This Week In Game Criticism: Exploration, eSports, and Essential Sounds

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics such as Miyamoto's attempts at recreating childhood exploration, th
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics such as Miyamoto's attempts at recreating childhood exploration, the problems with eSports, and whether game music is 'essential.'] First off this week, Ashelia, writing for her new Tumblr muses on why she works in the game industry, and about why games leave such an important mark on the player: "It's about the experience, not the game. Your favorite game may not be mine, but it probably affected you in the same way. You played it. You loved it. You learned it. And you'll never feel the same way about another game unless you work on one." Here's one we missed last week: Brady Nash of the How Curious blog writes in response to Nick Paumgarten's New Yorker profile of Shigeru Miyamoto, and connects Miyamoto's attempts at reconstructing the experience of a child exploring the natural environment with the literature of Philip K. Dick. About Miyamoto's efforts, Nash writes, "I'm sure the problem feels especially acute in Japan, the world's most urbanized country, but the idea pops up again and again in Western fiction as well, especially in science fiction.." Nicholas Lovell at Games Brief asked a host of thoughtful and influential people 'What is a social game?', including John Romero, Ian Bogost, Jesse Schell, Brenda Brathwaite, Margaret Robinson and a host of others. To quote Bogost, "A social game is the last unicorn in the vacuum of space." I blame Bogost for getting the song from Robot Unicorn Attack stuck in my head again. At Gamers with Jobs, Chris Clemens writes about 'The Game before The Game' in a text-adventure emulating prose style: "You are at a social gathering and the sit-down small talk has ebbed to its conclusion. An awkward silence fills the room: the silence of opportunity. "Let's play a game," someone suggests. >>RESPOND YES. "Games are a social lubricant," you say. Bad phrasing." Elsewhere, Kris Ligman at PopMatters writes about 'One Chance: playing with the notion of irreversible consequences' discussing the flash game 'One Chance' and a particular moment from Mass Effect 2: "Realizing that the action wasn't in my hands freed me from feeling guilty about it, theorizing that it was reversible spared me from grieving about it. It's a little ironic that in a series of games promoting the empowerment of the player to make choices, I got my biggest shock from something that I only thought that I could control." Also at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams looks at 'The Politics of Submission: The Romance of Enslaved'. While we're talking about that game, Eric Swain at The Game Critique writes about 'Enslaved's thematic failure' and links to a couple of other thoughtful and interesting responses to the game. Here's Swain's takeaway: "Enslaved is the game that finally made me think about abandoning single player games and their strictly authored narratives." Alex Raymond reminds us why Final Fantasy VII is such a memorable game, looking back at the world-building done in the games intro sequence: "FFVII has a reputation for being huge and confusing (and I certainly remember being confused a lot the first time I played it), but I found the introduction to be pretty well-done in that it conveys important information about the characters without being boring." At his blog Cosmic Maher, game designer and critic Maher Sagrillo has a piece this week titled 'Dooming roar of a god: Sinistar'. Here's a lengthy excerpt to give you an idea of the diverse subjects he's covering here: "While we expand as the medium of video games, we encounter an area that black metal did a long time ago, during its second wave of existence. We know what we don't want, and we will destroy everything in response to that. For black metal, it was modernist society, dogmatism, and the rampant advance of rationalism over emotion." David Carlton at the Malvasia Bianca blog wrote about Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in Rock Band 3, and how it's a strange song choice and an apposite one: "The song has a (quite!) distinctive vision, and the goal of playing through one of the instruments in the song isn't to go through a checklist of what makes a game-playing experience pleasant (or, for that matter, what makes a musical experience pleasant), it's to experience a portion of that vision." In addition, Simon Ferrari writes for KillScreen's newly launched blog, talking about 'Popping Smoke' in the Call of Duty series. Persuasive stuff: "The rule that defines Call of Duty, and separates it from the single-player campaigns of most other shooters, is the infinite spawn. It's a bit of scripting built into discrete segments of every level, code that states: "Continue spawning enemies from points a, b, and c until the player crosses invisible line x." When most people say that the Call of Duty games are realistic, they're referring primarily to their photorealism and point-of-view effects like distorted vision and tinnitus following a nearby explosion. But the social realism of the games is the sine qua non of their design: the realization that there is no end to the enemy force in front of you." Talking about first person shooters, Jamie Madigan looks at 'The Psychology of Shooters' for GamePro and digs up some of the psych research that's been done to look at how and why shooting games are so enjoyable. In one study, researchers discovered that violent and non-violent versions of games with identical mechanics, "…equally satisfied those basic psychological needs, which predicted how satisfied people were with the game and how much they wanted to play more of it. The researchers concluded that it's not the violence per se, but the degree to which the games met players' desires for competence and autonomy." At the Border House blog, blogger Kimadactyl writes 'An open letter to Day[9] & eSports commentators in general' asking for Day[9] and others to continue working to make eSports more accessible to those outside it's current, somewhat niche, demographic. Also at The Border House this week, Gunthera asks 'Can a violent fighter be a good caregiver?' and concludes that, in the case of Kazuma Kiryu of Yakuza 3, the answer is yes. Gunthera notes, "I found it remarkable to discover such a caring figure in a game that, on its surface, is about violently beating enemies." Speaking of care-giving, Michael Abbott at The Brainy Gamer wrote this week about teaching his daughter to sleep in a bed on her own courtesy of game design lessons from Jenova Chen. A clever and touching piece. Troy Goodfellow at the Flash of Steel blog continues his series on The National Character, this time looking at England. According to Goodfellow, "England is a nation with a clear national character that has proven resistant to good game translation." Go read to find out why. At the No Added Sugar blog the editors have rounded up a bunch of TED talks that relate to or touch on some aspect of video games. It's a lengthy list, so expect to sink a few hours into these if you intend to watch them all. Lastly, a bit of point-counterpoint: Steven Totilo at Kotaku writes about playing videogames without listening to the music, and then Dan Bruno at Cruise Elroy responds with what's wrong with Totilo's conclusions. Namely, "My issue is not with Totilo's behavior but with his conclusion that, because he can now enjoy some games without music, composers ought to be classified as "non-essential personnel." Separating composers from artists and writers and sound designers in this way is bizarrely myopic, not just because it assumes his experience is universal but because it ignores the variety of ways in which games and music interact. For every game that can be muted without much harm, there is another in which the music is 'essential.'"

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