How can game creators design for specific flavours of fear? This question is a big theme of writing this week, in what has turned out to be a particularly good selection of critical writing on games. I’m excited to hit “publish” on this one. I hope you have as much fun reading these as I did!

A hostile and insular following

First, I’m very pleased to have been able to read four fascinating pieces of writing about criticism itself; from advice on writing, to a proposed framework for thinking critically about games.

Fans of both hip-hop and videogames were challenged to prove their hobby’s cultural legitimacy. This situation created a hostile and insular following. Today, this attitude shows up whenever someone mentions that every hip-hop song should prioritize skilled rhyming, or that games should have explicit win states. It’s functionally the same defense mechanism. []

The lingering shadows

Next, two pieces of writing evaluate how a game portrays cause-and-effect in human society – one of the games in question being the Great British Bakeoff TV show.

Despite occasional New Age banalities, and its densely lethal and repetitiously ramping late-game challenges, Future Unfolding is an immensely ambitious game that makes an eloquent argument for the relationship between that anxious feeling of freedom in the early days of adventure videogaming and the lingering shadows of surrealist art. []

Industry as a hyperreality

Also addressing beliefs about how society works are these two articles, which examine how narrative relates to questions about life, death, and performance.

the game presents the entertainment industry as a hyperreality; one that not only blends together fantasy and reality, and not only encourages us to do so, but actively closes out any semblance of another reality to establish its claim to the real. For example, why does it never occur to the characters to involve the police in their investigation, even when such help would prove useful? Because Sessions would like us to believe the world outside the entertainment industry doesn’t exist. []

Open up the play space

These two pieces look at the moments leading up to death, and what players may choose to do after their resurrection.

Hitman uses achievement points in this way: to open up the pla[y] space. To encourage you to return to an environment and figure out what else it can do. []

The mimic AI

Continuing the theme of fear, two critics address objects-as-people in Prey.

Prey’s mimic certainly continues that tradition, sometimes taking on the guise of valuable item pickups like medkits or weapons, but it also builds on top of that history by incorporating this recent prop hunt tradition. Sometimes the mimic AI will turn into a cardboard box or a chair — in a locker room, it might turn into a nearby towel — or in an office, buckets or mugs or even a “wet floor” sign are all fair game. []


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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!