Achoo! It’s too cold for my liking over here. Let’s warm up by the fire with a nice fresh supply of game criticism, theory and commentary. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!
The man I usurped to get this gig, Ben Abraham, is back again this week with a compelling video essay in which he questions our fondness for the term immersion. This follows on a theme in recent weeks in respect to Jenova Chen’s master thesis, and is also echoed in Tony Ventrice’s feature on Gamasutra on flow in mobile media.
Also hailing from Gamasutra, Ara Shirinian investigates how we might use psychology to design intuitive graphical user interfaces. And Jorge Albor takes the subject to the dark side in ruminating on the use of psychology to develop alienating structures and creatures:
[T]he same visceral reaction that we have to Giger’s work or the synthetic/organic husks of Mass Effect 3 mirrors a reaction that future generations are intended to have when they meet the WIPP’s warning markers. There is horror found in artificial yet unreadable architecture.
Responding to John Walker’s essay on the perceived runniness, shall we say, of games’ subject matter, Joseph Hilgard contends that we’re looking in the wrong places for gaming subject matter we can sink our teeth into:
If we want our games to provide us with real nourishment, I would argue that the last thing we need is last year’s shooter wrapped in some awkward story about love and loss, or yet another indie platformer about the inevitability of mortality. We don’t need superficially serious themes. We need new and interesting games which provide novel and challenging forms of play.
Ed Smith also voices misgivings in a critique of last year’s Catherine, where systems fail the nuance about relationships it aspires to. Meanwhile, Kyle Chayka says we can find the art in games from a more unconventional place– perhaps in reading Cooking Mama as performance art?
There’s a satisfaction in the rhythmic nature of the different tasks that have to be performed, and there’s always the goal of pleasing Mama and besting your previous score. But there’s also the abstract satisfaction of having created something, or the simulation of something, that someone else is going to consume. Like Tiravanija’s curry, the gyoza or omelets that we make in Cooking Mama aren’t composed for ourselves; they’re created for the mystery person on the other side of the theoretical table, whomever we choose to fill that space with.
Also daring to be unconventional, Jim Ralph proposes that Skyrim is in fact a place we inhabit:
Despite the impossibility of encountering another human being in Skyrim, its players all occupy the same imagined terrain through their shared experience. In this way, Skyrim does have that population of 10 million Dragonborn. Sure, we’ll never come face to face in our different Skyrims, but I’ll probably never come face to face with 99.9% of the rest of England’s population either. That doesn’t stop England being a nation. Our experience of any community is built from a mix of individual isolation and the impression of interpersonal links. In this way, Skyrim is a nation in its own right.
From Skyrim to Tanelorn, Patrick Holleman profiles the rich community space of a Minecraft roleplaying server named for the work of fantasy novelist Michael Moorcock. Meanwhile, Krystian Majewski compares the worlds and gameplay of Suikoden and Mass Effect and discovers some interesting parallels.
Speaking of Mass Effect— you know we couldn’t go one week without touching upon the ending controversy. In fulfilling that cosmically-ordained quota, Paul Tassi sits down with the people of the Retake Mass Effect campaign, presumably so that you don’t have to. It really is a very authentic look at a dissenting section of the Mass Effect fanbase, whatever you might think of the whole issue.
Meanwhile, as we’re on the subject of big pictures, Chris Kohler digs a little deeper into some of the underlying logic of the much-maligned Consumerist reader poll which named Electronic Arts the worst company in America. While not fully satisfying a rationale, it does paint a picture of a Consumerist readership interested in far more than unsatisfactory endings and LGBT characters.
Much of the Ludodecahedron swarmed PAX East last week. Robert Yang demonstrates that his impressions of the convention roughly match up with mine of E3, then ups the ante significantly: “How the worst part of the game industry uses PAX East to teabag your entire face with its cancerous scrotum.” And that’s just the title.
More soberingly, the beautiful Mattie Brice is back at The Border House this week with a heartfelt essay on cis- and heteronormative pressures which inform not just her self-presentation as a game journalist, but her everyday life. In it, she also discusses the Vox hiring controversy and persisting obstacles to diversity hiring in the industry. A must-read.
Links, I mean, not cough medicines. Although those would be appreciated as well.