I am spending a few days staying in a cheap Bed and Breakfast in an run-down Victorian seaside resort in the North of England. It is a spooky place where nothing seems to make sense. At one point I saw a white horse just hanging out on its own in a park, no humans and no job to do. There is a giant Polo tube that sways from side to side and makes rhythmic drumming noises in the evenings. This is a part of the country where a large majority of people voted a few days ago to leave the EU, despite being reliant on tourism and regeneration money from the continent. It is a strange place to take in the news of what my country has done, and I have spent a lot of time staring out at the sea, wondering in horror about what we are all going to do next.

Shame for the past

First, some writing that addresses how complicated feelings about one’s homeland can impact the creative process.

“Kojima grew up in an environment where the postwar politics of Japan were pressed into him like the fingerprints of a sculptor on clay. An upbringing like this one — with respect for the military, disgust for war, and a love of American film wearing away wartime antipathies — would deeply influence him as an artist.”

Hope for the future

Storytelling is not just about showing a character becoming stronger, but challenging the idea that we are determined to be a particular kind of person due to where we came from and what we have done in the past.

Uncharted 4 changes up the combat compared to previous games because Nate has changed, and when things do go back to those old ways, it means so much more than just a chance for an extended action scene. It’s a return to form that shouldn’t be celebrated. Each action scene becomes more than just a struggle to survive, it becomes a struggle for Nate’s soul.”

Less banal evil

Rather than only talking about the representation of violence, perhaps we can consider how the ease and rewards of violence are presented to an audience, and think about how we come to imagine the consequences of our actions.

“Often, gunplay in games is stripped of all danger both real and virtual: You can’t trip and shoot yourself or drop a gun and kill a friend. A child can’t find a firearm laying around in a virtual world and accidentally pull the trigger. They’re not loud.”

Rule of law

Even in liminal spaces, social interactions can enact particular ideological realities, giving us a way to observe how particular ways of constructing society play out.

“[…] prison servers aren’t so much giving you a “prison” experience as, well, a sort of savagely objectivist one. Prison servers present a world where the richest wield essentially unlimited power and everyone else strives to join their ranks. This is reinforced not only by the in-game mechanics of the mines, but also by the donator structure that makes it essentially impossible to advance and compete without opening up your wallet.”

Swimming in a bigger pond

Continuing the theme of playing with different ways of treating each other, these pieces look at games about seduction, consumption and leadership.

“The aquatic feel is real. Blobs waiting to be hoovered up all bob slightly, as if subject to invisible eddies and currents. The lumpy turning circle of your snake suggests pulling against some kind of resistance. And like a shark, you can never stop, your avatar swimming on regardless. It feels like an actual ecosystem, more primal than even the most recent Far Cry.”


Part of the path towards a more inclusive culture is practising other ways of imagining who we might be and how we might relate to each other.

“Link is not a boy for me. Link is androgynous, nonbinary, or genderless. I rarely even think of them as “Link.” The protagonist of The Legend of Zelda series is a person in green whose gender ultimately does not affect the story, except at a personal level for the player.”

Shared currency

I am not normally in any sort of hurry to include articles on gamification, but these pieces acknowledge its failures while still proposing ways of using games to educate and create change.

Minecraft serves as an excellent tool for easing players into technical skills like modding and programming, but in many ways, it also inverts the model of gamification.  Instead of adding superficial game-like features to a core body of content as a means of external motivation, Minecraft provides an engaging core game experience that readily accepts external content – whether it be architecture, literature, or geology.”

Free movement of play

How we experience a place is as much about how we move through it as how somebody else designed it. These two pieces argue that free movement still requires careful management, and constrained movement is sometimes better at creating a sense of presence.

“Small urban scenes and carefully selected areas, you see, can work brilliantly in implying size, complexity, urban function and texture, and in letting us conjure images of everyday life. In showcasing our elaborate creation in an easy to summarize way. Provided of course, there is a sensible backstory of our city, and an imaginary or real geography to draw upon. It’s incredible how the existence of a city plan, regardless of whether it’s ever used in its entirety, can help lend even the tiniest of places character and, once again, imply size.”

Other languages

Finally, I have two long-reads in different languages this week.

  •  The Aesthetic Flaws of Games | ihobo
    A classic piece of formalist games criticism has been translated into Polish
  • Takuya Kudo | AUTOMATON
    Takuya Kudo has been writing a series of interview-centred features on “Games arcades that are museum-ifying”. There is a lot of important material here on cultural production, institutional recognition and capitalism, well worth a look.

“People don’t need games in order to live, but make no mistake, games do make our lives richer. Yet I have misgivings about the statement, ‘games have cultural value’.Personally, I have no doubt about whether games have value. The thing is, I think it is very dangerous to say, ‘this must be protected, because it is culture’. It seems like the wrong way to go about things; with that pain of knowing that this thing I like is not valued by others, and wanting to believe that it has value, going straight to ‘this should be preserved as a cultur[al artefact]’.” [From interview with Mr. Ebihara of Ebisen games arcade. Translation by Curator] 

Thanks for your support! Critical Distance is community-supported: you can send in recommendations and keep us going with a monthly donation. Come over tomorrow for a brand new podcast episode!