This week in Video Game Criticism: From the state of music games to Wu-Tang Clan
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the state of music games, and the night Castlevania and Wu-Tang Clan owned NYC.
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the state of music games, and the night Castlevania and Wu-Tang Clan owned NYC.]
Oh dear look who left the keys to TWIVGC on the kitchen table for me to find. Yes, in her distracted exam-cramming state, Kris left me in charge of TWIVGC once again. I'm sorry.
Look, here's a little secret I'm going to share with you: sometimes writing about video games is… how do I put this…. not weird enough. I'm going to try and pick out some of the weirder stuff this week.
For instance: At the architectural/landscape/urbanism blog M.ammoth, Rob Holmes regales us with a short anecdote about a student designing a game as part of an investigation into the ramifications of the Mississippi river diverting it's course:
"One of the student projects proposed a kind of abstracted board game which attempted to codify the interactions between the insurance industry, various economic activities in the Atachafalaya Basin (such as gambling), floods, disaster management systems, public space, and citizens of the flood-prone Basin.This project intrigued me greatly — but it did so less because of its resonance with the recent vogue for "gamification" (where I am inclined to agree, for the most part, with Ian Bogost), and more because it helped me articulate a set of problems related to aggregation, complexity, perversity, and misalignment in the design of landscapes."
It's only a brief little mention amongst a sea of tranquil information-overload, but it's interesting. It's weird.
Sufficiently weird enough for me is also Darshana Jayemanne's 'Do It Differently' essay for Killscreen which argues we should stop playing up the 'uniqueness' of video games interactivity. It's a powerful and unpopular argument, but I think he's right.
"Look around you. Architecture is an art form—you'd be brave indeed to claim the Sistine Chapel or the Patio de los Leones are not art, and only slightly less brave to call them "linear." Robert Venturi and Fredric Jameson didn't have to wait for ludology to be invented so they could wrap their heads around the nonlinear spaces of Las Vegas and the Bonaventure Hotel, respectively. Similar observations could be made for sculpture or improvisational music. In these art forms the distinction between linear and nonlinear is just a nonsense. It does not even arise as a problem in the first place."
Go read his whole argument and then tell me you don't get a sense that Things Could Be Wholly Other about video game writing and criticism. Weird indeed.
Not entirely sure if this really hits the high point on my 'weird' metric, but it's an interesting piece and it goes well with Jayemanne's piece above – at Medium Difficulty Kyle Stegerwald discusses whether writers and critics can actually be bad at games and still be good critics. I don't think he's wholly right, but neither is he wholly wrong, primarily because games writing could be so, so many things and Stegerwald seems to have just one particular thing in mind. Still – definitely worth reading and thinking about. For Stegerwald:
"…skill in games resembles critical understanding in literature, and nobody sneers at someone who advances a well-reasoned opinion of a piece of literature by calling them a "minmaxer.""
"A couple of years ago, I took inspiration from musicals and proposed that narrative video games should present themselves as a sequence of set pieces that are as well-crafted as possible, with just enough connective tissue to let you go from set piece to set piece without being jarring. And my experiences in the Musée d'Orsay gave me a new perspective on that argument: each of those set pieces should have the unity and impact of a painting. There should be a vision, a scene, an interaction at the core of each set piece with the rest unfolding from it."
Brilliant stuff. Go read it, if only for all the brilliant images of paintings the Museum holds.
Also brilliant this week was Cara Ellison's discussion of Christine Love's Don't Take It Personally, Babe and 'Being Single in Public' for the Unwinnable blog:
"Playing Don't Take It Personally, Babe when you're single, and have been for a while, is an alienating experience. It's a wonderful shorthand of the messages that are going on around us every day. Couple culture is everywhere – it's in every televisual soap or drama, it's in every advertising campaign."
As a young man who has spent the vast, vast majority of his life within the kingdom of singledom I know exactly what Ellison is talking about, and it can be a very, very weird place.
Also from Unwinnable this week is Kate Williams piece on Dear Esther, describing it as "a sudden heartbeat in a flatlining relationship".
G. Christopher Williams writing for PopMatters' Moving Pixels blog this week thinks Ms Pacman is the Platonic form of games. That's kind of a strange argument, but that's kind of the point. More strange please!
Mattie Brice writing for Paste Magazine this week asks 'Who's the bad guy?' and discusses being a demographic actively excluded from video game marketing and taste-appeal (which would be a very weird feeling).
Jeffrey Wilson at 2D-X has a cool little anecdote about 'The Night Castlevania and Wu-Tang Clan owned NYC' and the hunt for a Castlevania sample heard (imagined? Auditory hallucination?!) in a 90s hip-hop track.
And here's another weird little thing from BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh who has a little think about some game-applications for MIT's distributed robotics' 'Smart Sand':
"…perhaps in some future game brought to you by BLDGBLOG and Big Robot—you have to battle your way forward through infinite sandstone buildings that rise up, one after the other, like endless violent waves rolling as far as the eye can see, a desert of shapes lurching and unbuilding themselves toward you, forever. You jump through doors, up stairways, over walls, never advancing forward more than a few feet at a time, blinded by clouds of sand crashing on all sides, always another building ready to rise up out of the moving dunes and block you."
At Sneaky Bastards (possibly the best named video game blog on the internet) James Patton has words about the Maltese Falcon and Games and Society and stuff. The piece describes itself (blogs these days! They do all your work for you!) as "Examining the stealth genre's depictions of society and culture, as seen through the stark, shadowy lens of The Maltese Falcon."
Vying for the 'best video game blog name' competition is Full Glass, Empty Clip (I'm surprised that I've not stumbled upon this site before), where blogger 'Stavros the Wonder Chicken' aka Christopher Kovacs talks about 'Living in First Person':
"Part of growing up isolated and insulated, for me at least, was burning curiosity about Other Places. Ever since I could remember, every new thing I learned about the world out there filled me with ever greater desire to see it for myself."
"POSTPLAY is a project founded on the fundamental principle that a video game is only as relevant as the contemplations or debates it provokes may be equally worthy of note; that the most significant games are, by definition, those which are capable of stimulating an edifying discussion and different degrees of contemplation. This, however, does not insinuate that a widely discussed title is, by definition, pertinent; quite the contrary, for this same criterion presupposes that the character and corollaries of the dialogue it incites provide an authentic intimation of its veritable merit."
Oh and I very nearly forgot – Michael Abbott at the Brainy Gamer blog, inspired by Taylor Clarke's essay/profile of Jon Blow in The Atlantic, has started a crowd sourced catalogue of "Smart Games" to counteract the notion that games are only Hollywood dumb. Go check it out, it's a weird lest (yes!) and it can get weirder if you choose to add stuff to it. Go forth and submit strange and eclectic games!
Hmm, so that's the week in weird video game writing, but it could always be weirder, more eclectic, more ambitious. Take that under consideration.
Here, one final parting curio: a mind-blowingly beautiful Vietnamese Café. Think about that and level design. Lets see that in a game.
I hope you enjoyed some of the weirdness. As always, we rely on your submissions to make it through the week. Send them via Twitter or email, if you please!