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This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Will Of The Silent Protagonist
This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Will Of The Silent Protagonist
February 10, 2011 | By Ben Abraham

February 10, 2011 | By Ben Abraham
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[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham, from a look at the power of the silent protagonist to an analysis of player agency via Quick-Time Events.]

Another week, another agglomeration of the week's best blogging, writing and criticism of video games from around the blogosphere.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a big story of the past couple of weeks, so I'll get it out of the way first, and boy does it have legs -- the Penny Arcade 'Dickwolves' saga seems to have spread its tendrils to the four corners of the interwebs, and sparking up a million discussions all over the place.

Without taking away from any of the other responses, I'm only going to link to Leigh Alexander's excellent treatment of the issue in her post at Sexyvideogameland, 'Love means sometimes having to say you're sorry'.

A duo from Denis Farr -- first at GayGamer writing about a Global Game Jam 11 game 'HIV Extinctinction 1981':

"The game itself? Not particularly long. Not particularly flashy. In fact, not incredibly engaging in terms of its gameplay. The message it has? Much more intrigued by such -- especially as it treats someone who could have HIV as a person, rather than some diseased leper we must ignore."

The second, at his blog 'The Vorpal Bunny Ranch' continues his series looking at Half-Life 2 characters, this time about the taciturn Gordon Freeman and the tension present while playing a silent protagonist character who we know has some character of his own.

Farr is not the only one to write about silent protagonists this week, as Lauren Wainwright at the 'Daily Girl Attack Panic Super HD Remix' blog (surely a candidate for best blog title in the world) wrote about the formerly silent protagonist that is Dead Space's Isaac Clark. For Wainwright, 'Silence is Golden':

"It's such a strange thing when you think about it because it wasn't until I was nearing the end of the original Dead Space that I realized Isaac hadn't uttered a single word. It wasn't essential for him to say anything and it was his silence that did more for Dead Space than an overly dramatic script could have ever achieved. The feeling was already there and layering over any more theatrics would have killed it."

Wired's Jonah Lehrer digs up one of the most interesting game-related stories in recent memory -- 'Cracking the Scratch Lottery Code' may not strictly be about a video game, but it's not far off and is well worth reading.

At Waxy.org, Andy Baio has begun cataloguing all the 'Games about Games', or any game with some kind of meta-function, meta-message, or met-mechanic. And since its first posting it's already been updated with a game I was going to suggest adding to the list, so it looks like this should end up being pretty comprehensive.

Clint Hocking at his Click Nothing blog has posted part six of his ongoing, always provocative series 'Convergence Culture', which is essentially just an interesting rationale for episodic content and games as content platforms. But it is interesting, nonetheless. At the excellent Play The Past blog, Roger Travis talks about 'Emergent gameplay, bardic style'.

At the new blog 'The Gwumps', Richard Dillio has realized that he's growing old, primarily because it's been ten years since Baldur's Gate 2 came out. I have some seriously fond memories of that game, and it's one with some really clever features to boot. Here's Dillio:

"In this instance, however, the game itself is demanding the money from you. The side-quests are no longer some half-assed walk into the woods, but a way to earn dough, to literally move the plot forward."

According to Matthew Breit, the ever growing list of 'People Who Were A Game Designer Include[s] Harold Ramis'. I'll admit it, I had to Google who Harold Ramis was and now I feel stupid. In hindsight, Groundhog Day really is the greatest game never made.

At The Ludologist, Jesper Juul has a fascinating discussion about play strategies for Bejeweled Blitz -- that time limited variation on the Match-3 classic which has gained such popularity on Facebook. Juul:

"It was only when I saw the status updates from my high-scoring Facebook friends that I began to search seriously for deeper strategies in the game. There is competition with the other players, of course, but simply knowing that the game has depth fundamentally alters the way I play."

Okay, I'm really only linking to this next piece -- 'Pokemon trainers are disturbed and depraved' -- because it's an homage/pastiche of this piece by Hunter S Thompson. Any excuse'll do. I'm not sure this… re-imagining quite captures the tone or possess the same level of wit, nor HST's powers of observation, but then again who does? Oh and it comes in two parts.

While we're talking Pokemon, Brendan Keogh has been playing the games, and now he's written about 'Thieves, Poachers, Pokemon, and Me'. Sebastien Wuepper wrote a most vitriolic screed about Demon's Souls this week, saying anyone who likes the game is bluffing, because it's just so damn hard.

Tireless contributor Eric Swain sent in a trio of video interviews with Interplay's Brian Fargo as part of the YouTube video series 'Matt Chat'. The first, episode 89, is about the classic games Bard’s Tale and Wizardry. I say classic because that's what I've been told, not because I actually know or anything.

Episode 90 deals with Wasteland and Fallout (the latter of which I do know is a classic), and Episode 91 is about 'The Fall of Interplay'. I haven't had time to watch them all yet, but could someone tell me if they ever mention my favorite Interplay game, Starfleet Academy? That's another game I have extremely fond memories of.

Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica this week builds a convincing case that Dead Space 2's fictional religion 'Unitology' is actually a sustained and pointed critique of a similar sounding real-world religion. No points for guessing which one.

At the PopMatters Moving Pixels blog, Kris Ligman looks LittleBigPlanet 2 and how the game treats gender in a post titled 'Sackpersonhood: Constructing a Rhetoric of Player Identification': "These games are meant as Western child-rearing in a nutshell, deliberately multicultural and gender-inclusive, actively encouraging self discovery and mutable identification. There's just the little problem of its execution. Or rather, how it sets up and fails to deliver where it counts."

And Ligman's blogmate at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams, wrote 'Namelessness, Thy Name Is Monkey' about the game Enslaved, discussing the significance of Monkey's lack of a better name. At the Border House blog Quinnae looks at another character done right in games -- Kreia of Knights of the Old Republic 2, who really was an interesting character, wasn't she?

And lastly, for the week, Jonathan McCalmont writes about 'Heavy Rain: Free Will and Quick Time Events'. Here's a taste: "This reduced level of interactivity makes gamers feel deprived of agency, like passive members of the audience. It is not what they are used to. Given these expectations, Heavy Rain's reliance upon quick time events is not only brave; it is nothing short of revolutionary."


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