Dog days may or may not be over, but the waiting is! It’s time for This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Let’s set the tone right out the gate. Amanda Lange is settling the debate here and now on whether the thing you’re playing is a game. Hint: it is.

Last week, Raph Koster and Anna Anthropy had a disagreement, which was taken to Twitter, about whether Anthropy’s very personal work dys4ia is actually a game. Well, I say it is. dys4ia, as a work, is covered nicely by the broad [Bernard] Suits definition of a game: It is a series of unnecessary obstacles (maneuvering pieces across a screen for example) which I approach totally voluntarily, for the sake of learning about a personal story. It’s evident that Koster believes creating a more exclusive definition of what counts as a game is somehow valuable. I disagree, and believe that an inclusive definition is more valuable, and, makes us as designers more open-minded with regard to how we can approach the design of new games.

Over on Eurogamer, Marsh Davies offers us a retrospective on what made Half-Life 2: Episodes 1 and 2 work and how the FPS has changed since their release.

Meanwhile in the Land of Singularly Interesting Reviews, Kill Screen, J. Nicholas Geist delights us with an interactive essay on ICO. And Games That Exist’s Alex Pieschel brings us this compelling review of Emily Short’s interactive fiction Bee, which certainly provides insights I did not expect going in.

From IF to RPGs, the ludodecahedron has indeed been quite active of late. Our own Eric Swain drew up this fascinating if very incestuous RPG genealogy. Meanwhile, on the subject of JRPG community and Atlus fans in particular, Jay Hutchinson responds to the “Boycott Atlus” protesting the company’s representation of transgender characters and suggests we need to take a second look at player interpretation.

MoonJulip has a long and necessary open letter to RPG developers, and specifically Bioware, on race representation and the politics of hair:

You could argue for some games, like Mass Effect, that it’s because a setting thing. “Shepard is a military woman so it doesn’t make sense for her to have an afro.” Ashley and numerous other human females can walk around with a full head of hair longer than most other women in the game though and no one bats an eye. The difference is their hair is straight.

The real reason has to do with how natural curly hair is seen as unprofessional, unkempt, dirty, unacceptable, undesirable, etc etc.. Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’ that addresses this in part as do many other works detailing the specifics of hair politics, but the long and short is that the hair of those of afro-descent is very much tied in to feelings and expressions of worth and acceptance, especially in places of business. The history of how hair is treated among those of afro-descent is rooted in assimilating and conforming to a white standard of beauty. Intentional or not, by denying players the option to play characters who don’t look like their European counterparts these games are promoting and reinforcing that same assimilation.

Switching gears to narrative genre and the RPG, Nightmare Mode’s Bill Coberly has a different bone to pick with Bioware, on the order of fantasy games and why magic is difficult to model:

Magic, as a narrative device, resists systematization. In most fantasy settings, magic is all about the manipulation of forces beyond human understanding in order to accomplish things you shouldn’t be able to do. It’s about breaking the rules, and thus doesn’t do very well when it’s forced to strictly abide by them.

For this reason, magic systems in games have a tendency to become bland and boring, placing all of their hope for luster or wonder in whatever spectacular visual effects accompany them. You do not gain a feeling of wonder or mystery from Elika’s ability to rescue the Prince, or from Morrigan flinging fireballs, or even from Yuna’s summoning magic. You always know exactly how these things are going to work.

As a committed single-player, this well-written and meditative piece from Aaron Gotzon is near and dear to my heart:

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that, in light of death, association with the human species, and self-identification as but a singular individual therein, is a threat. To feel special, unique (in a significant sense, alone) is a basic human need. We all must strive to become heroes in our cultural environments: our schools, jobs, religious organizations, hobby communities. Not least, we also need this sense of heroism in our imaginative play.

Death, certainly, is on the minds of many game bloggers. It was clearly on the mind of Gus Mastrapa this week at the newly-minted Bit Creature, where he shares with us his Day Z diaries. I just eat Day Z adventures up with a spoon, don’t you?
Premise: I just eat Day Z adventures up with a spoon, don’t you?

Zooming out to figure in not just gaming but the larger sphere of geekdom, my hat is off to Amanda Marcotte, whose response to Joe Peacock‘s ill-advised CNN opinion piece deserves to be quoted at some length:

The fact of the matter is [Ryan Perez] who went on a rampage against Felicia Day is just a sexist who doesn’t accept that woman have anything to offer other than their bodies, full stop. No need to make excuses for him. Again, that type exists in all sorts of fandoms, and not just geek ones. […] I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard men say that women only listen to music in order to be more appealing to male music fans. I honestly don’t know what guys like this think women do with all our spare time that we’re not working, fucking someone, or trying to get fucked. As Perez’s non-apology showed, dudes who believe this of women are usually impervious to the piles of evidence that exist that show we have internal lives and actual interests outside of being as fuckable as we can be. Gosh, some of us even have interests that our boyfriends don’t share, and we pursue them anyway! Mind-boggling, I’m sure.

Peacock puts pretty much all the blame on women for confusing men about who is there because she’s paid, who’s there because she’s a geek, and who’s there because she’s a conniving bitch who has no interests outside of creating elaborate, time-consuming scenarios where men give her attention and she has a reason to live. (Hint: This last group doesn’t exist.) Because of this, the inevitable conclusion you get from reading his piece is that he believes that geek culture is rightfully owned by men, but he thinks he’s a big hero because he’ll let women in on a case-by-case basis, and only if they prove themselves in ways that men aren’t expected to do. Sorry, but cookie not granted. Women want in because they have a right to be there. They don’t have to prove themselves to you or anyone.

We run a lot of epic takedowns of other writers’ gaffs here on TWIVGB, but Marcotte’s definitely sets a new standard. A highly recommended read.

Because we started with an ultimatum, let’s end with a question. PBS’s Mike Rugnetta, whose Idea Channel vlog series has previously covered Bronies as a sign of changing notions of masculinity and famous fanfiction from the era of Sherlock Holmes to 50 Shades of Grey, poses in his latest video the following bit of futurism: can we read Minecraft‘s Create Mode as a window into a post-scarcity future?

Hmm. Post-scarcity, Mr. Rugnetta? Or post-apocalypse?

That’s it for this week’s short-but-sweet round-up! Remember to submit your recommendations to us by email or Twitter, and join us next week for more of the best of what videogame blogging has to offer!