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This Week in Video Game Criticism: Of Assassins and Game Jams
This Week in Video Game Criticism: Of Assassins and Game Jams
April 7, 2014 | By Kris Ligman




This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the meltdown of GAME_JAM and what Assassin's Creed gets right about race.

GAME_JAM

(This section bears a content warning for discussion of sexually charged harassment and intimidation.)

We start on a low note, with the assurance that it all goes up from here. Recently, several well-known independent game developers participated in what they believed was going to be a filmed game jam, but in fact became more of a reality show. The environment was so inhospitable and toxic that the participants unanimously walked off the set after only one day of filming. Jared Rosen, a journalist who was present for much of the production's meltdown, has the main thrust of the story.

Participants Zoe Quinn and Adriel Warrick have both weighed in to the extent that they are able (emotionally or contractually) about what went down. Meanwhile, fellow participant and SoundSelf developer Robin Arnott put things like this:

A particularly useful ethical code is knowing where your loyalties lie. Zoe's loyalties lay with the young girls she teaches game-making to. She could be beacon for a safe and expressive community if she were publicly shamed as a coward, but she could not do that as an actual supporter of misogyny, lies, and the unsafe creative environment she claims to be fighting.

I think her code went something like this:

If your actions will directly support an unsafe space...
Then jack out. That's it. No matter what. Abort additional consideration. You've found the right thing to do. Leave.

(End content warning section.)

I Think We're A Clone Now

On Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander has a good, solid reading of the Threes/2048 cloning debacle with quotes from Ian Bogost and Adam Saltsman.

The Play's The Thing

PC Gamer did the internet a favor this week by introducing us to Angelina Bellebuono, a goat rancher and non-player who was asked to review Goat Simulator. (Spoiler: it's funny.)

On First Person Scholar, Michael Lutz tackles that old chestnut of Ben Abraham, "replayabilty" and asks -- if "replay value" defies objective analysis, what are the subjective terms under which it can be understood? To which he goes on to say,

To account for videogames as performative media, then, we must think of gameplay as not merely mechanics, but the experience of the player as she interacts with them, becoming a co-performer in whatever drama has been scripted. Gameplay is not simply solving a puzzle or defeating an adversary; it is the moment of shock when we realize the game is something other than what we thought, of disappointment when we fail to accomplish an in-game goal, or of exhilaration when we succeed -- all at particular junctures, at particular moments in time that can never be exactly repeated.

Manifestos and Manifestations

In a guest editorial for Polygon, queer feminist theorist and games scholar Samantha Allen maintains that there is value to mainstream representation of marginalized perspectives:

If I had played Gone Home or Dragon Age when I was twelve, my life might have unfolded differently. I pay attention to mass market titles because I know that some queer people are subsisting on them, even if they don't know they're queer.

As Todd Harper reminds us, they've "been making do with what matters to other people all [their] lives." Some closeted queer people might not see themselves in a game until Call of Duty includes a gay soldier. I don't want to burn down a forest in which people are still trying to find their way.

Continuing on this thought, on Errant Signal Chris Franklin has posted his latest video, a ten-minute dissection of how Assassin's Creed handles subjects of race, passing, and slavery, and suggests the games might achieve this better through their playable protagonists than through story missions and NPCs.

As Franklin notes that Assassin's Creed's historical settings are fraught with potential to reproduce the same systems of oppression the player is told they're subverting, our next natural stop is over on Go Make Me a Sandwich, where wunderkind has penned a two part (thus far) series on avoiding appropriation and stereotypes when writing game settings.

Kotaku has delivered a trifecta of great articles this week, starting with this essay from first-generation American Patricia Hernandez, in which she shares her own anxieties about deportation, systematized marginalization, and how Lucas Pope's celebrated Papers, Please is still a bit of a white power fantasy.

Next, Nathan Grayson provides us with an excellent write up of Deirdra Kiai's stand-out GDC talk, as well as the cultural shifts (or lack thereof) occurring in spaces of the industry like the Game Developers Conference. And Phil Owen takes a look at six games that speak authentically to his experience with suicidal ideation (content warning: suicide, depression).

Sega Genesis Evangelion

On The Conversation, Brendan Keogh decries a recent project by games-for-good advocate Jane McGonigal as lacking a sound medical methodology -- and overall, takes aim as "games evangelism" as a movement.

(I just wanted to use this header.)

On Stranger Tides

As part of an ongoing exploration into non-English games criticism, on Medium we find Zoya Street providing a fascinating in-depth reading of a turn-of-the-century Japanese game review by Nakagawa Daichi -- and more broadly, he muses on how to start more thoroughly bridging the divide between English games writing and the rest of the world.

Over on The Escapist, Robert Rath furnishes us with an excellent narrativization of the charges raised against California state senator Leland Yee, anti-game legislator turned arms trafficker. Soon to be a major motion picture directed by John Woo, I'm sure.

Finally, Cara Ellison has released her first embedded report with the one, the only, the great Tim Rogers. Or as she sums him up:

He is wearing a purple and luminous green Michael Jordan sweater with long Michael Jordan shorts and socks to match. His hair is thick and dirty blonde, his self-confessed best feature. His fingers are long and calloused with the nails cut deadly short so that they can bond with his cobalt blue Gibson, and his glasses are something out of a 1950s drama. Tim Rogers is a non-fiction anime character. He is a writer, co-creator of Insert Credit, the CEO of Action Button Entertainment, and he has worked in games, AAA and otherwise, all his adult life. He is thirty-four years old and is the internet's biggest rumour.

This is the End, the End, My Friends

That's all for this week! As always, we greatly appreciate your submissions by Twitter mention and email. Please keep 'em coming!

And hey, listen: Critical Distance is kept afloat due to generous support from readers like you. If you like what we do and want to see us expand into new, exciting features with the delicate taste and texture of real French macarons, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation through our Patreon.

Thank you! See you all next time!


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