This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Animal Crossing to Modern Warfare

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the myth of Modern Warfare and a day in the life of Animal Crossing's mayor.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the myth of combat perpetuated in Modern Warfare and a day in the life of an Animal Crossing mayor. TEXTUAL READINGS Who doesn't love a good textual analysis? They may be out of vogue among academes, but these are my media studies comfort food. We'll start with Mike Joffe's Videogames of the Oppressed, who has managed to draw some interesting connections between the Jewish folktale of the Golem and Treasure's Sega Genesis title Dynamite Headdy, specifically its hidden ending. On Ontological Geek, editor Bill Coberly wades waist-deep into the concept of Primordia as a tale of ideological fallout. On PopMatters Moving Pixels, Mark Filipowich observes that few games have their heroes wrecking the local ecosystem. As if in answer, Ontological Geek's Sebastian Atay poses that Metroid Prime's 'Ruined Fountain' area is an illustration of exactly this. Last before we move beyond the land of textual readings, but Janet Murray brought us a hell of a (welcomed) blast from the past this week: the slides from her 2005 DiGRA keynote, "The Last Word on Ludology v Narratology." BEYOND PLAY Those darn kids, playing with their video games beyond just playing with their video games. On that note, Ontological Geek (we seem to be featuring them a lot lately) has Hannah DuVoix discussing a subject near and dear to my heart: user-generated game media, namely Let's Plays. It's also Fanfiction Week at Unwinnable, which sounds like several of my nondenominational midwinter holidays coming at once. Lana "the Gun" Polansky pens the generational legacy of the Super Mario Bros Goomba and Jacob Siegal shares with us the diary of an unwilling Animal Crossing mayor. The fanfiction times weren't limited to Unwinnable's shores, either, as Gamers with Jobs' Sean Sands got in on the act with this narrativization of a play of Crusader Kings II. GAMES AGAINST HUMANITY Slaus Caldwell recently logged into his wife's Mass Effect 3 multiplayer account and got to experience first-hand the torrent of misogynistic trashtalk women players face on a daily basis. Quintin Smith turned up on Kotaku in recent days decrying videogames' overreliance on killing and win/lose states, saying that it's stifling the medium. He offers some alternatives befitting his areas of interest: board games. Back on PopMatters, Scott Juster recently played Cards Against Humanity with his in-laws and poses that perhaps it's not the subject matter of games that keep them at arm's length, but their actual interfaces. Meanwhile on Paste, Garrett Martin contends that E3 continues to address the press as fans, and the press aren't helping. QUEERLY GEN Chris of Not Quite Literally poses the interesting concept that World of Warcraft is inherently queer. Responding to the recent outrage over transphobic comments by Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik, GayGamer's Mitch Alexander puts his finger on what exactly the problem was with the whole incident:

Mike Krahulik makes a poignant remark in his statement – if he was Just Some Guy, we'd largely be ignoring his statements. But that's just the point, not only of this specific discussion, but of anti-bigotry movements in general – people with power need to be careful not to misuse it against the powerless, especially those made powerless by people and institutions that the empowered affects or is affected by – otherwise it becomes an intersecting web of oppression that it's enormously difficult to get out from.
And on re/Action, videogame scholar Zoya Street writes toward a more inclusive idea of "queer games" and explores his identity a bit as a trans man in the games scene. MEANWHILE Edge has a look at where the global game scene is going. If you speak German, you may have an interest in Sebastian Standke's thoughts on the recent launch of Steam Trading Cards and his own inevitable demise. Also for our German-literate readers, you may remember when Nina Kiel recently slammed German games sites filled with E3 booth babe creepshots. Now she's back discussing the issue with fellow German critic Petra Froehlich in a podcast hosted by Daniel Raumer. THE MACHINE Long-time readers will know of my unabashed affection for Robert Rath's frequently war-and-politics-themed column on The Escapist, Critical Intel. He ranks high on my list of must-read critics, but I must say he outdoes himself with this week's column: "Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie":

If Activision had any courage, Modern Warfare 4 would be about Syrian rebels fighting and dying while waiting for empty promises of Western aid. That's modern warfare. The Arab Spring and various uprisings in the Middle East - some secular democratic, some Islamist, and many a mixture - are as much a part of the modern story of the War on Terror as Special Forces raids and drones. Where are those stories? Games love to invent narratives like Modern Warfare 2 and Homefront where America spontaneously becomes the underdog, but they're loath to take on conflicts that are actually being fought against overwhelming tyranny.
A recent piece on The New Inquiry, an interview by Hermione Hoby with Kuwaiti musician Fatima Al Qadiri, who grew up amidst the Gulf War, is also another must for the week and a good coda for Rath's article:

[Desert Strike] didn't say "Saddam" and "Iraq" and "Kuwait" because they wanted to make it acceptable or marketable or whatever, but it was very obvious what they were talking about. The thing that struck me immediately and made me realize this wasn't a game for children was that there was no soundtrack. It was very clear to me: This is not made for children, this is a thinly veiled training game for the American military. I was repulsed by it and I played it out of compulsion — this video was made out of my experience — but it was very, very disturbing and very surreal. I just felt reality collapse into my head and I was in the grid.
Please continue submitting your link recommendations by email and Twitter. See you all next week!

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