This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Dishonored's portrayal of women, accepting criticism from non-gamers, and more.
"If there is an opposition between 'playing to win' and 'being playful', what does the latter mean? Are those who play in alignment with the goals intended by developers playing any more 'truly' than others, or is their alignment of goals merely incidental?"
Apart from recent game releases, this week's major discussion trends seemed to revolve around this article by non-gamer Lucy Kellaway, writing on her (rather critical) impressions as part of the GameCity prize judging panel.
Our own Alan Williamson is himself highly critical of Kellaway's article but argues that we shouldn't dismiss outsider criticism, noting that "video games are often unashamedly elitist and obtuse."
Jim Rossignol of Rock, Paper, Shotgun counters: "Actually, no, I don't think we really need to worry about what non-gamers think of games. And that is because, in this instance, we are the highly educated elite."
Mattie Brice opines that we can't demand cultural legitimacy and then dismiss outside criticism:
"The gaming community, or let's say the ones with voices -- popular developers, media, and maybe celebrities if we have those -- have a cake eating problem. We want to be taken seriously as an artform but don't often value critical analysis."
"If novices like the GameCity panel find it difficult to arrive at meaningful answers to those question, they may find it consoling to know that veteran game critics run up against the same difficulties."
Writing for Wired, Jason Tanz brings us the legacy of Peter Molyneux, including the influence of his parody (and probable looper), @petermolydeux, on his decision to leave Microsoft and go into independent development.
Information dieting seeks to focus on local issues and direct sources rather than consuming our media through a filter. Ben Milton wonders if he can take that even further:
"The question I've begun asking myself is, if I'm taking time to weed out junk information, how can I weed out junk games? What qualifies as a worthwhile game, something that I'll be glad I played afterwards? What criteria can I start using other than, 'That looks fun'? How can I make my gaming life saner, more grounded, and more human?""
FEEL ALL THE THINGS
Alexandra Geraets discovers an uncommon feeling of peace while playing Journey: "A video game is the last place I'd ever look for a peaceful, borderline spiritual experience, and yet I had one, a truly powerful, emotional adventure."
"'Marvel vs. Capcom? I love this game,' says one of the newcomers. 'You all play this game? You guys all have Xbox?'
One of the other guys points at me. 'I only have a PS3, but she has an Xbox. This is her game.'
The newcomer stares hard at me. 'It's your game?'
Time to go through the motions. 'Yes.' 'You play this game?' 'Yes.' 'You play video games?' 'Yes.' 'You have an Xbox?!' 'Yes.' 'Whoa! You gotta give me your gamertag!' 'No, thanks.' 'What? Why not? You have Xbox Live, right?' 'I do, just . . . no, thanks.'
The guy turns and walks right out of the store. He doesn't come back.
The guy who pointed at me says, 'That was weird.'
'It wasn't that unusual,' I say. 'Not for me.'
'Oh, right,' he says. 'You're a girl who plays video games. And that's pretty weird.' It's not a compliment. He says it with a hint of concern in his eyes, as though he's letting me know that I have a symptom of some larger, mysterious disorder."
"The gaming community has seemed noisy lately, there's no denying it. Every week we pick through the debris of a new controversy. There's already a fatigue in relation to issues of sex and gender, but women have felt fatigued far longer by the prevalence of skimpily-dressed female characters and sexualized violence in our hobby. We're noisy now because we're finally able to speak up."
"I'll never forget the moment we found [the Richfield Tower]. Dad could just about remember the cross-streets – 6th and Flower – and I had a little trouble fiddling round in the game's map to set a waypoint. Then we were off. On the drive, dad kept up a low-level muttering trail of recollections and fiercely specific critiques: the lamps on this bridge were right, but the large dumpsters in alleyways weren't like anything he remembered seeing; a gas station's Coke machine was just perfect, but little skirtings of exposed brickwork around the low walls of vacant lots 'didn't seem very Californian'; this was meant to be 1947? Why was that a 1950 Chevy, then? When we finally turned onto 6th, though, he suddenly stopped talking.
Like any son with a father in his late 60s, I assumed his sudden silence meant he was having a minor cardiac event. He wasn't, however: he was simply back in the presence of a building he hadn't seen in half a century.
We got out of the car and circled the mass of black marble. Dad didn't say much for a minute or so, but I was astonished that this forgotten edifice had made the cut in Rockstar's highly compressed take on Los Angeles. As landmarks go, it was long gone in real life, and in California, long gone generally means it's also forgotten. It was never a world-famous edifice [...] It's the kind of building that wouldn't really be missed, and yet here it was, and dad was visibly shaken."
"None of the games I've seen, to my mind, are good depictions of the Cartel War, and most of them mischaracterize the conflict by reinforcing stereotypes, getting details wrong, or telling the story from an American perspective. The worst part is I think you could make a great game about the Cartel War, one that respects the lives lost and educates people about a conflict that's largely experienced by Americans and Europeans through bloody headlines and political spin. This game, however, would look extremely different from the ones that have been made or are currently in development.
Then there's the flip side, when games try to give back to the world of cinema. Rob Horsley takes a look back at the much-maligned Super Mario Bros. film and poses an interesting explanation for its reception and legacy.
In addition to film, video games overlap with a plethora of other media and disciplines, which can be very useful for analysis. Here are three which I found especially charming this week:
"Some voice concerns over worries that improving our vocabulary will work solely towards exclusionary ends; they fear the power to call something "not a game" belittles creators and robs them of their merit like pulling at the ends of a slipknot. Some propose that a more refined set of terms to classify and categorize will stifle creative spirits and the coverage they would accrue. They are certainly real fears, but they're clung to with almost superstitious fervor in their desire to not confront the question."
"Game criticism has come a long way in the past five years, and sites like this one are a testament to that growth, and yet I wonder why there is such a glaring blind spot ignoring fantasy sports. Why have we not turned our critical gaze onto these immensely popular, and truly fascinating game systems? Chuck Klosterman recently wrote for Grantland about the effect of fantasy sports on sports fandom, but that is for a largely sports-focused publication. Are fantasy sports not effectively videogames?"
Rock, Paper, Shotgun is running an excellent little letter series on the stealth genre, with contributions from Andy Schatz, Raf Colantonio, Patrick Redding and Nels Anderson.
WHEN WILL SENPAI NOTICE ME
If you have not already listened to this interview between Eric Brasure and former Critical Distance senior curator Ben Abraham, you owe it to yourself to do so.
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Also remember that time is running short on this month's Blogs of the Round Table theme. As we're all about promoting conversation here at Critical Distance, we really do encourage everyone to participate in these!