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This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Sharp Dressed Avatar

We're partnering with Critical Distance to present some of the week's most inspiring game criticism, this week looking at AI and fun, Toy Soldiers for Xbox Live, and more.
[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 AI and fun, Toy Soldiers for Xbox Live Arcade, and the 'sharp dressed avatar' personified.] We start our journey around the critical game blogosphere with Eric Swain’s comprehensive and ongoing efforts to collate the responses to Roger Ebert’s “Games Aren’t Art” prognostication from a few weeks back. Leigh Alexander here at GameSetWatch wrote an excellent discussion of the fads and fleeting fixations of the gaming industry, with an eye towards social games and whether they are the new bubble – a la the Virtual Worlds scene of a few years ago. Matthew Kaplan on the Game in Mind blog looks at ‘A Precarious Link Between A.I. and "Fun"’ critiquing a piece by Brian Hertler that Kotaku chose to highlight. He makes some good points, and as is becoming a habit, some of the best discussion happens in the comments. The single best piece I read all week was Greg Purcell’s essay on the XBLA game ‘Toy Soldiers’ , which he calls “the first compelling World War One game yet created”. It quickly goes off in an unexpectedly fruitful direction, referencing representations of war in journalism throughout the 20th Century: “Video games do not capture the subtle quality of ennui well, and the violence they depict is explicitly not arbitrary. For this reason, games have jibed well with the journalistic historical record of World War Two described in the first-person accounts of Pyle and Murrow and even Liebling, but not with the accounts of First World War captured by writers like Robert Graves and Paul Fussell. I chalk this up to the change in journalism's cultural position between the wars.” Mike Dunbar at RRoD writes about ‘Experiments in the First-person and Notgames’: "The mod is a wonderful thing. It represents the best of the gaming community – creativity, a plucky spirit to bring new life to old games, and opportunities for people who want to learn more about game design to get involved without forcing them into an academic route or substantial financial commitment." Elsewhere, Jason Killingsworth, Paste Magazine’s games columnist, writes a confessional about why he wants his significant other to enjoy games as much as he does, borne out of a very human desire to share our experiences: “With the exception of a brief flirtation with Guitar Hero II, my wife does not play videogames. She can appreciate why I find them compelling, but that’s about as far as it goes. And I’m fine with that. I have no interest in being married to a female version of myself. I simply want to compound my excitement with someone else’s.” This week I stumbled across a couple of non-English videogame blog posts that inspired me to write about the breadth of the non-English language videogame blogging scene for my personal blog. You’ve probably never visited half of these sites, and that’s kind of the point. Gunthera1 at The Border House writes about cut scenes and subtitles as an accessibility issue: "Are some developers consistently providing subtitles and should be commended? How many others appear to ignore this issue? We need more publishers and developers to understand this as an important accessibility concern and consistently provide subtitles when characters speak." G. Christopher Williams writes about fashion-as-rhetoric in the wryly titled ‘Every Girl's Crazy 'Bout a Sharp Dressed Avatar’. In another notable blog post, Fraser Allison at Red Kings Dream writes about campaign scoring in Halo 3 and its effect on his play in the first part of a series called ‘Who Killed the High Score’. At the Press Pause To Reflect blog, CT Hutt says “Dasvidaniya, Martian” and argues that “Red Faction: Guerrilla could have been the medium’s attempt at Animal Farm. Instead, developers set their sights lower”. And lastly for this week, Emily Taylor writes about the new computer engineer Barbie doll at Gamers in Real Life, and wonders whether there should be a Game Designer Barbie. Looking at some statistics, however, Taylor can only conclude that it’s not simply a problem of image.

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