November 15th

November 15th, 2015 | Posted by John Kilhefner in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 15th)

There wasn’t a whole lot whirring out of the videogame criticism engine this week, but don’t call it getting by on scraps, these delectable morsels are more than satisfying enough.

Contents within presented without filler.

Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Rise (and fall) of the Tomb Raider

Carolyn Petit reviews Rise of the Tomb Raider for Feminist Frequency (video), finding it less sadistic in its treatment of Lara Croft’s tribulations, but well short of providing the meaningful psychological context seemingly promised in the original teaser. What’s more, while admiring the sublimity of the game’s environments, Petit notes Rise of the Tomb Raider forces the player to de-emphasize the aesthetic, reducing environments from sublime to a mere container of player plunders.

Petit addresses the backlash to her review in a follow-up on her Tumblr:

Some readers–those, for instance, who attack less-than-glowing reviews of highly anticipated games that haven’t even been released yet and that they haven’t yet had a chance to play–aren’t interested in actual criticism. They are interested in being told that their emotional investment in a particular game, their anticipation of it, the sense of greatness that they have already imbued this particular entertainment product with, are all justified, that the game they have yet to play is indeed going to be fucking awesome.

Fallout 4, Plausibility and Witchcraft 

In contrast, Kill Screen’s Reid McCarter discusses the role of Dogmeat in Fallout 4 as a measure to “keep the player grounded amongst the immensity of Fallout 4’s environments”:

Games like Fallout 4—games with sprawling worlds, in which the player decides when, or if, to take part in specific story beats—differ from the directed narratives of media like film and books. Unlike the carefully selected sentences and exactingly shot scenes that form these narratives, an open world videogame is scattershot in its presentation. Because the player is given freedom to explore the environment in the order and manner they choose, the game’s director can’t ensure that they see everything of importance.

Over at FemHype, Melissa finds legitimate qualms with Fallout 4’s reliance on the heteronormative:

Here’s the thing, though: Fallout 4 isn’t real life … That’s because Fallout 4 is a video game set in a fictional apocalypse based off an American 1950s vision of the future. If they can implement rocket cars and nuclear shelters that can sustain people for hundreds of years, I’m pretty sure they can manage a nonbinary or gay trans person who has a child with their partner …

(FemHype recently bumped its call for reader support, by the way.)

“Video games have to be plausible if you want to suspend disbelief” – at least, that’s what Stanford postdoctoral fellow Sebastian Alvarado remarks to The Guardian’s Will Freeman:

Developers are constantly trying to motivate players in a level by giving their actions purpose and meaning. Scientists have been doing the same to build logic around the natural world – and we’ve done so for centuries. Our team has an edge because our scientific expertise is only matched by a shared passion for science fiction trivia.

While back at FemHype, Josephine Maria looks at witches in Skyrim and Dragon Age, exploring the way folklore is employed as media additive, drawing on the historical to overturn our assumptions or keeling under the weight of archetypal assumptions:

Skyrim draws heavily on witch folklore for its cast of magic users who are women, though they exist primarily in side quests and as faceless antagonists. An issue with any open world game produced on the AAA level is that deadlines and the sheer size of the game leave many elements feeling either too formulaic or unsatisfactorily explored.

“War Has Changed”

Jack Muncy’s write-up of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for Wired discusses the annual shooter’s “brutal body horror” in a convoluted plot that awkwardly toes the line between cookie-cutter science fiction and cutting-edge real-world technology: “Meanwhile, Darpa is experimenting with everything from exoskeletons to the sort of fantastical, bio-integrated tech featured in Black Ops III.

Over at Unwinnable, James Murff finds Black Ops 3’s departure from binary plot constraints of old a welcome change:

This plot setup allows Call of Duty to explore themes of human augmentation, mental breakdown, the nature of sentience and even the afterlife. While it doesn’t approach them as intelligently as a cyberpunk novel such as Neuromancer or Snow Crash, it’s far smarter and more strange than a Call of Duty game has any right being.

Politics as Usual 

Not Your Mama’s Gamer details an anonymous reader’s two-part account of sexism while working at a major game studio:

I was told that I’d get ahead in the company by sleeping my way to the top, and it turned out that rejecting at least one advance definitely affected my ability to get ahead. Additionally, I had to deal with receiving inappropriate comments, and, afraid of being flagged as unprofessional, I silently dealt with the fact that an ex-boyfriend working in the same office told me he counted how many times a day he passed my desk without me seeing him. In the end, I felt lucky that I didn’t have to deal with inappropriate touching or overt demands.

At Gamasutra, Chris Baker took the year’s biggest videogame copyright ruling to task, examining the impact of the U.S. Copyright Office’s new ruling on copyright restrictions in games:

Of course, the elephant in the room is that jailbreaking consoles and circumventing game authentication is commonplace nowadays. People are doing it all the time for purposes of entertainment, research, education, and art projects. But anyone worried about the legal (and ethical) questions surrounding this has had to refrain from doing so. This was particularly true for museums and libraries.

Over at FemHype, author Rachel W. talks identity and inclusivity in Read Only Memories:

Read Only Memories is a celebration of diversity and features many LGBTQIA+ characters. You work with a detective who is your sister’s ex-girlfriend, two street punks are hinted as being boyfriends, and a character who flaunts a big moustache and a beard uses she/her pronouns. Every character’s sexual and gender identity is not made completely obvious and, more importantly, it does not define their character.

A Grand Design

Let’s talk design, and what better a perspective to hear it from than a designers? Keezy Young, writing for Remeshed, takes a look at the design of eight female characters and what makes them standout:

If a character wears heavy makeup and silks and coiffed hair, maybe it’s that they value their appearance, or are in a position where their looks are important to maintain authority or popularity. If they’re covered in scars and nicked armor, it tells you that they’re probably battle-hardened, and used to close combat fighting. When you start mix-and-matching design attributes, you can get some really interesting subtext—a warrior with scars and nicked armor who also carefully applies makeup and wears a nice silk scarf, for instance, is someone I want to find more about. Why do they care about their appearance even on the battlefield? Were they always a warrior, or did they have a different background? Is there someone they want to impress or look nice for?

Guess what’s out? Unwinnable Weekly issue 69, continuing a series profiling Unreal developer grants in “Revving the Engine: Planet Alpha 31”:

There are many sources that inspired the visuals of Planet Alpha 31 — from ancient Greek architecture to the vintage look of Star Trek, Alien and Aliens to the amazing futuristic design found in cities like Singapore to space photography — we live in an amazing world with no shortage of inspiring sights.

Elsewhere, Ross Keniston falls for a new character in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Evie Frye – what with her “bad-assery” and clear familial dominance within the brother-sister dynamic Syndicate employs.

Heading over to U.S. Gamer, Jeremy Parish interviewed Mega Man mastermind and Comcept President Keiji Inafune, picking his brain on the Tokyo Games Show and Mighty No. 9; while at Pop Optiq Seth Shepard profiles Nina Freeman’s catalog of “vignette games.”

Over at Gamasutra, Josh Bycer talks challenges of asymmetrical balance in artificial intelligence; specifically, what designers get right and wrong about designing AI that is beatable without being disadvantaged and competitive without being overpowered.

But it’s not just the AI, the mere act of playing a game can be challenging to the non-initiated, as written by Radical Helmet for Plus 10 to Fire Resist:

As people who’ve been playing videogames for a good chunk of our lives, it’s easy for us to forget just how intimidating they can be for outsiders. I’m not talking the subject matter, either (although that can be a problem), but just the fundamental act of playing a game. The modern controller has two clickable analog sticks, four face buttons, four triggers at least, a d-pad and extra buttons for functions like pausing or bringing up a home menu, and the modern game routinely expects you to take advantage of most if not all of these features. Trying to get these people to play a PC game isn’t much easier, and just serves to remind us that these devices weren’t actually invented to play videogames, and that we’ve essentially had to hack the existing setup to make it work.

Oh, did you know that Carl Sagan, who would have been 81 on Nov. 9, dabbled in game design? Here’s Alex Wawro discussing “a rough design document” Sagan developed for a videogame version of his novel Contact (which was also adapted as a criminally underrated movie -ed).

And congrats to Brendan Keogh who released his finished PhD thesis online, which is “about videogames, what bodies do with them, and what they do with bodies.”


While short, I hope you found this week’s selection uncovered gems that may have otherwise flown under your radar.

That’s what we’re here for.

As always, your submissions keep the Critical Distance gears grinding, so hit us up on Twitter or email, or both if that’s your style.

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September 13th

September 13th, 2015 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on September 13th)

Shake off the rust and welcome one and all to another edition of This Week In Video Game Blogging!


In continuation to the previous pieces of Hot Ryu, Mattie Brice looks at what the simple addition of a beard says about us when compared with the correct cultural context of masculinity projection, in this case ‘lumbersexuality.’

Our own Riley MacLeod feels lost in the normative body types of video games and looks at the differences apparent in stealth games and their “queer masculinity” at Offworld. Then, Todd Harper picks up the torch and in light of a rather disgusting video applies the same lens toward fat characters.


(Content Warning: discussion of rape.)

Alisha Karabinus, at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, decides to take the psudo-science explanation of Quiet’s state of dress on its face and instead explore the poor execution of its presentation. She laments that there was potential even in the ludicrousness of it that gets lost in the shuffle of its more obvious detrimental aspects.

Emma Boyle was much less diplomatic in her piece on Gadgette, blasting the explanation as more of an excuse to do more of the same. Starting from the same place with many of the same arguments, wundergeek of Go Make Me a Sandwich blog follows the train of thought through to the concept of rape and how it has ceased to be edgy a long time ago and we as a culture have proved we are not responsible to handle it.

(End content warning section.)

A Woman’s Perspective

Jordan Wood continues in Part 2 of the critical series of The Witcher 3 by examining the Bloody Baron quest. Wood feels that there is a severe deficiency of nuance and observation in examination of the sexual politics of modern video games and seeks to correct that through example.

At Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Bianca Batti looks at Until Dawn as through the lens of the horror genre and what it says about representation and the illusion of choice. Meanwhile, Alex Layne recommends we look to history for the next step of women “transgressing male spaces.”

Lena LeRay goes back to Final Fantasy X-2, a game she saw as unnecessary and somewhat detrimental to the story of FFX, and looks at it from a different angle, as a story about a woman dealing with grief and coming to terms with loss.

Anna Anthropy’s newest release, Ohmygod Are You Alright? inspired Chris Priestman to examine the sequel to Dys4ia and see what it says about the developer’s opinion on the so-called empathy game genre.

Level Design

Scott Juster of PopMatters feels that while the level design of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a lovely example of space, it is ruined by the slow speed at which you move through it, creating a disconnect and resentment of the level. They mechanic and space were not properly built for one another.

Andrew Yoder of Mclogeblog looks at the Thief‘s series of in-game maps and what they express bout spaces and how they what behavior they facilitate.

Mike Stout tries to dissuade the normal responses that come up when he says he wants to talk about training players and expand the understanding beyond poorly made tutorials into the necessary practice of teaching the player how to play.

Meanwhile, Eurogamer managed a sit down with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka to talk about the iconic level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. (video) And Jon Irwin at Paste Magazine has a bit of fun with the Top 20 2D Mario levels of all time.


Eve Golden Woods of Women Writes About Comics, looks at Silverstring Media’s The Dusty Dead, a narrative personality quiz that doesn’t have an original property to be based on and how that changes the experience.

On Critical Hit, Ceba looks at Infinifactory‘s critique of factory farm meat through the mechanics it has been using all along benignly. They wondered if it was intentional and so asked the developer. It was indeed.

Pam at her blog Cannot Be Tamed asked about something she doesn’t get about how we talked about games, namely the idea of a game or possibly the player respecting their time and what value our reaction to our activities place on it.

Don’t use the N-word in gaming: sound advice and the subject of Chris Spivey’s piece. He doesn’t want the word banned and sees its necessary to not hide, in other mediums, but finds it’s different in gaming.

And on a lighter note, a dialogue of 4 philosophers trying to play a mutliplayer game of Magic: The Gathering by Jesse Mason at his blog Killing a Goldfish.

Closing Credits

If you have any recommendations for the weekly roundups, you may have to our email or @-message our Twitter account. Please be kind and consider donating to our Patreon if you value the work done here or just spread it around if you cannot. It is appreciated.

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And…I think that’s everything. See you next week!

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!

November 30th

November 30th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 30th)

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

Bioshock and Beyond Earth

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

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

AAA Themes

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

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

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

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

Interactive Fiction

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

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

The Feel of the Game

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

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

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

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


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

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

Criticism on Criticism

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

November 9th

November 9th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 9th)

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

Bayonetta 2

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

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

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

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

Military and Politik

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Horror Games

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Dispatches from Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

You Know What This Is About

No seriously you do.

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

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

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

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

#TakeAwayTheHalos indeed.

Lighten the Mood

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

The Usual Footer Stuff

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

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

The Game Developers Conference is over and Kris will be back in the saddle next weekend. Hello to any new potential readers we may have picked up over the last week. Let’s get This Week In Video Game Blogging started.

Critical Proximity

While the inaugural meet up of game critics and writers was last weekend, there have been a few responses in the meantime.

Mike Joffe of Video Games of the Oppressed wrote about his take on attending the conference and how he learned to stop worrying and love the myriad and nebulous concepts none of us can agree on.

Joshua Comer focused on the particulars of jargon, a concept brought up in many of the talks and various attributes of it as a useful tool and a barrier to communication.

Meanwhile, Nick Hanford, The Man of Many Frowns, decided not to respond to one concept, but all of the talks through the lens of audience and who the talks were for and how the talks addressed the concept themselves.

And on the Critical Proximity site, Richard Terrell put up the Roundtable Maps, a dynamic snapshot that grew out of the roundtable talks held after several of the talks.


While not all of us were fortunate enough to go, there was much discussion to be had about the recent Game Developers Conference.

On Paste Magazine, Maddy Myers wrote about what she had to consider about how she dresses when she goes to conferences or conventions like GDC and how it ends up hiding who she truly is.

Matthew Kumar delivered a detailed write up of Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue postmortem for Edge Online.

Held concurrently to GDC, across the street is the Lost Levels conference as an ‘unconference.’ Mike Joffe posted the full version of his talk he gave on non-human play.

And finally, cartoonist Elizabeth Simins had what must be the shortest interview with Peter Molyneux ever and produced it for Kotaku in comic form. If this doesn’t spawn a Molydeux style game jam I don’t know what to do with you all.

Social Effect of Games

Looking at human’s response to video games for a sociological perspective.

Katherine Cross for Feministing looked at some success stories in the RPG realm – Dragonfall and Pathfinder – that put another nail into the coffin for the idea that sex sells and anything else is doomed for failure.

Mrs. Dawnaway wrote a piece for Big Tall Words about the implications of makeup in Mass Effect.

And Mike Rose delved into the seedy world of digital gunrunners who circumvent the Steam trading system to make a quick buck off of Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

This is where everyone sort of wanders about towards their own interests

Edward Smith wrote a trio of posts about Silent Hill 2 looking at the long intro walk in the woods, the character of Laura and a closer look at the subtle meanings behind the nurses’ design.

At Kill Screen Alexander Saeedy wrote about the archaic design as why he quit playing Baldur’s Gate II. The submitter did qualify that he wasn’t sure if Saeedy had made it through the admittedly somewhat lengthy and dull opening dungeon.

Mutlimedia Editor G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters looked into Device 6 and how it takes a different route towards its metanarrative of player/game relations.

Mark Chen calls Depression Quest the most important game he’s ever played.

Francisco Dominguez had some questions while figuring out his reading of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, so he went to the source, Dan Pinchbeck.

Robert Rath calls Ground Zeroes the first Metal Gear Solid game that gets, like the tagline says, Tactical Espionage Action right.

Leigh Harrison looks at the super lengthy Darksiders II and how that and its repetition are, in a way, something to be admired.

Stephen Beirne looks and the concept of exploration by eschewing the normative model of an open world filled with collectables for something far different filled with weird sights.

And Austin C. Howe wrote a defense of Super Metroid‘s backtracking for his blog Haptic Feedback.

Dispatch from our Foreign Correspondent

Amélie Middelberg writes about sexist abuse in her gaming life and the various internet projects dedicated to documenting such instances of harassment.

Tobias Martin Schwaiger considers how the movie adaptions of Resident Evil manage to enrich the source material, despite its own heavy use of cinematic devices.

Speaking of films, Benjamin Filitz talks about the Dota 2 documentary Free to Play and its uncomfortable existence as a Valve product documenting a Valve product.

On Polyneux, Doreen shares her personal experience with The Last of UsLeft Behind.

Other Types of Game Criticism

All before were words on a page.

Extra Credits looked at the design benefits of collectable games like Magic: The Gathering.

Campster aka Chris Franklin follows up on his look at Thief with a an analysis of the newest entry in the franchise.

The Ontological Geek has a new podcast and episode 2 takes a long look at the concept of the asylum level in video games and what it means.

Final Points

The Ontological Geek is holding a call for articles for Romance Month in April. Likewise The Journal of Games Criticism with open for submissions for their second quarterly issue. The deadline is April 19th.

Thank you for reading. If you have any suggestions for the weekly roundup please submit them via our email or @ message our Twitter account. If you like the work we do here and wish to support us with more than kind words you can at our Patreon page.

Also, you can spread the love for good criticism at the Unwinnable Weekly. Check out their Kickstarter.

January 12th

January 13th, 2014 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on January 12th)

After taking a break from the year end specials, we at Critical Distance are back. I, Eric Swain, will be stepping in as your curator this week to present a double sized This Week In Video Game Blogging.

Connect the Dots

Eric Swain GMing style of Shadowrun Return at PopMatters. Also at PopMatters, G Christopher Williams wrote how Knock Knock managed to digitize the children’s game of hide and seek, while Nick Dinicola wrote how the game of Need For Speed: Rivals is at war with its soundtrack.

Sven Bergström of Sneaky Bastards penned a manifesto for 2014 on the nature of pure stealth games and their relationship to action games.

Brendan Vance wrote The Cult of the Peacock about the overwhelming influence of The Design of Everyday Things to the exclusion of artistic decisions and detriment of the work and to the designer saying,

Now, instead of manuals, we have interactive tutorials. They take about fifty times longer to produce, three times longer to consume, and players hate them so much that their highest aspiration is to become completely transparent. Currently I spend most of my waking hours developing them. It should come as no surprise that I hate them too.

Jaymee Mak wonders with regards to feminism and representation why the ‘why’ is always left out. She asks just such questions in interviews with developers Brenda Bailey Gerschkovitch, Kirsten Forbes and Mathew Kumar using their work as a springboard.

Soha El-Sabaawi spins out her reaction of The Escapist’s recent No Right Answer video on Anita Sarkeesian, commenting ‘there is no right answer, but a wrong way to discuss.’

Isaiah Taylor interviews Amanda Strawn, the voice actress of the infamous homeless black woman NPC from Dues Ex: Human Revolution to get her side to the character and the issue.

Stephen Beirne at his blog Normally Rascal talks about the inclusion of sexual assault in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes in relation to Kojima’s own track record.

Todd Harper looks at the presentations of character designs in fighting games and balancing the design between the game’s need and that of harmful stereotypes.

Patrick Miller peer reviews the No Show panel by Todd Harper and Maddy Myers and how most of the outward presentation reflects poorly on the work they were trying to accomplish.

Kris Ligman on Gamasutra says, ‘Fire Emblem Awakening is a triumph of good design and advertising and not casual appeal.’

James Marion likens The Sims to Our Town and how it is the player’s hand just like it is the director’s hand that grant’s the stage meaning.

Jeff Mummert at Play the Past looks at how video games aren’t really understood and to be used as texts in the classroom the understanding of player’s position and their agency is necessary.

Gaines Hubbell at Higher Level Gamer examines the ideal of a video game as a text and how we approach them as open works in the face of mainstream critics unconsciously insisting they are closed works. Also at Higher Level Gamer, Erik Bigras examines a game outside the norm for the NES why it was once a – Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus – prescription and what it can teach about asthma.

Dave Own wrote a feature for Polygon about Super Columbine Massacre RPG and how its purpose of working through the tragedy like many of the books and films in its wake was missed given the medium it is a part of.

Kevin Sultan on Gamasutra looks at the psychological anthropology in video games paying particular attention to images and what we consider monsters.

Jamie Madigan at Psychology of Games looks at studies performed at the Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver where it turns out a heightened sense of danger can be transferred in the mind onto ancillary events. Some video games may do the same thing to get player attached to the characters in The Walking Dead and The Last of Us.

Adrian Froschauer wrote a guest article for Ontological Geek examining the illusion of choice in The Walking Dead and how it is that illusion that is much more important than any actual outcome in The Walking Dead. Also at Ontological Geek, Bill Coberly looks at the moral choice presented in FTL, in particular the confrontation with non-hostile slavers and the unspoken implications of all your decisions.

Robert Rath looks at the pirate life on display in Assassin’s Creed IV and how the game fits you into the world through quests and encouraged behavior.

Daniel Korn comes back to Pokemon with Pokemon X/Y and find everything from the villains to the rivals to the through quest utterly lacking even by Pokemon standards.

Eurogamer published a piece by The Secret Developers to keep them anonymous about their troubles with the Wii U and how these difficulties and lack of support has caused a lot of third-party support to quietly retract games that were once announced for it.

Pietro Polsinelli had indie developer Daniel Benmergui on the Design a Game podcast to discuss Storyteller, his puzzle game/system for creating visual stories.

Emily Short critique’s Gone Home as a work of interactive fiction and the larger trend of “presenting most of your story as backstory” as a means to get around many difficulties in writing interactive fiction.

Mark Filipowich wrote some of his thoughts on games writing and community involvement with links to quite a few other writers’ pieces and their responses to the current situation from Patreon to creating new games writing outlets.

Zolani Stewert launched the first issue of the Arcade Review, a digital magazine focusing on criticism of experimental games. It includes pieces by Line Hollis, Lana Polansky, Alex Pieschel and Zolani Stewart himself. Also, Objective Game Reviews launched while we were away. Finally, a site that gives nothing but truly objective reviews of video games.

Closing Credits

Thank you for your patience. We are now back to a normal schedule. Because of recovery and last minute scheduling snafus almost every single link above was a suggestion sent in by our readers. A big thank you to all of you. So remember, please send in any suggestions you might have through our email submission form or via Twitter mention.

November 10th

November 10th, 2013 | Posted by Eric Swain in This Week in Videogame Blogging: - (Comments Off on November 10th)

It’s getting rather dark and rather chilly around here. Another week, another list of links for This Week In Video Game Blogging.

Video Games Both Great and Small

Horror month continues a little past October with Zachary McAnally looking at Slender: The Arrival‘s horror design and Soha El-Saaawi explaining the journey of Year Walk.

Emanuel Maiberg at Kill Screen looks at the new Call of Duty and how the campaign ends up turning you unintentionally into a terrorist and a Nazi. While E.T. Brooking at The Escapist explores the real world space faring weaponry that has and could exist.

Becky Chambers of The Mary Sue relates her experience with Papers, Please from both sides of the customs booth, both in the game and in real life. Levi Fowler wrote ‘What AntiChamber Teaches Us About The Nature of Religious Texts’ for GameChurch.

Bendan Vance talks about intrinsic and extrinsic features of a work and how Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic is an example of a game fully designed with intrinsic meaning instead of “paying lip service to aesthetics.”

Ethan Gach asks “What is Final Fantasy?” in the respect that the games have always changed and mutated over their many iterations and looks at the core of what makes a quote/unquote Final Fantasy game.

Nathan of compares Baseball to Spelunky in regards to their various levels of play and the deceptively simple descriptions of how they play.

Eric Swain at PopMatters explains how most games that claim to be cinematic fail to take advantage of the techniques of film and how Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was a game that incorporated such techniques into its camera.

Stephen Beirne wrote a piece at Gameranx claiming that BioShock Infinite‘s combat design was a step backwards from BioShock 2.

Alisha Karabinus at Not Your Mama’s Gamer explored how thanks to her age and our journey with her in Season One, that taking control of Clementine in The Walking Dead Season Two could be path to a new empathy to girls’ and women’s situations in trying circumstances.

State of Things Orbiting the Medium

Bob Chipman explains the changes that happened to criticism in the public sphere over the last century and how it wasn’t always consumer oriented, but theory oriented in his latest Big Picture Show episode.

Cameron Kunezlman looks at the complex relationships indies and AAA industries have with one another, especially the workers of each. Speaking of which, Ian Williams looks at the distressing reality of Video Games and Labor.

Emanuel Maiberg now shows the other side of the debate in ‘what big data can’t teach us about video games.’

At the Monochroma development blog, Burak Tezate?er looks at the expressionism art style and its relationship to video games.

Gender and Race Tied Up With Lace

In her Edge column, Leigh Alexander explains how those fans that get defensive of their favorite games over criticism end up displaying the same sensitivity they vilify in others who are not explicitly catered to.

Sindey Fussell explains why the main answer towards equality in the medium is in the end another silencing tactic in favor of the status quo.

At The Border House, Mark Filipowich explores how the relationship between sex and politics is presented in three different games.

PBS Game/Show asks the question ‘Are Games Racist?’ answering yes, though not for the reason one might think.

See You Next Week

Thank you for reading. If you have created or see something you think is worth including a future edition of This Week in Videogame Blogging, please contact us by sending a mention to our Twitter account or use our email submissions form.

Your resident librarian of games criticism is back in the seat again. We have a wonderfully diverse collection on the recommends shelf of This Week In Video Game Blogging.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto is a very popular subject as of late. We decided just to put them out on the front shelf; it seems to be the topic of the moment.

Stephen Beirne on the Huffington Post writes about how it normalizes violence, not through causing it, but by creating an atmosphere where people cannot recognize it. Furthermore, Beirne suggests that the satire defense merely exacerbates the problem.

Cassandra Khaw at US Gamer talk about how unrealistic Michael and his family are given that she grew up with a real world analog to him. It isn’t so much social criticism as it is the high flung fantasy of an executive.

Spann at Arcadian Rhythms is a little disappointed at the criticism towards GTA5‘s most heinous mission and how under read it’s used in regarding Trevor and his character.

Mark Serrels says Los Santos is a place he’d never want to visit on Kotaku. And Johnny Kilhefner at Unwinnable regards existence in Los Santos as condemning a person to a slow death and eventual end by one’s own hand.


Kimberley Wallace put out a new piece published by Game Informer about how confronting despair can influence a reading and ultimately the ending choice in Beyond: Two Souls.

Paul Haine looks at running in games and how the culmination of elements in Remember Me finally made him slow down and walk to the benefit of the game and his enjoyment.

Also, a brand new work from the highly reclusive author – first in a long while I must say – came out this week. Our own Kris Ligman – yes her, right over there – published a piece at Unwinnable deconstructing Johnny Gat from the Saint’s Row series.


Leda Clark goes back to the cultural initiator of the boom and digs deep into the psychosis of Braid by looking at oft overlooked elements.

Alex Duncan looks at creation and self creation through art in The Unfinished Swan on his The Animist Blog. Don’t get much about this gem.

Rob Parker of First Person Scholar tries to reconcile Jesper Juul’s understanding of game and failure with regards to the art of Papers, Please.

Stephen Beirne sees Gone Home as three games wrapped into one.

Daniel Joseph sees Howling Dogs and Kentucky Route Zero as a new type of game entering into the general public’s view and hopefully laying down the groundwork for what the next world will look like.

Look Back

We also have a number of new writings on classic titles for the vintage player.

Ed Smith did a insightful retrospective of the original Tropico and how perfectly it mirrors how politics really works and why so little ever gets done.

Eric Swain continues horror month at PopMatters by looking at a classic adventure game now again once widely available and how I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is more faithful to the concept of horror than most other games.

And Liz Ryerson collects her three critical walkthrough videos of the first chapter of the original Doom and of the subtle nuances of the level’s design and hidden storytelling.

Social Issues

We have a treat this week. Stanford was kind enough to to show the study that demonstrates how sexualized game characters have a demonstrative detrimental real world effect of self esteem and cognitive ability. Yes, no paywall or anything. JSTOR is usually so picky.

Darius Kazemi and Nina Huntemann list off the three least powerful woman in gaming. many repeat entrants this year.

Robert Rath in his weekly pamphlet says that we need more soldiers to write about games.

And if you are willing to go into the viewing room we have a set of companion videos from Idea Channel. Controlling vs. Being Your Video Game Avatar and Are you Weird if You Play as the Opposite Sex? That second one comes close, but manages not to fall into any pitfalls.


Those? Oh sorry. I haven’t gotten around to reshelving them yet. Sure you can have a look.

L. Rhodes at Polygon says sequels are sometimes good for gamers. He also wrote about how copyright law pertains to Super Mario Brothers and video games in general for Medium.

Jason Johnson wrote an interesting look inside the “failed” utopian New Games Movement.

And Mitch Dyer wrote on the all too depressing and all too real question of ‘how long can video games matter?” This is given their iterative qualities instead of artistic and how each new game forces obsolescence on their predecessors.

Eric Keeps Forgetting the Closing Section So Kris Had to Write This Part

Thanks for stopping by! As usual we welcome all outside submissions, so please send us your recommendations via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

Also, we are still on the look-out for foreign language correspondents! In particular, we are looking for readers familiar with French, Spanish, Russian or Japanese games writing, although we welcome all comers, of course. If you think you can help out, please drop us a line!

There are a few days left to submit to this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, so please consider taking part!

See you next week!

Sunday afternoons are made for being lazy. Just stretch out, scratch the nearest cat tummy and watch the dust particles float on by. But there are still posts to read and link lists to curate. So on with This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Gone Home and Papers, Please

Because two great tastes go together.

Kate Craig, artist for The Fullbright Company wrote a post on the company blog explaining some of the subtle symbolism with flowers used in the game.

Jorge Albor talks about the concept and realization of family in Gone Home over at PopMatters.

Claire Hoskings wrote for Polygon the six lessons for creating believable female characters using Gone Home to highlight each point.

At Ontological Geek, Matt Schanuel calls Gone Home the act of soft transgressions. And Oscar Strik sees both Papers, Please and Gone Home as games about stories the recognition we should pay more attention to those of others.

Stephen Winson at his blog The Good, the Bad and the Awesome, sees Papers, Please main flaw is that it sets it in the communist bloc as if that were the only government to slide into a bureaucratic state.


To protect and abuse.

Maddy Myers of Paste questions her reading of Hotline Miami has a satire of masculinity given its sequel’s start and satire in games as a whole and the relevance and necessity of authorial intent for it to be there. She mentions The Castle Doctrine as part of that.

Jason Rohrer explains his choices regarding families with mechanical value as it relates to the player’s behavior regarding them and how changes to the family changed player behavior.


Games and Otherwise.

Laura Kate says that she is not a Journalist, because the relationship between writer and subject isn’t the same in the games press.

Jeff Kunzler, someone who actually works in advertising, has a few things to say about Adblock and their recent move into advertising. He’s positive on the whole thing.

And Robert Rath in his Critical Intel column at the Escapist goes step by step over the mainstream news media’s incompetence and harmful reporting regarding a tragedy with an 8-year old, his grandmother and a video game that was mentioned only into get attention.


They all talked about sleeping this week.

Edward Smith says to stop and smell the roses as video games never seem to let you have those moments to actually absorb what is going on.

Nick Robinson says sleep is boring, but video game all nighters are interesting.

Nick Michal seems to go a little off the deep end into the surreal. How did the hero get here? Is this a beginning or an ending?

Assorted Close Readings

Random video games.

At PopMatters, Mark Filipowich takes his turn on the Final Fantasy is dead debate, saying the series isn’t dead, it isn’t even unwell, but rather healthy because it is still with us in all its incarnations. G. Christopher Williams, meanwhile, looks at the current state of the MMO and laments it fails to offer the same incentive towards friendship as it once did.

Jonas Jürgens at Thunderbolt Games played The Sims 3 and was bored out of his mind as he desperately searched for substance.

Caitlin Oram looks at I Am Alive and its portrayal of the apocalypse and notes that the greater danger is with other humans not monsters.

Aggrodrago, real name unknown, looks at the effectiveness of a simple camera control change towards teaching the most important lesson in the beginning of The Last of Us.

Paw Dugan does a quick overview of the music in Persona 3 and how it ties the game’s story together.

And Edge looks at The Making of: The Last Express.


Ethics regarding in and out.

Dan Solberg wrote a profile for Kill Screen on the Marina Abramovic Institute and game creator Pippin Barr’s part in it.

Ethan Levy defends himself on Kotaku against being called a cancer on the industry to explain a few things to people.

Reid McCarter at Digital Love Child says that playing the classics isn’t always easy, but it can be valuable to struggle through the dry material because the experience can be worthwhile.

Joe Webb of Ludic Poop, talks about the elitism of the “pure gaze” that arises in every medium to propagate the notion the form is more important than its connection to the real world and how such a stance by the hardcore is used to alienate bros as well as content critics.

Wrap Up

Thank you for visiting. Don’t forget Blogs of the Round Table is still going on till the end of September. We take recommendations every week via both email and twitter. Welcome to the new month and the end of summer.