This week in video game criticism: From isolation to intimacy

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mattie Brice on topics including personal isolation, intimacy in narrative, the use of home in games, and more.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mattie Brice on topics including personal isolation, intimacy in narrative, the use of home in games, and more. I thought glasses only clinked in movies, but nothing made people get closer than $3 Sangrias and a mural of a woman lying across a pool table. Yes, it is the eve of the Game Developers Conference, or as the game industry calls it, "Christmas". But even with such tempting distractions in store, and Google Reader threatening the existence of our RSS feeds, it's time for us to look at this week in video game blogging! Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better Being Women's Herstory month, the gaming community still has gender issues on its mind, and this week showed many different perspectives on the evolving conversation. We would be remiss if we didn't include this insightful conversation between Yannick LeJacq and Rhianna Pratchett about the videogame woman of the year so far. The interview refuses to take a strong, one-sided stance on the game, as does the personal disclosure about the game from Rhea Monique:

"Tomb Raider triggered me, sure. But it didn’t do it needlessly. It didn’t do it tactlessly. It didn’t do it for a cheap rise. It instead captured a real emotion and a real experience millions of women will encounter in their life. Some of them won’t be as lucky as I was. Some of them won’t be as lucky as Lara Croft was, either. Some of them won’t survive. Some of them will be silenced forever. Some of them will die and some of their attackers will live."
But for most, Lara Croft isn't enough. Samantha Allen at The Border House outlines why enough is enough, there should be more women protagonists in videogames by now. In the same vein, Maggie Greene illustrates via her knowledge of the brave women in Chinese history, noting that the kinds of women we need in games aren't necessarily the most obvious ones:

"I don’t mean to imply that it’s only these types of ‘quiet’ strength that are worthy of attention, just that perhaps we don’t give it as much attention as it deserves. It’s something that is harder to valorize than the more obviously ‘heroic’ qualities. Qiu Jin is a clear hero, and she hits some of those points we like: she shunned the expected female roles of her time (leaving her husband and children to head to Japan), she embraced the idea of revolutionary violence, she was photographed with weaponry. Delicate Chinese flower she was not, despite having bound feet. But there is heroism in Xu Zihua’s story: it is not bombastic, and it doesn’t involve assassination plots, but it speaks to a person who willingly bore a tremendous responsibility in a volatile time."
Making an unexpected appearance at BuzzFeed, Courtney Stanton explains why she isn't shocked about the reaction surrounding Adria Richards, and in fact, has come to expect it:

"One time I was afraid to leave my house because of the internet. My unforgivable sin was refusing to just be cool about rape jokes in a gamer comic and its associated fan convention's merchandise. Sometimes the hill you find yourself dying on is weird and unexpected; I feel a lot of empathy for Richards in this. But as final lines in the sand go, "I would like to attend a professional conference without multiple instances of men being juvenile, unprofessional, and just plain gross" doesn't seem like an outrageous demand to me."
In an interesting twist, Michael Thomsen makes a case against the irresponsible use of ‘dudebro,' and how the community's lack of rigor actually marginalizes certain experiences key to understanding the typically overgeneralized demographic of shooter fans. Tell Me a Story I've Never Heard Before The blogosphere is often grappling with the way videogames deal with narrative, and this week is no different. Over at PopMatters, Mark Filipowich extrapolates how homes are underused in games as narrative contrast and our own Eric Swain teases out similarities between cinematic time jumping and that of Thirty Flights of Loving. Line Hollis talks about how Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable work as interrogations of typical narrative structures in games and the determinism therein:

"While both games are about storytelling, they approach the theme from opposite directions. A story, traditionally, is a sequence of events that follows a chain of cause and effect. The Stanley Parable is about how story structures mock the idea of free will. Dear Esther is about how people force incomplete and untrustworthy information into story structures. One features a protagonist trapped in a deterministic world, and the other a protagonist trapped in a non-deterministic one. One of these turns out to unsettle players much more than the other."
Worth mentioning also, back in June of last year an unnamed author over at Still Eating Oranges talked about how not all narrative structures rely on conflict, and the assumptions we have are very much ethnocentric. It Hurts So Good The strange relationship between pain and pleasure that games give to players has been a focus of interest with gaming thinkers lately. Kyle Carpenter at Medium Difficulty talks about the satisfying play in Trials Evolution and how it relates to J.G. Ballad's Crash. On his blog, Robert Yang muses about how The Elder Scrolls games deal with murder and how the games set up an interesting system to communicate gravity to their murder. And thought notoriously painful, Brendan Keogh also reflects on his isolated nature in games and how Dark Souls complicates his single-player experience with multiplayer influence. The Bonds Between Us Relationships and intimacy is a long standing fascination of game critics, and writers continue to push our thinking on how relating can happen in games. Jordan Rivas speaks to the Citadel DLC of Mass Effect 3 and how it created a feeling homecoming, of friendship that essentially fulfilled your needs for some bonding. This time on Medium Difficulty, Mark Filipowich renews the conversation about intimacy in games through the Prince of Persia games, and how they explored the Prince's lack of emotional bonding. Over at his personal blog, Brad Galloway shows the subtle ways sexuality politics works against diversity in the newest Fire Emblem while Matt Marrone exercises his relationship anxieties through playing Spaceteam with his girlfriend and friends at Unwinnable:

"Is your former college roommate’s wife overseeing the V-pod? She’s furthest away from you at the table. Maybe you’re not saying it loud enough. Maybe she’s never really liked you. Or perhaps it’s your girlfriend who’s ignoring you. You’ve been training her to do it in your spare time, anyway, with your incessant rambling, and now you’ve doomed yourself to an eternity floating through the empty vacuum of space."
Utter Miscellany Sometimes game bloggers don't like to be easily categorized, much like the confusing experiement that is presenting Dwarf Fortress as a museum exhibit, as highlighted here by Bill Coberly. Megan Patterson speaks to Actual Sunlight's Will O'Neill about the nebulously personal, but inspiring direction game development is headed. Going in a different direction, Mohammed Taher gives a detailed run-down on the influences and progress of game development in the Middle East. And if all that was too heavy for you, perhaps instead of the top 40 lists of attractive women in tech, why don't you try out Darius Kazemi's ClickBait, created in response to the piece? In San Francisco this week? Make sure to say hello to your favorite Critical Distance contributors, and come see my panel with the very timely theme of women in the games industry. If you cannot join in the wonderful festivities that is GDC, fear not, as we will be back here, same time and same place, with even more juicy videogame blogging. You can still reach us by email and Twitter for recommending good reads, which is always immensely helpful! And don't forget about this month's Blogs of the Round Table. Until next time!

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