This week is all about those big, open spaces: the endless expanse of a procedurally-generated universe, the mysterious depths of the ocean, and the reimagined streets of a Pokemon-enriched city.
We start with escapism and its opposite. How do we cope when we are in a place that hurts us? What if that place is home?
- Magazine: Firmware | Deorbital (Content warning: war, violence)
It is difficult to find the right words to introduce Wasim Salman’s poem about violent videogames in Lebanon. Nothing I can say can measure up to the experiences described in this piece.
- The Unsteady Steadying The Unsteady | Cara Ellison
Cara Ellison reflects on the different kinds of escapism offered by videogames during a time of tragedy.
- Opened World: Nowhere Fast | Haywire Magazine (Spoilers for Three Fourths Home)
Miguel Penabella discusses Three Fourths Home in conversation with other recent games that make expressive use of American landscapes and nature.
“The flat, panoramic expanses of Nebraska would seem to represent openness and boundless freedom, but for Kelly, that world is a place of regression and personal oppression. That she’s confined to the cramped space of her car for the entire duration of her trip further aggravates that feeling.”
Patch the Pantheon
Next, some examinations of the institutions that we are part of, wish we could be part of, or engage with but never really understand.
- Patch The Process | Rami Ismail
Rami Ismail has been educating the press and the public about day-one patches. Here is one example, from his own blog.
- The Britney Spears iPhone Game Is Weirdly Depressing | Kotaku
Gita Jackson has been doing a stellar job at Kotaku this weekend, and I have restrained myself from choosing more than a couple of the excellent pieces she has published there. In this one, she reflects on the uncanny fantasy of celebrity life.
- Why We Write About Games | Kotaku
Gita Jackson, Amr Al-Aaser and Dante Douglas share notes on their journeys into games criticism.
- The Custodian #1: DOOM | Orbytl (BETA)
Adam Condra talks DOOM, classical rhetoric, and Ebert’s perfect bowel movement.
“Where did games exhibit the utmost of Classical traits, the Trivium: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness? What games would I put alongside Herodotus, Milton, and the Epic of Gilgamesh? Even in their larval stage, which games, what gaming concepts, could entrench themselves confidently in the pantheon beside the Norse eddas, Homer’s poetry, and the Mathematical innovations of the Fertile Crescent? To put it in more current terms, could Martin Luther have produced the 95 Theses with a game jam?”
Between feminism, fantasy and flirting, these pieces look at the ways that we actively create the worlds we inhabit, with some lessons on how we can create worlds that are more livable and loving.
- From Dyad to Triad: On Systems, Story, and Players | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Alisha Karabinus proposes a feminist technology studies approach to games criticism.
- Writing Romance in (non-Romance) Games: Branching Romances | Gamasutra: Alexander Freed’s Blog
Alexander Freed has written an extremely in-depth guide to writing romance sub-plots.
- Putting the magic back into fantasy games | Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell looks at some magic systems from fantasy literature that he would like to see in videogames.
- How our game about women is inspiring conversations about masculinity | Go Make Me a Sandwich
Finally, this post about a work-in-progress tabletop game highlights how design can facilitate critical self-reflection
“So I leaned forward and asked, “so just to be clear, you’re getting your other squad mates to help you police her behavior because of how she looks?”. The player in question agreed that was an accurate summary, so I said, “awesome. That’s super toxic. Please roll to Resist the Shadow.” The player looked surprised for a second, then nodded his agreement and rolled the move, and afterward we had a pretty cool conversation about it!”
No Man is an Island, Ocean, or Sky
(Spoilers for Debris, No Man’s Sky and Abzu)
Exploration, open worlds and vast nothingness have captured people’s imaginations more than anything else this week, with a number of games inspiring a sense of connection and wonderment
- Debris | vextro
leeroy lewin praises the aesthetics of the wide open and the pitch black.
“Debris is a visual aid, an interactive song. A gentle music transformed into a terrifying confession, a full marriage of very conflicting and dissonant aesthetics. A nothingness that demands the attention. A terrifying experience treated as another day at work.”
- Abzû immerses you in a beautiful ocean and lets nature run its course | The A.V. Club
Nick Wanserski describes how Abzu represents and encourages graceful shifts between different modes of perception.
- Abzû Is A Rare Game That Helps Players Feel Connected To Nature
Keza MacDonald describes a sense of wonder and mystery, and makes a call for more games that help us to feel a part of larger ecological worlds.
“Like space, the deep ocean is a metaphor for the unknown. We don’t know what’s down there, and unless we spend a great deal of money and time training to dive down with oxygen tanks strapped to our backs and water pressure compressing our fragile lungs and vessels, we will never get to see it up close.”
- Full Disclosure: Pokemon GO | Haywire Magazine
Taylor Hidalgo expresses the value of Pokemon Go, in the opposite direction to how you might expect such a review to be written.
- What ‘Pokemon Go’ and ‘Skyrim’ Have in Common | PopMatters
Nick Dinicola highlights game design techniques that encourage a sense of discovery.
“The compass in Skyrim was meant to point us towards interesting locations. Lots of time and effort went into designing that world, and the developers wanted to help us see as much of it as we could. The PokeStops in Pokemon Go might not have been designed with that same specific intent, but the resulting feelings of exploration and discovery are the same. I’m still drawn to things that might otherwise go overlooked. It’s actually shocking how much art surrounds us at all times that we don’t notice, little works of creativity that give the world a human touch.”
No Man’s Sky
- What No Man’s Sky means for the future of open world games | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information (video: auto-captions)
Danielle Riendeau argues that infinity is a tricky thing to make use of as a designer.
- No Man’s Sky. (Emphasis on “Man”) | Outside Your Heaven
Matthew Weise calls out the colonial hubris of human exploration in alien worlds.
- No Man’s Sky review: beautifully crafted galaxy with a game attached | Technology | The Guardian
Jordan Erica Webber takes a more measured stance, arguing that while the game mechanics seem arbitrary, they do the job of keeping you engaged.
“These interactions are comparatively shallow, but they’re enough for now. The developers have struck a difficult balance, providing reasons to keep playing without overcomplicating or distracting too much from the joy of exploration.”
And with that, I will vanish into the vast expanse of the open sky until next weekend. If you want to stay connected to a bigger ecosystem of critical writing, you can send us links to material that you have discovered on your travels. Our own explorations of the bewildering universe of online writing are supported by the community through Patreon, and we are so grateful to everybody who pitches in. Thank you for your support.