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Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria… it’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

We start off with Brad Gallaway, who responds to recent opinion pieces (like those by John Walker) about working for free as a game journalist. Not only does Gallaway believe in unpaid writing positions for “sweat equity,” he also argues that:

The available number of opportunities for reviewers and writers out there is a fraction of a fraction of the number of people who want those gigs. There’s just too much supply and not enough demand, so unless there’s some kind of worldwide moratorium, people who want to write for free (and who do so) are always going to be around.

Tackling the legal paradigms in which games find themselves on the industrial side, Greg Lastowka looks at how Minecraft does IP differently:

In theory, bigger and more experienced studios could have come up with a game like Minecraft years ago. The reason they didn’t, I think, is that most developers in the industry have been steeped in the logic and culture of intellectual property. In short, the dominant story of intellectual property is that game developers should make content and players should consume it.

Those interested in copyleft and other fair use issues, especially in light of last week’s anti-SOPA/PIPA protests, may find this interesting.

Writing for Kill Screen, Jason Johnson reflects on why he drinks the “purple rain” of bullet hell games, also known as manic shooters, a niche genre known for its horrendous difficulty:

The harder the game is, the more imposing it becomes. Playing on Normal is a fairly mundane activity, even inspiring a few yawns. Bump up the difficulty a notch and drowsiness turns into a meditative experience. Take it all the way and it will melt your face off. Somewhere in between lies the perfect balance—but I’m looking to be perfectly annihilated. I want to get to a place where I have pushed the game to its limits—where if there was one more bullet on the screen it would be unsolvable; where all I can do is set the iPad aside and say, “Whoa.” That sense of wonder would be lost if I came close to winning.

Surely, difficulty can be an art in itself for certain communities of players. Mattie Brice, however, says our conventional understanding of “hardcore” creates its own problems in the forms of barriers for players who are after a different “difficulty” paradigm, away from needless complexity and boy culture:

The backlash that social minorities are combating in gaming is similar to the resistance to valuing other experiences besides the simulation or abstraction of technical skills in gaming culture, and the demographics that represent each side aren’t too different. Video games reflect themes and skills found in boys’ styles of play as children, and any introduction of qualities that are different from that (especially if tagged as feminine) are cast out as inferior “casual” games. The movement of making games accessible gives designers the opportunity to boil down what works without the trappings of conventions that exist “just because they’ve always been there” and establish new ways of interacting that would be unavailable in generic RPGs.

Speaking of RPGS, we’re seeing several worthy retrospectives on the Zelda franchise with the recent release of Skyward Sword. First, Leigh Alexander looks back on the beloved Ocarina of Time and why it is not her favorite game, or even her favorite Zelda game. Next, Michael “Brainy Gamer” Abbott takes us on an insightful contextual analysis of the franchise and why it provokes such love despite its flaws:

Link often enters a “Sacred Realm” (“Silent Realm” in Skyward Sword) where he encounters beings inflicted with suffering caused by Ganon’s corruption of the earth. All beings in nature suffer from this polluting force: spirits, trees, forest creatures, and humans alike. Link must set things right by healing the land, restoring harmony to humans and nature.

In essence, he must embrace the Shinto philosophy of humans and nature as one, and he must accept his pivotal role in Shintoism’s indigenous vision of Japan (Hyrule) as connected to its ancient past. Link is that link.

On a similar bent of games addressing spiritual and ecological issues, John Vanderhoef profiles the cult classic Oddworld series and its frequent allusions to green issues. In the course of which, Vanderhoef declares: “gamers need an environmental wake up call more than ever.”

Dear Princess Celestia: this week I learned there are many ways to be a girl, even in virtual spaces. Becky Chambers at The May Sue does some informal guysourcing to get some uncommonly insightful explanations for why many of men choose to play women characters:

One friend told me that in most RPGs, he prefers to play as a woman. Bear in mind, this is a guy who is biologically male, identifies as male, and presents himself in what I would consider to be a traditionally masculine manner. He found that if the gender of the character didn’t affect the story too much, then female characters were usually easier for him to relate to than their hyper-macho, gravelly-voiced counterparts. The typical portrayal of men in games was so far removed from his own identity that he often found it easier to play a woman.

This segues nicely into Matt Kopas’s recent guest blog on The Border House, regarding childhood experiences with gender policing: “I had learned that playing as female characters invited questions that I didn’t want to deal with. If playing a male character meant that I could easily neutralize one potential site of harassment in my life, then I would do it gladly.”

Also at The Border House this week, Rachel Walmsley draws yet another interesting lens on Dragon Age: Origins, talking about her play perspective as an atheist in contrast to her theist character.

Narrative was another recurring topic this week. We start with Raph Koster, who first declares “Narrative Is Not a Game Mechanic“, then proceeds to lay out how story, as a feedback system, can be fine-tuned for the player.

Less about specific story moments and more about content and context, Jorge Albor’s Moving Pixels article this week discusses slavery as a game mechanic in Endeavor, posing whether modeling such systems can be both functional and provocative.

Two noteworthy articles from this week looked at intersections of narrative and Skyrim. Sparky Clarkson analyzes two of the game’s major war campaigns and how for all their rich promise they ultimately felt quite shallow. Next, a guest article on Ontological Geek likens Skyrim to “gonzo pornography” in both gaze and procedure, in quite the compelling essay. Here’s a snippet:

Nothing in Skyrim is special. No one in gonzo is loved. Either one satisfies your immediate and specific appetites, but are you enriched by either? Or do you walk away from both feeling like you’ve consumed something that has altogether diminished not only you as an intellectual and moral being, but also reduced a potentially edifying activity to a degrading parody of something good? They satisfy your crudest desires but also mock genuinely enriching media by mimicking their trappings while failing to use them in any meaningful sense.

Robert Yang radiates some designer wisdom in this post-mortem on his celebrated “Level With Me” Portal 2 mod, explicating not just a design philosophy but the themes of each stage. Meanwhile, Jonathan McCalmont contends that the much-maligned review paradigm, as it currently stands, is fundamentally broken, because it’s based upon a model which no longer exists:

Once upon a time, games were finite entities that emerged at the end of a long production line and dropped into the expectant hands of a grateful audience. With this kind of production process in place, it made absolute sense to have people stationed at the end of the line telling people which products were worth buying. However, with more and more games being both played and distributed online, it makes no sense to review games prior to their release, as most games do not reach the marketplace in their final form.

Lastly, reviews may be broken, but we think you’ll find this one full of friendship and magic: Peter Bright’s fantastically comprehensive review of Visual Studio 2010.

That’s all for this week! From all of us here in Ponyville, have yourselves a happy Sunday!