to help keep critical curation in videogames alive, please consider contributing to us through Patreon!

April 26th

April 26th, 2015 | Posted by Riley MacLeod in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on April 26th)

Hello again, readers! The weather’s been unpredictable where I am, and the question “Do I need a coat?” has become the subject of intense philosophical debate and meteorological scrutiny. But you know what’s always stylish, flattering, and appropriate for whatever life throws at you? This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Arts and Letters

The excitement about Bloodborne is still in full force, as well as interest in its lineage of devilishly hard games about souls. This week, Brad Gallaway writes about Bloodborne‘s storytelling, as does Reid McCarter. Meanwhile, Corey Milne departs from the newest entry to discuss place in Demon Souls and Dark Souls.

Mechanics and narrative have been another hot topic this week. Over at Pop Matters, G. Christopher Williams writes about narrative and storytelling in The Charnel House, pointing out the debt it owes to writers like Mark Z. Danielewski and John Barth. In a somewhat similar vein, Ben Chapman applies Stephen King’s adage to avoid adverbs to video games, exploring the ways in which video game dialogue choices sometimes eschew nuance at the expense of more impacting and interesting moments.

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander picks up a similar thread to look at the effects of typography in Kentucky Route Zero. And speaking of speaking, back at Pop Matters, Nick Dinicola pokes at the awkwardness of silent protagonists in leadership positions, looking at Battlefield 4 to point out that:

Our silence prevents us from ever becoming an active participant in this world. We can only ever be a free floating camera that’s either ignored or lectured to, and when we’re addressed with complex issues, we can only ever respond with a blank stare.

Lastly, Mattie Brice looks at interactivity in games and tarot through the lens of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, pointing out how comics’ understanding of “closure”:

is the kind of interactivity that is shared by all mediums, where the piece requires imagination, for people to fill in themselves in the blanks knowingly or not. I’m starting to think that play is games’ version of closure, if it isn’t closure in and of itself.

Games and Spectators

There was also a flurry of writing about Let’s Plays this week. At FemHype, Emily G writes about how her early interest in Let’s Plays was soured by the community’s sexism and searingly concludes:

The Let’s Playing community is a great opportunity to bring fans of games together to play together, share their experiences and opinions, and help shape the kind of games that people want. The problem, or one of the main problems, is that the two societally recognized halves of this community aren’t standing on equal footing yet. Female LPers are torn down and scared away from a community that they could positively impact. The question, really, is what the solution could be, and I think it really boils down to more women and girls fighting back against the negative connotations that come along with being a lady who Let’s Plays.

Exploring the emotional impact of making Let’s Plays, Jackson Tyler at Abnormal Mapping writes about the experience of making Let’s Plays of Super Mario every morning and how the ritual of public play and failure had an overall positive influence:

I’m not talking prescriptively here, games are not a replacement for legitimate mental health assistance and they never will be. But as a sort of personal exercise, the Morning Mario proved incredibly effective. Having to fail daily, and fail publically [sic] with no way to back out or move the goalpost, forced me to confront my daily anxieties, and gave me a safe space to create coping mechanisms that I can attempt to apply to areas of my life with stakes that remain incredibly high.

In a somewhat similar exploration of failure, back at Offworld, Gita Jackson writes movingly about games and failure, musing: “I wonder how seeing yourself die — because your avatar is you, in a sense — changes how we see our failures in our own life.”

This is Who I Am

On a different note, at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon and Alisha Karabinus write about the hidden costs of being a games critic and scholar, polling their writing staff to look at how fiscal barriers to access to technology or new games negatively impacts the diversity of people writing about or teaching games.

Nick Hanford at Higher Level Gamer writes about identity tourism and Never Alone, drawing connections between high school community service trips and the game’s critical reception, raising important issues about how we engage with diversity in games. He writes:

I’m afraid that Never Alone is like that weeklong trip I took to Pine Ridge. I feel like I’ve done a few hours of work and have gone back to my comforts, but I’m not sure about what comes next– if anything. I fear that like the tattoo that I have, I, or other players, will quickly allow the experience of this game to be reduced down to objects that we can easily pick up and examine, removed from their context. I fear that other players will look at it and boil down the Iñupiat to scrimshaw and caribou-skin clothes. I fear this because I’ve personally done it before, albeit with different experiences and outcomes.

Along similar lines, Todd Harper complicates the reveal that Kung Jin in Mortal Combat X is gay, asking questions about how representation in games is a complicated affair. He writes, “The point, though, is to keep trying. To acknowledge forward steps and course correct after backwards ones. To keep forward momentum going and not be satisfied.”

At Vice, Soha Kareem writes about altgames, taking care to point out particular works by diverse creators, as well as the new forms of journalism surrounding them.

There’s also been some interesting writing about religion in games this week. Grayson at Video Game Heart writes about games’ potential to encompass spirituality, and over at Game Church, Christopher Hutton provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of Christian videogames.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Cara Ellison has written her last S.EXE at Rock Paper Shotgun, at lovely series that I’m sad to see go.

Further Reading

Shout-outs this week to the release of Merritt Kopas’s book Videogames for Humans, which brings Twine authors, games critics, writers, and players together in conversation. This hefty volume is well worth your time if any of those topics interest you (full disclosure: I have an essay in the book).

Footer Business

That’s it for this week, readers! I hope you are enjoying the sun, staying warm, or whatever the weather is throwing at you. If you’ve come across a interesting piece of games writing, you can submit it to us via Twitter or through email.

There’s still time to submit to our April Blogs of the Round Table theme, Palette Swap, too! And if you’ve watched any great Let’s Plays, please let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #LetsPlayCD.

As always, we are entirely reader-supported, so if you like what we do, please consider a small monthly contribution to our Patreon.