This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from session highlights from IndieCade to how Alien: Isolation lives up to a legacy.Come On Back to the Five and Dime, IndieCade, IndieCade
Speaking of IndieCade, if you didn't happen to attend, you missed out on some great talks!
Over on Gamasutra, Bryant Francis has an excellent write-up on a well-received panel led by Shawn Alexander Allen (Treachery in Beatdown City) on issues of racism in tech and game development.
Ian Bogost, he of the perpetual mic drop, spoke during IndieCade's Sunday microtalks session titled "Why ______ Matters" and has generously posted the full text of his talk online. Here's a sample, in which he deftly deconstructs the 'specialness' of games on the level of culture creation:
Whereas previously culture fought, won, and lost its battles at the scale of mass media -- think of Madonna and Bart Simpson and Murphy Brown -- now we do so in isolated pockets of niche media hobbyism. [Washington Post writer Alyssa] Rosenberg sees this as an unexpected victory. "Everyone can win the new culture wars," she declares, because "all stories have a chance to be told."
The problem with Rosenberg's account is that fragmentation becomes Balkanization, which becomes recuperated into Libertarianism. Mutual hostility becomes "do what you want, just don't foist it on me." Pushed to its limits, all fandom becomes apartheid.
This state of affairs ought to chasten us. It ought to revise our understanding of the scope of the work before us.
For example: if you want to fight for diversity in games, then absolutely you should fight to broaden representation among players, creators, and characters.
But there's another kind of diversity: the diversity of our interests and our dispositions, of the company we keep and the influences that inspire us, the people and the groups and the industries and the materials that we contact. It has to do with having dealings enough with the world such that it is no longer possible to be seen as a parochial backwater not even worth opposing let alone supporting.
We have become too comfortable here in games.
this "new flesh" [from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome] is as another way of looking at digital devices as extension of our bodies - and embracing them as body parts we exercise full autonomy over. because if we don't, we can easily fall under the order of strong, powerful cultural programming that favors the aims of corporate ideology and the military-industrial complex.
the problem with fighting back against the tide of all this powerful cultural programming is we're often bad at envisioning and embracing this new flesh as a tool of progress amidst these vast corporate structures colonizing the internet. in his movie A Pervert's Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Zizek looks at the many apocalypse scenarios increasingly saturating popular media of the last ten years and asks: why is it so much easier for us to envision in the cultural consciousness a total apocalyptic collapse of society than it is to imagine a fairly minor-shift in our ways of understanding and constructing the reality of our situation?
the answer is that is the logical endpoint of the ideological path we're following now. and there is something intensely painful about, in the midst of this, realizing our own bodily autonomy, and our ability to make even a subtle a shift in our understanding and construction of reality. it's a struggle, and it involves experiencing a lot of pain.
Maybe it wouldn't be until Kirby's Adventure that they'd finally let up and greenlight such a revolutionary idea such as "action game that isn't prohibitively difficult". While there were games like Dragon Quest before it, with similar staple ideas such as "a game anyone can beat****" they were often tacked on with a billion [contingency] asterisks that amounted to "a game anyone can beat by spending enough time repeating the same trivial task over and over again and smashing their head against a rock (and also pressing the A button in front of every rock)". Kirby was maybe the first game of Nintendo fame to not have that gotcha, but regardless of whether it was, Kid Icarus was NOT that game.
[O]rcs don't quite fit into the world Tolkien created. They don't fit into the order of the world that Gandalf describes to Frodo, where mercy is absolutely right and redemption is always an option -- however distant a one. Tolkien's world is, after all, based irrevocably in his Catholic sensibilities; his non-Lord of the Rings contributions to the universe feature a benevolent creator God and make it clear that the wizards are maiar, essentially angels. It's important that even Sauron chose to be evil, deliberately rejecting the goodness inherent in all creation.
Orcs are different. They're evil simply by nature, inherently corrupted. In Tolkien's rendering they have no culture and no language of their own. [...] Orcs exist in a permanent state of exception, absolutely Other, nameless and killable in droves. They're two-dimensional and infused with imported racist prejudice, given no depth in a world full of it.
[By contrast, Shadow of Mordor's] Nemesis system gives the orcs much-needed culture and depth. They have names, they make small talk. They have parties and feasts. They live in a constantly changing feudal society. [...] Orcs are victimizers, but they're also victimized, set in longstanding oppressive power structures.
[However, for] as much as the Nemesis System feels like a solution to the orc problem, it also reifies and even magnifies it. Orcs are still cannon fodder in the same way they've always been. It's a bizarre double bind: our orcs are special unique snowflakes, now kill all of them.
But one of the game's best little touches is that, here, in state of war, there is a nonzero chance that everybody dies. When war is declared, it can’t be undeclared until the first player to launch a missile is knocked out of the game. That means genocide must effectively be committed before peace can resume—there is no going back. However, a losing player can go out by detonating all their playable nukes at once, and therefore has a chance to take out another player with them. There’s nothing in the game prohibiting every player from being taken out, losing their entire population. This means that, in all likelihood, you either end up with a pyrrhic victory or, quite literally, no one wins.