This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from a Kill Screen review of Adam Sandler's Pixels to the strange emptiness of Arkham Knight's city streets.
At the Crossroads
The good folks at Medievalists have shared coverage of a recent conference talk by University of Leeds PhD candidate Victoria Leeds, concerning the overlap between the medieval/quasi-medieval imagery of games like Skyrim and their embrace by white nationalists.
Meanwhile, History Respawned co-host John Harney speaks with Boston University’s Dr. Renata Keller on Tropico 5 (video) and the backdrop of US, Cuban and Caribbean politics which inform the game. And in painting a portrait of Middle-Eastern gamers enamored with American military shooters, Offworld's Maxwell Neely-Cohen muses on the gulf between real war and its refactoring as entertainment:
It's a strange contradiction. Militaries, governments, and armed groups recognize the power of the medium, and throw money into it, when the very medium could be limiting their ability to mobilize force and attract willing participants.
'Keep Your Politics Out of My Games'
At Kill Screen, Matt Margini offers up an enjoyable scathing review of prepackaged nostalgia blockbuster Pixels, criticizing its regressive sexual politics and male nerd aggrandizement:
This is not a movie that builds up to the revelation that these slob-nerds who ruled the 'cade in 1982 -- Sandler, James, plus Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage -- ought to rule the world in 2015. Let me reiterate: Kevin James is already President. There is no persecution. There is almost no opposition from the camp of "traditional masculinity," save some disgruntled barks [...] Almost the entire movie is a seamless, uninterrupted handjob for the small group of chubby (sic) white men whose skillset is demanded by the aliens. Everything revolves around them, everything confirms their worldview, and everything rewards them.
A short-but-sweet piece, in Gamasutra's Member Blogs Nicholas Lovell points out how a particular mechanic in Fallout Shelter reinforces cultural attitudes about women in combat. Likewise, Kotaku UK's Nathan Ditum notes certain continuities between EA developer remarks on the inclusion of women players in FIFA 16 and systemic sexist attitudes:
EA has clearly taken pains not just to include women's football, but to do it well. There is a sense both in Channon's fraught rhetoric ("If we don’t get it right...") and in the predictable hostility triggered by the announcement trailer itself that extra scrutiny will be applied to the women's game in FIFA 16. It can't just be there, it has to be beyond obvious reproach. The standard, in other words, is higher for women than for men -- men belong in this world, and women are new, optional arrivals.
(Content Warning: both of the above articles include some cisnormative language.)
At Eurogamer, Christian Donlan looks to Her Story and another recent independent title, Lifeline, for the personal relationships they build with their players. Meanwhile, at Paste, Mark R. Johnson has elected to mark the 35th anniversary of Rogue with a lucid explanation of the roguelike genre and its modern descendants.
Here's a three-hit combo from Gamasutra's developer blogs, the first from game composer Winifred Phillips who wonders if it can really be argued that all players are musicians -- and points to a few titles where they at least come close. With an eye to gameplay, Matthew Jenkin asks his fellow developers if, in seeking to address a 'bad' player behavior (like save scumming or "turtling"), they aren’t in fact creating a worse problem. And lastly, Deus Ex designer and amiable uncle-type Warren Spector has made his Gamasutra Expert Blog debut with a friendly ramble on why Telltale's games may not meet his definition of "game," but they're no less magic.
There's a China Doll in the Bullpen
Developer Richard Rouse III argues that both game developers and games journalists fetishize the practice of crunch, to dangerous effect:
In the worst cases our tendency to fetishize and brag about overwork allows teams to be exploited by predatory management practices, like unscoped feature creep or substantial changes in direction without adding time or budget to the project. Obviously overwork to make up for bad planning should (and often is) seen as a failure. But that overwork is partly made possible by our industry's acceptance of overtime as "what it takes." [...] Once you start thinking that way, people will take advantage of it.
At The New Inquiry, Bea Malsky looks to how casual games such as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Diner Dash teach the player to view often-invisible "women's work" as real labor under capitalism:
When Silvia Federici wrote Wages against Housework, she wasn't calling for hourly wages for housewives as an end in itself, and this is key -- she wanted recognition of housework as labor specifically to bring it into the realm of things that can be refused and revolted against. To radically reorganize affection, love, and care in the labor market is no simple task, and Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood certainly offer no solutions. What they do offer is a first suggestion, incredible in its existence on a mass-market scale: to make affective labor count, to think critically about our fraught relationships with our work, and to playfully reimagine what might be.
And back on Gamasutra's blogs, industry veteran Robert Fearon warns against the frequent revisionist history implicit in "doom-mongering" about an imminent industry crash:
The history of selling videogames is a history ignored, it's a story written in the now by those successful in selling videogames.
We're screwed, sure. That's not because selling videogames in 2015 is screwed it's because selling anything in any year is screwed and really hard. Rising above that is hard and always will be because the landscape is always shifting.
An Arkham Knight to Remember
At As Houses, Leigh Harrison laments a recent patch for The Witcher 3, small as it may appear, which undercuts some of the game's important motifs.
In a similar vein, Giant Bomb's Austin Walker despairs the depopulated city streets of Batman: Arkham Knight, arguing that the urban throngs of these superhero narratives are central to their themes:
[S]uperheroes symbolically fill the gaps that we fear that our infrastructure, no matter how well designed and managed, cannot. They save us from burning buildings, they protect our museums, they pull us from floods, they prevent the power plant from exploding, they stop ricocheting bullets from killing innocents, they help troubled kids to get out of shitty life situations. Superheroes sometimes even emerge directly from these anxieties -- from the violence or infrastructural failure. [...] [T]his is why I want to see Gotham alive with people and culture and museums and parties and schools and celebrations and life. Because superhero stories make the most sense to me when the promises of their cities are made clear. The promise is vital, and [developer] Rocksteady's Gotham promises nothing.
PopMatters Moving Pixels' Jorge Albor echoes the sentiment, contending that without an active Gotham City, its drama seems unmoored:
Gotham is burning [in] Arkham Knight, but what kindles its fires? Batman protects "Gotham's money" from Two-face and his gang, but from where does that money flow? The Penguin smuggles in guns, but to what end? Chinatown is a major landmark, but a city devoid of citizens is a city without its defining racial politics. Bruce Wayne warns Poison Ivy that without her help, every plant in the city will die, but where are Gotham's parks? [...] What is Gotham city? It is a simplified movie set and I am a tired actor.
Tune in Next Time, Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel...
These roundups are at their best when we receive submissions and recommendations from you! If you've written, vlogged, or podcasted something interesting, or have come across something in that vein you think would fit on these pages, drop us a line by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!
Critical Distance is proud to be funded entirely by its readership. If you enjoy these features and want to support more like them, please consider pledging to our Patreon!