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This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Great Gamification Debate

This Week In Video Game Criticism: The Great Gamification Debate

April 7, 2011 | By Ben Abraham

April 7, 2011 | By Ben Abraham
More: Console/PC, Art, Design

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including criticisms and implications of gamification, and the design of Dragon Age II .]

Good things come to those who wait, and we've been waiting all week: It's time for This Week In Video Game Criticism.

Good things also seem to come in bunches. Rich Clark pens a pair of posts, the first of which, at Christ and Pop Culture, looks at 'The Beautifully Dark Side of Videogames'. Among a large cohort of posts about Gamification this week is Heather Chaplin's review of McGonigal's book and a discussion of related issues around gamification for Slate. Criticisms, Chaplin's got 'em.

Next was Steven Poole writing for Edge Online about the topic, saying that, "Through the phenomenon burdened with the unlovely term 'gamification' - in principle, the application of game mechanics to everyday life - gaming threatens to become not just ubiquitous but a conceivable way of living: a lifestyle."

Heck, even at the Australian national broadcaster's 'Future Tense' radio program is talking about gamification, and will be speaking to a number of the prominent 'gamification' experts next week.

For a more theoretically rigorous take on the idea, however, I'll direct you to Levi Bryant of the Larval Subjects blog and his post about 'Gamification as a new diagram of power'. You may wish to brush up on your Foucault for this one:

"If gamification marks the possible emergence of a new form of power, then this is because action and movement is now modulated by agents entering into competition with one another in games organized around particular sorts of goals. While these games certainly have rules, power here does not function through the force of the law and its possible sanctions, but rather through people electing to become participants in the game," he writes.

Also this week, the You Are Not So Smart blog looks at 'The Sunk Cost Fallacy', or why we are so prone to throw good money after bad, using the example of FarmVille: "Farmville is a valuable tool for understanding your weakness in the face of loss. The sunk cost fallacy is the engine which keeps Farmville running, and the developers behind Farmville know this."

Gosh it's been a bit of a downer so far this week, so here's a pick-me-up, from Mitu Khandaker who writes 'On Simulation, Science, and Love' for the relatively new Digital Romance Lab, who are "a group of writers, researchers, designers and gamers interested in how games tweak the emotions associated with love, romance, and flirting."

Khandaker talks about how, when Annie Druyan and Carl Sagan were first in love and in charge of attaching music and things to the Voyager spacecraft for possible extraterrestrial discovery, Druyan digitized her brainwaves while meditating on her love for Carl.

At the Discount Thoughts blog, Michael Clarkson writes about 'Two (too?) Easy Games', namely de Blob 2 and Kirby's Epic Yarn. He makes some good points about difficulty, here's how it begins: "A few games -- Super Meat Boy, I Wanna be the Guy -- can uncontroversially be called hard, but the essential question is actually whether they are too hard. ...It is even harder to accurately say whether a game is too easy, primarily because most reviewers are skilled and experienced gamers, many of them drawn to the hobby during its early days when challenge was practically all a game could offer in terms of fun."

Nels Anderson at Above49 writes about worrying design philosophies, echoing some of Tom Francis' recent comments about developers treating players like imbeciles and dragging them around on a leash: "Even more worrisome than this is the leap from "We'll tell the audience everything we think they should know" to "We'll make sure the audience does everything we want them to do." Player agency is flayed away, what little choice remains amounts to choosing how you'll shoot these three dudes before hitting the next cutscene/NIS trigger. When John Walker says "Homefront is barely a game," this is exactly what he's referring to."

The aforementioned John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun this week takes a look at what Dragon Age II got wrong, making the point that expectations were probably part of the problem for the sequel. Walker hits the very definition of criticism in this piece, as he enjoyed the game and still found elements worth unreservedly criticizing.

Similarly, Dan Bruno at the Cruise Elroy blog has his own take on Dragon Age II, calling it an 'Overcorrection': "To summarize: the compromises in Dragon Age II are far more obvious than they were in Origins, and though it solved some of its predecessor's problems it created new ones in the process. Meanwhile, the new design direction pulled it further afield from its roots, and they've scaled back my favorite part of the game. And yet, even with all of this, I still maintain that it's better."

Pixel Hunt is a free Australian gaming e-zine that's been around for quite some time but which I haven't mentioned in TWVIGB before. Time to correct that, and the launch of Issue 14 is the perfect excuse to do so. Highlight of the issue: Brendan Keogh's GDC piece, featuring a comparison of Satoru Iwata's keynote talk with a Babushka doll. Also excellent is James O'Connor's update on his PhD thesis about GTA:IV in which he'll be talking to gamers and finding out what they think about the game as they play it.

At The Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott explains baseball in videogame terms: ATT, HP, STR, etc, etc, etc. It's well worth reading. At the Spectacle Rock blog Joel Haddock pokes his metaphorical fingers in the metaphorical cracks that are the logical inconsistencies present in many games. Haddock is focussing this time on why it is that we're so quick to kill for those measly 5 gold pieces.

And lastly, do you want to read about Mario and Luigi's magical trip through the magic kingdom, aka a short story called 'Tripping Up' by Justin McElroy at Gamers with Jobs? You did? I thought so.

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