This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from game development's punk scene to game reviews from a timeline where the industry turned out very differently.
Spring on Jupiter and Mars
We start with the recently launched Offworld, where Zoe Quinn is talking about altgames, the punk scene of game making. A good starting place, to be certain, although not all-inclusive.
Meanwhile, at Heterogenous Tasks, Sam Kabo Ashwell-- well, I'm not going to spoil it for you. Just read it, and sigh nostalgically for histories which never were.
And, holy crud, Clint Hocking wrote a thing! Specifically, he responds to Ian Bogost's recent article in The Atlanic regarding the alleged limiting nature of narratives and characters in games, arguing that to juxtapose them with the analysis of systems is to create a false dichotomy:
I think we already have numerous, though tentative examples of these kinds of games; games that are both about the journey of an individual, but also about the big ideas of the culture (fictional or otherwise) in which that individual exists. I will admit that along a number of axes we have mostly done a fairly poor job of achieving the goals Bogost implies. [But] I think there is a huge undeveloped space here for us to explore as designers, and a fruitful landscape of discovery here for players.
Writing for his regular column on TechCrunch, Tadhg Kelly also responds to Bogost, arguing that it is the culture surrounding big-V Videogames that is stifling how we talk about games in a wider sense:
There's not a game maker that I respect who isn't sick to death of Videogames and the sense of self-entitlement and drama that comes with it. Whether in the business of trying to make fun engines or quirky art installation projects, the prospect of running the TotalBiscuit-style gauntlet makes developers cringe. Their kind of "pro-consumer" position devolves into the psychology of the bullied in turn bullying, the mentality of dissatisfaction in the face of nostalgia, the self-appointed demanding appeasement. [...] Not unlike the state of comics fans in the 1980s, todays gamers come with a "seller beware" association. An association that says "Are you sure you really want to deal with these people? Why not make casino games instead?"
Back with Offworld, Gita Jackson has penned a feature which serves – in some ways – as a mission statement for the site: what reactionary gamers of big-V Videogames see as a colonizing force is anything but.
Here's a great piece which showed up in our inbox this week, by Christopher Howell over on Fare Forward: an analysis of The Last of Us from a Judeo-Christian theological perspective which includes some interesting observations.
Approaching faith in games from a different tack, Troy Goodfellow looks at how it is modeled in Rod Humble's recent strategy game, Cults and Daggers:
[T]he more I think on it, the more I think that Cults and Daggers is not about faith at all. It might be about religion, but it’s really about fear. […] [E]veryone is out to destroy you and your community of believers unless you can get to them first. You can blaspheme against local gods and then pin the blame on a rival cult. You can go into deep cover, only emerging to murder a persuasive enemy preacher. You can invoke prayers that will transform your ministers into agents of chaos. You build temples, suck up to nobles for protection and count on the hope of the people to carry you into the next age.
In many ways, it is a very paranoid game.
By Land or By Sea
Are you sick of hearing about Offworld yet? Because we aren't! This is the most exciting games publication to hit the scene in a very long time, and AM Cosmos's wonderfully diverse primer on Japanese-style dating sims is a great example of that.
Also a very unique piece this week, Irishman Stephen Beirne provides perhaps the world's only in-depth analysis of Folklore, an early-generation Playstation 3 game distinguished by being one of few titles set in Ireland and featuring a real Irish voice actress as its lead.
On FemHype -- another cool publication which recently made the scene -- Emm speaks with the anonymous creator of a mod which enabled women characters to date an exclusively heterosexual female party member in Dragon Age Inquisition... and which prompted so much backlash the creator was effectively driven from the internet. Emm asks why similar mods -- including ones to whitewash a character of color -- haven't produced the same furor.
And back with the PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren believes the Legend of Zelda franchise is overdue for a female protagonist -- and while his argument is not the most robust (no mention of Metroid? really?) he draws on some interesting bits of lore and developer interviews to undergird his point.
Did Someone Mention Formalism
Not to reopen recently scabbed-over wounds, but on Medium, Rachel Simone Weil is able to put a fine point on why, specifically, the invocation of 'form' in games brings to mind a fraught history:
I don't believe that video game formalists are sexist or don't want women to participate in game development or culture. What I do believe is that there is a long history of using the centrality of logic and reason and abstract thinking as justification for the suggestion that women "naturally" do not belong in a certain space.
And yes, she has examples.
Not to do with formalism specifically, but of a similarly academic bent, Evan Tilton on Thinking While Playing responds to the citation guidelines of the Game Studies journal, arguing that a more comprehensive citation approach to games might include the technological and regional specificities of how the game was played.
Whose House Are You Haunting Tonight
Not Your Mama's Gamer's Ashley Barry -- in responding to this piece on FemHype -- laments that even when games manage to duck the most obvious pitfalls of treating mental illness as a lazy shortcut, it can still fail to address its subject matter in a meaningful way. (Content warning: discussion of ableism in both articles.)
And speaking of Not Your Mama's Gamer, have you noticed their shiny new site design? They're looking for new writers too!
And this doesn't really belong anywhere in particular, but is lovely nonetheless: a gorgeous curated collection of obscure Japanese games (Content warning: flashing animated gifs).
This is The End, Beautiful Friend
Oh, there's so much more I wish I could show you, but alas... It will have to wait till next time!
A few more items: we're approaching the end of the month, so please remember to send in your entries for Blogs of the Round Table and This Month in Let's Plays. Also, we'll be reopening our call for feature pitches soon, so watch out for that as well!
Finally and as always -- Critical Distance is proud to be completely funded by readers like you. If you like what we do and want to help keep us going, please chip in with a small monthly donation!