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This Week In Video Game Criticism: You Can't Out Run Dragon Age

Gamasutra is partnering with game criticism site Critical Distance to round up inspiring writing on the art and design of games, weekly. This time: Dragon Age, New Super Mario Bros and much more.

Ben Abraham

November 26, 2009

6 Min Read

[We're partnering with game criticism site Critical Distance to present some of the week's most inspiring writing about the art and design of video games from commentators worldwide. This week, Ben Abraham discusses Dragon Age, New Super Mario Bros, Out Run, and that darn 'No Russian' level again.] In the middle of the torrent of newly released games, Andrew Smale writes instead about Radical's six-month old Prototype in a post titled 'Prototype: With Great Power Comes No Responsibility'. His thesis? “Prototype is advertised as a “superhero” video game. But Alex Mercer is no hero. He isn’t even an anti-hero. He is a plague on humanity.” Clint Hocking writes “On Auteurship in Games” in response to a New York Times article discussing games as an art form and the rise of the indie auteur. Hocking critiques the article’s conflation of the issues of authorship and the medium’s status as an art form. Auteur theory has, I know, been discussed by others before, most notably to my mind by Mitch Krpata. Lyndon Warren takes a look at Dragon Age’s generic fantasy setting and takes a detour through contemporary fantasy writing trends, coming up with some interesting parallels: "Freed from the burden of creating interesting creatures or metaphysical systems of magic recent fantasy writers have instead decided to reflect on the complexity of the real world. …Which is what Dragon Age does, the world of Ferelden isn’t anything you haven’t seen before but its people and themes are. At least for a videogame they’re pretty original." One of our readers sent this link in and its well worth sharing with you here – it’s the classic arcade game Out Run and the author’s thesis is that it was not so much a racing game as one about the whole driving experience: "Out Run is about driving, not racing. It is not about tense competition or white-knuckle action, though it does demand skill and precision. It is not about compiling good lap times or practicing the best line on a sequence of curves. What it is about, as the Wikipedia article so deftly puts it, is "luxury and relaxation."" Never let it be said that there’s nothing to learn from older games. Matthew Armstrong writes as SnakeLinkSonic, and this week he writes about the female perspective as gamers, continuing to reprise an older series of his posts on video games as art. (He notes: "The first version of this post was composed of a wanton surge of exasperation with how women were depicted in games.") GamesIndustry.biz’s Matt Martin reports on research that claims ‘Marketing influences game revenue three times more than high scores’, and noting that, “the research came to the same conclusion; marketing is more important than game quality.” It's not clear that this causation is completely proved. But if so, that’s a little bit depressing for game critics everywhere, but also for game developers themselves, as the original article notes. One of the newer games criticism blogs around, featured on TWIVGC before, is Nicholas Shurson’s Form8 blog. His piece on BraidPlay for absolution’ made its way to me through two different channels this week. Does that make it doubly worth reading? It's neat nonetheless. Matthew Kaplan has been busy this week, soliciting comments from various game critic types about the Modern Warfare 2 ‘No Russian’ level, and I have a little bit to say myself in part one, alongside a number of humblingly intelligent comments. There’s also a part two, featuring yet more. And if that’s not enough people saying things about ‘No Russian’ for you, here’s a sort of mini-compilation of mainstream critical responses to MW2 in the UK, courtesy of The Guardian newspaper. I mentioned and linked to Tom Chick’s piece on the level in question last week, but here are two more online game-criticism notables with things to say about ‘No Russian’. First, Tom Bissell at Crisp yGamer says this: "I have now played through "No Russian" several times and behaved differently each run through it. My skepticism, I believe, was warranted. About the best one can say about "No Russian" is that it is morally confused and dramatically lazy. Yes, of course, it is affecting and provocative -- but so is purposefully stomping on someone's big toe. This is essentially what "No Russian" does when it desperately needs to do much, much more." For the record, Kieron Gillen of Rock, Paper, Shotgun agrees, saying simply “It’s bullshit, isn’t it?” Not content to just leave it at that however, Gillen goes on to explain why – because essentially “Anyone else who tries it will be living in their diseased shadow”. I’m not content to leave that as the final word about Modern Warfare 2, as it were, so here’s Suki’s piece on the least examined aspect of MW2 – that the game is a chicken killing coup. That’s much better. Kat Bailey’s Retronauts blog on 1UP talks about the omission of Princess Peach as a playable character in New Super Mario Bros for the Wii. The reason is that she’s once again the object of rescue, and the result is there remains no playable female character. "Shigeru Miyamoto's official explanation for leaving her out of NSMB Wii is that it's difficult to animate her dress. Apparently, her skirts require special processing and progamming, so she's once again been captured by Bowser Jr. and the attendant Koopalings. Funny that -- as she's demonstrated time and again throughout her various appearances, Peach is more than capable of crushing Bowser and all of his attendant children by herself. Maybe the rumors are true and she simply enjoys being kidnapped." Sorry Shiggy, you’re not fooling anyone. Elsewhere, Melinda Bardon writes about how Dragon Age: Origins actually changes the players experience if they play as a female character, unlike many other RPGs which often simply slap a female skin on an otherwise male role. Bardon says, "In Dragon Age, however, I have already been questioned by my subordinate party member, Sten, twice as to my abilities to lead a group of warriors as a woman. I’ve also been subject to comments from NPC characters in passing, expressing surprise that the Gray Wardens allowed women into the sect." Matthew Burns nee-Wasteland wrote a highly readable piece on the compulsion to compare games to ‘Citizen Kane’ and the inferiority complex he sees it as reflecting in the gamer community: "This inferiority complex runs so deeply in the gamer mindset that we will often swear up and down it does not exist while we continue unbridled our wildly passive-aggressive approach towards the artistic establishment, equal parts brash and defensive, trying to look older and more experienced than our years: the hallmark of youthful insecurity." I wonder if a stronger critical community, akin to institutionalized film reviewers and critics, would go a way toward curtailing this tendency? Finally, Gamasutra this week featured an interview with Susan O’Connor of Gears of War/Far Cry 2/Bioshock writing fame, and I’ll leave you with a link to Hardcasual’s piece on how four members of staff of EB Games survived the release of Left 4 Dead 2 through “teamwork and Molotov cocktails”. Cute.

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