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This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Adam Saltsman on how Shinji Mikami's Vanquish is the Wachowskis' Speed Racer of games.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

April 28, 2014

5 Min Read

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the sound design of Ico to Adam Saltsman on how Shinji Mikami's Vanquish is the Wachowskis' Speed Racer of games. Sound Advice Liz England offers up a useful analogy for thinking about the role of the game designer. Meanwhile, former theatrical sound designer Sara Clemens shares a story on Videodame of a particular sound bug in Ico and how such errors can have a catastrophic effect on a game’s emotional storytelling. The Go Make Me a Sandwich blog continues its series on how to combat offensive game design, with a particular focus on race and depictions of Asia/Asians, the latter co-written with Chris Chinn. Very useful in general for thinking about the art and character direction of your games. Wise Mind Skills Content warning: the links in this section deal with traumatic personal events such as depression, suicide and child loss. Midnight Resistance has an anonymous entry from an expectant couple who, having experienced a lost pregnancy, found a means to cope through games. Elsewhere, Errant Signal's Chris Franklin compares and contrasts Actual Sunlight and Depression Quest, two recent semi-autobiographical games about living with depression, and analyses how each approaches its subject and informs the other. (End content warning section.) One Step Forward, Two Steps Back Nate Ewert-Krocker blows the dust off an old favorite from the 1990s and finds a case of gender, sexual and racial representation that exceeds much of today's offerings. Meanwhile, Ontological Geek continues its Romance Month with this essay from Sara Davis, who criticizes the treatment of fantasy races in Mass Effect and Dragon Age as 'sex classes':

[T]hat is precisely what troubles me about the sexualization of certain races in BioWare fantasy worlds. Sexual and racial discrimination is written into these games in a way that shows awareness of and sensitivity to real-world social inequality [...] But the games want to have it both ways: characters like Liara may exhibit agency and self-determination, but like most romanceable NPCs, her ultimate purpose is to give in. For that reason and because her entire species is designed for the galaxy’s pleasure, her resistance is largely ornamental. This picturesque struggle with systemic oppression is the best case scenario for the sex class: even if you play the game for purity points, your playable character and yourself are made complicit in the fantasy world's objectification of its sexualized demographic.

The news isn't so hot elsewhere either. On her personal blog, Kate Reynolds recently dug into Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls and discovered that the game subconsciously eases its players into participating in certain patriarchal tropes. And Irish critic Stephen Beirne seeks to pin down why the sexualized violence of Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes feels so dissonant compared to its predecessors (content warning: discussion of rape, body mutilation):

Why was it that when Volgin beat the life out of Naked Snake in MGS3, I was ready to murder him? Why was it that when Solid Snake crawled through the microwave corridor in MGS4, my heart was in my throat? It was because these felt like natural agents and circumstances colliding together, so I was enrapt in the narrative. MGS has used the brutalization of beloved characters to fantastic effect in years past. In the here and now, [a woman]’s torment in GZ feels like the hand of Kojima moving pieces around a board to be edgy and, in a twisted way, cool. It left me a little frightened, but mostly cold and distant.

Redeemers and Wastelands Problem Attic developer Liz Ryerson shares a poetic rumination on the darker side of the boyish 'great outdoors' narratives of Zelda games. And on a public Pastebin, Canabalt developer Adam Saltsman has dropped a great essay comparing Shinji Mikami's critically dismissed Vanquish with the Wachowski siblings' Speed Racer, as two works of little-understood, self-contained masterpiece. (He's absolutely right, at least about Speed Racer.) Also, on her own site, Katherine Cross has a great piece on religion, the Greek concept of tuche, and how Alpha Centauri avoids defaulting to cliches as it explores an ideological spectrum. Easy Mode Links in this section bear a content warning for sexual harassment, including rape and death threats. On The Mary Sue, game developer Brianna Wu has some harsh words for GitHub's so-called 'investigation' into a recent sexual harassment scandal, and notes that it's the latest notch in a well-worn belt for women in software development:

This is not a story with a happy ending. The message is chilling for women in software development: you can be destroyed at any moment. No one is coming to help you. Your harassers will say what they have to say, but the only person suffering fallout will be you.

On Polygon, Jonathan McIntosh lays out in plain language much the same criticism of male privilege as other articles have done, but using an approach I find quite effective -- he unpacks his invisible knapsack.

I want to emphasize that this list is not meant to suggest that everything is always a cakewalk for male gamers. Male critics, developers, and gamers are also at times bullied or subjected to online nastiness, but it is not based on or because of our gender. This is a critical distinction. The pattern of unearned advantage also does not mean that all men are powerful as individuals or that all women are powerless as individuals. It simply means that men in gamer culture can, on average, count on these advantages, whereas women can not.

(End content warning section.) Oooh I don't know where else to file this, but I hardly know how to resist linking to something about these two. At Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Cara Ellison profiles Tale of Tales husband-and-wife team Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey, covering how the couple met, their early forays into interactive performance art, and the sensuality that has become a trademark of their games. That's all for this week! Thanks for joining us. Remember, we really love receiving your submissions by Twitter mention and our email submissions form. And hey -- Critical Distance is entirely funded through the generous support of readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help us escape this hell-dimension labyrinth with our skin still mostly intact, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

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