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This Week In Video Game Criticism: Shameful Joys To Start Screens

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the shameful joys of Deus Ex: HR, the power of a silent start screen, and mor

Ben Abraham, Blogger

October 18, 2011

8 Min Read

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the shameful joys of Deus Ex: HR, the power of a silent start screen, and more.] Hello and welcome to #OccupyTWIVGC, where we're interested in the best and brightest alternatives to the video game review hegemony! Down with the 100 point scale! Up with rich description and analysis! Onward to an imaginative and constructively critical video game future! Beginning our week of occupation and reclamation we start with the incredible engineering-and-technology informed criticism of id's Rage that's come out of the excellent Dead End Thrills blog. Yes, it's a collection of beautifully treated screenshots from Rage, but it's also more – it's a giant photo essay, and some prescient future-thinking about games engines and the direction games are taking:

"Calling the tech 'revolutionary' seems a little premature when so much seems geared to Rage's old habits, its look harking back to the likes of Myst and Riven. But it is disruptive tech which, at a time when games are still struggling with parallel processing, provides the clearest indication yet of how old techniques – sparse voxel octrees and the like, which in id Tech 6 might bring this game's uniqueness to geometry as well – can show us the way forward. On top of that, Rage is a disruptive game. It reminds us how far we've erred from the thrills of 'run-and-gun' into pedestrian 'stop-and-pop'; how we've lost the rhythm of the firstperson shooter; and how look and feel are still more important than gimmicks and Gamerscore."

At The Brainy Gamer blog, Michael Abbott summarizes Richard Lemarchand's Indiecade Keynote about 'Beauty and Risk'. Our own Katie Williams wrote this week a great piece on 'Peter Molydeux' (sic) for Kotaku Australia. Molydeux many will be familiar to many of you as the satirical twitter account parodying the weird mix of enthusiasm and outrageous claims that his namesake, Peter Molyneux, is so well known for. And if that's not enough for you, there's extra material to read at Williams' own Alive Tiny World blog. Jonathan McCalmont writes this week about 'The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolution' in his typically evocative style:

"DXHR's myriad eccentricities form a thematic whole that casts a rueful eye over the miseries and frustrations of modern life. The game begins this examination with a meaningful departure from the culture of generosity and empowerment created by the first two games in the Deus Ex series, before ushering in an atmosphere of frustration, claustrophobia and willing submission that closely resembles the mind-set required to survive in a system dead-set on grinding you into the dust."

Meanwhile at Joystick Division, James Hawkins tackles the military shooter genre and airs his reservations, pointing out that generally "stories about war have to be about something much more than combat to be widely accepted as fair, legitimate works of art." Hawkins doesn't find that to be the case in videogames, and wonders why:

"Black Ops never once portrayed the Vietnamese as living, breathing people. In the storied history of the Call of Duty franchise, or in the Battlefield or Medal of Honor franchise for that matter, never once have we seen the opposition as people. We shoot them as people, they stumble and roll across pavement as people, yet their humanity is categorically absent from our encounters with them."

As a small aside, I've always thought it was an overlooked corollary of the games-as-art position that if games are art, and if art affects people, then we should be open to seriously considering what the effects of video game art might be. There's nothing that says they must all be good effects, and the ease with which the "games cause violence" discussion is waved away by some of the same advocates doesn't gel with a real belief in the affective capacity of art. The Erics at Nightmare Mode had a couple of posts this week, with Eric Lockaby writing the third part of his 'Your Homosexual Lover Is In Another Castle' series (I think this is one that needs to be read from the beginning), and our own Eric Swain writes to argue that 'Atmosphere is not enough', comparing both Limbo and Another World. He notes

"…how similar they are and how one gets what it's doing so right and the other gets it so wrong. Both games are silent environmental puzzle games that tell their story through imagery and mood more than anything else. Both games exude an air of loneliness and oppression by the world at large and end ambiguously. But where Another World utilizes this as a basis to dive into other matters and themes, with Limbo it's the whole show."

LB Jeffries has written a great post for KillScreen this week, called 'In Brief: What Can Games Teach Us About Law?'

"One of the most famous examples of someone using a game to explain a legal concept is Ronald Dworkin's Hard Cases on the difficulties of creating a representative democracy. He uses the example of a chess tournament dispute to explain why the same rule can affect two people differently. Let's say you have a rule which says, "If you taunt another opponent, you immediately forfeit the game." Seems innocent enough, right? Two players sit down and one smiles at the other. For cultural reasons, the opposing player is insulted by smiling and flips out. They demand that their opponent be forced to forfeit for taunting them. How do you call that? If the player is genuinely offended, then technically the other player broke the rule. Is it a fair outcome to let them win in this manner? What if they're just abusing the rule? Dworkin explains that the best we've come up with for resolving this problem is to have a judge make a decision one way or the other. And that comes with a whole host of issues about how they should go about doing that."

Somewhat enigmatic blogger 'Emtilt' wrote in to tell us about a post he or she had written, and we're glad they did as it's an intriguing analysis of 'Agency and Animals in The Cat and The Coup'. It describes how making the player assume the role of a cat locates their position on the side of the Western powers:

"To some extent, then, the game is an accusation, a statement that we, the game players, are responsible through our apathy for events of this sort that transpire. This is quite different than most games, which typically cater to appeasing the player entirely."

At the Malvasia Bianca blog, our dashing editor David Carlton discusses 'The psychosexuality of Rock Band vocals' with a real frankness and candor. It's a very intimate archaeology of Carlton's inner responses to different types of vocal singing in Rock Band; as a former singer myself, I too know how intimate and personal the activity can be. At his blog Groping the Elephant, Justin Keverne posts the second part in his outline for 'Systemic Storytelling' that received kudos this week. The first part is here, if you missed it when it was posted back in March. At the Pop Matters Moving Pixels blog, G Christopher Williams writes that 'A Quiet Start Screen Speaks Volumes', referring of course, to the newly released Dark Souls:

"I wasn't really sure what I was expecting, but the game quietly informed me in three brief screen changes that Bandai Namco had published it, From Software had developed it, and that it would be running on the Havok engine—nothing especially surprising there. Most modern games run through these brief "credits" before a start screen. They had appeared quietly, though, as I said before. There was none of the 'WE'RE TEAM FUCKIN' NINJA KA-BLAMMO' fanfare that some publishers go for. Then, the next screen came. It was black with just vaguely pulsing white letters, and it simply read: 'Dark Souls,' then 'Press Start Button.' No music. No intro movie. That was it. And it filled me with utter dread."

Independent developer Krystian Majewski has been having trouble keeping the trailers and gameplay videos for his indie game Trauma up on the video hosting site Vimeo. After reading his account of their treatment of him, one has to wonder, does Vimeo just have it in for videogames? Majewski says as much:

"…all this time I can't help thinking that this was because I'm working with games. If I was a fimmaker, this is issue would never crop up. But games have to constantly defend their status as a way of creative expression. When creating games, you are by default suspected of either selling out or producing nothing of value what so ever. Or both."

And least but not least, Quinnae at The Border House blog would like to have a bit of a discussion with Mary Kirby and David Gaider to discuss some of the importance nuances in transgender representation and portrayal in the Dragon Age games. That's it for our occupation: the police have come and taken away our laptops so we're going to head home now. But until we meet up again to protest the Game Journalism Hegemony, please consider sending us links of your most revolutionary, liberating, and inspirational pieces of games writing throughout the week. You can get in touch via Twitter or email.

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