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This Week in Video Game Criticism: The 'gamer' problem
This Week in Video Game Criticism: The 'gamer' problem
December 20, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

December 20, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Indie, Design



This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the harassment campaign against developer Zoe Quinn and whether the term 'gamer' is worth saving.

Histories

Let's start with a solid foundation. On Play the Past, Angela R. Cox praises the historical specificity of Sierra's 1999 release, Pharaoh. Elsewhere, Owen Vince explores the enactment of histories as stories in Rome: Total War:

Games cannot just be stats and routines and hierarchies of actions and responses ii for many players, like myself, it is impossible for me, for us, not to identify with the world that we are participating in. This is one of their central qualities – that they enable narrative and meaning and identification even when, in their rawness, these things are not immediately obvious. Rome is easy for this, because there are characters, with postage stamp sized portraits and names and habits.

Nomenclatures

Simon Parkin kicked off an energetic discussion this week with this piece written for the New Statesman. In it, Parkin contends simply and emphatically, that the term 'gamer' has become too charged to reclaim, and the idea of a 'gamer community' is a non-starter. "If you love games," Parkin says, "you should refuse to be called a gamer."

Writing in her own blog, Mary Hamilton maintains that the term 'gamer' is not beyond reclamation, and indeed there is a lot of value in doing just that. Meanwhile, Stephen Beirne -- while agreeing with Parkin's larger point -- takes issue with the class assumptions behind some of Parkin's remarks, in particular the idea that games are "the great contemporary leveler."

(In fairness to Parkin, I believe his remarks in the New Statesman piece actually refer back to this 2010 piece written for Boing Boing -- one of my favorites of his, by the way.)

In summing up some of these discussions, Australian games scholar Brendan Keogh maintains that the term 'gamer' is fraught with problems largely for how gendered it is, and avoiding its use is an important symbolic gesture:

Not using the world gamer doesn't solve everything. But just as using the male pronoun in a paper about policepeople perpetuates the idea that every policeperson is a man, using the word gamer in a paper when you are not actually talking just about people who self-identify as gamers perpetuates the idea that ever person who plays videogames identifies as a gamer, which is far from the truth…

My issue with 'gamer' is not that people identify as gamers. My issue with 'gamer' is it is a word that when used in discourses around games is not actually representative of everyone who plays games and its uses as such often excludes and obscures a much broader and diverse spectrum.

Architectures

On Medium, Liza Daly provides a great analysis of games as fulfilling jobs the same as (or different from) many other diversions.

Elsewhere, on Higher Level Gamer, doctoral student Erik Bigras shares the interesting tale of the collective worlds built among his colleagues in Minecraft, all of which explore interesting takes on geometry, architecture, and efficiency. And on his personal blog, Canadian critic Zolani Stewart offers a fantastic textual analysis of how Mortal Kombat 4's level design reflects isolation.

Basic Human Decencies

On Salon, Sidney Fussell observes how kneejerk reactions to the word "racist" prevent evolved discussion of problematic race representation in games:

So how do we start the conversation on racism in video games? We start with the right question: "Are gamers willing to call out video games for their racist elements?" We start by confronting the stifling, retaliatory climate that forecloses all conversation. We start by questioning our comfort with other players' erasure. We must examine why massive anxiety is triggered by accusations of racism and sexism, but not by the huge disparity in the treatment of players according to their race and sex. We start by believing this is a medium bound only by the limits of users' imaginations and not by the limits of racial palatability.

On Madness and Play, Amsel von Spreckelsen discusses depictions of the mentally ill as convenient enemy units in action games, while on Videogames of the Oppressed, Mike Joffe shares a wrenching personal account of how Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest not only helped him identify his own depression, but also recognize that he was in an abusive relationship.

Bryce Mainville offers a compelling breakdown of the sexual dimorphism of masculine and feminine character classes in Carbine Studios' Wildstar. Meanwhile, looking toward the positive, Patrick Lindsey (co-developer on Depression Quest) shares a nice piece on Unwinnable about the progress of AbleGamers, a very important non-profit charity and advocacy organization for improving accessibility in games.

(The rest of this section contains a general content warning for discussion of sexual harassment, transphobic and sexist language, and cyberbullying.)

Writing for OnGamers, Cassandra Khaw reflects on a largely overlooked incident at a recent eSports event and makes the case for more proactively calling out inappropriate behavior. And on The Border House, in a post which partly inspired Parkin's column above, Samantha Allen condemns the transphobic "jokes" made at Spike TV's recent Video Game Awards show.

Two other significant cases of harassment went down this week, one concerning Depression Quest lead Zoe Quinn and the other concerning Mighty No. 9 community manager Dina Abou Karam. The Mary Sue has a good breakdown of both.

This video lampooning the outcry against Karam is also worth a viewing or six.

(End content warning section.)

Sensualities

On Gamasutra, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander provides an excellent introduction to Merritt Kopas's unmissable Consensual Torture Simulator. And on GameChurch, April-Lyn Caouette shares her experience with Tale of Tales' sensual Luxuria Superbia, and how it helped her rethink cultural pressures about sex -- and games, for that matter.

Derivations

On The Gaming Intelligence Agency, Fritz Fraundorf furnishes us with a fond and insightful analysis of the often underrated Final Fantasy X-2, both as variations on a theme and as a story of its protagonist's self-actualization.

And on Edge, Richard Wordsworth draws attention to a worrying trend in recent Call of Duty games, particularly Modern Warfare 2 and the recently released Ghosts:

The goal of these games isn't peace – it's the restoration of the status quo, with America's military dominance reasserted and its enemies utterly vanquished. That's a disturbing message to propagate – the digital equivalent of the World War propaganda posters of caricatured, malevolent foreigners that can only be stopped by other caricatures of our brave, devoted men and women in uniform.

On Kill Screen, our own Erik Fredner muses on Typing of the Dead: Overkill as Dada-inspired surrealist art. And on Gamasutra's member blogs, law professor Greg Lastowka has shared a valuable overview of his recently released report on user-generated content in games and player communities.

Independencies

On PopMatters Moving Pixels, our own Eric Swain has become taken with the idea of certain games as "critic bait" -- perfectly tuned games which nevertheless manage to feel disingenuous.

And back with Gamasutra's Expert Blogs, Ben Serviss decries the idea that games -- particularly the current independent scene -- are headed for a collapse.

Dialogues

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Doom, Wired's Chris Kohler sits down for a retrospective with id Software co-founder John Carmack. And on PC Gamer, Philippa Warr interviews Charles Cecil on Broken Sword 5, the Gnostic Gospels, conspiracies, and religion.

Dispatches from Vienna

Here's the latest and greatest from the German-language games blogosphere, via our correspondent Joe Koller.

Superlevel has released the full text of a Choose-Your-Own-Interview with Thomas Hillenbrand and Konrad Lischka, co-authors of Drachenvater: Die Geschichte des Rollenspiels und die Geburt der virtuellen Welt (or: Dragon Fathers: The Histories of Roleplaying and the Birth of Virtual Worlds, if you'll forgive my 4 am translation).

On Krautgaming, Christoph Volbers discusses the popular subject of the ephemeral nature of digital games. Meanwhile on Videogame Tourism, Rainer Sigl has a useful holiday gift-giving guide -- geared specifically to buying games for non-players.

Letters from Paris

Critical Distance is also pleased to introduce our new French-language correspondent, Laurent Pointecouteau.

Two new French-language games publications have recently sprouted up, each supported by veteran writers. JV Le Mag, edited largely by former writers of Joystick magazine (now defunct), has an interesting feature on the inception of Grand Theft Auto. Here's a review by French blogger Cyril Berthout. Meanwhile, the new French Games Magazine appears to offer some great opportunities for French-language bloggers shooting for print. You can follow them on Twitter.

As for online features, Canard PC editor-in-chief Ivan Gaude sat in for an interview with Ragemag, and has a few strong words for the state of games criticism and certain American publications.

"We don't think that video games are art, so we don't see exactly why they couldn't be given scores," says Gaude, who in particular says that American games websites such as Polygon are "eating themselves up" through controversy. How do you say "shots fired" in French?

Invitations

Thanks once again for reading. As always, we greatly value all your support and submissions. Be sure to submit your weekly recommendations to us by mentioning us on Twitter or sending us an email.

Second order of business: if you haven't yet, please swing by our call for reader submissions for our upcoming This Year in Videogame Blogging roundup, curated by longtime contributor Eric Swain.

Also, a little bird (really, the blue one that twitters a lot) tells us that Engagement Game Lab has opened a new scholastic journal, Level 257 -- and they're looking for your submissions.

That's all from us! See you all next week!


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Comments


Kyle Redd
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Good lord that is a lot to read.

Regarding the ephemeral nature of games, there was also a recent blog post by (newly shuttered) Warhammer Online dev Andrew Meggs, who made the case for EA to allow an offline version of the game to exist freely for examination and appreciation into the future: http://shinytoys.org/blog/war-in-a-bottle.

It's definitely not an ideal solution, even if EA were to allow it (they won't), but it's nice to see the sentiment out there.


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