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This Week In Video Game Criticism: Latin, Social Games, Progress In Death

This Week In Video Game Criticism: Latin, Social Games, Progress In Death

September 2, 2010 | By Ben Abraham

September 2, 2010 | By Ben Abraham
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More: Console/PC

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us Ben Abraham's picks among fascinating bloggers on player autonomy, building successful game worlds, and when game elements alter our perception of the game world.]

I'm taking a break from compiling This Week in Video Game Criticism for a few weeks, but it will continue with a few guest authors. The weekly posts are already a collaboration with the numerous people who send in great links via Twitter and email, and thank you to all who do so. With that out of the way, what's worth reading this week?

Adam Ruch at the Flickering Colours blog writes about 'Attempting to appreciate Gears of War', saying: "Tom Bissell explores video games in a deeply personal way in his book Extra Lives, and comes to the conclusion that Resident Evil made it possible for video games to be stupid. If Resident Evil paved the Roman road, this makes Gears of War a German autobahn."

Speaking of Resident Evil, Steven O'Dell at the Raptured Reality blog writes that Resident Evil 5 loses by omitting silence.

LB Jeffries at PopMatters looks at the difficulty in making game parodies: "The general traits of a video game parodying another video game are simplification of both content and design to show how inane the bare bones interaction of that game really is."

Elsewhere, Michael Clarkson looks at Nier and 'the curious case of Kaine'; "So here you have it: a character who basically compiles every single sexist trope in JRPG character design into a single body." And Eric Swain at The Game Critique argues in defence of Ludonarrative Dissonance.

Brendan Keogh of Critical Damage writes about 'Feeling Every Punch' a follow-up to his 'Player Privilege' post, looking at the interesting amount of overlap between the real and virtual worlds: "the player takes meaning out of a game (both positively and negatively) through the ways the game affects the player in the real world. To twist this around: the real-world consequences of the player's virtual actions communicate meaning to the player."

The first time I realized this was happening was a few years ago when, as part of a quest, I tried jumping from a great height in World of Warcraft and my body tensed up, completely in response to what I was seeing.

Evan Kilham, writing for community site Bitmob about 'Making "Wrong" Decisions in Open-World Games' says, "There's a conflict, then, between the developer's story of a mission and the player's. With 'Eva in Peril,' Rockstar wanted to tell a tragic story about how misfortune perpetuates itself unto death. I wanted to tell a story about how John Marston efficiently rid the West of a drunken, pimping fuckstick. The developer's intentions won, as always, even if that meant arbitrarily removing options from the equation. In many cases, then, the most audacious part is letting players think they have any choice at all."

And from same, Rob Savillo looks at the roguelike in 'Every Death Is Progress': "Progress in [a Rogue-like] is not progress in the traditional sense. Descending lower in the dungeon and advancing in character levels are secondary to the real meat of the experience: understanding gameplay systems and how they interact. Through experimentation and exploration, which are core design tenets of the genre, you slowly become a better player."

Chris Green at Chronoludic asks 'Are Games Too Easy?' And at The Escapist, the ExtraCredits series looks at 'the God of War trilogy's triumphs and failings as a narrative.' That sounds like it could be fun.

Ashelia at Hellmode received a glowing endorsement from Epic Games' own Cliff Bleszinski for her piece 'Video games are undeniably art'. Her argument is that "...gamers and their attitudes are why video games aren't perceived as art-even if we're why they exist in the first place."

Leigh Alexander has written a long essay on whether or not video games are "just consumer products" like soap for Kotaku. "I'm one of those who'd like to see gamers be a little more moderate about reducing games to "consumer technology product." Remember the old five-category "product guide" review system - in which "graphics," "sound" and the nebulous "fun factor" were disparate and separately-scored categories? Yeah, we ditched that, because games are more complex than that now."

In addition, Chris Dahlen's well-received series of posts on world-building in games 'Just another world' continues with entries on Planescape Torment, 'This Creepy Circle of Trees Near My House' and, um, 'The Phantom Menace'.

Roger Travis is a professor of classics at the University of Connecticut who is collaborating with Karen Zook and Kevin Ballestrini on using game mechanics to teach students Latin. In a post called "Operation LAPIS" on his blog Living Epic, Travis looks at the HUD mechanic and wonders, "What if learning how to read Latin were like learning to use a HUD?"

I missed this last week but it's worth taking a look at - the always persuasive Tanner Higgin makes 'A Case for Narrating Gameplay' - don't read it wrong, that's narrating gameplay - which is all about why "there's immense untapped analytical and political potential in mining the voices of critics and members of the game community." Higgin says, "Consider how frustrating it is when writing about games to describe the game in the traditional mode of literary or film studies. What precisely are we describing? Working within the conventions of traditional academic writing we rely on a description of the plot, setting, and controls and some cursory depiction of visuals perhaps bolstered by screenshots. But this ends up being ultimately unsatisfying because this is only a partial explanation. We're not getting at what a game does."

The difficulty in maintaining interest when describing games, game mechanics, and even game experiences, is an issue that Dan Bruno raised the other week in a post on his Cruise Elroy blog about Tom Bissell's novel Extra Lives.

Matthew Armstrong of the Misanthropic Gamer blog writes about 'Fats, Blacks and Gigantic Racks' in which he opens with a blistering "Not even with a twenty-foot pole will you currently see the realm of video games touch upon a realistic conception of body image." He's not wrong.

At the Second Person Shooter blog, Laura Michet has been playing the original StarCraft for the first time. Saying that she might have stuck with it when she was younger "if its single-player campaign hadn't struck me as such an awful piece of crap", she's now found how to get through it: "I've been slowly plowing through it these past few weeks, and I've been enjoying it. I've also been watching many, many Starcraft II replay videos. Together, I think they're helping me understand something about the role that story sometimes plays in multiplayer-enabled RTSes. Both campaigns and replay commentaries serve, in part, the exact same purpose. They're translations."

Finally, David Carlton takes a stab at answering the question 'What is it you see in social games?', and David is probably as good a person as any to attempt an answer as his day job involves developing social games for Playdom. However he's quite forthright that he doesn't have all the answers, and is after your help in finding some. Won't you go give him a hand?

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