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This Week In Video Game Criticism: Conflict minerals, prejudical play
This Week In Video Game Criticism: Conflict minerals, prejudical play
November 20, 2012 | By Kris Ligman

November 20, 2012 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Design



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.

First up, something you might've missed: over on Harper's, Christopher Ketcham brings us this great feature on the antimonopolist origins of Monopoly.

Elsewhere, also on the subject of games and economics, Tim Fernholz tells the story of Valve reaching out to Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis to bring stability to their Steam and in-game economies.

On FAIR, J.F. Sargent breaks down several ways in which games, as systems, reinforce prejudices through play. Here's one example Sargent lists:
"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.

Dishonored continues to inspire a great deal of writing throughout the blogosphere, from a wide spectrum of perspectives. This week brings us articles from such writers as Jim Ralph at Ontological Geek, Rowan Kaiser at Gameranx, and G. Christopher Williams and Scott Juster, both of PopMatters Moving Pixels.

This week also saw a fantastic new Gamasutra blog post from former Dishonored dev Joe Houston, on why he's going indie.

Also turning up on Gamasutra, Eric Schwarz discusses why X-COM: Enemy Unknown didn't work for him.

Kotaku's Jason Schreier writes on the seductively "perfect" little world of Persona 4. Meanwhile, Brendan "Hotshot" Keogh continues his "A Sum of Parts" column on Gameranx this week with a second essay on Binary Domain, this time on its treatment of posthumanism.

And not to be outdone in terms of ambitious analyses, this week Play the Past's Roger Travis brings us an interesting interpretation of Halo as an analogue for Homer's Odyssey.

Several high-profile indie games continued to spur discussion this week. First, Terrence Jarrad laments how treating Journey "like a game" ruined his experience. Then, our own Eric Swain, writing for Moving Pixels, analyzes why Papo & Yo failed to connect with him.

Over on The Creator's Project, Leigh Alexander profiles Ian Bogost's latest project, the iOS game/religious altar Simony. And on his Tumblr, Chris Chapman provocatively likens Peter Molyneux's Curiosity to a Skinner Box experiment.

Metagame has finally released to a few quite attention-worthy pieces, including this review by Nico Dicecco at Medium Difficulty, and this feature by Nils Pihl on Gamasutra.

Moving on from the subject of specific games to more overarching trends and themes, Craig Stern at Sinister Design praises unpredictability in turn-based systems. Back over at Medium Difficulty, Hari MacKinnon explores the avatar as self/other. And on Ontological Geek, Hannah DuVoix asks: if games face the unique problem of obsolescence even within their own franchises, how can publishers correct for that?

On Nightmare Mode, Mattie Brice reflects on a talk she attended at last month's IndieCade and the larger reality of "the magic circle."

At that very moment, somewhere in his secret base in the Antarctic, John Brindle writes in defense of the "juvenile" term 'videogames':
"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.

Lest you think the Rab Florence Affair was well and truly behind us, we have a couple new pieces this week that call for a more moderate response. First, music blogger David Rayfield turns up at Kotaku Australia to remark on how other industries respond to critic-publisher faux pas. Then, writing once more for Gameranx, Rowan Kaiser suggests that the problem is, rather, too little honesty and too many standards:
"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."
On GameChurch, Richard Clark criticizes the "stuffing" that fills our games and our lives. On Push Select, Rob Horsley performs an excellent reading of the 1994 Street Fighter film in the context of contemporary American militarism.

Also at the intersection of military, politics and entertainment, Robert Rath kicks off a two-part series on the role of conflict minerals in gaming:
"Tin. Tantalum. Tungsten. Gold.

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."
Likewise on the subject of war, Nightmare Mode writer and our own newest contributor Cameron Kunzelman questions why games confront us with ethical issues if the player already knows the answer:
"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?"
Ethics are also on the mind of Daniel Starkey, who describes how Fallout 3 gave the act of theft some real gravity.

Mattie Brice recently completed her first game, Mainichi. On The Border House, she offers up her post-partum on the game and the ideas motivating its creation.

UnSubject brings Christmas early with some super sexy statporn quantifying the actual progress of successfully funded Kickstarter games to date.

Two Nightmare Mode contributors also share their particular passions with us this week: Dylan Holmes describes the legacy of poetry of and on games, while Line Hollis professes her life-long affection for game maps.

Steve Lakawicz pens a response to Andrew High's "Is Game Music All It Can Be?". And over on Wired Game|Life, Ryan Rigney takes us inside playing MMOs with autism.

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!


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