Sorry for the delay getting this week’s TWIVGB roundup to you. We had to squash some metaphorical and literal bugs in the critical curation machine. Now there’s bug juice everywhere.
We begin with two articles on my favourite topic: ambling around aimlessly in graveyards and other desolate places.
- Strange undertaking: the birth of gaming’s first graveyard simulator | Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan presents an interesting short feature on an experiment in environmental storytelling.
- The Simple Act of Walking is Crucial to This New Genre of Video Games | Playboy
Lewis Gordon considers how so-called “walking simulators” use memory and place to tell stories.
The topic of storytelling was explored a great deal this week, with analyses focusing on characters, props and philosophies.
- ‘Firewatch’ and the Case of the Much Too Obvious MacGuffin | PopMatters
Compares Firewatch to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, to highlight the goals and techniques of character-driven storytelling.
“These stories are thrillers and mysteries, but first and foremost, they are actually just stories exploring human behavior, human relationships, obsessions, passions, and fears.”
- The Most Intriguing Part Of Firewatch Is The Wedding Ring | Kotaku Australia
Mark Serrels provides an excellent analysis of how a personal artefact functions as a literary device
- Nobody is sure what The Witness is about | Eurogamer.net
Jeffrey Matulef presents some esoteric ideas about Blow’s pondering simulator.
- Review of Miguel Sicart’s Beyond Choices | First Person Scholar
Jesse Porch discusses Miguel Sicart’s ideas about moral choices and ethical dilemmas.
Another narrative tool that has been highlighted in criticism of late is relationships between characters, in particular how giving players agency over whether and how relationships develop can serve the broader narrative and aesthetic goals of a game.
- Fire Emblem: Fates Review | ZAM
A great description of multinodal relationship dynamics in Fire Emblem Fates from Aevee Bee, co-creator of awkward triad simulator We Know the Devil.
“Because any given character will have scenes with about a dozen other characters, Fates achieves a unique depth-through-breadth method of characterization as you see the different facets of each unit through their relationships with each other, and much more than that by letting you see them as antagonists as well.”
- Love on the Battlefield: Fire Emblem’s “Support” System | Gamasutra: Zack Wood’s Blog
Useful explanation of how relationships have worked in Fire Emblem games in the past
- With Those We Love Alive — The Arcade Review
Edmund Chu discusses intimacy in With Those We Love Alive
- Ignoring Delilah in Firewatch is Heartbreaking | Indie Haven
Simon Rankin wrote about how intentionally ignoring Delilah affects Firewatch
Some of the more technical pieces this week examined creative ways that players and developers have worked with violence — be it the physical violence of a fighting game or using a staircase of goombas to get a leg-up, or the psychological violence of mind control in battle.
- A Farewell to Focus | ZAM
Suriel Vazquez’s technical analysis of design change in Street Fighter and the tension between casual fun and professional depth
“Before long, The Focus Attack went from being a way for the casual crowd to implement something new into their game plan to one of the most technical aspects of the game”
- The Half A Press Sensation | ZAM
Joe Köller examines the unexpected directions taken by artisans of the tool-assisted flawless run
- Charmed, I’m Sure | The Ontological Geek
Bill Coberly analyses the dynamics of “charm” or “mind control” status effects in RPGs
It has been thrilling to see a number of pieces that examine subtext, metanarrative, and intertextuality, or that use cross-readings between games and other media to understand a work in a new light.
- My spoilery Firewatch theory | Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan compares Firewatch to Tintin, with illuminating results
“The biggest spoiler regarding Firewatch – and this is possibly a sign of how weird narrative games are getting – is that you can’t really spoil it.”
- Wanting to Believe: Faith in That Dragon, Cancer | Gamasutra: Emily Short’s Blog
Emily short reflects on That Dragon, Cancer in the context of other storytelling about faith in pop culture
- One Hand Clapping | Ludonarratology
MW Clarkson considers how the witness conveys meaning through subtext
- Gaming as Complicitous Critique: Postmodernism, Metafiction, and Video Games | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti, continuing on from her post on Pony Island that we featured last week, shares some thoughts about how metanarrativity creates meaning in postmodern media
- Lost in Translation: When You Don’t Know the Lore, Substitute Your Own | FemHype
Paige at FemHype shares a neat technique for cross-reading speculative fiction stories through avatar creation.
There is always more to learn about how critical analysis tools from a variety of disciplines can improve game development. Pieces this week looked specifically at storytelling, avatar creation and music.
- Being Edited | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short sheds light on the writing process for interactive fiction and how critical reading skills are becoming increasingly important
“Fallen London and Sunless Sea content chunks are rigorously edited, and the Failbetter Slack channel for contributors sees constant, ongoing discussion of style, voice, and theme. And (at least for me) that quality of editing is a positive inducement to write for a particular company or publisher.”
- Video game active ambient music and figurative silence | Gamasutra: Pieter Smal’s Blog
Composer Pieter Smal gets to grips with videogame soundtracks by analysing ambient music from a number of different games.
- Designing Interactive Story (PART SIX – FINAL PART) | Gamasutra: Greg Johnson’s Blog
Greg Johnson concluded his series of posts on interactive narrative
- Options for Ethnicity in Character Creators, Part 3: Faces and Bodies | Gamasutra: Frida Svensson
Frida Svensson concluded her series on ensuring diversity in character creators.
As well as incisive writing on the structural exclusions in games culture, there was some positive news about concrete action being taken within games criticism to center the needs of disabled players.
- Taming the Inexplicable | The New Inquiry
Liz Ryerson discusses the social conditions around indie darlings such as The Witness.
“Corrypt and Starseed Pilgrim, another abstract puzzle game endorsed by Blow, aren’t necessarily great PR for “indie games.” They’re far too idiosyncratic to ever be widely embraced by the more traditional game culture, but they don’t match the “film-lite,” middlebrow, white-washed NPR image of indie games either. So many of these games exist in a weird limbo — not largely understood or supported by those on either end.”
- Gender Inclusive Life Design | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Alisha Karabinus discusses structural inequalities in gaming and academia
- Up late talking games & writing? Enhanced accessibility at Gamecritics.com
Gamecritics.com have announced that their reviews will include accessibility information from now on.
Finally, there have been some tender, bittersweet pieces of critical writing looking at how we feel and think about games.
- Frustration | Problem Machine
Technically published last week, Problem Machine’s post about frustration is a short and sweet ode to games as self-care.
“Confidence and humility, together, let you tackle a problem as it is, serene in the knowledge that you either will or won’t be able to solve it, and the only meaningful way to find out is to give it an honest try.”
- Escapism is negatively charged. Let’s change that. | Relativistic Ramblings
Christer van der Meereen examines leisure from the perspective of the relatively recent science on willpower
- Existential Why Play: “Zheros”? | Robert What
Robert What’s “Existential Why Play” is not meant in seriousness, but I love the idea and include it here in the hope that it will inspire more existential games criticism.
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