This Week In Video Game Criticism: From Penny Arcade to morality systems
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including why the game industry shouldn't live in fear of Penny Arcade, Metro 2033's subtle morality system, and more.
"Penny Arcade as a brand has grown to monstrous levels and their fan base have displayed such blind devotion to the pair that the video games industry, including game companies and journalists, have become fearful of crossing them. In the past, they have proved their power of crippling people and companies with a mere mention of their disapproval. If a game is featured (for good or bad) in their comic strip, this has more effect on sales than any number of reviews. When their long-standing anger comes bubbling up to the surface, it is a powerful weapon. A weapon that is starting to damage parts of this industry."
Now, the Kid knows a lady by the name of Katie Williams, who you mighta seen 'round these parts pulling the same Crit Distance jobs the Kid does. Well, she and the Kid went to E3 a few weeks back, and Katie came back with some stories of her own to tell about the right condescending folk she found there:
"It's unbelievable that this is still happening. If this is how PR people feel about women's capabilities, no wonder the promotional side of games is so sexist. No wonder marketing people still think it's, on some level, OK to have a trailer feature a man ripping into a band of sexy nuns. No wonder we're seeing it filter down into the developers, who implement in-game achievements for looking up the skirts of 19-year-old women dressed like schoolgirls. No wonder we're watching it filter down into the gamers, who tell the ladies amongst us that they can't possibly know anything about the online games that they play. After all, what proof is there of that when women are not allowed to speak on an authoritative level?"
"What [Beckles]'s saying is that the media which displays problematic material for the sole purpose of using it to entertain, or does so uncritically, has this nasty habit of normalizing or trivializing the thing it is portraying. As a result, this feeds into our perception of those concepts and informs our worldview. This has been true of all human culture since time immemorial. On the other hand, we self-censor all the time. This is not a call to 'bowdlerize' works of existing art—that is to say, have undesirable material actively removed from art by some nominally moral authority that isn't the original author—but an acknowledgement that most or all cultures have taboos, golden rules, and social contracts. Sometimes these exist as a result of hegemonic influence or self-preservation, but just as often they exist because without them the social fabric would be disrupted, members of society would be harmed, and society itself might ultimately devolve into a form of chaos. Part of this includes the act of self-censorship. Sometimes we don't say or do things because we understand them to be harmful, hurtful or destructive. Sometimes we don't tell our friends some of the less-than-gracious things we may be thinking about them to spare their feelings. Tangible or intangible, we do it to avoid negative consequences for ourselves and for those we care about. So why are we getting so worked up about the effects of strong criticism on a larger scale?"
"Here's a question for you. If a game company publicly says that they are looking to expand into the female market, to attract more female players, which of the following is more likely:
"1. The game will become easier.2.The game will become harder."
"1. Pet-collecting will be added to the game.2. Player vs. Player combat will be added to the game."
If we are honest, we know that the Option 1 is more likely in both cases. Those ideas may or may not attract female gamers in reality, but we know which direction a game company is going to go in when they say they want more women.
Because this causal relationship is real, the reverse signal works as well. A signal that the company is slightly female-unfriendly is also a signal that the game will emphasize difficulty and more hardcore elements like PvP."
"For a universe brought to life by a style that throws out unnecessary details, however, the actual world of Okami is overrun with them. Producer Atsushi Inaba said his goal was to have players interact with and feel the power of nature, but this is often overshadowed by a number of excesses. Even the tiniest of accomplishments result in the player being showered with gifts: furniture, money, wooden bears, beads, praise, paintings and other trinkets that are rarely, if ever, actually used (much less treasured). In a title hoping to reflect the powerful essence of nature, shouldn't bringing a barren world back to life be enough reward? The game even nods towards their pointlessness by later suggesting you should just sell everything."
"While I don't think that I'll give up on shooting people in games altogether, Metro 2033 has prompted me to take a different approach to absorbing the environmental factors of games, and whether these are simply establishing a context, or attempting to reach out to the player. With very few rewards outside a warm fuzzy feeling inside, most of the questions in Metro 2033 were true questions of morality, most of which were asked without ever posing a question."
And then, between 'em all, we got Steven Poole – who thinks that, like Spielberg's A.I., Journey shoulda ended at that bit in the ice.
The Kid's got a few more. She's gotta keep going, after all – keep goin' until the links are done. She sees Luke Maciak's written up a mighty fine ode to code. And Christopher Kaindel's got a pretty nice new feature for Gamasutra all about the history of violence, and what that means for games' future.
But it's all gotta end, right? The Kid, she's lookin' tired, but she keeps going. There's just one more place she's gotta visit. It's Cara Ellison's interactive interview with Anna Anthropy. But once she finishes, the Kid might just have to start the whole business over again.
Now where was I? This old man's mind tends to wander a bit. The Kid's still looking for new links, new pieces of the world to bring back. But it's up to you to send them in – bird or post don't matter. The Kid'll see it all through.
(This week's edition completely inspired by the good folks at Dorkly Bits.)