Header

Greetings, the Internet. I have come here to chew bubblegum and curate games writing. Fortunately I have plenty of both so let’s not draw this out. Welcome to another edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Economics and Faerie Magic

On The Mary Sue, Victoria McNally reflects on Neopets’ economic history since its 1999 release:

In Neopets, the rising rate of neopoints got particularly bad as it expanded. The trend didn’t gounnoticed, either; as early as June 2001, many economically savvy users noted in the Neopian Times that inflation was occurring and might need intervention to balance itself out… [suggesting] the site is now “a horrifying and disturbing look into the faults of late capitalism and the unfettered exploitation inevitable in unregulated economic systems[…]”

Zombies Ate My Culture

At Paste Maddy Myers reflects on the pre-9/11 anxieties represented in the original Reisdent Evil along with what would now be considered its genre-defying message of cooperation, “Most strikingly, however, the original Resident Evil differs from post-90s-era zombie videogames because it does not have a libertarian message.”

To compare how zombies have changed, take a look at Reid McCarter’s analysis of The Last of Us as a conflict between “the Apollonian virtues [of Joel] (logic, individuality, denial) and Ellie the Dionysian (chaos, universality, acceptance).”

Lastly (and not technically involving zombies), Dan Whitehead of EuroGamer hopes that Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro’s collaboration on the next Silent Hill will bring back the weirdness of Silent Hill 2.

First-Person Whistleblower

Kill Screen’s Christ Priestman talks to Nicky Case about Israel aggression in the Gaza strip and police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and how they relate to his upcoming game about citizen journalism.

Case hopes that his game will illustrate how controlling the narrative of something like escalating police violence in Ferguson controls how people understand the event: especially given how mainstream news outlets failed to broadcast what went on.

Battlefield: USA

Speaking of Ferguson, EA’s upcoming first-person shooter, Battlefield: Hardline has been scrutinized by a number of writers for its indifference and outright enthusiasm for the “warrior cop” figure seen in so many images of Ferguson over the last week.

Mike Williams of USgamer warns that “Life Imitates Art“:

Battlefield: Hardline plays on the growing militarization of the police, showing scenes of all-out war between heavily-armed police and criminals. It’s a war game in a different skin, something that should probably disturb us more than it does.

His concern is that Hardline equates police with soldiers and cities with warzones.

Meanwhile, in an article for the Paris Review, Kevin Nguyen is disquieted by how nonchalant the game appears to be toward police violence: “Simply put: as a cop in Hardline, you have the choice of killing people or not. The decision is entirely dependent on your mood.”

More Conflict

Mike Joffe investigates the relationship between conflict minerals and electronics on his blog, Video Games of the Oppressed. It’s well researched piece covering a topic that often gets ignored in both gaming and tech circles (Content warning: discussions of rape and slavery):

The current climate of phone consumption encourages people to upgrade and replace phones as often as possible. This is mirrored in the video game industry, where the lifespan of consoles is ever shrinking in favor of increasingly incremental upgrades. Even activist groups admit that recycling, even on a colossal scale, can not approach meeting the current demand.

Won’t Someone Think of the Gamers?

(Content warnings for this section: sexist language, harassment, stalking.)

Zoe Quinn (you might remember her as the woman who helped create Depression Quest, a free resource designed to help people through mental illness) is under attack for an alleged professional transgression.

For the last week a hate campaign including a number of prolific videogame personalities has coordinated harassment of both Quinn and her friends and colleagues. In Quinn’s own words:

Suddenly I don’t have any right to privacy or basic dignity. Suddenly I don’t get to live out normal parts of life, like going through a bad and ugly breakup in private. I have forfeited this by being a blip in a small community, while those who delight in assailing me hide behind their keyboards and a culture that permits it, beyond reproach.

My life and my body are not public property. No one’s life and body are public property.

In response, Liz Ryerson sifts through the 4chan forums where Quinn’s harassers lurk and analyses the conservative extremism behind their thinking.

the idea of trusting the word of a frighteningly narcissistic ex who’s out to ruin her reputation is fine with them, because it meshes with their worldview. suddenly they have a convenient situation that explains away all their disillusionment and misgivings with themselves and game culture.

At The Border House, Zoya Street dissects how TotalBiscuit, one of the aforementioned videogame personalities involved in harassing Quinn, has leveraged his privilege to deflect criticism.

Luke Pullen, on the other hand, looks at how gamer culture at large has taken literal fascist leaps of reasoning to protect the purity of videogames as an institute.

(End content warning section.)

Rules of Engagement

Lana Polansky pens a reminder that harassers are not entitled to a place in the conversation, adding that comment sections do less to democratize discourse and more to distract people from making a point of their own.

Elsewhere, Mattie Brice offers some practical advice to those wishing to help:

Instead of ‘how can I solve oppression for every person on the planet,’ start close to home; are you doing things for your loved ones? Have you sat down with the people in your life you know are minoritized and had meaningful conversations about these topics and how you could contribute to their safety? Do they even know they can come to you in the first place about these sorts of issues?

A Culture Fit

David Mullich, a long-time game developer, writes on Gamasutra about his experience with ageism in the industry, dispelling many of the myths associated with older developers and pointing out the ridiculous anxieties that prevent older devs from being hired.

At The New York Times Chris Suellentrop salutes a number of women who are a neglected part of game development history.

Things I Couldn’t Connect with a Bad Pun

Mathew Burns uses an analogy of a consumer-king and his board of advisors to break down the consumerist logic behind the gamer-reviewer relationship.

Wendi Sierra examines Always Sometimes Monsters, cautiously applauding it for “attempting to tackle serious issues” while critiquing it for “coming off as too exaggerated to be relatable.”

Dennis Scimeca praises the educational value of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago and Oregon Trail.

~Fin

So as you can see this week has been a bit of a downer. But if you’re looking to lighten your mood you can submit a humorous takedown of your favourite game for Patrick Lindsey’s Crit Roast.

Or you could get involved with our Blogs of the Round Table for August and September, where the theme is Catharsis.

As ever, Critical Distance depends on its readers to submit links to critical writing by email or by Twitter! And if you’d like to support us further you can help us keep growing by contributing to our Patreon. Thanks for stopping by.

Hello everyone! This week is loaded to the brim with writing and criticism of all kinds, so let’s get to it. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Streaming

I want to start with the surge of video criticism that’s been emerging lately.

Brendan Keogh has been looking at the first Modern Warfare title, showing us how the old blockbuster is more interesting than it seems on first glance. Stephen Beirne reflects on the act of interpretation and value while drawing a pretty picture.

Jody Macgregor has a critical Let’s Play series of the first Thief, Noah Caldwell-Gervais looks at the Mass Effect series, and Stuart Arias has a critical series of System Shock 2 up on Twitch. Critical Let’s Playing is really interesting approach, and I’m excited to see more of it!

All That’s Fit to Print

On Ontological Geek, Oscar Strik reviews Cameron Kunzelman’s On August 11, A Ship Sailed into Port. Meanwhile, at Words That Won’t Sell, Edward Smith writes a very interesting piece about the sense of exhaustion and defeat that pervades the new Wolfenstein.

At Game Church, Joshua Cauller examines the risk of love in war that Valiant Hearts sets in conflict. At Videodame, Virginia Roby reflects on The Last of Us‘s seeming subversion of the Damsel in Distress trope.

Justin Keever’s Virtual Narrative blog has a post about the metanarratives of the Civilization games. And Claire Hosking, negotiating the pull between the procedural narrative and the “authored” artistic work, looks at the urban structures of Transistor and the narratives of those structures and aesthetics.

Lastly, a pair from two of Critical Distance’s own. Mark Filipowich looks at several RPGs and their stands on the morals of violence in a two part post. And Lindsey Joyce tethers Wayward Manor‘s relationship to Neil Gaiman’s fiction.

*breathes*

Histories

At The Digital Antiquarian, Jimmy Maher has a historical look at Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?; the cultural and material contexts that brought it to life, and its lasting impact in mainstream videogames. And in conjunction with his upcoming book on mobile games (currently seeking crowdfunding) Zoya Street writes about the Nokia 3210 phone and the low-res no-colour games that came with it.

Race! Race! Race!

A couple of pieces thinking about race, identity and culture emerged this week.

At Game Bias, Sidney Fussell and Jed Pessgrove have a conversation about the general “race in games” discussion point, making sharp observations with Bioshock Infinite and The Walking Dead, as well as interrogating the presumption of post-racialism. And at Polygon, LeSean Payne gives us personal reflections on his relationship with black characters in videogames and media.

Extended Reading

I’m going to note Zoya’s book again, because it’s near the end of its crowdfunding and it can use all the support it can get.

There are other book/magazines out as well. The new Five Out of Ten issue on “Time” is now available for purchase, featuring Critical Distance’s own Joe Köller, The Mary Sue’s Becky Chambers (whom we feature frequently here) and many more. The newest Surveillance and Society is now out with a focus on games and play (and is free on pdf). And The Arcade Review, an arts/games magazine focused on small experiential works that I run, released its summer issue this week. It’s our last issue for this year, so you should take the time to catch up!

Closing

We greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or email.

Mark and Lindsey have taken over for Alan at Blogs of the Round Table and their first new blog prompt for August through September is “Catharsis.” Check it out and get involved!

And be sure not to miss our most recent podcast, where Eric Swain interviews games criticism alum Kirk Battle (better known by his pseudonym, L.B. Jeffries).

That’s it for this week! There’s quality writing and reading here to keep you informed, educated and perspectived on videogames and art, so you should take advantage. To support the work that we do here, you can help us continue our curating work at our Patreon. Happy reading, and take care of yourself!

Hello, Critical Distance! I’ve been traveling on and off for nigh on the last month, and since I’ve been back, I’ve been consuming nothing but Games Crit. So delicious, so filling. Please, gather round with me for some nutrient rich content This Week in Video Game Blogging!

At All Costs

This week brings us several sources interrogating the concepts of cost, monetary and otherwise, in relation to games. For instance, both Tami Sigmund and Casey Johnston take a look at free games in terms of their non-monetary costs: Sigmund examines the phenomena whereby casual and mobile players believe once you pay for a game it ceases to be a game, while Johnson examines how “real gamers” harshly judge games like Kim Kardarshian: Hollywood and its players while simultaneously spending and investing in freemium games like Hearthstone.

Elsewhere, Solon Scott uses Zoya Street’s Delay: Paying Attention to Energy Mechanics to discusses how marathoning games like Civilization demand players pay a physical and psychological cost while casual games like Candy Crush and Farmville have been designed to encourage players to take breaks from the game.

Flipping from player to developer, Guillaume Boucher-Vidal breaks down the costs – financial, emotional, time, social, etc – of operating an indie studio, and over at Eurogamer, Wesley Yin-Poole tells the story of the 26 years it took Brian Fargo to bring Wasteland 2 into existence.

Keeping Up with Kapitalism

Speaking of costs and Kardashians, this week brings us more analysis of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood through the lens of capitalism. Over at Gawker, Michelle Dean argues that the game, unlike Candy Crush, has a lesson to teach players: money doesn’t buy things of value – for that you need energy and star power. Meanwhile, over at The Atlantic, Megan Garber observes that by refusing to sell anything but herself (as a thing, rather than a person), Kim Kardashian makes herself a rare but desirable commodity people are willing to pay for.

“Empathy, Empathy, Put Yourself in the Place of Me”

This week, at First Person Scholar, Steve Wilcox argues that rather than moving us toward a ludic future in which we become more aware of systems and patterns,

Games are inherently about developing empathy towards one another. This begins by thinking of games in the same way that others have thought about art in general: as a means of training the imagination to create new contexts in which to discover new knowledge.

Acting as wonderful support for Wilcox’s argument, Asi Burbak discusses how developing Peacemaker forever changed how he thought about the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying:

There is nothing more challenging than expressing empathy for the other side, especially when your side is under attack…In PeaceMaker, walking in another man’s shoes is not only a concept; it’s the heart of the simulation.

Conversely, Elena Cresci questions whether it is possible to base a game in a volatile real-world setting, such as Gaza, without belittling those involved in the conflict and concludes, using Peacemaker as an example, that when dealing with complicated subject matter it is essential for the designers to make their intentions clear.

Elsewhere, Daniel Nye Griffiths catalogs several games and how they are being used to change real lives, including newsgames such as those discussed by Cresci and Burbak.

So Many Feels

Discussing how games touch our emotions, Carli Velocci writes about how choices are presented in The Walking Dead and the ways in which such choices can lead to character deaths, initially agitate her social phobia leading to panic attacks, but also eventually help her to combat anxiety by allowing her to become more confident in her choices, including what to say in conversation, over time.

Finally, Kenneth Chen examines the intrinsic motivator of guilt while playing the MMO Warframe and discusses how acknowledging guilt as a game motivator has changed his design philosophies.

Story Mode

For those of us who enjoy a good game story, this week brings numerous articles discussing innovations (and, in some cases, failure) to tell the player a good story.

Paul Shumann, for instance, takes a look at the way Betrayer, an FPS game, employs a novel listening mechanic in order to focus both mechanics and story on a respect for history, faith, and humanity.

Over at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams discusses how Sepulchre quite literally puts its game on rails in order to tell a horror story about frustrated progression. Careful, this article contains spoilers!

Elsewhere, Critical Distance’s own Eric Swain indulges in the minor story moments by discussing (with spoilers) two moments near the end of Quest for Infamy that add important character dimension to Roehm, the player character.

Sam Z. writes about the story in Transistor (spoilers here too) and how the love story of this digital game lightly critiques the digital world.

Daniel Galera has a wonderful long-form read this week that lets you relive the wonder of Prince of Persia while simultaneously making poignant observations about agency, algorithms, youth, love and more.

Zolani Stewart, who has also recently joined the Critical Distance team, brings us another long-form read this week about the history of Sonic The Hedgehog and his status as a fluid media object moving between mascot and fully realized character.

Finally, Perter Christiansen uses Dwarf Fortress and its allocation of processing power to craft narratives to trace the historical paths computer have taken to be better simulators of physic than creators of story.

Adventure Games

Do you like Adventure Games? Do you know their long and stories history? Leigh Alexander does and her most recent Let’s Play is of the “pure” adventure game, Curse of Crowley Manor.

Speaking of historical adventure games, Emily Rose and Pierce Huxtable talk with Roby Miller about the story and score of one of the most popular adventure games ever: Myst

Let’s Talk About Sex [and Gender], Baby

In an open interview, Cara Ellison talks with Nina Freeman, among other things, about how sex informs her game design, and the control she garners via game creation.

Also this week, mrsdawnaway discusses the literal objectification of women in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, stating,

Painting someone turns that person from a ‘someone’ to a ‘something’; you can possess a painting in a way that it is impossible to possess a person. So when Yuga is running around Hyrule acquiring pieces for his art collection (to use his words), he is, quite literally, objectifying these people. In my opinion, it is no accident that most of these people are women, since the Zelda games have a history of treating women as objects participating in a man’s destiny rather than agents of their own.

Elsewhere, Corey Milne argues that the Tower of Latria is a sustained assault on the player’s sexuality. Warning: article deals with sensitive issues such a rape.

Over at Killscreen, Zach Bugdor compares and contrasts the success of women in doom metal to the hard-fought success of women in games to argue that:

Adherence to tradition, or worse, to a fanbase, has rarely produced relevant and vital art… Imagine the kinds of experiences we’re going to get as more women flood into games; as the default protagonist shifts from White Vengeance Man to something infinitely more interesting and rich; as all types of new settings and characters and conflicts and mechanics come to life; as the palette of creators becomes increasingly vivid.

Take a Look, It’s in a Book

Leigh Alexander has announced her new book, Clipping Through on Gumroad, but has done so with a critique of the games writing market. Alexander says,

I want there to be alternatives — not only for myself, but for the very idea of a mature career for experienced people who want to continue writing and speaking in games.

In this spirit, we also want to link you to Robert Yang’s write up of the book ZZT by Anna Anthropy.

Access/ibility

Speaking about the importance of accessibility issue in games, Richard Moss notes that increasing accessibility is never a wasted effort, nor is it hard to include. As he quotes Mike Zaimont in pointing out:

It takes very little time, and if more people can potentially enjoy your game, there’s really no reason not to do it.

Other Sundry

Other good reads this week include Nick Dinicola’s article on propaganda in Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag. Dinicola examines the creeds of the Pirates, the Assassins, and the Templars and the philosophies that guide them as well as how each creed is presented within the game as a lure for the player character rather than as an alignment the character already maintains.

Justin Keverne has produced an extensive and incredibly detailed analysis of Thief. Keverne discuss the stealth system, the environmental design, story, and more.

Lastly, Rainer Sigl interviews Casey T. Brooks about in-game photography.

Foreign Correspondence

Dennis Kogel wrote about Ropecon and Nordic LARPS as a way of exploring political and societal differences.

Kevin Stäubli summarized the recent Twitch.tv brouhaha.

Over on Superlevel’s new forum, Leonard Ritter, on half of the team behind Nowhere, talked about their difficulties selling the idea of a psychedelic “everything in the entire world” simulator.

So Long, Farwell

Thanks for spending some of your Sunday with us. We value both your readership and your submissions, so please keep sending them our way via twitter or email.

As a final remember, please remember that Critical Distance is funded by readers like you. If you like the work we do and aren’t already a supporter, we hope you’ll consider pledging to our Patreon.

 

Hello, lovers and other strangers. Welcome to a short but edifying edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging. This week brings us offerings on love, hate, media studies, and the greater horrors that lie between them.

Play it Again, Sam

Kicking us off, Jennifer Culp invites us to take another look at the badassery of one Dr. Karin Chakwas, Mass Effect’s Chief Medical Officer. Culp sings the doctor’s praises while also observing the dearth of visible–let alone active and interesting–older women in videogames,

In a medium in which women are often fridged early on in order to provide narrative development for male characters, in a real world where a distressingly large segment of the population seems to consider women obsolete once we pass mid-life, it’s refreshing to encounter an older woman upon first boarding the Normandy.

At Videodame, Jeremy Voss reconsiders his negative reaction to the GTA V boycott. Contemplating the paltry inventory of female characters he’s played in games, Voss wonders if the most subversive thing Rockstar’s attempt at social satire could do would be to provide a playable and well-written female character.

At Paste, Maddy Myers admonishes game designers to take another look at Metroid and Alien if they intend to make Metroidvanias. It’s not enough, she argues, to borrow mechanical tropes and conventions, or even to feature a playable woman protagonist in your winding space platformers without also acknowledging the “aesthetic and tonal success” of Metroid’s and Alien‘s universes respectively. (Content warning: discussion of rape.)

Show, Don’t Tell 

Katherine Cross challenges the hostile anxiety surrounding criticism in videogames, calling it a cultural “terror dream” that games are going to be censored or taken away by nagging parents and moralistic lobbyists. Or just as well, perverted so much by the inclusion of different audiences that the traditional design focus of games as havens for straight, white, cis male power fantasies will disappear. (Oh, the humanity.)

On Infinite Lives, Jenn Frank uses the lack of a pause button in Destiny as a jumping-off point to discuss her feelings of guilt, frustration and resentment of being made into a “Game Widow,” and talks about how design choices in games can put real strain on personal relationships depending on how they influence the player to manage their time and attention,

Later, Ted tells me there is no “pause,” not in the sense where games often have a “pause.” He isn’t even playing multiplayer; he is on a solo mission. “I can’t put the game down,” he explains to me, helplessly.

This, I do understand.

I am not angry with Ted. I am furious with Destiny, however. Due to a design flaw—in this case, the flaw is with a game that cannot be paused—I am finally experiencing true relationship strife.

At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan compares two unfinished, procedurally-generated horror games, Monstrum and Darkwood, looking at the various ways they succeed and fall short at designing truly horrific experiences. Donlan looks at how they both handle pacing, mise en scene, perspective and even UI to suggest horror through design, and where those design styles might actually obstruct feelings of horror by making the player too comfortable.

Casey Brooks recaptures the spirit of GTA V‘s extensive gaming photography subculture with this artful photoseries, which uses the game as context to tell its own stories through the static medium.

I’ll Take “Business Ethics” for 200, Alex

At Twenty Sided, Unrest’s lead writer, Adam “Rutskarn” DeCamp, speaks frankly on the energy, labour and resources required to manage an indie game studio when Kickstarting a game, why game companies might fail to deliver on promises or fall apart under strain, and why asking for thousands of dollars from patrons isn’t absurd or obscene.

Finally, on Gamasutra Blogs, Folmer Kelly explains his decision to quit participating in game jams, saying,

And I couldn’t help but wonder- “are we perpetuating the idea that game jams make games happen rather than people make games happen?” And that thought fucked me up! I started feeling like game jams have become a forced frame for creativity, a required activity for those interested in making games. It’s like we collectively started saying “You wanna make games? Do jams.”

Instead of focusing on jams as sites for game creation to happen, he argues, we have to instead holistically support the people who are coming to these jams to make games.

That’s All She Wrote This Week, Everyone

Remember that every bit helps Critical Distance provide the goods, including submitting reading recommendations via our email submissions form or by mentioning us on Twitter. And please consider keeping us in perfumes and caviar by donating to our Patreon! (She’s lying about the furs and caviar. :{ –ed)

See you next Sunday!

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging, everyone!

Cult of Celebrity

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a massive moneymaker, and it’s provoked quite a bit of discussion. On The Daily Dot, Samantha Allen lauds the game and its central figure for flouting the highly gendered negativity being directed at it:

Kim Kardashian is surfing this wave of male tears all the way to the bank. In a world with limited opportunities for famous women as they age, Kardashian broke the Internet simply by lending her likeness to a single mobile game. And to read Kardashian as a vapid figure who does not deserve her fame is to fundamentally misunderstand the ways in which women exercise agency within the sexist constraints of celebrity culture.

At Paste, Gita Jackson goes one further by pointing to how the by-now familiar mechanics of the free-to-play genre reflect the game’s subject matter:

My avatar is whisked from engagement to engagement to engagement. Literally — as soon as I leave a cover shoot, I get a “call” from my “agent” with another offer with the implication that I should run over now. At these engagements, each action takes a bit of energy. When you run out, but try to continue, the game tells you that you are tired.

It does seem tiring. [...] For Mrs. Kardashian West, however, this isn’t a diversion. This is her reality. She doesn’t have a choice on whether or not she is scrutinized. She had a choice when her sex tape was released—be forever known as a woman who had a sex tape, or try and take control of that situation. She no longer gets to have “off the clock.”

Let’s Talk

This article by Dan Grilopoulos on Eurogamer delving into the origins of Minesweeper could have gone further into today’s competitive scene, but it is still an interesting piece on the ubiquitous software. In it, he interviews the original developers behind the game and Microsoft’s better-known plagiarism.

Back on Paste, Ansh Patel interviews Arvind Raja Yadav, game designer of the recently released Unrest, a game set in ancient India. (Full disclosure: I am a backer of this game.)

Meanwhile, at Sufficiently Human, Critical Distance contributor Lana Polansky and alumnus Zolani Stewart get into discussion over several recent topics, including Brendan Vance’s “On Form and Its Usurpers,” our flash-in-the-pan obsession with Mountain, and our problem with technological ahistoricity. Or as Lana puts it: “Be skeptical of the narrative of the new… the constant distraction of the immediate.”

A Matter of Interpretation

At Sinister Design, Craig Stern asserts there are, indeed, ‘wrong’ interpretations of games, or at least interpretations unsupported by the body of information within and surrounding that work:

If the creator of an artistic work leaves gaps in the work for the player to fill in, then yes, the creator will have to expect that players will fill in those gaps themselves–but this does not change our conclusion. The player’s interpretation must still be consistent with those elements for which the game does not leave gaps. Otherwise, the interpretation will be built upon false premises–which is to say, it will be wrong.

[...]

[T]he “no wrong interpretation” theory does not just promote interpretations from marginalized voices; it provides cover for unsupported interpretations from every perspective, including racist, homophobic, and misogynist perspectives. For instance: some have interpreted the inclusion of a gay character in Dragon Age Inquisition as a cynical bid on Bioware’s part to push “the gay agenda” [...] If it is not possible to provide a wrong interpretation, then that loathsome interpretation must also be “not wrong.”

In a direct response to Stern, Stephen Beirne contends that there is a middle path to walk between authorial intent and the critic, or player, as authority:

[W]hat we can do to reconcile these two forces of text and meaning is to produce with our criticism, not data or reference work, but folklore. Communally existing knowledge that is inseparable from consciousness on a social plane, as extelligence, inverse to intelligence, consciousness on an individual plane. Much like geist suggests the mindfulness of ideas, extelligence sees ideas and consciousness embodied in cultural artefacts. [...]

The value of this comes as I accept the existence of the social world and my place in it, and contribute to it my consciousness as given in the experiences and perspectives representative of a game’s narrative through me. I accept my fallibility and fragility as a condition of this. And in admitting myself as a participant in your world, rather than maintaining we each live in distinct bubbles, I accept responsibility for my message appropriate to my failings in the context of it as a socialized text and me as a socialized person, rather than appropriate to everybody’s individual imaginations.

Marginalization

On Polygon, Patrick Lindsey stresses the ways various (chiefly mainstream) games pathologize and stereotype mental illness, while also offering a few productive alternatives. (Content warning: ableism.)

This next link requires some background: last year, when the Entertainment Consumers Association named Gerard Williams, better known as HipHopGamer, as its new brand ambassador, the move was met with criticism as news outlets called attention to Williams’s past use of sexist and homophobic language. While these issues oughtn’t be downplayed, Williams’s new video brings to bear on the racially-inflected respectability politics which played into how his appointment was discussed in the media.

Back at Polygon, developer Brianna Wu presents four brief case studies of high-profile women in games journalism and development and the harassment they’ve experienced, as well as her own. (Content warning: sexist and racist slurs, descriptions of stalking, harassment rape and death threats.)

Wu’s article provoked several response pieces. First, Crystal writes that it’s stories like Wu’s that make her afraid of diving further into the industry. Second, at Gamasutra’s Member Blogs Elizabeth Sampat responds particularly to the way Wu’s article opens with a racial slur but subsequently elides the racial underpinnings of games industry inequality.

Lastly, this Tumblr post by ‘eponymous-rose’ cuts right to the heart of how we talk about gendered fandom, and it’s just short enough that I’ve elected to quote it here in full:

Like, let’s talk about how gaming fandoms often have an official forum that skews heavily male. Let’s talk about how that forum is almost universally an unfriendly locale for female contributors. And let’s talk about how that forum is often the only point of direct contact with devs, and how it shapes their perception of fan preferences and trends, and how that shapes their future work. Let’s talk about how the female-dominated online spaces are considered intrinsically easy to dismiss, the butt of a joke. “Man, tumblr overanalyzes everything and hahaha ships what’s with that anyway. Oh hey so this guy did a sweet 360 noscope montage to dubstep music let’s publicize that!!!”

Let’s talk about how folks in fandom were rewriting [Mass Effect 3] in a massive variety of creative and clever ways for over a year before that one dudebro did it, in horribly out-of-character quasi-prose, and was the subject of front-page Kotaku articles showcasing his devotion to the series.

Let’s talk about how female-dominated fannish spaces have been around for decades. Let’s talk about how “fans brought back Star Trek in the 70s!” always brings to mind stereotypical Trekkie dudes and not the women who were actually organizing and running conventions.

Let’s talk about how women are over 50% of moviegoers. Let’s talk about how women make up nearly 50% of gamers. Let’s talk about how, despite all this, the industry is still almost entirely guys making content for guys.

I’m just saying. Let’s fucking talk about this.

Building Blocks

In the latest Errant Signal, Chris Franklin contends that while Valiant Hearts is at times successful in striking a balance in gameplay and tone, it ultimately shows no confidence in the story it wants to tell:

[T]here’s this whiplash inducing indecision between “Let’s make this a moving, powerful game about a small number of characters” and “Let’s make this a super fun video game that people want to spend fifteen dollars on” and you never know which direction the next scene’s going to go.

[...] The game demonstrates that it’s perfectly capable of being maudlin without ever falling into mawkish or manipulative but also without attempting to overreach and deliver a story deeper or more complicated than its lush drawings and simple mechanics can tell. It knows how to be a quiet, somber eulogy those we lost during the Great War punctuated with warmth and humor to remind you why we should mourn and what we lost. It just, for whatever reason, doesn’t or can’t commit to that vision.

At Medium, Robin Sloan compares Minecraft‘s metagame with Star Wars‘ expanded universe, in which a core work which “calls forth” volumes of secret knowledge and spiraling fan creations. And at The Ludi Bin, Rachel Helps recently came across some articles on adding explicit educational skills to traditional board games and balked at the idea:

This kind of modification makes games less fun, because it introduces tasks that are irrelevant to game mechanics. How about using games that involve math facts or words directly, instead of inserting them into otherwise perfectly good games? We go to educational games to get away from the worksheets and flashcards. When a game uses math or reading relevantly, it helps motivate children to learn those skills.”

Helps then goes on to outline several ways that existing and upcoming board games can introduce explicit learning, integrated with the games’ mechanics.

Unseen Academicals

Wai Yen Tang of VG Researcher rounds up four recent studies on game genre preferences by gender.

Also, Critical Distance contributor Lindsey Joyce recently presented at the Videogame Cultures and The Future of Interactive Entertainment conference held at Mansfield College in Oxford, and provides an overview of the event for those who missed it.

Finally for this section, this 2010 article on Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly resurfaced recently on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, albeit with a busted link. I’ve elected to run it despite its age, first because of the subject matter, and second because its author, William Huber, is one of the savviest games scholars I know (though in the interests of full disclosure, I should add I’m also a former student of his).

Dollars and Sense

Using iD Software and the proliferation of the first-person shooter as a touching-off point, Higher Level Gamer’s Erik Bigras argues compellingly that the why, how, and who of information distribution has at least as much influence on game design trends as having a good idea:

In the case of video game design, the ethic of access that was present in the early years of shooter design [shareware and engine licensing practices] was able to be coopted by the discourses that promoted an increased militarization of society in general and leisure in particular. Because of this increased in militarization discourses and of the ethic of access, the shooter design strategy was able to spread out to many other game genres. Video games that can neatly be classified into a single genre are now very rare. The spread of the shooter design — through the ethic of access and the militarization of information technologies — enabled an hybridization of video games that is heavy slanted towards military themes, which allows military discourses to access the private spaces of American citizens.

In a similarly incisive vein, Leigh Harrison looks to how Game Dev Story, by itself not seemingly all that controversial, in fact replicates some of the cutthroat and anti-worker practices of its subject matter. She notes:

Now, I’m not saying that the indentured game developers featured in GDS are somehow more important than all the ostriches, golfers, firemen, alien meat-curers or even medieval brewers in all the other management sims ever created for all of the computers. It’s just that I’m more familiar with the caveats and weirdness of their tumultuous real life job market. It’s this added knowledge which makes the game quite difficult — morally speaking — to play in its intended way.

On that note, Simon Parkin has turned up in The New Statesman this week to discuss why framing independent game development in terms of financial success is a dead end:

If the incentive that we present to young people for making games is predominantly a financial one [as in Indie Game: The Movie], then we are all the poorer. Video games allow people to express themselves and present the ways in which they experience and interact with the world and its systems in a unique way to others. [...]

This focus on financial gain rather than artistic gain is, arguably, at risk of turning video games into a cultural backwater. The big business side of the industry is characterised by creative conservatism, sure-fire bets based on bankable precedents.

In the Palm of Your Hand

At Lookspring, Margaret Robertson looks back at 2007′s Coolest Girl in School, a game made by and for young women in an era when small titles such as this were only beginning to appear. She observes:

Contemplating 2007 from 2014 is a really good exercise in understanding how weirdly time moves for the games industry. Is 7 years a long time ago? Obviously not. Except it’s an eternity ago.

This near-yet-remote history of mobile games prior to Apple’s App Store is the subject of a new book by Dreamcast Worlds‘s Zoya Street. It’s currently seeking funding and could certainly use your help.

Ten Seconds to Air

Thank you for reading! Remember that you can send us your recommendations for This Week in Videogame Blogging by tweeting at us on the twitters or emailing us on the emails. Go on, say hi!

There is still some time (mere days!) to get in on the June-July Blogs of the Round Table.

And you know the score, folks — Critical Distance is kept running entirely through the generous support of readers like you. If you like what we do and are eager to see that print anthology I keep talking about, consider signing up for a small monthly donation! We really do depend on you.

I’m back from GaymerX and I have a whole trenchcoat full of new genders to pass out. Many thanks to our deputy curator Zach Alexander for covering the roundup in my absence.

Let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Mountain Phenomenology

We start out by following up on last week‘s lively Mountain discussion with this analysis from Ian Bogost, who finds the game exemplifies the concepts of alien phenomenology.

(My own mountain presently has a glittering meteorite, an enormous chair, an even larger analog clock, a bowling pin, and a bottle of rotgut embedded in it. Game of the year.)

Standard Models and Their Derivations

From Kill Screen’s Joshua Calixto we find a compelling look into the fighting game community which has emerged around Super Smash Bros Melee and Nintendo’s resistance to acknowledging these hardcore players:

For [game director Masahiro Sakurai], Melee was more than a sequel, more than a game even. It was his idée fixe, his impossible ambition to create something infinitely deep and comfortably shallow at the same time. Now Melee has become his Pinkerton: A revitalized cult masterpiece, a bolt of lightning caught in a bottle, and the one puzzle piece that could fix everything… if it didn’t already belong to another era.

At Paste, Ansh Patel contrasts Kentucky Route Zero‘s third-act music number to the operatic detour of Final Fantasy VI. And speaking of JRPGs, at Gamers with Jobs Alex Martinez shares a personal history concerning the cousin who inspired him, the name he would take, and the first game he experienced start-to-finish on his own: Earthbound.

While we’re looking back, Play the Past’s Angela R Cox asserts that by categorizing games as ‘retro’ (aesthetically or chronologically), we fundamentally change what they are:

That is, when we consider a text as a socially situated object, we find that as textual practices change around a material (or digital, in the case of code) object, the text itself changes as cultural perception and use of the text changes.

Empathy

At Game Bias, Jed Pressgrove blasts Always Sometimes Monsters for what he perceives as a sort of shallow pessimism.

And at PopMatters Moving Pixels, regular columnist Jorge Albor analyzes how The Wolf Among Us keeps its sympathies with the marginalized and victimized throughout its five-part arc.

New Cartographies

At Killing of a Goldfish, Jesse Mason has set out on an ambitious historical game criticism project oriented around Magic the Gathering, viewing its early expansion sets in the context of their release.

Meanwhile, at Medium, Zoya Street continues to do important scholarship translating from Japanese-language games criticism. Here, he draws upon Nobuki Yasuda’s framework for ‘omoshiroi’ (‘fun’ or ‘interesting’) and ‘tanoshii’ (‘enjoyable’) to ask what role, exactly, ‘fun’ (and semantics thereof) should play in discussions of games.

New Paths

If this article by Kirk McKeand at IGN on accommodating red-green colorblindness in game design reveals anything, it’s that far too many developers continue to stumble upon accessibility issues by accident. However, it should leave you optimistic that things are, gradually, getting better.

Likewise, on Media Diversified, Jordan Minor foresees a convergence of the afrofuturism aesthetic movement and a new wave of racially diverse games:

“Afrofuturism is the intersection between technology, black cultures, the imagination, and liberation with a heavy dose of mysticism,” says Ytasha L. Womack, author of Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. “It is expressed through an array of genres including music and literature. It can also serve as the basis for critical theory around culture and/or race. It is a lens to see alternate realities through a black cultural lens.” And it is particularly prevalent in literature like sci-fi/fantasy novels and comics books, gaming’s geeky cousins.

[...] Adopting the aesthetic could also give games a chance to be at the forefront of black narratives, an area they are currently lagging behind in to say the least.

Switching gears to talk about the more commercial end of current trends in games, at Eurogamer the one and only Simon Parkin looks into a particular legal wrinkle in the growing world of Youtuber advertorials, in which some publishers or developers pay video producers for coverage.

In all the discussion on Twitch and Youtube that’s been going around lately, not much attention has been directed toward women reviewers and streamers, of which there certainly are many. Here, Kim Correa interviews popular Twitch streamer Jasmine Hruschak.

And Then There Was Silence

I’m leery of deploying the phrase “mic drop” too casually, but if any article deserves it, it’s this one. No less than five of our readers sent in this same link this week, and once you get a few paragraphs in, it’s easy to see why.

At his home site, game developer Brendan Vance has released a 10,000-word tour-de-force on the intersections of games industry, industrialization, and spiritual wholeness. Summing it up could hardly do it justice, but here are some choice excerpts:

We have hereby come to prefer our ‘content’ the same way we prefer our pig feed: Smooth tasting, from an Ikea-branded trough. Think about how a 19th century philosopher like Hegel might regard the concept of ‘replay value’. Would he commiserate with us about how the mind/spirit of romanticism just doesn’t make for large enough murals? Or would we have to pull out a bunch of obscure 21st century English words just to explain to him what the hell we were talking about? It’s important to realize that ‘replay value’ is not some timeless virtue sought by all media for all of history. It is a political viewpoint wrapped in a sales pitch perpetuated by people trying to improve the market position of their mass-produced entertainment products. By appropriating the word ‘content’, which denotes what we want, our intrepid capitalist marketers have steered us away from the conceptual, spiritual and artistic content Hegel envisions. All we want now is more stuff for a lower price.

When we observe today’s class of small, broke, powerless game studios subsisting from tiny mobile project to tiny mobile project, we typically attribute their existence to an apathetic audience and/or soulless business executives. We neglect to notice how convenient our ‘neutral third parties’ might find it that these developers are incapable of renegotiating the royalties they pay or, say, founding a new ‘ecosystem’ of their own. Today we see Valve travelling in the same direction as Apple, and we wonder whether Gabe Newell can ‘fix’ the madhouse (sic). If you’re Gabe Newell the madhouse is not broken.

We who Twitter views as ‘content creators’ now live in a world where, paradoxically, the most anti-capitalist measure we could take is to charge money for things. I believe we need to do this whenever possible. Offering your work free as in gratis might seem noble and kind to those who want to see it, but remember that giving things away ‘for free’ via services like Steam, the App Store or Twitter costs both you and your users far more in the long term than $5 would cost them right now.

You Know the Drill

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, we value your submissions, so please keep sending them in by Twitter mention or via email!

Next item: There’s still a bit of time left to get involved in the current Blogs of the Round Table, if the topic catches your fancy.

A timely call for papers: Zoya Street’s tremendously invaluable Memory Insufficient zine is currently seeking submissions for its upcoming issue on labor and games history.

And hey, listen — Critical Distance is a public resource supported by readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us continue to signal-boost and connect the most interesting critical thinkers on games from across the web, consider pledging to our Patreon! Every contribution helps!

Hello, and welcome to another rock-solid episode of This Week in Video Game Blogging! I’m Zach, and not to make mountains out of molehills, but we have an Everest-sized pile of links this week.

Before we get into this week’s Big Topic, a few pieces might set the stage for productive conversation. Zoya Street dug through Nobuki Yasuda’s work to extract how players describe games in Japanese. Are games “fun”? Are they “interesting”? Mark Filipowich talks about engaging with a work and how that work communicates to an individual. Both of these topics are embedded in the discussion that follows.

First, There is a Mountain

A game called Mountain recently came out. Cameron Kunzleman discusses Mountain over at Paste, which is important for understanding the conversation that follows. Stephen Beirne took a couple of shots at the concept of “interactivity”. Raph Koster responded, the conversation flooded over to Twitter, and then Raph wrote another post addressing interactivity as well as Mountain.

Michael McMaster took the discussion around Mountain down a different path in an essay on Medium titled “On Formalism”:

“Games are expected ideally to be fun/digestible/gratifying, but if that’s not possible then they should at least be meaningful (i.e. if I can’t play it like a game, I should at least be able to read it like a book).”

Brendan Keogh used McMaster’s post to understand his own feelings on Mountain. Meanwhile, Austin C Howe gave a short but sweet two-part rebuttal to one of McMaster’s headier claims: On Mountain and On Text Vs Form.

Time and Time Again

On the less philosophical side of things, Alex D Jones compared the passage of time in Mountain to another game called Durations. Mattie Brice talks about the lens through which she has been critiquing text games based on their use of time and pacing. Extra Credits has a new episode talking about how games elapse at different paces to signal if they are “traditional” or “weird”.

Aevee Bee jumps over from time into “space”. She wrote a great primer on the fighting game tournament EVO 2014, looking at a few of the featured games and how they define the control of space. Over in the meat world, Joseph Leray writes about soccer and the act of diving to communicate injustice. Robert Yang talks about communication through code in a “post-mod culture”.

Shoulds and Shouldn’ts

Shawn Olson argues that imbalance in games shouldn’t be taboo. Ansh argues anti-climactic endings shouldn’t be taboo. Nick Dinacola agrees, but says we should probably leave complex moral anti-climaxes until the end of a game.

Leigh Alexander asks if “joy” in games is actually more adult than violence, contrasting games like Flower and Katamari Damacy against games like Mortal Kombat. If you want more on the faux-adulthood of violence, Liana Kerzner puts GTA V’s“satire” on blast, while Patricia Hernandez investigates a GTA V “bikerclub”. On the other hand, if you want some more joy in your life, Heidi Kemps’ journey to find the secret origins of a lost Sonic the Hedgehog level is an incredible read.

Foreign Correspondence

Joe Köller reports in from… uh, the Alps? Foreign correspondence covers the last month or so this time around.

A new issue of the local games bookazine WASD is out. There’s a substantial preview available to make your buying decision easier, and articles have already started appearing on other sites, such as this introduction to licensed firearms in shooters by Michael Schulze von Glasser, or an anonymous free-to-play insider getting even.

On that note, students from an online journalism program have been trying their hands at games criticism on the site, and the sum of their work is well worth a look.

Maria Kutscherow wrote about Beyond: Two Souls as an autobiography co-created between player and game. Robert Glashüttner talks Valiant Hearts, serious games, and simplified history. We mentioned Nina Kiel’s Gender in Games book before, but now some preview sections have finally made it to her homepage. Also, Helga Hansen reviewed the book for Herzteile.

Slightly old news at this point, but Valentina Hirsch has a response to the lack of female assassins in Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In more recent news, Robert Bannert recently wrote about the stereotypical depiction of men in games, concluding that cliches are simply an essential part of storytelling. Sanczny swiftly responds with an analysis of his arguments.

 

Structure of Games

Nick Lalone lays down some “Principles of Simulation”, going through what works and doesn’t work when creating a simulation. Luke Pullen talks about the world-simulation Civilization and what it’s structure entails, in particular calling out “the way that colonisation prevents rather than incites native uprisings”.  Simon Winters talks about how Earthbound’s unique Mu Training sequence and the structure it uses horrify and confuse the player. Sam Zucchi talks about horror in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. William Hughes talks about the function of repetition in games. William Hughes talks about the function of repetiti—sorry.

Katherine St Asaph gives a rundown of a New York Times article on Interactive Fiction (“There’s a distinct whiff of the trendpiece”). Merritt Kopas has more details about how great hypertext is.

Lindsey Joyce examines The Last Of Us by looking at the role of Ellie. S. Delling Dyre talks about how romance and sex are always intertwined in Bioware games. Miguel Penabella talks about how difficult it is to get proper preservation of video games.

Finally, Samantha Allen talks about the difficulty of teaching someone the intricacies of Mario Kart 8.

(Content Note: Discussion of Harassment)

On a personal note, Samantha has decided to exit the games writing space due to an interminable campaign of harassment. She isn’t the first woman to exit games writing for this reason, and won’t be the last: Laura Michet wrote this piece about her experience getting harassed out of writing. Samantha has always written excellent essays full of humor and insight, and I’m sorry to see her go.

At Critical Distance, we are extremely concerned with the elevation of voices not traditionally heard in the video games space. It’s hard to find people willing to speak out when dedicated campaigns of harassment are launched out of sites like Reddit and 4chan. These harassments are explicitly gendered and/or racist. They are horrifying and pervasive. They need to stop. We can’t keep losing great writers because Reddit and 4chan perceive them as a threat.

Then, There Is No Mountain

Well, we’ve reached the peak of this week’s roundup. I hope the view we’ve afforded you of this week’s writings in video games was worth the trek.

As always we greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or our email.

Have a safe trip down, and we’ll see you next week! – Zach A

 

In the not-too-distant future,
This Sunday, AD,
There was a dork named Kris
Not too different from you or me.

They worked at CritDistance Institute,
Just another curator in a red jumpsuit.
They did a good job updating the place,
But their bosses didn’t like them so they shot them into spaa-aaaace~

(Okay we’re not going to sing the whole thing but–)

It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging 3000!

Strangely British

America-to-UK transplant Leigh Alexander spends some time going to Rapture with The Chinese Room. Meanwhile, Feral Vector’s David Hayward takes us on a stroll through the countryside as he reflects on the one thing really holding back the games industry: the “industry” part.

Scottish national turned international sex icon Cara Ellison has released her latest embedded report, this time with Thirty Flights of Loving developer Brendon Chung and a side of Hyper Light Drifter‘s Teddy Diefenbach. (Be sure to check out her most recent S.EXE column on Rock, Paper, Shotgun as well.)

No Game’s Land

On the Three Moves Ahead podcast Rob Zacny and Troy Goodfellow hook up with Jon Schafer to discuss revisionist history — and to wonder why we don’t see more titles set during World War I.

One of the few games which does depict this war, Valiant Hearts, is under Andrew Dunn’s magnifying lens this week for its simultaneously cartoonish and raw depiction of history:

It’s torn between being a serious This Is How It Was telling of WW1, and a ludicrous steampunky romp which plays merry hell with the history it earnestly tries to impart when it’s not about fistfighting an evil German baron on top of two ruined tanks in the middle of the Somme’s No Man’s Land. To say the game is tonally inconsistent is an understatement. It’s full-out atonal, right from the main menu screen: a morose soldier and his dog standing in mud and ruins while the sad theme music plays, juxtaposed with a jaunty text strapline about how many collectibles the game has.

Binders Full of Women

Exhausted with recent arguments breaking out within and adjacent to game communities online, Leigh Alexander has some simple Dos and Don’ts for combating sexism in online spaces.

Speaking of not helping, Sara Clemens places her tongue firmly in cheek this week to praise all the men who write thinkpieces about what great allies they are by playing female avatars.

On Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon reacts with some pessimism to recent comments by Aisha Tyler about the state of women’s representation:

Aisha Tyler is right, female characters are everywhere in videogames. On every street corner, on every stripper pole, in every trash can, and in every situation where being scantily clad could be a possibility (or not). [...] [W]e have to consider is what a game “chock full of women” actually means and to determine when women in a game are actually a hindrance to the cause rather than a help.

Over at Kill Screen, Jess Joho has penned this analysis of games’ perpetuation of social taboos regarding menstruation, in particular BioShock: Infinite. While it’s a little cisnormative, the general points are good.

Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Over at The Escapist, Robert Rath has produced another satisfying fine-grained analysis, this time on the physics and technical hurdles that make water such a task in games.

At Eurogamer, Tom Bradwell engages with a woman commenter to discuss how that classic derail to defend marginalization in games — “it’s not historically accurate!” — is fallacious at best.

Bradwell’s article relates directly to recent discussions on Assassin’s Creed, so this History Respawned video with Bob Whitaker interviewing Jessica W. Luther concerning race and the slave trade as depicted in Liberation and Freedom Cry is a nice follow piece. While a bit unfocused, it’s a good history lesson.

Elsewhere, Seth Brodbeck mulls on board game Eminent Domain and observes that its science-fictionalized imperialism, while theoretically dodging the issue of discussing real history, “is not understandable absent the context of European colonialism, and the use of sci-fi euphemisms threatens to obscure what is really going on.”

Lastly, Person of Consequence has effectively compiled a (fairly exhaustive) Critical Compilation of Nier! If we could find their contact info, we’d love to republish this (hint).

Just Say To Yourself It’s Just a Roundup, I Should Really Just Relax

Thank you to all our readers who sent in submissions last week! Remember, you can send in your own recommendations (yes, including your own work) by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

Blogs of the Round Table is continuing its June-July theme of ‘VINPCs.’ It’s so rad.

And hey, just a reminder: Critical Distance is funded through our readership. So if you like what we do here and want to see us continue to exist and all that, consider pledging to our Patreon! That would be really cool of you.

What a week, eh? Let’s get straight to the links. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

A Look Back to Look Forward

We kick things off with Austin Walker and Cameron Kunzelman, who over at Paste have offered up a productive postmortem of IndiE3, the counter-E3 “unconference” which took place several weeks ago.

Also at Paste, Cara Ellison pens a letter to dear ol’ mum on the palatability of games among the mainstream — including what makes a game, and why Google’s Star Trek doodle may prove an excellent example of how to make games ready and accessible.

At Abnormal Mapping, Jackson Tyler takes a look back at the Uncharted franchise and decides that its hero Nathan Drake is caught between “a wide-eyed naivete and violent paternalism”:

The universe visibly contorts to ensure Drake’s triumphant survival, as he freefalls out of a plane (the plane is exploding, but in this series that is always implicit), before somehow catching a parachute in mid-air, and landing safely on the ground. Drake is permanently accompanied by a literal Deus Ex Machina, the grinding of its gears louder than all the bombast and destruction it choreographs, and yet the camera angles, the soundtrack and pacing are all and perfectly designed to help the player buy into the lie and ratchet up the false tension.

That’s because the fantasy of Uncharted is not to be able to catch the parachute, the fantasy is to fall and pretend for a moment that you were ever in danger at all.

At Midnight Resistance, Owen Grieve animatedly challenges the idea that public criticism of game design is tantamount to censorship of game developers. Meanwhile, on Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, TownCraft developer Leigh Harris suggests a small and easy way developers can fight against the male-as-default problem of game avatars.

You Keep Using That Word

The ever-delightful Brendan Keogh shares some excellent thoughts on the underrated Final Fantasy XII, even if he defines (my old archnemesis) “ludonarrative dissonance” incorrectly. Sorry, Brendan. But also, for shame, Brendan.

On the contrary, this week’s Errant Signal video (by Chris Franklin) expertly captures the real meaning of ludonarrative dissonance as it applies to Entwined: when a game’s “big picture” themes and ideology are at odds with its systems.

Interviews

The good folks at Idle Thumbs have released their newest podcast interviewing Netrunner co-designer Damon Stone.

At First Person Scholar, Meghan Blythe Adams interviews LIM and Space/Off developer Merritt Kopas:

I think there is a push among, I guess, critical consumers of games towards this politics of representation, of wanting images that reflect who we are and that’s important and that’s really valuable, but I think that the risk there is that we come to believe that if we just have perfect representation, everything will be fine and that’s the end goal. It reminds me of the ways that the politics of inclusion manifest in other spaces, so things like the acronym LGBTQ–whatever, it’s this idea that if we just get the right combination of letters, everyone will be included. And you can’t possibly, that’s a fantasy. And in ways, that’s one of the promises of or impetuses behind words like queer, it’s this word that in ways encompasses things but also leaves a lot of room. I think abstraction [in game design] does the same thing.

And the Machine is Bleeding to Death

This week saw, as Rowan Kaiser put it, “several simmering pots boiling over concurrently,”* as a number of frustrated freelance and part time game writers came forward regarding the state of their field.

The first inciting incidents came via industry veterans Jenn Frank and Rowan Kaiser, who have both joined the growing ranks of game critics/journalists with Patreon accounts (Critical Distance is itself largely supported by similar pledges).

At issue here is not that scores of writers are out of work or struggling, but that their unemployment is posed as a moral or professional failing. The fact is that if even considerably qualified writers like Kaiser and Frank are turning to crowdfunding solutions like Patreon, any supposed meritocratic system is busted.

Paste associate editor and fellow industry veteran Maddy Myers puts it quite well in a personal blog post, in which she calls out, though not by name, the hurdles and invisible inequalities that make the ‘game’ of game journalism often not worth playing:

I began to realize, in that moment, that maybe I am just bad at this. And by “bad at this” I don’t even mean pitching, or writing, or editing, because I think I am good at those. [...] But I’m bad at “playing the game,” and “hustling,” and writing the “right” stories (a.k.a. don’t rock the boat with all the “gender issues”???) for the “right” publications (you know the ones) until I get my prize of a Staff Writer Position, which I may or may not ever get, no matter how hard I work.

If you’re lost at this juncture, Mary Hamilton sums up the aired-grievances-thus-far.

On the other side of the fence, Kotaku UK editor-in-chief Keza MacDonald turns to Gamasutra’s Member Blogs to reflect on how the landscape of writing about games has changed dramatically within the last couple decades — and even in the last seven years.

Seasoned columnist and scholar Samantha Allen, meanwhile, laments the emotional and psychological toll being placed on the provocative writers who don’t “make it” yet are expected to keep agitating for change. And fellow scholar Daniel Joseph contends that perhaps for this kind of writing to survive, it may need to divorce itself from capitalism:

Maybe the problem is that if games “journalism” wants to become Criticism or Journalism it needs to detach itself from the corporate publishers entirely, which structure and regulate its existence in relation to advertising revenue. If journalism is about truth and democracy and the fundamental importance of the Speech Act it can’t hitch itself to a horse like [web publishers] Vox or Gawker.

Moreover, as Maddy Myers also highlighted this week, written journalism and criticism is a dying medium, something she suggests is no better exemplified than through Youtube celebrity PewDiePie.

*For the sake of transparency I should acknowledge that I, too, was one of those pots who boiled over. I haven’t included those writings here for the sake of avoiding self-promotion. Besides, my points are well-covered by the others here.

Incidentally, if you want to help fund these or other writers, Critical Distance’s own Mattie Brice has compiled a page of many of them.

+1 Signal Boost

On Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Porpentine’s column of curated free indie games has come to an end, so it’s quite worth it to page through the archives for its many gems.

This site turned up in our inbox this week and may be worth a watch.

Soha Kareem and several others have started up a tumblr advocating for intersectionality at conference panels.

And last but certainly not least, the newest issue of Zoya Street’s Memory Insufficient zine is now live, covering the topic of gender and sexuality. Great stuff!

Usual Footer Business

Thanks again for reading! We love getting your submissions, so please keep sending in your links by dropping us a line over email or mentioning us on Twitter.

Blogs of the Round Table is continuing its June-July theme of ‘VINPCs.’ Go have a look!

And hey, just a reminder: like I said up above, Critical Distance is funded through our readership. So if you like what we do here and want to see us continue to exist and all that, consider pledging to our Patreon! That would be really cool of you.

Hello. Hi. Oh geez, it’s late. I’m late. It’s like I haven’t been here for, what, a month? Oh geez. Oh dear.

Gosh, don’t even listen to me, let’s just get to this so I can get to bed and you can tuck into some nice reading material. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

All that Fantasy Jazz

At Game Crit Chats, Kaitlin Tremblay and Javy Gwaltney hold a conversation on the unexpected staying power of Fire Emblem Awakening, and in particular, their fondness for its seemingly endless rabbit holes of character dynamics.

At The Appendix, Alex Golub traces how the word ‘mana’ went from a word with a specific meaning in many Polynesian languages to be adopted as the default term for magical energy in fantasy games and novels.

Lastly, on her own site Infinite Lives, Jenn Frank has been playing Tomodachi Life and finds herself reflecting not just on the imperfect simulation it offers, about recollections in general, and people, and family.

Liberty, Equality, Unity

In his regular column at The Escapist, Robert Rath takes a look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity and tracks why, for multiple reasons, relegating women to NPCs in a game set during the French Revolution betrays the spirit of its time period, where women frequently formed the front ranks of political upheaval:

I find it particularly inappropriate in the French Revolutionary period, when women made a concerted effort for representation only to be marginalized and even killed by the government they’d helped bring to power. Though I’m certain Unity‘s campaign will shed some light on these issues, I worry Ubisoft will tell the story without hearing the lesson. Simply put, we should be able to play as a woman in Assassin’s Creed: Unity because playing as a woman is in itself a revolutionary act.

At Go Make Me A Sandwich, meanwhile, wundergeek has doodled an entertaining series of illustrations for why developing playable women in games is so difficult. My favorite is definitely: “Female pixels can only be harvested from special flowers that grow on the moon.”

Not too long ago, Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Games series tackled the narrative device of “fridging,” whereby important figures in a character’s life (usually women) are killed off to catalyze the character’s development. At Ontological Geek, Bill Coberly grabs hold of the concept and takes a particular look at fridging in the context of Baldur’s Gate 2, where it treats the death of two characters, one man and one woman, very differently.

Speaking of Anita Sarkeesian, the first in the next leg of her games-oriented Feminist Frequency videos, “Women as Background Decoration” has gone live. In it, she particularly challenges the repeated portrayal of women as sex workers to be used and discarded. (Content warning: apart from the scenes of sexual violence Sarkeesian warns for, I should note that some of the video’s language regarding sex work is poorly chosen and ends up, consciously or not, communicating the idea that sex work is inherently demeaning or lacks agency. Hopefully the second part of this arc will address this criticism.)

At Game Design Reviews, Krystian Majewski also responds to the video. While not rejecting Sarkeesian’s criticisms of sexism, he takes exception to her assertion that depictions of violence against sex workers in games are “worse” than in other media because of interactivity:

If the argument was true, the opposite should also be true. Games ought to teach more effectively. Games ought to makes us more virtuous by portraying morally positive themes. Games ought to convey stories in an even more griping way. Games ought to make art even artier.

However, this argument never seems to be made. Even in the Games for Change movement, the understanding is that games need to be specifically designed for tease out the positive effects. Meanwhile the negative influence seem to be always there whether intended or not.

To end this section on a warmer note, in The New Yorker we find Simon Parkin recounting what is, to the best of my understanding, the most complete telling to date of the origin of same-sex relationships in The Sims.

Big Fish

In this widely circulated video, Ian Danskin advances the argument that the highly visible negativity directed at Fez developer Phil Fish stems largely from a system of internet celebrity, in which Fish’s public statements are only part of the equation.

Problem Attic developer Liz Ryerson directly responds to Danskin’s video as being too charitable toward the primary actors involved, instead asserting that there is a pervasive background noise of masculine entitlement which undergirds the behavior of love-to-hate-them indies like Fish or Jonathan Blow — and it is part and parcel with the increased commercialization of the indie scene:

[Danskin's video], in its inert, smug navel-gazing, merely reflects back the entitlement of the indie world. in the end it offers no particularly controversial or new insights about celebrity culture, but creates a sense of being a relevant and no-holds-barred commentary to those who are intimately aware of the subject matter. it attempts to exonerate Phil Fish to a lot of the young white dudes who are involved in the indie game community and probably want to identify with Fish. [...] but this sudden well of empathy seems to dry up once it’s applied to an outsider like [Anita] Sarkeesian.

In a similar vein though leading to a much different artery, at Eurogamer Richard Cobbett characterizes the recent outcries regarding Mojang’s attempts to regulate player servers as conflicting with the personable public image of its founder:

We routinely call Markus Persson “Notch” and for that and other reasons, he can’t help but feel ‘one of us’ in a way that no other developer right now can claim – the guy who initially faced Bethesda’s guns over the name “Scrolls” by suggesting the two companies fight it out in Quake 3, dropped plans to work with the Oculus Rift due to fears of what Facebook might to do it [...] The same Notch talking about EULAs and lawyers doesn’t fit that playful narrative. It’s like being threatened with a restraining order by your teddy bear.

The End is Extremely Effin’ Nigh

The somewhat-anonymous Greg has updated his tumblr praising the tone of Stoic’s The Banner Saga, which he perceives as ignoring the tendency for games to create right and “fair” systems and instead present players with a world in which they will ultimately die. The wonder of the game, as he describes it, is in pressing on despite this.

On a similar bent, on Normally Rascal Stephen Beirne takes to the Dark Souls series again, this time borrowing from German philosopher Nietzsche to describe the game’s “optimistic” existentialism:

[D]eath is ubiquitous but it is also deflated as a barrier and as an existential burden. It is no longer the final hurdle of one’s life, now it is merely a condition of one’s continuing living that you may accept. I have to admit, putting it like that doesn’t make it sound so different to death in real life, except for the point that ‘one’s continued living’ in reality remains a point of mystery for those bewildered with existential dread. So I stress: in Dark Souls, death is simply another thing you can do. While all else in Lordran is ruined by decay, you have transcended death as a barrier to worldly life.

It’s Systems All the Way Down

Taking off from the spiritual themes hinted at by Beirne, we transition to Albert Hwang’s most recent piece for Ontological Geek. You need to offer something very compelling about BioShock Infinite to get into C-D’s pages these days, but this analysis of the game’s baptism imagery from a rigorous theological perspective does the trick. (It should go without saying, but heavy spoilers abound.)

Meanwhile, as Hwang engages with baptism-as-system in BSI’s narrative, PopMatters’ Nick Dinicola criticizes Watch_Dogs‘s failure to actually incorporate hacking as a real system engaged by its protagonist.

Wizards and Glass

At Eurogamer, our own Alan Williamson pays tribute to the original Unreal.

Edge has continued to produce some great retrospectives of late, and this week they have a charming feature via Daniel Robson on Keita Takahashi, an artist who came from outside of the game scene and, through Namco, produced one of its most idiosyncratic titles, Katamari Damacy.

Edge has also continued to post excerpts from Simon Parkin’s An Illustrated History of 151 Videogames, and we just couldn’t pass up this chapter where he traces the history of the Sega Saturn.

On the subject of books, SPACE/OFF co-developer Anna Anthropy is publishing the complete text of interviews which thread through her most recent book, ZZT, about Tim Sweeny’s eponymous MS-DOS title. Here is the first of those interviews, with designer Alexis Janson.

Oh, and you know who else have a book? Kaitlin Tremblay and Alan Williamson have a book. You can get it.

You know who doesn’t yet have a book, but wrote about E3 as being a series of ghost cheese sandwiches? That’s right, Cara Ellison.

And The Rest, They Say, is…

Thanks for reading! Remember that we are only half the site we could be without your submissions, so please keep sending us your recommendations by mentioning us on Twitter or dropping us a line over email.

And hey, we know this sort of self-promotion gets tiresome, but we really do depend on your help to keep Critical Distance chugging along. So if you like these roundups and our other content like podcasts and BoRT please consider becoming a Patron!