This week brings us a bunch of pieces of great critical writing on games, that put the medium into conversation with philosophy, history, and spirituality. First, this roundup starts with some reflections on old technologies seen in a new light.
A new kind of power
Two writers look into the significance of a game’s technical features.
- Sounds in Super Mario Odyssey Harmonize with the Background Music | YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Jalopes TL demonstrates a remarkable sound design feature implemented by Nintendo, a discovery which implies the presence of a fully-realised midi synthesizer operating in the background within a platform game.
- The slow disappearing act of Demon’s Souls | Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan discusses the forthcoming loss of multiplayer functions in the iconic From Software title, with reference to an essay by Max Campbell on the decomposing works of 19th century pioneer of photography William Henry Fox Talbot.
“Sometimes, you get to see a picture as it is in the process of disappearing, and you get to play a game as some of its features are removed. These things retain a power, but it’s a new kind of power.”
Two pieces put major game franchises in the context of the history of ideas stretching back to antiquity.
- What Causes Total War: Warhammer 2
Daniel Motley looks at Warhammer 2 in relation to the history of philosophy about the nature of war, desire, and civilization.
- The metaphysics of Dishonored | Eurogamer.net
Andreas Inderwildi explores the syncretic origins of the Void in European religious and pagan traditions.
“[T]he Void is a quintessentially postmodern place. Ambiguity, fluidity and a plurality of meaning is its only constant nature. And this is also why the Void finds its reflection in the ocean, delirium and diseases.”
Feels as good as it looks
Two articles about what players do in games consider how interactions have been designed for morality and entertainment.
- Board Games Were Indoctrination Tools for Christ, Then Capitalism – Waypoint
Robert Rath documents the secularization of board games in 19th century America.
- How to Make a Good Hacking Game When the Reality Is Massively Dull – Waypoint
Carli Velocci unpicks the subtle balance between realistic systems and enjoyable cinematic performance that is sought in skillful game design.
“Even some games which purport to offer more realistic experiences make some compromises so that they can make it feel as good as it looks to hack in the movies.”
Limits of imagination
Two critics address language and stereotypes that exclude some people from games culture.
- What Games Get So Wrong About Egypt, ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Gets Right – Waypoint
Amr Al-Aaser praises Assassin’s Creed for avoiding orientalist tropes.
- Mixed Media: Division in Universal Experience – Haywire Magazine
April Tyack argues that games criticism needs to diverge from the language of games marketing in order to affirm that there really are multiple ways to experience a game.
“Publishers’ media vocabulary inhibits our ability to identify and analyse the specific experience of play, and over time, limits our imagination for videogames as a medium.”
A new Animal Crossing game has stirred discussion about free-to-play game design and microtransactions.
- Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp: The Kotaku Review
Gita Jackson argues that Pocket Camp has microtransacted its way out of the pleasant, peaceful illusion that Animal Crossing once delighted in.
- Pocket Camp: An Exercise in Capitalist Banality | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan is more cutting, getting to the heart of why both capitalism and addiction by design are at odds with the rhetoric of freedom that drives so much game design.
“The capitalist ideology is simply at odds with individualism, passion and spontaneity. Instead, coursing through its veins is a penchant for mundane predictability and cold, economic calculation.”
The New Colossus
Two more takes on the latest Wolfenstein game are added to our growing collection this week.
- Game of the Year 2017: #10. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus – Polygon
Allegra Frank highlights the portrayal of motherhood of this much-discussed game – an aspect that has been underappreciated, as most critical writing has focused on the politics of the story’s setting and the protagonist’s identity.
- I’m Glad Wolfenstein 2 Didn’t Let Me Fight Hitler – New Normative
Nic Reuben turns Godwin’s Law on its head a bit here, looking at the power of the image of Hitler and the ethically-fraught nature of satire, with reference to Malcolm Gladwell and Umberto Eco.
“[T]he audience often require[s] a pre-existing political alignment with the satirist to recognize the commentary at all. It’s preaching to the converted, effectively, but with the added danger that a portion of the choir mistake your portrayal of sins for proof of their virtue.”
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