Sponsored By

This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Ellie to Charles Foster Kane

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including The Last of Us's portrayal of women and a seance with the ghost of_Citizen Kane_.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

July 8, 2013

6 Min Read

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including The Last of Us's portrayal of women and a seance with the ghost of Citizen Kane. WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A THING On WEast Fellows, Reetesh conducts an object-oriented, programmatic analysis of Driver: San Francisco. Theorts has a strongly academic critique of Depression Quest as adhering perhaps too strictly to one narrative of mental illness:

By claiming depression has a clear system, and designing a system around it in which players are encouraged to make the "correct" choices -- ones which lower depression levels in the status bar -- Depression Quest treats the experience of depression as "something to be moved through as quickly as possible" and successfully defines the experience as something without value to the person experiencing it. While, I would hazard a guess that this is far from the intention of the creators, this is what the language of illness does, and this is the language they employ.

AS WE MIGHT RECOLLECT On Unwinnable, Chay Close looks back on the Net Yaroze, the $750 hobbyist devkit Playstation released in 1997. A couple of strong retrospectives courtesy of Eurogamer this week. First, Damien McFerran presents us with the making of the original Star Fox. Next up, Rich Stanton remembers on Space Harrier. And this one via Robert Rath may be satirical, but it's amazing nonetheless: a colonialist critique of DuckTales. "Capcom's game rewards Scrooge for the illnesses of his soul." LET'S TALK On Medium Difficulty, Michelle Perez holds a long and candid interview with independent developer Chloe Sagal. Back on Polygon, Tracey Lien takes us through a tour of the game development scene in the Middle East. ALL THE LITTLE PIECES Troy Goodfellow notes that 7 Grand Steps has players developing a family line, but what is the game really about? On Polygon, Lara Crigger takes a look at some of the theoretical sciences informing contemporary sci-fi videogames. Elsewhere, on the recently launched USgamer, Jeremy Parish poses that maybe the groundswell of adult enthusiasm for Animal Crossing: New Leaf is due to its audience growing up enough to appreciate its nostalgia. Max on Daran geht die Welt zugrunde (as you can imagine, this one comes via our German correspondent) questions the lack of non-white protagonists in games. And on Trash Babes, Porpentine and Aevee hold an idiosyncratic letter series concerning Body of Bind, a game which really needs to exist, so help me. THE LAST OF US On the New York Times, Chris Suellentrop argues that despite overtures to gender parity on the part of the developers, The Last of Us still demotes its female characters motivations for its male lead:

The Last of Us aspires to be an interactive, mixed-company version of "The Road," in this case the story of the relationship between an older man and a 14-year-old girl as they try to survive in an oppressive and deadly wasteland. Almost throughout, however, it is actually the story of Joel, the older man. This is another video game by men, for men and about men.

Eurogamer's Ellie Gibson is more optimistic, saying that the portrayal of women in the game is an improvement over the norm, but we ask too much of it to be perfect:

There is a problem with sexism in games and The Last of Us does not solve it. But that's an impossible task for a single game, and I'm not sure casting Ellie as the main character would have made much difference. This is never just Joel's story. The fact he gets more hours of playtime should not detract from Naughty Dog's efforts to represent women in a realistic, intelligent way.

Meanwhile, GameSpot's Carolyn Petit believes we shouldn't go easy on The Last of Us just for trying:

Simply presenting women as people is hardly something that should be considered incredibly praiseworthy. Rather, it's the bare minimum that we should expect from our narratives. To shower a game with praise for doing the minimum is to set the bar extremely low.

Elsewhere, on The Guardian, Keith Stuart draws comparisons among several recent titles and conclude that these games of dystopian fatherhood all resound in the same way:

The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and The Walking Dead are all fascinating, brilliant games that do interesting things with the possibilities of interactive narrative storytelling – they present rich and detailed visions of wildly dystopian futures. But they all tell the same story of men coming to terms with violence and the responsibilities of fatherhood – and they all do it in such a way as to confirm the masculine status quo. Self-sacrifice in combat, ruthless violence, the sanguine acceptance that there is no other way.

On Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander contends that this is the least we should ask of a game:

This is probably the last story of the strong man at the end of the world that I need to play. It's probably the last one that ought to be made, too. This is likely the pinnacle of that particular form.

Mark Serrels of Kotaku AU echoes this idea:

Video games are a product of their time, and the technology of their time. In that sense all video games are allegories. But The Last Of Us is the ultimate game of its type: a video game that renders its own tropes dead or in the slow process of dying. Naughty Dog didn't invent the idea of the jovial confident killer in Nathan Drake, but they perfected it: a virtual Dorian Gray pursuing a life of murderous violence without consequence. Joel is the portrait in the attic, wearing the weight of our debauchery in every wrinkle and scar.

Two more for the road (har): Marijn of 5% likewise paints Joel as a stand-in for a dying paradigm, and Twinfinite's Matthew Kim takes a view of the game as exploring the theme of rehabilitation, and life over survival. REMEMBER ME On Paste, Maddy Myers questions whether some games may indeed work better as movies, and contrasts this with a few notes on where Remember Me succeeds or falls short as a game. LOOK YE INWARD This editorial by Kim Thompson concerns comics, but is as applicable to critical discourses for any number of media, including games:

It is and remains my contention that the true lover of the medium is not the sycophantic fan who adores the good and the bad with equal fervor, but the discriminating, hard-nosed reader who refuses to tolerate the mediocre and the banal. If someone sets particularly high standards for a medium, it is a token not of contempt, but of deep and abiding respect for its potential. When these high standards result in the dismissal of most of the work produced in the medium, it takes a perverse logic to infer from this contempt for the general output a contempt for the medium itself.

THE CITIZEN KANE OF LINKLISTS I'll leave you with a goodie. With all this talk lately of the Citizen Kane of videogames, Duncan Fyfe determined there was only one way to get to the bottom of what game was actually our Citizen Kane: he contacted the ghost of Orson Welles via seance and asked him directly. That's it for this week! Again, we always welcome your submissions by Twitter mention or email. So send us your links!

About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like