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The Week In Game Criticism: Duty Calls, Google Waves, Dragon Ages
The Week In Game Criticism: Duty Calls, Google Waves, Dragon Ages
November 12, 2009 | By Ben Abraham

November 12, 2009 | By Ben Abraham
More: Console/PC

[Gamasutra is 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 in on discussions on Modern Warfare 2, Google Wave, Dragon Age, and much more.]

By the time I’d written last week's post, a storm was already brewing regarding a certain Modern Warfare 2 viral PSA style video and its use of the acronym ‘F.A.G.S’. Denis Farr explains why, as a gay person himself, the tacit acceptance of the Xbox Live culture of homophobic insults is not a thing that can simply be laughed off.

Michael Abbott also wrote about the ad from the perspective of a father and a teacher, talking about how if we want this kind of attitude to change, we need to start teaching kids why it’s not okay.

Matthew Kaplan also came up with a great discussion piece on the video as a response to Abbott’s post, in which he examines the current marketing attitude of playing up to the current social climate of cynicism and self-centeredness. Kaplan says:

"[Abbott] mentions how insensitivity is in and empathy is out in our culture, and I think this is true to a certain extent among conservatives. I don't mean to turn a discussion about video games into a political rant, but to be honest the word "conservatism" isn't merely political these days. Conservatism in our society has now taken on the form of the man or woman who is self-serving, immediate surroundings first and thinking outside the box a distant second."

Deirdra Kiai also discussed the trend toward offensive marketing, a trend which sees that “if anyone’s in the least bit outraged by what one has to say, it’s become some kind of a badge of honour.” Infinity Ward in the end pulled the offending video, but the damage was done.

Slightly overshadowed by the latest video has been the earlier leaked footage of (spoiler alert) a level featuring a player engaging in in-game terrorist activity. Richard Clark of the ‘Christ and Pop Culture’ blog writes about how the terrorist scenes made him second guess his choice of Christmas gifts. Clark makes a similar argument to David Wildgoose of Kotaku Australia, who also picked up on the terrorist level video, commenting on how he feels that the general response to it says much about the immaturity of the medium:

"Activision says the mission “is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism.” Cinema has a rich history of taking viewers inside the minds of people who commit atrocities. As a more mature medium, we accept that films that portray serial killers, murderers, terrorists or just base thugs aren’t automatically promoting such activities but may in fact have something important to say about the human condition."

The prodigious Michael Clarkson writes about endings and The Lord of the Rings in ‘denouement of the rings’. It’s an entry into Corvus’ Elrod’s September Blogs of the Round Table, and there are plenty of other great entries from September. You can check them all out here.

Hooray, my favourite grinning, cynical game blog is back! Indie Gaming Bingo, for our newer readers, is a blog dedicated to skewering trends in indie gaming and taking specific titles down a peg or two. This week Dustin Gunn played Indie Gaming Bingo with Tale of Tales’ The Graveyard.

Because as an Aussie I know how it feels to be under The Man’s thumb when it comes to gaming, consider this link a fist-bump of solidarity with New Zealand gamers. The situation is (or was) that Microsoft locked a number of New Zealand-ers out of Xbox Live downloads a few months back, and Tracey Lien takes the time to explain the whole strange situation.

Jorge Albor explores the online world of League of Legends and its online culture in ‘The Blame Game’.

Though I'm not really one to link to reviews, this section nevertheless caught my attention in John Walker’s review of Dragon Age: Origins:

"…these dwarves come with a history. The younger of the two is the only mentally handicapped character I can remember encountering in a game. He’s looked after by his father, and has a savant gift for enchanting weapons. Treat them as more than a shop, talk to them, and the details of their past emerge, along with a surprising ethical quandary."

I can’t think of any other game that has depicted a mentally handicapped character as anything other than a relatively facile character. Can you?

Michael Abbott (again) delivers a great treatise on what exactly pacing means in a videogame, placing it within the context of a discussion of Uncharted 2’s fantastic control of pacing.

Here’s a damn clever think-piece by Eskil Steenberg, talking about MMOs, how people are often attracted to abuse, and whether Steenberg wants to go there with his game or not.

Chris Dahlen cooked up a Google Wave bot and it gave me a few chuckles this week. Dahlen compares Wave gaming to Twitter gaming, noting that:

"…the nice thing about bots in Wave, as opposed to Twitter, is that you can invite them in to specific waves. You only see them when you need them. Gaming on Twitter appears to have stalled because seeing other people’s posts and autoupdates is lethally annoying. But Wave is fertile ground for bots, and I see a lot of potential here."

Who knew that Google Wave had so much potential as a gaming platform? I wonder if I could somehow convert the old Chatbot that I wrote for my high school Software Design class into a wave. Dahlen elsewhere talks about 'The most boring game of the year', and wonders if that’s why no one else is really writing about Demon’s Souls that much.

Here’s a trio of good pieces; the first by Shamus Young who, writing for The Escapist, talks about Survival Horror. The second, an interesting post by the Aartform Games blog, asks “Are games art? I think they might be more like cooking”. Finally, Kris Graft interviews Valve’s writers about their creative process for Gamasutra. The last one is quite lengthy and crammed full of interesting tidbits.

Mitch Krpata writes about ‘Your level best’, or the difference between pleasurable advancement and painful grinding, as demonstrated by Borderlands. He notes:

"Gearbox did such a good job of spacing out the rewards, and making sure that one is always visible around the corner, that it rarely falls into the trap of feeling like a simple grind. Sure, it’s like work, but payday is every day."

Sun B. Kim is an indie game developer from Korea, and in an extreme display of commitment to games criticism and discussion, is translating some parts of Critical Distance into Korean. Here’s the translation into Korean of Critical-Distance’s GTA IV Critical Compilation. Video games make people do amazing things.

The 'Pensive Harpy' blog investigates the online, free-to-play world of Wizard 101 this week. I’ve never played it but I was first intrigued by it when it was mentioned on one of the Video Games And Human Values Initiative’s podcasts, and then again on the Brainy Gamer Summer Confab podcast. Taken together, that’s now quite a case for what some might see as “just” a free-to-play kids MMO.

This week, Lyndon Warren finishes his series on KoTOR 2 with a treatise on the character of Kreia, explaining how she problematizes the ‘light side, dark side’ dichotomy of the Star Wars universe. In my pick for must read of the week. Warren says:

"[Kreia’s] point is random acts of kindness don’t necessarily make the world a better place and even though the game is giving you light side points that doesn’t mean that what you did was right. She has proved that the force is fallible…."

Something to think about, y’know?

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John Trauger
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"...Conservatism in our society has now taken on the form of the man or woman who is self-serving, immediate surroundings first and thinking outside the box a distant second."


That's a pretty shallow, prejudiced attitude all by itself. One would think people familiar with what it is like to BE stereotyped would know better than to have the insensetivity turn around and stereotype people with whom they themselves disagree. Especially while issuing a plea for sensetivity.

I guess prejudice is OK when it's our political enemies...

Geraldo Nascimento
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"I can’t think of any other game that has depicted a mentally handicapped character as anything other than a relatively facile character. Can you?"

Well, Fallout 2 had two: Torr, who was anything if superficial (talking with him with a low intelligence character revealed surprising clarity in his thoughts), and a gunsmith underneath the New Reno Arms shop. This second one was more superficial, you basically had him work on all your guns and didn't pay him anything.

There's at least two other instances where similarly handicapped characters appear: Lost Eden's Jabber, who is more of a mute but because of his handicap became reclusive and slow, and Sanitarium's many "crazier" characters, while I can't remember anyone exactly I'm almost sure there was a great mentally handicapped character in there.

David Serrano
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@ John Trauger: Yes, really. Matt Kaplan stated a fact, not an opinion. Not to start a political debate on a gaming story but..... when he writes a conservative is a "man or woman who is self-serving, immediate surroundings first and thinking outside the box a distant second", he is practically quoting Ayn Rand.

Conservatism and Objectivism at their core, are one in the same. They're both are rooted in and based on the concepts of Egoism and Selfishness. That's not my opinion, that's per Ayn Rand. She writes "the Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness". She also refers to it as "rational egoism". To quote her conservative blueprint for life, Atlas Shrugged "Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None—except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality".

Matt Kaplan accurately described a core conservative belief. How does stating fact make him "prejudice" or a "political enemy"? Matt was wrong by writing "this is what Conservatism has become in our society". Conservatism has always been rooted in selfishness, it is not a new found belief.

If you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle ~ Sun Tzu