It’s been a week of mystery and wonder, as multiple critics show us the limits of what we can really know about games -some arguing that this unknowability is in fact how games work. Along the way, we learn about some new ways to do critical analysis. First, we’re going to think a bit about spaces, places, and traversal.
Three articles look at how city building simulators imagine the worlds being designed, and the power of planning and management.
- Sunday Video: An Urban Planner Plays SimCity » The Urbanist
City Beautiful discusses the reality and history of city planning while playing the original Sim City.
- Conveyor Belt Pleasures — CapsuleCrit
Kavi Duvvoori describes the colonial, industrialist fantasies of a certain type of simulator.
- Building a City Without Borders or Walls — CapsuleCrit
Sylvia Artiga proposes an alternative kind of power fantasy – one where power benefits the many, not the few.
“The true fantasy of the city-builder is this: not just control of a tiny world that you can shape like a garden and watch like an ant farm, but an exercise in making abundance and the practice of sharing it with everyone who wants to call the same place home.”
Two pieces looked at how the design of spaces, and movement through them, serves the aesthetic goals of a game.
- No Man’s Sky highlights the agony and bliss of travel – Polygon
Victoria Rose draws attention to an interstitial design choice, showing how it expresses the game’s themes and puts the player in the right mindset.
- Gamasutra: Justin Reeve’s Blog – Prospect and Refuge
Justin Reeve introduces a design principle that he argues is key to reading stealth levels, and demonstrates this with a level analysis from Metal Gear Solid.
“The concept of prospect and refuge is broadly applicable in level design, but relatively few game designers have to understand it in detail. The div[id]ing line between those who do and those who don’t is almost always genre.”
Three pieces seem to indicate that we don’t really know very much about player interaction, shining a light on something that makes this medium dark and mysterious.
- Gamasutra: Justin Reeve’s Blog – Systems Interaction by Spreadsheet
Justin Reeve presents a simple yet novel tool for visualising the possibility space of a game.
- The occult mechanics of Bloodborne, Cultist Simulator and Pyre • Eurogamer.net
Andreas Inderwildi talks about the occult not just in terms of aesthetic, but how a game’s design and community create a mystical relationship to what can be known about the world.
- ‘Tony Hawk’ Is More Honest About Video Game Skateboarding Than ‘Skate’ – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman picks a fight that seems frivolous, but really gets at some meaty issues about abstraction and what it actually feels like in practice to do a thing with your body.
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater leans into its abstraction of action into button presses because it knows that you cannot truly capture the action of skateboarding with anything like this interface; Skate hides behind a mask of gestures.”
There were some fascinating ideas shared this week about how critics and other folk involved in games imagine their own work, all challenging some common assumptions – or at least, challenging assumptions that I personally certainly had subscribed to all this time.
- Against Playability – Midboss (Em) – Medium
Emilie Reed raises some contentious issues with how games are displayed in arts spaces, along the way challenging common assumptions about what gameplay even is.
- Sinistar or: How to Play Games Wrong – YouTube
Big Joel uses childhood memories of being frightened by a game he did not understand to make a broader point; that games criticism is not harmed by the critic’s incomplete knowledge and imperfect skill – in fact, he argues that most games are all about unknowability and the inevitability of failure.
- Notes on Gone Vroom: Running Over an Indie Darling | Sufficiently Human
Lana Polansky argues that we could take the quest for meaningful games a little less seriously, and along the way, find new paths to the same goal.
“we could bask with full confidence in the delightful absurdity of our chosen art form. There has been a critical breakdown of meaning, but maybe that means there’s a chance for something more interesting and more inventive to rise to the surface.”
- Introduction — CapsuleCrit
Issue 2 of Capsule Crit is out – I’ve included a couple of pieces from it in this roundup, but the whole thing is definitely worth a look.
- Papille – Editorial – Papille – Medium
The Game Happens crew got in touch with us this week to announce their new Critical Distance-inspired curation project for Italian readers. It’s exciting to see this work being done in other languages!