With just one week to go until All Hallow’s Eve, many games critics are considering the scariest thing of all: our Kafkaesque relationship with institutions of power. Mwahahahaha.

Opponents by chance

Starting this week’s roundup are three pieces on randomness, chance, and probability that all just happened by coincidence to come out at the same time.

“Once I realized the opposing team’s players were just as likely to be in my random group for the next match, I found myself appreciating the spectacular kill cam shots that would come up after yet another in-game death. Especially when that person who sniped me at the end of the last match was fighting by my side two matches later.”

Athletes into abstractions

These articles explore some of the tricky edge cases in game developers’ and players’ relationships with larger social and economic institutions.

Football Manager’s Brexit simulation doesn’t feel entirely laudable. It’s reminiscent of the way that a parallel field, fantasy sports, has turned athletes into abstractions. Every Sunday during the NFL season, you can watch for people complaining how an ACL sprain cost them their fantasy league. That’s what now passes for perspective.”

Unmaking the mask

Two writers consider how game stories put across ambivalent relationships between protagonists and institutions of power.

“The true prison that Anne finds herself in at the close of Virginia is her own face, the one she has slid on and off throughout the game, adopting different poses, different alignments with those around her, but never truly feeling comfortable or anyway free behind. The solution to the mystery of Virginia is solved by unmaking the mask itself. “

Become the scenery

Not unlike the above-mentioned surprising moments of reflection in war games, here we address some unexpected strategies for interacting with other people through games.

“Sitting is a natural fit for the largest scale multiplayer games because of the nature of those environments. They’re filled with genuine life, real people roaming hither and yon in pursuit of their various purposes. Such a social space would feel uncanny if everybody were always standing and always busy with something; to take the time to sit, alone or with others, in the city or in the bush, is to relish the special power of the MMO. You not only get to enjoy watching the living scenery, you become scenery yourself, an ambient element that helps to sell the setting as a believable place.”

The world opens up

Speaking of believable places, these two pieces concern the societies and economies represented by the fictional worlds of role playing games.

“Exploring fosters empathy and understanding, the game posits, but that process can’t begin unless both parties approach each other on equal terms. A lot of Echo Night centers around learning to see the world not as a space you can act upon as you please, but as a living entity with its own rules and boundaries for you to respect. The world opens up and dispels any source of fear it might have held, and in return, you give up most of your ability to act upon it.”

Long forgotten imperialist campaigns

Next, in writing on how we understand our place in time, we have a piece that looks at our immediate sense of an impending deadline and a piece on our position in relation to a longer historical legacy.

“This is not a colonist narrative. This is postcolonialism at play. The player may be an invader to these spaces, but the knowledge comes from others, from being and maintaining a hybridity of parts, tools, and technologies. Expansion comes not from within, but in using the remains of past and long forgotten imperialist campaigns. Although the player may have the ability to ‘name’ things, everything has already been given a name before her.”

Small enough to fit on the table

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was thinking about why we critique, and what our role is as critics. These pieces stand as very different examples of what kind of positions and strategies the critic can take.

“By front loa­ding a pre-re­fu­sal of all cri­ti­cism, like the cat in the video kno­cking every ob­ject pla­ced near it off the table, The Be­gin­ner’s Guide is choo­sing to bat away dia­log, com­mu­ni­ty, and any­thing that is part of the human so­ci­al sphe­re. That is, it is pre-re­fu­sing any­thing small en­ough to fit on the table. You can buy The Be­gin­ner’s Guide, and have your in­ter­ac­tion outs­ide of it, just like your non-in­ter­ac­tion with your Ikea shelf cal­led “Lack.” The per­fect hy­per-ca­pi­ta­list spect­a­cle.”