November 22, 2011 6:00 PM | Eric Caoili
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Kotaku's recent defense of its content, content degradation in Modern Warfare 3, and more.]
Do you believe in life after Ben Abraham? I hope you do, because it's time for This Week in Video Game Criticism!
As Ben wrote last week, I have taken on his role as the new senior editor of TWIVGC. Let's all give Ben another hearty round of thanks for the 2.5 years he's devoted to our little project and the fantastic things it's done for the discourse of game criticism and commentary. Then thank yourselves as well – because like always, these roundups could not exist without YOUR important contributions each week.
We start out this gorgeous Sunday with Kate Cox, who has been giving Dragon Age: Origins another try. Her latest entry is a commentary on the sheer diversity of possible stories and the unexpected ways players are able to fill in the blanks in the game, referring in particular to her own noble character's class privilege.
Speaking of Dragon Age developer BioWare, Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are has a piece up on them as well, arguing that the RPG genre is defeated by its own emphasis on systems:
"The roleplaying game profoundly struggles with its ambition toward art because its play is full of this sort of generalized mechanical play. It is pretty bad at evoking intended emotions within players (as Tolstoy would say it perhaps) because it's so busy being a giant accounting exercise. So supposedly significant moments in the narrative and the actions of gameplay are in conflict with one another."
In a similar vein of toolsets and systems, and just in time for the official release of Minecraft, Matthew Briet laments that the game is just too addictive for its own good. Elsewhere, brill.iam notes that a categorization system like the one we've set up for video game genres unfairly impoverishes their expressive range. In particular he poses this scenario:
"If SimCity had come out after Starcraft, would it be criticized for representing a city-building sandbox? Would it be panned for having no competitive multiplayer aspect? It is, after all, a strategic game (in fact, I would argue that the layers of strategy outclass those of most RTS games that came after it) and it plays out in real time.
But RTS means one very specific thing now: little buildings that make little men that kill other little men faster than another person can make other little killing men. This concept of how representation should inform design is completely backwards."
And my old blogmate from Moving Pixels, Kirk Battle (aka LB Jeffries) is back again this week with a critique of Modern Warfare 3's dreaded on-rails structure keeping him from appreciating the game's littler details for their own craftsmanship: "Content Degradation".
Keeping with our general theme of systems and the greater apparatus of game mechanics, Katy Myers has a lovely little article that is close to my heart: if graduate school is a competition, and most games are a competition, why not game grad school? It's an interesting, if depressing, notion, as Myers's numbered proposals feed right into conventional "incentivization" models typical of that much-maligned word "gamification" – which leads me to this next exciting piece from Tom Ewing, on de-gamification:
"D&D has – as you'll know if you ever played it – a vast and hydra-headed system of rules. At first we would modify them, as almost all players did – dropping the ones that weren't fun. But eventually we abandoned the rules entirely, shifting to what used to be known as "freeform" gaming – something more like interactive storytelling.
The reason we did this is that we'd reframed the aim of the activity to be creative rather than simply competitive or even co-operative. Once we'd done that, the game mechanics became a hindrance to play, rather than a spur.
The implication of this is that once you have people who are confident with what they're doing and enjoy it, there may be something to be gained by degamifying their environments – handing over more responsibility and autonomy to the players, dialing down the rewards and rules structures you've put in place."
While Ewing caveats that this observation is based strongly on his own gaming experiences, the essay addresses many other good points, like the usefulness (or rather, the lack thereof) rewards for the seasoned player.
Over on Edge, a more industry-oriented article tackles the ethics of over-promoting a bad game – such as the one in its header image.
And Gameranx is offering up some truly quality work lately, with three stand-out articles all written by Critical Distance regulars. From Sebastian Wuepper, we have an examination of the American action game's fetishization of "big bads" like Nazis and Communists, arguing the latter has now succeeded the former as the FPS gamer faceless enemy du jour.
From Rowan Kaiser is an essay comparing and contrasting the original Deus Ex with Human Revolution, arguing that HR is "a remake of a classic that has the rough edges shaved off for mass, not cult, consumption". Finally, Brendan Keogh treats us to the virtues of grinding in Dark Souls.
We leave off with a glance back at one of the bigger "discussion" topics from the week, namely Kotaku editorial director Joel Johnson's controversial post defending the content of his fine publication. Mattie Brice (whose recent "Speaking in Accents" article is also a recommended read) led the pack with an open letter to Johnson at The Border House.
This was followed up by Richard Goodness over at Second Quest, who criticizes the tone Brice takes and suggests instead that women and LGBTIQ gamers need to push harder for fair treatment and representation, citing the Women's Social and Political Union's motto, "Deeds, Not Words".
A third essay from Jenn Frank at Infinite Lives argues for the middle path between the two, concluding, "Kotaku cannot, will not, be a 'safe space' tomorrow. And that's maybe the real point: Kotaku has always tried to maintain its finger on the pulse, and the fact that Kotaku is changing tells you things are changing."
And that seems like enough meta to cap off one linklist! Enjoy your week, everyone. To my fellow Americans, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. And for all of our readers around the world, thank you, as always, for your amazing support. Remember that you can submit your own links to us via Twitter or email! (Non-perishable food items only. Spay and neuter your cats and dogs. This week's TWIVGC brought to you by the letter Y…)