Welcome back to another roundup on critical distance! I’m Emma, here to point you in the direction of some good content. With that being said, let’s take a look at This Week in Videogame Blogging!
Unsurprisingly, Dark Souls
From the inclusion of an easy mode to the cycle of repetition, Dark Souls sparks multiple conversations:
Cameron Kunzelman approaches the debate about Dark Souls in exemplary fashion, quoting opposing arguments directly and addressing what they may have missed.
“None of these critics are wrong about how they experience the game, but their arguments often shift from “I enjoy the way the game is in its current form” to “the game should not be experienced in a different form than the one that it currently is in,” and that’s a position that just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
C.T. Casberg argues that Dark Souls is best enjoyed with others, and that the staggered release undermined its social qualities.
“Dark Souls is a communal experience. It is dark, frustrating, and esoteric as hell,but more than that it is the shared pain, elation, and surprise of thousands. It is the adventure of gamers as they band together to fumble through the dark, and the pleasure and joy that comes from such a journey.”
Steven Strom discusses Dark Souls, technicity, and the processes of learning and unlearning games.
“”Prepare to die,” its PC re-release said. “Prepare to Die,” the Dark Souls marketing campaign said more frequently. At first I took these as yet more examples of From Software playing into its own reputation: the idea that Dark Souls is for Truly Serious and Hardcore Gamers Only Please. Maybe that’s true, but there’s something else behind the adage. To accept that dying isn’t just an inevitability in these games, but the central conceit.”
In this brief meditation, Thomas McMullan pays tribute to one of the central motifs of the Souls games.
“While other games give an artificial sense of life to the characters in their worlds — guards going about their duty in Skyrim, or bandits bickering in The Witcher 3 – Dark Souls places its unreality centre stage.”
Art and History
Michael Hancock reviews a new book about games and history.
“Playing with the Past‘s preoccupation is, obviously, with history and videogames, but it is how it goes about pursuing that connection that differentiates it from other books of its type. From the introduction, editors Kapell and Elliott affirm their commitment to considering what videogames have to offer the study of history, arguing that it is the ludic part of videogames that allows “play within the narrative” (19) to consider how history can be conceived of as a string of contingent outcomes rather than facts set in stone.”
Roman Kalinovski raises some themes from Baroque art in conversation with Final Fantasy VI and Dark Souls.
Robert Rath muses about half-truth, player agency and the murky chaos of war trauma.
“Reza isn’t a blank slate like many game characters, but there is a part of him missing — a central puzzle piece — that they player projects themselves into.”
Let Killscreen Die: defending the Videogame Art of Suda51 | Robert What (Content warning: strong language)
Robert What excoriates one of the longest-running outlets for games criticism, touching on some under-discussed issues around auteurism, elitism and what it means to contribute to a subculture.
But what are we actually looking at? Is this the work of lazy hacks causally pissing on the work of a masterful game desiger, or a complex set of self-congratulatory (industry culture) references, overlaid and interlocking? Does it help to know that the internet seems to be an arena of battle, a place for idle fools to test their empty strength and cultural savvy? Is there a sense in which Killscreen is Rome’s virtual Colosseum?
A scholar of 20th Century Islam plays the game about the Iranian revolution.
Mechanics and Play
David Friesen explores the haptic feel of Dishonoured as a site of aesthetic expression
“The physical shape of the trigger is narrow, iconic of the point or cutting edge of the blade, and the motion required to activate its player ability is, concretely, a compression or plunging, iconic of the stabbing or plunging of the blade itself into the enemy.”
Douglas Fry shares some well-researched insights into how and why the tragicomic simulation of limp bodies became so ubiquitous in games.
“Hugh Reynolds suggests that ragdoll physics “are all about empathy – when you merge this with really nicely done animation or motion capture and then transition correctly into ragdoll mode it’s incredible.” Perhaps manipulating physical objects in a familiar way also allows us to better connect with a broader game world. As Thomas Jakobsen notes in Advanced Character Physics, “accuracy is not really the primary concern [in developing a physics-based game]…rather, here the important goals are believability (the programmer can cheat as much as he wants if the player still feels immersed).””
Christian Donlan shares an anecdote to bring up an interesting point about play styles and creativity.
Cecilia D’A interviews women whose likenesses have been reproduced and commoditized in games, and the men who model and play them. Content warning: abuse.
Mike Perna argues that there is a promise of transformation in Stardew Valley’s playbour.
Jillian reflects on the narrative arcs given to the resident nerds of Bioware games (content warning: spoilers for Mass Effect and Dragon Age)
“I’ve been fascinated with the way redemption plays out in Dragon Age for quite a while now. What makes Blackwall and Cullen worthy of it, while people like Loghain and Samson aren’t? Does the addition of Justice strip Anders of his right to such an arc? Better yet, why is it always the men who get the chance to change their ways?”