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This Week In Video Game Criticism: On Auteurism And Excessive Exposition

This week, our partnership with game criticism site <a href="http://www.critical-distance.com/">Critical Distance</a> brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics including player directed stories and text based exposition.

Ben Abraham, Blogger

January 27, 2011

5 Min Read

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics including how player directed stories limit the power of the author, character death, and excessive exposition.] Another busy week for video game blogging (when is it ever not?), so we've got a nice haul here for your reading pleasure. First up, Jaime Griesemer of Bungie has started writing about design, and largely multiplayer design: initially, it's drafts for larger arguments, but they're still well worth reading. Here's a definition of i¿½affordancei¿½ that borrows from philosopher Martin Heidegger, and here's a definition of balance that says true and lasting balance is nigh-impossible. Trent Polack at his Polycat blog wrote about 'The Systemic Integrity of Expression', or why he prefers games to make a statement in line with their mechanics. The excellent Kill Screen magazine (full disclosure: I write for them occasionally) has launched an excellent web-based blog outlet. We mentioned Simon Ferrari's piece there last week, and since then there's at least two more pieces worth reading. First, in a new monthly column, Rich Clark looks at the world-view evoked by Hydro Thunder Hurricane: "There are only two speeds: boosting and not boosting. Hydro Thunder Hurricane portrays speed in such a way that it seems like a defensive and necessary response to the world." Similarly, Nora Khan in her piece 'Isolation Chambers' wrote about Dead Space, exploring its theme of sensory deprivation, isolation and silence. In addition, the newly minted head honcho of Gamer Melodico, Dan Apczynski wades into the video game music necessary-or-not debate, responding to Stephen Totilo's Kotaku article last week. Also along for the ride is Bitmob's Chase Koeneke with another defense of 'Why game music matters'. Also at Bitmob this week, Dennis Scimeca does a little bit of interesting research into how outlets review RPGs: "I tried to read all 77 critic reviews of Fallout: New Vegas on Metacritic in order to see how many of the writers actually finished the game, but I could only get through 26 before I almost died from boredom. Of those 26, only one reviewer stated that he finished the game." Mark Sample provides us with the text of a presentation he gave, in which he argues that new media studies (and this applies to game criticism as well) too heavily privileges the on-screen event 'at the expense of the underlying computer code, the hardware, the storage devices, and even the non-digital inputs and outputs that make the digital object possible in the first place.' His answer is to suggest more focus on a close-reading of code itself, and you don't have to be a programmer to do it either. A very thought-provoking read. At the Border House this week, Alex Raymond looked at playing a character's death in games. Here's how she describes the moment in Crisis Core FFVII: "But in Zack's final battle, the DMW [a special ability slot machine] starts to malfunction. The screen zooms to the DMW in the normal fashion, but when it stops, characters disappear, their slots becoming blank." Here's a list of '5 Gameplay Cliches of the 2000's', as described by Michael Carusi on his Destructoid blog. The list includes Helicopter Bosses in FPSes and locked doors making the easy path inaccessible, two of my favorite cliches. Let's put these to bed. Yes. At his 'Aporia' blog, Rainier Jaarsma writes this week around the topic of 'The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Death of the Author'. Taking inspiration from the newly touted 'radiant story', Jaarsma assaults the idea of quest templates that use randomness and variation to build variable side quests: "Radiant Story opens up a new dimension of authorless creativity. It is no longer about a brilliant idea, about a blast of insightfulness, no, it is about creating templates. Yuk!" Evocative stuff, but on a purely personal level, I actually find the prospect extremely tantalizing. Randomness, surprise and serendipity in heavily procedural games I've always found extremely attractive qualities. Dave Thier at The Atlantic writes about 'Factory Farmville: An Online Game's Industrialization', a tongue in cheek piece about his time with the Facebook game, sharing his story of virtual exodus to the city(ville): "It became too much. I let the fields go fallow and began playing another Zynga game, Cityville. I see those other farmers still on their land, planted hedgerow to hedgerow, scouring their coops in hopes of golden eggs and waiting for the fat cats at Zynga to bless them with some new piece of machinery so they can click their lives away just to scrounge together enough coins to eke a few more levels toward what I assume is the American Dream. Poor bastards." Michael Clarkson at Discount Thoughts discusses Epic Mickey in 'The Text Blues: Silence is Leaden': "The problem with the use of text in Epic Mickey isn't that it supersedes spoken dialogue, or at least it isn't just that. If Epic Mickey really is, as it appears to be, a game about cartoons, attempting to communicate with its audience in the way early cartoons communicated, then the extensive text presence interferes with the aesthetic goals that the absence of dialogue is trying to achieve." It's an older post, but it checks out. I was about to clear it. Katie Williams at the Alive Tiny World blog writes about 'Deus Ex: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness i¿½ or as close as we'll ever get to it'. In Williams' words, "Less of a game for me, and more of an alternate life that played out after dark, I watched JC Denton unfurl a little more of an incredibly complex conspiracy every night in between work and university commitments. Whenever I returned to my more prosaic real life, I longed for the next time I'd get to play Deus Ex and felt incredibly despondent." And lastly for the week, Salon brings us the touching tale of a mother playing WoW with her son and how it helped her through a divorce.

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