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This week in Video Game Criticism: From gender norms to combat's realities

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including choosing characters to transcend gender norms and more.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

March 6, 2012

6 Min Read

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including choosing characters to transcend gender norms, how inadequately games represent the realities of combat, and more.] Twas the night before GDC, and all through the net, not a blogger was stirring, not even Patrick Klepek… (Well, not really.) Welcome, welcome to This Week in Video Game Criticism! As things are beginning to kick off in San Francisco, your friendly neighborhood curator is starting the conference early with some sunny, spring-worthy critique and commentary, worthy only of the best! So without further ado, let's hit the net running. Nightmare Mode has just introduced a new video series which manages to combine all of your favorite things: pretentious literary references, game design, a sharp wit and Eric Lockaby's Escher maze of a mind. Welcome to the Art Game Thunderdome! Shifting from the labyrinthine world of the art game scene which only exists in Lockaby's imagination to the industrial world of mainstream gaming, we move to Stephen Altamirano, who muses on world records in the field of sports and electronic games, and in a broader sense, living games versus static code in an era of networked gaming and frequent developer patches. Elsewhere, Damien McFerran offers up a retrospective on SEGA in its heyday. And Ken at Next Gen Narration digs deep into the ramifications of skipping combat:

"To me, this is a part of the evolution of games. We are stretching out, and learning new ways of expressing a story and ourselves in this medium. Answers will not come without injurious forays into frontiers that either do not work, or fail to communicate. More choices always strikes me as something positive, especially in a medium that has so much more potential than any other art form."

On the subject of choices, Kaitlin Tremblay writes in the first edition of Medium Difficulty on choosing characters to transcend gender norms:

"For me, monsters represent a part of my feminism that shouts for there to be another option – one separate from the expected roles that are presented again and again in popular culture. Monsters become integral to my feminism in their disruption of normal social codes."

At Not Your Mama's Gamer, Alex Layne delineates the three levels of feminist research in games. And over on The Border House, Mattie Brice pays tribute to Final Fantasy XIII's Vanille, calling her an underrated character:

"Vanille's role as the narrator, along with the aesthetic that came with being from Pulse, reminds me of the social function as storytellers women in some Native American (and I'm sure other) cultures, serving as their tribes' memory and history."

On a thematically resonant note, Trevor Owens and Rebecca Mir write on how player mods to Sid Meier's Colonization are able to challenge the European colonial perspective of the game, by allowing players to play as the Natives. It's been a good week for the Brindle family, as their blogging family continues to grow. Bunbury Brindle offers us an essay on the place where Pacman and Metal Gear Solid intersect, while sister Jimmy provides a… certainly unique (and not safe for work) take on the Are Games Art? debate. For more on philosophy and art, we turn to Martyn Zachary, who takes a fine-toothed comb to the themes of "the grotesque" and "body horror" in Binding of Isaac: "We should ask not, 'How is McMillen's game influenced by Catholic grotesque?' but rather, 'How can religion be so grotesque'?" On the subject of empathy, Gus Mastrapa has been watching Luck and thinking about how the show's subject reminds him of the relationship between player and avatar:

"When I saw one of Luck's jockeys push a horse to its limits I was reminded of the way we play games, constantly pushing our virtual puppets to fight, win and frequently die. Recently, I experienced a moment in a videogame where I felt like a jockey, whipping the flanks of my horse. [...] I suddenly felt bad for pushing so hard, for wanting to progress so badly that I paid no concern to the little life that was in my hands."

On Gamasutra, Rowan Kaiser writes about how Mass Effect defies some of the classical conventions of the RPG. And Leigh Alexander asks us to look back on the underrated spiritual successor of Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross. Perhaps most evocatively this week, Simon Parkin, who has a history of writing tear-jerker essays on JRPGs, presents us with a depressing, yet thoughtful interview and reflection on Hironobu Sakaguchi, which cannot simply be summed up in an easy pullquote. Highly recommended. Speaking of unusual interviews, Joel Goodwin put in a tech support request for a game he recently acquired and ended up with a 50-minute interview with Sheldon Pacotti, lead writer for Deus Ex. Wha–?! How does that just HAPPEN to someone? Damn you, Goodwin! You may have heard a bit about what Jenn Frank has dubbed the IGF "scene drama." (And in the event that you haven't, there is your link.) Kill Screen's Filipe Salgado went one further and interviewed a number of Pirate Kart participants to hear their perspectives, straight from the source. But the article of the week unquestionably goes to W, the pseudonymous Iraq veteran whose grim account of their combat experience shook up the ludodecahedron when it appeared in Medium Difficulty's premiere issue this week. In it, W describes how inadequately games represent the realities of combat, and in particular the character of the servicepeople games so often idealize.

"This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in videogames. How would you feel if you accidentally killed an innocent child in a game? If the words "MISSION FAILED" appeared, but then disappeared after a few seconds, leaving you to continue as normal with no repercussions. Any normal person would feel guilty, but that's my point. Combat troops are not normal people."

On the contrary, the word W repeatedly invokes to describe their fellows in arms is "sociopaths." Unfortunately, we've reached the end of this week's offerings of the best and boldest of game criticism, commentary and analysis. But hang tight! We'll be back next Sunday shoring up the best from GDC, as well as the rest of your greatest submissions! Remember to send us your recs via Twitter or email, and party safe, all you cool kids! [This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including ...]

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