It’s cold outside, but baby, it’s warm in here. It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Before we begin this week, please read our new Terms of Service agreement. Feel free to come back once you’ve signed. (What do you mean it’s just a Gamers With Jobs post? Quit bugging me, kid.)

There. First for the week, one short announcement: Medium Difficulty is doing a Call for Articles, deadline slated for January 20th. You can find out more about it here.

Now we swing by our friends at Second Quest, where Eric Brasure and Richard Goodness recently sat down for a podcast with the Brainy Gamer himself, Michael Abbott.

Next stop, MIT’s GAMBIT Lab, featuring a three-part talk on games as an aesthetic form.

This leads us into our first major topic of the week, aesthetics. It’s a theme next followed up by James Hawkins at Joystick Division, as he takes us on an excellent breakdown of the comparative aesthetic and narrative strategies of indie game darlings Bastion and Limbo:

This is where the strength of the video game medium truly shines. We’re given two adventure stories about unremarkable children set inside ruinous places, searching to restore something that has been lost. But because of the aesthetic interactive nature of video games, themes of loss, fear, and reconciliation can be conveyed to us in contrasting methods. They resonate with our innate proclivity to sympathize with one another, with that resonance being heightened by the character of the worlds we reside in.

Further in this vein of aesthetics and storytelling, we have two pieces on the narrative strategies of (wait for it) Skyrim. At Eurogamer, Rich Stanton contrasts Bethesda’s latest with the recent Dark Souls, concluding that one offers far less narrative sophistication than the other. And at Gameranx, our own Katie Williams discusses how, in contrast, the game’s prologue works to completely captivate the player.

Finally on the subject of game aesthetics and the power to grip players, Jim Rossingol has an evocative retrospective on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.:

The message for the games industry is clear: you don’t have to have pretensions to art – because here is a game that could not be more unpretentious in an artistic sense – for your game to have a serious message. Even the manshooter can be about something, without having to carefully distance itself with irony or hyperbolic absurdity. But, more importantly, Stalker is a example to designers that there is also scope to do shooters differently on a mechanical level. They do not have to be linear rollercoasters, nor multiplayer menageries. They can be slow. They can involve wandering. Even contemplation.

Adrienne Shaw speculates on the existence of a “charmed circle” of gaming sociability, using sexual taboos as an analogy. Elsewhere, Karen Bryan riffs off Jesper Juul’s book A Casual Revolution to address the book’s implications in RIFT.

Aaron Matteson pays tribute to the childhood inspirations for Zelda and Pokemon, in doing so describing the boyhood exploratory spaces previously drawn upon by Henry Jenkins, among others:

[T]he more anecdotes of video game designers drawing from their lives as children that I hear, the more I believe in the medium as not self-serving but deeply communal. Because I played these games, felt those things as a kid myself. Even if I didn’t have the wilderness of Japan, I had this amazingly crafted vision of a child’s experience of that — with the embellishments and exaggerations that a child’s mind can lend to any experience. I was in communication with Miyamoto and his brethren, and their excitement and optimism about the scope of their own exploits became my own.

Thus we arrive at the second overarching theme of the week: the differences between these boyhood experiences and those lived by gamers outside the majority.

We start with Kate Cox, who articulates it best:

Any discussion of gamers who are female, any kind of queer, any race other than white, or indeed any other non-dominant population tends to kick up a fuss. Some of it just goes under the heading of trolls, or “haters gonna hate.” But what’s most disappointing and frustrating to me is when gamers who could, in theory, be allies say: “Why don’t we just talk about the games? Whatever happened to having game sites just be about games already?”

Because for many of us out there who aren’t the “right” sort of gamer? It has never, ever been “just” about the games.

(Emphasis from the original text.)

With this quote in mind, we move over to TreaAndrea M. Russworm’s essay “‘We’re Grinding Like Everybody Else’: Race, Video Game Culture, and New Media Authorship”, a most excellent critique of male white normativity in the construction of the “gamer” image:

What conclusions are we to draw from the finding that “Latinos, who play more per day than whites and form 12.5 percent of the population, are only 2 percent of characters”? Or, of the fact that low-income families play more games than high-income families? If it is commonly remarked that violence, racism, and sexism sell in games, and people of color, along with the economically disadvantaged, are playing games the most, is this ironic? Tragic? A cultural embarrassment?

On a more positive note, Keith Stuart has a profile on women game designers— including women of color, such as Mitu Khandaker (follow her on Twitter!).

Shifting gears from players and designers to player characters, Drew Dixon observes an underlying problematic assumption in the Playstation Long Live Play commercial. Also writing for Paste, the most prolific man on the Internet, Brendan Keogh, pays tribute to choice and consequence in ICO. In a similar vein, Amanda Lange profiles the very concept of failure as it applies to games: “Failure is boring – the credible threat of failure is very exciting.”

Our last stop for this evening draws us nearly full circle back to an academic perspective on games and pedagogy, with Yam San Chee’s paper: “Learning as becoming through performance, play, and dialogue: A model of game-based learning with the game Legends of Alkhimia“. A dense read, as you would expect an academic paper to be, but very valuable all the same.

That’s all for this week. As a reminder, Eric Swain is once again heading up This Year in Videogame Blogging and he needs your submissions! With your help we can save Christmas A Generic Winter Solstice-Related Holiday. So send us your links!

Stay toasty (or, for our south-of-the-equator friends, stay pleasantly cool) and we’ll be seeing you all again this time next week!