To those to whom it applies, I hope you had a festive patriotic celebration day filled with controlled explosives and various grilled meats. Now that another Sunday has come, let’s all settle into our national pride with another This Week in Video Game Blogging!
Binders Full of Stories
Sam Barlow’s Her Story is the subject of a number of pieces this week. Kimberley Wallace’s interview with the creator about the process of creating it for Game Informer seems like a good place to start.
Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alisha Karabinus describes her own experience with the game’s many Layers of Identity and Meaning:
In any narrative experience touted as a detective game, players and potential players might make a few assumptions, the first being that they’ll be playing as a detective. Early on in Her Story, players who poke around the interface might discover this isn’t quite the case. Once that initial assumption was broken, I found myself questioning everything in the game, and I don’t just mean in terms of narrative. We’re supposed to question everything said in the interviews, I think, but very early on, I began to question things on wholly different levels.
Christian Donlan seems to agree, praising how the mystery story plays with its sequence of events:
[I]ts searchable, hypertextual jumbling of its own narrative feels unique and timely and eminently nickable. As does the fact that simply putting the story together is enough here: most of the play that takes place in Her Story happens in your own head as you reconstruct the events and try to interpret them.
Of course, praise for Her Story is not universal. Ed Smith argues that it follows detective fiction’s tradition of unrealistically romanticizing crime and criminals:
There is a crime being committed in Her Story, but it isn’t Hannah’s. It’s that of yet another crime fiction writer, conflating melodrama with found-footage, documentary, or any otherwise “real” aesthetic, and in doing so helping affirm the idea that society should lock up its criminals and throw away the key.
Give Peace a Chance
Rock, Paper, Shotgun writer Marsh Davis revisits Deus Ex: Human Revolutions to discuss how it and games in general promote an oxymoronic relationship to power (video), where the player both holds all the power but is framed as an oppressed person.
At Vorpal Bunny Ranch Dennis Farr seems to agree in his analysis of Marvel Heroes 2015. While Marvel has recently diversified its canon, games based on its universe still fail to accurately represent power dynamics:
Part of what seems to make the mutants, and the X-Men in particular, so appealing is their use of their powers and fighting a struggle that they always seem to surmount (not without casualties). This makes most games about them into a power fantasy, though the minority status is relegated to barks from enemies calling them less than human.
Writing for FemHype, Sheva believes that the constant use of violence stems from the association between violence and masculinity. The author argues that violent masculinity is at the core of how gamers define games:
Refusing to classify non-violent video games as video games is an act founded in masculine insecurity, and it not only discourages innovation in the medium, but also disqualifies innovative new games from inclusion in the medium.
Lastly, Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales implores that violence begets violence in writing that violent videogames and violent culture are a self-perpetuating spiral that developers and players are all too willing to ignore:
I’m sure there’s enough studies that disprove the correlation between violent games and violent behavior to allow us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we’re not responsible, that we have no idea, that “Wow isn’t this a weird coincidence? There’s violent games and there’s violent gamers and the two are completely unrelated. What are the odds?”
Learning to Let Go
In response to the news that Tale of Tales will be leaving games Gita Jackson compares the studio’s departure with her search for a new apartment in her column for Paste. Although failing to land the perfect outcome is disappointing, sometimes success just isn’t in the cards:
Sometimes continuing to fight when you’re bloodied and broken isn’t about tenacity, but about your own ego. If Tale of Tales had plunged themselves even deeper into debt despite the commercial failure of Sunset, well, what would they have done? How would that have benefitted them? How would that have benefitted us, the people who participate in the culture they hoped to influence?
Meanwhile, Omar Elaasar explains his frustration with fetishizing difficulty. According to Elaasar, too many gamers treat accessibility as a failure:
Fugitive is not the problem. Mega Man is not the problem. Rather the problem lives in our expectation that everyone can, and should, be able to push past these frustrations and continue.
Simon Parkin’s interview with long time developer Keiji Inafune for Eurogamer covers a gamut of how Japanese and western developers have historically treated game design. Inafune’s experience with both gives him valuable insight into the strengths and limitations of both.
Over at Gamasutra, Raph Koster explores the ways that players use “compulsion loops some might term addictive” to meet an unfulfilled need in their everyday lives. Koster explores some of the ways developers can use these loops to the benefit, not the exploitation of their players’ psychology.
Writing for her blog, Alternate Ending, Mattie Brice shares her notes and conclusions on a game jam based on creating drinking games:
I was fascinated with the less mechanistic reasons we drink, like for getting to know each other. Games like Never Have I Ever also let people get to know each other, typically with things we wouldn’t readily admit. And that’s an aspect of our culture that I wished to prod, that we often use alcohol in order to be vulnerable, to admit and share things, or to do risky behavior. What kinds of games could we make around that?
If You Look Really Closely What Do You See?
Heather Alexandra did not expect to find much more in Arkham Knight than a goofy action game, yet it caused her to reflect deeply on her fear of death:
…Arkham Knight speaks to me in a way I’d never imagine. I thought it was infertile ground. A bit of AAA shlock for me to enjoy. Beating up bad guys, enjoying a sweeping plot, zipping about Gotham. Bam! Pow! Biff! But it isn’t. It reminds me of everything that I fear the most.
Back at FemHype, Ashe Samuels takes a retrospective look at Spyro the Dragon and lauds how perfectly it captured her childhood imagination:
Rather than telling, the games shows you while you play: just like being a kid, the world little Spyro is in is enormous, mysterious, gorgeous, and dangerous all at once. It’s an effective and relatable visual narration that runs through the veins of this deceptively simple game
Lastly, David Shimomura pens a piece on the body politics of the Metal Gear Solid series for Kill Screen.
Vice writer Corey Milne disagrees that there are too many games about the Second World War, rather Video Games Have Sapped the Spirit Out of World War II by focusing too much on a few events from only a few perspectives,
But it needn’t be so, as there are multitudes of stories that have never received any attention. The role of Indian troops has never really been covered. We’ve never had to survive the Dunkirk evacuation. China’s retaliation against the Japanese is ripe for exploration, or you could even take the bold step to present the war through Axis eyes.
Stephen Beirne, meanwhile, argues for more nuance from game critics when discussing prejudice and representation. In looking at Irish Travellers, an indigenous ethnicity in Ireland that faces a number of institutional prejudices. For Beirne, the discussion loses something lose something when focusing purely on American perspectives and as critics we need to appreciate the complexity of intergroup relations.
Clayton Purdom pens this excellent piece for Kill Screen about Cats, The Internet, and You with special focus on Catlateral Damage.
At Curbed, an architecture magazine, Alexandra Lange speaks with Neil McFarlane, director of games for Monument Valley developer, UsTwo about the architectural inspirations of the game. The article analyses the game’s design from an architect’s perspective, offering a rarely represented view of games:
When McFarland talks about the user experience of the game—no secrets, no time limit, no alternate routes, and no reading—he could also be talking about the user experience we seek in IRL places like museums, where missed galleries, pushy crowds and unclear paths also disrupt your concentration and enjoyment.
Finally, Hua Hsu reviews the lasting impact videogames have had on popular music in an article for The New Yorker.
We encourage interactive fiction writers to take a look at the submission guidelines for Sub-Q, a new IF publication.
Also, B.R. Yeager has written a book of poetry focusing on violence in popular culture like videogames.
That’s All Folks
Still haven’t quenched that games crit thirst? Lucky for you our podcast wizard Eric Swain has recently posted another minisode featuring Paste writer Imran Khan for your enjoyment.
There’s also a whole month’s worth of Let’s Plays curated by the inimitable Lindsey Joyce.
You could also take a look at the June Blogs of the Round Table roundup where we explored the topic Pets. Or if you’re looking for inspiration for your own blog, take a look at July’s topic, Pure Fun.
Critical Distance is also completely reader-funded, so please consider supporting us with a monthly Patreon donation.