This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Zach Alexander on topics ranging from the continued role of formalism in game studies to a Bayonetta style guide.
The Artist Formally Known As
Frank Lantz went back to the well on formalism. His argument is that mechanics can and should be formally discussed without painting people who do so as a conservative gatekeeper. Heather Alexandra responded with the argument that it’s not so easy to separate mechanics from anything else without implicit value judgements. Our own Cameron Kunzelman smoothed things over with a cake metaphor, and Frank Lantz shows up in the comments to elaborate. Oscar Strik shot back with a side of salad simile. Daniel Joseph then drew on some past arguments to add context to the whole formalism debate.
Now that this debate has been settled, no one will need to discuss formalism ever again! Let’s move on to a new topic, like are game screenshots art?
While we’re on the topic of weighty academic matters, Games Criticism dot org has a new collection of essays up from all sorts of people! On the other end of the spectrum, Abnormal Mapping collects a few small games and writes them up. Xanadu Engine is a tumblr dedicated entirely to Kentucky Route Zero. Elizabeth Simins has a Tumblr categorizing games by whether they can have queer relationships or not.
Stephen Beirne wants to walk all over “walking simulators” as a term for a certain genre of games, and go with “phantom rides”. Personally, I’d prefer “ghost riding”, but that might mean something else.
Actually, It’s About Historical Accuracy in Games
History Respawned hosts history professor David Andress to talk about the French Revolution and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. In the pages of The Escapist, Robert Rath addresses concerns that a game with dragons, demons, and elves is unrealistic in depicting a woman holding a sword.
Mary Lee Sauder goes into art history, and derives the term “gamerliness” based off the term “painterliness”:
If you’ve ever studied art, you may have heard of the term “painterliness” used to describe works of art that derive meaning from drawing attention to the fact that they are just paint on a canvas or clay molded by human hands. “Painterly” art doesn’t try to look realistic – instead, it uses its unique aspects as a constructed object to its advantage.
In more-recent history, Shmuplations has a backlog of older Japanese interviews with developers of classic games. They just launched a Patreon to help sponsor translating and preserving these old documents. Here’s a 2001 interview with the director of Rez. Over at Kill Screen, David Wolinsky digs into Grim Fandango’s Mexican folklore roots.
Rated M for Immature Content
(Content Warning for this whole section: Discusses rape, abortion, and that Hatred game)
Aoife Wilson says Hatred’s recent AO rating is useful publicity. G. Christopher Williams wonders how the South Park game got away with an M rating. Both of these incidents support Carolyn Petit’s arguments that games can deal with serious real-world problems, but probably shouldn’t:
They just participate in the longstanding video game tradition of victimizing women to easily generate an emotional response or to lend texture to their worlds and try to convince us that we are playing mature and serious games.
Fixing What’s Broke
Shonte Daniels discusses race in games through the lens of Spawn On Me’s #BlackLivesMatter gaming marathon. Adrienne Shaw discusses the outcomes of her research on representation in games, and addresses common criticisms of advocating for representation. The Guardian’s Kate Gray wants a little less representation for “boob physics”, or at least equal representation for ridiculous physics for male genitalia. Bikini Armor Battle Damage has come up with a handy chart showing how skewed armor for women characters in games can be, but Ayla Arthur has an essay on Medium with some suggestions for designing women characters in games without relying on tiny waists and power armor. Gaming as Women flips the conversation with three words that can change your tabletop game: “Is he hot”?
Before long, I was thinking of every male NPC in terms of their attractiveness. This may not seem like much, but it completely changed the way I viewed the men in the game. Jarl Wyrmval isn’t only a scheming political rival, but he was also dangerously handsome. Runthorn isn’t only self-important, he’s also attractive enough to charm people into believing in his delusions of grandeur. Nadric isn’t just bookish and awkward, he’s also ugly enough that the servants gave him the byname Gul. Rukkokainen isn’t just a skilled veteran and keen advisor, he’s the most eligible Tauthra bachelor in the province.
It occurs to me that this has never been true of any game I have played in. Even when I’ve played in games run by people who are sexually attracted to men, men are not described in terms of sex appeal.
And if you’re looking to up your own, personal representation, Gita Jackson has you covered with a Bayonetta Style Guide up on Paste.
Finally, to end on a light note: At PC Gamer, Richard Corbett distinguishes between what games call “quests”, and what games should just call “**** to do”.
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