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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From  Wasteland 2  to a Major in  Sonic  Studies
This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Wasteland 2 to a Major in Sonic Studies
August 11, 2014 | By Lindsey Joyce

August 11, 2014 | By Lindsey Joyce
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More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design



This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Lindsey Joyce on topics ranging from the 26 year incubation of Wasteland 2 to a serious examination of Sonic the Hedgehog.

At All Costs

This week brings us several sources interrogating the concepts of cost, monetary and otherwise, in relation to games. For instance, both Tami Sigmund and Casey Johnston take a look at free games in terms of their non-monetary costs: Sigmund examines the phenomena whereby casual and mobile players believe once you pay for a game it ceases to be a game, while Johnson examines how "real gamers" harshly judge games like Kim Kardarshian: Hollywood and its players while simultaneously spending and investing in freemium games like Hearthstone.

Elsewhere, Solon Scott uses Zoya Street's Delay: Paying Attention to Energy Mechanics to discusses how marathoning games like Civilization demand players pay a physical and psychological cost while casual games like Candy Crush and FarmVille have been designed to encourage players to take breaks from the game.

Flipping from player to developer, Guillaume Boucher-Vidal breaks down the costs - financial, emotional, time, social, etc - of operating an indie studio, and over at Eurogamer, Wesley Yin-Poole tells the story of the 26 years it took Brian Fargo to bring Wasteland 2 into existence.

Keeping Up with Kapitalism

Speaking of costs and Kardashians, this week brings us more analysis of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood through the lens of capitalism. Over at Gawker, Michelle Dean argues that the game, unlike Candy Crush, has a lesson to teach players: money doesn't buy things of value - for that you need energy and star power. Meanwhile, over at The Atlantic, Megan Garber observes that by refusing to sell anything but herself (as a thing, rather than a person), Kim Kardashian makes herself a rare but desirable commodity people are willing to pay for.

"Empathy, Empathy, Put Yourself in the Place of Me"

This week, at First Person Scholar, Steve Wilcox argues that rather than moving us toward a ludic future in which we become more aware of systems and patterns,
Games are inherently about developing empathy towards one another. This begins by thinking of games in the same way that others have thought about art in general: as a means of training the imagination to create new contexts in which to discover new knowledge.

Acting as wonderful support for Wilcox's argument, Asi Burbak discusses how developing Peacemaker forever changed how he thought about the Isreal-Palestine conflict, saying:
There is nothing more challenging than expressing empathy for the other side, especially when your side is under attack…In PeaceMaker, walking in another man's shoes is not only a concept; it's the heart of the simulation.

Conversely, Elena Cresci questions whether it is possible to base a game in a volatile real-world setting, such as Gaza, without belittling those involved in the conflict and concludes, using Peacemaker as an example, that when dealing with complicated subject matter it is essential for the designers to make their intentions clear.

Elsewhere, Daniel Nye Griffiths catalogs several games and how they are being used to change real lives, including newsgames such as those discussed by Cresci and Burbak.

So Many Feels

Discussing how games touch our emotions, Carli Velocci writes about how choices are presented in The Walking Dead and the ways in which such choices can lead to character deaths, initially agitate her social phobia leading to panic attacks, but also eventually help her to combat anxiety by allowing her to become more confident in her choices, including what to say in conversation, over time.

Finally, Kenneth Chen examines the intrinsic motivator of guilt while playing the MMO Warframe and discusses how acknowledging guilt as a game motivator has changed his design philosophies.

Story Mode

For those of us who enjoy a good game story, this week brings numerous articles discussing innovations (and, in some cases, failure) to tell the player a good story.

Paul Shumann, for instance, takes a look at the way Betrayer, an FPS game, employs a novel listening mechanic in order to focus both mechanics and story on a respect for history, faith, and humanity.

Over at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams discusses how Sepulchre quite literally puts its game on rails in order to tell a horror story about frustrated progression. Careful, this article contains spoilers!

Elsewhere, Critical Distance's own Eric Swain indulges in the minor story moments by discussing (with spoilers) two moments near the end of Quest for Infamy that add important character dimension to Roehm, the player character.

Sam Z. writes about the story in Transistor (spoilers here too) and how the love story of this digital game lightly critiques the digital world.

Daniel Galera has a wonderful long-form read this week that lets you relive the wonder of Prince of Persia while simultaneously making poignant observations about agency, algorithms, youth, love and more.

Zolani Stewart, who has also recently joined the Critical Distance team, brings us another long-form read this week about the history of Sonic The Hedgehog and his status as a fluid media object moving between mascot and fully realized character.

Finally, Perter Christiansen uses Dwarf Fortress and its allocation of processing power to craft narratives to trace the historical paths computer have taken to be better simulators of physic than creators of story.

Adventure Games

Do you like Adventure Games? Do you know their long and stories history? Leigh Alexander does and her most recent Let's Play is of the "pure" adventure game, Curse of Crowley Manor.

Speaking of historical adventure games, Emily Rose and Pierce Huxtable talk with Roby Miller about the story and score of one of the most popular adventure games ever: Myst

Let's Talk About Sex [and Gender], Baby

In an open interview, Cara Ellison talks with Nina Freeman, among other things, about how sex informs her game design, and the control she garners via game creation.

Also this week, mrsdawnaway discusses the literal objectification of women in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, stating,
Painting someone turns that person from a ‘someone’ to a ‘something’; you can possess a painting in a way that it is impossible to possess a person. So when Yuga is running around Hyrule acquiring pieces for his art collection (to use his words), he is, quite literally, objectifying these people. In my opinion, it is no accident that most of these people are women, since the Zelda games have a history of treating women as objects participating in a man’s destiny rather than agents of their own.

Elsewhere, Corey Milne argues that the Tower of Latria is a sustained assault on the player's sexuality. Warning: article deals with sensitive issues such a rape.

Over at Killscreen, Zach Bugdor compares and contrasts the success of women in doom metal to the hard-fought success of women in games to argue that:
Adherence to tradition, or worse, to a fanbase, has rarely produced relevant and vital art... Imagine the kinds of experiences we’re going to get as more women flood into games; as the default protagonist shifts from White Vengeance Man to something infinitely more interesting and rich; as all types of new settings and characters and conflicts and mechanics come to life; as the palette of creators becomes increasingly vivid.

Take a Look, It's in a Book

Leigh Alexander has announced her new book, Clipping Through on Gumroad, but has done so with a critique of the games writing market. Alexander says,
I want there to be alternatives — not only for myself, but for the very idea of a mature career for experienced people who want to continue writing and speaking in games.

In this spirit, we also want to link you to Robert Yang's write up of the book ZZT by Anna Anthropy.

Access/ibility

Speaking about the importance of accessibility issue in games, Richard Moss notes that increasing accessibility is never a wasted effort, nor is it hard to include. As he quotes Mike Zaimont in pointing out:
It takes very little time, and if more people can potentially enjoy your game, there’s really no reason not to do it.

Other Sundry

Other good reads this week include Nick Dinicola's article on propaganda in Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag. Dinicola examines the creeds of the Pirates, the Assassins, and the Templars and the philosophies that guide them as well as how each creed is presented within the game as a lure for the player character rather than as an alignment the character already maintains.

Justin Keverne has produced an extensive and incredibly detailed analysis of Thief. Keverne discuss the stealth system, the environmental design, story, and more.

Lastly, Rainer Sigl interviews Casey T. Brooks about in-game photography.

Foreign Correspondence

Dennis Kogel wrote about Ropecon and Nordic LARPS as a way of exploring political and societal differences.

Kevin Staubli summarized the recent Twitch.tv brouhaha.

Over on Superlevel's new forum, Leonard Ritter, on half of the team behind Nowhere, talked about their difficulties selling the idea of a psychedelic "everything in the entire world" simulator.

So Long, Farewell

Thanks for spending some of your day with us. We value both your readership and your submissions, so please keep sending them our way via twitter or email.

As a final remember, please remember that Critical Distance is funded by readers like you. If you like the work we do and aren't already a supporter, we hope you'll consider pledging to our Patreon.


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Comments


Chris Book
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The paintings mechanic in A Link Between Worlds is a monument to sexism and objectification? Are you serious right now?

Michael Joseph
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"Zolani Stewart brings us another long-form read this week about the history of Sonic The Hedgehog and his status as a fluid media object moving between mascot and fully realized character."

must be trolling us...

Actually I like the idea of Sonic the puppet, Sonic the corporately co-opted spirit of rebellion who unwittingly champions the neoliberal agenda, a mass produced rebel that can be purchased for just 29.99, the little hamster trying to change the world by running in circles inside a plastic wheel, the protagonist who never finds out that he's just an actor in his own little Trueman Show reality.

Maybe one day Sonic will have his own Buzz Lightyear, Cthulhu spawning moment.


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