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This week in Video Game Criticism: From Battleship to the lowest difficulty setting

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the algorithmically ideal game of Battleship, the lowest difficulty setting for life in the U.S., and more.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

May 22, 2012

5 Min Read

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the algorithmically ideal game of Battleship, the lowest difficulty setting for life in the U.S., and more.] Are you ready? You'd better be! It's time for This Week in Video Game Criticism and I'm not going to hold back! We start with Leigh Alexander's recent essay for Gamasutra on the resurgence of the text adventure as an indie genre, supported by crowdfunding resources such as Kickstarter. On the subject thereof, Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson evangelizes on why indie matters, while Nightmare Mode's Ethan Gach proposes a neurobiological basis and industrial precedent for independent production. More broadly on the subject of industry, Michael Thomsen's new essay for Kill Screen aims to identify some of the 20th century industrialist underpinnings of free-to-play models, saying:

"As videogames have been added to the list of professional pastimes in the 21st century, we see the same essential values favored in them, with the added perversity of requiring their audience to spend money to buy into them. That the high cost of the disc and cartridge has been circumvented by the "free-to-play" model only amplifies the nature of videogames as non-productive labor."

On the other hand, several authors this week gave us a different take on the past. Charles Wheeler's "Rules on the Field" blog, which we made mention of last week, ventures into the analog world of Japanese obstacle course game shows and their "level" designs:

"One of the core fundamentals of any game design process is iteration. […] [T]hat's exactly what the history of the Sasuke obstacle courses gives us. We basically have a record of each of iteration that the course design in Sasuke went through. And, because each season was televised, we can also get a sense of why each change was made."

Meanwhile, in reference to Hasbro's latest board-game-turned-blockbuster stunt, io9 reminds us of this fascinating study in search of the algorithmically ideal game of Battleship, courtesy of Nick Berry. Yes, there are diagrams. And speaking of diagrams, Patrick Stafford waxes nostalgic this week at Unwinnable about player-created extragame materials such as maps and shorthands, noting in particular their reappearance with fan blogs dedicated to recent games such as Fez. Kill Screen's Darshana Jayemanne also provides us with a retrospective this week with another fond look back at Planescape: Torment:

"Planescape: Torment points to why we subject ourselves to these strange disciplinary apparatuses, innumerable tiny calamities, odd temporal lariats and ergonomic heresies: to find ourselves at the end of play."

RockPaperShotgun's Adam Smith takes issue with the term 'cinematic.' Meanwhile, throwing ludology to the wind, Eric Lockaby stomps back in from the cold this week with the first chapter of his 'playable critique' of The Great Gatsby. While his design is still a little rough, Lockaby's work is, as always, worth investigating simply for the strangeness of it. Cody Steffen breaks down the portrayal of sex and gender in The Witcher 2 and finds it wanting. On a more high profile subject, we could not go this week without mentioning Brandon Sheffield's interview with Jon Cadice, developer for controversial (and cancelled) Kickstarter card game Tentacle Bento (trigger warning for discussion of rape). And kudos (?) to our old friend John Brindle for pointing to this video rebuttal by Shane Duarte, the name for which should be warning enough: Lynch Mob Kawaii. Speaking of John Brindle, did you know he has a Twitter now? Because he has a Twitter. He also went to GameCamp last week and has brought us back treasures:

"Several groups were given the task of inventing and testing rulesets for a stand-off between two teams: one human, one Care Bear. "So the Care Bears defeat the humans by hugging them," I mused. There were nods around the table; it made sense. "And…they can freeze the humans in a beam of peace and serenity." The nods were more uncertain this time. "And…the humans can break each other out of this, but only by shouting insults at each other." Looks were exchanged, but for some reason, that's what we tried."

Lastly, I would be remiss in failing to mention what was inarguably one of the most-shared articles of the week: John Scalzi's essay on privilege, "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is":

"Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let's call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it? Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, "Straight White Male" is the lowest difficulty setting there is. This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it's easier to get."

It's recommended that you read the article in its entirety. And if you still feel compelled to go "Ah, but," don't worry: he's made a follow-up post to address that. Had enough yet? Well? Have you? If you haven't, you'll just have to stop by next week for another round. Have a real knockout for us in the meantime? Be sure you tweet or email it over and really let us have it!

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