Hello, and welcome to another rock-solid episode of This Week in Video Game Blogging! I’m Zach, and not to make mountains out of molehills, but we have an Everest-sized pile of links this week.
Before we get into this week’s Big Topic, a few pieces might set the stage for productive conversation. Zoya Street dug through Nobuki Yasuda’s work to extract how players describe games in Japanese. Are games “fun”? Are they “interesting”? Mark Filipowich talks about engaging with a work and how that work communicates to an individual. Both of these topics are embedded in the discussion that follows.
First, There is a Mountain
A game called Mountain recently came out. Cameron Kunzleman discusses Mountain over at Paste, which is important for understanding the conversation that follows. Stephen Beirne took a couple of shots at the concept of “interactivity”. Raph Koster responded, the conversation flooded over to Twitter, and then Raph wrote another post addressing interactivity as well as Mountain.
Michael McMaster took the discussion around Mountain down a different path in an essay on Medium titled “On Formalism”:
“Games are expected ideally to be fun/digestible/gratifying, but if that’s not possible then they should at least be meaningful (i.e. if I can’t play it like a game, I should at least be able to read it like a book).”
Brendan Keogh used McMaster’s post to understand his own feelings on Mountain. Meanwhile, Austin C Howe gave a short but sweet two-part rebuttal to one of McMaster’s headier claims: On Mountain and On Text Vs Form.
Time and Time Again
On the less philosophical side of things, Alex D Jones compared the passage of time in Mountain to another game called Durations. Mattie Brice talks about the lens through which she has been critiquing text games based on their use of time and pacing. Extra Credits has a new episode talking about how games elapse at different paces to signal if they are “traditional” or “weird”.
Aevee Bee jumps over from time into “space”. She wrote a great primer on the fighting game tournament EVO 2014, looking at a few of the featured games and how they define the control of space. Over in the meat world, Joseph Leray writes about soccer and the act of diving to communicate injustice. Robert Yang talks about communication through code in a “post-mod culture”.
Shoulds and Shouldn’ts
Shawn Olson argues that imbalance in games shouldn’t be taboo. Ansh argues anti-climactic endings shouldn’t be taboo. Nick Dinacola agrees, but says we should probably leave complex moral anti-climaxes until the end of a game.
Leigh Alexander asks if “joy” in games is actually more adult than violence, contrasting games like Flower and Katamari Damacy against games like Mortal Kombat. If you want more on the faux-adulthood of violence, Liana Kerzner puts GTA V’s“satire” on blast, while Patricia Hernandez investigates a GTA V “bikerclub”. On the other hand, if you want some more joy in your life, Heidi Kemps’ journey to find the secret origins of a lost Sonic the Hedgehog level is an incredible read.
Joe Köller reports in from… uh, the Alps? Foreign correspondence covers the last month or so this time around.
A new issue of the local games bookazine WASD is out. There’s a substantial preview available to make your buying decision easier, and articles have already started appearing on other sites, such as this introduction to licensed firearms in shooters by Michael Schulze von Glasser, or an anonymous free-to-play insider getting even.
On that note, students from an online journalism program have been trying their hands at games criticism on the site, and the sum of their work is well worth a look.
Maria Kutscherow wrote about Beyond: Two Souls as an autobiography co-created between player and game. Robert Glashüttner talks Valiant Hearts, serious games, and simplified history. We mentioned Nina Kiel’s Gender in Games book before, but now some preview sections have finally made it to her homepage. Also, Helga Hansen reviewed the book for Herzteile.
Slightly old news at this point, but Valentina Hirsch has a response to the lack of female assassins in Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In more recent news, Robert Bannert recently wrote about the stereotypical depiction of men in games, concluding that cliches are simply an essential part of storytelling. Sanczny swiftly responds with an analysis of his arguments.
Structure of Games
Nick Lalone lays down some “Principles of Simulation”, going through what works and doesn’t work when creating a simulation. Luke Pullen talks about the world-simulation Civilization and what it’s structure entails, in particular calling out “the way that colonisation prevents rather than incites native uprisings”. Simon Winters talks about how Earthbound’s unique Mu Training sequence and the structure it uses horrify and confuse the player. Sam Zucchi talks about horror in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. William Hughes talks about the function of repetition in games. William Hughes talks about the function of repetiti—sorry.
Katherine St Asaph gives a rundown of a New York Times article on Interactive Fiction (“There’s a distinct whiff of the trendpiece”). Merritt Kopas has more details about how great hypertext is.
Lindsey Joyce examines The Last Of Us by looking at the role of Ellie. S. Delling Dyre talks about how romance and sex are always intertwined in Bioware games. Miguel Penabella talks about how difficult it is to get proper preservation of video games.
Finally, Samantha Allen talks about the difficulty of teaching someone the intricacies of Mario Kart 8.
(Content Note: Discussion of Harassment)
On a personal note, Samantha has decided to exit the games writing space due to an interminable campaign of harassment. She isn’t the first woman to exit games writing for this reason, and won’t be the last: Laura Michet wrote this piece about her experience getting harassed out of writing. Samantha has always written excellent essays full of humor and insight, and I’m sorry to see her go.
At Critical Distance, we are extremely concerned with the elevation of voices not traditionally heard in the video games space. It’s hard to find people willing to speak out when dedicated campaigns of harassment are launched out of sites like Reddit and 4chan. These harassments are explicitly gendered and/or racist. They are horrifying and pervasive. They need to stop. We can’t keep losing great writers because Reddit and 4chan perceive them as a threat.
Then, There Is No Mountain
Well, we’ve reached the peak of this week’s roundup. I hope the view we’ve afforded you of this week’s writings in video games was worth the trek.
Have a safe trip down, and we’ll see you next week! – Zach A