This week in Video Game Criticism: From political correctness to Spec Ops' cowardice
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including political correctness in video games, the cowardice of Spec Ops: The Line's message, and more.]
I don't mean to alarm you, but it's time for This Week in Video Game Blogging
First up for the week, Ian Bogost has reprinted his centennial retrospective on the life and work of Alan Turing
. On a more personal note, Medium Difficulty ran Walter Garrett Mitchell quite touching and thoughtful eulogy for journalist, LGBT activist and old gaming friend Armando Montano
, in doing so reflecting on the socialization games facilitate:
"How desperately inadequate it seemed to me, when I heard the news of his death, that my memory of Mando automatically catalogued itself into a list of the games we played together: Goldeneye, Diddy Kong Racing, Zoombinis. It just seemed ridiculous. How could his diligent brilliance, his active occupation with questions of human suffering, be so reduced by anecdote? Am I so petty, so self-involved?
Of course not, I tell myself. Why should my memory of him, whatever its context, be any less valid others?
I don't think anyone here would contest that the connections forged by videogames are real. But Mando's death has forced me to look closer at what it was that made those times playing Goldeneye special, worthwhile, and I think what it comes down to is nonverbal communication. […] As Mando and I grew comfortable with our games and each with other, we became capable of communicating with action: we both knew Goldeneye's maps by heart, so the irregularities in our ever-repeating movement through them could be interpreted as subtle aggressions, playful invitations, calculated feints. 'Play' is a language you learn to speak over time, with all the opportunities for poetry that 'language' entails."
From the somber to the insensible, the next stop on our tour of this week's great reads is Ken Williamson's most recent post for Gamasutra
, regaling us in tales of game industry corporate incompetence. It probably won't cheer you up, but the stories are so absurd they might just anyway.
Meanwhile, TWIVGB regular Josh Bycer takes aim at a few recent "hard" games and asks where their difficulty really comes from
: "it's easy to make a hard game. The quandary and where a good designer is needed, is being able to separate hard from challenging."
For more in-depth textual reading, we turn to Michael Clarkson, who takes Spec Ops: The Line to task for the cowardice of its critical message
"BioShock admits, and Spec Ops retreats from, the complicity of the designer in the glorification of and lust for violence. This follows a rich tradition of one-sided blame, to be sure. Movies, comics, rock and roll, gangsta rap, and (of course) video games have all been blamed, sometimes simultaneously, for the decline of civilization and morality. These attacks ignore the role audience demand plays in the creation of popular art in a capitalist system. It is no better, however, for someone to spend years creating horrors and then bash the audience for having the temerity to experience, much less appreciate, them. It is, instead, an act of cowardice, an attempt to turn blame outward, without examining the parts of the structure that implicate the creators."
If you're into even further deep analysis, The Game Design Forum have released a new Reverse Design series on Chrono Trigger
. Enjoy, readers!
On the other hand, if the idiosyncratic is more your style, pop on over to John Brindle's survey of the work of singular indie developer Pippin Barr
On a more overarching topic, Cameron Kunzelman laments the state of New Game Journalism
as it's currently implemented:
"We need fewer Bissell imitators. Ninety-nine percent of the readers of this blog know exactly what I'm talking about–cloying attempts at being smart, shallow readings of games to find some meaning that "speaks to us all," and assertions that, yes, Final Fantasy VII actually is the best game of all time.
The way we get out of this pit is rigor. We have to play games and actually pay attention to how they are structured. We need to understand how they are assembled.
Most importantly, and this should be the takeaway, I think we need to realize that games are not places where we let ourselves run wild so we can write about it later. Is the value of a game really only in what we, as individuals, get out of it? Or is there something to be said about the game itself, the way it operates, the way it plays itself?"
I would be remiss in addressing some of the higher-profile pieces of the week, starting with Leigh Alexander's opinion piece for Gamasutra
in which she speculates we're finally seeing a positive, rising trend in the discussion of sexism and misogyny in the industry and in gamer culture– but she also notes we should address where the underlying issues of those attitudes lie:
"[In] games, as well as comics and other male-dominated nerd arenas, the business model leverages risk aversion against a habituated, narrow audience. It doesn't favor experimenting to try to give these people newer, smarter things. More importantly, neither do the traditions of geek culture, which is founded in misunderstood people prizing their special escapes from the uninitiated, keeping sacred the spaces that make them feel powerful.
For most people, this is their identity, and if you tell them you want to change it in any way they are going to fear losing their power. It's not surprising that issues of privilege get tangled in the morass."
The other big sexism-among-gamers piece this week was this ill-advised opinion piece by Colin Moriarty for IGN
, which in itself does not merit inclusion here, but to set the context for a couple of great response essays.
The first of these responses comes from (one of my personal favorite young game bloggers) Mattie Brice, who lays into Moriarty's article with a heavy critique
"[What] is cute about the 'save creativity!' angle is how much people like Colin are protecting incredibly old, entrenched attitudes. There's a push against how video games deal with sex because it is incredibly UNcreative. Scantily clad women with no other purpose than to be so? What is creative about that? There is nothing creative of our western culture appropriating and exotifying other cultures, we've been doing that way before free speech was written into law. Or the glorification of a war we had no business initiating as another excuse to shoot brown people? Something tells me that's not the 'fresh' Colin is looking for. The people that Colin's article represent don't want anything to change, unless you consider figuring out how to get a girl as close to naked as possible without financial retribution creative."
Touching off this, GayGamer editor and Border House contributor Denis Farr writes in his own blog that "90s Politics are Dead! Long Live 90s Politics!
" critiquing the use of the terms "politically correct" and "offended" in editorials such as Moriarty's:
"[The] idea that everyone will be offended by someone is akin to just throwing your hands up in the air and saying we may as well not to anything and just let things be. There is a certain person for whom this is a viable response, and it is typically a person to whom the market is advertising. Even if it is in an increasingly puerile and stock manner. For people who are not represented fairly or equally, it is not just a matter of being 'offended,' it is a matter of desiring a more rich landscape. Leaving that to the free market might sound good, but unless a desire for better and more is expressed, companies, who are typically conservative in how they want to spend money, will continue pumping out the formulae they feel are safe."
On a little more positive note, we're seeing an increase in the discussion of The Bechdel Test
among gaming critics. In addition to this (woefully neglected) blog
beginning earlier this year, the Gameological Society have treated us to a roundup of 15 games
which (some of them, surprisingly) pass the test.
Lastly on the subject of sexism, we are rather late to the party on this one, but you simply must
watch this hilarious dramatic reading and machinima by George Kokoris
of a misogynist gamer screed. Which if nothing else is a lesson in minding what you post onto the internet, lest someone on the other end has a copy of Garry's Mod and a booming voice.
Finally and most importantly, Gamasutra's Frank Cifaldi has at last filled a niche in game blogging that has gone neglected for too long: the secrets to designing games for cats.
I know of no better way to cap off this week's roundup than that. As always, remember to tweet
in your recommendations, and in the meantime stay cool or warm as your geographical location dictates.
P.S. All future critical articles on cat games will be evaluated by our newest contributor, Jason