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This week in Video Game Criticism: From auteurs to shoot'em up history

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including a profile of Braid developer Jonathan Blow, and an illustrative history of shoot'em ups.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

April 24, 2012

5 Min Read

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including a profile of Braid developer Jonathan Blow, and an illustrative history of shoot'em ups.] It's all highs and lows in This Week in Video Game Criticism, as we once again look to the best of the best in games critique and commentary from across the web. Whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, a realist or absurdist, it's all here! Let's get started. First, a bit of history. BulletMagnet over on Racketboy writes up an illustrative history of shoot'em ups. Meanwhile, Stephen E. Dinehart sits down with game writing veteran Susan O'Connor as part of his Game Writers in the Trenches series. Next up, the always-engaging Matthew Weise at Outside Your Heaven traces the decline in anti-Americanism in the Metal Gear franchise, a trend he sees beginning with the departure of one of its key writers and an uptick in the series' fascination with its own mythology: "Questions like 'who are The Patriots?' and 'was Big Boss good or evil?' are really only interesting if they aren't answered." Drawing upon more contemporary history, Julian Benson traces some connections between the serious game Sweatshop, the financial MMO EVE Online, and the 2008 financial crisis. Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker, on the other hand, rips straight from the headlines – and spits on them, critiquing the shoddy journalism that has gone into connecting Norwegian bomber Anders Breivik with video games. Responding to the now-infamous Atlantic profile on Braid developer Jonathan Blow, Cameron Kunzelman takes aim at the myth of the game (or film) auteur:

"Let me be clear: the actual political economy of film did not change [following the classic Hollywood studio system]. Films were still vetted by execs, funded by studios, and ran by unions. What really occurred during the shift toward the auteur was that the public had a name and face to attach to a movie. Directors were names attached to bodies. That was just an illusion, though. No matter how much I liked Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the lesson that I got from the book was that power will never rest in the hands of a creator who will not play the studio game–every famous director is a puppet. That's the reason Coppola decided to open up a vineyard."

Another iconoclast, Richard Dillio, has some strong words for the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco, an article which really comes into its own in the final third:

"If you were a big cheese over at EA, you be laughing at the sheer genius of the current situation: your studio made a game with a crappy ending, but still sold millions of units. The ending was so crappy, and people were so pissed, that they demanded a new ending, which you can charge them for. No matter what, you're making shitloads of cash. You'd be the fucking Mr. Burns of video games. In what other industry do people willingly pay a creative team more money to redo something they should've gotten right in the first place? I can't think of a single one."

Speaking of downer endings you wouldn't think to patch, Scott Juster has been reading William Gibson's Neuromancer, and he muses on the book's connections to other, non-Mass Effect down notes. Attending instead to the journalistic question of gaming toward endings, Kill Screen staff writer Michael Thomsen and founder Jamin Warren debate the need to reach an ending at all. Patricia Hernandez's latest piece for Kotaku is an interesting indictment of games as making us aspire to a middle-class, homogenous lifestyle: "Skyrim promised me the oft-peddled and largely untrue myth of being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and while it delivered on that promise, what I found myself doing was often depressingly meaningless and rote." Rob Zacny directs a similar challenge, not to developers, but players of strategy games, suggesting that quick-saving is harming the genre by making these tidy wins easy. Not all articles about the intersection of players and design are so somber this week, however. On Nightmare Mode, Alois Wittwer takes us on a cute jaunt through the confusing tiers of agency in Hot Shots Golf. And darting back into late March for a second, we have Tom Chick hating Journey in his typically witty way. On the subject of Journey, Rachel Helps draws upon her own religious upbringing to unearth connections with the game as religious ritual. And while we're on the subject of religious themes in games, John Brindle has a new post up historicizing L'Abbaye des Morts, proving once again how dangerously hard it is to put a Brindle article down. On the academic front, Andrew K Przybylski and his team have published their interesting study on using games to act out "the ideal self" in the Journal for Psychological Science. Jason Tocci has a new feature up on Gamasutra regarding the five forms of game appeal. Lastly, Luke Maciak looks forward to Notch's next gaming venture as a call back to an inspirational golden age for hackers and programmers. Join us next week as we deliver some more hot-and-cold top picks from the ludodecahedron! Want to keep Critical Distance from getting lukewarm? Send in your links via Twitter or email today!

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