[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 looks at the history of social games, the tyranny of the player, and why Demon's Souls is like Groundhog Day.
First up, a quick pair of posts from the tail end of the week-before-last: remember the new series from the LittleBoBeep blog, “How Board Games Explain Everything”? Well between writing last week’s post and its publication the author Julian followed up with a sequel on Jacques Derrida and Poststructuralism as explained through (board) games
And while we’re on the subject of French writers, Eric Viennot is a French blogger who, in the same week, wrote about Red Dead Redemption
and who suggests that given the Western genre’s emphasis on place and space there’s perhaps no better media for the Western than video games
. Think of it as an opportunity to brush up on your French.
David Wong, editor of comedy website Cracked.com, lists 5 no-nonsense reasons why it’s still not cool to admit you’re a gamer
, and it’s hard to disagree.
Elswhere, Jon Radoff has a brief pictorial & narrative history of social games
on his blog this week, locating social games like FarmVille
in a broader social context.
“You say apocalypse, I say retro chic
” by G. Christopher Williams of PopMatters is a comparative look at the worlds of Fallout 3
that notes:“Both games seem to revel in [the] juxtaposition of an idealized American age with the ruin of society. The soundtracks of both games jarringly counterpoint the brutal actions of scavengers in the Capital Wasteland and Rapture...That both soundtracks are comprised of songs, which almost exclusively belong to a time associated with values, decency, and decorum, is, of course, intended to be ironic and also serves as a means of emphasizing just how rotten the world has become...”
This week Maher Sagrillo wrote about Alan Wake
for his blog ‘Cosmic Maher’, and looked at the nature of darkness and ‘The Real’
: “Horror is, as Alan Wake points out, a kind of darkness. A mental, reality darkness, something that confounds us with its illogicality.”
Randy Smith talks about procedural content
for his Edge Online blog, arguing that the nature of the simulation is the source of its attraction: “What makes a procedurally generated level superior to a hand-crafted one? The question contains the answer. It is precisely that the level is nothing special that makes Rogue more dynamic experience than static narrative. You hurl yourself into a teleportation trap to escape the wraith that attacked while you were passed out from hunger, a cliffhanger of your own creation, not a cutscene. If these moments of excitement are scarce punctuation in long paragraphs of flatness, that is to be expected from an honest simulation.
Amanda Lange at the Second Truth blog asks, ‘Why can’t we make another Shadow of the Colossus?
’ and she’s not talking about just another sequel: “Games are not art, says Roger Ebert, but we beg to disagree because dammit, we have Shadow of the Colossus. So... why don't we rip it off more?
Jonathan McCalmont is back with a vengeance in his column at Futurismic this week, and tears into a deep reading of the 2008 game Dead Space as a critique of neoliberal economics.
Yes, you read that right. McCalmont says that, “...while the game is ostensibly yet another title all about collecting money and killing monsters, Dead Space is a fiercely left wing game whose narrative constitutes a vicious critique of neoliberalism and the monetarist policies of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys.
To add emphasis to this point he notes that, “Dead Space happily asserts the universal power of the market — it does not matter how many lives are at stake, how dangerous the situation is or the extent to which the world is falling apart — you still have to pay money for the big guns. The logic and the power of the market always transcend human needs.
” It’s a detailed and thoughtful reading, and despite the fact that some may find McCalmont overreaches in places, I think it’s a terrifically valuable piece of criticism.
Jun Shen Chia considers whether videogame journalists hold games to too high a standard
since “After all, game devs put a lot of effort into their craft. Why should we criticize if we only consume and not contribute?
” Personally I come down on the side of the critic over the creator nearly every time, since, as I noted on Twitter the other day
to Manveer Heir, “true criticism comes from a place of love”. We criticize because we can’t stand to see games stay the same.
Gerard Delany of the Binary Swan explores the ‘Tyranny of the Player
’ this week, talking around Red Dead Redemption
and issues of player control. Speaking of Red Dead Redemption
, Mike Abbott’s ‘I’m your Huckleberry
’ is a humorous and revealing anecdote about a certain racist storekeep in the game and the interesting dance that Abbott performs with this infinitely respawning NPC.
Proving the old adage that good things come in threes, or at least they do from GamerMelodico, Dan Apczynski leads a trio of posts this week with ‘I want to box Peter Molyneux
’. I think there’s probably a market for that game. David Tracy also asks in ‘Homer Tracy’s Road Show
’, “Have you ever heard of baseball great Homer Tracy? No? That's probably because Homer Tracy is the character that I play in MLB 10: The Show and he is not very good.
And lastly from the GamerMelodico posse, Kirk Hamilton brigs home to the ranch an excellent entry on ‘Red Dead Redemption’s excellent sound design
’. Speaking from what I can only assume is intimate experience, Hamilton notes that, “I don't know whose gig it was to go and record a bunch of armadillos running in the wild, but whoever it was did his job right.”
Our final piece for the week is Jason Killingsworth’s “Groundhobbit Day
” in which he notes of the game Demon’s Souls
that, “Despite the game’s Tolkien-inspired milieu and bevy of fantasy-RPG videogame conventions, Demon’s Souls’ most suitable movie analog is not Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Rather, Demon’s Souls is the unlikely fraternal twin of Harold Ramis’s 1993 comedy Groundhog Day.
” Killingsworth gets extra credit for photoshopping the head of Bill Murray into Demon's Souls
for his post.