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May 24th

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 24th)

I haven’t done this in a while, so excuse me while I shake some of the rust off. Welcome to another round of This Week In Video Game Blogging!

The Look Back

Starting off today we take a look into the past.

Richard Moss wrote a feature at Polygon on the very first First Person Shooter, Maze Wars, talking with the people who were there. Meanwhile, Jeffery Matulef at Eurogamer, explores the legend behind the maybe government experiment, maybe not real arcade cabinet Polybius and those making a documentary about it.

Bryant Francis at Gamasutra asks, “Where in the world did the blockbuster educational games go?” Mostly it focuses on the companies that managed to balancing the earning with good, not-boring game design and what happened to those studios through the 90s.

And Richard Cobbett doesn’t go quite as far back to postulate exactly why Doom 3 doesn’t work both as a classic that its predecessors were or as a game of the trends of its time.

Meanwhile in a new Critical Switch episode, Austin C. Howe takes a look at another form of nostalgia, a longing for a past that never was, at what benefits such a goal could mean for games, as seen through the lens of Shovel Knight.

Additionally, Critical Switch hosted a guest episode by Devon looking at the JRPG genre and what underlies it beyond numbers and skills.

The Identity

Who are you? Who, who?

At Femhype, Shel Shepard wrote how representation matters through the example of Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition and how it’s more than just being in the work, but being a convincing part of it.

Bianca Batti, writing for Not Your Mama’s Gamer, looks at Alien: Isolation and how it genders the player activity of inaction as female in deference to many other examples where such design and progression of abilities may not be accepted with a male character.

Kaitlin Tremblay writing for Dorkshelf talks about her choices in characters and classes in Borderlands she feels more comfortable with the non apologies hulking brutes than with the crafty Sirens.

Brendan Keogh typed up a version of a talk he gave at DiGRA, using Binary Domain as a launching platform to explore the concept of cyborgs and binaries established early on between hackers and the other in the video game communities.

And writer of the upcoming adventure game Herald, Roy van der Shilden reflects on the challenge of telling a story that is both universal and personal as well as about a person who is not him. He did a lot of research into the effects of colonization, struggling to find the voices of the colonized instead of the colonizer.

The Game Messages

What a game has to say for itself.

Mark Filipowich explores what he calls, “The Ludic Rashomon.” He went looking for examples in order to dissect the craft of a Rashomon story in video games and what they say about subjectivity.

At PopMatters, Jorge Albor looks at Bloodborne as a representative of our human want and need to learn from our mistakes. He also takes umbrage that reviewers should have warned “regular people” it wasn’t for them, wondering what that term is supposed to mean.

Eron Rauch continues his series “Bridging Worlds” at Videogame Tourism by comparing the veracity of the cultures in Ready Player One and Gone Home and how they represent their larger world.

Carolyn Petit on her tumblr, A Game of Me, explores the meaning behind keeping the two occupants of the apartment in Sunset separate. At first it seems a cheat to the potential message about class and race, but instead turns into a story of feeling intimacy.

The Critical Sphere

Self reflection in the face of discord.

Heather Alexandra expresses our current model of interaction as a critical community as a “Broken Discussion” and the main reason medium as a whole remains in arrested development.

As if to prove it true, Catherine Ashley at Girls on Games, comments on the controversy surrounding Arthur Gies’ review of The Witcher 3. One industry person calling the review “poisonous to the industry: to gamers, to game developers, to game journalists” all because it brings up ideas for consideration.

Meanwhile, Cara Ellison says goodbye to the “new wave” of games criticism, whatever that means. She doesn’t quite know, so she supposes a meaning and works from there. Goodbye, Cara, and good luck in your future endeavors.

The Culture

How gaming sees itself verses how it actually it.

Bob Mackey wrote “The People vs. ‘Nerd Culture’” for US Gamer. He uses Simon Pegg’s recent words about the co-opting of this demographic term to explore the insidious nature of “nerd” as a false identity in the present culture.

Holly Nielsen, at The Guardian, explains that the game industry does indeed have a dress code despite the more free wheeling image it likes to present and the pressure that invites to anyone outside of narrow ideas of masculine dress.

G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters says that what is missing in competitive video games in an inherent behavior of sportsmanship: “In a sense, League of Legends players lack good coaches, who step in to define the boundaries and etiquette of competition, not just how to play the game.”

The Grab Bag

And the rest…

We’ve heard the argument before how big Kickstarters take money away from indies and the numbers that prove that argument to be hyperbolic at best. However, Katie Chironis approaches the issue from a different angle, one we are just starting to see the effects of, how it may not be damaging directly, but how the big Kickstarters distorts how much it takes to make a game making it harder to the little projects that don’t have the institutional support.

Though, Rob Remakes counters that a lot of the problem of perception aren’t as big a problem as its made out to be because it’s always been there. If anything, Kickstarter has made the process the least opaque it has ever been. That, plus the view and use of Kickstarter is vastly different to the audience than it is to developers.

Responding to Dinofarm Games’ Blake Reynolds and their renouncing of pixel art, Brandon Sheffield explains why Necrosoft Games will not being abandoning the art style.

Anna Jenelius gives a primer entitled “Armor for Dummies and/or Game Developers” to explain logistically the major and minor problems with game armor.

And finally, Devin Vibert explains his awesome practice of creating music for the tabletop game sessions they just played over at Memory Insufficient.

The End Times

Thank you for stopping in for your weekly dose of game criticism. If you liked what you read, please consider supporting Critical Distance through our Patreon.

If you have any recommendations for the weekly round ups you can send them via our email or @ message us on Twitter.

Our Blogs of the Round Table feature is currently accepting submissions for its May prompt. And Lindsey Joyce is accepting recommendations for the monthly critical round-up of Let’s Plays.

Thank you and have a great Sunday!

May 17th

May 17th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 17th)

Whoa, talk about a lot of good writing to get through in This Week in Videogame Blogging! Let’s get right into it.

In trying to figure out what to say this week, and by say, I mean figure out how to structure what these other writers were saying in such a way as to best complement their work, I found this piece by Maddy Myers to really say it all:

Creating art and music is not just about the glamorous act of being inspired and pouring out your soul. It, too, is rife with the thoroughly unromantic grind of production and editing and refinement and polishing. The grueling march of notating, measure by measure, every single not that every instrument must perform, and at what time, and in what way. The rote memorization required for performance. The expectation of acknowledging an existing “canon,” even if only to rebuke and subvert it. And even when the code loads or the right notes get played, all art can fail, in its own way. That’s exactly why creation is terrifying.

It might be my own background in music, but what a beautifully succinct description of creators of art. I hope you’ll find the selections this week to be a phrase of individual notes, the different tones creating a harmonious melody.

What’s In a Story?

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander asks, “Why are the stories in video games so bad?

The writers of FemHype want to make you cry, or at least, relive what games made you shed a tear or two in “Press F to Grab Kleenex: Our Top Emotional Moments in a Video Game” (Content Warning: descriptions of sexual assault).

Elsewhere, Drew Toal writes of two games recently released that both take place in Victorian London, but only one of them gets it right.

Sam Zucchi riffs on the narrative defining tracking shots of Daredevil and True Detective, comparing them to the camera in action games, and it’s not pretty:

Yet the very elements that tracking shots can transmit are too often the very same elements that action games neglect, producing their opposites: linear environments instead of complex ones; buggy, stodgy action instead of grace; the lazy expression of a vicarious power fantasy instead of legitimate tension.

Over at VICE, Ed Smith writes about Watch Dogs‘ Aiden Pearce and how the music on his smartphone makes him an even worse character.

While at MotherBoard, Soha Kareem takes on “The Dirtiest Job in Video Games

In light of Koji Igarashi’s Kickstarter campaign, Michelle B. took to FemHype to examine Igarashi’s history with women protagonists in “What Is a Woman?! Bloodstained & Koji Igarashi’s Female Characters

Blake Reynolds comes to terms with pixel art and his desire to communicate with his audience in a language they understand, even if it means foregoing the form he loves.

While at Offworld, Jon Peterson writes about the blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy by not the players, but the authority figures.

Finally yet importantly, Carolyn Petit looks at how a graphic novel challenges the convention of videogames:

Why do we simply accept that so many games present violence as the only way to solve a problem? Why do we accept so many narratives about brave heroes fighting evil and rescuing the girl without ever questioning how the narratives are constructed precisely to leave us with no room to ask questions about whether the bad guys are really so bad or whether what we’re doing is really so good?

Actually, it’s about…Ah, Screw It

At Tech Crunch, Tadhg Kelly takes videogame journalists to task for rigidity in their thinking:

However in videogamemedialand the idea that iPhone and Android games matter more than PC or console games is still heretical. This is because gaming journalists are still operating from an older paradigm with a richer cultural heritage. Theirs is the paradigm of console as blockbuster-cinema, PC as arthouse-cinema and a few darlings like Nintendo doing their own thing. This kind of thinking is so prevalent as to be unconscious. It’s the conventional wisdom, but it radically needs updating.

In “Not So Hot: GamerGate’s Deep Freeze and the ‘Facts’ on Game Journos”, Alisha Karabinus struggles with the latest iteration of GG confusion in the form of a website dedicated to upholding journalist integrity without personal bias but only when personal bias is needed, or some such.

Meanwhile, David Wolinsky grapples with defining “games journalist” and concludes that we’re all just in marketing.

Over at Forbes, Michael Thomsen posits “A More Robust ‘Valve-Is-Evil’ Hypothesis“:

But considering its success alongside an epochal transformation of employment that’s allowed relatively small pass-through companies like Valve to amass more profit than they would have as content producers, there is a real argument that a fully commercialized and professionally polished Gone Home isn’t an adequate upside to the downsides of THQ going bankrupt, Konami and SEGA slowly cutting their investments in console game development, a massive surge in outsourced labor and short-term contract employment leading to long-term precarity and emotional suffering for families.

Fire Dancers, Speed Runners and the Cruelty of the Industry

At VGChartz, Corey Milne bemoans the loss of P.T. and the need for a culture of digital conservation:

There’s a cultural numbness here that dictates that if a product is not actively generating capital then it is rendered worthless. To compound the issue, while publishers actively seek to dismantle the past, they try to sell us on the lie that our digital-only future, as inevitable as it is, will mean that our games will live forever. At least until they unplug the servers.

Elsewhere, Simon Parkin deftly navigates the intersection of the real and virtual in Eve Online.

In keeping in the spirit of immeasurably vast expanses of digital spaces, Raffi Khatchadourian of The New Yorker profiled No Man’s Sky chief architect Sean Murray:

Because of the game’s scope, and because he had decided not to reveal key features, he feared that it had become a Rorschach test of popular expectation, with each potential player looking for something in it that might not be there.

Jeffrey Matulef dives into the world of speed running in “The Loneliness of The Long-Distance Speedrunner”.

Meanwhile, at Kotaku, Jason Schreier reluctantly goes into “The Horrible World of Video Game Crunch” and over at The Guardian, Keith Stuart reminds all of the Sega fans of their grueling years begrudgingly clinging to their Saturns in “Sega Saturn: how one decision destroyed PlayStation’s greatest rival“.

Elsewhere, Scott Juster writes on PopMatters of the excitement of the unique discovery in “Fighting FOMO in Bloodborne”.

Virtue Ethics, Mental Health and Online Confessions

Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Jennifer McVeigh talks virtue ethics in Life is Strange in “Doing the Right Thing: Life is Strange and Virtue Ethics“, while Carly Smith talks about the importance of support for students in “Mental Health and the Do-nothing Adults in Life is Strange”.

Kill Screen’s Chris Priestman plays Selfie: Sisters of The Amniotic Lens and finds the bottled despairs of relative strangers as “beautiful” and even “new to videogames.

On FemHype, Doc Martens gives a harrowing account of a family member’s sudden terminal illness:

I can’t hack and slash my way through cancer no more than I can pummel my coworkers when they are driving me crazy to deal with stress. But I can hack and slash 10,000 attack squads, armored golems, Cactuars, and Master Tonberrys instead, watching my character’s attributes and my gil keep climbing higher.

Mechanical Error

Josh Synder’s attempt to review Ether One on the PlayStation 4 was called into question by a blurring of game mechanics and bugs from shoddy porting:

Each time, after a couple minutes, the game will magically reappear, as if load times of that length are normal. Granted, one could argue that this is intentional design, given the game’s subject nature, and I may be willing to buy that with the texture pop-in (a literal translation of someone’s memories slowly coming back to them, I suppose) but when looked at alongside the inexcusable load times, I begin to suspect that there is nothing intentional here.

PopMatter’s Nick Dinicola discusses the relationship between horror, tension and control in “She Who Controls the Flashlight, Controls the Horror” and over at the Haptic Feedback blog, Austin C. Howe talks “republican dad” mechanics in Dark Souls.

Ray Porreca at Wizards of Radical talks about his favorite RPG of lateMLB 15: The Show, and Shawn Trautman played Modern Warfare and found the perfect analogy for what bothered him so much about it.

Lastly, on Gamasutra, Katherine Cross writes about game manuals functioning as alternative game mechanics:

The manual becomes, here, another vector for expressing Minkomora’s aesthetics and sensibilities, conveying the game to you as you read it. Simple though it may be, lacking my beloved appendices and subsections, it still effectively conveys a strong sense of what Minkomora is and means, lending character and colour to the game world before you even set foot in it. It also shows a path to digital distribution for cost-conscious developers; you no longer need to expensively print copies of a manual in order for it to perform these functions.

This is The End, My Friends

Whew! I told you it was a lot to get through, but I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did.

Don’t forget to check out May’s Blogs of the Round Table as well as Lindsey Joyce’s critical round-up of Let’s Plays.

As always, we’re entirely funded on the generosity of our readers, so if you haven’t already, please take a look at our Patreon page and consider donating!

And don’t forget to keep those links coming via Twitter mention or email.

Until next time, I’m going to see about ascending in Kanye Quest!

May 10th

May 10th, 2015 | Posted by Mark Filipowich in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on May 10th)

Friends, it has been too long. I’ve been looking forward to kicking back, pouring a hot beverage and sharing a leisurely Sunday afternoon with you over another This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Sensual Design

Let’s start with a few pieces on how game design creates meaning through the senses. In part 3 of his ongoing series on lighting, Robert Yang discusses the particularities of lighting 3D games. The three-point lighting system often found in film and 2D games is a great standard most of the time, but, according to Yang, it can’t be the standard in 3D spaces:

[developers] think their goal is to achieve great screenshots, and in film / photography / theater / 2D games that is an admirable goal. But as people working in 3D games, our actual goal is to craft some sort of navigable 3D space, experience, or system, and our lighting needs to be part of that context.

Over at Castle Couch, Oliver Bouchard describes how adventure games, Grim Fandango in particular, nurture the development of nostalgia with the design of their spaces.

By the time I was done, I knew the city and its many intricacies. I had exhausted every possible conversation option with all of the people that live there. I wandered around for hours solving puzzles without knowing how they would add to the main story. I was a resident like any other (although it’s possible I was the only one with a purpose). Suffice to say, I lived there.

In a similar vein, Miguel Penabella compares the similar cinematic and writing techniques in The Last of Us and the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers.

Switching from sight to sound, our own Zolani Stewart hosts this week’s episode of Critical Switch and plays some of the background noises in Mirror’s Edge to illustrate how its sound effects ground the game’s setting and the avatar’s body.

Finally, Ashley Barry, describes the isolating silence that accompanies and deepens both Shadow of the Colossus and Journey.

Representative Character

Ben Gabriel responds to Ian Bogost’s systems-centric contention that “Video Games are Better Without Characters” by arguing that characters are themselves systems. If this is a topic you’d like to dig a little deeper into, than I recommend taking a look at John Osborn’s submission to April’s BoRT, where he offered his own position on this subject.

Likewise, on PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren discusses the ways that a player’s avatar and in-game behaviours influence the real world, specifically through race. Warren discusses the subject in light of Facepunch Studio’s recent decision to randomize avatar ethnicity in Rust.

Alisha Karabinus at Not Your Mama’s gamer also digs into the systems of representation in games by looking character diversity in the top selling games on the Xbox 360.

Finally, Heather Alexandra closes the topic for now in an article in Paste magazine. Alexandra argues that “Videogames Have a Pessimism Problem” that can only be solved by restoring a lost sense of heroism. Her diagnosis of the kinds of games published in the last decade doesn’t pull any punches:

Created works always reflect the times they are made in and we all contribute to the tone of our time. The American zeitgeist is dominated by hopelessness. How could it not be? Debt cripples our students, the people meant to protect and serve citizens are little more than militarized thugs and our politicians vote to restrict the rights of the marginalized. This hopelessness isn’t unique to America; there are problems everywhere. It’s global.

A Personal Look

At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky profiles the work of indie developer, Strangethink. Polansky describes the aesthetic commonalities from one game to the next. As Polansky summarizes,

Strangethink’s games have many aesthetic and conceptual calling cards. They’re all pink and blue and made in Unity. They’re all on some level preoccupied with player exploration of space, with designed, virtual space as architecture, and with architecture as guiding not just naked interaction but also the internal work of interpretation. They tend toward a tension between “magic”, the metaphysical and affective, and to the science of construction, the math of procedural generation.

Christopher Malmo interviews the creator of Bitcoin Mining Profit Calculator: Gaiden, Totally Not Satoshi for Motherboard. Their conversation covers their games, cryptocurrency and internet libertarianism.

Little Games

Rachel Helps offers a brief overview of Taarradhin, a dating sim where the player’s objects of desire really don’t have a lot of interest in them:

The “true ending” only unlocks after you’ve seen the other endings, as if you, the player, needed to get your selfish romancing desires out of the way before you could start to care about the characters on a deeper level.

Johannes Koski, keeper of the blog Persona Matters, has been overwhelmed with work lately, but has nonetheless found some comfort in the Alarm Playing Game, Dreeps:

For a person labouring under intense stress and lacking free time, Dreeps offered a window to another world. I plucked away at my keyboard all day, and every hour or so I would check on how Ishida (my little android – you get to name it) was doing. It was walking down the long road, encountering hardships that I very much sympathised with. Sometimes Ishida needed to be picked up. Often I felt I needed picking up too.

Weighty Ghost

Writing for Offworld, Aevee Bee describes the agency involved in controlling how her avatars make contact with others. Whether through dodging attacks or controlling the flow of a fighting game, Bee describes the pleasure and power in being the one who “controls the conditions of touch.”

Todd Harper uses Bee’s essay as a launching pad for one of his own. Harper discusses the bodies and movements in games that erase or diminish his own body, along with the ways he’s found to build himself in a game:

Perhaps because there is a strong note of aspiration. I didn’t make my Lady Boss to “reflect” me; I made her of something I wish I could be, and which was just close enough so that I could believe it wasn’t that far off.

Jillian from FemHype describes how games have influenced the perspectives on her body (content warning: discussion of eating disorders). Although games were there when she was too overwhelmed to socialize any other way, they kept their body standards:

In Second Life, the smaller and slimmer my avatar was, the more attention I’d receive. People (in this case, their avatars) would actually initiate verbal contact with the character I created—and it wasn’t to shame me! I was being acknowledged as a human being, which is kind of hilariously pitiful, since my assembled collection of pixels wasn’t human at all. At my lowest, I remember wishing that I, too, could be computer generated like the person-shaped avatar with decisions made by keystrokes.

Mothers and Babies

Bianca Batti discusses gender norms in the baby-protagonist of Among the Sleep. Batti details some of the changing gender expectations the community have brought to the character’s onesie along with the expectations involved in their actions and objectives.

Speaking of babies, Jillian from FemHype has written a very good essay about motherhood, magic, and the monstrous feminine trope in the Dragon Age series.

Strength in Design

The folks at Shut Up and Sit Down have taken Cards Against Humanity to task this week, detailing how its needless, immature, embarrassing and boring design makes it a poor ambassador to the growing board game community. From Paul Deen’s writeup:

In an age of greater awareness, where more and more people push for social change, this game is winking at you and telling you it’s okay to indulge those backward prejudices.

Chris Bateman pens the final chapter in his three-part retrospective of roleplaying and games history, which describes how the tabletop has shaped and reshaped the different ways players can expect to roleplay in various genres.

Stephen Beirne describes ascending an exceptionally long ladder in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to a disembodied singer as a moment of game-breaking clarity, one with analogues in a pair of Sherlock Holmes-themed games.

… Snake Eater’s ladder is wonderful in being perhaps the most subtle act of media-bending in any Metal Gear Solid, but which acts its magic through channels which are perfectly ordinary in nature. We see the past, the future, we become absorbed in the moment at the same time as we sail high up above in adoration of its dramatic structure.

Finally, our own Eric Swain explains on PopMatters how The Charnel House Trilogy is designed to evoke a sense of theatricality,

We are both an actor going through a set of motions and audience watching the story play out before us. If you think about it, this is really true of any adventure game. Except instead of being incidental, here it is the central design focus.

Dispatches from Vienna

Courtesy of our German Correspondent Joe Köller, let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the German-language games blogosphere.

The A Maze Independent Games Festival took place in Berlin recently, and audio recordings of all talks are available online. Reporting on the triple A meetup that preceded it, Lisa Ludwing concludes that the German games industry isn’t all that exciting.

Sebastian Standke has been interviewing Ludum Dare contestants for a series of 21 profile pieces. Also on Superlevel, Josefiene Pertosa translated the third part of Magnus Hildebrandt’s comprehensive guide to the inspirations and cultural reference points of Kentucky Route Zero.

Nina Kiel wrote about the FEMICOM game jam challenging the supposedly masculine history of games, and has also been continuing her column on sex games.

Oh, and there’s an interview with the director of a Monkey Island theater production, which is the second most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.

Until Next Time

Once again, I thank you all for inviting us into your home and sharing another week of videogame blogging with us. If you’re looking for more, though, don’t be discouraged, because our Lindsey Joyce has compiled a whole month’s worth of critical Let’s Plays for your viewing enjoyment.

Additionally, don’t forget to keep an eye on May’s Blogs of the Round Table, where contributors are invited to discuss the theme of ‘plans.’

On top of that, guest editor Rollin Bishop has put together a critical compilation of a whole swath of articles on Dragon Age II.

We’ve been a busy bunch here at Critical Distance, but that’s the way we like it. So if there’s a great piece of games criticism you come across that you’d like to see us feature please get in touch with us on Twitter using the appropriate hashtag or through email.

Lastly, Critical Distance remains a community funded project and if you enjoy the projects we’re a part of please take a look at our Patreon page and consider contributing a small monthly donation. We’d really appreciate it!

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.

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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!

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