Oh dear, I’d better stop daydreaming about the gig I’m about to go to and make a start to this instead. It’s This Week In Videogame Blogging and there’s no shortage of good reads to go round. And hey, Critical Distance is exactly two years old to the day! Let’s celebrate by raising a glass to you, dear readers, and to all the fantastic bloggers, writers and critics out there.
First up, John Sharp writes about the meaning of Drop 7 for the ETC Press blog. Which is odd, since those who know of Drop 7 will be aware it’s a puzzle game, not a story game. So what gives?
I would like to propose the term Drop7 practitioners for people like myself— individuals who find something more in the game than one might suspect an iPhone game could provide. This essay is an attempt to understand the game’s effect on me.
Jason Killingsworth at the UpUpDnDn blog writes about creating his own family Tetris lexicon with his brother in ‘Throwing Shapes’:
When we lived together briefly during college, my younger brother Josh and I played a lot of Tetris. Like a whole lot of Tetris. We played so much Tetris, in fact, that we quickly found ourselves needing a more nuanced language to discuss the types of scenarios we encountered in the game.
At The Fremen Blog, Miles Snell writes about ‘Why I never connected with Duke Nukem, and never will’. I remember playing Duke3D when I was younger and being generally oblivious to most of its worst excesses. Here’s Snell’s take:
The characterization and attitude of Duke was something altogether foreign to me. I hadn’t seen any films with hyper-masculine or stoic lead characters (unless you count Ripley). I certainly hadn’t seen “They Live” which is where “I’ve come to kick ass and chew bubblegum…” came from. I had been raised thinking it was acceptable for boys to play with cabbage patch dolls. Mr. T was my most traditionally masculine childhood hero. It’s a fact that Mr. T beat up bad guys but he also drank milk and pittied fools.
Christian McCrea writes for Gamasutra this week what I think is the definitive piece about Australia’s lack of an R18+ rating, taking a very long view of the whole socio-political situation. Sadly, McCrea has little hope for change:
I am beginning to lose hope Australia will get an R18+ rating for games. We have a culture of cynical manipulation around the issue that is firmly entrenched. Twenty years ago, it began with cynicism, and it continues to this day. How children and young adults use media, choose games, play games and go about their lives with and without parental guidance has been put aside in favour of easy answers.
Simon Ferrari writes brilliantly for the Georgia Tech Newsgames blog this week, talking about a ‘newsgame’ called Zangief Kid, about the experience of bullying victim Casey Heynes. Yet the game fails in one damning respect, says Ferrari:
The invocation of “just fun” on the game’s opening screen isn’t the defense of a speech act. It’s an excuse, one for being completely incapable of capturing even a sliver of Casey’s experience.
At the Alive Tiny World blog Katie Williams has been writing a series for the past fortnight called The New Vegas Diaries. First a short story-esque piece about the character ‘Boone’ and then this week she talked about ‘Wasteland Romance’ and the how the game treats sex.
It’s not the sex so much that piques my curiosity (after all, it is only politely and very vaguely alluded to in New Vegas, with a blackening screen signifying the act). No – I am more interested in the way portrayals of sex, and the sex industry especially, are handled in the fictional worlds of video games.
Eric Schwarz at the Critical Missive blog wrote about unreliable narrators and the application of such in Dragon Age II this week. He feels that, while “BioWare’s take on the unreliable narrator is rather unique…and BioWare deserve a lot of credit for attempting to tread new ground in this fashion” he’s unconvinced it’s a trend for the better:
The more I see games attempting to integrate unreliable narrators into their stories, the more I see games trying to be something they aren’t.
And while we’re talking Dragon Age II, Geraldo Sciemento writes a lengthy discursion on Dragon Age II.
And inspired by Dragon Age II, Radek Koncewicz at Significant Bits looks at Planescape Torment and the system of conversations that game pioneered.
At Futurismic, Jonathan McCalmont talks about two games, SPENT and American Dream, and the differing approaches they take to presenting critiques of the madness in our current systems of capital:
…while both games are ultimately concerned with critiquing capitalism, they set about their task in very different manners as SPENT attempts to model the real injustices and difficulties of life in America while American Dream presents American capitalism as a grotesque fantasy in which people throw money at celebrities, take a load of drugs, buy $1,000 kettles and somehow get rich in the process.
Ben Chapman, aka AwesomeExMachina, who you’ll remember from earlier instalments of the excellent ‘No Clip’ series in which he restricts his gameplay abilities in some way or another, is back with a new instalment targeting Red Dead Redemption. It is, in a word, revelatory. Playing as the most horrible, mean, nasty and evil Marston he could possibly manage,
… there was a strange disconnect between the light-hearted but gruff John Marston from the cutscenes and the one I controlled. As I left a wake of dead sheriffs on my trail from each crime, it felt strange returning to making innocent quips with Bonnie and quietly tending to a ranch. After breaking into Armadillo’s bank in the dead of night, robbing the vault, and shooting my way to freedom, I felt remarkably two-faced the next morning when Bonnie sarcastically asked “Have you needlessly risked your life since we last spoke, Mr. Marston?”
At the Discount Thoughts blog, Michael Clarkson has ‘Trouble with Tripitaka’. This is the kind of analysis I like to see – sometimes I just want to say, “No videogames, I’m not going to suspend my disbelief and let you do whatever you want I’m going to take you seriously”. Here’s Clarkson doing something similar, looking at whether Trip really is as productively feminist character as she’s sometimes made out:
Although she holds the power in her relationship with Monkey, she gets in that position by doing something that’s openly evil. In her use of that power she is selfish, dishonest and irresponsible, often in ways that adhere to patriarchal tropes about overly emotional women making rash decisions. I won’t deny that there are some aspects to Trip’s story and character that are interesting. From the opening moments of the game, however, Trip comes across as a tremendously awful person, and at no point does she really do anything to redeem herself. If she represents one of the better female characters to appear in games in recent years, the situation is more dire than anyone has acknowledged.
At the Infinite Lag blog, JP Grant writes about the intro to Dead Space, and openings in general:
When I taught high school English in a former life, I used to tell my students that if a book didn’t grab them in the first 15 pages, it was probably the book’s fault, not theirs. Unless it was one of the books I assigned in class, in which case it was definitely their fault.
Eric Snodgrass at Experiments in the Foam has a piece called ‘Level-headed’ which describes itself as being about “Inception, Saint Teresa’s El Castillo Interior and gamification”. Not having had the time to read it all yet, I’ll direct you to where the parallels between the film and the book meet up with videogames:
There are several similarities between the mental architectures that both Inception and St Teresa lay out in their respective fashions. The most obvious parallel being the way that both the text and the film present an idea of interior castle-like structures of the mind that must be, in a way, breached in order to achieve certain goals. Both also share a notion that these mental interiors consist of progressively more difficult to access levels (Dante’s Divine Comedy, scientology and videogames being other examples of such a strong focus on progressive levelling in their structures).
At the Gamamoto blo Pietro Polsinelli looks at the ubiquitous iPhone game Angry Birds’ ‘narrative logic’, focussing on the appearance of the enemy pigs:
The pigs are there to defy you skill, to test you, to examine you: and all the fears of tests and examinations from “enemies” from bureaucratic structures (quite universal…) act as motivators in playing this simple game, enhanced by the intelligent use of symbols. The game’ authors may of course be unaware of the symbolic choice of the pigs – but it makes no difference.
At Paste Magazine this week, Michael Thomsen assembles threads of connection between Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Burt Bacharach (among others) and Alcoholism. It’s a mighty feat.
It reminds me of the jazz schmaltz of the 1970’s, when Burt Bacharach, Harry Nilson, and Randy Newman composed childishly playful tunes with a ragged tear of adult disillusion. In many cases, there was a direct connection between alcoholism and whimsy. InArthur, Steve Gordon’s cinematic fable of binge-drinking as a way for the boy to put off the difficulties of becoming a man, Bacharach’s theme song plucked out a wish—a wish no less deluded than Kirby’s happy land of cotton ball fluff—that romantic love is the only thing a person really needs. In discovering it, you can find yourself elevated, between skyline and moonshine, all of the sooty adult details dismissed to the diorama world below.
And lastly, I’ll just leave this here…
Perhaps you have heard about Suparna Galaxy…The answer to the question, “What is Suparna Galaxy?” is a bit like the Louis Armstrong’s response to the question, “What is jazz?”
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
Now, that isn’t exactly fair. It is still possible to understand Suparna Galaxy even if you have arrived late to the party. Suparna Galaxy, essentially, is crowdsourced improv satire; it’s an imaginary “in-development” videogame that both mocks and pays weird tribute to many of the conventions of modern role-playing games.