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This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Reticular RPG Conundrum

This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Reticular RPG Conundrum

July 15, 2010 | By Ben Abraham

July 15, 2010 | By Ben Abraham
More: Console/PC

[We're partnering with game criticism site Critical Distance to present some of the week's most inspiring writing about the art and design of video games from commentators worldwide. This week, Ben Abraham looks at what hidden meanings are behind RPG reticules, 'theft and recreation' in games, and game design lessons for NASA.]

Greg J. Smith at Serial Consign usually blogs about architecture, and occasionally, we are blessed with an essay like this one where he "consider[s] two broad themes in examining the delineation of urban space by architects and game designers. These themes are a top-down, consideration of the city as a system and the charged notion of "play" in urban space."

Smith notes: "Advances in computer graphics and a need for increasingly sophisticated in-game navigation and informational systems have made gaming an R&D lab for exploring methods of representation derived from not only architecture, but interface design, cinematography, cartography and data visualization."

Michael Clarkson looks at 'The Dunning-Kruger reticule' which is a deceptive kind of reticule occasionally employed by RPGs that belies the fact there are hidden calculations behind the shot that determine where it's going: "The steady reticule that doesn't really represent where the bullets are going to hit isn't a very satisfying representation of the character's lack of skill. Indeed, it isn't a representation of this at all. This is a problem because the visual language of games, and specifically the visual language most frequently experienced by the audience these games are meant to attract, attaches a certain meaning to the reticule, which the probabilistic calculations of an RPG violate."

Elsewhere, Michael Abbott of the Brainy Gamer says kids are a 'tough crowd'. And Nick LaLone at Before Game Design tries his hand at defining the term 'video game'.

Chris Green at the RRoD blog is attempting to render Dostoevsky's classic 'Crime and Punishment' using only the game-cum-story-machine Sleep is Death. He writes about some of the things he's learnt from the exercise in a blog post entitled 'Playing Monomania: A protagonist in the throes of madness'. What's monomania, you ask? Says Green: "Monomania bares a resemblance to Paranoia because of its tendency to make the sufferer believe that their reality is the real one, that others are wrong and are plotting against him/her." I swear I've had that at least once.

Ian Cheong says that he "played Uncharted 1 & 2 in the span of a week. It may have been the shortest amount of time I've taken to play two games and it's because I never wanted to leave" and he's been enjoying discovering the quality of the series. He says it mostly comes down to smart and believable character writing: "Dude Raider he is not. Unlike Lara Croft, Nathan Drake is a multidimensional character-one full of personality."

The big story this week was the blow up around Activision/Blizzard's RealID, but the only piece on it we're going to mention here is from the Pensive Harpy blog. The author of this post says that the abortive move to force players to use real names on the World of Warcraft forums shows that, in the eyes of the company, 'We are not the customer any more'.

He claims, perhaps rather emotively: "I think for many of us, this change from 'small tight-knit company to mega giant' is a sad one, especially if you've been in MMOs a long time and remember when things were smaller and more personal.... I think we've finally crossed that line in the MMORPG sphere. Sure, it means bigger budgets, flashier graphics, bigger expansions and tie ins, and more prestige. But I think the MMORPG as a genre has lost a part of its soul; a part that had originally appealed to many players in the first place."

Jason Young at the Beeps and Boops blog writes about 'Videogames as Propaganda', starting with the BP Oil Spill situation and the prescient "BP Offshore Oil Strike" board game, and moving onto others including the intriguing Redistricting Game and the eponymous America's Army.

Julian at LittleBoBeep on 'How Board Games Explain Everything - Pt 4, Utopia, Sex, Art' and for the sake of completion, here's part 3 which I don't think we linked to at the time: 'How differance can be understood in terms of games, play and Calvinball'.

Angelo at the Bergsonian Critique blog writes about 'Understanding the Narrative of Final Fantasy XIII'. I'll leave it to you to determine whether that's mean disparagingly or not. It's probably a neat companion piece to Simon Ferrari's analysis of the FFXIII combat system. It's certainly about as lengthy.

Brendan Keogh at the Critical Damage blog has a post this week called "Understanding My Allergy To BioWare Games" and it looks at the old bugbear of telling versus experiencing story.

Mashup, remix, pastiche, borrowing - whatever you want to call it - should only be a good thing for games, or so says Jorge Albor at the Experience Points blog in a post titled 'Theft and Recreation' - "The normative game mechanics we love, and love to hate, spread invisibly but persistently. Any game with a cover mechanic exists because of games like Kill.Switch, Gears of War, and Metal Gear Solid."

After mentioning Leigh Alexander's excellent Jeremiad 'Who Cheers for War?' last week a number of writers have come out with responses to the piece. First is Roger Travis at the Living Epic blog who being a Classics professor has, "...a very long view of the question "Should we be worried that so many video games are about armed conflict?" In fact, that long view makes me like to ask the question somewhat differently: Why is traditional epic always about warriors? Why are so many of the most popular video games about soldiers, super-soldiers, and super-duper-soldiers?"

Which are probably better questions to be asking in the larger scheme of things. The full piece is 'Games of Armed Conflict: a question of narrative technology' and I strongly encourage you to go read it.

Similarly introspective and interrogative is Nick Dinicola who muses on "Why do I cheer for war?" and realises that "It's not something that I've ever specifically thought about, but I now ask myself--why do I love shooters?" Which, if nothing else, is an endorsement of Alexander's call to think about the subject a bit more critically and more often.

In a similar vein, Michael Thomsen at IGN makes the case that games should be even more violent, including a deeply disturbing and visceral description of the experience of cutting the throat of a chicken, illuminating quite powerfully (and perhaps upsettingly - reader discretion is advised!) how devoid of bloody reality games almost invariably are:

"It's been six years since I did all that and I can still remember the small details and the irresolvable emotions I felt in deciding my will should trump the right to life of another being. Making that judgment of another human, even in the safely authored realm of fiction, ought to provoke at least as much emotional conflict and self-doubt. Likewise, if killing a chicken is so complicated, it's safe to assume killing a human being might require more than a melee attack or a few quick button presses."

At community site Bitmob, Jon Porter writes about backtracking in Metroidvania style games. I'm awarding bonus points for working a screenshot from Futurama into the article.

Laura Michet at the Second Person Shooter blog 'failed to restore oxygen to the moonbase' and thinks NASA needs to take some game design lessons from the commercial sector. The problem? "I was convinced, throughout the whole playthrough, that the astronauts would die, that they would suffocate to death if I didn't save them. Dead astronauts are the creepiest things modernity has offered us in the past fifty years."

And instead, all that happened was a minor setback, a day of productivity mysteriously 'lost'. Almost sounds like Michet is looking for a Permadeath mode.

Touche Bitches has a nice illustrative post called 'Beautiful Games' drawing our attention to the beauty in a number of games and their art.

If you're like me you've probably heard Johan Huizinga's "Homo Ludens" referenced in just about any and every journal article about games ever written and yet somehow neglected to read it yourself. Well, now you don't have to as LB Jeffries is here and he's gone and made us a Cliff's Notes version.

Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer blog writes about 'The Changing Nature of Gaming Interfaces' this week. And on a more sombre note, the Press Pause to Reflect blog is, well, pressing pause to reflect for an extended, even indefinite period. Thanks for the all great work over the years, Daniel and CT. Enjoy the break.

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