October 25, 2011 4:00 PM | Eric Caoili
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ian Miles Cheong on topics including Gears of War 3's women warriors, Dark Souls comparisons to Kendo, and more.]
Critical Distance is an attempt to curate the best video game articles available on the web, to give you reading material that's well worth your time. We hope to arrest your attention with what we've compiled in this edition of This Week in Video Game Criticism.
First up is an insightful article by Maddy Myers on The Boston Phoenix, who explores Gears of War 3's women warriors, and tackles the issue of gender in game spaces. Much like the difficult interactions between the game's characters, the situation in real life is equally complicated.
Equally engaging is Morgan Dempsey's essay on the PAX Valkyrie tumbleblog, which addresses casual sexism in video game spaces based on an experience she had in real life. She writes about how the silence of her two friends, and the shame they faced afterwards awakened a new sense of vigilance towards sexism.
At Gameranx, Annie Dennisdóttir Wright takes a hard look at Beyond Good & Evil and its political narrative. She contrasts the political climate of the game to the real world. In the game, the protagonist manages to spark a revolution by bringing what Wright calls "The Awful Truth" to the huddled masses—unrealistic by today's post-modern standards.
"The reason I say this particular trope doesn't work anymore (even though maybe it did even 8 years ago) is because nowadays, when someone reveals The Awful Truth, we don't see it. Or we think of it as any number of potential opinions out there to adopt, floating around.
By and large, we are so used to having the luxury of willful ignorance towards anything that contradicts what we want to be true, that we consider the act of witnessing something like photographic evidence, hard data gathered by different sources that all points to the same conclusion, or leaked documents revealing all kinds of difficult facts straight from the horses' mouths (and the horses in this case are various national governments and corporate entities) to be on a par with when a friend tells us something along the lines of 'You know, you really can't pull off that shade of blue. It makes your hair look like cat vomit'."
Poignant. The article couldn't come at a better time given the rising intensity of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
True to form, Michael Abbott takes on Dark Souls on the Brainy Gamer, comparing the experience with that of Kendo training, in which Abbott says is more about practice than punishment.
"And so in the Dark Souls Dojo the player cultivates his mind, spirit, and technique through disciplined practice, aiming for 'Ki-ken-tai-ichi,' ('spirit, sword, and body are one') a Kendo term used in teaching striking moves. 'Ki is spirit, ken refers to the handling of the sword, and tai refers to body movements and posture. When these three elements harmonize and function together with correct timing, they create the conditions for a valid strike.' This concept embraces a way of playing this game that appeals to me and enriches my time inside the game. I know what a "valid strike" is in Dark Souls. I have felt it."
The convicts in Arkham City don't think Catwoman is a very nice lady, and they're rather vocal about it. Internet persona "Film Critic Hulk" takes the writing of Arkham City to task, and paints it as sexist—or rather, he refers to it as a form of "stealth sexism" because it isn't anywhere as in-your-face as Duke Nukem, but argues that it is, in effect, more damaging. Be wary however, for in keeping with the "Incredible Hulk" persona the writer adopts, the post is written in all-caps.
Kirk Battle, once known to the blogosphere as L.B. Jeffries, has written a piece on Killscreen Daily about complexity in games—with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey as his example—and how understanding that dynamic may give us a better grasp on dealing with it in the real world.
On GameSetWatch is an interview with Pippin Barr. In the interview, Jason Johnson queries the game designer on the subject of The Artist is Present, a game which consists entirely of waiting—and one that steps outside the restrictions of what it means to be a game.
If you're reading this, of course, chances are you already play video games, but that shouldn't stop you from reading Lee Kelly's Ambient Challenge blog, where he hopes to illustrate his love for video games to non-gamers in a language that's easy to comprehend. First up his an article that both praises and disparages Crysis for its virtues and flaws. Crysis, he says, offers a strong emergent storytelling component that's weakened by the forced storyline its creators forced upon the player.
Kelly also writes about the dual narratives of Red Dead Redemption, which he declares a dead end for Rockstar's refusal to break from convention.
At International Hobo, Chris Bateman writes about genre categories of video games and how they fail to properly encompass the history of games and their origins. He suggests grouping games into clusters based on common constraints—both soft, and hard—as an alternative to ad hoc genre categories.
On the Gone to Strange Country blog, Andrew Lavigne writes about the subtle morality system of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, a game–released in 2005—which often goes largely unnoticed by the gaming masses. The article lauds the game for its humanity, an afterthought in most action games.
Charlie Hall of Gamers With Jobs writes an open letter to the creator of Minecraft, Notch, detailing the rich experiences he's had with Minecraft's open, but lonely environment, and asks that a future version of the game offer an option to disable non-player characters and quests Notch intends on putting in.
Andrew McMillen, the journalist who uncovered the Team Bondi controversy some months back has a few words of advice for his fellow game journalists with lessons he's learned from the entire experience.
Last but not least is an entry by Patrick Molloy on his Molloy Boy blog which explores the ins and outs of Final Fantasy IX's character. Often overlooked in favor of the more popular Final Fantasy VII or the flashier Final Fantasy X, IX is a game that sets out on its own path instead of sticking to the worn and beaten road of its predecessors.