This week as I read games blogging from around the web, I’m thinking about how games criticism reflects the many uses of software as tools and contexts for cultural practices. A game can be like a pair of shoes that you slip on in order to try out a new role or mode of being.
Walking back hundreds of years, critics trace the roots of gaming as a practice and a literary form in their comparisons with European history.
- The Banner Saga 2 is an Ancient Story in Modern Form :: Games :: Features :: Paste
Reid McCarter praises The Banner Saga‘s approach to pagan literary themes
- Kinephanos journal: Exploring the Frontiers of Digital Gaming – The Ludologist
Jesper Juul signal-boosts the release of a new issue of Kinephanos journal.
- Century of Play: 18th Century Precursors of Gamification | Kinephanos
Mathias Fuchs’s contribution to the new issue of Kinephanos is particularly remarkable, tracing a cultural history of games and work back to the 18th Century.
“It is frightening to see that game burning preceded book burning and that in both cases it was not the medium that was intended to be destroyed but a cultural practice and a practicing group.”
Looking for a challenge? Other writers consider what it takes to be sporting in a digital duel, weighing game balance against cultural context.
- The Shared History of Tennis and PONG • Eurogamer.net
Simon Best looks at the dynamics of modern tennis to explore the human drama of game systems.
- Difficulty As Tone in ‘Hyper Light Drifter’ | PopMatters
Boen Wang argues for the aesthetic choice to design a game for high-stress, high-skill challenges.
- Souls Without Darkness | Normally Rascal
Stephen Beirne argues that the discussions about Dark Souls‘s difficulty are not simply about game balance.
“Dark Souls […] is cursed by its projection of a sense of difficulty, despite how it mitigates that conceit through a robust system of player co-operation and in-game messages, and which fans gleefully diffuse through community wikis, online conversation and ten thousand or so Top Tips listicles. While this sense of difficulty is on the most part a fabrication—an aspect of its social fiction—it is pivotal to its allure as a cultural text.”
Taking things at a slower pace, our fleeting connections to others are remembered with homely affection.
- Getting Social with ‘Dark Souls III’ | PopMatters
Jorge Albor discusses the built-in Easy Modes of Dark Souls.
- Guillaume, Guillaume, Guillaume (The cat named Guillaume) | Medium
Katie Rose Pipkin shares a beautiful remembrance of an artist through a space he created.
- Fragments of Him offered me catharsis after the shock of losing someone | Polygon
Allegra Frank discusses grief stories and confronting pain head-on.
“The game embraces how exhausting and evolving grief can be. It removes any shame from talking about death through the lenses of those left behind.”
The shoes we wear are class markers, portraying to others and even to ourselves what activities we are equipped to undertake and where our competencies may lie.
- Enclothed Cognition – Do Character Outfits Affect Our Play? | Extra Credits
Extra Credits cites a preliminary psychological study to reflect on how player-avatar identification and role playing affect our problem solving abalities.
- Stephen’s Sausage Roll and the blue collar heroes of puzzledom | Kill Screen
Zack Kotzer looks at the class markers employed in Stephen’s Sausage Roll.
- Hitman is the best Bond game since Goldeneye | ZAM
Robert Rath’s review of Hitman investigates the thrill of the spy fantasy, gesturing at the class signifiers and social tourism that undergird the pleasure of going unnoticed.
“Both men are fundamentally defined by their self-assurance and faith in their abilities. To knock out a man, put on his clothes, and walk into a crowd of his compatriots unnoticed requires ice water for blood. Hitman communicates this personality trait with 47’s walk, a no-nonsense, broad-shouldered stride that gives off the message that he belongs here — wherever here happens to be.”
Stepping into the workshop, these interviews with creators help us to make sense of what best equips people to write about and design games effectively.
- A Walkthrough the Past: Interviews with Former Writers on the Making of Strategy Guides | ZAM
Suriel Vazquez’s history of game guides is enlightening reading for anyone who writes about games.
- The Making of Pandemic – the board game that went viral | Eurogamer.net
Rick Lane gives us some insight into the development process, goals and skills involved in making one of the most acclaimed board games in history.
“Pandemic‘s peculiar theme makes its success particularly fascinating. It seems counterintuitive that anyone would want to play a game about a world slowly turning yellow and black with infection. But such an assumption overlooks the fact that Pandemic is about saving the world from a disease outbreak – and that’s a crucial distinction.”
And finally, it’s time for a little more focus on visual design, from drawing beautiful pathways to communicating with symbols.
- Visual Movement & Level Flow | Ryan Darcey
Ryan Darcey experiments with tracing and copying in order to create aesthetically harmonious movement.
- Opened World: Framing Violence | Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella considers framing as a device for strategically leaving things out, and accounts for the possible significance of the things not shown in a frame.
- Dark Souls III and the color purple | Kill Screen (Spoilers for Dark Souls III)
Brent Ables considers a number of connections between Dark Souls and art history, through its use of a particular color, highlighting how Dark Souls III rewards close examination of its environments.
“The story of this domination is, as with everything else in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s singular art, told elliptically and symbolically. It would be easy to miss altogether if you were solely focused on surviving. But this speaks to one of the qualities that distinguishes Dark Souls III, even from its venerable predecessors: the visual detail now conveys as much to the attentive eye as the series’ famous item descriptions always have to the curious mind.”
That’s all for this week! We’ve had a lot more going on here this week than just the roundup, and all of it is supported by our readers. Please check out the links below for more, and consider joining our supporters on Patreon. I appreciate it enormously.
- Minisode 12 – Not Dark Souls | Critical Distance
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Take time to savour the digest from last month’s Blogs of the Round Table.