This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Riley MacLeod on topics ranging from the storytelling of Bloodborne to the closure mechanics of Tarot.
Arts and Letters
The excitement about Bloodborne is still in full force, as well as interest in its lineage of devilishly hard games about souls. This week, Brad Gallaway writes about Bloodborne's storytelling, as does Reid McCarter. Meanwhile, Corey Milne departs from the newest entry to discuss place in Demon Souls and Dark Souls.
Mechanics and narrative have been another hot topic this week. Over at Pop Matters, G. Christopher Williams writes about narrative and storytelling in The Charnel House, pointing out the debt it owes to writers like Mark Z. Danielewski and John Barth. In a somewhat similar vein, Ben Chapman applies Stephen King's adage to avoid adverbs to video games, exploring the ways in which video game dialogue choices sometimes eschew nuance at the expense of more impacting and interesting moments.
At Offworld, Leigh Alexander picks up a similar thread to look at the effects of typography in Kentucky Route Zero. And speaking of speaking, back at Pop Matters, Nick Dinicola pokes at the awkwardness of silent protagonists in leadership positions, looking at Battlefield 4 to point out that:
Our silence prevents us from ever becoming an active participant in this world. We can only ever be a free floating camera that’s either ignored or lectured to, and when we’re addressed with complex issues, we can only ever respond with a blank stare.
Lastly, Mattie Brice looks at interactivity in games and tarot through the lens of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, pointing out how comics' understanding of "closure":
is the kind of interactivity that is shared by all mediums, where the piece requires imagination, for people to fill in themselves in the blanks knowingly or not. I’m starting to think that play is games’ version of closure, if it isn’t closure in and of itself.
Games and Spectators
There was also a flurry of writing about Let's Plays this week. At FemHype, Emily G writes about how her early interest in Let's Plays was soured by the community's sexism and searingly concludes:
The Let’s Playing community is a great opportunity to bring fans of games together to play together, share their experiences and opinions, and help shape the kind of games that people want. The problem, or one of the main problems, is that the two societally recognized halves of this community aren’t standing on equal footing yet. Female LPers are torn down and scared away from a community that they could positively impact. The question, really, is what the solution could be, and I think it really boils down to more women and girls fighting back against the negative connotations that come along with being a lady who Let’s Plays.
Exploring the emotional impact of making Let's Plays, Jackson Tyler at Abnormal Mapping writes about the experience of making Let's Plays of Super Mario every morning and how the ritual of public play and failure had an overall positive influence:
I’m not talking prescriptively here, games are not a replacement for legitimate mental health assistance and they never will be. But as a sort of personal exercise, the Morning Mario proved incredibly effective. Having to fail daily, and fail publically [sic] with no way to back out or move the goalpost, forced me to confront my daily anxieties, and gave me a safe space to create coping mechanisms that I can attempt to apply to areas of my life with stakes that remain incredibly high.
In a somewhat similar exploration of failure, back at Offworld, Gita Jackson writes movingly about games and failure, musing: "I wonder how seeing yourself die -- because your avatar is you, in a sense -- changes how we see our failures in our own life."
This is Who I Am
On a different note, at Not Your Mama's Gamer, Samantha Blackmon and Alisha Karabinus write about the hidden costs of being a games critic and scholar, polling their writing staff to look at how fiscal barriers to access to technology or new games negatively impacts the diversity of people writing about or teaching games.
Nick Hanford at Higher Level Gamer writes about identity tourism and Never Alone, drawing connections between high school community service trips and the game's critical reception, raising important issues about how we engage with diversity in games. He writes:
I’m afraid that Never Alone is like that weeklong trip I took to Pine Ridge. I feel like I’ve done a few hours of work and have gone back to my comforts, but I’m not sure about what comes next-- if anything. I fear that like the tattoo that I have, I, or other players, will quickly allow the experience of this game to be reduced down to objects that we can easily pick up and examine, removed from their context. I fear that other players will look at it and boil down the Iñupiat to scrimshaw and caribou-skin clothes. I fear this because I’ve personally done it before, albeit with different experiences and outcomes.
Along similar lines, Todd Harper complicates the reveal that Kung Jin in Mortal Combat X is gay, asking questions about how representation in games is a complicated affair. He writes, "The point, though, is to keep trying. To acknowledge forward steps and course correct after backwards ones. To keep forward momentum going and not be satisfied."
At Vice, Soha Kareem writes about altgames, taking care to point out particular works by diverse creators, as well as the new forms of journalism surrounding them.
There's also been some interesting writing about religion in games this week. Grayson at Video Game Heart writes about games' potential to encompass spirituality, and over at Game Church, Christopher Hutton provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of Christian videogames.
Lastly, it's worth noting that Cara Ellison has written her last S.EXE at Rock Paper Shotgun, at lovely series that I'm sad to see go.
Shout-outs this week to the release of Merritt Kopas's book Videogames for Humans, which brings Twine authors, games critics, writers, and players together in conversation. This hefty volume is well worth your time if any of those topics interest you (full disclosure: I have an essay in the book).
That's it for this week, readers! I hope you are enjoying the sun, staying warm, or whatever the weather is throwing at you. If you've come across a interesting piece of games writing, you can submit it to us via Twitter or through email.
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