Another week, and another attempt at corralling the week’s most interesting and engaging writing, blogging and criticism of videogames into one place.
First up: Duncan Fyfe’s ‘Bad Dreams’ [mirror] at Life Starts Here. In his latest short story, Fyfe touches on the perennial bug-bear topic of developer-journalist relationships, with the main thread of the story revolving around a game PR representative and her interactions with a retiring videogame journalist. His characters are incredibly vivid and multifaceted, dropping the kind of one-liners and quizzical observations one expects from writers of the calibre of Aaron Sorkin. But Fyfe also cleverly places some biting critiques into the mouths of his characters: Mass Effect 2 and Gears of War both receive very pointed examinations, and as these are delivered via specific characters they feel more… attached to a specific perspective than they would if these criticisms appeared in a critical essay. Fyfe’s ‘Bad Dreams’ is one of this week’s must reads.
But wow, this next piece also knocked me off my feet – one of the great things about doing this job is I occasionally get to share amazing gems like the following: the authors of the ‘They Came From The Deep’ blog write about the ideological presentation of war and the battlefield in Advance Wars:
Advance Wars at its simplest is an abstraction, an ‘ideal war’: it is no war you have ever seen, but it is in its own way deeply reminiscent of any modern war. However its almost geometric simplicity and focus on the superiority of attack brings to mind the ‘ideal war’ not of Clausewitz himself—who oft stressed the superiority of defense— but the Clausewitz many late Prussian and early German strategists imagined and assumed to exist.
At The Border House blog, Denis Farr chats with independent game developer Deirdra Kiai [mirror] about her recently released game ‘Life Flashes By’, talking about a range of issues, including Kiai’s philosophy of character design:
…I never really understood the game design philosophy in which one puts as little “character” in a player character as possible so that players can have an easier time projecting themselves into said character. And that’s a valid stance to have in, say, MMOs, where the players actually shape the system itself; however, in single player games, what you really wind up getting is a character who represents either the game designers or whatever marketing believes the largest demographic for the game in question is going to be.
Aaron Poppleton at PopMatters’ Moving Pixels blog writes on ‘The Cybernetic Conundrum: Posthumanism and ‘Dead Space’’:
…the game’s narrative serves as a caution against the fusion of man and technology, while at the same time finding that very fusion necessary to saving the day. However, the Necromorphs represent a level of posthuman development that extends far further than the protagonist of Dead Space is willing to go—the point at which humanity is erased, allowing for the rise of the posthuman.
Scott Juster talks about ‘Race in Rapture: Black Characters in BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den‘.
The blog Play The Past has been firing on all cylinders recently, and Mark Sample injects more fuel into the blog-engine this week with a piece on ‘Containing the Past With Virtual Prisons’.
This disappearance of institutional sites of imprisonment and interrogation in videogames, replaced by on-the-spot interrogation is an example of what Ian Bogost calls procedural rhetoric, the implicit or explicit argument a computer model makes. In the case of videogames set in the war on terror, the games model a version of torture-interrogation that eliminates prisons, replacing a bureaucratic, systemic structure of containment and abuse with an individualized, heroic quest for the truth.
William Weir at The Atlantic traces the history of videogame music ‘From the Arcade to the Grammys’.
A long essay from Max at the Boom Culture blog, ‘On inhabiting false realities’, it’s one of those pieces that takes a long and circuitous route to get to it’s point (as it relates to games, anyway) but the scenery is fantastic so you might enjoy the ride:
…this is really the essential difference between news (a worldview) and games (a false world): durability. “I like to build universes which do fall apart,” [Philip K.] Dick confesses. I would argue that most game developers also build fragile universes, although this is usually a function of limited ambition and questionable execution rather than intention.
From its opening scenes, Alan Wake is a chronicle of creative frustration and insecurity. The game opens on a dream in which Wake is hunted by a deranged hitchhiker. As the hitchhiker pursues Wake toward a lighthouse, he screams, “It’s not like your stories are any good! It’s not like they have any artistic merit. Cheap thrills and pretentious shit. That’s all you’re good for. Just look at me! Look at your work!” Then, in a line that sets up the rest of the game, he asks, “How does it feel to die at the hands of your own creation?”
The second from The Escapist is Michael Samyn of Tale of Tales, articulating an argument about the wider social relevance of games (or lack thereof) in a post entitled ‘Almost Art’.
…in terms of cultural relevance, social importance and aesthetic impact, videogames still play second fiddle to cinema, literature or music, because underneath their superficial artistic appearance, videogames are bland, unforgiving, meaningless, cold-blooded, rigid systems. These systems offer a context for goal-oriented, rules-based experiences that already have a place in society: next to other games. Since nothing new is happening here, society is not affected.
Standing out there in the unknown really brought home how important the spawn point is in Minecraft. You could build a house anywhere on the surface of the giant (infinite) planet, but your true home would still be the spawn point. Naturally enough, too, since “from the spawn point we come, and to the spawn point we will return.” The spawn point is very literally the centre of your existence in the world of the game.
Kirk Hamilton, games editor for Paste Magazine, talked about how the phrase ‘Over The Top’ has permeated game marketing, indicating a very specific attitude to maturity, seriousness and content (it’s also an attitude that, when called into question, sees developers react quite defensively about):
Over the past few years, a new marketing buzzphrase has taken hold in the world of gaming: “Over The Top.” Those three words contain a plethora of implications—this game is going to be raunchy and violent, unrealistic and unserious.
And while we’re at Paste, check out Michael Thomsen’s discussion of ‘The Wii Plays’, a series of plays inspired by Nintendo Wii games:
You won’t find a Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, or GoldenEye riff here. Instead the stories derive from games most fans would rather steamroll into oblivion. Alien Monster Bowling League, Bob the Builder: Festival of Fun, Burger Island, and Barbie Island Princess. Games like these are directly responsible for the stereotyped shovelware that’s larded the Wii’s game library, forming an apocryphal corpus that only the lowing casual player could be tricked into buying.
…the gorgeous views of space provided by these window panels could be read in a far more sinister way. They’re a monumental tease, for one thing, providing glimpses of heaven from inside The Sprawl’s apocalyptic hell. Like golden sunlight filtering through a barred prison window, illuminating a world from which you are irreparably divorced.
That’s it for the week – don’t forget you can always send in your own recommendations via twitter or email.
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