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This Week In Video Game Criticism: From 'weird Japan' to Final Fantasy VII

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Western media's coverage of "weird Japan," one of Final Fantasy VII's worst design moments, and more.

Kris Ligman, Blogger

September 25, 2012

8 Min Read

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Western media's coverage of "weird Japan," one of Final Fantasy VII's worst design moments, and more. Great. Who let the Ericbot out? Do you have any idea the kind of damage he does to the carpet? Ahem… Well, now that your TWIVGC overlord is again in the captain's chair, let's set off for parts unknown with the best and brightest of games criticism, commentary and investigation. It's This Week in Video Game Criticism! Let's start off with a world view. Jordan Magnuson has put together a downloadable omnibus wrapping up the series of games inspired by his world travels. Next, Simon Parkin delivers an investigative report on recent internet cafe gaming deaths. (The next section bears a trigger warning for discussion of rape, sexual assault and objectification.) 1UP's Jeremy Parish takes aim at Western media's coverage of "weird Japan" and a so-called fixation adult games:

"Make no mistake, the fact that Rapelay entered the American conscious right around the time that gaming blogs began to supplement their 24-hour news cycle with "scandalous" content is no coincidence. What might have been a minor blip a few years prior became a widely reported new story as bloggers licked their lips at the prospect of the traffic a sex scandal could bring. In the fine tradition of the media, little effort was made to balance discussion of the game or promote a wider understanding of the context surrounding it. And make no mistake: The context surrounding RapeLay was hardly accepting. Simply because the game was legal to sell in Japan doesn't mean the Japanese public took delight in it. On the contrary, the otaku community is often regarded as an unfortunate blight on the Japanese culture by the Japanese themselves. Akihabara could be regarded less a promised land and more a quarantine zone."

(End trigger warning section.) Dan Thurot takes us through a five-part tour of the story and themes of Metro 2033. And on the subject of post-apocalypses, Unwinnable's Stu Horvath muses on what makes it such an entertaining setting:

"Our romance with the apocalypse is a celebration of misanthropy. The point of Last Stop, Apocalypse – and the apocalypse itself, for that matter – is to judge people. Eschatology (the study of heaven and hell, death and judgment) used to be found only within the domain of theology – Judgment Day and Ragnarok and on and on through religions new and old – but now there is a whole branch of popular culture devoted to the end times. Mad Max, In the Mouth of Madness, Fallout, Mass Effect, I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead; all our genre stories seem increasingly concerned with Armageddon. [After the apocalypse] it will be quiet. A man, his dog and his shotgun, living off the land. It may not be safe and it may not be easy, but at least I saw you all burn first, right? I survived. The math of everyday living is easier without you. Now it's my world to mess up or save, as I want."

Other bloggers this week were more concerned with a current, more persistent kind of doomsday. Scripted Sequence's Spencer treats us to the devolution of Super Mario Bros.' currency into worthlessness:

"Playing New Super Mario Bros. 2 over the last week, a few things struck me. Is Nintendo, a once mighty company brought to its knees in the last year by the 3DS omnishambles, making some kind of sick joke at its own expense? Has it created a game-length meditation on the financial bubble and its aftermath? Or is it just a gaming dinosaur recycling old tricks in a desperate attempt to recapture past glories?"

Meanwhile, Cameron Kunzelman looks back to Final Fantasy VII and how one of its worst design moments (the plate climbing scene) functions as a metaphor for class:

"One of the ways that poverty is entrenched structurally is through information control. There are forms to be filled out. There are tax documents to wade through. There are services that are never communicated to the people who need them because realistically servicing an entire population is prohibitively expensive. Poverty exists in loops–you never see a way out because you're too busy making ends meet, or no one shows you, or no one tells you that you need to apply for scholarships by a deadline. To not be homeless, you need a job; to get a job, you need a permanent address. Infinite loop. […] So this section of Final Fantasy 7 is a translation of that real-world issue into the mechanics of the game. Instead of navigating structural or informational architecture, the player is literally forced to navigate a space that is mysterious and unclear. This gets achieved in a couple ways, all of which are really interesting. The game chooses this moment to begin navigation vertically rather than horizontally–so far, the player has been navigating horizontal planes and entering them from the left and the right. The move to pure verticality is a subtle way to suggest the difficulty of the actual movement (we're climbing up a tiny pipe) and the difficulty of the mission at hand (invading the heart of power in the world; going into the lion's den). Additionally, the player moves in and out of different z-planes. It is literally impossible to navigate in a purely visual manner. Instead, the player has to exhaust all of her potential spatial movement to even get the barest hint of the pathway that she is supposed to take."

Sean Sands laments the pains of parenting a second-generation gamer while Chris Bateman outlines the four regimes of play. Over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Robert Yang offers up a three-part counter-history arguing for a more holistic look at the influences which shaped the first person genre: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are all highly recommended reads. Responding to Richard Clark's "Exegesis" piece, GameChurch colleague Jordan Ekeroth takes the position that human subjectivity will always prevent us from perfectly interpreting a game's meaning:

"If Super Hexagon is an outworking of Nietzsche's ideals, then it is also a demonstration of his shortcomings. He spoke of man as improving and as you play Super Hexagon, you will eventually improve. But he also spoke of man as becoming something more than man, transcending the weakness of man's nature by force of will, and this is a more tenuous proposition. This is a proposition that has led to holocaust and genocide. As mankind evolves and improves, we do not become something other than man, we merely increase the boundaries of man. Harsh lines of demarcation may be drawn to segregate people across all sorts of social levels, but they cannot divide us from a common heritage. Super Hexagon illustrates this perfectly. You can go from level to level. Line. Triangle. Square. You can strive to last longer and longer. But you cannot beat this game. It is like approaching light speed, where the closer you get to the barrier, the more difficult acceleration becomes, and yet even more impossible than this feasibly breakable barrier, because there literally is no point at which the walls stop coming. Exegesis creates the same difficulty. We should make every effort to determine a creator's intentions. But we should not make the mistake of ever thinking that we can know them perfectly."

Luke Rhodes is continuing his series of interviews with some big figures of the ludodecahedron (and me, for some odd reason). The latest in the interview chair is industry vet, current Unwinnable regular contributor Jenn Frank, and it's definitely a must-read. Next, a couple of pieces that defy easy categorization. First, Richard Cobbett has kicked off his series of articles on what is, as far as I'm concerned, the only right way to play Skyrim. And did you know thecatemites has a new website? It's glorious. "If you see something that looks like a videogame but isn't, you should notify the Police." Lastly, some signal boosting. Kim has rebooted the Boycott Atlus blog as an all-purpose tumblr calling out sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other gross behaviors in games and their adjacent marketing. I give you Fuck No Videogames. (Naturally, a trigger warning figures for all of the above.) That's it for this week. If you're up for some more reading material, dear Jim Rossignol has you covered. And, please, if the Ericbot gets out again, just pull his plug, will you? Remember that you can (and definitely should) send us your recommendations for great acts of video game blogging via Twitter or email. We can't stress enough the importance of this! Also be sure to check out Alan Williamson's Blogs of the Round Table while there is still time for his end-of-September roundup. Stay safe and write on!

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