This Week In Video Game Criticism: From anti-piracy to zombie apocalypses
There's good reason for my glistening skin, and how I shine, and how my pores are so clean and clear. When you read This Week in Video Game Criticism you'll wink, and nod, and high-five each other with great enthusiasm. This is a special time.
First, A is for Accessibility. Josh Straub brings us a followup to last week's essay on game accessibility with this thoughtful top ten list of ways and means to achieve that accessibility.
A is also for Academia. The newest issue of Well Played is out, on the subject of "romance in games." And educator Ian Bogost writes in defense of competitive play, saying that a focus on collaborative rather than competitive play is limiting, even selfish:
"There is a war on sport and on competition, waged in the name of equity and openness and participation. […] The problem with having winners and losers isn't that there are winners and losers. It's that we fail to respect and acknowledge all the different ways that victory and failure can play out while still taking seriously the specific conditions of a particular individual or group in relation to a particular sport, game, practice, or circumstance that can be won or lost. To hate competition is selfish. It means caring only about what one can do or can imagine doing, and refusing to take a broader look at the massive variety of talent that coarses [sic] through the collective veins of humanity. It's the opposite of collaboration."B is for Boring, because that is what the Baining are. In an article a little outside of games but very much on the subject of play in its relationship to human experience (and brought to our attention by the marvelous Rock, Paper, Shotgun), Psychology Today's Peter Gray offers us a profile on the Papua New Guinea natives, "the dullest culture on Earth":
"[Jane] Fajans studied the Baining in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s. Like her predecessors, she found that they lacked the cultural structures that are the stock-in-trade of anthropology, such as myths, festivals, religious traditions, and puberty rites, and that the method of trying to learn about them through interviews produced little response. They did not tell stories, rarely gossiped, and exhibited little curiosity or enthusiasm. […] the Baining shun the bush, which they view as chaotic and dangerous, and they derogate play, especially that among children.C is for CAPSLOCK, of the FILM CRIT HULK style. He has reviewed Mass Effect 3 and has found, not the game, but its fans wanting:
According to Fajans, the Baining eschew everything that they see as "natural" and value activities and products that come from "work," which they view as the opposite of play. Work, to them, is effort expended to overcome or resist the natural. To behave naturally is to them tantamount to behaving as an animal. The Baining say, "We are human because we work.""
"WHAT YOU DIDN'T REALIZE IS THAT WITH YOUR RAGE WITH THE ENDING, YOU ACTUALLY WANT THE DEATH OF STORYTELLING. SERIOUSLY. YOU ASKED HULK TO RAIL AGAINST SOMETHING THAT OFFERS GORGEOUS STORYTELLING, SO REALLY YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT IT WAS BAD AT VIDEO GAME INDULGENCE. SO HULK JUST HAS TO SURMISE THAT YOU DON'T ACTUALLY WANT STORIES AFTER ALL. PERHAPS YOU WANT TO BE LIKE THE PERSON IN THE VIDEO ABOVE, SCREAMING ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE "OWED" LIKE SOME SELFISH MALCONTENT. YOU WANT TO BE INDULGED. YOU WANT OPTIONS. YOU WANT GLUTTONY. WE HAVE A WORD FOR THAT KIND OF VIDEO ENTERTAINMENT AND IT'S CALLED PORNOGRAPHY. AND IT'S PERFECT AT SATISFYING YOUR EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL IMPULSES SO HAVE AT IT.""D is a horrid letter, and shall be skipped.
E, however, is for Eurogamer. Here is an excellent piece from there by one Robert Florence on how anti-piracy measures treat a symptom rather than a cause:
"The first thing we have to do, right now, is accept that we are all pirates. At some point we've all done it, and many of us are doing it now, so the term has no real meaning. We're talking about people here, and people only pay for stuff if they love it, love the people who made it, or it's so cheap that they don't even question it. A corporate acceptance of normal human behaviour would mean the end of these ridiculous DRM situations, where people who have legitimately paid for things get hassle they wouldn't have to deal with if they'd just taken the stuff for free. (And by the way, we can't stop fighting DRM because we're a bit fatigued by the subject. The fight must go to the final bell.) Let's just accept that whatever a thing is, only some people will pay for it, and only if they care enough to do so. This mythical creature we call the "Pirate" does not exist.""F is for Florence, because you should read this piece of his as well.
G is for Gambling, and how it's converging with games. H is for Hate that Becky Chambers wishes to stop.
I is for Interview and this fantastic one Matthew S. Burns conducts with the lead designer for Modern Warfare 2 "No Russian" level, and his subsequent commentary thereon:
""In the sea of endless bullets you fire off at countless enemies without a moment's hesitation or afterthought, the fact that I got the player to hesitate even for a split second and actually consider his actions before he pulled that trigger– that makes me feel very accomplished."
When he puts it that way, I feel like I understand Alavi's reasoning up to the decision to create No Russian, whether or not I agree it was the best way to tell the story of the game. When one works in the medium of first person shooters, one must work with the forms the medium provides. Alavi simply wanted to "sell" (in his words) the story of the game and reinforce the badness of the bad guys to the best of his, and his chosen medium's, ability. The choices that led to No Russian were choices along a series of logical steps followed to their inevitable conclusion: in a world where dozens of marionettes of human beings are constantly killed, something even worse has to happen to snap us awake."
J is for Jason, for which you press X. K is for Kris, who won't let go of that joke.
L is for Lollipop Chainsaw, for which Patricia Hernandez has developed a certain fascination:
"Juliet, the protagonist of Lollipop Chainsaw, is what you'd call "perfect" – as dictated by the most stereotypical features of western beauty ideals, anyway. Blonde. Blue eyed. Big chest.M is for More, as Yannick LeJacq takes on the same:
She knows her place, and her role very well, too. She's bubbly and airheaded. The camera pans around and she willingly bends over, or she giggles when a character says something crass or untoward.
I should dislike her and everything she stands for. I should reject such a flippant depiction of gender and sex in a medium I want to see grow, see mature. I should be repulsed.
I don't. She's the woman I've desperately wanted to look like all these years."
"The problem with Lollipop Chainsaw, Richard Clark explains, is that Juliet has been coerced by some force greater than herself to "accept and revel in her reality." But while it may be a reality to her, it's a fantasy for us. And there's a real difference between the two, one that terms like "rapey" flatten into a violent epistemological collapse where there is no separation between our virtual selves and our real selves, our fantasies and our actual desires."N is for Nolan Bushnell, gaming's absent father. O is for Oh, I Wish I Could Write As Well As Simon Parkin.
P is for Prototype and Q is for Queering, as those are the two that Merritt Kopas brings together:
"Much in the same way as some have argued for a queer cinema, I want to argue for a queer gaming that reclaims "bad" representations of gender and sexual minorities, and that recycles and reinterprets content that was never intended as queer. Ultimately, I see queer readings of "non-queer" games as having a place alongside pushes for greater visibility of marginalized groups and an expansion of authorship beyond the traditional circle of white men, in the project of making games more interesting, useful, and accessible."R is for Richard Moss, on "The Perils, Challenges, and Uncertainty of Collecting and Preserving Video Games". S is for Set Theory, and what Christian fundamentalism has against it.
T is for Till the End of Time, the Star Ocean game Alfred MacDonald says is cleverer than you think:
"After you're thoroughly invested in the politics and relations of characters in this previously foreign territory, the game uproots you […] You think, at this point, that you've got it all figured out. Your priorities are back in order, because you're trying to overcome this rival federation. At this point, you're as top-priority as you could be.U is Uncooperative, and shall be sent to time out. V is for Video, especially this Making of Silent Hill 2 which you may not have seen.
That is, of course, until you figure out that the situation which just happened — a higher society invading a pathetically lower society — has been flipped on you. Everyone in your universe, including the rival society which just invaded your planet, is in serious danger. Because this time, a higher universe is invading a lower universe, and the lower universe is your universe, because your universe is that universe's video game.
The game's storyline is a manipulation of your sense of scale. By the time this happens, you've grown such a familiarity with everything around you that to have it disrupted this way is jarring. It causes you to distrust everything around you in a way that I have not seen a book do. It disallows you to become too familiar or trusting with anything, such that even a minor place you thought would always remain constant is now variable and weird."
W is for WASD, the One True Way. X is for Jason, as I might have already said. And Z is for Zombie Apocalypse, but then, it always is.
Thank you for joining us for this special time, my friends. Please, keep sending us tweets and emails with all the stuff you like. They are so very, very delicious.