Since Eric’s monumental send-off to 2014 we’ve been taking it easy for a few weeks. You guys, on the other hand, have been set an excellent tone for 2015. So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into This Week in Videogame Blogging!
Such Mechanic. Very Game.
A veritable games-crit supergroup came together on Twitter to discuss ludo-centrism, or the domination of play in critical discourse. Special thanks to Landon S for capturing the chaos in a storify.
Lulu Blue on her blog, erogamzo, elaborates on the interplay between play and context as the most crucial point of focus:
Much like a face drawn from lines, game systems carry assumptions made by their creators. If a man sets out to draw a woman and he idealizes a certain beauty standard, he’s likely to draw women which conform to this beauty standard. If the same man sets out to make an rpg, he’s likely to fabricate a world which systematically expresses these ideas about women as well.
As a part of her argument, Blue explains just how the relationships between systems and context inevitably push ideology to the surface.
Daniel Parker speaks the devil’s name into the mirror three times in a related discussion and offers his own take, suggesting that compromising narrative to offer an illusion of play cheapens a game:
Games that employ post-cutscene design ideology tend to be marketed as ‘immersive experiences’ with ‘living, breathing worlds.’ Bioshock Infinite is not a living, breathing world; it is a flashy museum with freaky animatronics.
The Buyer Knows Best
Media philosopher Ian Bogost ended 2014 skeptical of Eric Zimmerman’s “ludic century,” suggesting that instead of dominating our culture, maybe games should just be a small part of our ever complicating lives:
We don’t have to scorn games (or comics, or YA fiction) to feel a little embarrassed at the prospect of a century with them at the center of the media ecosystem. And on the flip side, we don’t have to discard games (or comics, or YA fiction) to scratch our heads at the wisdom of feeling satisfied by them.
At Kill Screen, Ray Graham explores depictions of torture in light of exposed CIA documents and wonders how culpable games are in the widely held (but misinformed) belief that torture is an effective method of gathering information.
At Sufficiently Human, our own Lana Polansky writes that game design is too wrapped up in the fantasy of wealth accumulation to actually communicate anything meaningful. According to Polansky, the time may be to look outside of big-budget commercial games for a meaningful conversation.
Through a Glass, Darkly
Over at Salon, Arthur Chu interviews Tanya DePass, creator of the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag, about gaming’s insulation, representation and diversity:
[O]n the one hand it is kind of trivial to focus on video games right now, but the other side of it is — if I want to escape from the real world, I don’t want to escape to a world where no one looks like me, because that tells me that I don’t matter. Because even in a pixel world, I don’t get to exist.
Recent events may have undercut the positivity that has come out of DePass’s work but it’s important to acknowledge efforts like hers.
Elsewhere, Steve Lubitz of Multiball discusses how Wolfenstein: The New Order portrays its Jewish characters with surprising grace:
My issue is that when games attempt to include Jewish characters they often do it so poorly that I end up wishing they hadn’t tried in the first place. Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the first (possibly the only) game I’ve played that took the time to include a Jewish character and elements of Judiasm as a whole without devolving into lazy, offensive stereotypes, and that’s something that I truly appreciate.
Upon Closer Inspection
Maggie Greene takes to her blog to compare Tales of Xillia to Chinese literary traditions. Specifically, she looks at multiple endings and the effort to capture both tragic compromise and fairy tale and fan-fiction happiness ever-after.
Isaac Yuen revisits Mother 3 at Ekostories and discusses what the mixed aesthetic means for the game:
What I love about MOTHER 3 is that the entire package exists as a contradiction. [Creator Shigesato] Itoi’s insistence to use the videogame medium to tell a story that is structured like a play… The insertion of surreal and bizarre humour into serious moments. The fearless reliance of musical motifs or wordless silence to carry the emotional weight of pivotal scenes. The choice of child-like visuals to convey a narrative steeped in adult matters of grief, loss, and the inevitability of change.
At Words That Won’t Sell, Ed Smith offers a psychodynamic analysis of Lone Survivor in which he unpacks symbols of guilt, sex and parenthood through the game. Smith then pops over to Shut Up Videogames to tackle the juvenile nihilism of Desert Golfing (content warning: discussions of depression and suicide).
At Red Thumbs, The Lenin of Love takes the time to observe the subtle humanity in the mundane citizenry of the Metro series. As the author explains, Metro rewards the player only when they stop and note the people around them, “we are offered salvation through the simple act of caring.”
Damned if You Do
Our resident potato cryogenist, Zach Alexander, gives a brief but meaty analysis of the doomed kingdom in Unrest. Under the game’s circumstances, Alexander pities the game’s antagonist:
He tried lenience, he tried cruelty, but in the end there was no decision that could stave off the collapse of the city. Unlike many villain’s speeches, this holds up on a replay of the game.
From her own blog of the same name, Melody Meows unpacks systems of poverty in Three-Fourths Home:
The Meyers started off as a humble family, that much is clear. But it seems that they tried to participate in an archetypical narrative which promised them that the future generation, i.e. Kelly and her younger brother Ben, would move up in society, and that attempt is the root cause of all their present problems.
As she explains, the barrier of entry prohibits many gamers from truly understanding poverty, but Three-Fourths Home nonetheless illustrates how the myth of meritocracy traps working class families like the game’s Meyers family more than it helps them.
We have four different authors dissecting four different entries in the Final Fantasy series.
Stephen Beirne starts with a continuation of his look at cinematic framing in Final Fantasy VII.
Nate Ewert-Krocker revisits Final Fantasy Tactics as the story of the central character learning and acting against his societal privilege.
Ashe Samuels turns an intersectional feminist eye to an old favourite, Final Fantasy IX to document its success and the failures.
And Dara Khan explores the relaxing and unique soundtrack of Final Fantasy X.
Paste, certainly among the finest games crit locales, features an excellent essay by Janine Hawkins on the hauntingly empty hissing wastes in Dragon Age: Inquisition. As Hawkins describes it:
There is something everywhere in a game. There has to be, because someone somewhere spent hours building the form and rules to sustain five seconds of “nothing”. In reality, the Hissing Wastes are full of things to stumble upon, but there is no flag to plant by a statue half-lost to the creeping sands. There’s no quest marker for watching the silhouette of a fox cresting a ridge in front of the imposing milk-white disk of the moon.
Kate Cox has her own thoughts on Inquisition, observing that none of the detached protagonists of the series so far tie the games together as a central character. Rather, the fantastical tale of Thedas might really be swirling around Ser Cullen, a minor character playing an ever more prominent role in the series:
[Cullen], not the Inquisitor, is the voice of the player’s memory even if the Inquisitor is the voice of the player’s present and conscience. And he is arguably a solid stand-in romantic hero: the knight-errant, on a Maker-given mission — of atonement, of justice, of victory.
Last word can be found on Todd Harper’s blog in a NSFW comparison of Dragon Age: Inquisition to North American attitudes to penis size.
You Want Me to Do What Now?
Over at Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon describes the process of teaching her mother how to play Telltale’s Game of Thrones. It didn’t go well, but it demonstrates how inaccessible games are to those without years of practice in them:
She just didn’t have it and I couldn’t teach it to her. It is something that can only come with practice.
Cara Ellison continues her S.EXE column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun with an in-depth look at 1988’s Romantic Encounters at the Dome. Ellison applauds it as a sex game that actually targets adults, rather than a series of dick jokes, and admires its rough edges that capture a slice of late eighties life:
This is really a man’s fantasy of what a woman wants from a man -– and my mind does these strange backflips. It is probably one of the most interesting sex scenes I’ve played through, apart from Coming Out On Top of course. It’s like being in a man’s head as he tries to fuck you, in an almost cyberpunk manner. It’s slightly neurotic, slightly melancholy. It’s just so weird.
Those looking to write the best passage of 2015, that’s the one to beat.
Dispatches from Vienna
And now, a few words from foreign correspondent Joe Köller on what’s happening in the German games blogosphere:
Local “bookazine” and games writing power house WASD has a new issue out. Here’s a preview for your perusal, and at Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl has reposted the entirety of his article from the collection.
Paidia, a German academic e-journal in game studies, has released their latest issue as well, on the subject of gender and games. Two highlights for your consideration: Maike Groen tackles women and esports and Franziska Ascher takes on the fire-keepers of Dark Souls.
Elsewhere, Denise Linke writes about disability, accessibility and custom controllers, Christof Zurschmitten shares ten thoughts (give or take) on Stephen ‘thecatamites’ Murphy’s 50 Short Games, and Agata Góralczyk talks about mental illness in games, and memories of her grandmother.
Seen some good German (or French or Dutch) games writing lately? We are always looking for submissions! Check out our guidelines at the foot of this post.
Is Anybody Out There?
Before we wrap this up we have a few signals to boost:
Memory Insufficient’s latest issue about alternative history has also hit the digital shelves. Also, perhaps you’d like to submit an essay for their next issue, language and games history.
Merritt Kopas’s latest project, Soft Chambers, promotes quiet, human moments in games over the active, competitive and mechanized dominant attitudes toward them.
Emily Short compiled a massive list of interactive fiction competitions, anthologies and shows. Definitely a great resource for any IF writers looking to learn more about the community and form.
Lastly, on January 17-18, the crews of the Spawn Point and Spawn on Me podcasts are joining to host a Twitch stream. Here’s some more about that:
This happening will provide a deliberate space for you to have fun with the community, and to reflect on the unequal way people of color, and specifically African-American people, are treated by law enforcement. We will support the families of those that were lost by donating to the Eric Garner Fund, and The New York Lawyers Guild that continues to organize protests and bail funds for those imprisoned for exercising their 1st Amendment rights on this matter.
It seems like a great way to build community while supporting a cause.
That’ll Do, Pig. That’ll Do.
As always, it’s been a pleasure to share another week’s worth of videogame blogging with you all. If ever you find something that we ought to feature we happily take requests by email and Twitter!
And don’t forget to take a look at this month’s Blogs of the Round Table, where we want to know what you think about “Player Choice.”
Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership! If you like what we do and want to support our effort to find and preserve games criticism, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation!