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This week in Video Game Criticism: From  Journey  to  Dear Esther
This week in Video Game Criticism: From Journey to Dear Esther
March 27, 2012 | By Kris Ligman

March 27, 2012 | By Kris Ligman
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[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Journey's matchmaking, Dear Esther's shortcomings, and more.]

I'm all out of clever schticks this week, so let's just get right to it. It's time for the best and brightest of videogame commentary and criticism, This Week in Video Game Blogging!

We start off by checking in with our friend Sebastian Alvarado, who is onto the second installment of his Gamasutra blog series on nanotechnology in video games.

Articles on Dear Esther are still trickling in, but Tommy Rousse came out on top this week with a strong critique of the "walk'em up"'s shortcomings: "While Dear Esther does a superb job of conveying a sense of place on the island, it makes very little effort to create a sense of embodiment."

Meanwhile, thatgamecompany's latest PSN release, Journey, has garnered some interesting responses for its singular aesthetic and themes. Jamie Love praises the game's unique take on multiplayer:
"Journey cuts [...] to the raw source of motivation and hope we find in others, to the fact that our existence on its own is not enough to necessitate that we continue for our own sake. Certainly we live for ourselves to project strength and obey the demands of our DNA, but beneath that skin, we always hope for others to connect and share the journey with, strangers that we'll never really know, but who when you strip external constructions away, are perhaps exactly the same as us."
Over at Moving Pixels, Scott Juster echoes Love's sentiments, saying the game gave him "a fleeting glimpse at a kinder, more optimistic side of random matchmaking [...] It was a short, but refreshing trip that left me with a pleasant thought: given the right context, gamers (and people in general) aren't all that bad."

Bart Simon is more wary, suggesting the game's design –and the words of its lead designer– reveal a dangerously paternalistic attitude:
"If players have a yen to slaughter rather than help each other than it is not because the ludic abstraction makes us a blank slate of stimulus-response (psychologists rankle me more than moralistic game designers I think) but because we have cultural predispositions for what to do with these machines and these virtual worlds that have been building up layer by layer over many years… the goal of design should not be to somehow get underneath, or behind or above these dispositions but to meet them head on… to reflect them perhaps, or to make them an object of conversation and reflection. But to deny them? To only allow them to perform warm fuzzies and group hugs? That's SoCal New Agism for you… but it's also a Clockwork Orange."
If you have been steadfastly avoiding game publications these last few weeks, you may have missed the growing torrent of discussion regarding Mass Effect 3's controversial endings. The Mary Sue's Becky Chambers has a fairly spoiler-free primer if you wish to better understand the fan perspective.

And two other talented writers, Valerie Valdes and Kate Cox, offered up their views, placing the game in the context of older media. Valdes begins by discerning between "primary" and "secondary" epics and how Mass Effect 3 fulfills the description of a primary epic in the classical sense. Meanwhile, Cox likens the story to mythology in the broad sense and Christian narratives in particular, suggesting the ending has frustrated players because it cannot be interpreted in the same literal fashion as the rest of the franchise:
"[T]hat it is where we find Shepard in the end: on the plane of mythology, removed from the plane of men. And that is also where many players feel they lose Mass Effect, because until the final moment, the plane of men has been the only ground the game knows."
Lastly on the subject of Mass Effect, I don't know who this pretty lady is, but a few of you wrote in recommending this link as a capstone to the discussion: "In which Squaresoft wrote a Bioware game."

While most of the ludodecahedron spent the week effecting masses and taking journeys, a few more interesting discussion topics sneaked in. Jamin Warren sat down with Jesper Juul on the subject of failure in games. Nightmare Mode's Johnny Kilhefner took a trip to the Smithsonian Art of Games exhibit. And Radiator's Robert Yang attended Sleep No More in New York City and wrote at length how the interactive experience relates itself to games.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me refer to myself as the Fourth Horsewoman of the Ludodecahedronpocalypse. I'm not sure who the first or third ones are, but the second is Maggie Greene, Kotaku veteran and academic, who responds to Christian Higley and Brendan Keogh's noteworthy posts from the week with some much-needed perspective on the subject of "making it" as a game journalist (or in any field). Highly recommended for any apocalypse you are attempting to bring about.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's offerings as much as I have! Remember that recommending your own or another writer's work here on TWIVGC is only a tweet or an email away. Seriously, your submissions are our sustenance. Feed me, Skinner!


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