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Minisode 10 – Abstract Aesthetics

More undiscussed games on the Critical Distance Confab.

For those who may not know, the purpose behind these minisodes is highlight some games, 3 a piece, that haven’t got a lot criticism or any criticism at all. The hope being that it will inspire some of you to go out, play them and write something about them. The games we highlight run the gamut from art games, through prestige level indie games, right on through AAA games that might have slipped through the cracks.

Co-hosting with me this month is critic, Heather Alexandra.


Agency: Thi Nguyen | Keywords in Play, Episode 10

…good in-depth answer. The book kind of focuses on the particular types of aesthetics and aesthetic experiences that people can have in this particular type of game. What particularly interested you in using your background, as you know, a philosopher of art, a philosopher of aesthetics, to pay attention to games in this way.

Thi: I mean, in some sense, I think it’s just like, it’s so obvious to me that games are aesthetics. And I was like, frustrated, I think with people like having too narrow views of the aesthetic that made them miss on what, what was…

December 11th

…Goodness recently sat down for a podcast with the Brainy Gamer himself, Michael Abbott.

Next stop, MIT’s GAMBIT Lab, featuring a three-part talk on games as an aesthetic form.

This leads us into our first major topic of the week, aesthetics. It’s a theme next followed up by James Hawkins at Joystick Division, as he takes us on an excellent breakdown of the comparative aesthetic and narrative strategies of indie game darlings Bastion and Limbo:

This is where the strength of the video game medium truly shines. We’re given two adventure stories about unremarkable children

April 24th

…single sentence.

  • Microtransactions Arent Evil – Why Viridi is Free-to-play | Gamasutra blogs Kevin Maxon shares thoughts on the aesthetics of free-to-play.
  • “In the goals/unlocks paradigm, the user grew a plant to unlock a variety. With a F2P model, the user would purchase a seedling to grow a plant. The task ? goal directionality is reversed. Instead of treating gardening like a job you do for some external reward, it treats it like a thing worth investing in for its own sake. Now, the onerous task is the unlock, and the earned reward is the ability…

    September 2020

    Welcome back, readers.

    My apologies about the lateness of September’s gaming youtube directory. I had it basically ready two weeks back, at the ‘normal time’, but then formatting and posting it became, for some reason or another – like everything else in this temporally soupy mess of geographically dislocated late 2020 waking fever dream – inexplicably difficult, one more thing to move to tomorrow’s to-do list, to shove behind another run, or a run at Hades, or whathaveyou. My city is seemingly about to emerge from a four-month lockdown just as many of you are facing record case

    March 11th

    …for limited resources, which tends to cause selfish play—exactly the kind of experience that is the direct opposite of the authorial message of the singleplayer game.

    Two authors took an especially fine-toothed comb to game aesthetics this week. The first article arrives from the endearing Eric Lockaby, who responds to Phil Fish’s GDC remarks with the declaration that the culturally-inscribed aesthetics of games across markets are more important than we realize. Quoth Lockaby:

    Western gaming culture’s complete dismissal of another culture’s artistic structure on the grounds that JRPGs are, generally, crap fails to recognize that our…

    Dark Souls

    …of the level design first becomes apparent, where poetic qualities that sing of the game’s deeper themes of hopelessness and triumph begin to arise from the art and architecture of the world.

    “It’s hard to think of another game series that so readily quotes the masters of its art; confidently repurposing the weighty aesthetics and themes of gothic romanticism and yet still maintaining a taste for the weird and the comedic, for parody and perversity.”

    In “Visions of Hell: Dark Souls‘s Cultural Heritage“, Gareth Damian Martin traces the series’ artistic lineage through Friedrich, Kuniyoshi, Doré, and…

    February 8th

    …agree on the right, best, most pleasurable, or most aesthetically redeeming aspects of games (or anything) rather than to acknowledge that real differences in motivation, aesthetics, and political concern are at work.


    Nobody wants to be accused of being part of the hegemon […] And sure, there are interlocutors who are dismissive in a manner that demands critique or even scorn. But that doesn’t make the very idea of such critiques detrimental or problematic, unless the purpose of the objection is to reframe the conversation around the my-favorite-formalism just mentioned. It also doesn’t mean the two “sides” must…

    Rob Gallagher | Keywords in Play, Episode 4

    …also profoundly nostalgic. In some ways that are just sentimental and retrograde but in some ways that sometimes seem a bit more sinister and reactionary. I guess people like Robert Topinka have talked about there’s a degree of nostalgia in all right politics and aesthetics, and where some of that crosses over with aspects of Cyberpunk and Vaporwave and these kind of engagements with outmoded but at the time futuristic technological aesthetics that allow people to sort of pine for a time before PC culture notionally ruined everything and civil rights ruined everything. But they’re also I suppose more reflexive…


    …the series as pushing the medium forward in terms of ongoing conversations around the relationship between videogames and other art forms, but also repeatedly acknowledge that the game is not for everyone due to its at-times abrasive aesthetic sensibilities.

    Essays on a Dying Town

    Much akin to Fyfe’s blog post summarized above, Danill Leiderman approaches Pathologic through the lens of Eastern European aesthetics, though he takes a much more formally academic style. Also like Fyfe, Leiderman comparatively analyzes the original game alongside S.T.A.L.K.E.R., however rather than using tourism as a metaphor to frame the two games, Leiderman instead digs…