August 9th

Ah, yeah, it’s getting to be that time of year. When the heat feels like a damp breath on the back of your neck and the cat is shedding enough fur to produce an entire extra cat.* There’s nothing for it except to stay hydrated — and take a long easy Sunday catching up on some reading. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Mirrors, Apertures, Doors

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander profiles &maybetheywontkillyou, a game in which players physically don a black hoodie and navigate a system of racist microagressions and capricious law enforcement.

Meanwhile, FemHype had a stand-out selection of writing this past week from three aptly alliterative authors. First, Sloane looks to Dontnod’s Life is Strange as a queer coming of age story. Next, Sylvia returns to Dragon Age II as a tale of immigrants and (resistance to) assimilation. Lastly, Sheva delivers the results of a recently conducted survey with more than 3,500 transgender and non-binary players on their experiences in a frequently hostile space.

A Host Image

Mark J. Nelson digs into the patent filing for Tapper, the 1983 arcade game. The document seems to veer from dense technical language to machine poetry:

[I]n my opinion, this exercise in describing gameplay through the lens of patent structure ends up being very interesting. It’s inadvertently carrying out a really detailed formalist analysis of the videogame, which sheds light on it from several angles. Especially interesting is that, while very detailed, it also has a strong push towards abstraction and generalization. The format requires it to remain at the level of prose description and diagrams, not the game’s source code or circuitboards. The need for a patent to describe a general invention rather than just a specific game contributes to this abstraction push, not least resulting in the excellent title, worth repeating: “Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels”.

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster has a look at the database structure of Her Story from a historical technological perspective and concludes the game “presents something that looks like the 1990s, but it only contains a small portion of the rules that governed that world.”

At Paste, Suriel Vazquez chronicles the (ongoing) push by a popular arcade to establish itself in a new community, amidst resistance from older residents and stereotypes concerning the arcade’s image and clientele. I have some issues with the delivery of this article — it could benefit quite a lot from including a bibliography at the end — but it does cast a spotlight on the fighting game community’s efforts to improve its image.

And shifting from real-world money matters to the digital, at Fiery Screens, Yussef Cole has been dispatching military deserters in The Witcher 3, noting how humans are, paradoxically, often the greatest source of cash for the game’s titular supernatural exterminator.

Against the Stream

Writing for her own website, Critical Distance’s own Lana Polansky writes lucidly on why the design philosophy of ‘flow’ acts as “a kind of ideological container”:

“Flow” evokes a certain set of aesthetics — minimalism is readily apparent, but so are certain articulations of soft futurism, New Age-y transcendentalism, and a variety of naturalistic modernist approaches. We think of water. We think of the cosmos. We think of pure mathematics. On the other hand, it works as basically synonymous for the kind of “escapism” offered in so many F2P games, and the kind of intense, aggressive focus (or “immersion”) demanded of many “core” AAA games. Flow works both as the desired affective experience for most games, as well as an aesthetic container. How fortuitous that it finds its root not in any specific heritage of art, but in psychology.

Fellow Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman expands on Polansky’s remarks in a response piece of his own, concluding:

[W]e need new models, new ways of thinking, and not just those that come into being through the measurement of response time and the amount of sweat a player produces when shooting enemies.

Responding to both posts, Heather Alexandra of Trans Gamer Thoughts offers her own take on the sort of vocabulary stalemate we find ourselves in, and lends this memorable paraphrase from the world of improv: “The Game says ‘Yes’. The Player says ‘And.'”

Links of Interest

At Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne has compiled a list of Irish game developers, critics, websites and conventions, in a bid to highlight their contributions.

Speaking of Stephen Beirne, he appears in the latest issue of Five Out of Ten magazine is out now, which is now up for sale. Be sure to check out the newest Unwinnable Weekly too!

Good day, good day, good day

Thanks for reading! As always, Critical Distance would not be half the site it is without your links and recommendations, so please keep sending them in over email and by mentioning us on Twitter!

The August Blogs of the Round Table theme is here, focusing on nostalgia — a salient topic for the current month, if you’ve been waiting to contribute.

Also, a bit of signal-boosting: Ontological Geek has put out a call for articles for its upcoming theme month devoted to mental health in and around games.

If you enjoy these roundups as well as our other features, remember that we are reader-supported through Patreon and welcome your donation!

*Except our Australian contingent, for whom ‘Summer Valvemas’ is really just ‘Valvemas.’