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This Week in Video Game Criticism: Google buys Twitch, everyone eats Pokemon
This Week in Video Game Criticism: Google buys Twitch, everyone eats Pokemon
June 2, 2014 | By Lindsey Joyce

June 2, 2014 | By Lindsey Joyce
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing



This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Lindsey Joyce on topics ranging from the food politics of Pokemon to the ramifications of Google's acquisition of Twitch.

Themantics

In my attempt to blend "semantic" and "theme" into one word, I thought I would just be making up the word "themantics," but it actually exists, and it's exactly that: the intersection of theme and semantics.

Brendan Keogh argues that "Big Games Are Often Light on Themes." Brendan observes that while ad campaigns for AAA games have started to sell games based on big or heavy narrative story lines, the games frequently fail to deliver them.

Lending support to Keogh's observations, Fraser Brown argues that post-apocalyptic themes are not only overdone, but unambitious as they rarely "explore how society would progress after everything has broken down."

Conversely, Sam Zucci's article, "Remember Me and Artistic Ambition," suggests that while Remember Me may fail to deliver on numerous counts, the game's unique use of epigraph as a narrative device gives the game "a thematic coherency that ultimately mark the game as truly memorable."

Meanwhile, at Ontological Geek, Tom Dawson questions Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag's rhetoric of freedom in conjunction with the games representation of slaves as a means to upgrade weapons in "Human Resource." (A subject Errant Signal has covered in the past as well. --ed)

Down in the Dumps: or Stories of E.T.

This week presents us with three ways to journey down into the depths of E.T.'s video game history.

If you are in the mood for fiction, Leigh Alexander's "The Unearthing" tells the made-up story of the excavation (but with wonderful truths about its meaning held within).

If you want the cold hard truth, head over to Polygon and read Matt Leone's "How to Dig Up a Landfill."

Alternately, If you want to dive into the metaphorical meaning of the game's burial and the presence of deep ditches in the game itself, Lana Polansky's got the article for you.

Really, though, I suggest digesting them all so you feel good and full.

Historical Lenses that Cloud Our Vision

While the location and excavation of the E.T. Atari game will certainly be remembered as a historical moment in video game culture, Peter Christiansen reminds us that any medium dealing with history "makes implicit arguments about history."

Chris Franklin provides an excellent example in the dangers of playing with history by analyzing Civilization. He argues that the representation of barbarians as less-than-human beasts is problematic and supports the idea that "some peoples or social constructs [are] below consideration as equals."

Meanings in What We Say and How We Say It

Language is tenuous in that not only what we say and how we say it, but also what we elect not to say all affect systems of representation. The implications of our words, and even our spellings, have ripples that matter.

This week, Lindsey Weedston examines the need to explicitly name mental illness, rather than sidestepping or leaving ambiguous issues of mental illness in games. Weedston writes:

Being able to speak frankly about psychological disorders and their symptoms is the key to ending stigma, and it helps the people affected tremendously through the simple function of letting them know that these issues are not uncommon and they’re not bad people for having them.

Elsewhere, Josh Ling looks at how meaning is derived, altered, and commercialized based on the capitalization, or non-capitalization, of the "e" in eSports.

Spectatorship & Participation

Over at Paste Magazine, Maddy Myers takes a look at the rise of video games as a spectator sport and the ways in which the acquisition of Twitch by Google-Youtube will enable the rich to increase their profits at the expense of those who generate the content.

Back over at Polygon, Emily Gera questions why more women don't stop spectating and start participating in eSports. Even more importantly, the article asks, "How do we vanquish blatant misogyny?"

Dismantling Heteronormativity

Another question worth asking is, How do we vanquish blatant heteronormativity? In "The Subtle Knife," Todd Harper discusses the differences between the effective and ineffective inclusion of LGBT characters in games.

Elsewhere, Merritt Kopas suggests that Saints Row IV, which doesn't make relationships a narrative end-game or quest achievement, provides an environment in which to "dismantle a heteronormative romance culture."

An interesting dialogue about Tomodachi Life also took place this week on Austin Howe's blog Haptic Feedback. In an initial post, Howe responds to an article by Zoya Street. Following comments made to Howe's initial post by both Street and Shinji Matsunaga, Howe composed another response.

Existential/ism

Imagine my surprise and delight this week when three articles all directly mentioned existentialism!

Over at Kill Screen, Jordan Smith uses Dark Souls 2 to introduce the philosophies Kierkegaard, one of existentialism's finest. This one contains spoilers, so beware.

Next, over on Gamasutra, the prolific Ian Bogost argues that,"The Spiny Shell is the most profoundly existentialist element of the Mario canon."

Meanwhile, Extra Credit states Cthulhu is the most existential of terrors, and that's one of the big reasons "Why Games do Cthulhu Wrong."

Pokemon and FPS? Sure!

Imagine my continued surprise when this weeks submissions allowed me to couple two unlikely topics: Pokemon and first person shooters.

Monica Kim has an interesting article up at Modern Farmer on the politics of the belly in the Pokemon universe. She states, "The ethical dilemma is complicated by the fact that each species can be a beloved friend of fighter, or it can be a delicious meal."

Bridging the gap between Pokemon and first person shooters, is Bryan Rumsey's article "Searching for Wonder in Games," in which Rumsey muses on the stagnation of innovation across game genres.

Jamin Warren also questions the possible stagnation of game genres, specifically the FPS in this week's PBS Game/Show: "Is The FPS Dying or Evolving?"

Grab Bag

While good, these articles resisted grouping nicely into headings, but don't let that dissuade you from sampling their goods!

In "Puzzling Personas: Puzzles as Character Development," Nick Dinicola examines how The Raven: Legacy of a Master Chief uses puzzle mechanics to develop characters, and what the player can learn about their own character based on their puzzle-solving capabilities.

Andy Astruc takes a look at the effects of playing in analog in Dead Island and argues that, "analog controls support the themes of vulnerability and fear many ombre games put so little effort into."

Foreign Correspondence

This week's dispatch on the goings-on in the German language blogging scene comes courtesy of Critical Distance German correspondent Joe Koeller, who writes in:

Ally Auner criticizes sexist marketing at a Watch_Dogs launch event in Vienna, which featured a staged sexual encounter in the restrooms that was broadcast to the main screen (surveillance, ya know), after which the woman was escorted out by "the police" while the man took to the stage to lead through the evening.

Following his report on German Let's Play stars, Sebastian Leber talks about the abuse he got for his comments about their occasionally homophobic jokes (which he shrugged off as part of their juvenile humor).

Valentina Hirsch reviews the crowd funded pen&paper roleplaying history Drachenvater by Konrad Lischka and Tom Hillenbrand.

Rainer Sigl has some thing to say about Wolfenstein's ill-fated attempt to combine snooty runtimes and commentary on genocide.

And Remember

We value your time and thank you for joining us. As always we greatly value your contributions, and we encourage you to submit links to us via Twitter mention or our email submissions form.

Before you exit, we'd also like to remind you that Critical Distance is entirely funded by its readership, so if you like what we do and you want us to keep doing it, please consider lending us your support.

Thanks for joining me this week, everyone. It's been real and it's been fun and it's been real fun. Enjoy the week ahead and we'll meet you back here next week - same bat time, same bat place.


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