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This Week in Video Game Criticism: Against 'flow' design
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the war economy of The Witcher 3 to a conversation on the limits of 'flow' design in games.
August 10, 2015
4 Min Read
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from a dig through the patent filing of Midway's 1983 Tapper to the war economy of The Witcher 3.
Mirrors, Apertures, Doors
Meanwhile, FemHype had a stand-out selection of writing this past week from three aptly alliterative authors. First, Sloane looks to Dontnod's Life is Strange as a queer coming of age story. Next, Sylvia returns to Dragon Age II as a tale of immigrants and (resistance to) assimilation. Lastly, Sheva delivers the results of a recently conducted survey with more than 3,500 transgender and non-binary players on their experiences in a frequently hostile space.
A Host Image
[I]n my opinion, this exercise in describing gameplay through the lens of patent structure ends up being very interesting. It's inadvertently carrying out a really detailed formalist analysis of the videogame, which sheds light on it from several angles. Especially interesting is that, while very detailed, it also has a strong push towards abstraction and generalization. The format requires it to remain at the level of prose description and diagrams, not the game's source code or circuitboards. The need for a patent to describe a general invention rather than just a specific game contributes to this abstraction push, not least resulting in the excellent title, worth repeating: "Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels".
At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster has a look at the database structure of Her Story from a historical technological perspective and concludes the game "presents something that looks like the 1990s, but it only contains a small portion of the rules that governed that world.”
At Paste, Suriel Vazquez chronicles the (ongoing) push by a popular arcade to establish itself in a new community, amidst resistance from older residents and stereotypes concerning the arcade's image and clientele. I have some issues with the delivery of this article -- it could benefit quite a lot from including a bibliography at the end -- but it does cast a spotlight on the fighting game community's efforts to improve its image.
And shifting from real-world money matters to the digital, at Fiery Screens, Yussef Cole has been dispatching military deserters in The Witcher 3, noting how humans are, paradoxically, often the greatest source of cash for the game's titular supernatural exterminator.
Against the Stream
Writing for her own website, Critical Distance's own Lana Polansky writes lucidly on why the design philosophy of 'flow' acts as "a kind of ideological container":
"Flow" evokes a certain set of aesthetics -- minimalism is readily apparent, but so are certain articulations of soft futurism, New Age-y transcendentalism, and a variety of naturalistic modernist approaches. We think of water. We think of the cosmos. We think of pure mathematics. On the other hand, it works as basically synonymous for the kind of "escapism" offered in so many F2P games, and the kind of intense, aggressive focus (or "immersion") demanded of many "core" AAA games. Flow works both as the desired affective experience for most games, as well as an aesthetic container. How fortuitous that it finds its root not in any specific heritage of art, but in psychology.
Fellow Critical Distance contributor Cameron Kunzelman expands on Polansky's remarks in a response piece of his own, concluding:
[W]e need new models, new ways of thinking, and not just those that come into being through the measurement of response time and the amount of sweat a player produces when shooting enemies.
Responding to both posts, Heather Alexandra of Trans Gamer Thoughts offers her own take on the sort of vocabulary stalemate we find ourselves in, and lends this memorable paraphrase from the world of improv: "The Game says 'Yes'. The Player says 'And.'"
Links of Interest
At Normally Rascal, Stephen Beirne has compiled a list of Irish game developers, critics, websites and conventions, in a bid to highlight their contributions.
Good day, good day, good day
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