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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Mordor to gameplay as dialect

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from gameplay as dialect to the terrorism of Shadow of Mordor.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from gameplay as dialect to the terrorism of Shadow of Mordor. Design Notes At his blog Just Delete It, James Earl Cox offers an interesting analysis on the four kinds of "metafiction" in games, which he defines as self-aware fiction meant to mediate player suspension of disbelief. Meanwhile, at Kotaku, GB Burford shares a fascinating long-form essay on the Dead Space series and how the games, moreso than creating a language with its various components, create a unique and memorable "dialect" through mechanics, art, sound design and more.

Even though a crafting system [in Dead Space 3] sounds interesting and cool, it kills engagement. When players don't have to think about what guns to bring, what items to carry, or what order to engage enemies in, the game reduces its vocabulary. It becomes flat and boring. Dead Space 3 has the vocabulary of a caveman's poetry. Dead Space 1 and 2, comparatively, were the combined works of Shakespeare.
And at Joystiq, Anthony John Agnello has a quirky series of interviews with some artists on the lost art of fighting game backgrounds. Press X to Precious On Polygon, Zach Gage draws focus to the tutorial for Shadow of Mordor, in which a skill introduced to have the player character kiss his wife uses the exact same mechanical grammar to later kill enemies. Meanwhile, at sister site The Verge, Chris Plante reflects how the game's over-the-top brutality casts the player into the role of a terrorist:

The concept of this game is shocking when you think about what's actually happening. As an ultra-powerful white dude, you use fear and extreme acts of violence to manipulate an enemy's behavior, destroy its militaristic structure, and ultimately gain control of it in the form of living bondage despite being outnumbered by the thousands. Really, chew on this: This is a video game about a spurned man terrorizing an entire foreign culture, literally killing, branding, torturing and enslaving hundreds of living beings. And really they're only tangentially connected to the man's real enemy: another ultra-powerful white dude.
While we're on the topic of Lord of the Rings, over at Paste Ian Williams has penned something of a living epitaph for the outgoing Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine's seven-year-old MMO which now appears to be entering the last stage of its life cycle. From Your Mouth to God's Ears Rab Florence -- yes, that Rab Florence -- offers a passionate appeal to those sincerely interested in criticizing games journalism:

Okay, okay, look. Are the games press too close-knit, too cosy with each other? Absolutely. Are they too cosy with game developers? Absolutely. Do they circle the wagons when they get criticised? Absolutely. You're right. You're right. [...] But how do you respond to that? By joining a gang? By entering another bubble? Fuck bubbles, man. FUCKBUBBLES. That's why you think all the games websites are the same! Because you're stuck in a bubble! Break out -- look for games writers you love, and support little websites and blogs. Discover them! They're out there, desperate for you to find them. I'm with you, dude. FUCK those big websites. [...] Sometimes when the barrel is sour you need to walk away from the barrel, y'know?
Scholar and seasoned critic Katherine Cross has been abuzz on Twitter of late, and this Storify of a series of tweets on the (actually quite common) human compulsion to see one's own interpretation as factual, while all others are "forcing" a narrative, is a worthwhile read. Lastly, lest you think there was any shortage of valid things to get angry about when it comes to games, Leigh Alexander has compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of actual ethical concerns in videogames, with relevant links. Dispatches from Vienna Our German correspondent Joe Koller has the latest for us from the German-language games blogosphere. First up, Nina Kiel, Hendrik Thiel and Marcus Dittmar all attended the recent PLAY14 games festival in Hamburg and have come back with their report of the goings-on. Also on Superlevel, we have this delightful Games Journalism Dummy Text Generator, complete with AAA-to-indie language slider. Nearly as good as the real thing! At Kleiner Drei, Martin Pittenauer interviews game designer Henrike Lode, while at Herzteile, Helga Hansen interviews Nina Windisch, who has an interesting job: she develops games for German television shows. Lastly, on Paidia, Franziska Ascher takes a look at the Souls games' spin on the 'unreliable narrator.' All the Rest It's so thrilling when a site outside the usual games blogosphere stumbles upon something of interest. Over at Scenes of Eating, Sara Davis recently found her way to Memory Insufficient's Food Issue as well as the Games and Food Tumblr, comparing what she found there to how she sees food used in film and literature. Lastly, anna anthropy has shared another interview conducted for her recently released book on ZZT, this time with developer and author Jeanne Thornton. Hello, Goodbye That's it for this week! As always, we welcome your recommendations via Twitter mention and through email, and yes, you are free to link to your own work! Critical Distance is completely funded by readers like you! If you like what you see, consider pledging a small monthly donation. See you next week!

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