It’s that time again – time to fight the urge to crawl under a rock to escape death rays from the sun while compiling a list of the more interesting pieces of writing, blogging and criticism from around the web. It could only ever be This Week In Videogame Blogging.

This calendar week, blogger Ashelia wrote on her personal tumblr some stinging criticisms of the characters of Left 4 Dead 2 in “Axe me a question”. It’s some criticisms I share, personally, and it makes me all the more excited to hear the news of the original Fab Four’s imminent arrival to the sequel. Ashelia’s criticism begins with the character of Rochelle, but expands outwards to encompass the rest of the quartet. It’s criticism from a place of love though, truly.

Mitu Khandaker announced her arrival at Game Set Watch this week with a first post in a new series called ‘Gambrian Explosion’ – more a statement of intent at this introductory stage, but well worth reading to get excited about where she’s going with it.

Max Lieberman of the Boom Culture blog tried to spark a conversation about the ‘gamification of learning’ – employing so-called ‘gamification’ tactics such as points, rewards, badges, etc in the classroom. It’s a piece called ‘Narrative in Games-Based Learning’.

The best thing I read all week was an exchange of letters between author Tom Bissell and academic/critic Simon Ferrari, hosted by Paste Magazine. It covers a lot of ground but the locus it moves around is game narrative, writing and response. Strong stuff.

Eric Lockaby at The Last Metaphor, who we’ve linked to before, has kept up the steady trickle of excerpts from his novel ‘Kickaround Nixon’ [mirror] and is now up to the 6th part. Here’s the synopsis of events so far:

Hunted by a murderous virgin bride…haunted by the American Dream…semi-dead househusband Nick Sunder escapes into the 1983 U.S. National Video Game Tournament, where he stumbles upon a bizarre and perilous Cold War plot.

Oh yes, it was Valentine’s Day this week, and Gay Gamer’s blogger Super Swede posted ‘A valentine from Andrew Ryan’ [mirror] delivered in typical Randian fashion:

One of your writers recently asked my opinion of the celebration of February the fourteenth, a holiday that uses the Christian superstition of “Saint” Valentine as a vehicle for the expression of our most despicable urges: doting upon those with whom we find ourselves in the pitiful waltz we call “love.”

Russia Today has an interview up with Navid Khonsari of Grand Theft Auto fame. Here’s the video’s description from YouTube:

Games are really a reflection of the real world and it does not really make a difference what somebody says is good or bad — it is a matter of perspective. That is according to director, producer and writer of documentaries and videogames Navid Khonsari, the man behind the Grand Theft Auto series. He spoke to RT about his new project dealing with American-Iranian relations some three decades ago – a new game about the takeover of American embassy in Tehran called “1979: The Game”.

The SteelRiverSavior blog is another cool little blog I’ve only just heard about. ‘Ludens Is a Cough Drop’ from this week is a great read:

In the first few pages of “Beyond Good and Evil”, Nietzsche taught me the most important lesson of my life.  Everything that has ever been written was written by a person with their own mind, their own thoughts and prejudices, their own opinions.  This colors everything, almost always unintentionally. This is why I hate people who reject the notion that games can be art.

Pippin Barr writing for his personal blog about the opposite of permadeath in games has been playing Half-Life 2 in god-mode [mirror], which I remember doing with the first game when I was younger. He informs us that surprisingly:

…there was much less of the “this is meaningless” experience in my playing than I’d anticipated. Instead, the overriding emotional tone of the game became, for me, that of being a kind of immortal psychopathic hero.

At the Vorpal Bunny Ranch blog Denis Farr writes about a family history of gaming, and reflects in particular upon his mother’s engagement with games, in ‘Trade Wars to Facebook Games’ [mirror]:

At this point, my mother has been playing MMOs and online games longer than most people I’ve met. Rather than continue to suffer the toll of being a female gamer in an environment that still seeks to estrange a veteran, I can hardly blame her for creating her own games with their appropriate boundaries out of what’s available.

For the online blog portion of KillScreen Magazine, J. Nicholas Geist wrote about ‘Violence remembered and forgotten’ [mirror].

Auntie Pixelante posted on her blog the words and slides from a talk [mirror]she gave this week about her game Mighty Jill Off :

in 2008 i made a game called MIGHTY JILL OFF. it’s inspired by a 1987 nintendo game called mighty bomb jack – a difficult game – and it’s about the masochistic impulses that players of challenging games have. they want to be challenged, they want to prove themselves, they want to be allowed to advance through the game’s challenges – but only once they’ve earned it. as in all consensual masochism, though, there is the everpresent issue of trust.

M. Suliman newly of the blog Mending the Wall, formerly of Bergsonian Critique, wrote this week about ‘The Two Voices of Isaac Clarke’ [mirror]:

when Visceral Games decided to give the mechanical engineer Isaac Clarke a voice in Dead Space 2, who has remained practically mute in the original Dead Space, they also had to give him a new personality to go along with it. Because, as it turns out, it is inevitably difficult to tell a story like the one in Dead Space 2—a story that refocuses its tension on the monsters occupying the human psyche rather than those on the outside—without having its leading character utters a grievance or a closer examination on what is truly going on. In other words (and pun is desperately intended here) what has resulted from this voice transplant is two Isaac Clarkes: one whose psychology is the same as the player, and one who is diagnostically different.

The author of the Go Make Me A Sandwich blog takes an unapologetic look at the character of Yuna from Final Fantasy X-2:

Yuna manages to be a strong, well-rounded character who never loses sight of herself or her ideals. And maybe best of all, she manages to save the day and rescue the prince instead of being the damsel in distress.

The Critical Missive blog turns its critical eye to the Smithsonian’s “Art of Videogames” exhibition in ‘Close, but not 1-UP’ [dead link, no mirror available].

While the efforts of the Smithsonian are undoubtedly appreciated by gamers worldwide (and I am certainly one such gamer), after a closer look at the arrangement of the exhibit and the selection process for inaugurating new games, I found myself increasingly sceptical as to the validity of the exhibit.

Almost as if in answer to some of Critical Missive’s concerns, the Rock Paper Shotgun team have spent the past week working on ‘The Very Important List of PC Games’, in 6 out of 5 parts. It’s limiting its scope to just PC Games, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more exhaustive list, or one that included so much detail about why these are important games.

We haven’t heard from the Fabula Ex-Machina blog for a while, what’ve they been up to? Paul Sztajer writes in to let us know – thinking about ‘stakes’ (aka consequences) and death in games, that’s what. [mirror]

There’s too much good stuff to go around this week, apologies to anyone who sent stuff in that didn’t get a mention. I’ll leave you with an imposingly long essay by Erik Germani of the blog Weapons Grade Ennui titled ‘Play of the Land’ [mirror], which purports to be about the use of topography in turn based strategy. I’ve not had a chance to read much past the opener yet, but the start leaves me extremely optimistic:

In videogames, there is deep appeal in leveraging your surroundings. Luckily, games have long encouraged our inner Jason Bournes. You’ve encountered it before, when you shot those combustible barrels carelessly strewn about in every corridor shooter, or when you hurled a car at a henchman in Freedom Force and he flew back three blocks like he was a small marble and the car was a much larger marble made of nitroglycerine. How about uppercutting Scorpion onto a spike bed in Mortal Kombat, grabbing a bat in Double Dragon, or every single game which makes you play matador with a charging boss? But these are diversions, not core gameplay; one genre in particular does more than just weaponize the environment.

Next week I’ll be away and busily attending the Game Developers Conference, but don’t despair – the irrepressible Eric Swain will be filling in.  If you’re attending GDC and spot me either on the street or in the convention halls don’t hesitate to say hello!

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