This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including how certain games reinforce prejudices through play, conflict minerals in gaming, and more.
It was a dark and stormy night. A night… for This Week in Video Game Criticism.
"Elder Scrolls: Skyrim features the option to choose to be one of the 'Redguard,' a dark-skinned people whose culture closely resembles the Moors, and receive an 'Adrenaline Boost' perk to augment their ability to run and jump beyond that of other races–which reflects obvious stereotypes about African-American athleticism. Earlier games in this same series also gave the Redguard a penalty to intelligence, which meant that playing as a dark-skinned character was mutually exclusive from playing as a smart character, forcing you to 'role-play' a racist stereotype. White characters faced no such limitations."
Maddy Myers takes a look at women in horror games, focusing on the protagonists of Lollipop Chainsaw and They Bleed Pixels.
"Accepting 'videogame' with our whole hearts precludes being ashamed of our medium. It is populist and demotic, familiar to everyone. It accepts – neither defends nor apologises for but accepts – the history of the medium so far. It sounds like a word by 8-year-olds for 8-year-olds. And as critics we must banish the idea that only those po-faced seriousness are worth our time. We should make a virtue of trashiness, embrace the garish, valorise the vulgar, fuck the haters. Clearly, videogames are about instructing computers to hallucinate vast mazes of desire which channel the human will to knowledge through strange and beautiful paths where Princess Petit a will always have another crystalline castle to get lost in – but, equally clearly, they are also about travelling through time and capturing monkeys in a big net."
Meanwhile at his own blog Problem With Story, Patrick Stafford suggests something pretty controversial: we play games too quickly.
"We'd also be much better served if we didn't adopt a holier-than-thou attitude toward these ethics. A few weeks ago, Polygon posted a bit of news that was essentially a repackaged press release on the grounds that it was of potential interest to their readers. True or not, they were widely attacked and mocked for it. Why? Because they've built themselves up as something serious, special, and significantly better than anyone else. That's basically begging to have their behavior policed and then mocked for any kind of hypocrisy. Those kinds of high, perhaps even impossibly high, standards, also come from the same anxiety about game journalism not being any good, even when it often is. Relaxing those demands, on ourselves and others, would be healthy."
The minerals used to make our game consoles. And cell phones. And computers. On their journey from the ground to our TV stands, these minerals fund ethnic bloodshed, slavery, sexual violence, and a war that has killed somewhere between 2.7 and 5.4 million people.
These are what have been dubbed 'conflict minerals,' the biggest shadow export from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We hear about the game industry's use of conflict minerals from time to time, but mostly in a broad sense that doesn't provide much context to understand the problem or how the industry is making progress to address the issue."
"The strangest, and maybe saddest part, about all of this is that the player knows instinctively how to play. I knew immediately that I was going to have to torture aliens and genetically modify my soldiers in order to play that game. The possibility for cooperation was always-already closed off, though I can't articulate why. I just knew. There is no question. The ethical question, then, is a beautiful failure. Why have the debate in game? Why pretend like there is some kind of grey area that the player is having to navigate? Is is supposed to make me ask questions?"
Culture Ramp's Luke Rhodes is back this week with an interview with Brendan Keogh, specifically about his upcoming ebook on Spec Ops: The Line, Killing is Harmless.
And a bit of signal boosting for the road: James Week reached out to us over email about his current Indiegogo crowdfunding project Pwned!, "A feature-length screwball comedy for the internet age of which 100% of proceeds go to charity." It has a ways to go on its (admittedly ambitious) funding target but if you're interested, I'd very much encourage you to check it out!
Thanks for joining us, dear reader. As always we greatly appreciate all your contributions over Twitter and email. Remember to check out this month's Blogs of the Round Table, and tune in next week for more of the best of games criticism and commentary!