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This Week in Video Game Criticism: The Limits of Games with Stories

This Week in Video Game Criticism: The Limits of Games with Stories

March 16, 2015 | By Kris Ligman




This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics ranging from the limits of games with stories to a new podcast on the psychological effects (or absence thereof) of game violence.

Form and Content

We start with Ian Bogost on The Atlantic, who questions whether, in our quest for social progressivism in game stories, we lose sight of how games can explore and critique higher-level socioeconomic and political systems. And while you probably won't agree with all of it, it has plenty of pointed observations:

Amidst arguments on Twitter and Reddit about whose favorite games are more valid, while we worry about the perfect distribution of bodies in our sci-fi fantasy, the big machines of global systems hulk down the roads and the waterways, indifferent. It is an extravagance to worry only about representation of our individual selves while more obvious forces threaten them with oblivion—commercialism run amok; climate change; wealth inequality; extortionate healthcare; unfunded schools; decaying infrastructure; automation and servitude.

In a similar vein, writing for his personal blog, Critical Distance's retired founder Ben Abraham considers the divide between games and other forms of media criticism and whether it is possible to -- in addition to what he terms the broad genre of "human reaction" criticism – build out another kind of rigorous critical analysis for games:

[H]ow the sausage is made is not always important, or even relevant. Just like how we wouldn't really care about whether the musician inserted the sample with Logic or Ableton – that's not the important detail to focus on, and it's actually fairly telling that the games industry (as embodied, partially, by [games journalist turned Gearbox developer Anthony] Burch) still cares a great deal more about how the "sample" is inserted than what that sample says or its history and place within a larger history and trajectory of games/music/etc. [...] Frankly, I mostly couldn't care less about how a game is made, unless it's under conditions of exploitation.

Abraham stresses that there is nothing wrong with "human reaction" criticism -- indeed, he says, it performs vital work. Similarly, over on Paste, You Were Made for Loneliness's Javy Gwaltney writes empathetically about the value of characters who move beyond power fantasies, which speak to the experiences of disabled players like himself.

And taking another approach, Nelson of Video Games and the Bible expresses concern that, despite many notable games by avowed Christian developers, Christianity is still treated as a dirty word in games. Again, some valuable takeaways, even if you don't agree with the author's every position.

Design Notes

On Eurogamer, Christian Donlan pens an affectionate essay for deceased children's author and illustrator Ellen Raskin, whose puzzle-mystery novels exhibited a gamelike sensibility. And on his website International Hobo, Chris Bateman continues an inter-blog conversation with Jed Pressgrove on philosophy of tutorial design. While Bateman essentializes a bit (a fact he acknowledges), his breakdown on design differences in Western versus Japanese games is good food for thought.

If you happened to miss out on everything written about Twine in the last couple years, Liz England has a great primer on it and other interactive fiction formats over on Gamasutra's Expert Blogs section. On Designer Notes, Soren Johnson chats with Spry Fox's Daniel Cook, while on The Psychology of Video Games, Jamie Madigan has just launched an exciting new podcast -- in the debut episode of which, Madigan discusses behavioral research methodology with Oxford University's Andrew Przybylski. The language they use is both accessible for the layperson as well as rigorous in its discussion on how behavioral research on games is conducted. I highly recommend keeping an ear on this podcast!

I Don't Know How to Categorize This

Patricia Hernandez's feature on Kotaku concerning violent pornographic fan films built in Valve's Source Filmmaker has caused a stir -- unsurprisingly, given its subject matter. While Hernandez is meticulous about neither defending her interviewees' subject matter nor shaming those for whom rape fantasy is a kink, this article nevertheless bears a strong Content Warning for explicit sexual material, including depictions of rape and discussion thereof in fan communities.

GDC

I'll leave you with some good in-depth coverage of two more panels from the Game Developers Conference, which concluded earlier this month in San Francisco.

First, Polygon's Philip Kollar covers an excellent roundtable discussion hosted by developers Derek Manns and Dennis Mathews on black stereotypes in games, both on the player and the industry side. This pairs well with a recent letter series/roundtable hosted by Evan Narcisse and several critics and developers on Kotaku, which addressed many of the same issues.

Secondly, writing for FemHype, Kim Correa recaps what sounds like a fantastic women in eSports panel, on the rising prominence and ongoing hurdles to women's participation in competitive game events.

Signal Boost

That's all for this week! A little short, I know, but bear with us please. As always, we greatly benefit from your submissions through email and Twitter mention, so please, keep them coming!

Also: we would be remiss if we didn't mention Australia's upcoming Freeplay festival, beginning on April 10th. For the first time ever, they've announced they will be live broadcasting the festival for free online!

Lastly and as ever: Critical Distance is proud to be entirely funded by its readership! If you like what you see and want to support our work, please consider signing up for a small monthly donation! Those who donate a little more get special features and even some physical goodies!



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