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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Racism to DRM

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including always-on DRM, BioShock Infinite's racism and more.
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including always-on DRM, BioShock Infinite's racism and more. INFINITE BIOSHOCKS Set an afternoon aside for this one. Tim Rogers has finally finished his sprawling analysis of BioShock Infinite's many systems and the best foot it chooses to put forward. Over on Kotaku, guest commentator Jordan Ekeroth writes that rather than blasphemous, he found Infinite "deeply Christian." Reacting to the suggestion his last piece was "inflammatory," Jeff Kunzler argues that there is plenty within BioShock Infinite itself to get righteously indignant about:

What's truly inflammatory in 2013 is Infinite as a collaborative work with millions upon millions of dollars and man-hours put into it, couldn't bother, apparently, to hire a non-white writer to put some proper perspective into the use of racism to justify a white man's murderous romp through a floating city in the sky. The use of the (mostly non-white) Vox Populi and (black) Daisy Fitzroy as an enemy for the (white) player character to mow down and brutally murder is utterly idiotic [sic], unjustified, and completely insulting. Inflammatory.
This post by starburp, also linked in Kunzler's first post, is a required read:

seriously? you make racism against blacks germaine to the plot of your storyline, but you don't even do any research to find out what else blacks were up to in 1912, and then you bury our ACTUAL struggle against racism in a hippie dippy "we're all human" resistance movement turned sour. seriously? do you know why you did this? because the black people in this storyline aren't fucking people. they're props. literally. they are props. and that's what i find so fucking offensive about bioshock infinite, is that it makes black people props in a storyline in which white people get to revise white history through all kinds of fanciful sci fi wizardry in order to make themselves feel better while STILL excluding and marginalizing black people, and we're supposed to be happy about it.
ETHICS IN THE TIME OF MANSHOOTERS On his personal/professional site, developer Charles Cox writes on why he will never work on First-Person Shooters again. Back on Kotaku, an industry veteran from both the development and publishing side of the fence condemns the exploitative practices of today's games market and concludes "we need better video game publishers." Jay Barnson points out that always-on DRM by any other name we would know as malware:

[T]his is nothing more than a control grab by game manufacturers, an attempt to force us to their door so that we can pay for a game like it was a product, but use it only at their discretion as if it was a service. It's the best of both worlds as a publisher, and the worst of both worlds as a consumer.
Finally, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker takes the journalism road less traveled, opining that you don't need to resort to crass tactics to stay afloat. BUT DOES FORMALISM ART GAME??? On the heels of last week's Great Formalism War of 2013, Dan Cox --who has put together some excellent Twine tutorials-- observes that in all this most people don't appear to know how Twine actually works. Elsewhere on Peasant Muse, Jeremy Antley asks why board games have scarcely been brought up throughout this conversation:

Returning to the question [raised by Raph Koster], "Is the only moral move (of Train) not to play?", my answer is: no. It's not just no, it's a hell no. Why? Train is about providing the player a sense, terrible as it is, of the sort of grotesque, normalizing effects that focusing on transporting Jews to concentration camps presents to those attempting to maximize and make efficient such transportation. Playing Train isn't supposed to be pretty, or even fun. It's meant to be torturous, it's meant to make you ask and question the source of your own humanity. Did you take glee, ignorantly, of moving the most amount of people to the end of the line? Probably. And when you discovered the true purpose of the game- moving representative figures to their representative death- did you recoil and become sick at the idea? The ethical answer is yes. But would you have encountered this full range of quandary, of questioning your own humanity, if you simply refused to play the game out of moral concerns?
The final word on the subject goes to Colleen Macklin, who motions toward a non-definitional critique of games:

Is there a definition of "game" that we can all agree on and hold up to evaluate the quality of the things that fall into our orbit as games so that "all relativities and contradictions would be either resolved or beside the point?" Is it important that we determine this now, for once and for all? I say no. It's a trap! To ask whether something is a game (or whether it has 'gameness') is the same kind of question as whether something is art or not. Ultimately whether this thing is a game or that thing is art is determined by its context and community of practice. This idea, that games have a purest nature and that we need to strive to make games that represent this limits what we can do with games.
DESIGN MATTERS Who was Nintendo's most recent 3DS Direct for? It wasn't for you, says Jon Irwin, who believes Nintendo is stuck in a generation gap. Over on Bit Creature, Zolani Stewart explores Mirror's Edge as an aesthetic wasteland. And at Shut Up and Sit Down, Mark Wallace broaches the topic of licensed board games, good or evil? On Gamasutra, Mark Slabinski furnishes us with a heady list of games exemplifying Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of 'flow.' Meanwhile, on Eurogamer, Rick Lane looks at the challenges in modeling climbing in games. For those who were curious about Magnus Hildebrandt's recent Kentucky Route Zero article for Superlevel.de, Dennis Kogel has helpfully translated it into English. Speaking of German, or rather in German, our Senior Ultra German Correspondent Johannes Koller has hooked us up with another round of excellent games criticism auf Deutsch. On Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl and Christof Zurschmitten have wrapped up their three-part letter series on Year Walk. Also for the same publication, Jannick Ganger wonders what Mass Effect would be like if you were allowed to fail horribly. Finally, Christian Schiffer turned up on Deutschlandradio for an hour-long feature on interactive storytelling. (Transcript here.) SIGNAL BOOSTING Mike Joffe has kicked off a new blog, Videogames of the Oppressed, looking at the intersection of games and kyriarchy. And a call for writers! Win Lin's Insert Quarterly is a new paid publication currently seeking hires. They look pretty fetch, so pay them a visit! (Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen.) That's all for this week. Till next time! As a wise entertainer once said: dress classy, dance cheesy.

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