Critical Distance is back for another installment of This Week in Videogame Blogging. I’ll be filling in for Ben with a fresh round-up of the latest and most interesting pieces of analysis and criticism from all across the gaming blogosphere.

Kate Simpson at Falling Awkwardly has started a new series of articles on the metaphysics of Morrowind to remedy the dearth of critical analysis about the RPG. While the first entry is simply a primer to the series, the second and latest piece takes an in-depth look at a piece of Morrowind’s fiction, dissecting it as an attempt by its writers to explain save games in the context of the title without breaking the fourth wall.

It would appear that this Dragon Break has not been an isolated occurence. To explain the real cause of the phenomenon we need to rewind a little, to the ending of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Or, should I say, endings. At the climax of Daggerfall, the player is faced with a choice: to whom to give the power to control Numidium (“Anumidium”, “Big Walker”), the giant, world-stomping magic robot previously used by legendary Emperor Tiber Septim to conquer Tamriel. There are seven possibilities, and seven endings. Obviously, this left the writers ofMorrowind with something of a quandry – which ending to call canon, and write into the history books of Tamriel? The answer, which came to be known as “the Warp in the West”, was: all of them.

At The Artful Gamer, Chris Lepine tries to figure out how mastering a game is its own enjoyment, written as a response to Jamie Madigan’s article at Psychology of Video Games on how gaming can be good for your mental health. Lepine writes:

I see the “poetic imagination” as one source for the joys of play. When I imagine through the world that a story, a poem, or a game  has to offer, part of me is “in the game” and part of the game “is in me”. I cannot distinguish very easily between myself and this imaginary world. In those moments, where I allow myself to imagine freely while respecting the world the place has to offer, I am at my most playful.

Jamie Madigan also writes a piece on Gamasutra comparing jam reviews to video game reviews.

Puny humans are pretty bad at combining an array of weighted factors so as to arrive at a rating or decision –it’s just not how our minds were designed. Jelly or game review guidelines that require us to over analyze our decisions or check them off against a standardized list of factors (graphics, sound, etc.) can exacerbate this limitation and lead us to consider what should be irrelevant information when making our ratings. This corrupts the rating process and takes us farther from our “true” feelings or evaluations.

Chris Dahlen of Save The Robot has a new installment of his on-going series where he covers game universes. In his latest article, “The World to End All Worlds” [mirror], he talks about World War II as a world unto itself, which has been a stage for countless works of fiction including many games.

At The Escapist, Ben Croshaw, best known for his Zero Punctuation series of video reviews, argues against the use of the term “gamer”, stating that while we have no reason to feel ashamed of playing video games, we shouldn’t be too proud of it either:

The point I’m trying to reach is that playing games, as entertaining and fascinating and beneficial as it might be, is just something people do, not something they should be defined by. People don’t call themselves moviegoers, or TV watchers, or book readers. That’s the job of marketing agencies.

Robert Yang discusses the illegibility of the free roaming city at radiator blog, calling player agency in “god games” a complete illusion. On the topic of SimCity, he writes:

We aren’t actually creating a city; we’re just optimizing some preset numbers and formulas about how Will Wright thinks a city should privilege high property values or high density housing or nuclear power.

“For as often as I died while playing N+, maybe the best compliment that I can pay it is that I didn’t mind a single time,” writes L.B. Jeffries on Popmatters. Jeffries argues that instead of frustrating the player with its difficulty, N+ encourages the player to master its challenges.

This is a really tough problem to fix in a game because you really can’t predict what weird crap people are going to do. N+ perfectly resolves the issue because you die too quickly to ever invest in a particular strategy. You know that you’re doing something right in a level if there aren’t little bits of ninja scattered everywhere. It’s what helps turn the game into something that you play repeatedly even if you die because you’re puzzling out the correct sequence of moves, making death an intrinsic part of play and also one that feels rewarding.

Steven O’Dell of Raptured Reality brings up some very interesting points on video games and the industry’s seemingly adolescent obsession with violent behavior in “Weapon Overload“. He argues that game developers can and should look beyond the norm, and attempt to do much more with the game space available.

Also on the topic of violence, Ferguson of Interactive Illuminatus has completed a series of articles covering the very subject. In part 5 of the series, Ferguson discusses the role of violence in art:

The reasons for questions about the moral implications of experiencing works made in new artistic medium all boil down to the same thing–that while the violence may be depicting something already depicted by an earlier medium, the new medium is much more successful in its depiction.  New artistic mediums are a double-edged sword in this regard.  The reason for their rapid embrace by the public is exactly the same reason concerns over graphic content arise: they are simply more graphic.  Graphic violence is considered a kind of pejorative in today’s litigation-addled world, but artistically it’s nothing but a compliment.  To depict something more graphically than what came before is the entire goal of art.

Spectacle Rock’s Joel Haddock covers the subject of licensed games [mirror], with a look at some of the industry’s best and worst moments with its use (and abuse) of licensed intellectual properties.

At GamerLimit, Kyle MacGregor analyzes Flower’s environments as narrative spaces [mirror], which tell a subtle story of two clashing worlds–of man’s relationship with nature.

When the sun sets during the second level of Flower, it provides an absolutely breathtaking landscape where the silhouettes of turbines line a crimson-gold skyline slowly fading into darkness. This addition of wind turbines may not seem like a particularly huge development for the location in terms of beauty or tranquility, especially considering the environmental connotations associated with the structures, but this marks a distinct turning point for the title’s setting. The world of man and that of nature has begun to intermix. That environment is forever changed, and because the will of man differs from that of nature – a conflict is born.

Rounding up this week’s compilation is Ashelia’s comparison of Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain [dead link, no mirror available] at Hellmode. She elaborates on their similarities, and expresses her disappointment on the wasted potential of the games. She sums up Heavy Rain’s problems as:

In Heavy Rain, it rains. It pours. A couple of boys are murdered. And then it rains some more. While it looks gorgeous–a collage of scenic cityscapes drenched in a torrential downpour–nothing else happens. It does very little and shows even less.

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