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This Week In Video Game Criticism: Of History And Video Game Archaeology

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics including VGA woes, and how archaeology can serve as a vehicle for st
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us a fresh roundup of links compiled by Ben Abraham, on topics including VGA woes, how games portray history, and how archaeology can serve as a vehicle for storytelling.] Let's start with Rob Zacny's piece for Gamers With Jobs about the downside to cover mechanics: "Cover produces bland, repetitive action and unconvincing locations. Toward the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard and her crew are supposed to be in some the strangest, eeriest places they've ever encountered. But the level design always undercuts the art." Speaking of Mass Effect 2, Mitch Krpata has returned to the game, half a year late, in order to see what all the fuss is about and perhaps find a new GoTY candidate: "When it comes to maintaining a consistent control scheme, to conveying appropriate information to the player, and making it easy to parse your character data, BioWare doesn't get the most basic things right, not even by accident." I'll give very good odds to anyone still wanting to bet that ME2 gets a GoTY from Krpata then. Oh alright, let's get all our discussion of shooters out of the way then -- Pippin Barr at XugoGaming talks about "Theatre of War"and that old bugbear of scripting dramatic failures into games. Specifically, he talks about a scene from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which makes the player fail in the 'correct' dramatic way, not the ordinary "oh I ran the wrong way and fell off a cliff" failure. Theatre of war, indeed. Scaling back the scope a little now, and Ben "Yahtzee' Croshaw at The Escapist reckons that, for him at least, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood captured his imagination through "The Little Touches": "It's not immediately obvious, but when you come out of the Animus and are given the opportunity to explore the safe house (or safe cave, whatever), Future Desmond has a little laptop set up for him, which he can use to read the email correspondence between the other three members of the Assassin Scooby Gang. Though largely mundane, the exchanges between the characters, the businesslike scheduling, the pranks, the snarks, the enquiries after lost yogurts and iPods, gave them a great deal of humanity." At The Border House this week, blogger "Pewter" writes about the "Archaeology of dwarven women" in World of Warcraft, uncovering the character of Moira Thaurissan and an unsettling tale in WoW lore. On the subject of archaeology, for the "Playing the Past' blog, this week Trevor Owens identifies what I think is the chief attraction in the Fallout games, in a post titled "The Presence of the Past in Fallout 3": "After nearly 70 hrs of game play I never really cared about my character. I didn’t really care about her father. For that matter, I didn’t really care much about any of the characters in the game. Instead, I was enthralled with playing the game as a kind of future archeologist, excavating our present through traces left on these terminals and strewn about the physical landscape." And rounding out our history trifecta, Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog warns us of "Barbarians at the Gate!" Actually it's not a warning at all, instead it's about how the depiction of barbarians present a questionable civilization/barbarism dichotomy in Civilization V: "Now barbarian tribes are nothing new to the the massively popular franchise. They harken all the way back from the first Civilization. Yet I had never noticed how comfortably they fit within a somewhat unsettling discourse about civilization and modern progress." Back to Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, and G. Christopher Williams at PopMatters writes this week about "The Indifferent Kill in "Assassin's Creed'". Also from PopMatters, Kris Ligman informs us, somewhat confusingly, "I Loved 'Loved,' But I'm Not Sure I Love 'Love'. Thanfully, there's a helpful summary right at the top: "Today we look at two themed independent titles that showcase two different facets of what we now call the art game: game as system and game as anti-system." Hmm, perhaps you'd better go read the whole thing. At Bitmob, Layton Shumway dissects the stand-up routine of comedian Dara O'Brian who talks about the strange behaviour of players learning the controls to a new videogame. Shumway spins it out into a tale about didactic games and the ways they teach. Elsewhere, at the Vorpal Bunny Ranch, Denis Farr looks at unreliable narrators in both Alpha Protocol and Dragon Age in a post titled "Economic Truth". And last, but certainly not least, Jeff Green vents his spleen about the Spike TV Videogame awards, elaborating most eloquently upon why gaming deserves something better: "The videogame community--those who make them, those who play them--encompasses a much larger, broader base than the Spike TV dudebro douchebag contingent. Really, saying the 'videogame community' at this point is all but archaic, anyway."

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