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

Cult of Celebrity

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk

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

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

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

A Matter of Interpretation

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unseen Academicals

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

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

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

Dollars and Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Palm of Your Hand

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

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

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

Ten Seconds to Air

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

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

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

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

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

Mountain Phenomenology

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

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

Standard Models and Their Derivations

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

New Cartographies

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

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

New Paths

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Then There Was Silence

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

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

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

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

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

You Know the Drill

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, There is a Mountain

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

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

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

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

Time and Time Again

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

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

Shoulds and Shouldn’ts

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

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

Foreign Correspondence

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

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

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

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

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


Structure of Games

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

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

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

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

(Content Note: Discussion of Harassment)

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

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

Then, There Is No Mountain

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

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

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


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

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

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

It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging 3000!

Strangely British

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

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

No Game’s Land

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

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

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

Binders Full of Women

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

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

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

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

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

Down to the Nitty-Gritty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Back to Look Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Keep Using That Word

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

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


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

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

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

And the Machine is Bleeding to Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+1 Signal Boost

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

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

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

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

Usual Footer Business

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

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

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

All that Fantasy Jazz

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

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

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

Liberty, Equality, Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Fish

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

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

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

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

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

The End is Extremely Effin’ Nigh

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

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

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

It’s Systems All the Way Down

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

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

Wizards and Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

And The Rest, They Say, is…

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Hello and welcome to Critical Distance, where representation of all races, creeds, and genders is always in the budget and never a post-production afterthought! And now, it is our pleasure to present you with a veritable feast of critical thinkers who aren’t afraid to do the same in This Week In Video Game Blogging!

You Can’t Get Away with Ignoring Half Your Audience Anymore

In case you somehow missed it, this past week hosted the annual E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) trade fair.

One of the biggest media storms of the expo, however, began when Ubisoft Creative Director Alex Amanico said in an interview with Polygon that the addition of playable female characters in Assassins Creed: Unity had proved too costly to include. Promptly and deservedly, the Internet called BS on Amanico. For instance:

Sara Clemens argues that Ubisoft had the opportunity to reach a compromise that would appease both pro-women gamers and “he-man-woman-hating types,” but ultimately failed to do so because women continue to be seen by industry higher-ups as superfluous and unimportant add-ons.

In a parody of what it must be like to sit in on Ubisoft’s pre-production creative meetings, Brenna Hillier concludes that, from Ubisoft’s perspective, “all players play as the same character” is seemingly less ridiculous “than the concept of women existing and having a nice time blowing shit up.”

Fed up with such false logic and poor excuses, Rhea Monique looks backs on a time in the not-so-distant past (the late 1990s and early 2000s) when the inclusion of women was more status quo.

Elsewhere, Daniel Golding reflects on the historical irony that while the most famous assassin from the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday, was a woman, Ubisoft elected not to include a playable female character in their assassin game set during the French Revolution.

Without any muss or fuss about the matter, Sande Chen gives us the cold hard truth:

Ultimately, the decision to include female playable characters really boils down to whether or not a video game company makes it a priority.

Offering a glimmer of hope, however, Elisa Melendez  recounts her day at E3 spent entirely playing women characters.

Finally, if the above isn’t enough, Go Make Me a Sandwich has curated a list of articles on the issue as well.

But Remember, There’s More to Representation than Making Women Playable

This week, prompted by the trailer for the new Tomb Raider game in which Lara Croft undergoes a therapy session, Leigh Alexander notes the double standard in games whereby:

When you want to make a woman into a hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt… also a woman first.

While Alexander is careful not to dismiss the importance of examining mental health or trauma in games or the importance of allowing female playable characters to show their emotional depth by being more than “strong,” she laments that games are “still largely populated by men who feel unsure about how to write and build nuanced women.” On the other hand, Rhea Monique, argues that we should embrace, rather than bristle at Croft’s weakness because she takes the player along with her, through every part of her journey, including her pain and her healing.

Not So Fast, E3, We Aren’t Finished With You Yet

Zack Kotzer reminds us that “Blockbuster Video Games Still Suck at Handling Racism” as well.

Alternatively, rather than calling out games for what they lack, Martin calls out the journalists who are too busy rolling their eyes at the AAA industry to provide equal coverage to independent titles and exposition spaces such as indiE3.

In a similar move, Nick Hanford at Higher Level Gamer cautions game consumers and those practicing game criticism to be wary of the rhetoric we use and reuse, especially the rhetoric perpetuated by marketers and PR gurus.

Developer vs. Player

Moving away from E3 specific coverage, this week also brings us several pieces that investigate the differences in perspective between developer and player and what happens when we interrogate issues across those spaces.

In “Walkthrough Vs. Speedrun,” Nathan examines the differences and similarities between a developer’s slow and cautious walkthrough of a game that intentionally avoid glitches against a speedrunner’s exploitation of glitches to promote speed. He concludes that while neither is the “common player,” both have intimate knowledge of the game’s systems.

Elsewhere, Zach Alexander compares Flappy Bird and Threes and the opportunities their developers were provided to talk about their games and how those games were received and critiqued by players. Alexander argues that perspective is paramount in how we talk about and villainize game clones, and states:

The label of “clone” is subject to things other than passionless examinations of precise details. It is influenced by the surrounding culture. The next time we are tempted to call a game a clone, we should think long and hard about what we’re targeting and why.

Examining the issue that the majority of programming languages have English origins, Robert Yang considers how non-English developers must sometimes prioritize, as the Noserudake2 developer did, to connect with English-speaking audiences over polishing the look and feel of the game itself.

Code Breaking

While elsewhere people are concerned with how to make future games better, Darby McDevitt stresses the importance of preserving the technological present and past, as our obsession with technological advance makes all digital media subject to increasing temporality and code rot.

In a great long-form read, Christian Donlan looks at the intersection between coding and code cracking by telling the story of Elonka Dunin and her attempts to crack Kryptos.

In yet another take on the issues of code, Dr. Paul Ralph provides a new way to code our language and theory about games in order to:

…help game designers and academics speak a common language, to legitimize the study of game design among other social sciences and to educate the next generation of game designers.

Building Better Worlds

Bill Coberly worries that Dragon Age: Inquisition will fix all the wrong problems by conflating Dragon Age 2‘s liberal reuse of environments (bad) with its deliberate choice to reduce the game’s scope (good).

Alternately, Peter Christiansen takes a look at how Crusader Kings expanded its scope to include theories of social construction of technology.

Looking through the lenses of experience and nostalgia, Eric Swain examines why, upon return to Myst, the world seems so much smaller than it did 20 years ago.

Speaking of nostalgia, by playing Bioshock Infinite in the “1999″ difficulty mode, Steven Margolin realizes that perhaps Irrational Games is nostalgically holding onto what is now an outdated game design — as if it really were still 1999.


Jed Pressgrove’s argument in “Actual Marxism: Labor and Marx in Actual Sunlight” contains spoilers for Actual Sunlight, and so I will simply state that events in the game can be understood as “not necessarily intended” if understood from a Marxist perspective.

Beyond Easy Grouping

No less worthy of your attention despite my inability to group them nicely are the following:

Jesper Juul, ludologist extraordinaire, investigates impostor syndrome in games and how when our subjective expectations for a game are not met, we are more incentivized to seek flaws in the game itself.

Despite being “complete hogwash” historically, Robert Rath explains why the myth of Nazi advanced science continues to be perpetuated in popular media.

While E3 was full of advertisements and trailers showing us the violence we could experience in-game, VGJUNK takes a look back at game advertisements from the 16 and 32 bit era to find that, back then, advertisements focused on the violence games would enact on the player.

In “Reaction to a Woman’s Friend Request in an FPS Game” a group of scholars conduct a field experiment in which:

We found support for the hypothesis that, in general, women would gain more compliance with friend requests than men. We also found support for the hypothesis that women making positive utterances would gain more compliance with friend requests than women making negative utterances, whereas men making negative utterances would gain more compliance with friend requests than men making positive utterances.

Cha Holland takes us on a pensive and critical journey through what may or may nor be genital anatomy in Luxuria Superbia.

Before You Go

We’d like to take the time, as always, to thank you for joining us and for submitting the pieces of writing you’d like to see featured here via twitter submission or email submission.

Also, make sure you check out our great works like Blogs of the Round Table.

Finally, we’d like to thank those who support Critical Distance, which is entirely funded by its readership. If you aren’t a patron and would like to become one, we’d be so happy to have you.

That’s it for this week, Critically Distanced friends! Please go forth, enjoy your Sunday and remember to be excellent to each other.

Alright Mark, you only get to make one first impression. Make it count. H-hey everybody.

I have a scab on my thigh.

Hey look! It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

The Forest

Patricia Hernandez expresses disappointment with Tomodachi Life‘s heteronormativity over at Kotaku and breaks down just how structurally invested the game is in straightness:

[E]ntire sections of the game are gated until you let characters romance each other. And since only folks of the opposite gender can romance each other, I think it’s fair to say that Tomodachi Life is really invested in heterosexual relationships. When Nintendo is probably the first company that comes to mind when someone says “family friendly” in the gaming industry, that’s a problem.

Zachery Oliver’s second of a two-part breakdown of remastered classics cuts at the necessity and hypocrisy of modernizing the past. Speaking of preserving the past, Tomas Brown analyses how museums function in games for Play the Past.

Chris Franklin discusses preservation and curation of games in a time when most of the process is digitized. Specifically, he touches on how important it is that critics distance themselves from the AAA Public-Relations Complex:

I’m as guilty as anyone when I spend two weeks writing about a half-baked Thief sequel instead of something smaller but arguably more intimate … we do it because the information most people want right now is to know whether their hype in Watch_Dogs is validated.

Finally, Gaines Hubbell of Higher Level Gamer encourages scepticism to any critical approach that leans heavily on auteur theory. Listen close and you can hear the thud from the mic dropping:

Authorship is always a tricky issue for critics of all medias. Auteur theory does not work for content from major studios, and it works only occasionally for content from indie+ studios.

The Trees

Aevee Bee applauds the way that Fire Emblem: Awakening adopts fantasy pulp writing tropes to videogame structure: “Fire Emblem isn’t any more or less designed than any other narrative but it is designed with respect to the technology of a video game.” As if I needed another reason to finally play that game.

Conversely, Lindsey Joyce, the scabless curator of last week’s TWIVGB, finds that Child of Light fails to reconcile its writing tradition with the demands of immersion.

At Tap-Repeatedly, Amanda Lange reads the disconnected episodes of Kentucky Route Zero as an endless, dreamless night:

In games with long, tangled quest arcs, realizing that the quest has become impossibly convoluted is like seeing the Emperor without his clothes for the first time. You’re often one step from the light shining in your eyes and wondering, “just why the hell am I doing all this?” Kentucky Route Zero made this common problem into a feature instead.

Cameron Kunzelman examines how the change in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood‘s use of space redirects the series while Anthony John Agnello continues his series on empty spaces for The A.V. Club; this time with a focus on Final Fantasy VI.

Lana Polansky also looks at maps and space, but at their appropriating influence through the lens of Leonard Getinthecar’s visual art piece based on Space Invaders.

Writing for The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers, discusses how well Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead focus on morality by removing choices from in-game stat modifiers. Jorge Albor focuses his own microscope on The Walking Dead episode, “In Harm’s Way,” specifically with how Carver, the episode’s antagonist, weaponizes traditional gender roles to dominate the player and their group of hapless survivors.

Leigh Alexander on Gamasutra compares two games based Kanye West lyrics, the officially sanctioned I Won with the fan-made Kanye Zone. In her words, “[Kanye Zone is] the complete opposite of the I Won game: a game about literal achievement is cynical, but one that makes an abstract expression mechanical is funny.”

While we’re laughing at some cynical stuff, Alex Hern takes a look at Class Struggle, a board game designed in 1978 by a New York professor to teach players about Marxism.

More Like Cyber JUNK

Word is out on the first major cross-platform title to hit the new console generation: Watch_Dogs is definitely a videogame. Nick Hanford pens a number of micro-essays teasing apart the game’s problems.

Meanwhile at Paste, Patrick Lindsey explains how big-budget games completely miss the point of the cyberpunk hero in general:

Their visual individuality is a direct contrast to the imposing monolithic grey facelessness of the establishment, the act of hacking itself a refusal to acquiesce to corporate assimilation. Instead, recent games have delivered the reverse — identical white heroes preying on the diverse and colorful array of the city’s inhabitants for personal gain.

Robert Rath claims that in Wolfenstein: The New Order, surviving surviving totalitarian rule is the greatest form of defying it. Rath details a number of historical rebellions that, while mundane, were crucial to undermining Germany’s authoritarian leaders. He goes on:

Late-game missteps aside, at times The New Order does an excellent job confronting the player with the wide spectrum of resistance to the Nazis … We see that survival, merely living life, is an act of resistance.

We Never Just Talk Anymore

Leigh Alexander tilts the spotlight onto Rachel Simone Weil’s exhibit at The Visual Arts Center in Austin of what a girl’s bedroom might look like if 1990′s advertising had not been so weighted to boys.

Zoya Street, meanwhile, summarizes a number of interviews with FibreTigre about their mobile space exploration/existential horror simulator, Out There. Street describes the game thusly:

Out There isn’t a miserable game — it has its share of humour and joy — but it is nihilistic. A spaceship roguelike superficially similar to FTL, it puts me alone in a tiny vessel that has been warped far from home. I will remain alone forever.

At Eurogamer, Simon Parkin chats with Kirk Ewing about the controversy of his 2004 game, JFK: Reloaded.

Nick Regos or IGN talks to writer and YouTuber personality, Robert Kingett about his experiences as gamer with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment. The review also covers Kingett’s criteria as a reviewer and explains some technical aspects that improve or limit access.

The Dire Wolf of Wall Street

Stephen Beirne kicked off a conversation about the deeply capitalistic nature of in-game resource growth:

So, if we consider the process of levelling up as a capitalist narrative, what does it describe? Capitalism is founded upon an exchange of labour for wealth, where labour is the product of a labourer to be bought and used by others in pursuit of their own wealth. In terms of a videogame, labour would be the activities involved in generating the player’s wealth, such as combat in Final Fantasy IX and questing in Skyrim. Much of the time these activities aren’t inherently enjoyable but still we tolerate them for the rewards, accepting them as part and parcel of the labour trade agreement between ourselves and the game.

Austin Walker counters to Beirne’s polemic, as he calls it, instead asking for a more complicated approach in understanding leveling up:

I do not aim to excuse these works or systems, or to say facilely “no no, all games improve us.” But it seems just as facile to say that “we” “tolerate” the mechanics of MMOs and RPGs, that they “aren’t inherently enjoyable.” Are “we” sure about that? Why specifically? And who is “we?” Does “we” include the millions of MMO and RPG players who defend “the grind” as fun and essential to their play experience, or do they not count?

Daniel Joseph responds to both, insisting that focus should instead be placed on the causal, material outcomes videogames produce, not on what ideologies might be read into them.

Zack Fair gets the last word for now in his definitions and distinctions between various game resources.

Other Things People Said

Krystian Majewski picks apart the developing meta-game of Netrunner.

Rick Lane reminds us that graphics cannot be reduced to technical fidelity.

Robert Yang reflects on GDC’s illusion of prestige.

Zoe Quinn wants sex and videogames to be less technical and more playful.

And finally, for those sick of triple vowels and all related festivities, Joylancer developer TJ Thomas presents: IndiE3.

Let’s Put a Cherry on This

Thank you for reading! Just a friendly reminder that we get all our submissions from readers like your from Twitter mention or our email submissions form

Also, a reminder that the iron is now hot for the June – July Blogs of the Round Table.

And finally, Critical Distance is entirely funded by its readership, so if you like what we do and you want us to keep doing it, please consider lending us your (financial) support.

I’m getting a little dizzy and that scab is starting to smell like sauteéd mushrooms. I’m going to go lay down now.

Hello everyone, Lindsey here: long time reader, first time contributor. I’m excited to be here and really just hope I don’t break anything during This Week in Videogame Blogging!


In my attempt to blend “semantic” and “theme” into one word, I thought I would just be making up the word “themantics,” but it actually exists, and it’s exactly that: the intersection of theme and semantics.

Brendan Keogh argues that “Big Games Are Often Light on Themes.”  Brendan observes that while ad campaigns for AAA games have started to sell games based on big or heavy narrative story lines, the games frequently fail to deliver them.

Lending support to Keogh’s observations, Fraser Brown argues that post-apocalyptic themes are not only overdone, but unambitious as they rarely “explore how society would progress after everything has broken down.

Conversely, Sam Zucci’s article, “Remember Me and Artistic Ambition,” suggests that while Remember Me may fail to deliver on numerous counts, the game’s unique use of epigraph as a narrative device gives the game “a thematic coherency that ultimately mark the game as truly memorable.”

Meanwhile, at Ontological Geek, Tom Dawson questions Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag’s rhetoric of freedom in conjunction with the games representation of slaves as a means to upgrade weapons in “Human Resource.” (A subject Errant Signal has covered in the past as well. –ed)

Down in the Dumps: or Stories of E.T.

This week presents us with three ways to journey down into the depths of E.T.‘s video game history.

If you are in the mood for fiction, Leigh Alexander’s “The Unearthing” tells the made-up story of the excavation (but with wonderful truths about its meaning held within).

If you want the cold hard truth, head over to Polygon and read Matt Leone’s “How to Dig Up a Landfill.”

Alternately, If you want to dive into the metaphorical meaning of the game’s burial and the presence of deep ditches in the game itself, Lana Polansky’s got the article for you.

Really, though, I suggest digesting them all so you feel good and full.

Historical Lenses that Cloud Our Vision

While the location and excavation of the E.T. Atari game will certainly be remembered as a historical moment in video game culture, Peter Christiansen reminds us that any medium dealing with history “makes implicit arguments about history.

Chris Franklin provides an excellent example in the dangers of playing with history by analyzing Civilization. He argues that the representation of barbarians as less-than-human beasts  is problematic and supports the idea that “some peoples or social constructs [are] below consideration as equals.

Meanings in What We Say and How We Say It

Language is tenuous in that not only what we say and how we say it, but also what we elect not to say all affect systems of representation. The implications of our words, and even our spellings, have ripples that matter.

This week, Lindsey Weedston examines the need to explicitly name mental illness, rather than sidestepping or leaving ambiguous issues of mental illness in games. Weedston writes:

Being able to speak frankly about psychological disorders and their symptoms is the key to ending stigma, and it helps the people affected tremendously through the simple function of letting them know that these issues are not uncommon and they’re not bad people for having them.

Elsewhere, Josh Ling looks at how meaning is derived, altered, and commercialized based on the capitalization, or non-capitalization, of the “e” in eSports.

Spectatorship & Participation

Over at Paste Magazine, Maddy Myers takes a look at the rise of video games as a spectator sport and the ways in which the acquisition of Twitch by Google-Youtube will enable the rich to increase their profits at the expense of those who generate the content. 

Back over at PolygonEmily Gera questions why more women don’t stop spectating and start participating in eSports. Even more importantly, the article asks, “How do we vanquish blatant misogyny?”

Dismantling Heteronormativity 

Another question worth asking is, How do we vanquish blatant heteronormativity? In “The Subtle Knife,” Todd Harper discusses the differences between the effective and ineffective inclusion of LGBT characters in games.

Elsewhere, Merritt Kopas suggests that Saints Row IVwhich doesn’t make relationships a narrative end-game or quest achievement, provides an environment in which to “dismantle a heteronormative romance culture.

An interesting dialogue about Tomodachi Life also took place this week on Austin Howe’s blog Haptic Feedback. In an initial post, Howe responds to an article by Zoya Street. Following comments made to Howe’s initial post by both Street and Shinji Matsunaga, Howe composed another response.


Imagine my surprise and delight this week when three articles all directly mentioned existentialism!

Over at Kill Screen Jordan Smith uses Dark Souls 2 to introduce the philosophies Kierkegaard, one of existentialism’s finest. This one contains spoilers, so beware.

Next, over on Gamasutra, the prolific Ian Bogost argues that,”The Spiny Shell is the most profoundly existentialist element of the Mario canon.

Meanwhile, Extra Credit states Cthulhu is the most existential of terrors, and that’s one of the big reasons “Why Games do Cthulhu Wrong.”

Pokémon and FPS? Sure! 

Imagine my continued surprise when this weeks submissions allowed me to couple two unlikely topics: Pokemon and first person shooters.

Monica Kim has an interesting article up at Modern Farmer on the politics of the belly in the Pokemon universe. She states, “The ethical dilemma is complicated by the fact that each species can be a beloved friend of fighter, or it can be a delicious meal.”

Bridging the gap between Pokemon and first person shooters, is Bryan Rumsey’s article “Searching for Wonder in Games,” in which Rumsey muses on the stagnation of innovation across game genres.

Jamin Warren also questions the possible stagnation of game genres, specifically the FPS in this week’s PBS Game/Show: “Is The FPS Dying or Evolving?”

Grab Bag

While good, these articles resisted grouping nicely into headings, but don’t let that dissuade you from sampling their goods!

In “Puzzling Personas: Puzzles as Character Development,” Nick Dinicola examines how The Raven: Legacy of a Master Chief uses puzzle mechanics to develop characters, and what the player can learn about their own character based on their puzzle-solving capabilities.

Andy Astruc takes a look at the effects of playing in analog in Dead Island and argues that, “analog controls support the themes of vulnerability and fear many ombre games put so little effort into.”

Foreign Correspondence

This week’s dispatch on the goings-on in the German language blogging scene comes courtesy of Critical Distance German correspondent Joe Koeller, who writes in:

Ally Auner criticizes sexist marketing at a Watch_Dogs launch event in Vienna, which featured a staged sexual encounter in the restrooms that was broadcast to the main screen (surveillance, ya know), after which the woman was escorted out by “the police” while the man took to the stage to lead through the evening.

Following his report on German Let’s Play stars, Sebastian Leber talks about the abuse he got for his comments about their occasionally homophobic jokes (which he shrugged off as part of their juvenile humor).

Valentina Hirsch reviews the crowd funded pen&paper roleplaying history Drachenväter by Konrad Lischka and Tom Hillenbrand.

Rainer Sigl has some thing to say about Wolfenstein’s ill-fated attempt to combine snooty runtimes and commentary on genocide.

And Remember

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Thanks for joining me this week, everyone. It’s been real and it’s been fun and it’s been real fun. Enjoy the week ahead and we’ll meet you back here next week – same bat time, same bat place.

Hello! It is May 25th – or, as we call it in the UK, 25th May. It’s a beautiful summer’s day in Britain, which means there are only a few hours until it rains again. So let’s get this over with so I can frolic in the sunshine! Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Rules, Norms, and Laws

Nintendo’s troubling handling of same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life continues to reverberate through the blogosphere. Todd Harper writes for Polygon about how the choice between diversity and enjoyment is a false one, also referencing a talk given by Blizzard’s Rob Pardo at the MIT Media Lab. Zoya Street examines the difference between rules, norms and laws in games, and the implications of labelling same-sex couples in Tomodachi Life a “bug”. Shinji Matsunaga responds (in both English and Japanese), further teasing apart these ideas.

There’s a stark contrast between this and the gender-neutral box art of Dragon Age: Inquisition, continuing a trend that started with Dragon Age: Origins and its expansion (although not Dragon Age II, which didn’t offer a choice of protagonist).

Speaking of box art…

Big Trouble in Triple A Town

Far Cry 4’s box art is, let’s be honest, deliberately provocative. At GamesIndustry.biz, Brendan Sinclair remarks that given the series’ problems with “satire”, it’s reasonable to be wary of giving Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt. What’s worse is that the Far Cry 4 Limited Edition has arguably less offensive cover art that could do the same job.

This isn’t the right place and I am not the right person to discuss this. Thankfully, some other people have discussed it: Shivam Bhatt writes a thoughtful post for Gamasutra about the lack of respect shown to South Asians and Buddhists in general, specifically through the lens of FC4. Colin Moriarty wrote a problematic piece for IGN (content note: the discussion below is the line is racially charged), but the responses are strong: here’s a pastiche by Stephen Beirne that exposes its problems and one by Jed Pressgrove on how Moriarty’s essay comes across as a marketing exercise rather than criticism. Related, Edward Smith writes about this in relation to Germany’s censoring of Wolfenstein: The New Order to remove all references to the Nazis (although we should point out that this is to comply with German law StGB §86 and isn’t an isolated incident).

On the brighter side of cultural representation, The Financial Post have an interview with Upper One Games, the first U.S.-based indigenous videogame company, where they discuss the development of Never Alone, a game with an Iñupiat protagonist and her arctic fox companion. (As an aside, is it possible to watch this trailer without wanting a pet arctic fox?)


Simon Parkin writes for the Guardian about 1000 Days of Syria, a free online game by an American journalist who covered the conflict in Syria.

There must be a new Kentucky Route Zero chapter, because my browser tabs are full of references to it. For Popmatters, G Christopher Williams talks about the performance of “Too Late to Love You Now” as a postmodern, performative experience. At Storycade, Amanda Wallace pens an open love letter to KRZ.

Over at the Escapist, Robert Rath examines what bugged him about Halo 4: when your story ends with a sleeping messiah who’s never meant to re-awaken, what happens when they do? Contrasting this hero’s journey, Sande Chen writes about the heroine’s journey in games and the identification between avatar and player. Brendan Vance explores another journey, this time down the lonely highways of Glitchhikers.

In the Dark

Nick Dinicola writes about “the relentless pursuit of progress” in A Dark Room, a game that sounds similar to Candy Box (with all of the addictive apprehension that implies). Also skulking around in the dark, Sevencut take a look at the morality of stealth games: as well as being an interesting article in its own right, it also links to a great series of posts by Cameron Kunzelman on Assassin’s Creed, which are worth reading if you haven’t done so already.

No summary of a week’s games writing would be complete without Dark Souls: over at Kill Screen, Jordan Smith uses Dark Souls 2 as the springboard for a discussion about Kierkegaard and existentialism.

Still sort of on the subject of “dark things”, Gamasutra has a fascinating postmortem of The Chinese Room’s Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

Interesting Things I Couldn’t Otherwise Tenuously Connect

Robert Yang blogs about the discontinuity of indoor spaces: discrete ‘cells’ separated not just physically, but also by loading screens. A game that treats rooms entirely differently is The Room: Adam Saltsman thinks it’s the perfect iOS game (although not necessarily his favourite).

Another game that makes the most of touchscreen devices is DEVICE 6. Art of the Title interviews Simogo’s Simon Flesser about its visual inspirations.

And finally, I haven’t played Android: Netrunner (and it’s not even a videogame, but hey!) but Dan Cox does a great job of discussing some its interesting asymmetrical concepts and how it relates to his experiences in the classroom.

Foreign Correspondence… with Joe Köller

As a follow-up to last week, Hendrik Luehrsen offers more criticism of the German Videogames Award, its political machinations and the stereotypes propagated in its coverage.

For April Fools, Superlevel auctioned off a genuine paid-for review on Ebay. This is the result, written by Hendrik Thiel.

Elsewhere, Manuela Schauerhammer reviewed two physical Minecraft handbooks, criticizing the lack of content and gendered marketing.

And we’re done

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Right, I’m off to catch the last fleeting sunbeams. Until next time…