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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From unfinished games to self deception

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Eric Swain on topics including a love letter to unfinished games, Skyrim and why gamers are skilled self deceivers, and more.

Eric Swain, Blogger

November 27, 2012

7 Min Read

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Eric Swain on topics including a love letter to unfinished games, Skyrim and why gamers are skilled self deceivers, and more. I spent my week watching the Desert Bus for Hope 6 charity drive, which finished up this week. The Desert Bus crew managed to raise $442,204.15 over the course of 152 non-stop hours for Child's Play. If there was ever a sign of goodness in the world, it's the sight of so many people willingly making fools of themselves for over six straight days to help the quality of life of children in hospitals. May all involved have a restful weekend of recovery. If you missed the show, you can catch most of the highlights on their YouTube channel and check out the event Flickr page. Onto This Week in Video Game Criticism. A new blog came to my attention, and in reading through Specs + Headphones' archives, I found these two pieces worthy of note from earlier in the year -- first, an examination of the games design in Final Fantasy XIII, and second, a piece spotlighting the video games that explore the social impacts of technology and how they show it. Now for this week's business. Helen Lewis of The New Statesman published a piece asking where all quality video game criticism was outside of the usual news/preview/review cycle of most mainstream gaming sites. To be fair, her focus was looking for penetration into mainstream outlets on radio and television, but did so in a way that to anyone not acquainted with Critical-Distance or the critical culture in general (i.e. the majority of The New Statesman's readership), it would seem like there was nothing there at all and they were missing nothing, reinforcing the mainstream status quo view of video games and those who play them. Of course the internet lost its collective shit. Though we did much better than usual. Eerily relevant is this piece from Impossible Mansion by J. Chastain on a major hurdle in gaming for those that haven't grown up with the medium and what it says about the people who put up with it. In addition, L. Rhodes of Culture Ramp wrote a subtle rebuke of her piece "Why are we still so bad at talking about video games?" stating, "Despite that lede, the author, one Helen Lewis, never answers the question, and never makes a very concerted pass at looking for why." He was also nice enough to point out the great irony of the day. This week might be the single greatest boon for long form game criticism I've seen since I've started doing this. Brendan Keogh has finally released his book, Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, for purchase. If you like criticism and want to see it properly supported and hopefully allow the medium to take one more step forward, buy it. It is available until December 21st for $2.99 and then on will be $4.99. If you want to pay more, Brendan says it would be more than appreciated. You can read an excerpt on Kotaku or check out the critical compilation we republished earlier this week. Additionally, our own Alan Williamson has launched his own online quarterly magazine focusing on long form criticism, Five Out of Ten, this week as well. The inaugural issue features pieces from our own Kris Ligman, previously mentioned Brendan "does he ever sleep" Keogh, freelance critic Lana Polansky, Bill Coberly of Ontological Geek and Alan Williamson himself. It is available for purchase now. At Unwinnable, Jul Scharr looks at Giant Sparrow's PSN game The Unfinished Swan and the ways it defies conventions and perception by placing you in an all white world. At the same site Cara Ellison bears her heart out "To the Games I will Never Finish: A Love Letter."

"No. Videogames are a hazy cocoon in which I can work out where my passion and hurt comes from: as if in therapy, I wrap myself in remembering them. Videogames are something that I participate in, am active in. They are intrinsically part of my romantic life, my sex life – any life in which I have been around people or loved people or been upset with them. There is rarely a time when I have not associated the men that I have loved with their favourite game, or by the act of my playing a certain game when I am in love with them, or the act of lending a game, talking about a game, the game that in between sex you play together, like foreplay. There has never been a time where I have not associated someone I loved with how they played a game. Relationships are life co-op. To cry, to cry over a keyboard. That is a thing."

Patricia Hernandez appeared on RockPaperShotgun, to write about Fallout 2 in their Gaming Made Me series. It is a powerfully personal piece on how she grew disillusioned with the American dream and the game that was responsible for it. I would insert a quote, but I'd end up copy pasting the whole thing. Over at Nightmare Mode, a trio of articles caught our eye. First, Jordan Rivas calls the depiction of religion in games awful for both the non-religious and religious alike. Then Merritt Kopas talks about using games in the classroom to help the students understand the systems behind the oppression rather than anecdotal stories in film or books. And a rabbi, a rabbit, and a robot walk into a bar in Jonas Kyratzes' conversational discussion on stories in games. At Medium Difficulty, Adam Maresca does "A Thoroughly Modern Reading of Revolution X" a game featuring Aerosmith from the SNES. Supposedly. Maybe. Moving on. Medium Difficulty also gave us "An Ode to Stanley & Esther" by Miguel Penabella. Due to the similar structures of The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther, I'm surprised nobody has written a piece of comparative criticism before. Our David Carlton wrote a lengthy piece going point by point everything Dragon Age II does right with regards of stepping away from the RPG norm. He also has a piece on Super Hexagon in which he compares learning the game to the similar struggle of learning to read. Joseph Bernstein in his Black Ops 2 review at Kill Screen calls the game "an atrocity exhibition." He tries to examine his feelings towards the game in the larger cultural contexts and why most won't ever bother. Meanwhile, Kyle Derkson at Push Select Magazine says, "If heroes actually exist, being one must be hell." Ben Milton writing for The Ontological Geek, asks "Are rules art?" Brendan Keogh continues his A Sum of Parts series on Binary Domain by looking at the gimmick that is the trust system and how integral it is to the game. Robert Rath concludes his look at conflict Minerals in the gaming industry by explaining the progress and the setbacks. Cameron Kunzelman writes "On Final Fantasy VIII" in twelve points on what it's about and what it does. There are also lots of screenshots. Mary Goodden at God is a Geek wrote a character study of Francis "York" Morgan from Deadly Premonition and how the game connects to Lynch's works Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive. Jordan Rivas has a post about Skyrim and self deception.

"We, gamers, are perhaps the most skilled self deceivers on the planet. That in and of itself is not good or bad. We can only ascertain it's value or danger as individuals, because it will vary from person to person. We have to measure the result by how we use this skill."

Leigh Alexander is at it again with a letter series, only this time with Quintin Smith on Gamasutra. They discuss Dyad. Mattie Brice talks about the strange new iOS phenomenon Boyfriend Maker at The Border House. Daniel Joseph has posted this video that, in his words, "addresses the political ramifications of the shift in production of video games for oppositional groups known as 'Counterpublics.'" Edge has a piece on the opera level of Hitman: Blood Money that has some interesting class and performance implications. And speaking of Hitman, remember that whole kerfuffle with the stripper nuns being killed in the Hitman: Absolution trailer several months ago? Well Carol Pinchesfsky of Forbes decided, now that the game is out, to interview an actual former stripper. If nothing else, it's entertaining. Thank you for reading. I hope all our American readers had a lovely Turkey Day. As always, please submit any links you find to our email or @ message our twitter account.

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