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This week in video game criticism: From spatial freedom to permadeath
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including spatial freedom, industry maturity, permadeath, and more.
February 11, 2013
9 Min Read
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including spatial freedom, industry maturity, permadeath, and more. Sorry, what's that? It's time for This Week in Videogame Blogging already? You mean, only the best and most interesting games criticism, analysis and commentary on the web? Well all right then-- let's get started. AROUND THE WORLD We start rather unassumingly at Kotaku, where guest contributor Hussein M. Ibrahim, one of the writers behind At7addak.com, criticizes Western games' depictions of Arabs in shooters: “A lot of shooters aim for realism using current real world conflicts or inspirations. Medal of Honor and its cooperation with actual navy seal soldiers comes to mind. That's fine, but a lot of times the ‘authenticity' is only on one side.” From there, we hop on over to the Philippines, where educator Lukas Velunta has just launched Kambyero, “the first Filipino publication dedicated to discourse on video games.” And where better place to start than with an essay on his own gaming origins? It's a little known fact we here at Critical Distance welcome non-English contributions, provided we have a decent overview from the submitter about the article's subject. With that in mind, our next article hails from France, where Sachka Duval proposes that Ron Gilbert's The Cave is more like a cathedral. In the author's words:
[The Cave] resembles a moral Christian tale without any psychology or social realism, like the ones illustrated in a cathedral’s stained glass windows. The article suggests that, by doing so, the game inadvertently shows the emptiness of the bad/good endings structure of many recent games.
The last stop on our tour brings us to Nairobi, where Joe Keiser shows us through the local knockoff games market. If you don't unironically love these, something is wrong with you. WARFIGHTING Over on The Escapist, Robert Rath hits another one out of the park with this article tracing the US military’s history of involvement with Hollywood, and the relative freedom games have instead:
Ironically […] the action games that mimic summer blockbusters actually tell stories most military action films would never get away with. Just in the Modern Warfare series, we see members of the U.S. military die in an atomic blast, gun down civilians in order to maintain their undercover identity, torture targets for information and bring down a rogue American general. Splinter Cell: Conviction has Sam Fisher hunting down conspirators within the U.S. government. Even the infamously pro-military Medal of Honor (2010) includes an ugly portrait of a desk general who accidentally calls air support on his Afghan allies. In other words, even the most jingoistic games criticize the military more than the blockbusters of “liberal” Hollywood.
Rath also goes on to highlight how recent events have perhaps made the US military warier of their cozy relationship with the entertainment industry. A very worthy read. COMPLETE FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT Samantha Allen (whom you'll see pop up a few times in this roundup) showed up on The Border House this week with an essay questioning the rhetoric of complete spatial freedom as the evolutionary end-point of game design:
Different styles of movement produce different emotional effects and both should be available to us as players and as game-makers. To regard “fun” as the ultimate litmus test for the success of a video game is to sell short the emotive capacity of the medium itself. Games can return us to an innocent state of childlike play but they can also, in the words of Merritt Kopas, teach us that “being an other can be painful and horrible.”
DON’T YOU DIE ON ME Coming to us from Pixels or Death, here's a pair of interesting, opposing viewpoints on the role of character permadeath. Tom Auxier would rather go without, while Ben Chapman contends the player only cheats herself by avoiding it. WOULD YOU KINDLY Samantha Allen (told you she'd be back) also appeared this week in a guest post on This Cage is Worms, with a measured response to both Mattie Brice's “Would You Kindly” and Jonas Kyratzes's “Would You Kindly Not.” The article, titled appropriately “Can We Kindly,” advocates for “a careful conversation […] about the role that experience plays in games writing.” BUT CAN ART BE GAMES Why yes, says Alexander Feigenbaum. And here's an interesting essay on Pippin Barr's “Duchamping” of the medium in Art Game. Samantha Allen (say her name three times and click your heels) also turned up on Kotaku this week to pose a different hypothesis: maybe games are like a certain kind of sex. Writing in his regular Moving Pixels column, Nick Dinicola poses that Journey’s co-op is effective in the later levels because it provokes “the more subtle emotions of safety and reassurance.” Elsewhere on the topic of last year's indie darlings, David Carlton writes about recently playing Papo & Yo and muses on how it turns a certain gaming trope on its head. A bit essential, but this post by Diana Poulsen on Kill Screen is still valuable little essay, drawing a connection between Skyrim and the work of Jorge Luis Borges. On his blog Critical Damage, Brendan Keogh has very generously pointed us to a video of his recent presentation on why we should stop worrying and love the notgame (or stop trying to define games, anyway). Proteus developer Ed Key is on a similar bent, reacting to a Gamasutra op-ed by Mike Rose by arguing that attempts to put a fine point on the definition of games are misguided: “Outside of academic discussions, encouraging a strict definition of “game” does nothing but foster conservatism and defensiveness in a culture already notorious for both.” Following on this back-and-forth, Culture Ramp's Luke Rhodes also challenges this push for definition, in particular pointing out what he sees as an underlying desire for self-justification:
Let’s say, just for a moment, that Proteus is not, as its creators would have it, a game. A wild genius pops up, say, and provides a definition of “game” that everyone immediately recognizes as right on the money, and oh, hey! did you notice that Proteus fails to pass muster? Would anything about the experience change in light of that fact? That’s the salient question, really: how does categorizing it one way or another change our experience of Proteus? It’s possible that the wild genius’ unassailable definition will irrevocably alter that experience, even for people who have already played and enjoyed the experience, like being told that the main course in the fantastic meal you’ve just finished was actually the family dog. That doesn’t seem very likely, though.
I'll end this subsection with Dylan Holmes, who proposes a more open-ended approach for evaluating games: the 3 Es -- Entertainment, Education, and Enlightenment. 88MPH Back on Gamasutra, Nathan Fouts furnishes us with a developer’s eulogy for XNA. Elsewhere on Gamasutra, Luke McMillan shares with us a bit of his PhD dissertation on the geneology of the shoot-em-up. And on Games on Net, here's an interesting retrospective via David Rayfield on Manhunt, the “game still so controversial nobody is willing to talk about it – even ten years later.” GO AND MAKE A FREAKING GAME Jay “Rampant Coyote” Barnson shores up some good tips for managing indie development against a full-time day job. MATURITY On The Guardian, Keith Stuart responds to Warren Spector and David Cage’s (now notorious) DICE presentations with the suggestion games are already maturing as a medium:
It's still possible to look at the best-selling retail games of the year and see only titles aimed at young, predominantly male audiences; you'll find the odd dancing game, a smattering of Marios, but mostly it will be soldiers and assassins, saving humanity or themselves. But then of course, taking this list as your reference group is like glancing at the top ten movie blockbusters and declaring that all films are noisy, idiotic and soulless. And no one in Hollywood bothers to stand up in front of their peers and say, “you know, perhaps we shouldn't let Michael Bay make any more movies”.
(Actually, that's precisely what I feel like saying to Hollywood most days.) On Bit Creature, Lana Polansky suggests there are better, more enlightened ways to go about discussing and portraying sex in games. Elsewhere on the same publication, Joseph Leray performs a deep read of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, revealing there’s a lot of edgy content in this alleged kids’ title. On Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez again battles the commenters with an in-depth piece on women who earn money by streaming their gaming sessions. And on VGResearcher, Wai Yen Tang provides a valuable distillation of an academic study by Jeffrey Kuznekoff and L.M. Rose about the ratios of verbal abuse experienced by male and female players on Xbox Live. PROJECTS Many have picked up on the rather uncomfortable racial subtext of Pokemon Black/White, but Mattie Brice has gone one further: she’s doing a modification of the Nuzlocke Challenge, replacing the words “trainer” and “Pokemon” with “master” and “slaves.” You’ll love the name too. ROBIN KRIS AND HER MERRY BAND As always we would like to thank our wonderful readers who submit links to us each week. Have something you want us to consider for This Week in Videogame Blogging? Just drop us a line via our email submissions form or by @ing us on Twitter. This week saw an unusually high number of international submissions, and that is a trend we'd like to see continue! As noted above, we do welcome non-English submissions! Also, if you are multilingual and would like to help us curate more non-English writing for Critical Distance, please consider contacting us about becoming a contributor! Next order of business: Alan Williamson has February's Blogs of the Round Table theme up and running, so do check it out. Lastly: I hinted at this before, but I can now confirm that this March we at Critical Distance will be doing a month-long series of features as part of Women's History Month. We'll have more details for you soon, so keep an eye out!
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