[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham, on topics including characterization in Left 4 Dead 2, god mode, and the Smithsonian's take on gaming art.]

This calendar week, blogger Ashelia wrote on her personal tumblr some stinging criticisms of the characters of Left 4 Dead 2 in “Axe me a question”.

Ashelia’s criticism begins with the character of Rochelle, but expands outwards to encompass the rest of the quartet. It includes some criticisms I share, personally, and it makes me all the more excited to hear the news of the original Fab Four’s imminent arrival to the sequel. It’s criticism from a place of love though, truly.

Mitu Khandaker announced her arrival at Game Set Watch this week with a first post in a new series called ‘Gambrian Explosion’ – more a statement of intent at this introductory stage, but well worth reading to get excited about where she’s going with it.

Max Lieberman of the Boom Culture blog tried to spark a conversation about the "gamification of learning" – employing so-called ‘gamification’ tactics such as points, rewards and badges in the classroom. It’s a piece called ‘Narrative in Games-Based Learning’.

The best thing I read all week was an exchange of letters between author Tom Bissell and academic/critic Simon Ferrari, hosted by Paste Magazine. It covers a lot of ground but the locus it moves around is game narrative, writing and response. Strong stuff.

And oh yes, it was Valentine’s Day this week, and Gay Gamer’s blogger Super Swede posted ‘A valentine from Andrew Ryan’ delivered in typical Randian fashion: "One of your writers recently asked my opinion of the celebration of February the fourteenth, a holiday that uses the Christian superstition of 'Saint' Valentine as a vehicle for the expression of our most despicable urges: doting upon those with whom we find ourselves in the pitiful waltz we call 'love.'"

Russia Today has an interview up with Navid Khonsari of Grand Theft Auto fame. And Eric Lockaby at The Last Metaphor has kept up the steady trickle of excerpts from his novel ‘Kickaround Nixon’ and is now up to the 6th part.

The SteelRiverSavior blog is another cool little blog I’ve only just heard about. ‘Ludens Is a Cough Drop’ from this week is a great read:

"In the first few pages of “Beyond Good and Evil," Nietzsche taught me the most important lesson of my life. Everything that has ever been written was written by a person with their own mind, their own thoughts and prejudices, their own opinions. This colors everything, almost always unintentionally. This is why I hate people who reject the notion that games can be art."

Pippin Barr writing for his personal blog about the opposite of permadeath in games has been playing Half-Life 2 in god-mode, which I remember doing with the first game when I was younger. He informs us that surprisingly, "there was much less of the 'this is meaningless' experience in my playing than I’d anticipated. Instead, the overriding emotional tone of the game became, for me, that of being a kind of immortal psychopathic hero."

At the Vorpal Bunny Ranch blog Denis Farr writes about a family history of gaming, and reflects in particular upon his mother’s engagement with games, in ‘Trade Wars to Facebook Games’:

For the online blog portion of KillScreen Magazine, J. Nicholas Geist wrote about ‘Violence remembered and forgotten’.

And Auntie Pixelante posted on her blog the words and slides from a talk she gave this week about her game Mighty Jill Off : "In 2008 I made a game called MIGHTY JILL OFF. It’s inspired by a 1987 Nintendo game called Mighty Bomb Jack – a difficult game – and it’s about the masochistic impulses that players of challenging games have."

M. Suliman, newly of the blog Mending the Wall, formerly of Bergsonian Critique, wrote this week about ‘The Two Voices of Isaac Clarke’. And the author of the Go Make Me A Sandwich blog takes an unapologetic look at the character of Yuna from Final Fantasy X-2.

The Critical Missive blog turns its critical eye to the Smithsonian’s “Art of Videogames” exhibition in ‘Close, but not 1-UP’. Almost as if in answer to some of Critical Missive’s concerns, the Rock Paper Shotgun team have spent the past week working on ‘The Very Important List of PC Games’, in 6 out of 5 parts. It’s limiting its scope to just PC Games, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more exhaustive list, or one that included so much detail about why these are important games.

We haven’t heard from the Fabula Ex-Machina blog for a while, what’ve they been up to? Paul Sztajer writes in to let us know they've been thinking about ‘stakes’ (aka consequences) and death in games.

I’ll leave you with an imposingly long essay by Erik Germani of the blog Weapons Grade Ennui titled ‘Play of the Land’, which purports to be about the use of topography in turn based strategy. I’ve not had a chance to read much past the opener yet, but the start leaves me extremely optimistic:

"In videogames, there is deep appeal in leveraging your surroundings. Luckily, games have long encouraged our inner Jason Bournes. You’ve encountered it before, when you shot those combustible barrels carelessly strewn about in every corridor shooter, or when you hurled a car at a henchman in Freedom Force and he flew back three blocks like he was a small marble and the car was a much larger marble made of nitroglycerine."