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This week in video game criticism: From proceduralism to  Katawa Shoujo
This week in video game criticism: From proceduralism to Katawa Shoujo
January 17, 2012 | By Kris Ligman

January 17, 2012 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Design



[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including arguments for and against proceduralism, disability-themed eroge Katawa Shoujo, and more.]

Out with the old, in with the new. As we settle into 2012, the ludodecahedron keeps on a-turnin'. It's time for This Week in Video Game Criticism!

First up, a brief announcement: the folks over at Digital Love Child have put out a Call for Articles. Do take a look.

Tom Chatfield sat down with Julian Gough, author of Minecraft's endgame this week for insight on how to "end an endless game":
"The word 'dream' gets used, but it's really a story about the dream of a game, and the dream of life. It's dream as metaphor. I love the strangeness that comes when people get so lost in a game that the game becomes the world. Because you do get lost like that. Especially in something like Minecraft, that's so endless. You're actually startled to come back into your life at the end of it. So I wanted to play with that moment, where you're between two worlds, and for a short little period you're not sure which one is more real.??"
This week also featured a host of reaction pieces, the first of which comes from Denis Farr, who reflects on his own "This Gaymer's Story" and the reception it has garnered. He concludes: "Boys may be boys, but that does not mean boys need be assholes in public."

Recently, a provocative academic article from Miguel Sicart went live on Espen Aarseth's online Game Studies journal, arguing against proceduralism. This prompted several thoughtful reaction articles, two of which may be particularly worthy of your attention.

The first comes from Charles Pratt in an article titled "Players Not Included":
"The nature of this inextricable relationship between rules and play in games proves false the claim that a game's meaning can reside in its rules alone, but also proves that the rules, and what Sicart refers to as 'instrumental' play, are of paramount interest to players in games. After all, just as when Bogost talks of games without players and play he is really talking about software, when we talk about games without rules and goals we are really talking about 'playful activities'. While interesting points may be made in light of either of these subjects, in neither case are we really talking about games."
Mark Nelson shows up in the comments of Pratt's article, and subsequently lays out his own response to Sicart:
"Put differently, at times Sicart sounds like he's arguing that "proceduralism" has made a philosophical error, in that it erroneously claims game rules encode more meaning than they really do. But his concerns about instrumentalizing the player to convey didactic, moralizing messages seems to rest on the opposite view: that some games really do foreclose any real role for the player in meaning-creation."
Shifting from an academic gear to one perhaps more recognizable, Charlie Hall recounts how his fandom for military shooters got him mistaken for a veteran, prompting some introspection. Keeping the same genre of games but tackling them from a vastly different perspective, schoolteacher Kyle McKinnon draws some connections between his students' classroom behavior and their taste in violent versus nonviolent games.

I have a hobby horse hidden away somewhere on the damage Joseph Campbell has done to the state of popular storytelling, but until then, we have Kate Cox (voted by us here as one of 2011's best game bloggers) outlining why to read Dragon Age II as a hero's journey is to read it incorrectly.

Speaking of RPGs, Rowan Kaiser has been bustling about with his new column on the subject, beginning with an overview of the state of Western RPGs up to the present. And Josh Bycer has a five-part series on RPGs that break the rules.

If you're up for more multipart features, Shamus Young also has a five-part series for you, this one on Skyrim's Thieves Guild plotline. Here's a taste:
"If he's been stealing from the fault for 'years' then how did nobody notice? I assume people have been putting treasure INTO the vault? Didn't they ever notice that the loot was vanishing? And what's all this for? Why would the guild pile up riches in some common pot? Is this some kind of hippie communist Thieves Guild, where everyone shares?"
Here is the link to the first part, and there are links to each successive part at the head of each article.

One last shout from Skyrim before we move on: why the game's Radiant Story system breaks the game.

For those who tuned in for our Critical Distance Confab, End of 2011 edition, you may have been intrigued by contributor Eric Swain's description of Driver: San Francisco. Well, this week he has two articles expounding further on his affection for the game: "It's All in the Presentation" and "Magical Realism as Game Mechanic in Driver: San Francisco".

From magical realism to the more material realities of gender performance, we turn to Leigh Alexander's new Gamasutra exclusive on Harmonix, "on gender, self-expression in Dance Central".

Tami Baribeau's latest for The Border House draws a reticle on fat shaming in games, from the perspective of character creation as well as within online communities.

Harris O'Malley is back on Kotaku with a follow-up on his Nerds and Male Privilege article, which caused quite a stir among Kotaku's readership back in December. In "Deconstructing the Arguments", O'Malley lays out "the 3 Ds of Arguing" used to suppress feminist criticism: Deflect, Derail, and Dismiss.
"Derailing is the most common version of these arguments and serves to change the subject of the conversation, usually by the people in question. Suddenly, instead of discussing geek culture's implied accepted roles for women, we're discussing the hierarchy of oppression or why we're talking about this instead of, say, female circumcision (which is, like, way worse). Or dealing with assertions that, by extension, anyone who agreed with the article wants to ban all "sexy" characters from video games forever."
Speaking of the 3 Ds, those came up a lot recently in a dustup between World of Warcraft machinimator WoWCrendor and anti-sexist critics, following hurtful remarks posted on Twitter. Apple Cider Mage outlines why the remarks were hurtful.

As a companion piece, although it does not address the same incident, our own Katie Williams declares that WoW players are a "walled city" within gaming. For those who do not play MMOs, Williams's configuration of WoW as a subculture within a subculture might prove useful for thinking about the WoW community, even if her conclusions might prove controversial.

Likewise, perhaps a "walled city" isn't all bad. Take this inspiring interview with a WoW "guide dog", who plays the game as an aid to his unsighted fellow guild member.

One release which has generated a lot of talk this past week is Katawa Shoujo, a dating game developed by members of 4chan. Jack McNamee has perhaps one of the most interesting early articles on how the game both objectifies and humanizes its subject matter.

New from Paste this week is an article from Brian Taylor on a "tourist"'s impressions of the close of Star Wars Galaxies:
"To start with a binary, two perspectives on the digital: It is forever, and it's incredibly difficult to preserve. It's always present, until it ceases to exist. It never erodes or fades. It's accessible until it's corrupted. It's there until it's gone. Tatooine, the planet I'm on, is a desert. But in a few hours, this cactus-less land won't become a dead land. It will disappear completely. Built of ones and zeroes, the digital does not ruin. Maybe that gives the digital an edge in our minds: no pesky physical form to get in the way of our projections of past and present onto it. And maybe it's why some video games shout their backstories so loudly: to remind you that yes, indeed, there is a past here."
From the morbidity of a dying MMO to the macabre, two articles this week attended to the topic of game design from a horror genre vantage point.

First, Steve Gaynor likens the celebrated Junji Ito horror manga, Uzumaki, to the potential for games to play with the fundamental rules of reality:
"It's a way of thinking that many artists possess, and that leads us to follow them into their imagined works: the power of visualization, not to take the world around them for granted, but to picture, "what if things were different?" It connects straight back to how we see the world as children. Before we know how everything around us works, and we settle into static assumptions about our surroundings, the possibilities are endless. It's the fertile ground in which imagination grows. Could there be a monster in the closet or under the bed? No reason there couldn't be, so maybe there is! Could aliens come down out of the sky? Could dogs and cats talk to each other when people aren't around? Could there be ghosts and angels everywhere, that we just can't see? Could another world exist on the other side of the looking glass, or down the rabbit hole? Before we knew it couldn't, it could, and we imagined, 'what if this IS the way the world works?'"
The second arrives from John Brindle of the Brindle brothers, who opens with a look at that Creepy Watson video I'm sure many of you have seen. Proceeding to apply the lessons of the unsettling visuality in the "Creepy Watson" video, Brindle turns to the use of the camera in Amnesia and concludes:
"In ordinary circumstances first-person games have an empiricist bias iż˝ problems are solved by looking at them. Amnesia, conversely, makes the player complicit in her own fear by forcing her to repeat Daniel's self-othering, self-inflicted ignorance and voluntarily look away from danger, sacrificing territory to the encroaching realm of the unknown. The negative space beyond border of the screen becomes a thing to be wielded as protection, and a glance a freighted act."
Our last bullet point for this roundup is the recent volley of discussion which emerged when NowGamer announced a contest to "win" an unpaid blog position on their site. John Walker, best known from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, produced three articles in rapid succession regarding unpaid journalism and potentials for exploitation: "12 Tips for the Young Games Journalist", "To Clarify on Working for Free" and lastly directly addressing the competition in question.

Lauren Wainwright responded to the Walker posts and NowGamer situation, weighing the pros and cons of unpaid writing.

We leave off with the start of a metacritical letter series between Patrick Klepek and Bioware's Manveer Heir: on the difference between games reviews and game criticism.

That's all for this sunny Sunday! Join us next week for more from the top tier of video game blogging, criticism and commentary. Till then, stay salty!


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