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Someone still loves you, Jakob Dylan. Not, you know, for “One Headlight” or anything. Just because someone has to.

Anyhow, readers — it’s the weekend after IndieCade and I’m back in the saddle. Let’s tuck in with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Come On Back to the Five and Dime, IndieCade, IndieCade

Speaking of IndieCade, if you didn’t happen to attend, you missed out on some great talks!

Over on Gamasutra, Bryant Francis has an excellent write-up on a well-received panel led by Shawn Alexander Allen (Treachery in Beatdown City) on issues of racism in tech and game development.

Ian Bogost, he of the perpetual mic drop, spoke during IndieCade’s Sunday microtalks session titled “Why ______ Matters” and has generously posted the full text of his talk online. Here’s a sample, in which he deftly deconstructs the ‘specialness’ of games on the level of culture creation:

Whereas previously culture fought, won, and lost its battles at the scale of mass media — think of Madonna and Bart Simpson and Murphy Brown — now we do so in isolated pockets of niche media hobbyism. [Washington Post writer Alyssa] Rosenberg sees this as an unexpected victory. “Everyone can win the new culture wars,” she declares, because “all stories have a chance to be told.”

The problem with Rosenberg’s account is that fragmentation becomes Balkanization, which becomes recuperated into Libertarianism. Mutual hostility becomes “do what you want, just don’t foist it on me.” Pushed to its limits, all fandom becomes apartheid.

[...]

This state of affairs ought to chasten us. It ought to revise our understanding of the scope of the work before us.

For example: if you want to fight for diversity in games, then absolutely you should fight to broaden representation among players, creators, and characters.

But there’s another kind of diversity: the diversity of our interests and our dispositions, of the company we keep and the influences that inspire us, the people and the groups and the industries and the materials that we contact. It has to do with having dealings enough with the world such that it is no longer possible to be seen as a parochial backwater not even worth opposing let alone supporting.

We have become too comfortable here in games.

Lastly, Liz Ryerson has shared a revised version of her talk from the ‘Influences’ panel, in which she discusses the hard road to really waking up to what games can do and be:

this “new flesh” [from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome] is as another way of looking at digital devices as extension of our bodies – and embracing them as body parts we exercise full autonomy over. because if we don’t, we can easily fall under the order of strong, powerful cultural programming that favors the aims of corporate ideology and the military-industrial complex.

[...]

the problem with fighting back against the tide of all this powerful cultural programming is we’re often bad at envisioning and embracing this new flesh as a tool of progress amidst these vast corporate structures colonizing the internet. in his movie A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Zizek looks at the many apocalypse scenarios increasingly saturating popular media of the last ten years and asks: why is it so much easier for us to envision in the cultural consciousness a total apocalyptic collapse of society than it is to imagine a fairly minor-shift in our ways of understanding and constructing the reality of our situation?

the answer is that is the logical endpoint of the ideological path we’re following now. and there is something intensely painful about, in the midst of this, realizing our own bodily autonomy, and our ability to make even a subtle a shift in our understanding and construction of reality. it’s a struggle, and it involves experiencing a lot of pain.

Class is In Session

In Gamasutra’s Member Blogs, Felipe Pepe salutes the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons — which also marks the 40th anniversary of computer role-playing games based upon it.

Independent critic Lulu Blue has been replaying the original Kid Icarus lately and remarks that it seems to exist during a weird transition point in Nintendo’s 1980s design philosophy:

Maybe it wouldn’t be until Kirby’s Adventure that they’d finally let up and greenlight such a revolutionary idea such as “action game that isn’t prohibitively difficult”. While there were games like Dragon Quest before it, with similar staple ideas such as “a game anyone can beat****” they were often tacked on with a billion [contingency] asterisks that amounted to “a game anyone can beat by spending enough time repeating the same trivial task over and over again and smashing their head against a rock (and also pressing the A button in front of every rock)”. Kirby was maybe the first game of Nintendo fame to not have that gotcha, but regardless of whether it was, Kid Icarus was NOT that game.

Meanwhile, in the newest installment of History Respawned, Bob Whitaker sits down with history professor Michelle Brock, an expert on early demonology, to discuss the cultural and religious underpinnings of Blizzard’s Diablo franchise.

One Does Not Simply…

The new Middle-earth game, Shadow of Mordor, continues to inspire a lot of discussion.

On her personal blog, Carolyn Petit notes the game does poorly by its women characters, killing off many and damseling a woman warrior.

Over at Loser City, Jake Muncy digs deeper into the game’s innovative enemy AI system and how its potential is squandered on the narrative’s thematic contradictions:

[O]rcs don’t quite fit into the world Tolkien created. They don’t fit into the order of the world that Gandalf describes to Frodo, where mercy is absolutely right and redemption is always an option — however distant a one. Tolkien’s world is, after all, based irrevocably in his Catholic sensibilities; his non-Lord of the Rings contributions to the universe feature a benevolent creator God and make it clear that the wizards are maiar, essentially angels. It’s important that even Sauron chose to be evil, deliberately rejecting the goodness inherent in all creation.

Orcs are different. They’re evil simply by nature, inherently corrupted. In Tolkien’s rendering they have no culture and no language of their own. [...] Orcs exist in a permanent state of exception, absolutely Other, nameless and killable in droves. They’re two-dimensional and infused with imported racist prejudice, given no depth in a world full of it.

[By contrast, Shadow of Mordor's] Nemesis system gives the orcs much-needed culture and depth. They have names, they make small talk. They have parties and feasts. They live in a constantly changing feudal society. [...] Orcs are victimizers, but they’re also victimized, set in longstanding oppressive power structures.

[However, for] as much as the Nemesis System feels like a solution to the orc problem, it also reifies and even magnifies it. Orcs are still cannon fodder in the same way they’ve always been. It’s a bizarre double bind: our orcs are special unique snowflakes, now kill all of them.

Nuke It from Orbit, It’s the Only Way to B– Oh, I Already Used That One

Alien: Isolation is another game to see some sustained discussion in the last couple weeks, and it’s easy to see why.

Notorious list-maker Brendan Keogh shares his collected thoughts on the game and in particular, how it manages to show off far more raw personality than comparable big-budget games.

At Vice, Cara Ellison takes a few well-deserved potshots at Isolation‘s one major fumble with regards to its level design: the needlessly expository graffiti.

Meanwhile, at Polygon Danielle Riendeau has high praise for the game’s treatment of its protagonist, Amanda Ripley, as truly befitting the heroine template exemplified by Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien film series. And from a visual standpoint, PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly shares how the game stacks up next to the aesthetics of the original film in a side-by-side slideshow.

Finally, at Eurogamer, Jeffrey Matulef shares a bit of optimism that Alien: Isolation is but the latest in a broader trend in high-budget, first-person games (including The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite) to offer a more contemplative, sedate experience.

Listen and Believe

As we now enter our third month of the debacle that has come to be known as Gamergate (though in fact, it’s been going on since July or even earlier, for some of those affected), it’s important to keep the profile high and the dialogue open. With that in mind, like much of our Gamergate coverage, these links come with a General Content Warning for strong descriptions of harassment, stalking and slurs.

Let’s start with Brianna Wu, who became the third woman to be driven from her home in two months due to credible violent threats on her life. On XO Jane, she shares a first-person account of being targeted, including screencaps of threats sent to her.

Touching on Anita Sarkeesian’s recent XOXO talk (which this subsection also derives its title from), Damion Schubert has been busily collecting the stories from women from all “sides” of Gamergate, proponents as well as targets and others completely uninvolved, who nonetheless have been subject to harassment, doxxing and other attacks. On her tumblr, Secret Gamer Girl has also collated the experiences of many women targeted by the loosely-defined movement.

The Awl’s John Herrman takes a different approach, reprinting the comments and tweets from parents who have discovered their children are participants in Gamergate.

Also, on The Daily Beast, Arthur Chu (who has never actually written for Critical Distance, despite reports to the contrary) draws an astute comparison between Gamergate and the Disco Sucks “movement” of the 1970s. It’s all great, but here’s a sample:

Just look at the rhetoric used by angry 1970s rock fans to bash disco. It goes beyond just finding the music unpleasant, it invokes the rhetoric of legitimacy. Disco artists aren’t “real” musicians. They don’t play their instruments live, like rock guitar gods; it’s too “produced,” it’s too “studio,” it’s fake.

Moreover, guys who listen to disco are fake. They dress in expensive leisure suits and hang out at fancy clubs. They don’t get down in the dirt and tear it up like us hard-core, genuine, masculine fans. They’re not real men, and women like them for not being real men, which is unacceptable. [...]

And there’s the aggrieved underdog stance, calling disco artists and producers “elitists,” spinning a narrative that rock was authentic music made by blue-collar kids in garages while disco was being “pushed on” America by corporate labels. (Are you kidding me? Led Zeppelin the hardscrabble underdogs vs. the Bee Gees? That’s as ridiculous as saying Call of Duty fans are oppressed compared to people who like indie text games about what it’s like to have depression.)

Gamergate reached the front page of The New York Times this week, due largely to a school shooting threat called in over a scheduled appearance by Anita Sarkeesian. With the NYT coverage, many game news outlets have come forward officially denouncing Gamergate. However, just ahead of this development, Jetta Rae DoubleCakes published this strongly-worded editorial at Ravishly which urges news writers to properly frame their Gamergate coverage, and it’s still relevant:

So eager [are some outlets] for that “big scoop” that they didn’t bother to look at what they were picking up. Or to check if it was toxic. [...]

The willful ignorance of the media, both mainstream and “niche,” has fostered an antipathy without fear of reproach. [...] And every second journalists sit there tapping their lip with their fingers, ahhhh I wish there was a word for people threatening to harm bystanders in public if their demands are not met, if only we’d gotten on this sooner—it emboldens the violence.

Soft Reset

It’s tough, but we have to keep moving. In light of some of the above links, and in particular Ian Bogost’s calls to diversify the critical and cultural landscape of games, let’s look at a few writers who are doing just that.

First, at Haptic Feedback, Austin C. Howe has a look at the recent wave of dismissiveness toward reflexive games (what he calls intertextual games; that is, games which comment upon or are “about” games) and concludes that by doing so we not only diminish these titles but risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Speaking of taking things one level above, here’s Stephen Beirne reviewing an interactive review of Dontnod’s ambitious but flawed title Remember Me.

And here’s a couple plucked from our own contributors. At Paste, Lana Polansky describes her recent venture into card gaming, in particular the simple 1965 game Nuclear War and its critique of the titular subject matter:

But one of the game’s best little touches is that, here, in state of war, there is a nonzero chance that everybody dies. When war is declared, it can’t be undeclared until the first player to launch a missile is knocked out of the game. That means genocide must effectively be committed before peace can resume—there is no going back. However, a losing player can go out by detonating all their playable nukes at once, and therefore has a chance to take out another player with them. There’s nothing in the game prohibiting every player from being taken out, losing their entire population. This means that, in all likelihood, you either end up with a pyrrhic victory or, quite literally, no one wins.

Also, our own Eric Swain is starting a project on his blog The Game Critique, aiming to start folding in criticism from other media forms as a means of diversifying how we approach games. Have a look.

Entering the Sublime

A couple hearty pieces for the road. At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster takes a look at The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and the subtle ways it subverts player expectations.

Also from Scott Juster his long-time blog partner Jorge Albor, a brief podcast discussion on games and eating, from our gustatory traditions to our Soylent futures. Mmm.

And So I Send You Out Into the Night, Not, I Hope, Unarmed

That’s it for this week! As always, we value your contributions via Twitter mention and email.

There is still a bit of time to get involved in October’s Blogs of the Round Table. It’s a fun topic touching on Halloween, so I encourage you to give it a whirl!

Did you know we’re commissioning new features? Because we are! Head over here to learn more.

And a few more sites and resources to relax into your Sunday:

-Arcade Review is a quarterly magazine edited by our contributors Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky
-Five Out of Ten, edited by our sysadmin overlord Alan Williamson, has just released its 10th (!) issue, “Heart.”
-Memory Insufficient is a great free zine edited by Zoya Street.
-Forest Ambassador is an important, free curated resource for small independent games, run by Merritt Kopas.

Did you know? Critical Distance is community funded by readers like you! If you like what you do and want to help us get our “BOTH SIDES” knuckle tats for when we get sent to Games Journalism Prison, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!

Hello everyone! Welcome to a new roundup of This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Such Justice. Very NPC.

Let’s start with Austin Walker at Paste, who writes on Watch Dogs and Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system. His piece is comprehensive and meaty, moving from Mordor‘s approach to failure, its perpetuation of colonial enslavement narratives, and weaving succinct observations of Watch Dogs and both games’ presentation of NPCs, and the violence we perform onto them.

Eric Swain also writes a piece that laments the superficiality of Watch Dogs, surveying the numerous problems with its themes and structures.

Ludology of Hunger

At the blog videogameheart, Grayson Davis twists the connection between meat and health in videogames, and asks what it means for a game to reflect a vegetarian’s way of life.

Kevin Wong traces lines between Sleeping Dogs and his experiences being an Asian American. He examines the struggle of the diaspora prevalent in his and Jackie’s life, and the negotiation of belonging and acceptance in the tug between cultures. It certainly touched into some of my own experiences as a Black Canadian, A rewarding and relatable piece well worth reading.

Nuke It From Orbit, It’s The Only Way to Be Sure

Edward Smith looks our relationship to technology as a conceptual character in Alien: Isolation. Hazel Monforton examines Outlast in the context of surveillance, and Jon Peterson writes a history of war games in the early 20th Century, and the places women have taken in those spaces.

Surveying Gamergate

It’s been about two months since a loose anti-feminist collective known as Gamergate began carrying out harassment campaigns and waves of abuse towards women developers, writers, journalists, critics, and many of those who are active in the indie community and the videogame industry at large. A lot has been written about this already, so I only chose the most enlightening and useful pieces regarding the situation.

But before I mention these pieces, I’d like to express a moment of solidarity, to the women who have been victimized, abused, harassed, driven out of their homes, had their private information stolen, their friends and family put in danger, and their careers and livelihoods severely damaged by groups who saw them as a threat to their sense of power and domination over discourse. We know this is unacceptable, and cannot stand. And all of us, in the blogging community, stand with you, and are dedicated to your well being, and your right to practice your craft safely and reasonably. You deserve better than what this industry gives you.

(Zolani’s sentiments are echoed by all of us here at Critical Distance. It has not been said often enough: we would not contribute to this site if we were not squarely focused on promoting the voices of the disenfranchised and creating safer spaces for everyone in games writing and discourse. We denounce harassment in all its forms. –KL)

So with that, let’s start on Jacobin, where Peter Frase discusses the Gamergate groups in a larger context of how right-wing reactionaries tend to function. Not only does he provide a useful description of what Gamergate is ideologically, but he makes interesting points about how Gamergate reflects larger constructions about industry and consumption. Check it:

So this is not just a story about gamers. And within the boundaries of the games world, it is also not merely a story about a “toxic culture” among game fans, but rather about an industry that is structurally and systematically reactionary, and cultivates the same values among a segment of its consumers. It’s not just 4chan mobs terrorizing writers and game designers, it’s a games business that pushes out workers who don’t conform to its political assumptions and demographic stereotypes.

At First Person Scholar, Katherine Cross uses a slightly different context, examining how the Gamergate groups differ from the typical radical extremism in how they view themselves as an apolitical `consumer movement. It’s a piece with remarkable scope on the situation, and is highly recommended.

T.C Sottek at The Verge writes a hard damnation of the Gamergate groups, emphasizing their role in the waves of abuse and harassment during the past two months. Brendan Keogh does the same, but puts focus on the complete lack of engagement from mainstream games journalists in dealing with Gamergate, calling “the sheer radio silence… nothing short of embarrassing.” Indeed so, Brendan.

BioWare developer Damion Schubert, at his blog Zen of Design, has a longer and more comprehensive roundup of links about Gamergate, as well as a survey of large videogame websites and where they’ve stood.  And Patrick Miller writes a list of things we can all do to curb the damage done by Gamergate. It’s a refreshing piece to read, one that will hopefully give you some hope, regardless of all that’s happened.

And some good news: Stephen Beirne of Normally Rascal has ventured into critical curation on his own blog! “This Week We Read” takes up several writers, each with their own pieces to contribute. Take a look if you’ve gotten tired of reading in my voice.

We’re Good!

That’s it for this week! We greatly value your contributions, so if you write something that you want us to see, send us a Twitter mention or an email! And 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, friends. Stay strong, and stay powerful.

I don’t know if the persistent heat wave has sapped us all of our wills to write, but I have a short but sweet one for you this week, dear readers. Join me, won’t you? It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Design Notes

At his blog Just Delete It, James Earl Cox offers an interesting analysis on the four kinds of “metafiction” in games, which he defines as self-aware fiction meant to mediate player suspension of disbelief.

Meanwhile, at Kotaku, GB Burford shares a fascinating long-form essay on the Dead Space series and how the games, moreso than creating a language with its various components, create a unique and memorable “dialect” through mechanics, art, sound design and more.

Even though a crafting system [in Dead Space 3] sounds interesting and cool, it kills engagement. When players don’t have to think about what guns to bring, what items to carry, or what order to engage enemies in, the game reduces its vocabulary. It becomes flat and boring.

Dead Space 3 has the vocabulary of a caveman’s poetry. Dead Space 1 and 2, comparatively, were the combined works of Shakespeare.

And at Joystiq, Anthony John Agnello has a quirky series of interviews with some artists on the lost art of fighting game backgrounds.

Press X to Precious

On Polygon, Zach Gage draws focus to the tutorial for Shadow of Mordor, in which a skill introduced to have the player character kiss his wife uses the exact same mechanical grammar to later kill enemies. Meanwhile, at sister site The Verge, Chris Plante reflects how the game’s over-the-top brutality casts the player into the role of a terrorist:

The concept of this game is shocking when you think about what’s actually happening. As an ultra-powerful white dude, you use fear and extreme acts of violence to manipulate an enemy’s behavior, destroy its militaristic structure, and ultimately gain control of it in the form of living bondage despite being outnumbered by the thousands. Really, chew on this: This is a video game about a spurned man terrorizing an entire foreign culture, literally killing, branding, torturing and enslaving hundreds of living beings. And really they’re only tangentially connected to the man’s real enemy: another ultra-powerful white dude.

While we’re on the topic of Lord of the Rings, over at Paste Ian Williams has penned something of a living epitaph for the outgoing Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine’s seven-year-old MMO which now appears to be entering the last stage of its life cycle.

From Your Gate to God’s Ears

Rab Florence — yes, that Rab Florence — offers a passionate appeal to those sincerely interested in criticizing games journalism:

Okay, okay, look. Are the games press too close-knit, too cosy with each other? Absolutely. Are they too cosy with game developers? Absolutely. Do they circle the wagons when they get criticised? Absolutely. You’re right. You’re right.

[...] But how do you respond to that? By joining a gang? By entering another bubble? Fuck bubbles, man. FUCKBUBBLES. That’s why you think all the games websites are the same! Because you’re stuck in a bubble! Break out — look for games writers you love, and support little websites and blogs. Discover them! They’re out there, desperate for you to find them. I’m with you, dude. FUCK those big websites.

[...]

Sometimes when the barrel is sour you need to walk away from the barrel, y’know?

Scholar and seasoned critic Katherine Cross has been abuzz on Twitter of late, and this Storify of a series of tweets on the (actually quite common) human compulsion to see one’s own interpretation as factual, while all others are “forcing” a narrative, is a worthwhile read.

Lastly, lest you think there was any shortage of valid things to get angry about when it comes to games, Leigh Alexander has compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of actual ethical concerns in videogames, with relevant links.

Dispatches from Vienna

Our German correspondent Joe Köller has the latest for us from the German-language games blogosphere.

First up, Nina Kiel, Hendrik Thiel and Marcus Dittmar all attended the recent PLAY14 games festival in Hamburg and have come back with their report of the goings-on.

Also on Superlevel, we have this delightful Games Journalism Dummy Text Generator, complete with AAA-to-indie language slider. Nearly as good as the real thing!

At Kleiner Drei, Martin Pittenauer interviews game designer Henrike Lode, while at Herzteile, Helga Hansen interviews Nina Windisch, who has an interesting job: she develops games for German television shows.

Lastly, on Paidia, Franziska Ascher takes a look at the Souls games’ spin on the ‘unreliable narrator.’

All the Rest

It’s so thrilling when a site outside the usual games blogosphere stumbles upon something of interest. Over at Scenes of Eating, Sara Davis recently found her way to Memory Insufficient’s Food Issue as well as the Games and Food Tumblr, comparing what she found there to how she sees food used in film and literature.

Lastly, anna anthropy has shared another interview conducted for her recently released book on ZZT, this time with developer and author Jeanne Thornton.

Hello, Goodbye

That’s it for this week! As always, we welcome your recommendations via Twitter mention and through email, and yes, you are free to link to your own work!

The August-September Blogs of the Round Table recently concluded, and you can view the delicious offerings here. And there is a new topic for October: “Masks!”

Critical Distance is completely funded by readers like you! If you like what you see and want to help us continue cancelling the Apocalypse every time that little Ragnarok pop-up notification shows up on the task bar, consider pledging a small monthly donation. We now offer an exclusive physical reward tier for people who pledge a little more!

Welcome, Guardian. This cave is an important part of our history. It is called The Cave. Essays spawn outside of The Cave and drop legendary Engrams of Critical Distance: The This Week In Video Game Blogging. I am The Traveler, Zach Alexander, here to give you The Insight so that you might combat The Darkness with Knowledge.

First Things First

Guardian! Outside the cave are The Genders! E McNeill discusses the field of virtual reality and the gender gap. Jenn Frank, Guardian of The Guardian, discusses her personal experience with community and gender.

Elsewhere, Sande Chen talks about why gender representation is important:

[W]ith repeated exposure to this stereotyped content, viewers merely become further entrenched in gender stereotypes and beliefs.

Be on the lookout, Guardian!

Mirror, Mirror

The representation of history in games is also important. Gilles Roy talks about how our understanding of history can be altered by games over at Play the Past. At Polygon, Alexa C Roy talks about the history of Lord of the Rings in videogames.

Tom Battey would like to remind you, by the way, that criticism is neither an attack nor censorship, but the act of bringing context to dialogue. Tom also links to an older, excellent article by Kameron Hurley (cw: racial slurs used) about how women have always fought—er, been Guardians. Nick Cummings writes about how Unity excludes its intended audience by not taking casual games very seriously:

I get the sense that casual gaming is still seen by Unity (and by the many developers who clapped and cheered for this feature) as a fringe market instead of what I see as the millions of potential gamers who aren’t being targeted properly. Too many games are made by too few people with too myopic a perspective, and that, I think, is the biggest hurdle to growing the gaming audience.

Design

As we inch closer towards The Cave, Guardian, take a moment to reflect on design. At Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander interviews Bennet Foddy about Speed Chess. Bennet advises designers to do their own take on the basics: “figure out what the bread is, and what the eggs are, and then give them your best shot.” Sounds delicious!

Marshall Sandoval talks with Kentucky Route Zero’s composer Ben Babbitt about the incredible music of the game. Over at Connected Learning, a panel discusses respectful game design specifically when targeting games used for education. In it, Caro Williams asks to “interrogate multiple concepts… if we take a textbook and wrap it in a game, we’re reproducing the logic that children best learn math by repeating an algorithm over and over again.”

Meanwhile, Owen Vince talks about the tension of open world games over at Ontological Geek.

Essays

On a literary note, we have a scattering of game-specific essays worthy of a Guardian’s attention. Jared Ettinger talks about his experience with Metroid: Other M mirroring his experience with anxiety. On First Person Scholar, Luke Arnott discusses Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard and the “sovereign exception”:

Beyond the protection of human law, already belonging to the gods (hence ‘sacred’). Reduced to ‘bare life,’ the homo sacer could be killed with impunity by anyone, but, conversely, he could not be offered up in sacrifice.

Some light is shed on Metro: Last Light by Stephen Beirne, who reads it alongside The Last of Us, and Ed Smith, who reads it alongside Modern Warfare.

At Joystiq, Ed Smith compares the storytelling of Gone Home to X-COM. “Rhaomi” has rolled up a big ball of essays on Katamari Damacy on Metafilter. Finally, Zolani Stewart talks about the use of image and space at his own blog.

Rolling in Engrams

The time has come, Guardian. You have made it to… THE CAVE. Kirk Hamilton lines up the first shot with Kotaku’s review of Destiny, which frames The Loot Cave as a critical design flaw of the game. Michael “Sparky” Clarkson flanks with a focus-fire on The Loot Cave.

Matthew Gallant scouts out the area in depth, discussing the game mechanics at work in and around The Loot Cave. Trent Polack pulls up the rear with a comparison between Destiny and Halo.

Meanwhile, Mark Filipowich is happily mowing down grunts, asking why do we look down on “grinding,” anyway?

Exuent

Well, Guardian, I hope you got the drops you needed. The galaxy requires my services elsewhere.

While I’m gone, please submit any and all writing you’d like to see featured in next week’s This Week in Video Game Blogging through our Twitter, our email, or through random drops the next time we meet in the Crucible.

Also, don’t forget to participate in the upcoming Blogs of the Roundtable!

Hello everyone, welcome to another week in games curation. We had a great many submissions this week, and since I’ve had my head down preparing for doctoral qualifying exams, it was a pleasure to read each article and be reminded why I’m doing this whole PhD thing, anyway. Thank you for submitting! Now that you have my sincere gratitude, let’s get down to brass tacks on This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Interactive Planetary, Planetary Interactive

In the “What makes a game a game?” debate (a debate Joe Parlock argues is unproductive at best and damaging at worst), the term “interactivity” is thrown around frequently as a defining element of “game.” This week Jess Joho at Kill Screen argues that we should be more careful with the term, as its misuse or misinterpretation overstates the “game worlds’ responsiveness to player input.”

Continuing the conversation about interactivity, Andy Astruc analyzes Metal Gear Solid to suggest that, in games, there is no fourth wall to hit or to break precisely because of the interactivity of the medium. He says,

These are not traditional examples of a broken fourth wall, but they do demonstrate something I think Metal Gear Solid asks us to consider constantly: the very nature of interactivity means there is no fourth wall to break. A video game story necessarily exists in a world that includes the player, not just the character they control, and you can’t simply pretend they don’t exist.

Elsewhere, Andrew Ferguson suggests that the inherent playfulness of James Joyce’s literary work Finnegans Wake lends itself to interactivity and to play. He goes on to show that reader’s interactions with the text are not dissimilar to those of Let’s Plays.

Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Society

Moving from concerns of interactivity to discussion of story and narrative, Dan Stubbs writes about his attempts to create, what he calls, a “dynamic narrative system” in his game The Hit.

Looking at story from a different angle, Edward Smith suggests that, by designing a horror game that subverts standard game rules, P.T. submerges players in a truly nightmarish experience.

The Avatar is the Bridge between Our World and the Game World

Of course, if there’s a story to interact with in games, it’s commonly done through a first or third person avatar. This week brings us several articles that discuss the importance of the role of the avatar.

Mattias Lehman looks back at the options for avatar customization he was offered in youth and how such customizations were ill-fitting to his own identity and experiences. Lehman poignantly remarks,

I realize what bothered me so much about never being able to create an appropriate avatar. All this time, I’d thought that I wanted to be able to see my character as me. What I really wanted was for ‘me’ to be a character. I wanted other people to have thought “people might choose to play that”, and put it in a game, because then I’d know that somebody would ever choose ‘me’. The fact that I was never a choice meant (to me) that nobody wanted ‘me’ as a choice.

Over at Vice, Leigh Alexander also questions identity associations to game avatars, and the oftentimes confusing shifts avatars create between first person “I” and third person “He, She, It, They” reference as we play.

Jake Muncy questions (with spoilers for the game!) his engagement with Dark Souls 2. Muncy admits that while he personally questioned both his avatars motives and his own as a player of the game, it was the NPCs , especially Lucatiel, who lured him back and provided the means for personal reflection on why to play at all.

Fish without Bicycles

Not that it was ever really in doubt, but this week’s submissions show Anita Sarkeesian isn’t alone in her assessment of female representation in games. Nor, according to a statistical analysis of Sarkeesian’s actual usages of terms written at Zen of Design, is she wrong.

For instance, letominor discusses the way Ground Zero subjects the female body to “base manipulation” and torture purely for the purposes of shock value. (Content warning: discussion of sexual violence and torture.)

Elsewhere, Falling Awkwardly’s Kateri continues the series “Binders Full of Women: Collecting all the Ladycards in The Witcher.” Part 8, takes a look at the game’s portrayal of Toruviel, whose worth is downplayed by terrible writing, and White Rayla who is little more than a “best her to bed her” character trope.

Also this week, Drew Mackie takes reviews the origin of Toad in the Mario Brothers franchise to reveal that our perceptions of Toad as a male may be the result of culture as some Japanese fans believed the original Toad to have been female.

Design, Culture, Coverage and Other Great Debates

Studying games from a sociological background, Joe Baxter-Webb examines PC gamer culture – how it’s discussed and portrayed online, and how this reflects back on games culture and perceptions of it from those who don’t identify as a part of it.

Alternately, Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky posted a podcast that discusses leaving videogames behind when its culture and spaces are no longer those with which one can, or wants, to identify.

Joining in the debate about the potential for objectivity (in general or in games and game journalism, specifically) Owen Grieve writes about the simple logic that: “Politics is not inserted into games by critics, but is in fact an integral part of the design process.

Similarly, John Walker reports that not only is objectivity an unreachable target, but that it is also “antithetical to useful, accurate reporting on games.”

At Game Bias, Mary Lew Florida takes a critical look at the general state of journalism to suggest that the way readers engage with journalistic material is economically fraught and wrapped up in ad revenue in ways directly related to how readers are willing to engage. Complaints about patronage and support within the industry should be refocused as: “The issue stems from the nature of an industry built on consumptive media.”

Multifarious Sundries

At Gamasutra, Tanya X Short gives a designer’s-eye-view of procedurally generated systems.

Nick Dinicola talks about his experience playing Blackbar, a game about “Big Brother” and government mandated censorship, and his inability to solve one of its puzzles.

Tim Schneider has composed a three part history of low-poly art over at Kill Screen. He calls it comprehensive, and thus to attempt to summarize seems like it would be an act against its totality. I will, therefore, only urge you to go check it out.

Over at Polygon, Liana Kerzner writes about the myriad of games that deal with mental illness. She discuss both those games which have focused on the negative aspects of mental illness and have, as a result, further stigmatized it, as well as those games which have given mental illness more relevance within increased character nuance too. (Content warning for discussion of child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide.)

Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin (with spoilers for the game) offers a critical review of Glitchhikers this week. Amidst considerations of the game’s narrative and choices, Franklin also considers the game more broadly by comparing it to Dinner Date and arguing that “games need more attempts to capture an almost universal moment through visuals, narrative, and mechanics.”

In another video submissions, History Respawned is joined by Dr. Evan Torner and Nick Heckner to discuss Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s “depiction of Nazi futurism, concentration camps and German language.”

That’s All the Time We Have, Folks

Before we go, I’d like to remind you that the deadline for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table is approaching. Mark and I are keen to read your submissions on the topic of “Catharsis!”

As stated in the opening, we read and feature writing based on the submissions we receive. We value the contributions of this community and encourage you to keep submitting those articles/blogs/vlogs/etc. that you’d like to see featured here. Send us links via email or by mentioning us on Twitter.

Critical Distance is proud to be funded by the community. If you like what we do and want to support the site, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation. We now offer a physical rewards tier with buttons and a few other goodies for those who donate a little more!

Happy Sunday, dear readers. Welcome to another edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging. This week brings us new insight into the ever-permuting face of a certain ongoing campaign which invites us to ask whether we are “winning” a cultural war, what that might mean, and where we can go from here.

General content warning: many of the pieces in this week’s post contain explicit discussion of misogyny and violence against women.

Wars and Battles, Inches and Miles 

Laurie Penny perceives the ongoing kerfuffle, and by extension all the vitriol directed to women online, as signs of an ongoing process of positive change. Trolls harass because the views they represent, Penny writes, are losing in the long run (additional content warning: misogynist slurs):

They can’t understand why their arguments aren’t working. They can’t understand why game designers, industry leaders, writers, public figures are lining up to disown their ideas and pledge to do better by women and girls in the future. They can’t understand why, just for example, when my friend, the games critic and consultant Leigh Alexander, was abused and ‘called out’ as an unprofessional slut, a lying cunt, morally and personally corrupt, just for speaking truthfully and beautifully about all of this, it was Alexander who was invited to write her first piece for Time magazine, Alexander who got to define the agenda for the mainstream, who received praise and recognition, whilst her abusers’ words will be lost in a howling vortex of comment threads and subreddits and, eventually, forgotten.

Their rage is the rage of bewilderment.

They can’t understand why the new reaction to nude selfie leaks isn’t ‘you asked for it, you whore’, but ‘everyone does it, stop slut shaming.’ They can’t understand the logic of a world where ‘Social Justice Warrior’ just doesn’t work as an insult, because a great many people care quite a lot about social justice and are proud to fight for it.

They can’t understand why they look ridiculous.

Certainly, a thin silver lining in all of this is that mainstream press outlets, not confined by the pressures as gaming websites, have largely been more able to name this situation for what it is. At The New Yorker, Simon Parkin profiles Zoe Quinn in the wake of the harassment campaign against her, as does Alex Hern at the Guardian. Both pieces frame #GamerGate well within the context of this ongoing abuse, speaking on both the nature of harassment and on Quinn’s life as a professional female artist while under this sort of duress. Both also, in profiling Quinn at precisely this time, inadvertently reveal an uncomfortable truth that we tend to only pay significant attention to women when they become the subjects of hate campaigns like this.

Putting Things in Perspective

But before I speak too soon, the Rock, Paper, Shotgun staff has soberly but boldly provided a line-by-line response to #GamerGate allegations, simultaneously debunking the misinformation spread about the site, condemning the harassment it has been used to justify and clarifying their own collective position on the issues raised:

We’re against sexism, we support feminist arguments of various kinds. We encourage you to disagree with these arguments, but we are not obliged to disagree with them ourselves, or to publish arguments attacking them at any level of vehemence. We do not have to present anyone else’s argument. RPS is a curated space, privately owned by individuals. It is our own website, which we use to say the things we want to say. That is bias, and we are completely happy to accept that. We are not objective robots, or a corporation trying to be “neutral”, and wouldn’t want to be. Yes, we invite some discussion, but we also get to police that, and decide when enough is enough. We have a huge platform with millions of people reading it. There are many things we just don’t want posted on our site, because this site is not for them to promote themselves. In 2014 people of all kinds have all manner of platforms to work from, they don’t need this one, and we’re certainly not obliged to allow free reign in using it.

Kelli Nelson has posted a succinct comic at Cheap Paper Art that nicely breaks down the way payola schemes and conflicts-of-interest actually work in entertainment businesses. As Nelson reminds us, it’s wiser to follow the money if you want to know where and how money is flowing.

Game design legend Greg Costikyan’s strongly-worded denunciation of #GamerGate is being archived for posterity at Stochasticity. (Additional content warning: the post definitely contains some problematic language, particularly with regard to trans women, which is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise powerful essay.)

Alex Layne at Not Your Mama’s Gamer reminds us that feminist activism and criticism is not a political or methodological monolith, describing how her focus differs from that of many other women in her field.

In last Monday’s Jimquisition, Jim Sterling makes the persuasive case that a genuine argument about standards, ethics and transparency is impossible to have as long as harassment remains an omnipresent factor in online communication.

At Zen of Design, Damon Schubert refuses to allow the identity label of “gamer”, and the gaming community, to be co-opted by a small and reactionary contingent of bullies. In his piece, he echoes Laurie Penny:

I am a gamer, and this is my Tribe.  It’s experienced remarkable social progress in recent years. And what’s fantastic about the games industry is that different artisans continue to create new, novel and interesting games that stretch my brain and make me think in ways that I didn’t before.  I love games for this, and I love my tribe, because the REAL gaming scene gets that.  It’s all about the games.  It’s all about the community that loves games.  It’s a community that is coming to the (sometimes painfully) slow realization that anyone, no matter their gender, race, sexual predilections and political leanings, are welcome in the tribe so long as they love games and respect those that do.

Believe it or not, we’re winning the culture war.

Some are apparently threatened by this – by the idea that some people (mostly, those who simultaneously have vaginas and opinions) may come into their club and RUIN EVERYTHING with the worldrending message that maybe, just maybe, people should be able to play games, sometimes old games and sometimes new and wondrous games, with a modicum of civility.  They are throwing a tantrum rather than have to share their toys.

The Work Women Do

At Pixels or Death, Joshua Dennison interviews satellite software engineer-turned-game-designer Adriel Wallick. Wallick talks about her life prior to choosing game design as a path and speaks warmly of her professional community as a whole:

This wasn’t a driving factor in my career change, but I love how supportive the game developer community is. We all seem to come together very well to help build each one another up, which I think is amazing. Because this is such a creative industry, we tend to put a lot of personal feelings into our work. It can be hard to deal with that without a support structure, and the fact that there are other developers out there who can talk about struggling with the same things makes me feel not so alone when I am struggling. Especially in the indie side of things, none of us are competing with one another, so we all just work together to feel wonderful.

At Polygon, Danielle Riendeau talks to game designer llaura dreamfeel about her new game Curtain, a meditation on an issue that receives little mainstream attention: domestic abuse in LGBT relationships.

Our own Mattie Brice discusses the unfair pressure of being foisted into activism, clarifying her position to quit games writing without abandoning her interest in play:

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s obvious the games industry isn’t the place for me. It is too narrow and slow moving for the ideas and needs I have. There’s a reason why my only income is coming from readers, not corporations or customers. A place that has such a rigid view on how to be successful is going to exclude a lot of people, and I’m one of those. There are many other people who might fit into this, though, that can be loud voices while they game the system. I think of Leigh, Zoe, or Anita, or many of the newer voices that will crop up now that larger ones are moving out of the way. They really care about video games as a medium and industry, and want to make it a better place. I’ve found out that I really care about the expansion and reclaiming of play as a medium, bringing new forms of expression to people who didn’t know they had it. To be honest, talking about the video games industry is boring for me now; we’ve had the same problems, just with varying scales of drama and mainstream attention. I don’t want to be treated like a victim, and it’s only when I’m abused that people will listen. I’m more proactive, generative, and loving; this just isn’t the place for me.

Jenn Frank goes into detail on her decision to quit games writing as well. It’s a decision that, while it’s a huge blow to games writing, means something more liberating to Frank than initially thought:

It’s almost ugly to say, but I’m actually grateful to GamerGate. All this time, I’ve felt beholden to video games, and to the people who make them or play them or read and write about them. Maybe it really is a conflict of interests: my own. It’s conflicts all the way down.

And really, my God, I don’t have to do this. I’ve been given permission to move on to another audience. I have faith in my abilities to do something, anything else, without feeling inhibited or limited by my hobby.

We Critique Because We Love

At Pop Matters, Jorge Albor writes about living, embodied folklore in Year Walk.

Robert Rath takes to The Escapist to explain what Destiny can teach us about terraforming a planet like, say, Mars.

Shira Chess writes about moral panics, Slender Man and the “Tulpa Effect” at Culture Digitally.

And Now, Foreign Correspondent Joe Köller Has The Floor

Forgive my long absence friends, but I made the grievous mistake of sorting my schedule alphabetically, so I had to address academia and beach reading before being able to return to correspondence. Fortunately I’ll now be able to continue the streak with dispatches, emails and findings.

In the pre-postapocalyptic times of last month, before ethical concerns in games writing were about who did what with their genitals, an anonymous source took to Video Game Tourism to discuss the all-too-cozy relationship between games PR and bloggers and Youtubers. You know, real ethical concerns.

On the subject of internet outrage mired in misogynistic shit, Lucie Höhler wrote a nice summary of events and the changing currents of games culture that inspired them. Katrin Gottschalk also talked about the reception of Anita Sarkeesian’s latest for Spiegel Online.

In happier news, here’s Rudolf Inderst applying strollology, the science of talking walks, to video games. Meanwhile, Christof Zurschmitten talks about the short film/short game project Short Peace.

Gamopolis is the name of a new podcast about games and politics by Daniel Ziegener and Yasmina Banaszczuk, who also wrote this lovely piece about kids growing up in post-apocalyptic worlds.

And lastly, while he has yet to complete one of his famous supercuts, Sebastian Standke has already shared bite-sized vignettes on over 230 Ludum Dare games, now collected in this two-parter.

Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye!

Thanks for reading! We really do rely on community support to keep running, so please feel encouraged to email or tweet submissions at us. Please also consider making a small donation to our Patreon so that the Feminist Illuminati can finally fund training for paramilitary flying monkeys we can keep on providing the curatorial goods.

One last link for the road? Kate Reynolds at Storycade offers a brief review of Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai’s Quing’s Quest made for #ruinjam, and which you should definitely play right now.

Ah, September. School has returned, those summer nights get shorter, the first leaves begin to change and Mark turns into a human allergy attack. But fear not, for with this great power comes another This Week in Videogame Blogging!

American Presidential Scandals

Over the last three weeks there has been growing discussion around the journalistic standards of the games media. The event, dubbed GamerGate, was our focus last week, and even as it simmers down, it remains a widely talked about event.

Many writers implore moderates who are unaware or uninterested in the sexist roots of the campaign to take a close look at how its impacting people, such as L. Rhodes, who responds to the demands and criticisms of “Fair-Minded Proponents of #GamerGate” in a piece on Medium:

That isn’t news to you, of course. You were quick to disavow that sort of exclusion. #GamerGate, you told me, is about inclusion. That’s part of why you placed so much value on the term gamer, and why you were so frustrated at the recent spate of articles suggesting that the gamer identity is dead or dying. Gaming had connected you with a community where you felt accepted, and to have that repudiated felt like another form of exclusion.

If the sheer fact that they’re using your name to harass other gamers isn’t enough to motivate you, then maybe recognizing how they’ve worked to undermine your goals will.

Throughout his piece, Rhodes addresses the allegations of corruption many have brought up to him and to other writers.

Likewise, Andrew Plotkin seems to agree that there is little room for middle-ground, arguing that neutrality and silence during a harassment campaign of this size condones it.

In a similar vein, Mary Lee Sauder suggests concrete, positive reforms to reporting standards or design philosophies are all that will prevent ‘Gamerghazi’ from becoming a permanent fixture of the medium:

Nobody wants misogyny to become the unspoken and unchallenged dark reality of the video game community. But if all we do is shout at each other, then nothing will ever change. I propose that we use “GamerGate” as a jumping off point for an overhaul in harassment policies in our industry and community.

Lastly, at Silicon Sasquatch, guest columnist Brit McGinnis — who works as a journalist outside of games coverage — discusses how events like the ‘Gamer-Contra Affair’ become complicated in such a young and undefined area of journalism as gaming the press:

Because let’s face it: The standards of what makes an ethical video game review are far from etched in stone. The industry’s still in its infancy, for Pete’s sake. I ask myself, would I ever review a game made by one of my friends? A year ago, maybe I would have. But now, no. That wouldn’t be up to a journalistic standard of impartiality.

[...] The Zoe Quinn situation is a test case for this fledgling branch of journalism, and one probably couldn’t have asked for a better one.

Gamers Lost Like Tears in the Rain

One common reaction to the ‘Gamercake forgery’ has been a move to abandon the label “gamer” altogether. Aleks Samoylov of The Cloud Monster writes, “[gamers] don’t belong in our space, and they don’t deserve our attention, our time, our energy. Let us define new spaces as we see fit.” Samoylov calls for a smaller community, asking that those fed up with “gamer” culture shift their money and attention to more intimate projects.

Skeleton Sam takes a similar stance on their personal blog, comparing the homogeneity and potential for growth in games with comics at the turn of the century. They also make my job a lot easier by citing a plethora of related writing to back up their claims.

Of course, there are those that prefer to keep the term, such as Wendi Sierra of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, who believes that a sub-culture that identifies with the label does not constitute its whole:

I can certainly sympathize with those who want to get rid of the “gamer” label. Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of assumptions tied up with calling one’s self a gamer, and many of them aren’t positive. Still, rejecting the label altogether seems like missing the forest for the trees to me. Yes, there is a violent, angry, vocal contingent of players in the gaming world. The tools we have for collaborating with others and sharing our views make them highly visible, just as those same tools give Sarkeesian and others the chance to reframe how we think about games.

Steve Gibson takes to Njoystic with a similar view that “gamer” does not belong to trolls and that the term can be reclaimed.

Zoya Street provides an excerpt from his book, Delay: paying attention to energy mechanics for the Border House, where he elucidates the concept of shame and how it connects to gamers. It’s a worthwhile read right now for any current or former “gamers” whether they’re openly proud or ashamed of the baggage that comes with the term.

The Future is Now

Writing for Time, Leigh Alexander says that harassers represent the traditional gaming audience lashing out at a culture that has expanded beyond them:

There’s something for everyone in the modern gaming landscape, and the way games journalists parse all this for their readers is beginning to change, too. You’d think this would make people happy, but recently this culture shift would appear to have broken out into full-on culture war online.

[...] Some [...] admit they’re afraid that “social justice warriors” will ruin video games.

Tobold Stoutfoot, on the other hand, interprets the shrinking influence of “core gamers” as the result of economic forces:

Games like they used to be have a problem in today’s market. Many of the core themes are not acceptable to a wider audience. It isn’t just as Anita Sarkeesian complains how women are shown as victims in the background decoration of games like Hitman. It is that games like Hitman which are exclusively about violence aren’t as appealing to a wider market than they were to the old core audience.

(Tobold is a self-styled moderate in this discussion and those who find our roundups “one-sided” are encouraged to check out his other posts on this subject for some parity. –ed)

At Geek Essays, Pixie reminds everyone involved that, even while rhetoric around these discussions intensifies, “you can’t build inclusion on exclusionary language.” It’s a salient point to keep in mind since advocates of both “sides” in the last few weeks have involved unfair assumptions about opponents’ sexuality, intelligence, and mental health.

Related, Charlotte Hyde back at Not Your Mama’s Gamer describes how difficult it is to be heard when opponents shout undue insults at her (content warning: discussion of sexist language):

Lately, it seems that I and many others have to fight to be heard and are being told for one reason or another that we don’t really have the right to even be in the conversation. I shouldn’t even say “lately” because it’s always been a battle to be heard, but lately, it seems to be an even more uphill battle.

Perhaps it needn’t be said, but this is an opportunity to listen.

The Past is Now… Also

Reflecting on the last few weeks, Anna Tito offers her own history of how she became a game developer, noting that women have always been in the geek world. While her whole story is worth reading, her conclusion provides such an emphatic memento for the discussions that will no doubt continue:

To those who believe that women are here to ruin their gaming world I say this: I have always been here. I have lived in the shadows of ‘your’ world unacknowledged and [been] dismissed, but this world is as much mine as it is yours.

BioWare developer Damion Schubert suggests that gaming’s troll culture arose with early MMORPGs and suggests that the genre’s success only arrived when developers learned to mitigate user harassment.

Launching off the sustained harassment campaigns, Roland reflects on the Grand Theft Auto series for 9pp, considering that the series — and by extension, videogames — have sophisticated the wrong things in their quest for legitimacy:

The two passes we issued back in the day — a pass because the crude themes were only vaguely realised, and a pass because the tech showed artistic potential — expired in 2002. Now we have vivid portrayals of sick activities, deliberately and careful created, and reiterated until they’re just right, using basically the same tech that every other game under the sun has been using since we went 3D. Now we’re just perverts.

Lastly, Shamus Young takes to his column at The Escapist to describe how his many years of gaming have left him craving novelty.

Future and Past

Before moving away from the ongoing charges of conspiracy and corruption, I think The New Inquiry has earned a slow clap for curating an extensive list of writing not only related to the current goings on, but women’s issues of representation and over the last several years. Their “Syllabus for Gaming and Feminism” is about as close to comprehensive as can be expected.

Games and Literature

Over at the Ontological Geek, Joey DiZoglio compares Little Inferno with Yvgeny Zamyatin’s “The Cave” as pieces that ask their audiences to tread the line between survival and civilization.

G. Christopher Williams, the final boss of the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters, describes the race toward defeat in Spec-Ops: The Line as a videogame tragedy:

Walker and the player’s final choice in the game mark the tragedy of this downward spiral from badass video game hero to a character and player that is morally comprised by the very activity of playing hero.

James Wragg of Thrusting Sticks manages to write about Roger Ebert, ludonarrative dissonance and Citizen Kane without awakening the legion of fallen critics, evaluating games like Metal Gear Solid and The Last of Us as narratives cognitively constructed by play to argue how terms like immersion misdirect the real problem with the medium:

Games are a broken because they are stuck in a quagmire of juvenility. They are not being allowed to grow by a commercialised industry obsessed with eternally repackaging Time Crisis for a mass audience. And the problem is exacerbated tenfold by a woefully inadequate mainstream gaming press, which largely identifies the problem as a technical one (an imperfect simulation, or a lack of obvious synchronicity between play and narrative), rather than a thematic one.

Better Together

Back at Polygon, Alexa Ray Corriea writes about Kingdom Hearts and the way it brought her closer to her brothers:

I don’t really know how it started. I booted the game up immediately on our downstairs TV and began playing. A few days later, Raymond started watching in media res and got confused, so we started the game over, together. A day later, four-year-old Jake — who was really fond of wandering the house in his underwear — came and sat with us.

And that was that.

Leigh Harrison compares two mobile card games, one Doctor Who themed and the other WWE-themed, and found the latter, less ambitious of the two better:

Legacy wants to be a proper, respectable match three puzzle game first and foremost, just without the leper-like stigma of gating progress with an energy system (see above). SuperCards, I’d say, is pretty happy just being a quick-fire source of constant, bite sized stimulations.

Getting Hot in Here

Over at Polygon, Holly Green cites a number of studies that indicate how players relate to their avatar while describing how Fallout 3 produced that very experience for her:

My real emotions responded when my avatar communicated with her and shared concern. Christine was no longer just a series of digital signals and impulses to me. She was real.

Moreover, Green describes how Fallout helped her explore her sexuality in her early stages of discovering it.

Meanwhile, Cara Ellison enters the bizarre and unsettling world of Fuck Everything by Lena NW in a NSFW analysis for Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Finally, Jed Pressgrove praises Amazing Princess Sarah for using its new game plus “nudity” difficulty as a way to mechanically change how the game is played, even if he seems to be shaking his head in his palms over the game’s marketing, “Interestingly,” he writes, “[developer] Haruneko makes wet dreams into more than a marketing ploy.”

Revisiting Old Ideas

Matthew Weise thinks cutscenes deserve credit for their cinematic uses, not derision as distractions from play:

Tricks [in cutscenes] only work because cinematic cut-scenes make the domains of player and designer so painfully clear. It helps the player understand *exactly* what part of the story belongs to them and what part belongs to the storyteller. It helps them understand things like identity and abstraction.

Putting the U in Labour

Lana Polansky takes to her blog to discuss payola in videogames and how it cheapens writers and their craft in favour of established, monied game developers:

Of course it’s disingenuous to argue that a review copy or a preorder are somehow less tempting just because they’re less personal — or that supporting a person’s work generally implies more bias than receiving side compensation for individual projects. But what’s really pernicious about this is that, while a ban like [Kotaku's] does absolute sweet fuck-all to address the wider systemic issues of collusion and corruption and corporate influence at play in games press, it also deflects all of the burden onto the associations of individual actors and away from an inherently unjust and opaque structure.

Elsewhere, at Paste, the tag-team duo of Ian Williams and Austin Walker condemn Blizzard for reinforcing the crunch-cycle with the language of their job ads:

None of us wants to let down our family and friends, but we can probably get away with letting down management. That social pressure is what keeps crunch time and other bad practices in place as a normal part of the industry.

According to Williams and Walker, Blizzard, one of the most stable companies in the industry—is promoting the exploitative ways that games are made.

Katie Cox expresses related frustrations at Your Critic is in Another Castle toward the limitations and expectations that come with crowdfunding:

I hate deciding which of my talented friends and peers deserves $2 for hard work well-done and which of them deserves $0.50. I hate deciding that I shouldn’t support friends who are popular, because I have less-popular friends who need the money more. I cringe at the thought that anyone might feel they owe me anything in their work, or that they owe me any work at all.

Finish

Well, it’s been a long one but as always it’s been a pleasure. Before I collapse into a gross ball of sneezes, let me tell you that our Blogs of the Round Table is still open for submissions and Lindsey and I are eager to give them a read.

Also, Critical Distance is handcrafted out of the links provided every week by our readers, so please submit any writing you’d like to see here to our email or through Twitter.

Finally, for newcomers who may be confused about the format or purpose of this site, we refer you to our Mission Statement and Support page, which contains our anti-harassment and funding policies respectively.

Hey there, everyone.

Before we start today, a bit of signal-boosting: Digital Love Child is putting together an ebook collection on gun games and has put out a call for submissions, deadline sometime mid-September.

Also, the new videogame StoryBundle is out, containing books by Anna Anthropy and Zoya Street as well as the first six issues of Five Out of Ten magazine. You should get it.

Now that that’s out there, let’s bring it in close and get comfortable today. I have a long one for you and you might need to take a few breaks.

I don’t often dedicate This Week in Videogame Blogging to a single topic, but in this case it was more or less unavoidable. There were a few articles on other subjects, but they would be drowned out by the conversation which follows below, so I’ve bookmarked them for next week. Don’t worry, nothing’s been lost.

I also want to note that this edition of the roundup has a general content warning for at least the following: sexual harassment, stalking, rape threats, death threats, and misogynist slurs, with a liberal peppering of ableist slurs thrown in for good measure. Please use your discretion when proceeding.

Additional article-specific content warning markers will be noted after relevant links.

Tropes vs Anita Sarkeesian

If you haven’t seen it yet, Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames series has released the second in its two-part episode on “women as background decoration.” (Additional content warning: graphic sexual violence.)

The release of Sarkeesian’s video, amidst the ongoing tensions and attacks on women in the industry, has led to Sarkeesian receiving credible death threats on her and her family, forcing her to leave her home. It’s also led to quite a bit of discussion elsewhere, mainly on the subject of the sustained harassment against her.

At The New Statesman, Ian Steadman takes a couple cues from Sarkeesian’s own videos to provide an excellent breakdown in the logical fallacies used to “debunk” and derail the criticisms present in the video series.

While not referencing Sarkeesian specifically, this post by former GameSpot critic Carolyn Petit does a good job at countering the argument that games are beyond cultural criticism:

Games are not politically neutral. Neither are mainstream romantic comedies, or action films, or any novel I’ve ever read. They may sometimes appear politically neutral if the values they reinforce mesh with the value systems of the larger culture, but our culture is not politically neutral, either, and it is not outside of the role of a critic to comment on or raise questions about the political meanings embedded in the works one evaluates. In fact, it is often impossible to review something apolitically, because to not comment on or challenge the political meanings in a work in your review is to give them your tacit endorsement.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Jennifer Justice suggests that for a lot of the kneejerk negativity directed at feminist games criticism, something more fundamental is at play:

A lot of the fear I see about feminism comes from the idea that giving in to feminists means giving in to censorship. For some, that fear takes its shape in nonsensical arguments about threats to masculinity or stealing of power from one group to another [...]

Those who fear censorship could read my posts as an argument to “clean up” narratives… to remove sources of conflict in order to avoid disturbing female gamers who play these games. But I believe women are made of tougher stuff than that, and most of us want a good story as much as the next gamer. It’s not that I want games to be without conflict or to always end with some moralistic theme. I just want more stories.

At The Verge, Adi Robertson also expounds on this theme, in particular the assertion that depictions of women in games can be defended as “realistic”:

“Why is it video games need to be politically and societally [sic] correct? The whole point of video games is to escape reality and have fun.”

If that’s the goal, games like Watch Dogs are failing horribly.

You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims. [...] Oddly, when someone raises these issues, the people who have been stridently defending their games as “just games” switch to explaining why having women in other roles is unrealistic. A gritty, stylized world built on the corpses of women is defended as a way for gamers to escape from reality, but if someone points out that it makes them uncomfortable, they’re told that they’re supposed to be uncomfortable.

XO Jane’s Lesley Kinzel adds that the attacks only drive home how relevant Sarkeesian’s criticisms are:

It should go without saying, but you don’t stop an activist or a critic by propagating the exact behavior that they are organizing or arguing against. In fact, doing so bolsters their cause.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Women in Games

In addition to these renewed attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, this marks the second week of a harassment campaign against independent developer Zoe Quinn. At The Daily Dot, Aja Romano has an effective recap of last week’s attacks and also showcases how the incident differs from the Josh Mattingly harassment scandal from earlier this year.

(Side note: You may have heard that actor Adam Baldwin is involved in this somehow now. The Mary Sue’s Victoria McNally has a good writeup on it.)

An interview with Quinn’s ex-boyfriend has also circulated a lot this week and was originally pinned for inclusion in this roundup. I’ve removed it, in light of this post by Critical Distance alumnus David Carlton, who warns of the false equivalence we risk creating in the press by covering the voices of abusers as valid:

[T]he media likes to find two sides of the issue to present, and to present those sides without any sort of context that might cause one to evaluate one side more favorably than the other. It doesn’t matter if one of those sides is supported by essentially all experts on the subject while the other is only supported by loons (sic) or guns-for-hire; it doesn’t matter if one of those sides is engaging in behavior squarely within our political norms while the other side is doing historically unprecedented attacks on the very concept of majority rule; and, as here, it doesn’t matter if one of those sides is behaving with simple compassion while the other side is lacking even a shred of simple human decency. False equivalence demands both.

At The Globe and Mail, Emma M. Woolley concurs, asserting that the claims of “corruption” only obfuscate a far greater problem:

Gaming’s most pervasive issue isn’t corruption, but the people who’ve taken ownership of something that isn’t solely theirs to begin with. In trying their damnedest to limit the appeal of the medium and use online harassment to achieve their goals, this group of toxic trolls are proving themselves to be gaming’s biggest problem.

In his tumblr, Australian media scholar (and definitely not Polygon contributor) Brendan Keogh covers this as well, in an open letter to a friend in which he laments that games journalism does indeed suffer from a kind of corruption, but not the kind in the Quinn “scandal”:

What all these people who are part of the attack on women who make games don’t seem to understand is that they are exactly the status quo that is fostered and served by games journalism and its problems. The good parts of games journalism (the critiques of the industry, the coverage of non-commercial games, writing on gender and race and the such) are a sign of games journalism getting better, but, to these people, it is their privileged position being brought down a notch so all they see is conspiracies.

Badass Digest’s Andrew Todd notes that apart from opposition to what “social justice” seems to represent to them, those involved in the attacks have no plan or goal:

Central to the self-centred psychology of these people is that they see themselves as the targets of a grand conspiracy of feminist, progressive journalists and game developers that seeks to destroy their ability to…something. They have no actual issue. It’s all perceived persecution at the hands of political correctness. These “theories” are so narcissistic, so devoid of substance, that the only way to explain them is through delusion. And I mean, I get it – justifying one’s shitty behaviour with a made-up conspiracy probably feels better than confronting the painful truth that one is an asshole. They think they’re part of a “silent majority”, but the real silent majority is the one that either isn’t aware of their ridiculous conspiracy theories, or understands that there’s simply no reasoning with [them].

Developer Elizabeth Sampat draws into sharp focus how Quinn is only the latest in a march of countless women who have been harassed in the industry, many to the point of being forced out:

I could tell you stories about the voices we’ve lost, the women we’ve scarred, the people we’ve left behind. I want to, but I’m not sure you’d get it. I tweeted earlier today, We should have a war memorial for all of the women we have lost to this. We should lay flowers and grieve and see our reflections in stone. And I meant it. I wish there were a way to honor the people our industry has wronged, and a way to visualize the enormity of what we have lost because of it— some representation of the gap between what games are and what they can be, and the pieces of the bridge between that have fallen away.

(Since its posting, artist Paul Reinwand painted a concept piece of what such a memorial would look like. I’ve included it below.)

memorial_reinwand

The subject of erasure turns up in the latest Not Your Mama’s Gamer podcast as well. Podcast co-host Alex Layne notes that while women in the industry have been terrorized in this way for years, it is only the recent wave of abuse coinciding with a bomb threat called in on a male Sony executive that the conversation has finally, seriously turned to acts of terrorism against members of the industry. This topic starts at around the 1 hour part.

Speaking of great podcasts concerning current events, the latest Idle Thumbs episode does it justice. I believe it’s Chris Remo who declares early on in the recording that trying to engage with the torrent of abusers has been “like Buzz Aldrin dealing with that Moon [conspiracy] guy.”

I leave the final word on this to Zoe Quinn herself, who weighs in with some self-declared final thoughts, washing her hands of the debacle. (Additional content warning: Quinn links to multiple screenshots which include 4chan-typical slurs.)

Beyond Nomenclature

In an empathetic post, Polygon’s Chris Plante suggests that games “culture” now stands on the brink, teetering between a new identity and its old familiar one.

This is a theme Leigh Alexander picked up and ran with this week at Gamasutra, saying in a strongly-worded editorial that it’s time to retire the ‘gamer’ paradigm:

By the turn of the millennium those were games’ only main cultural signposts: Have money. Have women. Get a gun and then a bigger gun. Be an outcast. Celebrate that. Defeat anyone who threatens you. You don’t need cultural references. You don’t need anything but gaming. Public conversation was led by a games press whose role was primarily to tell people what to buy, to score products competitively against one another, to gleefully fuel the “team sports” atmosphere around creators and companies.

[...]

Yet in 2014, the industry has changed. We still think angry young men are the primary demographic for commercial video games — yet average software revenues from the commercial space have contracted massively year on year, with only a few sterling brands enjoying predictable success.

It’s clear that most of the people who drove those revenues in the past have grown up — either out of games, or into more fertile spaces, where small and diverse titles can flourish, where communities can quickly spring up around creativity, self-expression and mutual support, rather than consumerism. There are new audiences and new creators alike there. Traditional “gaming” is sloughing off, culturally and economically, like the carapace of a bug.

[...]

Developers and writers alike want games about more things, and games by more people. We want — and we are getting, and will keep getting — tragicomedy, vignette, musicals, dream worlds, family tales, ethnographies, abstract art. We will get this, because we’re creating culture now. We are refusing to let anyone feel prohibited from participating.

“Gamer” isn’t just a dated demographic label that most people increasingly prefer not to use. Gamers are over. That’s why they’re so mad.

In a community post, Devin Wilson goes one further than Alexander and speaks directly to industry members about the things professionals can do, starting right now, to be better:

We need to consider the very real possibility that the offensive behavior displayed by gamers in recent weeks is not unrelated to the artifacts they rally around (which I doubt are especially obscure). These people didn’t come from nowhere to fight about nothing. They came from games to fight about games. They’re organic results of the medium we’ve all played a role in cultivating, and they won’t go away if the medium doesn’t change significantly.

Star Wars: The Old Republic lead designer Damion Schubert took to his dev blog Zen of Design this week to call upon communities — including but not limited to developers — to call out and oust toxic individuals:

I’m issuing a call to arms – a call to arms not just to developers (who in the last two weeks have risen heroically in defense of our comrades under assault), but also to the large contingent of ‘good guy fans’ that I know are out there, and I put it on them to work with us to address this issue. Call out the assholes as you see them doing assholish stuff. Welcome and foster healthy, mature, respectful debate on the forums. Kick players from your groups and your private servers who can’t treat other players with a modicum of genuine respect. Do what you can to create a welcoming environment for ALL new players, no matter their demographics.

Back on Gamasutra’s blogs, Robert Fearon issues the (almost radical) proposition that the real force “ruining” games for the hardcore set is, in fact, the AAA industry itself:

The death of the videogame is not at the hand of women, queers, PoC or more human white men, it did not happen at the hands of journalists reporting on the more disturbing aspects of videogame culture, it did not happen because people decided that “gamer” was maybe something not so great to identify as. It did not happen because someone made a video pointing at a few things videogames have the habit of doing.

It happened because the big box money machine found itself more people to make money from. The very people who pandered and supplied the wares shifted their focus. And that’s when the hardcoreiest of hardcore, the vocal screamers who just want to play videogames with none of this ethical rubbish or DLC or microtransactions or or or lost their fight.

Critical Distance’s own Mattie Brice raises a similar point, suggesting that our communities need to be built on sterner stuff than what products we buy:

Petitioning gamers, companies, and publications to make a stand for the values we care about won’t happen at a healthy speed without strings attached. Everything will be mediated by consumerism, and simply buying or not buying from certain places isn’t going to solve core issues. So the next time you’re wondering what to do when things seem so bleak, reach out to the people around you, and tell them it’s time to get together, and form a supportive community. One that has, from the beginning, at its center, the ideals and ideas we want missing from industry.

Dubious Ethics

Another recurring topic this week was Kotaku’s announcement that it would forbid its writers from supporting the Patreons of independent developers (but not other crowdfunding and early access platforms).

At Unite Youth Dublin, Stephen Beirne challenges the decision, asserting that it will have little effect but punishing already marginalized devs. Brendan Keogh is also skeptical, comparing the situation to a hypothetical one between a music critic and a busker.

At Game Bias, Jed Pressgrove doesn’t much like Keogh’s analogy, reminding readers that old media has no clear answers for this either:

To put this another way, ethical concerns involving Patreon or Kickstarter are relatively new; ethical concerns related to the review of purchased or free products are quite old.

But, as Samantha Allen points out in The Daily Beast, this goes beyond sites or individuals — the next social media technologies need to be designed with the safety of the marginalized in mind.

Hand in Unlovable Hand

I’ll spare you all the regular song and dance usually reserved for these ending sections. Though, as always, be aware that we welcome your submissions through email and by Twitter mention.

And to reiterate, anything that was submitted this week but was not included is being kept for consideration next week. This subject just needed its own space.

If this is all a bit much, I’d recommend this roundup on Ars Technica by Casey Johnston, which refers to many of the links above and many more besides.

Lastly, for newcomers who may be confused about the format or purpose of this site, I’d like to direct you to our Mission Statement and Support page, which contains our anti-harassment and funding policies respectively.

Be safe, be well, sleep. We’ll be announcing something cool in a few days.

-KL

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!