It’s that time of the week again, which means that I’d better get in quick and rustle up another list of the week’s best writing, blogging and criticism of videogames.
One of the more interesting pieces I read this week was Paul Mason at the BBC’s Idle Scrawl blog (courtesy RPS’ Sunday Papers) who finds strategy videogame Heats of Iron III provides a refutation of revisionist scenarios surrounding the outbreak and direction of World War II.
While we’re visiting the big news outlets, The Atlantic has a piece by Alexis Madrigal on ‘The Geopolitics of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?’ looking at, well, just that. Interestingly, “As far as I can tell, not a single academic paper has been written about the boom in edutainment games in the 1980s and 1990s. Not one!”
Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer blog wrote this week about the game Metro 2033 and its understated morality system (to the point of near-invisibility even). Abbott uses a baseball analogy to explain:
…Metro 2033 is like a pitcher who disguises a nasty cutter. Everything about the windup and delivery looks like a fastball…until the ball lands in the catcher’s mitt and the batter stands helplessly at the plate muttering “What was that?”
Courtney Stanton at KirbyBits says ‘Here is a game: Deadly Premonition’ [mirror]. Yes. Yes it is a game. And while we’re on the subject of said game, JP Grant has finished expounding on his SEVEN blog-post-length reasons for choosing Deadly Premonition as his Game of the Year, check em all out here. They’re all remarkably critical.
Matthew Burns of the Magical Wasteland blog has gotten around to writing a response to last year’s second-most notorious “Games are not Art” piece by the N+1 editors (the first being, naturally, Roger Ebert) and Burns thinks they’ve been looking for art “In all the wrong places”. It’s a solid argument.
Good things seem to be coming in pairs this week as the misleadingly named Game Design Forum (That’s no forum, that’s a space station!) has also been thinking about the same subject. “Can videogames be art?”
At the Border House this week they’ve highlighted the words of Halo: Reach writer ‘Tom Abernathy’ who, simply put, said that “We’re not serving half our audience” [mirror]. Which half? Well if it’s any clue, Abernathy is…
…tired of those of us who care in the game industry complaining that there aren’t enough female protagonists while those of them who make the money decisions keep responding, “Gee, we’d love to, but the market data is clear. They just won’t buy it.”
Our own Denis Farr, also of the Vorpal Bunny Ranch blog, has been writing about characters from Half-Life 2 this week: first was Alex and Eli Vance [mirror], then it was Dr Breen and G-Man’s turn [mirror].
This week David Banahan at Bitmob begins a piece by talking about his wife’s relationship with Fallout 3, and the ability to save/reload at will [mirror], and ends up meditating on what it would be like without that ability. Funnily enough, I have a little bit of insight into what that would be like actually.
Speaking of permadeath, at Destructoid, blogger AwesomeExMachina is playing Fallout: New Vegas with self-imposed Permadeath as well as a raft of other self-imposed requirements. Food and water, it seemed, were the least of his worries, however, as it was the lack of HUD-based information that proved the most game-changing, and the most interesting:
… early on, I foolishly rounded a hilltop without caution and spotted what seemed like a lone wasteland savage, standing stoically in leather, spiked armor and touting an assault rifle. I took my advantage and opened fire on the target from the safety of my hilltop. He went down quick and I strolled up to search his cargo for some much needed supplies. It was only then I discovered the kindly wasteland merchant he was guarding cowered behind the burnt husk of an old car, previously obscured by a fallen billboard. I quite literally cried out in alarm at the tragedy as the panicked merchant drew his pistol on me in presumable self-defense. I did the only thing I could and shot him down before he could kill me.
Jordan Magnuson, normally featured via his blog ‘Necessary Games’, has been busy ‘Game Trekking’ the past few weeks (months?). This seems to be about attempting to make games that reproduce something of the experience of trekking around the world [mirror].
At Edge Online, N’Gai Croal has written about ‘Drowning by Numbers [mirror], talking about that ubiquitous issue that seems less to afflict all digital after a long enough time, having too many games/mp3s/files/fodlers/etc to handle. And on top of all that, how do we find things we don’t even know we like yet?
Search is great when we have an idea of what we’re looking for – but we don’t only like the things that we’re looking for. The truth is that there’s no one solution to solve the serendipity problem: how do we ensure that we get exposed to a wider variety of content that we might enjoy in addition to the stuff that we’re pretty sure will scratch the itches we already know that we possess? It’s great that we can see what our friends are playing, but if your friends are anything like mine, they’re playing the stuff that’s popular and therefore a known quantity.
At the Spectacle Rock blog Joel Haddock has written about ‘The Experience’ [mirror] of games, thinking about the environment we play our games in:
Ask gamers to tell you memories of their favorite game, and I have absolutely no doubt that a good deal of those memories won’t be about the game itself. They will be able to tell you about the room they first played it in, or of the dead pixel on their screen that they managed to block out after a few hours, or of how they and their siblings fought over who got to hold the controller. And, perhaps even more importantly, they will probably remember talking about the game with others.
The Buddhist Geeks podcast has a promisingly named episode out this week, with a discussion of “Gaming as Spiritual Practice” [mirror] featuring Jane McGonigal. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it all yet, but I’ve heard great things!
At The Escapist, the now regular ‘Extra Credits’ video series takes on “Amnesia and Story Structure” talking mostly about three-act structure.
At Groping the Elephant, Justin Keverne returns to his long running series of map-analysis meets walkthrough ‘Groping the Map’. In this, the fourth instalment looking at the tenth level from Thief 2, Keverne uses his intimate knowledge of the game to tell us things like this:
What’s not visible from this rooftop is the doorway behind the servant, and the guard waiting in the room beyond. Exploration will provide an alternate means of entry into that very room, and this one encounter is an example of Thief level design in microcosm: the obvious route if rife with concealed dangers, exploration is power.
Three pieces here this week, and they make an interesting trio! Point: Eric at The Elder Game blog asserted first that in a fight between ‘Classes vs. Open Skill Systems’ [mirror] in an MMO, classes would win out for a bunch of very practical reasons. Next point: The author at the Stylish Corpse blog says “My first reaction was Noooooo! Do not say this! Do not want to hear it! Lalalala! But common sense generally recognises itself…” in a post titled ‘Classless is a pain in the assless’. And lastly, Counter Point: Brian Green at the Psychochild blog writes:
One of the big frustrations in discussing game design is imprecise terminology. What is a “class”? In MtG, as Tesh refers to in a comment on Stylish Corpse, is “Blue” a “class”? Well, if we’re going to shoehorn that game into the MMO paradigm, then it would be. …But, is that distinction useful for discussion? Not really, because the term “class” has a lot of emotional baggage with it. By advocating classes Eric is obfuscating his message and potentially harming those immature designers he is trying to warn since they’ll see “classes” and make a whole host of default assumptions.
And there’s more in the comment threads! Discussion overload, time to move on, and onto Paste Magazine where Kirk Hamilton has written one of the stronger piece of this week that roams across various big-ticket discussion topics that regularly get a play in critical circles: choosing the right pronoun to describe what happened (“Did “I” do this, go here, see that? Or was it the character whose movements I controlled?”); thinking about games that do and do not have sense of ‘home’ or a goal; and the brilliance of Minecraft (“…there is no actual “game,” no end-goal towards which players must strive.”). Yes Kirk, safe to say you’ve arrived.
Gus Mastrapa writing at Joystick Division says we ought to forget about the Citizen Kane of videogames [mirror], responding to Richard Clark’s expressed concerns at Gamasutra regarding the upcoming Bulletstorm. Instead, says Mastrapa,
No, I’d be fine with a Starship Troopers of video games. Not a heady work of art, but a viciously satirical piece of trash.
At Gamasutra this week Leigh Alexander wrote an in-depth feature about the Copenhagen Game Collective and how ‘We’re Very Uncomfortable With The Copenhagen Game Collective’. Strong stuff.
And finally for the week, at The Last Metaphor blog the author discusses ‘Red Dead Redemption: misogyny as a male performance enhancer’ [mirror]. Warning! Long, run on sentence ahead! Here’s the deliberately provocative opener:
Red Dead Redemption is a sexist video game that beds its “you know you want it” game play, its pervasive “hey what are you, stuck up?” artistic coercion and its penetrating thematic thrusts on the prone backs of women’s equality and respect. And what’s more, it’s a better game for it – once it leaves before morning.
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