This Week In Video Game Criticism: From Limbo To The Road
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us topics including Limbo's themes compared with Cormack McCarthy's The Road, social games giving you nothing for nothing, and mor
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including Limbo's themes compared with Cormack McCarthy's The Road, social games giving you nothing for nothing, and more.]
Another week, another selection of the most interesting piece of games writing from around the blogipelago. Let's see what the cat dragged in…
First must-read (or must see, in this case) this week is Greg J. Smith at Serial Consign looking at a series of videos analyzing the spatial geography of the sets in Kubrik's The Shining and how they 'cheat' the real world. The relevance to games should be reasonably obvious, and the video opens with a discussion of a game-rendered version of the Overlook Hotel. Smith says,
"Leave it to the FPS-modding community to have discovered anomalies in the production design of film from 1980. What would you call porting the Overlook Hotel into gamespace anyway, fictional spatial archeology?"
Next up is Eric Lockaby writing for Nightmare Mode with a brief history of pressing start: "The title screen, on a deep structural level, represents the threshold between our world and the gameworld. It can't just simply stop meaning, can it? And if so, what could have caused such a fracture? Boredom? Apathy?"
At the Whim Syllables blog, Robin V responds to a series of posts from across the blogosphere from a few months back, discussing why he thinks "It all comes down to the meaning".
Simon Ferrari has an excellent essay on BBC Channel 4's game Sweatshop, examining how the procedural rhetoric evolves over the course of the game:
"Essentially, the game begins as a cartoon sketch of factory labor. You don't need to worry about worker fatigue, safety and morale. But Littleloud gradually "bakes in" more and more of this real-world content. By the end, you need to keep the floor stocked with water coolers, repairmen and fire marshals to keep your workforce alive.
And then, if you're taking the game seriously, you really start to hold it against them. You cut corners, gambling on the low odds that one or two workers outside the repairman's safety zone might harm themselves. Instead of blaming yourself for demanding too much from them, or for not planning ahead in your support item infrastructure, you get angry at your sim-workers for getting tired at the most inopportune times. It is this reduction of human beings to numbers, pesky weak flesh in the way of the profit, that is Sweatshop's frightening strength."
"Each place in Limbo clearly has some old story, some lost purpose. The waterworks, the aqueduct, the broken hotel, the strange, clanking, steaming machinery, a lone boat left on a shore… for whom? Their forgotten purposes echo in the same way as some things in The Road, like the abandoned train engine or sailboat they encounter."
"The main problem is that while the virtual sword may follow the movements of your hand, the reverse is not true, if your in-game sword stops on something (such as someone else's sword, which is kind of a common thing in a swordfight) your real arm keeps going, which can cause problems since the synchronization of sword and controller is now messed up, not to mention what would happen if your in-game sword is forcefully pushed in a separate direction than your real hand (parrying, another basic part of a swordfight, does this). In addition to being unable to perform some of the most basic elements of combat, the hyper-immersive nature of 1:1 motion control means that any deviance from what the player is expecting to happen will completely destroy the immersion and fundamentally alter how the swordplay works."
"I finally understand Ian Bogost's Cow Clicker Facebook satire, and what he said at GDC this year about social games turning human beings into high fructose corn syrup. Clicking things is not a game mechanic. It's a potential lawsuit for repetitive motion disorder. Watching a screen and waiting for the opportunity to click on things is not a game mechanic. It's an impediment specifically designed to frustrate like an itch you want to scratch. With money."
"For a long time in my teens, my favorite thing about video games-–the weirder and more obscure the better-–was that there were so many rare, precious off moments, like when the sisters in Fatal Frame 2 look just a little bit too comfortable with each other, or when Silent Hill 2's convoluted symbolism pointed to male sexual frustration and resentment."
At the Flash of Steel blog, Troy Goodfellow adds to his The National Character series a discussion of 'The Indian National Character' as discovered by observing that nation's portrayal in strategy games:
"It's no wonder that game designers want to think of India as a single culture and entity. Even though it was very rarely unified in its history, there is an assumption that the peninsula makes sense as one civilization and not, say, five. The reference points, then, become almost exclusively modern. What do we mean by India? We mean whatever the British said was India, and that is close enough for game design work. Religious divisions between north and south, east and west, old and new become blurry and we see an unbroken chain of custody from Asoka down to Nehru, even though the Mughals had only mixed success in the south, the Punjab was always restive and the British showed up to an India where they could play prince against prince."
Gamasutra news editor Kyle Orland, writing for The Escapist, this week explores the appeal of the Atari 2600 in an experiment that sounds like slightly more trouble than it's worth in 'Retro Colored Glasses.'
And lucky last, at the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog, Mark Filipowich writes about 'Unplugging the Player from the Protagonist' in LA Noire:
"There is a critical moment in L.A. Noire that seems to divide those that enjoyed the game and those that hated it. At the end of the second chapter, when Cole Phelps is promoted from traffic to homicide, Roy Earle—a sleazy vice detective—takes Phelps out for a congratulatory drink. At this point the player knows that Phelps is a stickler for the rules and that he is an effective and dedicated police officer. His morals are agreeable and his methods are efficient—he is who a player would want to be. But when Earle pushes around and berates a black maitre d', walks into a drug nest, and assaults a woman, Phelps does nothing."
Thanks to everyone who sent in recommendations this week. If you want to suggest something for This Week In Video Game Criticism get in touch via twitter or email.