This Week in Video Game Criticism: Is Leveling Up Capitalist?
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mark Filipowich on topics ranging from a Marxist discussion of RPG elements to a Leigh Alexander mediation on two Kanye West games.
Patricia Hernandez expresses disappointment with Tomodachi Life's heteronormativity
over at Kotaku and breaks down just how structurally invested the game is in straightness:
[E]ntire sections of the game are gated until you let characters romance each other. And since only folks of the opposite gender can romance each other, I think it's fair to say that Tomodachi Life is really invested in heterosexual relationships. When Nintendo is probably the first company that comes to mind when someone says "family friendly" in the gaming industry, that's a problem.
Zachery Oliver's second of a two-part breakdown of remastered classics cuts at the necessity and hypocrisy of modernizing the past
. Speaking of preserving the past, Tomas Brown analyses how museums function in games
for Play the Past.
Chris Franklin discusses preservation and curation of games in a time when most of the process is digitized
. Specifically, he touches on how important it is that critics distance themselves from the AAA Public-Relations Complex:
I'm as guilty as anyone when I spend two weeks writing about a half-baked Thief sequel instead of something smaller but arguably more intimate ... we do it because the information most people want right now is to know whether their hype in Watch_Dogs is validated.
Finally, Gaines Hubbell of Higher Level Gamer encourages scepticism to any critical approach that leans heavily on auteur theory
. Listen close and you can hear the thud from the mic dropping:
Authorship is always a tricky issue for critics of all medias. Auteur theory does not work for content from major studios, and it works only occasionally for content from indie+ studios.
Aevee Bee applauds the way that Fire Emblem: Awakening adopts fantasy pulp writing tropes to videogame structure
: "Fire Emblem
isn't any more or less designed than any other narrative but it is designed with respect to the technology of a video game." As if I needed another reason to finally play that game.
Conversely, Lindsey Joyce, the curator of last week's TWIVGB, finds that Child of Light fails to reconcile its writing tradition with the demands of immersion
At Tap-Repeatedly, Amanda Lange reads the disconnected episodes of Kentucky Route Zero as an endless, dreamless night
In games with long, tangled quest arcs, realizing that the quest has become impossibly convoluted is like seeing the Emperor without his clothes for the first time. You're often one step from the light shining in your eyes and wondering, "just why the hell am I doing all this?" Kentucky Route Zero made this common problem into a feature instead.
Cameron Kunzelman examines how the change in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's use of space redirects the series
while Anthony John Agnello continues his series on empty spaces for The A.V. Club; this time with a focus on Final Fantasy VI
Lana Polansky also looks at maps and space, but at their appropriating influence
through the lens of Leonard Getinthecar's visual art piece based on Space Invaders
Writing for The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers, discusses how well Telltale's The Wolf Among Us
and The Walking Dead
focus on morality by removing choices from in-game stat modifiers
. Jorge Albor focuses his own microscope on The Walking Dead
episode, "In Harm's Way," specifically with how Carver, the episodeís antagonist, weaponizes traditional gender roles
to dominate the player and their group of hapless survivors.
Leigh Alexander on Gamasutra compares two games based Kanye West lyrics
, the officially sanctioned I Won
with the fan-made Kanye Zone
. In her words, "[Kanye Zone
is] the complete opposite of the I Won
game: a game about literal achievement is cynical, but one that makes an abstract expression mechanical is funny."
While we're laughing at some cynical stuff, Alex Hern takes a look at Class Struggle
, a board game designed in 1978 by a New York professor to teach players about Marxism.
More Like Cyber JUNK
Word is out on the first major cross-platform title to hit the new console generation: Watch_Dogs
is definitely a videogame. Nick Hanford pens a number of micro-essays
teasing apart the game's problems.
Meanwhile at Paste, Patrick Lindsey explains how big-budget games completely miss the point of the cyberpunk hero
Their visual individuality is a direct contrast to the imposing monolithic grey facelessness of the establishment, the act of hacking itself a refusal to acquiesce to corporate assimilation. Instead, recent games have delivered the reverse -- identical white heroes preying on the diverse and colorful array of the city's inhabitants for personal gain.
Robert Rath claims that in Wolfenstein: The New Order, surviving surviving totalitarian rule is the greatest form of defying it
. Rath details a number of historical rebellions that, while mundane, were crucial to undermining Germany's authoritarian leaders. He goes on:
Late-game missteps aside, at times The New Order does an excellent job confronting the player with the wide spectrum of resistance to the Nazis ... We see that survival, merely living life, is an act of resistance.
We Never Just Talk Anymore
Leigh Alexander tilts the spotlight onto Rachel Simone Weilís exhibit at The Visual Arts Center
in Austin of what a girl's bedroom might look like if 1990's advertising had not been so weighted to boys.
Zoya Street, meanwhile, summarizes a number of interviews with FibreTigre
about their mobile space exploration/existential horror simulator, Out There
. Street describes the game thusly:
Out There isn't a miserable game -- it has its share of humour and joy -- but it is nihilistic. A spaceship roguelike superficially similar to FTL, it puts me alone in a tiny vessel that has been warped far from home. I will remain alone forever.
At Eurogamer, Simon Parkin chats with Kirk Ewing
about the controversy of his 2004 game, JFK: Reloaded
Nick Regos or IGN talks to writer and YouTuber personality, Robert Kingett
about his experiences as gamer with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment. The review also covers Kingett's criteria as a reviewer and explains some technical aspects that improve or limit access.
The Dire Wolf of Wall Street
Stephen Beirne kicked off a conversation about the deeply capitalistic nature of in-game resource growth
So, if we consider the process of levelling up as a capitalist narrative, what does it describe? Capitalism is founded upon an exchange of labour for wealth, where labour is the product of a labourer to be bought and used by others in pursuit of their own wealth. In terms of a videogame, labour would be the activities involved in generating the player's wealth, such as combat in Final Fantasy IX and questing in Skyrim. Much of the time these activities arenít inherently enjoyable but still we tolerate them for the rewards, accepting them as part and parcel of the labour trade agreement between ourselves and the game.
Austin Walker counters to Beirne's polemic, as he calls it, instead asking for a more complicated approach
in understanding leveling up:
I do not aim to excuse these works or systems, or to say facilely "no no, all games improve us." But it seems just as facile to say that "we" "tolerate" the mechanics of MMOs and RPGs, that they "aren't inherently enjoyable." Are "we" sure about that? Why specifically? And who is "we?" Does "we" include the millions of MMO and RPG players who defend "the grind" as fun and essential to their play experience, or do they not count?
Daniel Joseph responds to both, insisting that focus should instead be placed on the causal, material outcomes videogames produce
, not on what ideologies might be read into them.
Zack Fair gets the last word for now in his definitions and distinctions between various game resources
Other Things People Said
Krystian Majewski picks apart the developing meta-game of Netrunner.
Rick Lane reminds us that graphics cannot be reduced to technical fidelity
Robert Yang reflects on GDC's illusion of prestige
Zoe Quinn wants sex and videogames to be less technical and more playful
And finally, for those sick of triple vowels and all related festivities, Joylancer
developer TJ Thomas presents: IndiE3
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