Critical writing can often be about reminding the reader of something that had been pushed to the back of one’s mind. You have a body. You are looking at this through a screen. You are not completely in control of events. You are reading This Week in Videogame Blogging.
Don’t forget to sit up straight
Writers are getting into their bodies, especially their bums, whether that’s by keeping them planted firmly in gaming chairs or having them sprayed with glitter at opulent parties.
- Playing the Player: On Cibele and Superhot
Brendan Keogh discusses recent games that are designed with an awareness of what the player’s body is doing.
“I remember semi-jokingly calling [The Meadow] a ‘sitting simulator’ at the time. Except this is exactly why both The Meadow and Eurotruck Simulator 2 made such powerful VR experiences: because they each accepted and reinforced the player’s own awareness of their sitting body, rather than stubbornly trying to distract the player away from that body. Players are bodies and that will never not be true.”
- A Pro Fighter’s Best Friend Is The Guy Who Stops The Bleeding
Kevin Wong discusses the brief golden age of the cutman in pro fighting games. (content warning: images of blood)
- Identity, camerawork, and time in games; on “Into” by Charles Taylor Elwonger
Robert Yang reflects on closeness and the frightening intimacy of melting into somebody else (content warning: spoilers for Into).
- Meet the French Aristocrats Who Throw Glitter Onto Buttholes (NSFW)
Kitty Stryker interviews the team behind rococo.co, a LARP teaching proper comportment to the Silicon Valley tech aristocracy. (content warning: explicit images, discussions of kink.)
Don’t forget where you have been
Now that we have learned some rococo-punk decorum, let’s politely enter the salon for some discussions of spatiality.
- A House of Teeth: On ANATOMY
Dante Douglas describes the embodied and disempowered horrors of Anatomy
“The horror comes from the sense of place, the knowledge that the player is engaging in something horrific, and continuing to, despite all warnings to the contrary […] It must be a conscious choice by the player to relaunch it, to enter the building again, each time against their own better judgment […] Each playthrough seems to disturb the house further. The player acts the intruder, poking at the flesh of something much more terrifying […] ANATOMY is a story about a house and its inhabitants, and the monstrosity of architecture left forgotten.”
- Take an eerie, virtual tour of Monica and Rachel’s apartment from Friends
Joe Blevins reports on a student project using a game engine to recreate the apartment from Friends, albeit perhaps with a fresh coat of purple paint and an eerily blank fourth wall.
- Firewatch and Alzheimer’s
A poignant story about memory and impermanence by Jefferson Geiger (content warning: bereavement)
- I Was Homeless And Video Games Saved My Life
Reflections on games and social class from one writer remembering their time living on the streets.
Don’t forget to be creative
On game creation this week we have a profile of an auteur as a farmer, a history of a mobile game clone farm, and a discussion about a remarkable composer.
- Stardew Valley’s Creator Has Won The Hearts Of PC Gamers
Patricia Hernandez gives an auteurist reading of Stardew Valley
“Stardew Valley is all about farming. Think about the image that brings up: I picture a humble guy, in overalls, tending to his crops day in and day out. It’s hard work, sweltering under the sun and tending to his soil, but he’s growing something real and nutritious, not that junk you can buy at a fast food place.”
- What Is Gameloft’s Position in the App Store of 2016, When “Having a Game That’s Sort of Like GTA” Isn’t Enough Anymore?
Eli Hodapp gives a history of Gameloft, a company often neglected in the typical gaming canon despite having once had a major impact on the rise of mobile.
- The Sounds Of Baldur’s Gate
Bill Coberly and Oscar Strik discuss the music of Baldur’s Gate, with some fascinating insights into how the soundtrack builds unease and avoids excessive orientalism (audio only: no transcript).
Don’t forget your camera
Superhot is continuing to inspire discussions about games in conversation with cinema, but it is not the only game that has drawn attention for its use of conventions from other media forms this week.
- Through a screen, darkly: In praise of Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
Boen Wang looks at how Kane and Lynch 2 foregrounds discomfort with contemporary spectatorship of violence
“By evoking the lo-fi aesthetic of internet videos, the developers ground Dog Days in the real world. The unimaginable violence of shooters is filtered through the familiar look and sound of YouTube. In fact, the game’s UI deliberately mimics video sharing sites. Before each level is a “buffering” screen, complete with a spinning circular icon, as if the player were streaming Kane and Lynch’s exploits. “
- Game Review Superhot emulates Hollywood fight scenes by letting you make your own
Matt Gerardi rehashes the “Superhot is a Hollywood movie” analysis of last week’s reviews, while also explaining how the game uses friction to encourage perfectionism.
- ‘The Flame in the Flood’: Gaming As Naturalism, Gaming As Romanticism
G. Christopher Williams considers whether a focus on persistence against the overwhelming power of nature makes a game naturalist.
- Between the Lines: Games and Diegesis
Ian McCamant manages to both explain and complicate a fundamental formal question about how games tell stories in the space of a fairly short blog post. I came away from this piece feeling educated without feeling exhausted.
Don’t forget to keep it simple
For longer than I can count, the aspiration in much of games culture has been to create a perfect marriage of story and interactivity. This week, four pieces challenge that in different ways, with one arguing that romance with less player agency is an interesting narrative proposition in its own right, and three pieces that praise narratives which embrace action rather than offer a commentary on it.
- ‘Firewatch’ Makes You the Romanceable Companion
Sylvia at FemHype makes a compelling argument that Firewatch could change the range of design choices for portraying romance in video games.
“Part of the beauty and lasting impact of Firewatch is in the way it flips the script on video game love stories and the way we’ve been taught to play them. Instead of agency and persistence, the romance, such as it is, is defined by acquiescence and compliance. When you play as Henry in Firewatch, you are Delilah’s romanceable companion.”
- Readers tear into the flawed morality of the Assassin’s Creed
Matt Gerardi brings together some rather witty vox pops about the historical accuracy and ethical implications of Assassin’s Creed.
- Game Review Layers Of Fear aims for arty horror, but its strength is simple scares
Patrick Lee argues that the less this particular game tries to say, the better.
- Far Cry Primal Finds Power in Its Unrelenting Cruelty
In a similar vein, Jake Muncy argues that in prehistoric brutality Far Cry finally is able to drop the half-hearted attempts at commentary and embrace the carnage festival it truly is
Don’t forget what you have learned
Discussions on the role of games in education this week cover titles designed for use in the classroom as well as games designed for entertainment, looking at motivating students, representing history and spreading awareness of mental health.
- What happens when you turn 10th grade into an RPG
An unusual account of using a purpose-built game for learning in the classroom, in which teacher Jessica Stein evaluates the benefits and risks of using an RPG to reward or punish students.
“I found that taking health points hindered classroom management, especially in kids with low self-esteem or anxiety issues. I asked Shawn whether he thought giving XP or taking HP motivated his students more and he agreed. “Definitely giving Experience Points (XP) and Gold Pieces (GP). For kids, that’s a very visible measure of their progress, both in the game and in class.” Losing health is arguably one of the defining characteristics of an RPG, and the ability to die gives the game greater stakes. However, I used it very rarely, and only with thick-skinned kids. While students taking dying on their X-Box or PC for granted, apparently dying in real life, in front of your peers, isn’t fair.”
- Virtual Heritage Article free to download until 21 April 2016
Erik Champion shares an academic article on using games to portray heritage
- History Respawned: Crusader Kings II: Sword of Islam
In a fantastic episode of History Respawned, a discussion with a historian about historical accuracy and representation of Islam (video: auto captions).
- Darkest Dungeon Tackles Mental Health Issues In All The Right Ways
Philip Aldous examines what can be learned from the use of a sanity meter and the portrayal of the consequences of stress (content warning: mental illness)
Don’t forget to be awesome
Finally, the plug paragraph. First of all, here are some projects that you may wish to support:
- Speculative Blackness
There’s a book out on race in science fiction that should be relevant to games criticism
“In Speculative Blackness, André M. Carrington analyzes the highly racialized genre of speculative fiction—including science fiction, fantasy, and utopian works, along with their fan cultures—to illustrate the relationship between genre conventions in media and the meanings ascribed to blackness in the popular imagination.”
- Critical Hits: An Indie Gaming Anthology by Zoë Jellicoe
There’s also a game book Kickstarter on that seems worth backing, with some excellent voices to be included.
- Are you a POC/LGBTQIA/Woman streamer?
The fine folks at I Need Diverse Games are signal-boosting people from minoritised backgrounds who stream games. Get in touch with them if that’s you!
Additionally, the Critical Distance Patreon is in need of a boost at the moment. If you like what we do, please consider supporting us and/or pass our page on to someone else who may wish to do so.
As always, you can send us links by tweeting with the hashtag #TWIVGB or emailing us. Also, be sure to check out the latest call for submissions for Blogs of the Round Table, and perhaps if you know anyone with expertise in dance or choreography, invite them to experiment with games writing this month too!