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Minisode 10 – Abstract Aesthetics

More undiscussed games on the Critical Distance Confab.

For those who may not know, the purpose behind these minisodes is highlight some games, 3 a piece, that haven’t got a lot criticism or any criticism at all. The hope being that it will inspire some of you to go out, play them and write something about them. The games we highlight run the gamut from art games, through prestige level indie games, right on through AAA games that might have slipped through the cracks.

Co-hosting with me this month is critic, Heather Alexandra.

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Heather’s Picks


April 24th

…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…

December 11th

…for a podcast with the Brainy Gamer himself, Michael Abbott.

Next stop, MIT’s GAMBIT Lab, featuring a three-part talk on games as an aesthetic form.

This leads us into our first major topic of the week, aesthetics. It’s a theme next followed up by James Hawkins at Joystick Division, as he takes us on an excellent breakdown of the comparative aesthetic and narrative strategies of indie game darlings Bastion and Limbo:

This is where the strength of the video game medium truly shines. We’re given two adventure stories about unremarkable children set inside ruinous places, searching to restore something

Discover a Critical Culture

…culture. And most importantly, Critical Distance made me feel like I could be a part of the conversation, inviting me to participate in its Blogs of the Round Table and submit my work to This Week in Videogame Blogging.

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Jenn Frank Lana Polansky Zolani Stewart Sex History Labor Racism Bodies Narratives Aesthetics

Through Critical Distance, I’ve learned about games and sex, games and history, games and labor, games and racism, games and bodies, games and narratives, games and aesthetics. Regardless of whether or not games remain a part of my life for years to come, I know the…


…relationship between videogames and other art forms, but also repeatedly acknowledge that the game is not for everyone due to its at-times abrasive aesthetic sensibilities.

Essays on a Dying Town

Much akin to Fyfe’s blog post summarized above, Danill Leiderman approaches Pathologic through the lens of Eastern European aesthetics , though he takes a much more formally academic style. Also like Fyfe, Leiderman comparatively analyzes the original game alongside S.T.A.L.K.E.R. , however rather than using tourism as a metaphor to frame the two games, Leiderman instead digs a bit more specifically into their historical and political relevance:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Pathologic

Dark Souls

…art and architecture of the world.

“It’s hard to think of another game series that so readily quotes the masters of its art; confidently repurposing the weighty aesthetics and themes of gothic romanticism and yet still maintaining a taste for the weird and the comedic, for parody and perversity.”

In “ Visions of Hell: Dark Souls‘s Cultural Heritage “, Gareth Damian Martin traces the series’ artistic lineage through Friedrich, Kuniyoshi, Doré, and the manga Berserk . In “ Videogames and the Digital Baroque “, Roman Kalinovski writes:

“the worlds presented in the Souls games lack most surface trappings of the

May 21st

…on. The wealthy were afraid of giving up wealth, the town stayed transfixed on the past, on an ideal of a misremembered American dream.

At the end of everything

Four writers related their understanding of game narratives to specific mental states that games and other media can generate.

  • Janet Murray on why some players and critics still cannot tolerate narrative in games – First Person Scholar Janet Murray relates resistance to narrative analysis to Natasha Schull’s notion of the “machine zone”.
  • Costs | Problem Machine problemmachine proposes game design aesthetics that reflect entropy and decay.
  • I’m Scared of…

September 11th

…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.

  • Welcome to the age of videogame beards – Kill Screen Chris Priestman considers the aesthetics and semiotics of facial hair in games.
  • Queer Characters: BioShock | Vorpal Bunny Ranch Denis Farr explores queer coding and villainy in an essay originally written in 2011.

August 14th



  • 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

February 8th

…games (or anything) rather than to acknowledge that real differences in motivation, aesthetics, and political concern are at work.


Nobody wants to be accused of being part of the hegemon […] And sure, there are interlocutors who are dismissive in a manner that demands critique or even scorn. But that doesn’t make the very idea of such critiques detrimental or problematic, unless the purpose of the objection is to reframe the conversation around the my-favorite-formalism just mentioned. It also doesn’t mean the two “sides” must or even can find reconciliation! History is full of legitimate, unresolved intellectual and aesthetic…