A little later than we expected, but here we are! Thank you for your patience while the French-Canadian down in Engineering sorted out the dilithium crystals or whatever it is that keeps the U.S.S. Critical Distance running. We’re ready to go, so full speed ahead, Mr. Sulu. Engage!
Return of the Subheaders
ALL THE PRETTY DEAD HORSES
Let’s get this one out of the way right at the start. Jonathan Jones catches word that more games are being inducted into New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and takes umbrage at the idea of games being featured alongside traditional art. Sophie Houlden, tired of the “are games art?” debate, reverses the question in this terribly on-point riposte:
Having situated the art on a wall in the living room, I asked Emily if there was a special way to look at it to make the art work. “No, you just look at it.” she explained, clearly as frustrated with the experience as I, “Like a TV?” I asked. The look on Emily’s face then became that look you get when you’re at risk of losing a friend, so I quickly said “Oh never-mind, I think I’ve got it figured out.” and stared at the lifeless picture, pretending it gave me a similar sense of emotion I got from actually exploring the beautiful landscapes that developers craft for their games.
After Emily left I checked on the internet and it turns out she was right, you really do just look at it, that’s all!
Where was the engagement-building interaction of games? Where was the sense of teamwork and community you get from multiplayer games? Where was the emotional investment you can only get from stories and characters that actually involve you, a real person?
Saul Alexander has a great interview with Obsidian’s Chris Avellone up at Gamasutra.
Meanwhile, at Flash of Steel, Troy Goodfellow suggests that Molyneux is out of touch with developments in his own field of expertise.
In the wake of the Rab Florence Affair (or Doritos-gate, if you prefer), Florence has ventured to tumblr to pursue a less regulated platform for his strongly-worded criticisms. On the chopping block this week: Kickstarter, or rather the industry veterans who are increasingly turning to it to fund their games.
[T]hese capitalist animals, Molyneux and Braben to name but two, are transforming Kickstarter into a shopping website for products that don’t yet exist. They package their products with ridiculous “bonuses” that the gaming audience are paying small fortunes to secure. This is the same game audience that, just a few years ago, was laughing Bethesda out of the room for charging a small amount of cash for horse armour. And we at least knew something about that game.
DID SOMEONE MENTION KICKSTARTER
Also on the subject of the crowdfunding platform, Cliff Harris likewise has some criticisms for the “fixed dreams” it sells the comfortably well-off: “Kickstarter is the absolute poster-child for inequality amongst gamers, based on income.”
MEANWHILE IN LOS ANGELES
Here’s a nice article, courtesy of Kill Screen, profiling the upcoming LA Game Space, games’ “first high-profile residency program.” Predictably, it too has a Kickstarter. (Although arguably, this project better fulfills the intentions of the service as a charity platform than many of the greenlit projects that have gained notoriety in the past.)
IT’S VIDEOGAMES, KIDS
Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman returns to his own blog to advocate for a more inward-facing style of game criticism:
Instead of writing about the internal human process of playing a game like Dishonored, Game Centered Criticism takes the game as its own self-supporting entity. Dishonored‘s diegesis and mechanics do not exist wholly for the player–rather, Dunwall exists for itself, and its own history, just as much as it exists for me to “read” it or interact with it. It has a life of its own. It has a complex universe and being that rewards careful attention.
Obviously, isn’t a conservative appeal for Old Games Journalism, whatever that was. This also isn’t a denigration of New Games Journalism on the whole. More than anything, I’m just kind of tired of games only having worth because they were transformative for a human subject. We need a critical toolbox that allows us to talk about the digital and material qualities of games-in-themselves, not just as extensions of human minds into ludic spaces where we get to vacation sometimes.
Kotaku’s Tina Amini proposes that sometimes the most fun you can have with a game is exploring its glitches. In a similar vein, check out this humorous video by Nick LaLone which explores the same idea, of glitches as “disruption.”
Rachel Helps of Nightmare Mode reminds us that humans don’t just eat food–we have complex cultures of preparation and consumption, and games serve as a unique venue to explore that.
On Gamasutra, Nick Halme argues for a more sophisticated understanding of “difficulty.”
Michael Brough makes the unconventional suggestion that games are too mature:
The days of the arcade, where every second game was new and strange and different, are long past. (The rest were clones, but never mind those.) That cacophony of ideas has been replaced by fixed genres, mostly the fully consolidated FPSRPG – a powerfully mature setting for a certain kind of interaction and storytelling, but a very limited thing to be the main thrust of our medium.
Meanwhile, back at Nightmare Mode, Bill Coberly writes at length about how gun games miss the haptic reality of guns as physical devices, creating an abstraction which doesn’t “respect” their lethality:
Most modern military shooter-games heavily market the authenticity of their weapons and equipment. Medal of Honor: Warfighter has an entire section on its marketing website dedicated only to descriptions and photographs of the various real-life weapons modeled in the game. The implication is clear: the marketers behind these games want you to think that this is how real warfare works, and that these are the tools used by real warriors.
The idea that these are real weapons that mimic real life is contradicted by the unembodiedness of firearms in the game. Gun usage in the modern military shooter does not foster the necessary respect for firearms. By using the same grammar as more obviously preposterous games such as Borderlands, these games teach that firearms are neat toys, magic wands to be used to “solve problems” and neutralize targets. Behind their cosmetic differences, smart-talking laser guns in Borderlands 2 and AK-47s in Call of Duty: Black Ops behave exactly the same.
This lack of respect seems to foster dissonance in both discussions of military action and civilian gun ownership. Even ignoring all the other ways the modern military shooter has little in common with real war, by ignoring the physicality of the soldier holding the gun and fostering a lack of respect for that particular gun, these games gloss over the fact that real war is fought by human beings against other human beings. […] It’s a deeply physical and embodied experience, and decisions around if, when and where we should send American soldiers to shoot people need to be made with this in mind.
On a similar note, Scott Juster of Moving Pixels writes of Call of Duty‘s troubled relationship with reality.
ONE (OR TWO) FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
Buzzfeed contributor Chris Stokel-Walker gives us a lengthy but rewarding history of Pong.
On Eurogamer, Simon Parkin furnishes us with a vibrant tale of the Grand Theft Auto player who “spilled” Hot Coffee.
LET’S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS
It wouldn’t be TWIVGB without a few in-depth critiques of specific games. Let’s get to it.
Josh Bycer wraps up his analysis of X-COM: Enemy Unknown‘s strategic and tactical layers.
ASSASSIN’S CREED 3
Joe Flood, a Native living on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota, engages with gaming’s first high-profile Native American protagonist.
THE WALKING DEAD
Michael Clarkson digs deep with The Walking Dead‘s take on the Hobbesian “state of nature.” Also worth reading is Clarkson’s close critique of the series’s second chapter, Starved for Help.
Lana Polansky experiences an unexpected paratextual gutpunch while going through the game’s campaign missions.
REVIEWING IS HARMLESS
Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line released last week to generally enthusiastic response. Now Keogh brings us a roundup of some early and very worthy reviews of his book, acknowledging what his critique does and doesn’t accomplish.
LIVE, EAT, GAME
At Unwinnable, Jenn Frank pens this emotional introspection on her work in games, the death of her mother, hanging on and letting go. Also worth reading is this very valuable B-side.
Daniel Starkey pays tribute to his own ailing mother in this Gameranx feature about dealing with his mother’s failing health through the Commander Shepard he modeled on her.
And over on Kotaku, guest contributor Phil Owen offers up this strong self-examination of his suicidal depression, unemployment, and how his gaming habits may have helped or fed into that depression.
(This section carries a general trigger warning for descriptions of sexual harassment and verbal assault.)
One of the sweeping stories of the past week has been the #1ReasonWhy hashtag, in which women game developers, journalists and players from around the globe share personal experiences of harassment, isolation and invalidation within the game industry and gaming culture at large.
Alex Raymond starts us off with an overview of the hashtag mini-movement as well as choice tweets and links.
Critical Distance contributor Katie Williams takes to her personal blog to outline her own myriad reasons, noting finally: “Because I’m scared to post this on Twitter.”
Rhea Monique adds her own voice as a critic and a hardcore player. The women of Not Your Mama’s Gamer weigh in as well.
Tami “Cuppycake” Baribeau relates a harrowing first-person experience with industry sexism and gender inequality.
Gamespot editors Laura Parker and Carolyn Petit share a discussion on the importance of addressing sexism in the games industry.
On Gamers With Jobs, Colleen Hannon provides a good dismantling of some of the common derails and criticisms written in response to the hashtag. (Skeptical readers are encouraged to read this thoroughly before deciding to leave their own comments.)
Johnny Kilhefner storifies a virtually inexhaustible roundup of #1reasonwhy tweets from all sources.
Writing for the Guardian, Mary Hamilton shares a good treatment of the hashtag as well as the need for proactive responses to inequality. To this end we’ve seen quite a few answers: Rhianna Pratchett initiated the #1ReasonToBe hashtag, and almost immediately in its wake emerged #1ReasonMentors, designed to create a support network for women developers. Elsewhere, IndieCade speaker and LA-area developer Akira Thompson has set up Be the Solution, a new tumblr intended as “a proactive response to #1reasonwhy.”
MARATHON FOR EQUALITY
Many articles this week tackled discrimination in the industry and gamer culture at large beyond the scope of the #1Reason hashtags.
On Polygon, Tracey Lien profiles Iron Ribbon, a grassroots effort to end discriminatory trashtalk and other behavior in gaming.
Edge observes that the representation of women in the industry is at its lowest point in a decade and asks several devs and advocates how the trend might be reversed.
Emily Short provides us with an excellent roundup of women game developers both AAA and indie.
Merritt Kopas discusses using games to educate on systemic social inequality and injustice:
Because [anna anthropy’s] dys4ia requires active participation by the player, it draws them into the logic of a system bigger than the individual. It gives non-trans players a tiny glimpse of the frustrations of living in a society that tells you over and over that you do not exist, and that, when it on occasion deigns to admit that you do, then drops obstacle after obstacle in the path of your desires and goals. Here, one student said that the game helped them to better understand the process of transition and all of the institutional and societal barriers involved. Another told me that the game helped them to better understand the idea of ideology as a force bigger than the individual, something that can structure one’s options and choices in life without one’s knowledge or consent.
Much has been made of tactics to remove the barrier for entry into game development. Writing for Nightmare Mode, the mononymous Porpentine provides us with a brief history, and stirring manifesto for the creation, of interactive fiction including a good Twine how-to. In conjunction with this, here’s a recommended interview with Porpentine about her Twine work Howling Dogs, conducted by IF luminary Emily Short.
Lastly, from the desk of Cara Ellison, have a poem:
Had to be screamed from the studies of businesswomen
Had to be hissed under breaths in bars in San Francisco in March
Had to be ummed by women games designers
Had to be thought in elevators at conferences
Had to be leant over a keyboard at 3am with Merlot eyes half shut
Had to be seen in absence
Had to be seen in the lack of trying
Had to be seen in statistics of applications
Had to be segregated in schools
Had to be guided away from sciences
Had to be a self-taught programmer
Our apathy and the games industry are in cahoots
That’s all for this week, but as always we look forward to your submissions which you can send to us via Twitter or email.
Please note that the tireless Alan Williamson is in the process of moving house so the December Blogs of the Round Table should be a bit delayed. Take advantage of this opportunity to sneak something in for November’s “origins” theme!