Greetings, Your Worship. I am Zachary J Alexander the First, and it is my humble pleasure to welcome you to the pages of This Week In Videogame Blogging in the Common Era Year of Twenty-Fifteen, on the Twenty-Fourth Day of January. I have scoured yon frontier for the most worthy Items, and present them unto you in recognition of our friendship. This shall be our most formal Roundup yet.

The Artist Formally Known As

Frank Lantz went back to the well on formalism. His argument is that mechanics can and should be formally discussed without painting people who do so as a conservative gatekeeper. Heather Alexandra responded with the argument that it’s not so easy to separate mechanics from anything else without implicit value judgements. Our own Cameron Kunzelman smoothed things over with a cake metaphor, and Frank Lantz shows up in the comments to elaborate. Oscar Strik shot back with a side of salad simile. Daniel Joseph then drew on some past arguments to add context to the whole formalism debate.

Now that this debate has been settled, no one will need to discuss formalism ever again! Let’s move on to a new topic, like are game screenshots art?

While we’re on the topic of weighty academic matters, Games Criticism dot org has a new collection of essays up from all sorts of people! On the other end of the spectrum, Abnormal Mapping collects a few small games and writes them up. Xanadu Engine is a tumblr dedicated entirely to Kentucky Route Zero. Elizabeth Simins has a Tumblr categorizing games by whether they can have queer relationships or not.

Stephen Beirne wants to walk all over “walking simulators” as a term for a certain genre of games, and go with “phantom rides”. Personally, I’d prefer “ghost riding”, but that might mean something else.

Actually, It’s About Historical Accuracy in Games

History Respawned hosts history professor David Andress to talk about the French Revolution and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In the pages of The Escapist, Robert Rath addresses concerns that a game with dragons, demons, and elves is unrealistic in depicting a woman holding a sword.

Mary Lee Sauder goes into art history, and derives the term “gamerliness” based off the term “painterliness”:

If you’ve ever studied art, you may have heard of the term “painterliness” used to describe works of art that derive meaning from drawing attention to the fact that they are just paint on a canvas or clay molded by human hands. “Painterly” art doesn’t try to look realistic – instead, it uses its unique aspects as a constructed object to its advantage.

In more-recent history, Shmuplations has a backlog of older Japanese interviews with developers of classic games. They just launched a Patreon to help sponsor translating and preserving these old documents. Here’s a 2001 interview with the director of Rez. Over at Kill Screen, David Wolinsky digs into Grim Fandango’s Mexican folklore roots.

Rated M for Immature Content

(Content Warning for this whole section: Discusses rape, abortion, and that Hatred game)

Aoife Wilson says Hatred’s recent AO rating is useful publicity. G. Christopher Williams wonders how the South Park game got away with an M rating. Both of these incidents support Carolyn Petit’s arguments that games can deal with serious real-world problems, but probably shouldn’t:

They just participate in the longstanding video game tradition of victimizing women to easily generate an emotional response or to lend texture to their worlds and try to convince us that we are playing mature and serious games.

Fixing What’s Broke

Shonte Daniels discusses race in games through the lens of Spawn On Me’s #BlackLivesMatter gaming marathon. Adrienne Shaw discusses the outcomes of her research on representation in games, and addresses common criticisms of advocating for representation. The Guardian’s Kate Gray wants a little less representation for “boob physics”, or at least equal representation for ridiculous physics for male genitalia. Bikini Armor Battle Damage has come up with a handy chart showing how skewed armor for women characters in games can be, but Ayla Arthur has an essay on Medium with some suggestions for designing women characters in games without relying on tiny waists and power armor. Gaming as Women flips the conversation with three words that can change your tabletop game: “Is he hot”?

Before long, I was thinking of every male NPC in terms of their attractiveness. This may not seem like much, but it completely changed the way I viewed the men in the game. Jarl Wyrmval isn’t only a scheming political rival, but he was also dangerously handsome. Runthorn isn’t only self-important, he’s also attractive enough to charm people into believing in his delusions of grandeur. Nadric isn’t just bookish and awkward, he’s also ugly enough that the servants gave him the byname Gul. Rukkokainen isn’t just a skilled veteran and keen advisor, he’s the most eligible Tauthra bachelor in the province.

It occurs to me that this has never been true of any game I have played in. Even when I’ve played in games run by people who are sexually attracted to men, men are not described in terms of sex appeal.

And if you’re looking to up your own, personal representation, Gita Jackson has you covered with a Bayonetta Style Guide up on Paste.

Finally, to end on a light note: At PC Gamer, Richard Corbett distinguishes between what games call “quests”, and what games should just call “**** to do”.

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GamerGate: Picking up the Pieces

It’s 2015 and GamerGate is still in the conversation, so let’s start this week off with Ian Miles Cheong’s interview with developer Caelyn Sandel discussing the nefarious hate campaign that is totally not a hate campaign (it is). Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu appear on Nightline to discuss sexist tropes in games and the impact GamerGate had on their lives. Damion Schubert, however, reminds us that GamerGate is far from over as it leaves a wake of orphans in its path.

Reference This

Our own Mark Filipowich likes Brendan Keogh’s book Killing is Harmless more than Spec-Ops: The Line, even though it’s totally Coppola’s seminal film Apocalypse Now and by extension Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness novel.

Wait, that’s it for this section? OK, moving on!

Identity Report

Jessica Conditt offers a multi-faceted look at the representation of black gamers, from the troubling lack of prominent black voices…

“The games industry is hurting badly as a creative medium in terms of diverse voices,” Treachery in Beatdown City developer Shawn Alexander Allen told me. “We don’t see many prominent black or Latino (or really any other minority populace) representation in protagonists, critics, marketing or creators. I mention prominent because while many other cultural forms like music, movies and writing have a dearth of black voices, they at least have people who are out there making their culture better at all levels and are very visible.”

…to the disheartening lack of positive black characters in games:

These virtual worlds tend to reflect the white male majority found in their development and audience, meaning representation of black characters in games is also anemic. A 2002 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of human characters depicted in games were white, and 22 percent were black – but 87 percent of all human heroes in games were white. The seven top-selling games specifically designed for children starred only white human characters, the report read. A separate study from University of Southern California Professor Dmitri Williams in 2011 studied 150 games across all platforms and ratings, and found that 10.7 percent of characters were black, though they were mainly athletes and gangsters.

Over at IGN, Jesse Matheson discusses a project in an isolated mining town in Western Australia providing indigenous youth a digital space to preserve their cultural identity.

Gil_Almogi of Game Revolution looks at the dating sim Coming Out on Top:

The player character cannot be changed, so very much like the majority of video games, you can only play as a conventionally attractive, white, cisgender man. Although this was as advertised, it leads to an awkward moment when the player utters, “I’m not racist, but…” Thankfully, this doesn’t segue into terse conversation with either of the men of color in the game, but I couldn’t help but feel this could just not have been a thing. Later, when Jed is thrown a racist remark and physically threatened by a random person, it drives home the idea of the privileges white, gay men experience that their brethren of color do not benefit from.

Robert Yang’s Succulent makes for a particularly tasty social commentary for Jess Joho to deconstruct gay male culture:

But by the end of Succulent, sex is the last thing on the player’s mind. Finishing the game with a final blow to the Queer as Folk, consumer-driven lifestyle he sees as so prevalent in the media representations of homosexuality, Robert explains that “after consuming the carrot/popsicle/corn dog and hypnotizing you, [the character] has nothing left to feed upon, so he reveals his demonic nature and proceeds to consume you.”

Finally, Alisha Karabinus wonders where we might be if Mass Effect‘s Commander Shepard had been exclusively a woman:

That’s not a choice. That’s not equal presentation. It never has been, and as best as I can tell, was never meant to be, because the industry is geared, in every way, toward male players of a very particular type.

Form and Politics

Stephen Beirne expresses his thoughts on ludo-fundamentalism and ludocentricism, offering insight on how we use language to mean, but also how the application of concepts can become a prescriptive de-valuing of aesthetic experience in digital spaces:

It can be done by associating general concepts like ‘form’ or ‘interactivity’ to only mean specifically ludic form or mechanical interactivity as a matter of fact, for example, which erases all other aspects of form and interactivity from the equation. When self-identified formalists say they focus on form to mean they focus on ludology, this is the removal of non-ludic parts from the scope of what could constitute a game’s form, illustrating ludo-fundamentalism.

Brendan Keogh stepped out to toss the ol’ formalism ball around, calling out himself and other “humanities based videogame critics” for a lack of interest in form:

I want more critics accounting for videogame form. Art critics can talk about a type of paint used and film critics can talk about camera work and lighting and actors and scripts, and we definitely struggle with that as videogame critics. More account for videogames as things that are touched and played with and not just worlds that are magically entered is what we need. That means we need a more coherent language to talk about form.

Elsewhere, Jake Muncy plays Metro 2033 and discusses the poetics of urban agoraphobia:

Subways are naturally orderly spaces, each corridor and tunnel built with a purpose, moving people and property in a mechanical, logical way. Transfigured here into the home of a new human society, they are a hope for order, a place where control can be measured along the length of the train tracks.

And Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander attributes 80 Days‘ success to an avoidance of preconceived notions surrounding text games. Still, even the developers felt the pressure of an ever-present exclusionary mechanic-centric discourse:

Money and luggage made a natural inventory system, and the relationship stat suits the interaction between Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. Time, of course, is the most crucial resource in a story about rushing to circumnavigate the globe in record time. “In general when you’re looking to make a narrative game, as a developer you’re often looking for excuses to shove a bit of ‘gameplay’ in….a few quicktime events maybe, to give you the sense there’s a skill element involved. 80 Days just gave us this gameplay element for free, and that was handy.”

An Inquisition into Meaning

Our winner of 2014’s Blogger of the Year, Austin Walker, writes about choice and meaning in Dragon Age: Inquisition, while Todd Harper pens a weepy confession to the narrative beats induced by flirting in Dragon Age: Inquisition:

I think most of us understand how painful unrequited love can be. If you grew up queer (as I did), there’s an additional layer to that experience: being in love with someone who you know not just doesn’t return your affections but, really, can’t. In many cases, these feelings are for the people in our young queer lives that are our support network. As a wee gay in the mid-90s, my close allies were very, very few and I was assuredly in love with at least one of them. It’s a feeling you learn to bury, or at the very least, to try and transform into a different kind of closeness, so that you don’t lose something very important in the process. If you’re lucky, you can deal with it all on your own.

Jorge Albor doesn’t cry (in this case –ed), but he does wonder about the ontology of meaning created through mechanics centered around choice:

Maybe it would help to explore how some choices mean differently than others. Take for example, my friend’s statement that your choices don’t matter in The Walking Dead? When, exactly, does “mattering” take place? Is meaning created in the moments leading up the decision? In the decision itself? Or in the repercussions of that decision? When is the deadline for a choice to matter that, when passed, signifies an earlier decision’s futility?

Over at Tumblr, Heather Alexandra gives some thought to “The Meaning of Meaning” while also making us curious about a multi-verse reality branched off from a really fucking hungry Isaac Newton:

But this comes with a very clear and obvious issue: meaning is not a formal quality or status that is achieved. It is not some apple on a tree that we can just pluck down and eat if we reach a little higher. It is a happy coincidence of circumstances, a by product of interactions which then must be filtered through the lens of the individual. It is not the act of plucking the apple; it is the observation of the apple falling. Newton allegedly saw an apple fall and found a window to the cosmos but if he had been really fuckin’ hungry that day, all he might have seen was a snack.

Lost to Time 

Over at Gamasutra Lena LeRay’s reality gets shattered by the historical perspective of Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s lore:

In one swell foop [sic], BioWare has changed everything. So often in fantasy stories, The Legends turn out to be True, but they have just knocked the bowling pins of legend over with a bowling ball made of reality and revealed that the pins were all just a facade the whole time. But it’s not a retcon. Everything points, now, to all the myths and legends in the lore being based on a series of actual historical events seen from different perspectives, but with details lost and twisted over the centuries. Some of the things in The Legends may very well be True… but not all of them.

Simon Parkin reveals how lackluster curating efforts is a death sentence to contextual experience:

Still, their social, political, and cultural context remains hidden. Few contemporary explorers of the archive will recognize, for instance, that Wanted: Monty Mole is a riff on the U.K. coal miners’ strike of 1984 — you play a courageous mole who breaks the picket lines in defiance of his union leader, a character modelled on the real-world National Union of Mineworkers president, Arthur Scargill. Nor are today’s gamers likely to sense the Cold War paranoia that suffuses Atari’s Missile Command, which reputedly caused its designer, David Theurer, to wake at night in panic sweats.

Reality is Artificial, Survival is Insufficient 

G. Christopher Williams talks Jazzpunk and its achievement of comedy through reference, abstraction and interactivity:

Jazzpunk feels different than Schafer’s games. It isn’t a game that solely tells jokes in cutscenes and through dialogue. It more often involves the player in the jokes and depends on the player to complete actions necessary to complete those jokes. It is a comedy that hinges on the fact that games are more interactive than other media. The comedy becomes a collaborative act between the game and its player.

Meanwhile, in Kill Screen, Chris Priestman discusses how The Stage removes the player from center stage in favor of the artists:

To Jack, this is what the stage is all about. It’s the symbolic opposite to the multi-million dollar videogame industry. The stage is raw, mistakes can happen, will happen, and are part of the show. This is why, as he told me, The Stage is ‘not a project about finished products but more about process’…Importantly, the distinction that The Stage makes from other types of game performance is that the centerpiece is not the player, but is instead each artist that shaped it. Crucially, the player only interacts with The Stage to incite the show, they do not control what happens. This is best demonstrated when an episode starts, plays a song and some repeated animation, and then ends abruptly, with the player only having moved around the stage wondering if there’s anything more they can do—there isn’t. They are not calling (or firing) the shots here.

And Hannah Peet of Videodame, in a review of Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames, reflects on a better reality where games are the “cornerstone of media conversations and artistic reflection.”

Perhaps it is time to insert these small, movement-less scenes of reflection into the player’s instinctual gaming mannerisms. I can feel these reverent pauses in many games, but the player must be willing to listen for them in order for them to happen. Similarly, non-players should be willing to find this metaphor by spectating the fiction, actions, and environment. The player or spectator should appreciate such a positive moment of reformation for cultural beliefs and values. Games often don’t force players to pause in-game as games are inherently a lean forward activity. Reflection on player choices should happen periodically while working through a game, but it’s also time to implement reverence outside of the video game itself and into the conversations we have about the medium, its participants, and the symbols involved.

Douglass F. Warrick provides an account of forfeiting his autonomy to fall in love with a sex ninja in Apocalypse World:

By actively affording control over character creation to the other players, Apocalypse World encourages players to explore levels of experience outside of their usual frame of reference and to approach the narrative from a position of collaborative improvisation.

If you’re still wanting more, ask Emily Short about games of co-authorship, she’s got what you need.

Whew, we’re almost there! Now let’s wind down with a touching poem from Dalton Day exemplifying experiential interplay. And while you’re at Cartridge Lit, check out this preview of their forthcoming Chapbook, “An Object You Cannot Lose” by Sam Martone.

It’s Been Real: The Existential Crisis

Now that you’ve had your weekly dose of reality-reaffirming criticism, we won’t be mad if you take a break from reading and sharing our findings to read and share with us via Twitter mention or email.

There is still some time to participate in January’s Blogs of the Round Table topic, Player’s Choice.

And remember, we’re funded entirely by our readers so please consider signing up for a monthly donation to our Patreon.

Until next time!

Since Eric’s monumental send-off to 2014 we’ve been taking it easy for a few weeks. You guys, on the other hand, have been set an excellent tone for 2015. So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Such Mechanic. Very Game.

A veritable games-crit supergroup came together on Twitter to discuss ludo-centrism, or the domination of play in critical discourse. Special thanks to Landon S for capturing the chaos in a storify.

Lulu Blue on her blog, erogamzo, elaborates on the interplay between play and context as the most crucial point of focus:

Much like a face drawn from lines, game systems carry assumptions made by their creators. If a man sets out to draw a woman and he idealizes a certain beauty standard, he’s likely to draw women which conform to this beauty standard. If the same man sets out to make an rpg, he’s likely to fabricate a world which systematically expresses these ideas about women as well.

As a part of her argument, Blue explains just how the relationships between systems and context inevitably push ideology to the surface.

Daniel Parker speaks the devil’s name into the mirror three times in a related discussion and offers his own take, suggesting that compromising narrative to offer an illusion of play cheapens a game:

Games that employ post-cutscene design ideology tend to be marketed as ‘immersive experiences’ with ‘living, breathing worlds.’ Bioshock Infinite is not a living, breathing world; it is a flashy museum with freaky animatronics.

The Buyer Knows Best

Media philosopher Ian Bogost ended 2014 skeptical of Eric Zimmerman’s “ludic century,” suggesting that instead of dominating our culture, maybe games should just be a small part of our ever complicating lives:

We don’t have to scorn games (or comics, or YA fiction) to feel a little embarrassed at the prospect of a century with them at the center of the media ecosystem. And on the flip side, we don’t have to discard games (or comics, or YA fiction) to scratch our heads at the wisdom of feeling satisfied by them.

At Kill Screen, Ray Graham explores depictions of torture in light of exposed CIA documents and wonders how culpable games are in the widely held (but misinformed) belief that torture is an effective method of gathering information.

At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky writes that game design is too wrapped up in the fantasy of wealth accumulation to actually communicate anything meaningful. According to Polansky, the time may be to look outside of big-budget commercial games for a meaningful conversation.

Through a Glass, Darkly

Over at Salon, Arthur Chu interviews Tanya DePass, creator of the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag, about gaming’s insulation, representation and diversity:

[O]n the one hand it is kind of trivial to focus on video games right now, but the other side of it is — if I want to escape from the real world, I don’t want to escape to a world where no one looks like me, because that tells me that I don’t matter. Because even in a pixel world, I don’t get to exist.

Recent events may have undercut the positivity that has come out of DePass’s work but it’s important to acknowledge efforts like hers.

Elsewhere, Steve Lubitz of Multiball discusses how Wolfenstein: The New Order portrays its Jewish characters with surprising grace:

My issue is that when games attempt to include Jewish characters they often do it so poorly that I end up wishing they hadn’t tried in the first place. Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the first (possibly the only) game I’ve played that took the time to include a Jewish character and elements of Judiasm as a whole without devolving into lazy, offensive stereotypes, and that’s something that I truly appreciate.

Upon Closer Inspection

Maggie Greene takes to her blog to compare Tales of Xillia to Chinese literary traditions. Specifically, she looks at multiple endings and the effort to capture both tragic compromise and fairy tale and fan-fiction happiness ever-after.

Isaac Yuen revisits Mother 3 at Ekostories and discusses what the mixed aesthetic means for the game:

What I love about MOTHER 3 is that the entire package exists as a contradiction. [Creator Shigesato] Itoi’s insistence to use the videogame medium to tell a story that is structured like a play… The insertion of surreal and bizarre humour into serious moments. The fearless reliance of musical motifs or wordless silence to carry the emotional weight of pivotal scenes. The choice of child-like visuals to convey a narrative steeped in adult matters of grief, loss, and the inevitability of change.

At Words That Won’t Sell, Ed Smith offers a psychodynamic analysis of Lone Survivor in which he unpacks symbols of guilt, sex and parenthood through the game. Smith then pops over to Shut Up Videogames to tackle the juvenile nihilism of Desert Golfing (content warning: discussions of depression and suicide).

At Red Thumbs, The Lenin of Love takes the time to observe the subtle humanity in the mundane citizenry of the Metro series. As the author explains, Metro rewards the player only when they stop and note the people around them, “we are offered salvation through the simple act of caring.”

Damned if You Do

Our resident potato cryogenist, Zach Alexander, gives a brief but meaty analysis of the doomed kingdom in Unrest. Under the game’s circumstances, Alexander pities the game’s antagonist:

He tried lenience, he tried cruelty, but in the end there was no decision that could stave off the collapse of the city. Unlike many villain’s speeches, this holds up on a replay of the game.

From her own blog of the same name, Melody Meows unpacks systems of poverty in Three-Fourths Home:

The Meyers started off as a humble family, that much is clear. But it seems that they tried to participate in an archetypical narrative which promised them that the future generation, i.e. Kelly and her younger brother Ben, would move up in society, and that attempt is the root cause of all their present problems.

As she explains, the barrier of entry prohibits many gamers from truly understanding poverty, but Three-Fourths Home nonetheless illustrates how the myth of meritocracy traps working class families like the game’s Meyers family more than it helps them.

Forever Fantasy

We have four different authors dissecting four different entries in the Final Fantasy series.

Stephen Beirne starts with a continuation of his look at cinematic framing in Final Fantasy VII.

Nate Ewert-Krocker revisits Final Fantasy Tactics as the story of the central character learning and acting against his societal privilege.

Ashe Samuels turns an intersectional feminist eye to an old favourite, Final Fantasy IX to document its success and the failures.

And Dara Khan explores the relaxing and unique soundtrack of Final Fantasy X.

Inquisit This

Paste, certainly among the finest games crit locales, features an excellent essay by Janine Hawkins on the hauntingly empty hissing wastes in Dragon Age: Inquisition. As Hawkins describes it:

There is something everywhere in a game. There has to be, because someone somewhere spent hours building the form and rules to sustain five seconds of “nothing”. In reality, the Hissing Wastes are full of things to stumble upon, but there is no flag to plant by a statue half-lost to the creeping sands. There’s no quest marker for watching the silhouette of a fox cresting a ridge in front of the imposing milk-white disk of the moon.

Kate Cox has her own thoughts on Inquisition, observing that none of the detached protagonists of the series so far tie the games together as a central character. Rather, the fantastical tale of Thedas might really be swirling around Ser Cullen, a minor character playing an ever more prominent role in the series:

[Cullen], not the Inquisitor, is the voice of the player’s memory even if the Inquisitor is the voice of the player’s present and conscience. And he is arguably a solid stand-in romantic hero: the knight-errant, on a Maker-given mission — of atonement, of justice, of victory.

Last word can be found on Todd Harper’s blog in a NSFW comparison of Dragon Age: Inquisition to North American attitudes to penis size.

You Want Me to Do What Now?

Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon describes the process of teaching her mother how to play Telltale’s Game of Thrones. It didn’t go well, but it demonstrates how inaccessible games are to those without years of practice in them:

She just didn’t have it and I couldn’t teach it to her. It is something that can only come with practice.

Cara Ellison continues her S.EXE column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun with an in-depth look at 1988’s Romantic Encounters at the Dome. Ellison applauds it as a sex game that actually targets adults, rather than a series of dick jokes, and admires its rough edges that capture a slice of late eighties life:

This is really a man’s fantasy of what a woman wants from a man -– and my mind does these strange backflips. It is probably one of the most interesting sex scenes I’ve played through, apart from Coming Out On Top of course. It’s like being in a man’s head as he tries to fuck you, in an almost cyberpunk manner. It’s slightly neurotic, slightly melancholy. It’s just so weird.

Those looking to write the best passage of 2015, that’s the one to beat.

Dispatches from Vienna

And now, a few words from foreign correspondent Joe Köller on what’s happening in the German games blogosphere:

Local “bookazine” and games writing power house WASD has a new issue out. Here’s a preview for your perusal, and at Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl has reposted the entirety of his article from the collection.

Paidia, a German academic e-journal in game studies, has released their latest issue as well, on the subject of gender and games. Two highlights for your consideration: Maike Groen tackles women and esports and Franziska Ascher takes on the fire-keepers of Dark Souls.

Elsewhere, Denise Linke writes about disability, accessibility and custom controllers, Christof Zurschmitten shares ten thoughts (give or take) on Stephen ‘thecatamites’ Murphy’s 50 Short Games, and Agata Góralczyk talks about mental illness in games, and memories of her grandmother.

Seen some good German (or French or Dutch) games writing lately? We are always looking for submissions! Check out our guidelines at the foot of this post.

Is Anybody Out There?

Before we wrap this up we have a few signals to boost:

Memory Insufficient’s latest issue about alternative history has also hit the digital shelves. Also, perhaps you’d like to submit an essay for their next issue, language and games history.

Merritt Kopas’s latest project, Soft Chambers, promotes quiet, human moments in games over the active, competitive and mechanized dominant attitudes toward them.

Emily Short compiled a massive list of interactive fiction competitions, anthologies and shows. Definitely a great resource for any IF writers looking to learn more about the community and form.

Lastly, on January 17-18, the crews of the Spawn Point and Spawn on Me podcasts are joining to host a Twitch stream. Here’s some more about that:

This happening will provide a deliberate space for you to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement. We will support the families of those that were lost by donating to the Eric Garner Fund, and The New York Lawyers Guild that continues to organize protests and bail funds for those imprisoned for exercising their 1st Amendment rights on this matter.

It seems like a great way to build community while supporting a cause.

That’ll Do, Pig. That’ll Do.

As always, it’s been a pleasure to share another week’s worth of videogame blogging with you all. If ever you find something that we ought to feature we happily take requests by email and Twitter!

And don’t forget to take a look at this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, where we want to know what you think about “Player Choice.”

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to support our effort to find and preserve games criticism, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Here it is, the last regular This Week in Videogame Blogging of the year! It seems fitting that it should land on Winter Solstice — or Summer Solstice, for our friends down under. Stay cool and hydrated over there!

Anyway, as you might expect, we have a bit of a short one this week. Worry not, though, as next weekend we’ll be running our 2014 edition of This Year in Videogame Blogging! We’re still seeking reader submissions, so if you have something you want to get in, be sure to do that quick like.

Now, onto this week’s treats!

All Together Now

The crew of Shut Up and Sit Down (that is, the best board game blog happenin’ around these parts) have been counting down their top 25 board games of all time — and here’s the top five!

Kill Screen is running an interesting set of end-of-the-year features as well. Here are some highlights: Chris Breault on the (sometimes nonsensical) ubiquity of map illumination as a game mechanic and Gareth Damian Martin with a look at architecture in games, particularly in recent experimental works such as Shadowing, Abstract Ritual and NaissanceE.

On the developer side, Adriel Wallick (pioneer of the Train Jam) spent her 2014 making a game a week. Here’s her post-partum of the experience.

Design Notes

In his regular Critical Intel column, Robert Rath has a few notes on what Far Cry 4 gets right — and wrong — about its Nepalese setting.

Elsewhere, in Aevee Bee’s zine Zeal, Brian Crimmins has some fond words for Sakura Taisen‘s portrayal of Japan’s Jazz Age from 1912 to 1926.

PopMatters’s Jorge Albor, who is Chicano, found himself unexpectedly relating quite a bit to the complex racial politics of BioWare’s Dragon Age Inquisition. Meanwhile, at The Gaming Intelligence Agency, Nich Maragos finds pleasure in the ‘mundane heroism’ of Fantasy Life.

Gone Home‘s Steve Gaynor turned up at Matter this week as part of its New York Review of Videogames. Gaynor analyzes both The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation and finds that both, in their attempts to play to nostalgia, venture to strange places.

And this one’s good for a chuckle: at Playthroughline, Ed Smith does a snark-filled readthrough of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption

Lastly for this section, I leave you with the always-incisive Liz Ryerson, whose newest post is a little bit about Brendan Keogh’s book, a little bit about Goldeneye, and a lot about Perfect Dark.

Beyond the Mat

(That’s the name of a very good WWF documentary, incidentally. I recommend it!)

Back with Matter’s New York Review of Videogames, author Kerry Howley pens a riveting essay on the complexities of EA Sports: UFC and how it, perhaps inadvertently, rings true of the hardships of its subject matter.

In a stroke of synchronicity, this week also brought us an interesting entry from Kotaku, where editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo has some complicated thoughts on playing through WWE 2K15 as a fan-made simulacrum of deceased wrestler — and murderer — Chris Benoit. (Content warning: Although it doesn’t get in-depth, this article does refer repeatedly to Benoit’s murders.)

Visual Novels

In her first guest piece for Polygon, my fujoshi partner-in-crime A.M. Cosmos makes a strong case for the localization of adult-themed visual novel DRAMAtical Murder. Meanwhile, the one and only Emily Short shares an in-depth narrative analysis of “pigeon dating simulator” Hatoful Boyfriend, noting that it seems odd that the visual novel scene and interactive fiction scene don’t seem to overlap more than they do.

That Old Canard

BioWare designer Damion Schubert — no stranger on these pages as of late — offers a firmly worded argument for why the supposed pervasive “progressivism” in games reportage does not actually exist:

As an example, IGN, Gamespot, Polygon and Kotaku all wrote dozens, if not hundreds of articles on every possible angle of Shadow of Mordor when it came out. One of those was the very silly ‘kiss vs kill’ article about the tutorial […] which is no big deal. But in this case, [certain readers] were led to think this was the norm – that most games writing was actually analysis like this.

This is not at all the case, of course. Most of the articles talked about the sick graphics, the incredible killer combos, the brutal death scenes, where to find all the easter eggs and paid lip service to the pretty-cool-but-really-unnecessary Nemesis system. Just like all the old magazines did when they were printed on tree pulp. These articles represent 95% of games media coverage, talking directly to gamers in their own language, and they rarely raise an eyebrow. That tiny 5% though, the people who decide to try to write about games with unusual perspectives are the ones who cause outrage.

Pairs Well With

Consider the following a red wine to go with the above’s butternut squash ravioli.

At The Atlantic, Laine Nooney pens what is, at first blush, a history of computer games’ first published work of erotica (and predecessor to Leisure Suit Larry). But it is more accurately a rumination on a period in the tech industry’s all-too-recent past where computers were not yet colonized as the domain of heterosexual men. (Content warning: images may not be considered safe for your workplace or your young relative reading over your shoulder.)

The letters [objecting to the adult ad] in Softalk, in some backwards way, show that the world of computing was once more diverse than we’ve ever imagined. Women were teaching computer literacy classes in the interstate outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. Men were defending an ideology of computers as “sexless tools.” Softporn wasn’t the distillation of computing’s misogynist kernel. In 1981 the microcomputer and its allied industries were not already destined to become a space where women are violently harassed for discussing inequity, or simply presumed to have no native interest in technology. Its future was not yet determined, and need not have played out the way it did.


In some sense, Softporn is least interesting as a game, and most interesting as a piece of social theater. While Softporn seemingly affirms every long-suffering trope gaming has to offer — its latent misogyny, its middling cultural stakes, its limp internal humor — it was also developed under shifting social and spatial constraints within an emerging populist computer culture. Softporn flexed a predictable, uninspired muscle against disorienting technological and social circumstances that we long ago forgot were ever disorienting.

And to All a Good Night

While this marks our final regular weekly roundup for the month, you are encouraged to still submit your TWIVGB recommendations by email and Twitter! Normal roundups will resume the second weekend of January.

If you want to submit your links to our This Year in Videogame Blogging mega-roundup, remember that we are accepting these only by email. Go here to learn more. The deadline is December 24th!

Also, if you’re in the writing mood, there’s still a little time to get in on this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “New Game+.”

Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to help us toward our next important funding goal, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Hello everyone, it’s Lindsey here with another weekly roundup. Before we get started I want to remind you that, as the year comes to a close, we’re looking for submissions for our end-of-the-year roundup. But for now, let’s take a look at This Week in Videogame Blogging!

History and Culture Clashes

Quite a few of the submissions this week talk about how history and culture are both used and confused in games. For instance, Corey Milne uses the recent news about Greece’s pleas to have their artifacts returned to them rather than loaned out by the British Museum to draw parallels to the Uncharted series. Milne argues that Nathan Drake is nothing like Indiana Jones, but is more accurately a thief with no respect for other cultures.

From a different perspective, professional archaeologist Sarah Ingram plays through Tomb Raider and amongst other observations (such as how poorly written Lara is) she notes that the game’s more aligned with treasure collecting than archaeology.

The next two submissions deal more directly with how history is used and how it creates meaning. Austin Walker examines the interaction between genre and history and how that informs or influences criticism, using Attack of the Friday Monsters as a lens for discussion. Alternately, James Patton looks at the ways contemporary Western cultural, political, and religious values are placed in historical contexts unfairly and illogically.

Bridging from that, Claire Hosking provides an Australian perspective on the recent Grand Theft Auto ban in Australian Target and K-Mart stores. Hosking details the important difference between Australian and US perspectives on culture, speech, and criticism and how this relates to perceptions of the ban itself.

To end this section on a brighter note, Christopher Sawula, a postdoctoral fellow, historian, and teacher explains what makes Valiant Hearts not only a good game, but the only one worth using to help students understand the emotional, social, and cultural contexts of World War I.

The State of Criticism and Curation

This week also presents us with two opportunities to get a bit meta. Over at Game Informer, Matt Helgeson examines the rate of production of video game content, criticism, scholarship, etc against the loss of it due to poor archival and curatorial work in the field

This week also brings us the playable criticism of systemic prejudice in Parable of the Polygons created by Vi Hart and Nick Case.

Design and Development

Working in the game industry is tumultuous anywhere, but Anton Paramonov discusses the more unique and specific challenges Eforb faces as a development studio based in the Ukraine. For instance, he notes this as an unique position to find your business: “It’s tough to fall asleep in one country and wake up in another.”

Elsewhere, Holly Gramazio talks about her work designing place-based (parks, hotel rooms, etc) games — not all of which are digital.

Meanwhile, Damion Schubert discusses the concept of resonance (or really the lack thereof) in Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Over at GameSound, Kenny Young shares an email conversation he had with the late Ralph Baer about the development of game audio.

So technically this is more about child development than game development, but bear with me, as this week Andy Baio details his experiment in child rearing in which he had his son play through video games in chronological order beginning with the Atari 2600 to see whether (and how) it would alter his son’s perception of contemporary games.

Sex, Sexuality, Gender, Performance and the Political

Responding to art with art, Cara Ellison discusses the stolen moments found in Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love At the End of the World in verse form.

Over at How To Not Suck At Game Design, Anjin Anhut asks: “What can be gained if we use the concept of gender performance for our efforts to change the culture?

Elsewhere, Katherine Cross discusses the character Oh Eun-a in Hate Plus and how she, and the other female characters, are caught in the “unfinished revolution” of social mores that no longer fit.

At The Mary Sue, Victoria McNally covers Aisha Tyler’s recent remarks at the Paley Center about women in the gaming community, both as players and characters.


If your eyes need a break from the screen, there’s some good stuff for your ears this week too!

This week, our own Eric Swain and the Moving Pixels Podcast takes on Spec-Ops: The Line, while The Crate and Crowbar more broadly discuss the things we do in games we’d like others not to see. Even more broadly, Dan Golding’s new podcast “A Short History of Video Games” discusses video game history across the generations. Lastly, Justice Points invite Javy Gwaltney on to talk about his work and his thoughts on paid writing in addition to discussion about more recent game news.


Serving up a “Worst of” list rather than a “Best of” list, Jed Pressgrove dishes up an analysis of the ten worst games of 2014 whose “insidious” marketing ploys are hidden beneath technical and artistic completeness.

Over at The Game Critique, Eric Swain talks about elegance in writing and a(n ironically inelegant) piece written by Mark Rosewater from 2004.

Elsewhere, Alex Pieschel writes a detailed history of glitches as aesthetic, discovery, and performance.

At Play/Paws. Melody conducts a close-reading of Transistor’s themes (including elitism, surveillance, censorship, and virtuality) in this three-part series.

Final Mentions:

As always, we’re grateful for our readers and those who have submitted works. If you see something you think we should feature, don’t forget to submit it to us via a Twitter mention or through email. Keep in mind if you are submitting something for This Year in Video Game blogging, you must submit by email!

Also, in case you missed it: StoryBundle has brought back the very first videogame bundle, which includes Ralph Baer’s Videogames: In the Beginning and Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless.

Feeling in the writing mood yourself? Consider participating in this month’s Blogs of the Round Table while there’s still time!

Finally, we’re thankful for the support of your readers. We reached some important funding milestone recently, and we’ve got some great things planned for 2015, so if you aren’t already a supporter, please consider becoming one!

Apparently there has been a cold snap in Britain this weekend. I haven’t noticed because I’ve been printing off all of the good games writing and making a cozy little nest from it. Come sit by the fire and help yourself to a hot chocolate. Welcome to This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Stoking the Fires of Thought

Carolyn Petit returns to Grand Theft Auto V, talking about its Australian retail controversy. Petit observes that the freedom afforded to the player in GTA is naturally dictated by the developer, and it invariably skews towards the freedom to commit acts of violence. Speaking of games that have a troubled history of representing women, Dan Jolley is working to improve Techland’s reputation with Dying Light.

Daniel Starkey has been on a roll lately. Following his review of Never Alone for Eurogamer, he’s written about the representation of American Indians in game development, with excerpts from an interview with John Romero.

Blazin’ Squad

Stephen Beirne has published a substantial work – or least, the first half – on the art of camera and composition in Final Fantasy VII (the other half is available now to his Patreon backers, and he’s even made a nice PDF). Beirne also examines the consequentialism of Anthony Burch’s ‘morality run’ of BioShock, which we featured last week. Wait a minute, didn’t Ed Smith do a similar thing for Five out of Ten last year? (spoilers: yes.)

Evan Conley stretches the definition of ‘little’ in this essay on horror in games as pure “Gothic-horror” compared to a mere feeling of tension, and whether The Evil Within is actually an action game with elements of survival horror. For a different kind of horror, Paul King looks at crime drama game The Detail (piece has a self-described content warning for discussion of sexual violence), which comments on the true nature of choice as well as portraying the darker aspects of humanity.

For a more banal kind of horror, what about the terror of having to play yet another Assassin’s Creed game or finding that your old save games contain a past version of yourself that you’d sooner forget?

Poking the Embers

We’ve reached the Gamergate section – I know, I don’t really want to write about it either, but there were a couple of great articles that warrant a mention. Keith Stuart’s interview with Zoe Quinn at the Guardian is one of the most comprehensive chronicles of the whole situation and would be a useful thing to have on file for inquisitive, well-meaning relatives this holiday season.

Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris is the latest victim of an ‘investigation’ and her response is much more pleasant than the reporters deserve (disclaimer: Mitu, like all fans of good things, previously contributed to the Critical Distance Patreon). Laralyn McWilliams writes a message of hope for those who have been affected over the past few months: “it’s not about where we are right now. It’s about where we’ll be when it’s done.”

Elsewhere, Corey Milne writes about how the ‘Game Awards’ as a thinly-veiled marketing exercise. They could save a lot of money by just skipping the awards, ordering in a couple of pizzas and uploading all those trailers to YouTube from the comfort of an office.

Speaking of YouTube, Feminist Frequency has a new video: instead of the usual format of Anita Sarkeesian’s critical features, this highlights 25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male.

Blog Ring of Fire

Have you read something great that we missed? Send us your submissions by Twitter mention or through email. We’re also accepting submissions for This Year in Video Game Blogging 2014.

Here’s something great you might have missed: the new issue of Five out of Ten is out today, at a new lower price! The writing is particularly strong this time, because I’m not in it.

Blogs of the Round Table is back for December (wow, they’re doing a much better job than when I was in charge): get more details and submit your writing here. All welcome!

Don’t forget that Critical Distance is community-funded by awesome people like you! We recently reached our first funding target of $2000 – thank you to everyone who has supported the site, you’ll all wonderful – but with further funding we can pay our hardworking team members and invest resources in the future of the site. Please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Right, I’m off to watch this video about how Jackie Chan is the master of action comedy. Until next time…

Hope for all our US readers you had a lovely, stuffing Turkey Day and didn’t spawn too many family brawls. For everyone else, happy weekend. Welcome to This Week In Video Game Blogging!

Bioshock and Beyond Earth

Bioshock is back in the critical eye. Anthony Burch at his blog No Wrong Way to Play decides to see what the consequences of the little sister decision is by never using any of the Adam earned from making a moral choice and finds the game lacking in its response. Meanwhile, Rick Stanton at Rock Paper Shotgun looks at the legacy of Looking Glass Studios in regards to the Bioshock series.

On the other half of the header, Katherine Cross writing for Polygon finds that Beyond Earth can’t top Alpha Centauri. Peter Christiansen writing for Play the Past, focuses on the Beyond Earth‘s tech trees and notes that while in many ways it is no different than Civilization’s determinism approach to technology, in others it matches with recent historical understands of Actor Network Theory. And Errant Signal’s Campster feels the game has a bit of an identity issues between Civilization and Alpha Centauri‘s different styles and themes.

AAA Themes

Jamie Patton finds the Assassin’s Creed series through III to fail by creating an everlasting present of anti-colonialism values that devalues actual history and our ability to change for the better.

Romance author Ruby Duvall takes and does not take issue with a Dragon Age: Inquisition side quest dealing with a character liking a romance serial and the serial’s inclusion as part of the greater world of Dragon Age. Looking at Bioware’s other major property, Dara Khan at Videogameheart thinks through the theme of transhumanism being presented in Mass Effect‘s final choice and finds it doesn’t mesh with what the rest of the series has been about.

At TransGamer Thoughts, Heather Alexandra explores at one of the most underlooked games of the past few years, Binary Domain, and how it deals with AI and what it means to be human.

Meanwhile, George Mylonas looks to a more recent game, Alien: Isolation, and how it functions through the research done about the horror genre.

Interactive Fiction

You may remember a few weeks ago we posted a piece on Alter Ego by The Digital Antiquarian. His wife, Dorte, has written a follow up from the point of view of a woman playing the game as a woman. Later that week, he focused on what looks like the final game in his “digital book” series, 1987’s Portal. It doesn’t look like something that would be out of place in the modern day’s more avante guarde Interactive Fiction scene.

Javy Denton muses on driving alone at night and how Glitchhikers nails the need to talk to someone in the wee hours, even if it’s just other parts of yourself.

The Feel of the Game

At The Butter, Brian Oliu talks about the feel of being the superstar that NBA Jam evokes. It’s not about winning or losing, but putting on the most amazing basketball show possible.

In The Binding of Issac: Rebirth, one starts off with a normalish looking body and by the end has transformed into a monstrous blob of flesh. At PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams explains how it is a statement of freedom in a way, “free from established rules and stricture, free to continue to grow into something other than what others desire it to be.”

In his review of Never Alone, Daniel Starkey comments on how happy he is, as an American Indian, that any tribe would get a game made in conjunction with them to valorize their history and beliefs as “an interactive piece of folklore.”

And Cara Ellison, in her NSFW column at Rock Paper Shotgun, chats and laughs with some real world lesbians about the hilarious failures of Girlvania, an ‘All-Girl Sex Simulation’.


Our own Zach Alexander goes back to a notable title in the mobile battle monster game genre, Puzzles and Dragons, and digs into its exploitative practices against the genre uninformed, likening much of it to capsule machines.

The Extra Credits crew praises the Dark Souls series for its approach to scalable difficulty.

Criticism on Criticism

Nick Capozzoli comes back to his own blog, to unpack the recent statements about opinion and objectivity of Youtuber Total Biscuit. How, when boiled down, the complaints always seem to be, “Why Wasn’t a White Guy Consulted?

Brendan Keogh decides to return the favor to Darius Kazemi and review his book on Jagged Alliance like Kazemi did to his book two years ago. In it, Brendan continues the conversation about approach towards long form criticism.

Melody of Melody Meows About… talks about the need to defend oneself from the purposefully compulsive nature of many of today’s video games. They are designed not just to be enjoyed, but all consuming to the detriment of everything else.


Remember, we are always accepting suggestions for our weekly roundups. Just submit them via our email or @ message them to us on twitter.

If you’re quick you can submit a piece for November’s Blogs of the Round Table.

If you can, please support us and the good work we do here at Critical-Distance through our Pateron. If you can’t afford it, but want to help, signal boost our efforts.

Thank you and have a lovely week. I’ll be subsuming myself into the end of year curation mines.

Hello everyone! Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging! Let’s get started.


In The New Yorker, Ben McGrath writes a profile of Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, professional Starcraft II player and “the most accomplished woman in the young history of electronic sports.”

Some exciting happenings: our own Mark Filipowich is heading a series at Good Games Writing to highlight women writers, scholars, journalists, and critics in gaming. There are already three profiles posted, on Alice Kojiro, Becky Chambers, and Rachel Kowert. Make sure to take a look at their fantastic work!

Ikea Materia

Chris Cesarano revisits Final Fantasy VII, reflecting on the game’s characters, plot, and his personal history with it.

And speaking for PBS, Kill Screen’s Jamin Warren discusses the game design paradigms inherent in IKEA’s store layouts. (This is a topic Dan Golding latched onto in 2009 as well.)

Pop Goes the Media

At PopMatters, Jorge Albor writes on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s failure to meaningfully and consistently explore its themes, and Nick Dinicola defends Alien: Isolation‘s inconsistent cat-and-mouse systems.

Design Notes

In Gamasutra’s blog section, Josh Bycer examines two styles of stealth game design, what he calls “Active and Reactive” designs.

At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Cara Ellison has another segment of her S.EXE column, where she looks at Girlvania and its subversions of the “sex simulator.” The Go Make Me a Sandwich blog has a piece asking why sex in videogames is so dull and unsatisfying.

And at Videodame, Ludeshka reflects on her childhood playing early PS1 and Genesis games.

We Are Videogaming

Simon Parkin looks back on the year-old Grand Theft Auto V and the various perspectives players bring into the game.

And Lastly,

At Paste, Javy Gwaltney uncovers Advanced Warfare’s surprising portrayals of disability in character and action.

Regular Business

Some final notes: remember that you can submit an article to us by email or on Twitter.

There is a little time left to get involved in this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Home Sweet Home.”

And if you’d like to support the work that we do here, you can help us continue our curating work at our Patreon. We’re scraping $2,000, which is just enough for Senior Curator Kris to do this full time. So help us out!

But that’s it for this week. Happy reading, and take care.

It’s half past five in the morning here, and I’m asking my phone’s AI if she obeys Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. She’s stonewalling me, I think. So, in the meantime, welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Design Notes

At Melody Meows, the titular Melody has published the third part in an ongoing essay series on Atlus’s Catherine, a fraught game which nonetheless invites some interesting analysis. Here, Melody attempts to tease out the game’s “true” ending and in the process makes a few pointed observations on how the game’s morality system is, ultimately, not representative of any morality we might know.

Speaking of our complicated relationships with some games, over on PopMatters regular columnist takes aim at the recently released Bayonetta 2 and how it is like attending a Beyonce concert in both form and function.

Meanwhile, on the Justice Points Podcast co-hosts Tzufit and the Apple Cider Mage chat with scholar and game developer Michael Lutz on the intersections of Shakespeare, performance and gameplay.

And at Kill Screen, Shonte Daniels compares the rise of ‘auteur’ games with a similar 20th century movement in the world of poetry.

Deep Dives

At The Digital Antiquarian, Jimmy Maher performs a meaty retrospective on Activision’s seminal 1986 Alter Ego and its key developer, psychologist Peter J. Favaro.

Elsewhere, Kyle Kallgren’s usually film-focused video series Brows Held High goes for the interdisciplinary approach this week with a fascinating analysis of the interplay of the visual languages of games and cinema — taking as its starting point Gus Van Sant’s experimental ‘road trip’ film Gerry and its unorthodox source of inspiration, Tomb Raider.


We’re seeing an observable downward trend in the frequency of thinkpieces on The Hashtag Which Must Not Be Named, but like any good horcrux, we’re still a ways from seeing it die off completely.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this wave of harassment is not new, and it is long from defeated. Pointing to several instances just in the last few months and just within games, scholar and treasure Katherine Cross highlights how minoritized individuals are still frequently targeted disproportionate to their voice or prominence in the discourse. (Content warning: misogynist and transphobic slurs.)

Ravishly’s Jetta Rae DoubleCakes has been running a series of fantastic interviews, including two from among Critical Distance’s own ranks, contributor Lana Polansky and alumna Mattie Brice.

There has also been a recent push within certain sectors of game design academia which has urged solidarity. Over on Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, USC’s Interactive Media and Game Design chair Tracy Fullerton has released a joint statement on behalf of much of her faculty condemning the harassment campaign which has dominated the discourse of the last few months.

Finally, for a good cathartic chuckle, the ever-reliable Damien Schubert has designed a highly accurate pie chart on the true influence of “social justice warriors” on game development.

My God, Pure Ideology

Thanks for reading! As always, we welcome your submissions by Twitter mention or through email.

The November Blogs of the Round Table is under way and looking for your contributions!

A signal boost: the Montreal-based Game History Annual Symposium 2015 has put out a Call for Papers for its 2015 conference. French and English papers will be accepted, deadline January 15th, 2015.

(Do you have a site, zine or conference looking for submissions? Let us know and we’d be happy to link it here!)

Finally: remember, Critical Distance is community funded by readers like you! We’re closing in on our very important $2,000 funding target, which brings with it more features and our proposed print anthologies, so please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

How are you all this fine, crisp, chilly autumn day? And you in the southern hemisphere can keep your bragging to yourself, thank you very much. Eric here to take you on another journey through This Week In Video Game Blogging!

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2 continues to stir up conversation both as a sexual entity and in the game’s other facets.

Apple Cider Mage picks up the sex positive/sex negative discussion around the titular character as an opportunity to explore what is actually meant by both terms in a feminist context.

Todd Harper, however, is tired of the discussion around Bayonetta’s body and sexuality behind it to the exclusion of everything else. To that end he posted a series of short posts on the game as capable of instilling joy, dance and music, the angelic facade of the monsters and Bayonetta’s love of the camera and vice versa.

Ben Ruiz continues on this with a set of videos on his development blog going into extreme detail about the technicalities and depth of Bayonetta 2‘s fighting system.

Military and Politik

Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman, instead of leaving the image of “Hold X to Pay Your Respects” and calling it a day, talks about why Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare fails to earn that interaction.

Jake Muncy also condemns the use, but instead goes on to talk about grief and our odd aversion to dealing with death at funerals. Muncy then talks about two games that managed the ritual of dealing with grief far better than CoD:AW.

At Polygon, Charlie Hall puts the spotlight at a different type of war game, with This War of Mine‘s focus shifted a few yards off screen from Call of Duty‘s soldiers and instead focuses on the cowering, surviving civilians trapped in the conflict.

Meanwhile, at Ontological Geek, Tom Dawson turns his eye back to 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line and why it asks “How many Americans have you killed today?” and if that isn’t sending the wrong message.

Finally, Robert Rath talks about a different type of war, the War on Terror, and how Shadows of Mordor is a mirror of that conflict. He says the game fails Tolkien’s world by eliminating the themes of idealism, suspicion of power and our better natures triumphing to instead mire itself in modern cynicism, realpolitik and victory coming from tactics and the willingness to do anything.


History Respawned invites Dr. Zach Doleshal on to discuss the Eastern Bloc through the lens of Papers, Please.

And the game history e-zine Memory Inefficient volume 2 issue 5 on religion and game history has come out, featuring articles from L. Rhodes, Austin C. Howe, Danielle Perry, Mauricio Quilpatay, Jon Peterson, Amsel von Spreckelsen and Stephanie Cloete.


Sometimes one needs to only lean back and think, letting the mind wander for no practical end and see what connections can be made.

Alex Jones compares the feeling of driving at night between Glitchhikers and Euro Truck Simulator 2.

Zolani Stewart explains expressionism paintings and their lessons to understanding worlds like that of Sonic Adventure 2.

Horror Games

At Outside Your Heaven, Matthew Weise feels like he should like Alien Isolation more than The Evil Within, but he finds that the former just retreads too much ground.

On Gamasutra’s member blogs, Sergio Hidalgo has some words on the mental tax on developers making horror games, drawing from his personal experience.


A concerning not only with content, but with how that content is both delivered and expressed.

If you missed GDCNext, Raph Koster has put up his slides from his talk from that conference, “Practical Creativity.” More than a few of the slides are thought inspiring, even as just a rough outline.

Sam Kabo Ashwell of These Heterogenous Tasks wrote A Bestiary of Player Agency a few weeks back. It’s a long piece that goes into quite a number of different types of mental and physical play spaces and how the various implementation affect our behavior and what we get out of the game.

My colleagues at PopMatters Moving Pixels have also talked about different implementations. Marshall Sandoval writes about the use of regional authenticity to create the texture of real places rather than the bland settings of regurgitated copies of copies of copies. Also, G. Christopher Williams looks at the addition of a first person view to Grand Theft Auto 5.

Then there is David Canela who, on his Gamasutra blog, notes the many binaries in Dark Souls that mirror the thematic binaries at play in that world and how the oft overlooked sound is another of them.

Dispatches from Vienna

Joe Köller has these links to give from across the pond.

The essential story this week: apparently a German theater ran a stage adaptation of The Secret of Monkey Island. Videogame Twitter noticed it too late to make it to an actual performance, but the image gallery alone is worth clicking that link.

Austrian student paper Progress has a special on games this month, which includes a bit of media history by Helga Hansen, as well as Anne Pohl’s summary of recent GamerGate nastiness, among other things.

Meanwhile, Mina Banaszczuk talked about being an inexperienced player in MMOs.

Pixeldiskurs also has a recording of a talk Michael Schulze von Glaßer gave about his new book on games and the military-industrial complex.

You Know What This Is About

No seriously you do.

We missed this one from a few weeks ago: PBS’s Idea Channel tackles the issue of how to create responsible social criticism through media. So many good lessons here, like how saying something causes people to X is not the same as saying something causes X to be thought of as normal.

Indre Viskontas ends her Inquiring Minds interview with Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage on the anger directed towards woman in tech and videogame fields.

And finally, stand-up comedian Brock Wilbur gives his story of how he was doxxed by the hashtag and how absurd it is as someone who has nothing to do with video games. At one point, he quotes his mother’s reaction to the whole ordeal:

Why don’t they just take away all the Halos until boys learn how to play nice?

#TakeAwayTheHalos indeed.

Lighten the Mood

After all that, I need a laugh. Here’s Conan O’Brien trying and failing to cross a street in Call of Duty.

The Usual Footer Stuff

Please send any link recommendations to our Twitter account or by email.

We have a new November prompt, “Home Sweet Home,” up for Blogs of the Round Table.

Critical Distance is funded by readers like you! If you like what we do, please consider pledging a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but I’m cold.