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May 3rd

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

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

Around the World in 80 Frames

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

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

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

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

Sexism in Games, By the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Au Revoir, Mes Ami(e)s

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

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

April 26th

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

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

Arts and Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games and Spectators

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

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

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

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

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

This is Who I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

Footer Business

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

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

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

April 19th

April 19th, 2015 | Posted by Zolani Stewart in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on April 19th)

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging! There’s a lot of writing this week, let’s go through them.

First, Erik Bigras explores the epistemological boundaries around our concept of a “good” videogame, and Andy Astruc writes of their experience playing Skyrim’s “Live Another Life” mod with their own roleplaying rules.

Gita Jackson looks at the tough and practical attire of Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield, and gives tips on how you can emulate her look. Sarah Nixon takes a closer look at the Romance options in Harvest Moon: Story of Seasons. And novelist Moira Katson documents their experience writing a videogame for the first time:

As I started to write the character, issues became plain: not only did I need to make a character arc largely without internal dialogue, but I needed to show the character in juxtaposition to the world without a great deal of external dialogue, either. This was an idea I had simply never faced before. The world would be shown as it was, not as my character perceived it, and my character’s main actions would need to be comprehensible, while allowing for the characters to feel they had an influence on the story. Oh, crap, would be a good assessment—if not quite a verbatim transcript—of my internal dialogue at this juncture.

Konstantinos Dimopoulos interviews Tale of Tales of their new game Sunset. And Paolo Perdicini published his keynote for DIGRA 2013’s Art History of Games. Stephen Beirne, on his Two Minute Game Crit, examines how Ace Attorney presents clashes of ideologies, and Peter Christiansen at Play The Past asks what it means to design ethical systems in “historical” games.

Amsel Von Spreckelsen writes on The Order: 1886. Alexandra Orlando and Betsy Brey examine the politics of shooting a photo in Pokemon Snap. And Devon Carter reflects on the moments of silence in Dragon’s Dogma.

Lulu Blue writes a brief critique of the superficiality of common videogame language, and Heather Alexandra writes a Defense of Lore in games, exploration alternatives ways of communicating a world.

Over at Arcadian Rhythms, Shawn CG goes over the successes of Pillars of Eternity. On Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Ashley Barry examines alternative perspectives on Powerful Femininity. And lastly, at Kill Screen, Dillon Baker examines the rising trend of games about rural, pastoral life.

That is it for this week! As always, we greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or email.

The roundups, writing events, podcasts, and interviews done at Critical Distance are only possible through the support of our Patreon, so please consider helping us sustain the website!

Happy Reading!

 

April 11th

April 12th, 2015 | Posted by Zach Alexander in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on April 11th)

Hello, readers! If you’re anything like me, you’re choking down a boatload of antihistamines to survive a brutal allergy season. And so, bleary-eyed, exhausted, and sniffling… I bid you welcome to another installment of This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Worldbuilding

If you’ve been playing Bloodborne recently, why not take a break and read about it instead? Or watch a video? George Weidman at Super Bunny Hop covers Bloodborne’s relationship to H.P. Lovecraft as expressed through the mechanics and lore of the game. Aevee Bee discusses Bloodborne’s worldbuilding, and Tim Rogers goes full Tim Rogers on the design of the game.

The real Bloodborne is making your own game! Lulu Blue has a post discussing how she thinks about making games. Tegiminis points out some design decisions that can stigmatize about 50% of your potential audience. Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus looks at the array of characters in State of Decay and how they avoided design tropes:

By and large, the characters in State of Decay simply look like people in a bad situation. Sometimes they’re a little scruffy, sometimes they have bad haircuts, but they all look ready to survive, and that’s something to appreciate, considering the hyper presentation of gender in many — not all — zombie-themed games

From the same site, Ashley Barry looks into BloodRayne, Let The Right One In, and Interview with a Vampire to talk about unconventional femaleness in vampires.

From a more mechanical perspective, David Carlton discusses the simplicity of Ico’s mechanics vs that of Dragon Age: Inquisition. G. Christopher Williams talks about the use of scale in Risk of Rain. Problem Machine checks out Super Hexagon as a way to focus. Jillian at FemHype talks about Game of Thrones and her appreciation for the women in the game. Jorge Albor talks about decision making in Life is Strange and Game of Thrones:

When I play Game of Thrones, I try to create a compelling story about a family on the raggedy edge. I roleplay my decisions as each character, each with their own unique faults. When I play Life is Strange, I play a bit more like myself. I try to do what I think is right, and I make no decision lightly.

Keith Burgun has an interesting discussion on his definition of “games” vs “toys” which is sure to ruffle some feathers. Such boundaries don’t concern Gita Jackson and Maxwell Neely-Cohen, who review Tinder as a game.


Real World Implications

Simon Parkin investigates drug abuse in eSports, and finds “Adderall is basically a stimpack for gamers.” Pixie discusses the reinforcement effect games might have on real-world attitudes in light of a recent study on sexism and gamers. Charlotte wants to know what behavior Valve is encouraging with a “funny” voting button on Steam reviews. Christian Donlan talks about Touch Tone, saying “Touch Tone would be satire so heavy-handed and implausible that it might carry no sting – if only we didn’t live in a world that’s even more heavy-handed and implausible.”

Laura Hudson writes for FiveThirtyEight about using Telltale game, The Walking Dead, to teach applied ethics. Joe Parlock looks at the transhumanism of Deus Ex through the lens of disability. Kaitlin Tremblay remembers what she learned from Tifa when she played Final Fantasy 7.

A Place and Time

Bob Mackey discusses how Nintendo white-washes Yokai Watch by downplaying elements of the Shinto religion. Brian Crimmins talks about an obscure Playstation 1 title, Boku no Natsuyasumi and how it creates a sense of location and time. Brad O’Farrell discusses how the geography of Pokemon is based on real-world countries, including Japan, and how that plays into the game’s plot. Colin Campbell investigates people developing games from a country not commonly discussed or represented – Cameroon!

Keeping What’s Ours

Mitch Stoltz gives EFF’s perspective on the lack of legal protection for preserving older games.

Samantha Blackmon talks about the importance of preservation. Ciarán Ó Muirthile proposes backwards compatibility as a way of preserving games. However, Heather Alexandra has a slightly different idea.

For more perspectives on the history of games, Noah Caldwell-Gervais has a two hour video critically examining every Call of Duty game. Mike Mahardy discusses the history of Looking Glass Studios. Ian Williams discusses the history and murky future of Warhammer. Finally, our own Eric Swain positions Grim Fandango as an artifact out of time, whose modern re-release reveals some outdated logic.

Back Into the World

Thanks for reading! We thrive on your submissions so whether you’re a reader or self-promoting your latest work, please send us a link through email or by Twitter.

If you’re looking for a topic to write about, April Blogs of the Round Table would love to hear your take on “Palette Swap”. Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by our readership.

Lastly, if you like what we do and want to help us continue to expand, consider pledging a small monthly donation of your own! It would help us a lot!

 

April 5th

April 5th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on April 5th)

Good morning! To those who celebrate it, a Happy Easter! Let’s get right underway with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Systems and Beyond Systems

On First Person Scholar, Gino Grieco has produced a stellar essay on the lenticular design of Nintendo games — and also Magic: The Gathering.

Meanwhile, at Videogame Tourism, Kent Sheely has an interesting piece up on the recent revival of games with rules and conditions mediated by the player. A world away and yet in a strikingly similar vein, we have Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese writing about Eve Online again, namely on why it is Eve‘s metagame of its economy and alliances which make it so much larger than life. It also fits in nicely with this piece by Austin Walker on Clockwork Worlds, about the metagames and in-character/out-of-character dynamics which play considerably into what we often call “immersion.”

Speaking of resuscitations of some fraught game design terms, Roland of 9pp pens a short-and-sweet piece on the medium specificity of games, without invoking a wishy-washy word like “interactivity.” Namely, Roland says, it is about games’ ability to both offer control and depict its loss.

Next we move over to The Guardian where Simon Parkin, in his characteristic style, paints a compelling portrait of Dark Souls and Bloodborne director Hidetaka Miyazaki, whose unconventional entry into the Japanese games industry makes him an unusual success story. And keeping with the focus on Japanese games, on Metopal Nathan Altice offers a fascinating analysis of the time dilation and compression functions of J-RPGs, and in particular Square-Enix’s Bravely Default:

Though many RPGs stretching back to the 80s have a Charge, Wait, or Defend option, I’ve never seen them used as a temporal modifier, nor have I seen their opposite function used as a play mechanic. Strategically using multiple stacked Braves [advance actions] can end battles after one party member’s turn. Effectively, that member’s battle timeline is operating independent of both their combatants’ and allies’ battle timelines, as if they have a time machine transporting future selves to the present in hopes that they will erase a possible future where the enemies are still alive. It’s conceptually mind-bending, but works smoothly in practice.

In the Creases

At Wizard of Radical, Ray Porreca has embarked on a touching letter series on childhood memories of videogames with his incarcerated brother.

World Autism Awareness Day occurred this past week, and at Polygon Joe Parlock surveys several games depicting autistic characters, finding most of them wanting. Going a step further, at Vice, Jake Tucker (who like Parlock is on the autism spectrum himself) relates how L.A. Noire inadvertently created a player-character who seems to share his disability.

Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency has launched the first in a new series highlighting positive, strong, and unique representations of women in games, which is certainly worth a look.

At Video Game Researcher, Wai Yen Tang has drawn up an interesting condensation of several research studies seeking to identify the (manifold) reasons women are not equally represented in STEM fields and game development. Coming at it from a player and industry perspective, Tegiminis responds to the assertion that women “naturally” prefer different games than men, arguing that to treat the push for better representation in the core market as “cultural colonialism” is, at the very least, misguided:

The framing of our new conversation on games as cultural colonialism is appalling on just about every level. Asking for games to mature in their treatment of women and minorities is, and it’s comically absurd that this even needs to be said, not colonialism. […] This isn’t colonialism, it’s maturation. Games aren’t being colonized because everybody who is saying these things was already here.

Defying Gravity

At his development blog, independent designer and games instructor Robert Yang goes into the development process of his game Stick Shift, in which the player participates in erotically stimulating… well, exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a fascinating exploration of both social-political metaphor and alien phenomenology, considering that, as Yang says, “this is arousal on the car’s terms.”

At Hopes and Fears, Joe Bernardi details the lasting impact of Dogma 99, a Scandinavian LARP scene aimed at reducing the artifice and barrier for entry to live action roleplay.

Lastly, at the ever-delightful Offworld, the equally delightful Katherine Cross reviews Gravity Ghost, a small and accessible game best played by letting go:

I stopped trying to tightly control my orbit and instead relaxed into the gravity of the little planet that I’d been fighting this whole time. I stopped seeing Iona as a superheroine battling against an impossible power and yielded to it instead, embodying her trust and turning her into a ghostly moon swinging in the arms of a larger force. […] There was no hurry, no clock to beat but my own. I’d find a way, gravity would find a way. Ultimately, the solution was simple: I had to stop treating Gravity Ghost like every other game I’d played.

Pagan Fertility Rites Et Cetera

Thanks for reading! As always, we greatly appreciate your submissions through email or by Twitter mention! And yes, we welcome (and encourage!) self-submission, so don’t be shy.

A bit of the usual footer business: the April Blogs of the Round Table is here with the prompt “Palette Swap” which should be promising. Also, we’ve released our March BoRT roundup for “Extended Play,” our latest March This Month in Let’s Plays roundup is live, and we have two new podcast episodes with Anna Anthropy and Polygon’s Danielle Riendeau, respectively! Whew!

Some signal boosting: our friends and colleagues at Five Out of Ten Magazine have released a special collection of features from some of our other friends and colleagues at Haywire Magazine. You should definitely give it a look!

While we’re at it, have we mentioned that Five Out of Ten has switched to a Patreon model? Because it has and we recommend you give it your attention. Likewise, Not Your Mama’s Gamer have also launched a cool new Patreon. If you are an independent games and media publication or writer who has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign, let us know about it!

Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by our readership. If you like what we do and want to help us continue to expand, consider pledging a small monthly donation of your own! It would help us a lot!

That’s it from me! Now I’m off to watch my favorite Easter film, Wicker Man. Enjoy your Sunday and have a great week to come!

March 29th

March 29th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on March 29th)

What’s up, fellow crit enthusiasts? If you’re looking for Easter candy, you’re a week too early, but we’ve got plenty of goodies from a slew of amazing writers to keep you content until then. So, welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

What It Means to be Indie

Luke Pullen reacts to Offworld’s printing of Zoe Quinn’s Alt Games manifesto with jubilation for its recognition and a pessimism of historical sorts for how its artists cope in the future. On Gamasutra, Bryant Francis interviews several developers including Dan Cook, saying: “Let Get Real about the Financial Expectations of ‘Going Indie’:

“In another industry, we’d have labeled the folks making games on new digital platforms as ‘entrepreneurs,’ but because of the rush to be ‘art,’ mere discussion of business takes on a negative tinge. The result is a lot of very poorly-equipped folks trying to run businesses for the first time.”

Over at TransGamer Thoughts, Heather Alexandra talks about the lack of empathy dealing with the emotions and fears of trans people in games. Soha Kareem discusses “Games That Heal” at Offworld, noting how her work, and others of a deeply personal thread, facilitates a coping method for indie artists.

Trauma, Transcendence and Mental Illness

Bouncing off that last one, let’s dive into a few articles peeking under the curtain of themes of illnesses and healing. On PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams describes how mental illness in White Night allegorises American economic inequality, and At Madness and Play, Amsel Von Spreckelsen discussed the treatment of mental health in Darkest Dungeon:

It is mired in decades-old RPG design and all that the automation of putting it on a computer does is  make the bookkeeping easier; and when mental health becomes relegated to a bookkeeping exercise, when the advances are based on more efficient crunching of variables and modifiers, then it should be clear that this does not help us understand pain and dysfunction and joy and the life that you lead when you are mad.

Back at Offworld, Laura Hudson talks VR’s applications for immersion beyond marketing. Meanwhile Dara Khan, delves into profound spiritual experiences with games, and finds Dragon Age: Inquisition’s story at odds with its gameplay.

Laura Kate recounts a deeply personal trauma on Indie Haven, one resurrected by a scene in Life is Strange: Episode 2. (Content warning: discussion of suicide.)

Joe Parlock, inspired by Laura Kate’s post, tells of how his own feelings blinded him to an option in Fallout 3, and elsewhere, Taylor Hidalgo tackles morality in The Deer God.

Mapping Out Our History

Over at the Ontological Geek, James Hinton wrote about how game maps tend to ignore practical implications for interesting design in land masses, and Brendan Vance’s “The Ghosts of Bioshock” reflects on the Wounded Knee massacre of the Sioux and the framing of history in Bioshock: Infinite:

On one hand I feel [Bioshock: Infinite] appropriates: It snatches the juiciest, tenderest piece from a complex and valuable history so it can put that piece on display, neglecting to offer its historical subjects their due consideration. I think it telling that the game’s plot reduces the Massacre to a mere skeleton in the closet of its protagonist Booker DeWitt; I think it tells us that Infinite is a game about white experiences to the detriment of non-white experiences, greatly complicating any sympathy it may bear towards the myriad victims of white imperialism. Yet on the other hand I must consider in its defence that it uses Wounded Knee as shorthand because that is the most its matrix of contradictory constraints permit it to do; that in employing this shorthand it creates a tiny space for others to approach the game’s subject matter with more focus and more empathy (a space I now hope to cultivate).

On Offworld, Tanya D. gives developers a reason to be historically accurate by including more black characters and fewer stereotypes:

Even Vivienne de Fer, who gave me so much hope initially, disappoints. She falls head over hennin into the “Strong Black Woman” archetype from the moment she’s introduced. She’s a supposed “ice queen,” an untouchable woman who’s too good for the plebes around her. She says “my dear” like some women say “bless her heart,” and her words cut sharper than any spell. Any flirtation attempts result in her putting you down, emphasizing her own unattainability. Why can’t she just be a black woman with the romantic and relationship quirks we all have?

But what if we couldn’t choose race in games? What if race were parceled out at random?

Battlefield Hard Sell

Battlefield Hardline came out last week, and with it so did plenty of interesting writing. Let’s start with Austin Walker’s “Cop Out“, which takes Hardline to task in an incredibly thoughtful review:

And so Battlefield Hardline speaks to our context, too (whether or not that’s what the developers would like). It speaks a politics even as it flails in the single player campaign, desperate to avoid saying anything about the dead black boy on the pavement—about 75 unarmed black bodies on the ground. It flails in the multiplayer, eager to wave aside any critiques of police militarization. It flails and flails and flails. And the flailing is the message.

Carolyn Petit, too, takes on Battlefield: Hardline, both on KQED and Tumblr, finding its mechanics shallow and its themes underwhelming.

Meanwhile, Marc Prices believes Battlefield deliberately avoided social issues by disguising itself as a cop procedural, and our own Mark Filipowich explores his thoughts on crime gleaned through invoking literature, film and TV:

The player does all the friendship building questing that would be expected of an RPG, but it does so in the context of an urban world: they only have power with access to electricity, the internet, social conventions, architecture and guns; the power’s domain is the city and the city is everywhere. Most of the game the player takes on errands for cash, selling their bodies into violent labour to undermine the big-bad. And yet, the existence of magic always provides hope. As miserable as things may seem, there is a force beyond the city that promises equilibrium.

Finally, Anthony McGlynn at The Arcade talks “Battlefield Hardline and Politics in Games“…

Politics as Usual

…a point echoed by Leigh Alexander who argues “You can’t ‘just keep politics out of it’“, while Emily Joy Bembeneck discusses how even games like Cities: Skyline inject politics:

Games are engines of persuasion, and despite some common rhetoric that disagrees, they are delicious morsels of politics. They’re drenched in it, marinated in it, and just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s all ok. And the politics of Cities:Skylines is that education is the easy answer.

Keza MacDonald at Kotaku UK reacts to the strange desire to keep politics out of fiction:

It also makes me monstrously uncomfortable, because in a former life I was an academic (I did a Masters in German and another in Comparative Literature before ducking out of the first year of a PhD to do this video game thing full-time), and every time I see language like this it kinda reminds me of the Nazi attitude to art. They very much took the view that art should be “apolitical”, which of course eventually resulted in the extermination of all the art that didn’t fit THEIR politics. I feel like anyone who’s ever read anything about Entartete Kunst couldn’t help but feel deeply troubled by the notion that art “should” be unpolitical.

Whose Category is it Anyway?

Just because I failed to properly categorize the following doesn’t mean they aren’t compelling in their own right. Just look to Jorge Albor, who plays Earthbound as an adult and finds it a compelling piece of children’s literature:

Playing Earthbound now, it is easy to find moments of satire, when the game criticizes the strange and mysterious elements of adulthood. At the Stoic Club in Summers, Ness and his friends encounter a room full of adults who have meaningless verbose conversations with each other. One denizen exclaims, “You guys can’t envision the final collapse of capitalism? Incredible!” This isn’t just a silly in-joke for adults. This is the “kids’ table” perspective of adult conversation. Earthbound is the closest piece of fiction that I have seen to induce the feeling of being a child.

In keeping with Brendan Vance’s “death and photography,” Rowan Kaiser re-articulates his 1UP article, “The 80 Most Influential Videogames of All Time,” and Doom still tops the list, while Jillian of FemHype elaborated on her love for the original Lara Croft:

While her clothes were laughably ill-suited for raiding caves and deep-sea diving, the Lara from the earlier Tomb Raider installments was never a pawn to be neatly directed by the hands of the men she encountered in-game. That Lara faced some pretty tough shit, too. A couple hundred cultists armed with guns and grenades? Pfft. Oh, please. The original Lara faced down a T-rex with only two pistols and lived to fight another day. Don’t even play, folks. She’ll mess your dinosaur ass right up.

Auke Peters listed “Ten Fierce Female Game Characters That’ll Blow Your Mind“, and yes, Lara Croft is in there.

Last, but far from least, we have some video for you by way of Innuendo Studios, “Who Shot Guybrush Threpwood“, giving a compelling explanation for why adventure games died and why that was a good thing.

If Every Pork Chop Were Perfect, We Wouldn’t Have Hot Dogs 

Welp, that’s it folks! Thank you for reading, and please continue to support and send us underappreciated voices; whether it’s your work or a writer you’re keen on, send it via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

And don’t forget to submit to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays.

If you like what we do here, please consider donating to our Patreon, as we are funded entirely on the generosity of wonderful readers like you!

March 22nd

March 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on March 22nd)

It feels like March has just flown by us. These Sunday mornings are too swift for my liking too. But, before it grows any later in the day, let’s head right into it with This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Spring on Jupiter and Mars

We start with the recently launched Offworld, where Zoe Quinn is talking about altgames, the punk scene of game making. A good starting place, to be certain, although not all-inclusive.

Meanwhile, at Heterogenous Tasks, Sam Kabo Ashwell– well, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just read it, and sigh nostalgically for histories which never were.

And, holy crud, Clint Hocking wrote a thing! Specifically, he responds to Ian Bogost’s recent article in The Atlanic regarding the alleged limiting nature of narratives and characters in games, arguing that to juxtapose them with the analysis of systems is to create a false dichotomy:

I think we already have numerous, though tentative examples of these kinds of games; games that are both about the journey of an individual, but also about the big ideas of the culture (fictional or otherwise) in which that individual exists. I will admit that along a number of axes we have mostly done a fairly poor job of achieving the goals Bogost implies. [But] I think there is a huge undeveloped space here for us to explore as designers, and a fruitful landscape of discovery here for players.

Writing for his regular column on TechCrunch, Tadhg Kelly also responds to Bogost, arguing that it is the culture surrounding big-V Videogames that is stifling how we talk about games in a wider sense:

There’s not a game maker that I respect who isn’t sick to death of Videogames and the sense of self-entitlement and drama that comes with it. Whether in the business of trying to make fun engines or quirky art installation projects, the prospect of running the TotalBiscuit-style gauntlet makes developers cringe. Their kind of “pro-consumer” position devolves into the psychology of the bullied in turn bullying, the mentality of dissatisfaction in the face of nostalgia, the self-appointed demanding appeasement. […] Not unlike the state of comics fans in the 1980s, todays gamers come with a “seller beware” association. An association that says “Are you sure you really want to deal with these people? Why not make casino games instead?”

Back with Offworld, Gita Jackson has penned a feature which serves – in some ways – as a mission statement for the site: what reactionary gamers of big-V Videogames see as a colonizing force is anything but.

And speaking of reactionary gamers — that hashtag which shall not be named — Anita Sarkeesian’s recent four and a half minute talk delivered at the All About Women conference in Sydney is a bracing thing you should definitely watch.

God Games

Here’s an interesting piece which showed up in our inbox this week, by Christopher Howell over on Fare Forward: an analysis of The Last of Us from a Judeo-Christian theological perspective which includes some interesting observations.

Approaching faith in games from a different tack, Troy Goodfellow looks at how it is modeled in Rod Humble’s recent strategy game, Cults and Daggers:

[T]he more I think on it, the more I think that Cults and Daggers is not about faith at all. It might be about religion, but it’s really about fear. […] [E]veryone is out to destroy you and your community of believers unless you can get to them first. You can blaspheme against local gods and then pin the blame on a rival cult. You can go into deep cover, only emerging to murder a persuasive enemy preacher. You can invoke prayers that will transform your ministers into agents of chaos. You build temples, suck up to nobles for protection and count on the hope of the people to carry you into the next age.

In many ways, it is a very paranoid game.

By Land or By Sea

Are you sick of hearing about Offworld yet? Because we aren’t! This is the most exciting games publication to hit the scene in a very long time, and AM Cosmos’s wonderfully diverse primer on Japanese-style dating sims is a great example of that.

Also a very unique piece this week, Irishman Stephen Beirne provides perhaps the world’s only in-depth analysis of Folklore, an early-generation Playstation 3 game distinguished by being one of few titles set in Ireland and featuring a real Irish voice actress as its lead.

On FemHype — another cool publication which recently made the scene — Emm speaks with the anonymous creator of a mod which enabled women characters to date an exclusively heterosexual female party member in Dragon Age Inquisition… and which prompted so much backlash the creator was effectively driven from the internet. Emm asks why similar mods — including ones to whitewash a character of color — haven’t produced the same furor.

And back with the PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren believes the Legend of Zelda franchise is overdue for a female protagonist — and while his argument is not the most robust (no mention of Metroid? really?) he draws on some interesting bits of lore and developer interviews to undergird his point.

Did Someone Mention Formalism

Not to reopen recently scabbed-over wounds, but on Medium, Rachel Simone Weil is able to put a fine point on why, specifically, the invocation of ‘form’ in games brings to mind a fraught history:

I don’t believe that video game formalists are sexist or don’t want women to participate in game development or culture. What I do believe is that there is a long history of using the centrality of logic and reason and abstract thinking as justification for the suggestion that women “naturally” do not belong in a certain space.

And yes, she has examples.

Not to do with formalism specifically, but of a similarly academic bent, Evan Tilton on Thinking While Playing responds to the citation guidelines of the Game Studies journal, arguing that a more comprehensive citation approach to games might include the technological and regional specificities of how the game was played.

Whose House Are You Haunting Tonight

Not Your Mama’s Gamer’s Ashley Barry — in responding to this piece on FemHype — laments that even when games manage to duck the most obvious pitfalls of treating mental illness as a lazy shortcut, it can still fail to address its subject matter in a meaningful way. (Content warning: discussion of ableism in both articles.)

And speaking of Not Your Mama’s Gamer, have you noticed their shiny new site design? They’re looking for new writers too!

And this doesn’t really belong anywhere in particular, but is lovely nonetheless: a gorgeous curated collection of obscure Japanese games (Content warning: flashing animated gifs).

This is The End, Beautiful Friend

Oh, there’s so much more I wish I could show you, but alas… It will have to wait till next time!

Till then, please keep sending in your links via email or by mentioning us on Twitter! And yes, since it’s come up recently: you are more than welcome — in fact, encouraged! — to self-submit.

A few more items: we’re approaching the end of the month, so please remember to send in your entries for Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays. Also, we’ll be reopening our call for feature pitches soon, so watch out for that as well!

Finally and as always — Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help keep us going, please chip in with a small monthly donation!

March 15th

March 16th, 2015 | Posted by Kris Ligman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on March 15th)

Hello, everyone. I swear, between Friday the 13th and the Ides of March, if I find out Mercury is in retrograde right now, I am just quitting everything. But, you’ve waited long enough for this week’s roundup, so let’s get started. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Form and Content

We start with Ian Bogost on The Atlantic, who questions whether, in our quest for social progressivism in game stories, we lose sight of how games can explore and critique higher-level socioeconomic and political systems. And while you probably won’t agree with all of it, it has plenty of pointed observations:

Amidst arguments on Twitter and Reddit about whose favorite games are more valid, while we worry about the perfect distribution of bodies in our sci-fi fantasy, the big machines of global systems hulk down the roads and the waterways, indifferent. It is an extravagance to worry only about representation of our individual selves while more obvious forces threaten them with oblivion—commercialism run amok; climate change; wealth inequality; extortionate healthcare; unfunded schools; decaying infrastructure; automation and servitude.

In a similar vein, writing for his personal blog, Critical Distance’s retired founder Ben Abraham considers the divide between games and other forms of media criticism and whether it is possible to — in addition to what he terms the broad genre of “human reaction” criticism – build out another kind of rigorous critical analysis for games:

[H]ow the sausage is made is not always important, or even relevant. Just like how we wouldn’t really care about whether the musician inserted the sample with Logic or Ableton – that’s not the important detail to focus on, and it’s actually fairly telling that the games industry (as embodied, partially, by [games journalist turned Gearbox developer Anthony] Burch) still cares a great deal more about how the “sample” is inserted than what that sample says or its history and place within a larger history and trajectory of games/music/etc. […] Frankly, I mostly couldn’t care less about how a game is made, unless it’s under conditions of exploitation.

Abraham stresses that there is nothing wrong with “human reaction” criticism — indeed, he says, it performs vital work. Similarly, over on Paste, You Were Made for Loneliness‘s Javy Gwaltney writes empathetically about the value of characters who move beyond power fantasies, which speak to the experiences of disabled players like himself.

And taking another approach, Nelson of Video Games and the Bible expresses concern that, despite many notable games by avowed Christian developers, Christianity is still treated as a dirty word in games. Again, some valuable takeaways, even if you don’t agree with the author’s every position.

Design Notes

On Eurogamer, Christian Donlan pens an affectionate essay for deceased children’s author and illustrator Ellen Raskin, whose puzzle-mystery novels exhibited a gamelike sensibility. And on his website International Hobo, Chris Bateman continues an inter-blog conversation with Jed Pressgrove on philosophy of tutorial design. While Bateman essentializes a bit (a fact he acknowledges), his breakdown on design differences in Western versus Japanese games is good food for thought.

If you happened to miss out on everything written about Twine in the last couple years, Liz England has a great primer on it and other interactive fiction formats over on Gamasutra’s Expert Blogs section. On Designer Notes, Soren Johnson chats with Spry Fox’s Daniel Cook, while on The Psychology of Video Games, Jamie Madigan has just launched an exciting new podcast — in the debut episode of which, Madigan discusses behavioral research methodology with Oxford University’s Andrew Przybylski. The language they use is both accessible for the layperson as well as rigorous in its discussion on how behavioral research on games is conducted. I highly recommend keeping an ear on this podcast!

I Don’t Know How to Categorize This

Patricia Hernandez’s feature on Kotaku concerning violent pornographic fan films built in Valve’s Source Filmmaker has caused a stir — unsurprisingly, given its subject matter. While Hernandez is meticulous about neither defending her interviewees’ subject matter nor shaming those for whom rape fantasy is a kink, this article nevertheless bears a strong Content Warning for explicit sexual material, including depictions of rape and discussion thereof in fan communities.

GDC

I’ll leave you with some good in-depth coverage of two more panels from the Game Developers Conference, which concluded earlier this month in San Francisco.

First, Polygon’s Philip Kollar covers an excellent roundtable discussion hosted by developers Derek Manns and Dennis Mathews on black stereotypes in games, both on the player and the industry side. This pairs well with a recent letter series/roundtable hosted by Evan Narcisse and several critics and developers on Kotaku, which addressed many of the same issues.

Secondly, writing for FemHype, Kim Correa recaps what sounds like a fantastic women in eSports panel, on the rising prominence and ongoing hurdles to women’s participation in competitive game events.

Signal Boost

That’s all for this week! A little short, I know, but bear with us please. As always, we greatly benefit from your submissions through email and Twitter mention, so please, keep them coming!

Be sure to check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, “Extended Play“! And send us your submissions for Blogs of the Round Table with the hashtag #BoRT!

Our latest feature, This Month in Let’s Plays, is also actively seeking submissions! Send us your critical Let’s Plays, video or otherwise, with the hashtag #LetsPlayCD.

Also: we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Australia’s upcoming Freeplay festival, beginning on April 10th. For the first time ever, they’ve announced they will be live broadcasting the festival for free online!

Lastly and as ever: Critical Distance is proud to be entirely funded by its readership! If you like what you see and want to support our work, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation! Those who donate a little more get special features and even some physical goodies!

March 8th

March 8th, 2015 | Posted by Cameron Kunzelman in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on March 8th)

Hello there! I’m Cameron Kunzelman and after a long hiatus from doing this particular job I am back to deliver you some criticism about games that was released over the past week. I’m all about the content, so here it is!

Design Time (That’s A Rhyme)

Meg Jayanth shared some insights into 8o Days’ narrative design at this past week’s Game Developers Conference, focusing on ways to make players uncertain about their decisions and how good or bad those decisions might be.

Erin Robinson, creator of Gravity Ghost, also spoke at GDC and shared some of the starts and stops in the development of that game.

Also at GDC, This War of Mine head writer Pawel Micechowski spoke about designing new kinds of “survival” in the face of players who are trained to think of characters as resources to be used.

Mohini Dutta writes about designing for the Other at First Person Scholar, calling into question the ways that designers think of themselves in position to players and parsing out the ethical ramifications of that split.

Anna Anthropy focuses on Fire Emblem as a case study for understanding how to design a player-centered experience from the ground up.

Emotions?! IN MY GAMES?! Oh, ok, cool.

Kent Sheely hones in on some contemporary games and the way that they can be thought of as machines to foster self-care.

Kate Cox presents us with a life spent playing games and the emotional resonances that those games had then and now in her “Life, Love, and Labyrinths: Why I Play Videogames.”

In a slightly different direction, Melody Meows works through the thought process about how one enjoys something that is “problematic.”

Games Culture and…the Horse It Rode In On? I Don’t Know.

Maddy Myers takes a deep personal dive into the image and concept of the “cool gamer girlfriend” and the cultural expectations surrounding her. She writes:

There is no narrative about a girl who shows up to play games and turns out to be kind of okay at them, and then she makes platonic friends who see her as a person, and then she goes home alone. My mediocrity became a huge disappointment for men that I didn’t know in gaming spaces. It was a disappointment for me, too, and it still makes me extra-nervous. Every time I show up and play games in public somewhere, in some male-dominated space, there is some stupid part of me that wants to win beyond all my wildest dreams … even though it’s impossible, especially when people are staring at you. I do okay, sometimes. That’s the most I’ve ever been able to hope to achieve: being okay at games, sometimes.

Wendi Sierra thinks through the very concept of gamer culture itself, understanding it not as a broad culture but rather as a strange confederation of many different communities.

The #1ReasonToBe panel at this week’s GDC was a powerful recounting of women’s experiences working on the game industry and this writeup is excellent.

Katie Chironis writes about her experiences developing Elsinore and continually answering questions about why a character is black. Her answer is simple: why shouldn’t she be?

Looking Really Close At Games I Mean Getting SO Close Up

Alex Pieschel provides an extensive and amazing piece on Final Fantasy 7‘s debug room.

Heather Alexandra writes about her personal experiences with Dragonball Z and Xenoverse‘s character creator.

Carolyn Petit explains the finitude and pain of time built into Majora’s Mask and Jake Muncy reads Wind Waker as a response to the Zelda franchise itself.

Reid McCarter finds République to be an uncanny diagnosis of our particular time and place.

Jess Joho plays Stasis and finds the game’s portrayal of street harassment to be uncannily accurate in a number of ways.

Other Stuff I Thought Was Great This Week

Joe Donnelly writes about addiction as a tone-setting concept in various games.

Brian Crimmins thinks we should probably quit worrying about hour counts and just play games on their own terms.

Jason Scott spoke at GDC about how we need to preserve games history in the present rather than years after the fact.

A panel of developers at GDC pointed out the ageism of the game development industry and offered several ways to address it from both sides of the relation.

The End of the Show (and some LINKS!)

That’s This Week In Videogame Blogging for…this…week? Thanks so much for reading.

In a moment of excellent signal boosting, be sure to check out the relaunch of BoingBoing’s videogame blog, Offworld, in the next few days. We think it is going to be excellent.

If you see a piece of writing you love (and it is about videogames), be sure to submit it to us to us on Twitter or by email. On Twitter, please tag any links for the Blogs of the Round Table or This Month in Let’s Plays with #BorT or #LetsPlayCD respectively. German or French submissions are in high demand as well.

Critical Distance is funded completely by its readership! If you like what you see and want to support what we do, consider pledging to our Patreon.

 

March 1st

March 1st, 2015 | Posted by Riley MacLeod in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on March 1st)

Hello, readers; I’m new here. When I’m at something where I don’t know anyone, I either stand around alone masking my nervousness with a carefully-cultivated air of solitary mystery, or I rush over to the nearest person with puppyish enthusiasm and talk about what I hope are mutual interests. Today I will choose the latter. Put down those chips, approachable stranger, and listen to me ramble eagerly about This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Our Mutual Hobby Involves Pushing Buttons to Perform Actions

Let’s begin with the intricacies of mechanics and controls. As part of Kill Screen’s week on the first PlayStation, David Shimomura explores the semiotics of the design behind the PlayStation’s controller. Shimomura writes that what Teiyu Goto, the designer of the original controller “didn’t realize was that while he had ultimate reign of the symbols themselves he did not have ultimate sanction over the meanings that others would draw from them.” Shimomura also looks at the cultural context of the buttons and how they did and didn’t translate to American audiences.

Relatedly, over at Paste, Katherine Cross discusses the button-pressing we love to hate, the quick-time event,or QTE (which I just realized you could pronounce as “cutie;” has anyone done that?). Looking beyond Call of Duty’s cringe-worthy “Press F to Pay Respects,” Cross considers QTEs in a more far-reaching and generous light:

Simply put, at their best, quick time events are meant to blur the line between cinematic and gameplay to maintain the involvement of the player. They can be seen as a form of experiential integration designed to simulate involvement in a particular moment of the avatar’s story. The input device, be it a keyboard, controller, a mouse, or a mobile phone, is used to its fullest extent to provide some kind of sensation that simulates what you see on screen[…]

But this simulation of physical sensation is, of course, an ideal which many QTEs spectacularly fail to reach, often simply reducing QTEs to basic reflex challenges.

Speaking of physical sensations, over on her blog Mattie Brice looks poetically and thought-provokingly at how our physical bodies are present or not when we play games. She believes that the body is marginalized in play in favor of being seen as “one large controller,” and she protests that “[o]ur bodies are the site of play, where meaning occurs, willing or not.” From this she draws broader political conclusions, such as:

There is a resistance because bodies are complicated. Incorporating subject(ivitie)s decentralizes the game object and forces designers and critics to ponder the infinite relationships bodies can have with an experience. Controllers in particular throttle the ways bodies can be recognized in the design, and is probably the main agent in the absence of body subjectivity in critique. It is impossible to know how another’s bodily reaction will be to an experience, and that exactitude is only necessary for products that promise it. That class critique is also underrepresented might hint as to why these sorts of connections are rarely traversed outside of particular, minoritized niches. Right on the surface, the lack of awareness of bodies assumes a typical body, most definitely excluding those who don’t have it and their experiences.

Stepping away from the buttons we push to what those buttons do in a game, L. Rhodes takes a look at the interactions in Gone Home from a mechanics point of view, exploring how the controls, or “terms of interaction,” given their basis in first-person shooter mechanics, require a familiarity that may not entirely serve the game. Far-removed from the “is this really a game?” argument the internet enjoys over Gone Home and other exploration games, this article suggests that:

Gone Home really only requires you to move around the house, clicking on items to examine and move them. I see no reason why the terms of interaction shouldn’t be more limited.

Among other things, that would make the game more accessible, both to videogame novices and to players with physical disabilities.

Lastly, Lulu Blue takes a look at Monster Hunter‘s mechanics in a positive light. The article recounts a particularly thrilling experience, concluding that “[t]hat moment wouldn’t have came to exist without every layer of complexity crafted into the game. So many moving parts also means there’s just as much space for creative, unexpected solutions.”

Perhaps We Both Enjoy Roleplaying Games?

Games can let us be new people or explore different parts of ourselves. Heather O at FemHype looks at the relationship between videogames, daily stress, and PTSD, exploring the role that simulated combat has played in her life as a disabled veteran. She links to several studies on this topic that are sure to be interesting to anyone who thinks about the ramifications of games as oftentimes-violent roleplaying experiences.

Looking at roleplay from a personality-focused perspective, an article over at Big Fat Phoenix asks if how we roleplay can change who we are. The author considers how their own relationship to roleplaying in games has changed over the years and what it reveals about their personality and morals, especially as they age.

If you make games in which you’d like people to roleplay, Extra Credits made a video about it this week! They look at how to encourage roleplay and how to make it meaningful in your game’s world, and, as always, they do it through energetic cartoons.

Do You Have Thoughts About the Videogames Industry?

Over at The Guardian, Ian G. Williams revisits the issue of crunch in game development and how it has and hasn’t changed since the infamous “EA spouse” post of 10 years ago. Williams points out that, according to surveys, the average age of people working in game development hasn’t changed much, and this perpetually youthful and oftentimes exploitable workforce might contribute to the industry’s work/life balance issues.

On Gamasutra, Laralyn McWilliams addresses this age question in her blog post on turning 50 (a belated happy birthday, Ms. McWilliams). Like Williams’ article, she highlights the toll game development takes on people in the industry’s personal lives, and she importantly notes, “Keep in mind that passion isn’t synonymous with crunch. Managers who conflate those two ideas are taking advantage of us.” She also looks at how change in the industry affects its culture.

In a broader look at change, Owen Grieve highlights capitalism’s influence on changes in the games industry and what it means for the “gamer” identity. This exhaustive and far-reaching exploration covers creators, players, journalists, and the myriad forces that bring us to where we are today and where we might go in the future. Here’s a snapshot of one of the many topics he covers:

But now, more than 30 years later, and in spite of the mainstream cultural acceptance of games in general, the majority of people are still put off by the kind of wilful (sic) masochism of traditional videogames. There’s a huge amount of commerical (sic) and cultural potential in exploring alternative game concepts. […]

But along with the celebration of acceptance and diversity, it does also create a wrinkle of frustration for some of us who grew up with traditional games: As more and more generations of people grow up surrounded by games, shouldn’t the market for ‘games for gamers’ become stronger and more stable?

Regarding the changing face of journalism, Rob Fearon considers what Rock Paper Shotgun’s recent Peter Molyneux interview says about creators interacting with the media and the future of games journalism. Among his many points are:

There’s so many people in games now with so much to say, so much of worth and use but they don’t fit within the system. They don’t have organised PR, they don’t do press tours and in many, many cases, you won’t find them locked in a room at an event showing off their videogames to the press because that is still a privilege reserved for the few (as good as some indies are at reaching out and playing the game). We can’t keep on going as we always have done and expect the new blood to fit in with us and the old ways, we need to accommodate them somehow. Reach out to them for their words.

Let’s Discuss Gender and Sexuality

To return to Kill Screen, this week Chris Priestman unpacked the development of Lara Croft alongside the changing face of feminism in the ’90s. I was surprised to learn how the intent of her creator was affected by cultural and political forces to create the paradigmatic figure we all know today.

Speaking of figures (do you see what I did there?), over at Kotaku Patricia Hernandez takes an in-depth look at breast physics. Part history, part exploration of tech, the article contains tips for developers and fascinating insights into why so many of them get breast physics wrong. (Content warning: nudity.)

On the player side of things, Sarah Nixon looks at a recent controversy in the Hearthstone circuit surrounding the gender identity of a top player. She points out “a deep rooted problem with sexism in these, and other gaming communities, that is making these communities intolerable for female players – particularly successful female players.”

Along the same lines, at Feministing, Katherine Cross explores the ramifications of the claim that recent threats again Brianna Wu were… just a joke? (Content warning: violent and transphobic language cited in the article.) Cross looks at other internet “stunts” and asks about their intentions and impact on their targets, most of whom are not in on the “joke.”

Finally, GayGamer’s Mitch Alexander held an interview with Todd Harper about his Twine game Upon Reflection, which explores, as Harper says, “three moments in my life where I was dealing with the relationship between my body, which doesn’t match what mainstream culture (gay or not) says is ‘desirable,’ and having sex as a gay man.” The interview also covers Twine as a tool for marginalized creators and the function of empathy in games.

Let’s Talk about Race

On her website, N.K. Jemisin writes eloquently about making race matter in art, including in videogames, beyond simple nods to diversity. She discusses Vivienne in Dragon Age: Inquisition, pointing out that, “Vivienne is affiliated with many groups but few of them seem to have contributed anything to who she’s become. She’s the only playable black woman seen in the entire trilogy of games so far, and she is cultureless, rootless, and quintessentially raceless.”

This article dovetails with an article over at Kill Screen about race in Treachery in Beatdown City. The article points out that “[o]n the off-chance a game happens to portray a character as non-white, they are typically presented as ethnic cliches, rather than actual human beings with real issues and complex lives,” and it examines how Treachery attempted to address this.

And just as I was telling you this, Mattie Brice published a passionate response to recent discussions about race in games. She dismisses the idea of surface diversity as “progress” for which people should be grateful, instead demanding

Why, exactly, must we deal with the breadcrumbs that corporations dole out? In a way, progress is not what we want, when we’re forced to play by someone else’s timetable. And even now, the progress we do have, would our forebears honestly nod and pat us on the shoulders, to commend us for this bold step forward for racial justice? Can’t we just give words to how fucked it is?

All the Things I Can’t Make a Suave Conversational Transition About

It looks like this party’s winding down, so here is a flurry of things I found interesting this week that I can’t sum up in a clever topic heading.

Here is a fascinating article by Jamie Taylor about history through the lens of games and play. The article looks at how games can embody history, their possibilities and constraints, and what this might mean to a wide range of disciples, including games, historians, and the academy at large.

Jorge Albor at Pop Matters looks at how anarchy is represented in Netrunner and how the game’s characters and mechanics allow for the exploration of various real-world anarchist strategies and ideals. This, like most writing about Netrunner, makes me want to play Netrunner, which is probably what you’re all doing later.

Finally, religion in games is a huge interest of mine, though they say you aren’t supposed to talk about it with people you’ve just met. Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to include this thoughtful and personal essay by Nathan Grayson about videogames’ role in the gradual loss of his Christian faith.

Oh, I See You’re Getting Your Coat

Thank you for reading! If there’s an article by you or someone else you’d like to bring to our consideration for This Week in Videogame Blogging, let us know over at Twitter with an @critdistance mention or via email.

Stay tuned for the newest roundups and prompts for our Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let’s Plays features. In the meantime, some signal-boosting: First Person Scholar has been publishing talks from the 2014 Queerness & Games Conference, and they’re all interesting and will make you either glad you went or, like me, lament that you couldn’t.

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Well, thanks for chatting, readers. Next time we meet we can peer at each other awkwardly before saying, “Oh, hey, didn’t we talk at that thing…?” We did! Where’s everyone headed after this?