It seems that class politics’ time has come in games criticism, with labor issues at the forefront of analyses of both the industry and its products this week.
Working conditions and practices have been a major topic of discussion, with a particular focus on crunch and overwork.
- Don Daglow: “I’m calling bullshit on core, mid-core and casual” | GamesIndustry.biz
GamesIndustry.biz reports on a games industry veteran’s remarks about gaming’s class divide.
- My Game (In One Long Sentence) | The Ludosphere
Altug Isigan provides a useful guide to describing a game in a single sentence.
- Microtransactions Arent Evil – Why Viridi is Free-to-play | Gamasutra blogs
Kevin Maxon shares thoughts on the aesthetics of free-to-play.
“In the goals/unlocks paradigm, the user grew a plant to unlock a variety. With a F2P model, the user would purchase a seedling to grow a plant. The task ? goal directionality is reversed. Instead of treating gardening like a job you do for some external reward, it treats it like a thing worth investing in for its own sake. Now, the onerous task is the unlock, and the earned reward is the ability to care for and slowly nurture the plant. The game is making a fundamentally different claim about what is a cost and what is valuable. Before, your time spent on Viridi was a cost, and the thing you got in return was some bullshit digital unlock—not the claim we wanted to make.”
- I am Alex St. John’s Daughter, and He is Wrong About Women in Tech | Medium (Content warning: harassment)
Amilia St. John writes a call-out post criticising her father’s attitude towards tech employees.
- Podcast: When Is ‘Crunch’ OK? (Audio, no transcript)
Kotaku’s Split Screen podcast discusses the week’s talking points on labor in tech.
- Passion | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short shares her perspective on healthy creative working practices
- Death March Crunches: 10 Causes and Solutions | Gamasutra blogs
Clinton Keith gives a practical guide to ethical management
- Game Dev Employees vs. Hobbyists vs. Entrepreneurs vs. Old-Schoolers vs. Everybody Else
Rampant Coyote contextualises the conflict about employment expectations in the games industry by explaining the different roles and working arrangements that might be involved in a project.
- A Productive Look at Burnout in the Games Industry (And Everywhere Else) | Prescription Pixel Blog
Prescription Pixel shares some advice and medical knowledge on crunch and burnout
” It is not medically reasonable to expect an employee to work beyond their functional capacity and still perform to their best standard. Providing an environment where employees are reasonably challenged but not overworked, with enough resources to satisfactorily do their job without having to work overtime, is essential in maintaining a positive psychological climate and subsequently increasing productivity. The more burned out you get, the less you are able to recognise how burned out you are (16).”
The harsh working conditions of the high-tech age are enough to make you want to go back to a simpler time, which is something plenty of people in games have been doing lately.
- Nostalgic reverie? April 2016 Critical Distance digest | Memory Insufficient
I’ve started doing digests for Memory Insufficient! Check out the first one here
- Let’s Play: Far Cry Primal Ep.2: An “Archaeological” Exploration | Play The Past
Philip Riris reveals the dirt and disease among prehistoric peoples.
- Future Games | The New Inquiry
Alfie Brown examines the nostalgic teleology of Stardew Valley’s agrarian fantasy.
- A landscape of memory; returning to Shadow of the Colossus | Kill Screen
Gareth Damian Martin discusses death, nostalgia and history with regard to Shadow of the Colossus
” Throughout the entirety of Shadow of the Colossus you will not encounter a single dead body, skeleton, or corpse. You will never follow a blood trail, or find signs of a struggle splattered across the walls of some dark corridor. Despite this, death is everywhere. It lies on open wastelands stripped bare by the wind, among the piled stones of distant shrines, and concealed in the darkest corners of long forgotten edifices. It’s one of the many design decisions that makes the game a true rarity.”
The subject of structured play itself as a form of work arises this week with regard to grinding as well as how the rise of multiplayer modes effectively has players replacing the work that used to be done by AI programmers.
- Every Decision is Wrong: Social Anxiety and The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne
Joel Couture examines the anxiety-simulating narrative mechanics of The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne.
- Artificial intelligence and real emotion | Tobold’s blog
Tobold addresses the paucity of powerful AIs in gaming, with reference to our changing expectations regarding online sociality; ironically, on one of the few games blogs that can claim to have nurtured a healthy culture of debate in the comments.
- Bridging Worlds | Videogame tourism
Eron Rauch concludes a series of posts on “workified games”.
- Final Fantasy XII and the glory of the grind | Kill Screen
Clayton Purdom explores the aesthetics of grinding in one of the more sidelined Final Fantasy games.
“Many words have been written about why people play the games they do, and the lure of a grind is one of the clearest places to see those motivations at work. Why, exactly, would someone suffer such monotony? We also call going to work “a grind,” after all.”
Writing on representation has this week addressed the question of not just who is being portrayed, but who is being given agency.
- Clique is a game about facing prejudice | Polygon
Colin Campbell reports on a game in development that offers an alternative not just to gaming’s stereotyped black characters, but to the dominance of white cultural signifiers.
- Unpacking Rust, Race, and Player Reactions to Change | Antenna (Content warning: racism)
Adrienne Shaw unpacks the fallout from Rust’s assignment of skin color at random to player avatars.
- Are LGBT Characters “Forced” Into Games? | YouTube (Video, captions auto-generated)
Rantasmo provides a useful framework for discussing inclusivity with regard to minor characters
- Why All the Hate?: A History of Internet Trolls | Unwinnable (Content warning: harassment)
Megan Condis gives us a bitesized run-down of how trolling began and why it has intensified.
“The game of trolling was a simple way to teach these new users how to conduct themselves online by rewarding those who quickly adapted to the preferred communicative modes and punishing (and often driving away) those who did not.”
Agency also comes to light in writing about the different roles the player can take on, from modder to director to participant in history.
- Mitu’s Blog | The Tiniest Shark
Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris presents a pretty excellent and didactic example of modding as games criticism
- Podcast Episode 62: “Faith has been a huge part of my journey” with Navid Khonsari | Gamechurch.com (Audio, no transcript)
Jonathan R. Clauson discusses game design as social history with the creator of 1979 Revolution.
- The joys of taking a shower and sipping coffee in Indigo Prophecy | Kill Screen
David Chandler addresses the director’s gaze in David Cage’s early project.
- Heart attacks and doggy treats: the PS2’s most bizarre horror game | Kill Screen
Zach Budgor details the dysmorphic terror of Haunting Ground
“by removing player agency at critical moments, Haunting Ground commits to Fiona’s subjectivity. The formal elements of the game—sound, image, control—bend to her psychological state, rather than offering clarity to the player. This expressionism reflects the murkier ideas of violation, transgression, and bodily autonomy running through the narrative.”
The work and play of creating a space is addressed through writing on art installations, survivalism, and sausages.
The first issue of new magazine Art/Games is out, featuring Skot Deeming and Hannah Epstein among others, discussing gallery installations, dystopias, and maker spaces.
- Far Cry Primal’s Survivor Mode Makes The Game Feel Complete
Kirk Hamilton argues that Far Cry Primal is at its best when improvising under tough conditions.
- Too Long; Didn’t Play: Cities: Skylines | Gamers With Jobs
Greg Decker pens a creative homage to the much-loved city-builder.
- Stephen’s Sausage Roll review – sizzling pork has never been this challenging | Technology | The Guardian
The real meat of this fiery review is Jordan Erica Webber’s playful skewering of the formalist indie game design orthodoxy.
“If you’re determined enough to see that process through, the experience can be euphoric. It’s doubtful you’ll ever have had such an emotional response to a perfectly cooked sausage.”
Different titles present different ways of being a friend and a fighter. These three pieces read two games against each other to better understand how mechanics and aesthetics relate to the dynamics of belonging to an army, a society or a friendship group.
- Why Nintendo’s Miitomo app understands friendship better than Twitter | Technology | The Guardian
Ria Jenkins compares the pleasures of Miitomo and Twitter.
- Common Battlegrounds: Comparing The Division and Freedom Fighters | The Ontological Geek
Yussef Cole presents an excellent analysis of how class and race play out in two similarly-themed games about New York in crisis.
- Experiencing War Beyond Normative Institutions | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Ashley J. Velázquez compares the politics of Call of Duty and This War of Mine.
“Not only are aspects of gender present, but generational constructs are as well. Grandparents, parents, and children are all bodies experiencing war in varied ways, challenging the normative perceptions of what war is, what war means, what war does, and who survives war.”
Discussions on the gendered (and species-dependent) division of emotional labor emerge in writing on relationships in game narratives.
- Even More Daddy Issues: Fatherhood and Gendered Labor in The Last of Us | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti critiques the tropes of dad games.
- Jak and Daxter: the search for Player Two | Kill Screen
Jess Joho draws a parallel between video games and companion species
- Nadia: Rise of the Tomb Raider DLC’s Surprise MVP | remeshed.com
Cora Walker praises the development of friendships between women in the latest Tomb Raider games.
- Three Solutions to Three Problems in Interactive Fiction | Gamasutra blogs
Ron Newcomb argues that interactive fiction should build its impact on players’ relationships with characters.
“The solution here is to aim at a different set of emotions entirely. Traditional narratives typically aim at basic emotions like fear, sadness, or happiness, but do so by empathy. The happy audience member is happy because the heroes are happy. Interactive fiction best aims at second-order emotions like guilt, pride, or guardianship. These emotions share a social component in that they are reactions to society’s assumed reaction to one’s own actions. For the interactive author their social basis is less important than their origin in one’s own actions. “
Dark Souls 3
The multiplayer modes of Dark Souls 3 bring up more specific questions about what kind of work we do for each other in games.
- Dark Souls 3‘s multiplayer is a very different, absolutely brilliant take on online • Eurogamer.net
Rich Stanton explains how Dark Souls 3 shakes up the multiplayer formula to create a more intense and more accessible experience.
- The Joy Of Helping Other Players Survive Dark Souls 3
Patrick Klepek describes his enjoyment of the less-discussed Dark Souls multiplayer feature.
“You don’t often feel like a hero in Dark Souls. Even after taking down a tough boss, the feeling is exasperation and relief. But you get to play that part when summoned to another world.”
Finally, further writing focusing on narrative in games explores the work of the storyteller, be that a character in the story, the authors themselves, or the players.
- Person to Person: Reading People through Video Games | PopMatters
Boen Wang discusses relating to authors via their work
- Gynohorror — Optional Asides | Medium
Amsel von Spreckelsen writes a very NSFW but deeply insightful psychological analysis of Bloodborne
- I’m Not Calling You a Liar: Complicated Canon & Unreliable Narrators in ‘Dragon Age II’ | FemHype
Charlotte uncovers the layers of ambiguity in Bioware’s storytelling.
- Shadow of Destiny, the PS2 game ahead of (and behind) its time | Kill Screen
Alexander Kriss examines the Faust of videogames
“Homunculus essentially stands as a proxy for the game designer, feeding you convenient hints for how to approach the improbable solutions to each of your deaths. “Why not try the library?” it suggests. “Oops! I guess it’s the art museum now…” Until now, you have been assuming that these hints are the only way to approach the problem, and that once addressed there is nothing else for you to see or do. In effect, you have given up your personal agency in the service of this digital creation. “Upon the creatures we have made,/ We are, ourselves, at last dependent.”“
And with that, I’ll be clocking out for the day. As always, you can support Critical Distance with financial contributions (Patreon, Paypal) or link recommendations (twitter, email).