This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the color language of games, teaching kids history through Civilization, and more.
I'm back from IndieCade
! Let's see what you all left me. It's time once more for This Week in Video Game Criticism!
First, some much-needed signal-boosting. I had the distinct pleasure of having dinner last Sunday with a certain Jim Munroe, writer of this year's IndieCade Grand Jury Prize recipient Unmanned
, and I would be remiss in not pointing to you to his blog, No Media Kings
Next up, long-time reader Will Burgess wrote into us last week with the following:
"I am a game designer that WAS working as a producer for 7sixty Games for the past year and a half, but I got laid off this past Friday. While I am taking the opportunity to re-build my portfolio and such, I also have a lot more free time to devote to my blog."
With layoffs seeming to come from half a dozen studios a week these days, it's definitely a tough time for a lot of devs out there. Will, who has a background as a game studies academic, definitely lends an uncommon perspective to games blogging so it's really good to see him making something positive out his situation. (But we're also hoping someone has the good sense to hire him.)
On to the meat and potatoes of the links this week. First up, let's make up for some lost time. Jason Johnson of Paste has caught up with what Jason Rohrer's up to these days
. Next, this unmissable piece from Moving Pixels' G. Christopher Williams somehow, erm, got missed when it was first published: on brevity, death and replay value.
Over on Psychology of Games, Jamie Madigan writes on how game tutorials can be harmful to player creativity
. And another Jamie, of the Dalzell variety, is up to some cool business at Pondering the Pixels, predictably pondering some pixels
, namely the color language of games:
"All videogames speak.
Whether it be in the blunt sentences of the First Person Shooter or the nuanced tongue of the Role Playing Strategy, every game speaks with its own vocabulary: a language that teaches us how we interact.
Yet many choose to speak the same dialect, born and bred and raised to speak the common language of the day, inspired by the dystopian landscape that is the regular videogame release schedule. […] Thankfully, then, not all developers are as allergic to colour as others, as if injected with some anti-allergy serum that saves them from the allergic reaction any other colour than drab elicits. And more often than not it's in the ones that take a chance with colour that we see new worlds and languages brought to the videogame vocabulary, that so often stifles itself on the origins of cover and 60 Frames Per Second."
But wait, let's talk about FPSes for a bit. For one thing, Brendan Keogh has fallen in love with a particular gun
in Borderlands 2
. For another, Game Church's Steven Sukkau raises the interesting hypothesis that Halo
-based machinima franchise Red vs Blue is the modern inheritor of Clerks
Let's telescope outwards a bit, shall we, from first-person to third-person. Kim of Co-Op Critics has been revisiting Silent Hill 2
and The Dark Tower
alongside her play of Spec Ops: The Line
and has some interesting reflections on how the three connect
. And going well beyond game genre into the spanning world of global politics, Robert Rath explains how a global economy interconnected with Chinese censorship standards actually feeds into North Korean propaganda
with fear-mongering titles like Homefront
and the Red Dawn
remake, saying: "In many ways, Homefront
shows the North Korea Kim Jong-un wishes he inherited."
To be certain, not all games or critical themes get a fair shake their first go-around in the critical sphere. That's what is so exciting about doing This Week in Video Game Criticism, as it's a good excuse to track down the sorts of articles on the kinds of games which unfortunately got overlooked on first release. For instance, take this fantastic metanarrative reading of Kingdom of Amalur
by Matt Schanuel, or this meaty, deep reading of The Last Story
by Andrew High.
Other games have gotten a fair bit of critical play, like thechineseroom's Dear Esther
, but new perspectives and critical takes are always popping up. Take this piece
from our own Eric Swain:
"Dear Esther isn't your traditional horror story because it isn't within the work itself that the scares reside. It's what you bring out of this ghost story into the real world that scares the most."
Meanwhile, Adam Bishop offers up a point of view we don't often consider with respect to Dear Esther
: how game-breaking bugs or other flaws ruined the experience for him
Over on Unwinnable, Chris Dahlen is teaching his youngster history via Civilization
"The king of not-really-educational games, the behemoth that I've been keeping in my back pocket since the day my son was born, is the Civilization franchise. If you're a gamer parent, you probably have it on your list as well. You save it until your kid is old enough to enjoy it and, natch, conquer it – because nothing would make you happier than watching your child master its strategies, assimilate its lessons and rise to its challenge as a player who's empathetic, wise and strong.
Civilization is loosely modeled on the history of the world, but when reality and gameplay come into conflict, gameplay always wins."
Meanwhile, back with G. Christopher Williams, Williams also found his teen daughter sporting a heretofore unseen interest in games recently
. It's very cute:
"She entered Jerusalem and began stalking around an area that had a guard watching over it. She clearly wanted to proceed but was having trouble figuring out how to bypass the guard. "Kill him," I said. "I don't want to," she replied. You're an assassin," I insisted, "You kill people." "I don't know how," she responded. I realized that she didn't really understand the mechanics of a stealth kill at this point and asked her to pass the controller over. I walked her through stealth killing that guard, then moved to a nearby rooftop and showed her how to take down a guard from such a vantage point before handing the controller back to her. She was soon on a gleeful murder spree throughout that holy city.
My wife called for her to take out the dog. "I can't, Mom, I'm murder-urdling people," she called back."
While Williams teaches his daughter the assassin's creed, Aaron Gotzon is musing over some other big issues
: "is it possible to draw moral teachings from videogames? 'Life lessons,' if you will? How might our experiences with games change if we let the games change us?"
On the subject of lessons, Richard Moss is not so much interested in the moral and ethical ones but the creative and design questions, encouraging designers to go digging through the archives
. Also recently, Gamasutra's Christian Nutt touched upon a personal favorite of mine when he wrote of the recent HD rerelease of NiGHTS into dreams…
, saying there is plenty we can still learn from the unique little title
On the subject of 90s games, meanwhile, Matthew Weise reflects on how hardware of the era informed a particular aesthetic and mood of darkness
. He sums it up pretty neatly in his opening words: "Darkness isn't what it used to be."
In light of the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown
releasing last week, Eurogamer's Alec Meer delivers an unflinching retrospective on the original
and how it stacks up – or doesn't. Meanwhile, as part of the latest issue of the Games Studies journal, Carly A. Kocurek takes us on a look back at 1976's Death Race
, "the United States' first video gaming moral panic." In doing so, she asks a pretty pointed question: why do some kinds of violence get a stamp of approval in our consumable media, and not others?
Speaking of the provocative, Danielle Riendeau sat down with artist-activist-provocateur-professional-troll Johannes Grenzfurthner (whom I also had the pleasure of shaking hands with at IndieCade– and playing Massively Multiplayer Thumb War with) regarding 2012's Arse Elektronika
, "the world's first sex-positive, sex-focused gaming conference."
But if you're saying to yourself, "That's the most surreal article on games I'm going to read this week," think again! Because have I got something for you. Did you know President Barack Obama has been trying to brush up on his vidya? And that he came to Bit Creature's Richard Clark for a few lessons in gaming?
Now you do.
One last link for the road, shall we? James Dilks recently profiled JournoDevSwap for Kill Screen
, a 48-hour game jam which answers the burning question hundreds of bitter, spiteful, overworked men and women have tried to put to rest over the years: what's harder, being a game designer, or a game journalist?
(Spoiler: they're both harder than either expected.)
That's all for this week! Remember to shoot us your links by Twitter
, and that we do absolutely welcome (and encourage) a bit of good old-fashioned self-promotion. So you have no excuses.
Also, Alan Williamson is absolutely distraught
over how few of you have submitted material for this month's Blogs of the Round Table
so far. As in, none of you have. Get on that! Or we're going to have to have Words.