Welcome to this week’s late summer feast of writing on games, semiotics, and dogs. 


First we address the moral questions explored in interactive fiction, as two critics play the politics of enlightenment.

“There are lots of things that the player doesn’t know or that the player character can’t avoid: this is not a power fantasy, but a story of moral responsibility. I found myself getting a bit anxious about the fact that I might be making errors that would cause genuine and upsetting problems for the characters in the long run.”


Moving on, these essays consider different problems around how we relate to other beings, from the loneliness of an empty universe to the terror of parenting.

“… recent iterations of horror have the potential to explore motherhood in more complex ways, ways that do not necessarily perpetuate mother-blaming and mother-shaming. Such potential, though, seems to be hard to come by in the narratives of video games, at least for now, and I hope that we might eventually have the opportunity to play games that feature mother characters that are not either simply demonized or victimized”


Examining portrayals of men, these posts consider the social codes behind the aesthetics of the male body.

“Cobb discusses the mentor situation he shared with Cohen directly, but also hints at something else: “I used to love you, I used to think you were a musical genius. You know why? Because you paid my rent, you ancient hack!” Love here could well hint at something sexual, but not necessarily. Emotions run high in Rapture, and among artists, the stereotype is that emotions are allowed to explode all over the place. However, the specific use of the word, in a world which doesn’t seem to flippantly use it, automatically made me examine the relationship and further words spoken.”


Time and history are examined in these articles looking at how games mediate pacing and memory.

“If I told you Battlefield 1 is a vertical game, you might think I’m talking about buildings — I’m not. Where other games build up, Battlefield 1 digs down. Environmental destruction has more to do with the ground itself. Bombs, howitzers, and tank guns blast huge craters in the earth, transforming the battlefield into a pockmarked wilderness.”


Videogame adaptations of films are given close critical attention here, taking them seriously as interpretive works that extend a movie’s storytelling into a different medium.

  • Vol 6, No 1 (2016)
    The new issue of Wide Screen Journal features a number of fantastic essays, including one by Cameron Kunzelman about different approaches to videogame film adaptations – a topic you may remember from a video that we mentioned here a while back.
  • Mad Max and the Pursuit of Hope (Content warning: violence against women)
    Lasse Lund discusses how the Mad Max game creates a sense of desperation.

“Hope is something every human longs for, no matter how bleak their situation. In his adventures, Max comes across a number of different characters who, despite their hellish living conditions, have found fragments of hope that drive them to endure and survive.”


In two guides on different aspects of game design, writers bring up the importance of the unseen and unmentioned.

“If your player doesn’t understand why they’re in your dank dead-end cave or barren room with nothing but a creepily gesturing mannequin in the corner, you risk losing them in the story or the flow of the action. Under the right circumstances, though, the empty room can be a deeply moving space, an opportunity to fill a game with implicit history and time and soul.”


This is your brain in space.

“… difficult conclusions arise as a result of considering the universe and human existence as having been the result of random chance. The word teleology is derived from the Greek word for “purpose” (telos), and indeed, it is purpose that one questions in a randomly generated universe. Human beings like ends, goals, and purposes. They make our existence seem important, or to be rather circular about it, they make our existence seem purposeful.”


Relationships between games and capital come out in these pieces looking at portrayals of financial and personal growth.

“In simulating learning, many games rely heavily on precise numbers and meters. We should be cautious about quantifying and thus reducing real-world learning in the same way. Not everything that can be measured is worth learning, and not everything that’s worth learning can be measured.”

Critical Distance roundups just like this one are made possible thanks to the support of readers just like you. Please consider becoming a patron or submitting recommendations.