This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mark Filipowich on topics ranging from rousing defenses of nostalgia to different forms of game narratives.
Here at Gamasutra, Urbain Bruno explains how he and the rest of Fishing Cactus developed a narrative voice for their game, Epistory. Bruno’s article is brief but it’s a good case of a game deliberately playing with narrative convention:
We wanted to try and do something a bit more subtle and seamless: using a single voice that represents all the narration. We’ve tried to do this by presenting the story as a work-in-progress and showing the writer's edits.
Also on Gamasutra, Pierre-Alaxandre Garneu interviews prolific analogue and digital game designer Richard Garfield.
Fusion’s Latoya Peterson begins her series “Girl Gamers” by exploring the conditions a person has to meet to earn the label.
Teddie at the always-excellent Fem Hype expresses frustration with the limited gender options in most character creation systems. For Teddie, establishing their hero’s gender outside the constraints of a binary is necessary to feeling welcome in the experience:
But the fact that some games have trans-friendly character creation goes a long way. I don’t need sweeping plotlines about my [original character]’s gender—I’m happy with just some basic representation. A game that doesn’t assume my character fits neatly into the gender binary, a character creation screen that gives me the option not to buy into that. If I want to conform to the gender binary, let it be on my own terms.
I suspect that Alex Layne of the equally-excellent Not Your Mama’s Gamer would agree, based on her own call for more complicated and comprehensive representation of human experiences in games:
One of the reasons I started this blog along with Sam [Blackmon] was because I was sick of not being considered a consumer in the eyes of the people who make the games, not being considered a real gamer by the community, and not seeing the types of games I like (ones with strong female protagonists that aren’t sexualized) being given enough shelf space.
Turning to analogue play, Jess Joho at Kill Screen pens a brief report of toy company Mattel, maker of Barbie and their new ad campaign boasting girls can “do anything.” As Joho concludes,
More than just empowering young girls, though, the commercial tells of the importance of uninhibited play for all children. By demonstrating just how powerful a simple role-playing game can be, Mattel is not only saying that girls matter, but also that play matters…
Paste Magazine all-star, Gita Jackson, considers the formal storytelling of Crusader Kings, describing its verisimilitude as unique in gaming’s current landscape:
Other games go so far out of their way to indicate that you’re winning that they become boring. It stops being fun to win when I know I’m close. Sometimes you just need one bite of a candy bar before you throw it away. Crusader Kings doesn’t tell you anything, doesn’t even really ask anything of you. Like the real world it is replicating, it just kicks you out the door.
In a different light, Leeroy Lewin of Vextro Forever muses on the violent ideologies at the heart of JRPGs and wonders if there is an alternative mode of thinking about their systems.
A related thought comes from Vincent Kinian at Gaming Exhibition, who works out his own mixed feelings in a retrospective of one of his favourite JRPGs, Phantasy Star II, which he concludes stating, "It’s not enough to simply point out that there’s a problem. We have to remember what led us to the problem in the first place, something Phantasy Star II achieves beautifully."
Two articles take on similar perspectives on nostalgia-driven design trends, especially in independent circles. FemHype’s June approves of yesteryear’s games and contemporary attempts to recapture their lost magic:
I’d be lying if I said nostalgia wasn’t a huge part of the allure for me. However, I think the retro gaming resurgence is due to much more than a collective yearning for the sanctuary of our simple childhoods. When I look at the unabashed joy of retro gamers, I think it’s due to stressing gaming as gaming first and foremost with no strings attached, and very little gimmicks.
Gaming Symmetry’s Alice Kojiro, while skeptical of retreading old ground for its own sake, lauds the imaginative potential early console games:
It’s not that the Bit Wars didn’t expand upon games and make them better, but because graphics were so much better, there were far fewer unknowns. It was those unknowns that made gaming back in the 8-bit era seem so magical.
Rob Fearon has had enough romanticizing the unpaid labour that goes into making videogames and would like us to start calling it what it is:
If staff are having to take loans out to survive the winter, not management sorting funding out to pay the staff (and a Kickstarter totes doesn’t count), this is broken and wrong. I’m sorry, there’s no two ways about this, it’s broken and wrong. I don’t get much further on it, yeah? Broken. Wrong.
Jeffrey Matluf on Eurogamer offers compelling praise for the romance subplots of Life is Strange, particularly the one involving the socially incompetent Warren.
We're so used to being Warren - strategizing what somebody wants to hear so that you can "win" a relationship - that we're seldom put in the other position of trying to minimize tension in an inherently tense situation.
If your interests skew more to the social sciences, Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt have also edited a book of videogame essays called The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Video Games.