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This week in video game criticism: From silence to frustration

This week in video game criticism: From silence to frustration

February 19, 2013 | By Mattie Brice

February 19, 2013 | By Mattie Brice
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This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mattie Brice on topics including silent protagonists, co-op horror, the role of frustration in game design, and more.

The sun over the Critical Distance virtual offices was blotted by clouds and naked branches scratched at the windows. I was alone in the room, listening to the howling wind that matched my intentions, full access to the site at my fingertips. When Kris Ligman is away, Mattie Brice gets to play. LiveJournal open, itís time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.

05:28 PM February 8th, 2013

Itís the first day of the Mattie take-over, and Iím not quite sure what my first move should be to dethrone the powers that be and make Critical Distance mine. Reading Robert Yangís meditation on Cardboard Computer’s Limits & Demonstrations, how some more conceptual games resist being played, and playersí relationship with cheating. Maybe I should make a post that defies being read?

09:34 AM February 11th, 2013

Sorry I havenít been keeping up with my journal, I had to initiate my first phase in weakening games criticism for my eventual rule:
Herein lies the problem- when you leave out the personal, all thatís left is the status quo. Because that Ďstandardí consists of the values of a particular type of culture associated with the hegemonic, privileged class, there is actually something personal and subjective going on all the time. Thus, by leaving out the particular experiences of the silenced and marginalized, it bars anyone from revealing the bias that exists within this supposed stoically neutral discourse. It takes away the vocal chords of a person in a room full of shouting.
But enough of such grand schemes. Today, Gus Mustrapa spun a legend of eternal struggle, an overlooked opera I felt represented the toiling emotions in my heart. The last time that happened was when I was 8 years old on my first art museum visit, when I, much like Richard Terrell, questioned whether I was fully capable of understanding the full experience of a piece. With a swing of a paddle, I bounced back to reality when Andrew Vanden Bossche sharply criticized the zeitgeist of mainstream reviews, in this case Arthur Giesís Dead Space 3 review, much like my 5th grade teacher scolding me for calling out answers in class.

2:53 PM February 12th, 2013

I have a lot of feels swirling around today, mostly about how Anthony John Agnelloís observations on voice and silence affecting the game experience reminded me of the correlation between my habit to talk to myself in empty rooms and the commodification of pink haired girls in visual novels.

The rest of my day was gloomy, having to consider David Cage might be right about something, or so says Brad Gallaway when it comes to the non-gamersí perception of videogames. To make matters worse, Simon Parkin over at New Statesman further complicates the violence in games issue more than my paradigm can handle.

10:15 PM February 13th, 2013

Did you know videogames made me an atheist? It totally makes sense now that Tom Dawson explained how games exercises our relationship with religion and how gods can be parasites:
I wonder, did anyone sit down to consider their own understanding of God before making these games? After all, these two examples can be viewed as commentaries on the nature and necessity of religion: in From Dust the Breath is created by the Men to aid them in their quest for survival amidst an incredibly hostile world, and Black & Whiteís opening sequence shows the god of that game being called into being by the fervent prayers of humans in need. In neither case is the god pre-existing, never claimed to be a creator Ė they are invented by societies which feel the need for them. The obvious insinuation is that is that people create gods, rather than the other way around, to benefit themselves. From these parallel beginnings the two games part ways and the nature of the human/deity relationship branches.
It also looks like many in the critical community are thinking of relationships the day for Valentineís. I see Liz Ryersonís questioning Duke Nukem 3Dís design and her intrigue as an allegory for the post-feminist Marxistís plight with receiving chocolate on February 14th. Or take Lana Polanskyís experience with belonging and labels as the descent of neo-Derrida horsemen onto the videogame landscape.

8:29 PM February 14th, 2013

Dear internet, I had a wonderful Valentineís Day! Let me tell you all about it:

At first, I woke up with a sense of panic, much like the vulnerability Jorge Albor speaks to in the tension between horror and co-op modes in games. Even worse, when I arrived to surprise my boyfriend at work with gifts, he wouldnít answer his phone! But I remembered Keith Stuart working through the nuances of difficulty, and knew I had to be patient to win my prize:
So frustration is not a universal commodity. It’s okay in some games, let’s say, but it’s not necessarily okay in all of them. Indeed, some studios have developed clever ways to sidestep frustration. The Easy mode is the obvious one, and it has become prevalent now that games are a mass entertainment medium. Most narrative adventures will offer an option for players, ‘who just want to experience the story’. However, I can’t help but wonder if this is a dereliction of duty on their part Ė if you have produced a game with a win state, there should be a way of challenging inexperienced players without spoon-feeding them narrative sequences in between one-hit kills and dozens of lobotomised enemies.
Soon enough, I found him lying in the park where we whispered words only lovers should hear, much like Jason Riceís memory of Talana from Star Control II and their intimate scene together. If there was ever a clearer metaphor for the last hours of Valentineís day, is it Sean Sandsís confession on his personal relationship with violence and protecting his daughterís innocence.

6:01 AM February 15th, 2013

My heart wants to sing like how critics want games to tell stories. Nick Dinicola at good olí PopMatters explains storytelling decisions in action games, akin to past lovers who ignore me at Starbucks but are friendly over a cheap bottle of wine:
[Binary Domainís] Dan is a very plain [person] when you think about it. Thereís not much to him beyond the white, rugged male soldier cliche, but because the game encourages us to forge multiple personas for him depending on the group, he comes out in the end feeling like a well rounded, fully realized person. Not an archetype.
Throughout my life, Iíve wanted to be in a game or live as a musical, and now I know that combination isnít as absurd as it might sound, according to Aaron Matteson. And it seems like things have been getting too personal for some peoplesí tastes, so Andrew comes to task again to interrogate the lack of conversation surrounding the craft of personal writing. He will be a great number one for my eventual rule. So would Sam Machkovech, whoís frankness about the impossible position game critics are in is, like, so meta. To make up for it, Ian Bogost writes three reviews for Proteus, which spoke to my experience of being in a bar with a game critic, performance artist, and a synesthete on an acid trip.

11:59 PM February 16th, 2013

My first wave of subversion is almost complete. All I need left is L. Rhodesí plunge into the murky waters of narrative and puzzles in games, an obvious analogy to my anxieties of post-feminism and choosing which shoes to wear:
Puzzles, as it happens, are one of the things that distinguishes games from many forms of narrative art. Not that those narrative arts donít contain puzzles. It is, rather, a difference in kind. Both Agatha Christie and Professor Layton present crime and punishment as a kind of puzzle, but itís doubtful that a novelization of a game like Antichamber will ever be able to achieve more than an awkward approximation. Thatís something to celebrate, if you ask me; in the Venn diagram of games and art, itís the critically ignored spaces that donít overlap which interest me most.
12:00 AM February 17th, 2013

This might be over for now, but I will be back again. Send me leads of subversive content through the siteís email submission form or mention a piece to Critical Distanceís Twitter. Make sure to use code words, so Kris doesnít catch on to my plan.

And check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table too.

Until next time!

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