Developers and critics alike have been discussing important games from the past this week, covering the gamut from Flash games to Far Cry 2. Meanwhile, newer cultural hits such as Dream Daddy and 17776 are having a big impact.
Tend and befriend
Lots of people are talking about Dream Daddy, but it isn’t the only thing getting games writers talking about queer optimism; in other pieces, games critics use feminist futurisms to find new ways of reading games.
- Joysticks & Killing Joy – First Person Scholar
Adan Jerreat-Poole reads Sarah Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, imagining game studies through the vision she presents.
- Perception: On The Presence and the Patriarchy – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti and Samantha Blackmon examine a game that, they argue, is a psychological horror about connection.
The next two posts contain spoilers for Dream Daddy.
This week’s writing on spaces in games has tended to hint at different ways that spaces reflect and influence the people who use them.
- Bloodborne: the texture of a dream. – ZEAL – Medium
Tendrils of text and image weave hypnotically through Rhiannon R.S.’s visual reflection on the living spaces of Bloodborne.
- Hold my Beer — Why the Torment Games Have the Best Video Game Bars
Dakota Joyce argues that Planescape: Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera make bars meaningful beyond their simple utility to the player, demonstrating that the NPCs care for these spaces as well.
- An In-depth Look at the Eichenwalde Map in Overwatch
Heather Alexandra examines a controversial map with a reputation for being unfair, closely reading its spaces with reference to developer commentary.
“Befitting the mood of a final frantic push towards victory, the last segment of map takes place within the dark confines of Eichenwalde Castle. It tosses the battle into an extended sequence of close quarters combat in a dark, gloomy space. Ceilings are lower, side paths more winding, and the defending team’s spawn point deposits them almost directly onto the final capture point. Eichenwalde becomes more hostile in visual tone and construction.”
In two pieces, developers discuss their experiences working on important games in the past.
- You Have Died of Dysentery: Exploring The Oregon Trail’s Design History
This is a useful postmortem-style document detailing the development process behind The Oregon Trail.
- Flash will die in 2020: Game devs discuss a once-great format – PC & Tech Authority
Alan P. Martin interviews colleagues and former collaborators about the merits of Adobe Flash from the perspective of people who have worked with it.
Waypoint’s special week-long focus on games and incarceration has been quite an achievement, and their investigative work at Guantanamo Bay has been particularly impressive.
- The Culture of Games at Gitmo Goes Beyond Prisoners and Guards – Waypoint
Muira McCammon’s piece about Guantanamo Bay addresses the unease many writers feel when focusing on games while more serious things are going on – and looks for what gaming cultures can tell us about social dynamics in detention.
- Why a Funny ‘Battlegrounds’ Strategy Could Also Get You Banned – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek describes a remarkable gameplay dynamic – people spontaneously teaming up in a game that strictly enforces an “every player for themself” situation – and wonders how long the phenomenon will continue to be permissable.
In three different pieces of writing this week, critics highlighted the use of absurdism or mockery in games about social systems.
- This Absurdist Courtroom Sim Takes Justice Out of the System – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman offers a reading of the catamites’s Murder Dog IV as a play on the seeming arbitrariness of legal procedures.
- ‘Pyre’ Is a Game About a Game—But It’s Really About Why We Play | WIRED
Julie Muncy reads Pyre in dialogue with Jon Bois’s 17776.
- Gamasutra: Troy Lonergan’s Blog – Why Behold the Kickmen is a surprisingly important game
Troy Lonergan sees in a new game parodying the absurdity of ball sports the beginnings of a new genre, and his reasoning highlights the value of games as a medium for demonstrating the chaos of man-made systems.
“I can see Behold the Kickmen spawning a tangential sub-genre of titles that tackle things the authors don’t understand but want to. Done the right way we might see a lot more games that put the fun back into the dull, or ridiculous. And when I say “dull” I just mean things I don’t quite understand yet. Like most people feel about football. “
Looking more broadly at narrative technique, these four pieces are retrospectives that consider major games from the past ten years or so in light of genre conventions and what we now understand about their developers’ goals as creatives.
- Dishonored’s Party Level Rewrote the Rules of Stealth Games (Spoilers for Dishonored)
GB Burford argues that Dishonored is different because it is open to many styles of play – but along the way, goes further than this, showing that the game uses narrative complexity to construct daring choices that run counter to the assumptions of how stealth works.
- Art Tickles: Defined by Their Exception – Haywire Magazine
Taylor Hidalgo discusses the work of David Cage, arguing for the broader value of things as separate to whether or not one personally likes them.
- Spec Ops The Line… 5 Years Later – YouTube (video: auto-captions. Spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line)
Raycevick summarises the history of Rockstar Vancouver, and finds all kinds of hidden gems to build up an argument about how foreshadowing and disorientation are used to narrative ends in this much-discussed title.
- Playlist: Far Cry 2’s Abuses of Body and Story – Virtual Narrative
Justin Keever looks closely at the ludic and narrative techniques at work in Far Cry 2, to evaluate its ludonarrative coherence.
“There is an impulse when evaluating anti-shooters to celebrate […] deliberate, thematically-rich tedium. This is an erroneous stance, in part because most anti-shooters aren’t actually tedious. Spec Ops: The Line is a good shooter. Kane and Lynch 2 is a good shooter[…] I don’t mean to be prescriptive here and say that tedium is never meaningful or valuable; I ask only that we dispel the notion that tedium is somehow intrinsic to the anti-shooter.”
Inhabit the skin of the monstrous
Four writers this week look at how games portray and respond to mental states; including a piece from Waypoint’s special week on incarceration, that considers the metaphorical prisons of the mind.
- A Simmering Hum | Unwinnable
Levi Rubeck’s analysis of sound design and soundtrack in Momodara’s Reverie is sensitive and illuminating.
- Burly Men at Sea is a Wes Anderson Videogame | Unwinnable
Declan Taggart argues that developers Brain&Brain seem to have made a game aimed at capturing a feeling.
- Gamasutra: Renee Sima’s Blog – Let it go: social anxiety and life sims
Renee Sima critically analyses her own play style, finding the fingerprints of generalized anxiety disorder all over her approach to The Sims.
- Interactive Fiction’s Favorite Setting Is the Dungeon of the Mind – Waypoint
Bruno Dias does a fantastic job of exploring the different shades of confinement that can be expressed literally and metaphorically in text adventures and Twine games.
“critical fantasies of escape are essential to resistance against this carceral rhetoric. If the dungeon equates the imprisoned to the monstrous, then pieces like howling dogs, Begscape and With Those We Love Alive ask us to inhabit the skin of the monstrous, the grotesque, the pitiable. The empathy is with the kobolds hiding and scurrying, the gelatinous cubes crawling the corridors.”
Finally, I was startled to find these two pieces that both consider intentionality as a part of game design thinking, but in completely different ways.
- The Stanley Parable, Dark Souls, and Intended Play – YouTube (Video: auto-captions)
Dan Olson looks at intentionality from the point of view of the designer, considering how the player’s actions may coded as the intended route or a diversion.
- Gamasutra: Sayam Ghosh’s Blog – Enabling narrative intentionality – a design analysis of 1979 Revolution: Black Friday (Spoilers for 1979 Revolution: Black Friday)
Sayam Ghosh looks at intent and play from the point of view of the player – albeit with a focus on the work of the designer.
“if the player refuses to cooperate without sufficient emotional investment in the choice, something is lost in Reza’s character development. The designers had to create a narrative design that would make the player chose non-cooperation intentionally.”
- DiGRA ’17 – Proceedings of the 2017 DiGRA International Conference | DiGRA
In academic writing, this year’s papers presented at the DiGRA conference are now available to all online.
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