September 21th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Hello everyone, welcome to another week in games curation. We had a great many submissions this week, and since I’ve had my head down preparing for doctoral qualifying exams, it was a pleasure to read each article and be reminded why I’m doing this whole PhD thing, anyway. Thank you for submitting! Now that you have my sincere gratitude, let’s get down to brass tacks on This Week in Video Game Blogging!

Interactive Planetary, Planetary Interactive

In the “What makes a game a game?” debate (a debate Joe Parlock argues is unproductive at best and damaging at worst), the term “interactivity” is thrown around frequently as a defining element of “game.” This week Jess Joho at Kill Screen argues that we should be more careful with the term, as its misuse or misinterpretation overstates the “game worlds’ responsiveness to player input.”

Continuing the conversation about interactivity, Andy Astruc analyzes Metal Gear Solid to suggest that, in games, there is no fourth wall to hit or to break precisely because of the interactivity of the medium. He says,

These are not traditional examples of a broken fourth wall, but they do demonstrate something I think Metal Gear Solid asks us to consider constantly: the very nature of interactivity means there is no fourth wall to break. A video game story necessarily exists in a world that includes the player, not just the character they control, and you can’t simply pretend they don’t exist.

Elsewhere, Andrew Ferguson suggests that the inherent playfulness of James Joyce’s literary work Finnegans Wake lends itself to interactivity and to play. He goes on to show that reader’s interactions with the text are not dissimilar to those of Let’s Plays.

Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Society

Moving from concerns of interactivity to discussion of story and narrative, Dan Stubbs writes about his attempts to create, what he calls, a “dynamic narrative system” in his game The Hit.

Looking at story from a different angle, Edward Smith suggests that, by designing a horror game that subverts standard game rules, P.T. submerges players in a truly nightmarish experience.

The Avatar is the Bridge between Our World and the Game World

Of course, if there’s a story to interact with in games, it’s commonly done through a first or third person avatar. This week brings us several articles that discuss the importance of the role of the avatar.

Mattias Lehman looks back at the options for avatar customization he was offered in youth and how such customizations were ill-fitting to his own identity and experiences. Lehman poignantly remarks,

I realize what bothered me so much about never being able to create an appropriate avatar. All this time, I’d thought that I wanted to be able to see my character as me. What I really wanted was for ‘me’ to be a character. I wanted other people to have thought “people might choose to play that”, and put it in a game, because then I’d know that somebody would ever choose ‘me’. The fact that I was never a choice meant (to me) that nobody wanted ‘me’ as a choice.

Over at Vice, Leigh Alexander also questions identity associations to game avatars, and the oftentimes confusing shifts avatars create between first person “I” and third person “He, She, It, They” reference as we play.

Jake Muncy questions (with spoilers for the game!) his engagement with Dark Souls 2. Muncy admits that while he personally questioned both his avatars motives and his own as a player of the game, it was the NPCs , especially Lucatiel, who lured him back and provided the means for personal reflection on why to play at all.

Fish without Bicycles

Not that it was ever really in doubt, but this week’s submissions show Anita Sarkeesian isn’t alone in her assessment of female representation in games. Nor, according to a statistical analysis of Sarkeesian’s actual usages of terms written at Zen of Design, is she wrong.

For instance, letominor discusses the way Ground Zero subjects the female body to “base manipulation” and torture purely for the purposes of shock value. (Content warning: discussion of sexual violence and torture.)

Elsewhere, Falling Awkwardly’s Kateri continues the series “Binders Full of Women: Collecting all the Ladycards in The Witcher.” Part 8, takes a look at the game’s portrayal of Toruviel, whose worth is downplayed by terrible writing, and White Rayla who is little more than a “best her to bed her” character trope.

Also this week, Drew Mackie takes reviews the origin of Toad in the Mario Brothers franchise to reveal that our perceptions of Toad as a male may be the result of culture as some Japanese fans believed the original Toad to have been female.

Design, Culture, Coverage and Other Great Debates

Studying games from a sociological background, Joe Baxter-Webb examines PC gamer culture – how it’s discussed and portrayed online, and how this reflects back on games culture and perceptions of it from those who don’t identify as a part of it.

Alternately, Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky posted a podcast that discusses leaving videogames behind when its culture and spaces are no longer those with which one can, or wants, to identify.

Joining in the debate about the potential for objectivity (in general or in games and game journalism, specifically) Owen Grieve writes about the simple logic that: “Politics is not inserted into games by critics, but is in fact an integral part of the design process.

Similarly, John Walker reports that not only is objectivity an unreachable target, but that it is also “antithetical to useful, accurate reporting on games.”

At Game Bias, Mary Lew Florida takes a critical look at the general state of journalism to suggest that the way readers engage with journalistic material is economically fraught and wrapped up in ad revenue in ways directly related to how readers are willing to engage. Complaints about patronage and support within the industry should be refocused as: “The issue stems from the nature of an industry built on consumptive media.”

Multifarious Sundries

At Gamasutra, Tanya X Short gives a designer’s-eye-view of procedurally generated systems.

Nick Dinicola talks about his experience playing Blackbar, a game about “Big Brother” and government mandated censorship, and his inability to solve one of its puzzles.

Tim Schneider has composed a three part history of low-poly art over at Kill Screen. He calls it comprehensive, and thus to attempt to summarize seems like it would be an act against its totality. I will, therefore, only urge you to go check it out.

Over at Polygon, Liana Kerzner writes about the myriad of games that deal with mental illness. She discuss both those games which have focused on the negative aspects of mental illness and have, as a result, further stigmatized it, as well as those games which have given mental illness more relevance within increased character nuance too. (Content warning for discussion of child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide.)

Errant Signal’s Chris Franklin (with spoilers for the game) offers a critical review of Glitchhikers this week. Amidst considerations of the game’s narrative and choices, Franklin also considers the game more broadly by comparing it to Dinner Date and arguing that “games need more attempts to capture an almost universal moment through visuals, narrative, and mechanics.”

In another video submissions, History Respawned is joined by Dr. Evan Torner and Nick Heckner to discuss Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s “depiction of Nazi futurism, concentration camps and German language.”

That’s All the Time We Have, Folks

Before we go, I’d like to remind you that the deadline for this month’s Blogs of the Round Table is approaching. Mark and I are keen to read your submissions on the topic of “Catharsis!”

As stated in the opening, we read and feature writing based on the submissions we receive. We value the contributions of this community and encourage you to keep submitting those articles/blogs/vlogs/etc. that you’d like to see featured here. Send us links via email or by mentioning us on Twitter.

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