The notion of the “possibility space” is important for many of the pieces of writing featured this week: whether that’s the space for creation that’s opened up or shut down by state institutions, the space for imagination that is afforded by visual and narrative techniques, or the vastness of space and time explored in speculative fiction. Let’s go exploring!
This weeks’ writing on spaces in games has been excellent, with open-worlds discussed alongside relatively constrained spaces that still leave open plenty of room for interpretation.
- A Body, Divided | Pathologic | Heterotopias
Jared Mitchell highlights the biological imagery used in the space design of Pathologic.
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver – the genesis of today’s open world tech? • Eurogamer.net
John Linneman analyses how a 1990s game’s level design was constructed to allow for some clever memory-saving tricks.
- The Open World of ‘Yonder’ Is Supremely Pretty, But So Shallow – Waypoint
Janine Hawkins criticizes the limitations of make-work games that don’t facilitate flow or allow for enough autonomy.
- The pleasures of a good video game horizon • Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan pays attention to the backgrounds of games he remembers fondly, relating it to spatial experiences he has in his local environment.
The background muddling with the foreground. There is a word attached to much of this stuff for me, a word that I never actually use in sentences because I don’t really know how to deploy it. Velleity: “A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.” That’s the horizon in games, isn’t it? Cor, that looks nice. That looks nice…
Testing of limits
It’s rare for games writing to skillfully navigate between the magic circle and the socio-political worlds we have to deal with in our immediate surroundings, but this week was relatively rich with perspectives on governance and culture wars.
- Putting Minecraft on stage is canny, but will it bring anything new to theatre? – PC & Tech Authority
Thomas McMullan interviews people from the theatre world about existing work blending physical and digital, to put the Minecraft play in context.
- One artist’s deep dive into the online ‘manosphere’ – tech podcast | Technology | The Guardian
Leigh Alexander’s interview with Angela Washko about her project ‘The Game – The Game’ is insightful, sensitive, and skillfully edited, blending direct quotes with reflective commentary to form a meaningful argument about the diverse ways women cope with harassment.
- Arts Funding – Helping Games that Help Us – Extra Credits – YouTube (Video: fully subtitled in English)
Robert Rath and James Portnow give an overview of some game projects that have received government support in the US, and argue that arts funding must be protected if games are to continue growing as more than just consumer products.
- Let Them Have Playgrounds | White Noise
Darran Anderson highlights some case studies in the struggle to incorporate play into urban planning.
Here we have questions that impact not just children but us all. Play is, after all, not just a form of development, learning or health, as John Dewey observed, but an expression of freedom and a testing of limits. The architect Rem Koolhaas stated: “If there is to be a ‘new urbanism’, it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence,” and yet almost every smart city proposal suggests embracing these twin fantasies.
Already inside their head
Two different critics addressed the role of non-player characters in videogame storytelling – including one piece that considers how significant characters can be even if they never show up.
- Stories of Resistance Need to Stop Dehumanizing Everyone Who Isn’t the Hero – Waypoint
Rob Zacny argues that we should pay attention to who is given agency in dystopian stories.
- Why The Makers of ‘Tacoma’ and ‘Edith Finch’ Love Loneliness – Waypoint
Rosh Kelly interviewed designers at Fullbright about the importance of absent NPCs in their games.
“When you get the balance right, when the player does a little work on behalf of the game, it’s easier for them to feel a greater ownership and investment in it,” says Zimonja. “If you give them a little bit to imagine, and the space to do it themselves, then they’ve made their own version of that and they now have a little bit of the story already inside their head. They’re no longer just looking at it. They’ve absorbed it, and it’s a part of them now.”
A line of latitude
Finally, these three pieces look at different possibilities for criticism itself: speculative fiction, auteur theory, and the use of sound design in video let’s plays.
- Car Boys and Metanarrative – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Ceicocat highlights the virtues and fan-culture context of a remarkable Let’s Play series.
- Opened World: A Living Out of Dying – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella looks at Suda51, and argues that auteur theory isn’t just about ignoring the contribution of multiple people in the creation of a game; it is a useful lens in itself.
- The Future is Play | Unwinnable
Jon Bois’s 17776 has captured the imaginations of more than a few games critics, and I’ve been waiting for someone to blog about it so that I can feature their observations here. Levi Rubeck does a great job of capturing the essence of what the multimedia short story does with American football.
Football. Countless variants, mutations making entire states endzones, or a field the length and width of a line of latitude, or a stadium plucked from the crayon ramblings of a hive-mind of virtual toddlers. Plays that pull from natural disasters, defenders snuggled into forgotten caves, and a version of 500 that involves a mountaintop cannon. When you have nothing to fear you must manufacture a motive to exist […]”
- Episode 47 – A Measured Response: Hbomb – Critical Distance
Eric Swain interviewed one of my personal favourite Youtubers. Of course, everyone Eric interviews at Critical Distance is fantastic, and you should subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to make sure you hear from every one of them!
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!