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This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Geiger counters to H.R. Giger

This Week in Video Game Criticism: From Geiger counters to H.R. Giger

May 19, 2014 | By Kris Ligman

This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from a virtual visit to Chernobyl to the video game legacy of H.R. Giger.

Game Studies

A great piece of entry-level reading for anyone wishing to get started in the more scholarly side of writing about games, Stephen Beirne here bridges the concept of 'intentionality' as advanced by critic/developer Clint Hocking and the same term as it appears in philosophy, applying it to the player's actions (and inaction) in games.

Elsewhere, Cameron Kunzelman continues his series of analyses on Assassin's Creed, this time focusing on the series' crowd blending mechanic as falling under what Alexander Galloway terms a 'parallel aesthetic event.' It appears that Karl Steel, a medieval studies scholar, caught wind of this piece and lent his own two cents on Kunzelman's analysis, and more particularly, how Assassin's Creed approaches the retroactive historicity he deems 'medievalism.'

In the Creases

At Gamasutra, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander interrogates the idea of 'passion' as a characteristic for game playing and development, and suggests the stigma around the 'casual' label is more than a little undeserved.

Not Your Mama's Gamer had a strong showing this week. In one post, Jennifer Justice, wonders why we sweep under the rug the scenes of domestic abuse encountered in Final Fantasy VII. In another, Sarah Nixon questions the 'humorous' womanizer character who seems to keep popping up in games, whose behavior may be frowned upon but is usually tolerated and played for laughs. (Content warning for both links: sexual harassment and verbal abuse.)

I happened to miss this earlier, but MolleIndustria's Paolo Pedercini delivered a bruising talk at Games For Change earlier this month, challenging the attitudes and capitalist models being advanced at the same conference. If the video isn't your speed, Pedercini has also helpfully posted his slides and notes on MolleIndustria's website.


At First Person Scholar, Meghan Blythe Adams interviews Analogue and Hate Plus developer Christine Love on taking games beyond the scope of power fantasies into real explorations of human beings, including a frank and realistic take on sexuality. Also, there's a bit in there about Hideo Kojima.

Meanwhile, at Racketboy Dave Heineman holds an audio interview with Daniel Johnson, author of Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4.

And back at Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander catches up with Shawn Alexander Allen, lead developer behind the recently Kickstarted Treachery in Beatdown City, a game which seeks to present a diverse and class-aware vision of New York City.

Place and Space

At PopMatters Moving Pixels, Scott Juster observes that with modern day smartphones serving as real-world 'minimaps' for many of our lives, the feeling of being 'lost without even a landmark is a vanishing phenomenon. Juster describes rediscovering that feeling through Miasmata.

Likewise, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a compelling essay from Nick Rush-Cooper, who strikes upon the unsettling, intangible similarities between visiting Chernobyl through a virtual space -- games -- and visiting it in real life:

It wasn't until I was actually in the Zone myself that I realised to what extent the games manage to capture the sense of the Pripyat landscape itself as a malevolent, even antagonistic, presence. Of course, guided tours in a hot, sunny summer bear little resemblance to Stalker's world. But, as an invisible presence known only through little blinking, chattering devices, I never really got used to radiation during my two-dozen trips to the Zone. Without any visual cues to radiation 'hot spots' my yellow hand-held Geiger counter was a constant companion, even if it was not the most reliable of friends [...]

[W]hether I am taking radiation readings or scanning for anomalies, the thought is the same.

I am standing in the middle of Pripyat.

And in the game.

Design Notes

Moving from Geiger to Giger, at The Guardian Keith Stuart pays tribute to the recently departed Alien designer H.R. Giger and the artist's influence on games.

In Gamasutra's member blogs, David Kuelz advances an interesting theory on why many games struggle with subtle storytelling. On more of the longform side, How Not to Suck at Game Design's Anjin Anhut has posted a very in-depth guide offering approaches to improving gender representation in games. The comments are a worthy read as well.

And at Wired, Alan Levinovitz has penned a great, meaty feature piece on the challenges programmers face cracking the 'code' of Go, a game so deceptively simple in its design and so complex in its permutations that it's stumped the field of artificial intelligence for over 60 years:

At the beginning of a chess game, White has twenty possible moves. After that, Black also has twenty possible moves. Once both sides have played, there are 400 possible board positions. Go, by contrast, begins with an empty board, where Black has 361 possible opening moves, one at every intersection of the 19 by 19 grid. White can follow with 360 moves. That makes for 129,960 possible board positions after just the first round of moves.

The rate at which possible positions increase is directly related to a game's "branching factor," or the average number of moves available on any given turn. Chess's branching factor is 35. Go's is 250.

[When it comes to AI,] what works for chess -- and checkers and Othello -- does not work for Go.

Foreign Correspondence

Following on fellow Dutchman Rami Ismail's post last week, scholar and Critical Distance Scandinavian Correspondent Oscar Strik highlights the extreme English-language bias games discourses have and how we might address it (including through venues like Critical Distance!).

In the meantime, via our German Correspondent Joe Koeller, we have Eike Kuehl's coverage a recent dust-up in the German games sphere, as the German Videogame Awards introduced a controversial new vetoing system that prevents any game with a dissenting vote (for reasons such as violence) from winning a "real" award accompanied by prize money. In the eyes of some, the move further marginalizes games as "toys" in the German media space and has led to several game journalists stepping down from jurying positions in protest (something the journalists in question, Andre Peschke and Heiko Klinge, explain for themselves here).

Elsewhere, Adrian Froschauer has reached out with this two-part, German analysis of Telltale's The Walking Dead.


Just because these pieces didn't fit into an easy category doesn't make them any less of a read!

At Edge, Tony Coles has a nice piece on the world of high score chasers for arcade classics post-King of Kong.

Polygon also had some robust writing this week. Alexa Ray Corriea goes in-depth on the (growing) world of fan-translated games and patches, while Connor Sears visits the home-grown game development scene in the sovereign Arab emirate of Qatar.

And a bit of fun: a joke on a Team Unwinnable livestream about Hulk Hogan romancing Fabio grew into a real design document for a dating sim, and now, for your pleasure, it's a real game you can actually play.

And All That Remains Is...

Thanks for reading! If you have a link to an article, video, podcast or other piece you think would do well in This Week in Videogame Blogging, please send it in to us by email or by mentioning us on Twitter!

Lastly: Critical Distance is entirely funded by readers like you. We also recently saw a massive drop in financial support, so if you are at all able to do so, please consider heading over to our Patreon and signing up for a small monthly donation! Thank you!

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