It’s time to pay our dues. Pull up a chair, dig out last year’s receipts, and bust out the reading glasses. It’s This Week in Videogame Blogging!
At Unwinnable, Brendan Keogh sits down with the Konrad to his Walker and has a long conversation with Walt Williams, lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line. Over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Nathan Grayson puts the finishing touches on a three part series of interviews with Walt Williams and Far Cry 3 lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem.
You might recall when Mike Rose modeled his town in the new SimCity to diagnose its traffic problem. Observing the bugs in the new SimCity’s traffic modeling, he went back to SimCity 2000 to see how it handled the same problem.
On Quarter to Three, the eternally engaging Tom Chick presents us with a pretty unsettling depiction of how SimCity’s systems (inadvertently?) model contemporary malaise.
BIOSHOCK INFINITY AND BEYOND
(A general content warning, once again, for spoilers in most of the following links.)
On Gamer Theories, Ben Meakin has written a bit on how we can look at BioShock Infinite through the lens of auteur theory. Elsewhere on Terminally Incoherent, Luke Maciak walks us through the first in a series of thorough dissections of BSI’s art direction.
On critical mainstay Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott deems the game the beginning of the end for the FPS genre. Meanwhile, Amnesia developer Thomas Grip praises the game for what it attempted to do but concludes “it feels like an attempt to tell a serious story through a theme park ride.”
On Gamasutra, Andreas Ahlborn delivers an exceptional analysis of BioShock Infinite as musical composition. Posting on his personal site, Kevin Wong views the game’s conclusion as “a metacommentary” on the multiplicity of emergent narrative. And on Critical Missive, Eric Schwarz dispenses with discussion of the setting and story and focuses squarely on a fine assessment of its combat mechanics.
On Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez peels away the layers of how the game’s design puts the player at odds with behaving like a real person. And on How Not to Suck at Game Design, Anjin Anhut criticizes the game’s “straw man racism” as a device by which to alleviate white guilt:
A thing that many movies do, most comics and Bioshock Infinite, is depict the faction in the story representing racism as unequivocally evil. Cartoonishly evil actually. This pretends like racism is some sort of thing mentally deranged people do, something sociopaths and psychopaths are drawn to or something you become when you are indoctrinated into some sort of cult.
While this of course serves to condemn racism as a concept, it mainly serves as a way out of dealing with your own internalized racism and serves as a way to absolve yourself by comparison. It also serves – and that is actually the truly ugly effect of that treatment – to push what we are allowed to label as racism into an extremist corner and it sabotages any healthy debate about racism in our society.
On Design is Law, Jeff Kunzler rails against other critics’ suggestion that the game is excessively violent, and instead poses that Columbia is a place we SHOULD be interested in destroying:
Bioshock: Infinite’s failings aren’t in its heavy use of violence, or the fact it’s a first person shooter. It’s the perversion of oppression, the creation of a world white people want to get lost and “immersed” in, instead of tearing down, the total lack of decency in regards to the views of people who have and still are the victims of racist oppression in America, and really just a general lack of empathy for the sake of entertainment.
Dan Golding decries the game as going out of its way to be inoffensive to the status quo, concluding “despite its desperation to be taken seriously, BioShock Infinite is not an intelligent work of art.”
Writing for her own blog, editorial heavy-hitter Leigh Alexander weighs in as well, saying the game is flawed but engagingly so:
This is not a game about American exceptionalism and the choice between obedient prison and chaotic freedom. This is a game where you have to chase a ghost among parallel realities. This is a game that lives in its own alternate universe, is in love with its own cleverness, instead of being genuinely clever. There are tears everywhere. And in the game.
The Levine-led Irrational team has birthed a universe, now, of games about a dominant ideologue enforcing a slavish devotion to fearful systems, even after those systems have become irrelevant. It gives us worlds plunged into the stress of compartmentalized factions where teams don’t communicate, where promises are grand and lovely, but terrible on execution.
I think to some extent every game must be a reflection of its creative environment, its studio culture. Infinite strains its framework so fiercely you can see through to the flickering reality behind it. I would love to do an interview: Not a grand portrait of Levine, but with his soldiers.
And on Drop Out, Hang Out, Space Out, Daniel Joseph cautions against the cultural gatekeeping implicit in the process of artistically evaluating a game like BioShock Infinite, which segues neatly into our next section of links.
BUT IS FORMALISM GAMES
Writing on his personal/professional site, Raph Koster opens up a debate/can of worms when he responds to remarks made by Leigh Alexander over Twitter, and calls for dialogue on a number of subjects, including the role of definitions, games as rhetorical devices, and formalism.
Leigh Alexander responds in kind, reposting her comment from Koster’s blog and adding: “We have much more to learn and gain, at least for now, by eschewing definitions than we do by prescribing them.”
Writing on his Radiator blog, Robert Yang continued the discussion, responding to Koster’s letter with one of his own in which he lays out the reasons for some of the original post’s negative reception. “[With personal games], game design is not physics, engineering, or science — rather, it’s political science, it’s history. Maybe we could approach our criticism of these games more like those fields?”
The comment thread on Yang’s post, starting with some thoughtful remarks by Jesper Juul, are also very much worth reading.
Reacting to all the dust-up caused by these posts, Canabalt developer Adam Saltsman appeared on Polygon, opining that mutual respect and openness to feedback is called for.
Tadhg Kelly soon chimed in as well, erecting a (some would say unnecessary) dichotomy between formalists (as he self-identifies) and “zinesters,” borrowing a term from anna anthropy to describe the outsider artists taking umbrage with his and Koster’s statements.
Andrew Vanden Bossche quickly called for a decoupling of the idea that systems are the unique territory of formalists:
“Formalist” vs “zinester” is not a binary that exists … Everyone gets to talk about mechanics. The game/notgame binary is not an immediate conclusion of a frame of analysis that focuses on mechanics. I believe instead that it is a very strict and limited definition that carries its own political agenda, consciously or not.
Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest concurred, noting that limiting the number of systems in a game can be a justifiable design choice, adding: “I feel like there’s almost this attitude among the people that decry this sort of thing as a notgame that creators of interactive fiction and twine games especially somehow just don’t know how to make real systems.”
It wouldn’t be a debate about terminology without someone getting Storified, and this time around it’s John Brindle, in a curated set of tweets dismantling some of Tadhg Kelly’s positions.
Craig Bamford is briefer but just as energetic: “Tadhg Kelly, please stop trying to tell me ’what games are’. To be extremely blunt, judging by both your site and your CV, I don’t think you’ve earned the right.”
Consciously adopting the role of old man with kids on his lawn, Daniel Cook relates a history of game development establishment and rebellion, as he sees it anyway. Back on Gamasutra, Devin Wilson invites us to think of the discussion over definitions of the word “game” as, itself, a game.
Rounding us off, Mattie Brice reminds us why, in the midst of all this bandying about of labels, labels matter, and they are always charged.
I RATE THIS FORMALISM 8.5 OUT OF 10
Switching gears a little (or a lot), on Kotaku Jason Schreier writes on how Metacritic harms games.
DREAMIN’ OF GDC
If you missed this year’s Game Developers Conference, you cannot afford to miss Dan Pearson’s writeup of the GDC Hothead Rants.
On Unwinnable, Sam Machkovech sits down for an interview with Cart Life developer Richard Hofmeier.
Keeping the German-language ludodecahedron strong, Dennis Kogel follows up this week with a GDC game roundup auf Deutsch. On the English side, he has an interview with Hotline Miami luminaries Devolver Digital.
On Game Manifesto, Joel Jordon explores the ludodiegesis of Corrypt and Portal. Over on PopMatters Moving Pixels, Nick Dinicola looks into how the opening of the Tomb Raider reboot evokes the horror genre.
As part of Ontological Geek’s Religion Month, Hannah DuVoix muses on the extent to which Skyrim has you desecrating holy places. And reacting to the formalism debates highlighted above, Naomi Clark performs a taut formalist reading of Porpentine’s Howling Dogs.
Back on Gamasutra, Taekwan Kim has finished up his Mechanical Narratives series.
Over on Videogame Tourism, our German-language colleagues have stayed busy: Reinhard Zierhofer speculates on a game adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; our own Johannes Köller unpacks how Far Cry 3 failed not only as a satire, but as a critique of violence and millennial zeitgeist; and Rainer Sigl and Christof Zurschmitten are engaged in a letter series discussing Year Walk.
Sidney Fussell turned up on Medium Difficulty last week, exploring the notion of closeted homosexuality in games. Fussell also popped up on VentureBeat, posing that game violence appears to disproportionately be brought up as a motivator for white spree killers.
Back with Kill Screen, Jordan Mammo takes a gander back toward Katamari Damacy as a game in which the artifacts of consumerism add up to “a snowballing addiction that literally uproots the earth itself.”
On Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Alex Layne lays out an infographic breakdown of EA’s employee code of conduct. And at Kleiner Drei, Lucie Höhler recaps the major sexism-related issues of the last month, from GDC to RPS, for German-language readers.
Two successful international game jams took place last weekend. Kill Screen’s Jason Johnson provides us with an overview of one of them, the QUILTBAG Jam hosted at MIT. And at Gamasutra, Leigh Alexander profiles the weekend’s other big jam, the Pulse-Pounding Heart-Stopping Dating Sim Game Jam.
TWINE TWINE REVOLUTION
Cara Ellison is just gonzoing it up all over the place lately. She popped up at PC Gamer with a feature on and interview with Porpentine, and a scant few days later appeared on The Guardian, interviewing anna anthropy.
It’s strange to think we may be heading into a leg of critical discourse for games where academic mainstays like book reviews become common again, but that’s just where things seem to be going. Shaun of Arcadian Rhythms recently reviewed Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless and First Person Scholar’s Danielle Stock reviewed Ivan Leslie Beale’s Video Games for Health.
First Person Scholar is turning into a hot new pub, now that we think of it. This article by Rob Parker on voluntary player constraints –featuring Mattie Brice’s Pokemon Unchained, among others– is a good read.
On the topic of new blogs, Shut Up and Sit Down is gearing up to be a great new blog for fans of board games. Here’s Matt Thrower with a primer on wargaming.
At some curious intersection of academia and devlog is Michael Cook’s Games By Angelina, Cook’s PhD project and game-making AI.
ALL THE REST
Thanks again for setting part of your Sunday aside for Critical Distance! As always we’re indebted to our readers for all your wonderful submissions by tweet or email. Keep them coming!
And if you haven’t yet checked out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table prompt, this is a prime time to get involved!
Lastly, we will be performing a server migration in the coming days. Readers should not experience any lapse in access to the site, but we are going to try to update the layout at the same time so… keep your fingers crossed for us.
Lastly, for my fellow USians. Bitter about tax season like I am? There’s a game for that now.