July 25th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Ben kindly asked me to take over this week as he would be away from the internet and, as you can imagine, that makes it difficult to complete one’s duty of rounding up the best the blogosphere has to offer.

To start off I want to note two works that comment on an ongoing debate and criticism of the larger video game culture, namely the video game review. Jim Sterling at Destructoid does his best to give the public what they want, a completely objective video game review. He does a magnificent job on Final Fantasy XIII, ending with the strong and irrefutable declaration that: “In conclusion, Final Fantasy XIII is a videogame.” In contrast, Kirk Hamilton, writing for Paste Magazine, eschews all of the normal expectations of a video game review and instead focuses on the nature and impact that Limbo instilled in him. I wish there was a little more to it that would explain the game to someone not in the know, but I think it is a step in a much better direction. See reviewers, this can be done.

As preamble to the rest of this week’s This Week in Video Game Blogging I’ll note the strangely interconnected nature of much of the material. It is almost as if all of the writers were working in tandem, for much of the same thematic space is covered and interwoven, to the point where posts begin to inform on other posts deepening the subject matter. Each delving into deeper and deeper layers only revealed by the other works that come later or before. Almost like it was an inception…

A review of Christopher Nolan’s Inception at Kotaku is done as if it were a video game review, noting many of the video game tropes it borrows and alludes to. SnakeLinkSonic takes a step back and writes a review of reviewers of Inception by looking at the actual film. In many of his comments on what makes bad reviews, he could as easily have been talking about video game reviews or ones done like them as about a film. Kirk Hamilton, again, reviews Inception‘s “tutorial” 1st act [mirror] and how well it presents the user interface to the audience and juggles the mechanics Nolan chose to include.

Moving from the self searching of Inception to the self searching of immersion, VooRFACE writes a follow up to last week’s post in response to Ben’s comment on the different concept of self in eastern philosophies. To immersion in RPGs, Jonathan McCalmont from Futurismic looks at “Roleplaying Game and the Cluttered Self,” saying,

“The history and evolution of roleplaying games teaches us that the search for the self is a process of rendering something that is abstract and elusive into something that is concrete and substantial.  Whether as individuals or societies, we are constantly trying to define ourselves, to scream into the void that we exist.”

With Sartre saying the self is defined by action and the choices we make, Game Critics looks at the types of choices offered in Dragon Age: Origins. Joel Haddock of Spectacle Rock [mirror] laments about the by gone days of the western RPG where you created a whole party that you defined as a group and didn’t boil down of size and personalization that he says is the definitive Japanese influence on modern western creators. Laura Michet from Second Person Shooter notes the emotional alienation that factors in many of the modern western RPGs and how it distances the player from the character they are suppose to be. Robert Yang at Radiator Blog, however, explores the meaning and emotion he experienced through Dragon Age: Origins with the application of a single mod. To travel to the other side of the Pacific, Nick Dinicola at PopMatters talks about how the party divisions in Final Fantasy XIII is its characterization. Allen Kwan at Bitmob discusses how the player character’s avatar is characterized through their romantic relationships and how the RPG seems to be granting Equal Opportunity for Love [mirror]. And for one last shot at the existential self in video games, L.B. Jeffries looks at A.I. and how it tricks the player into thinking it is real, even if only for a few seconds.

But what could be more intricate towards the self than death. Richard Clark asks “Is Death in Games Cheap?” on Gamasutra. A few days later Jeffery L. Jackson at Video Game Theory & Language wrote A Response to “Is Death in Games Cheap?”

Turning death outwards, Steve Gaynor explores the concept of violence in video games as a method of creating meaning and being meaningful unto itself. Alex Raymond at The Border House looks at such a game that tries to use violence to get a point across and does a link round up about Hey, Baby [dead link, no mirror available]. Fraser Allison looks in the other direction [dead link, no mirror available] at games that would have been better served if they had toned down the player’s ability to be violent more or removed it completely. And Bruno Dion at Bitmob talks about at how violence should be addressed [mirror] and how most enemies are faceless entities that carry no emotional impact.

Ferguson at Interactive Illuminatus looks at what it takes to craft a worthy opponent: “when the player is defeated, the player should not say, “I lost,” but rather, “The villain won.” Sam Shahrani from Gamer Melodico runs down a list of Proper Villains [mirror] in video games.

All of the above topics, the self, characterization, death, opponents and so forth come together in the comprehensive, conversational examination of Indigo Prophecy (aka. Fahrenheit) done over at Raptured Reality by Michelle Baldwin (the fresh eyes) and Steven O’Dell (the re-visitor).

Finally, there are the stragglers. Leigh Alexander analyzes how the three sections of the game industry, creators, journalist and consumers treat the other two and themselves fostering a cycle of unhappiness. Whether you agree or not, she brings up points that should be considered.

Ashelia at Hellmode, writes on the general failure of StarCraft‘s ability to tell it’s arguable great story as limited by the genre conventions it created [dead link, no mirror available] and StarCraft II‘s possible inability to do the same.

Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage looks at Dues Ex Machina in Games. Ironically ending this round up on a note of fatalism after starting from a point of individualism. Ok, I’ll stop now. Ben will be back next week.

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