November 8, 2011 4:30 PM | Eric Caoili
[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Ben Abraham on topics including the New Yorker's piece on Ico/SoTC director Fumito Ueda, things to eat in Skyrim, and more.]
Hello loyal readers, welcome to another This Week In Video Game Criticism! Let's jump right into another digest of the week's best offerings from around the blogosphere:
Straight from the New Yorker's Culture Desk we have Chris Suellentrop's piece on 'The Video Game Art of Fumito Ueda'. It's a little bit purple in places (what writing about games in a mainstream newspaper isn't?) but it's still quite worth reading.
"There are no points in Ico, nothing to collect, and very little to kill. There is also very little dialogue, and nothing that a movie lover would recognize as romance. But it is a love story. The boy's motivation—and therefore, yours—is to help the girl. Sometimes the boy is attacked by shadowy, globular figures and he must fend them off with a stick and, later, a sword. If he fails to do so, the girl is pulled into a void. The prospect of losing a fight evokes feelings of guilt and sadness in the player, rather than panic and self-preservation."
Suellentrop also quotes from Tom Bissell's Extra Lives, referencing some comments of our next entrant this week.
Clint Hocking's post this week is a surprisingly self-effacing thesis for a game designer: he reckons that in videogames the players themselves are the creators and artists. Definitely go read his "Nature of Videogames" post. Hocking has been making this point for a few years now, but this is another great examination of it.
Another great thing this week comes by way of KillScreen's online presence: it's Gus Mastrapa writing about "Things I Ate In Skyrim". Equal parts absurd and telling, the piece emphasises just how meticulously described-in-code the world of Skyrim is:
"It is raining by the time I get to Rorikstead, a small weatherbeaten farm on the far end of the tundra. Small plots are ringed in by a low wicker fence. An uptight woman works her crops of potato, wheat, and cabbage. 'We're honest, hard-working folk here and we don't suffer beggars or thieves,' she says. I pick all of her crops and sell them back to her, saving one of each to taste for myself. The wheat is edible but unappealing."
Also from Gus Mastrapa this week is the rebirth of his Pretension +1 column on Unwinnable, with a damning future history of game journalism.
But my absolute favourite piece of games-related writing from this week was the following: "I'm Tired of Being a "Woman in Games." I'm a person." by Leigh Alexander, writing for Kotaku. Here's the brilliantly combative opening:
"Sexism in games remains an unsolved problem, it's clear. Some of you will be nodding along, and some of you will hear the s-word and roll your eyes and go, "oh, this again?" You guys can piss off-–go click on some new screenshots or a trailer consisting of a release date slowly fading into view. You're hopeless."
Eric Schwartz at the Critical Missive blog writes on aim-assist and other filters game designers place between the players raw input and their in-world actions:
"Sitting down to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 with a friend in split-screen, it often feels as if there's a third presence in the room – an invisible game designer sitting between the controller and the television, who anticipates my own movements, says "oh, you want to shoot the guy on the left? I see, let me get that for you!" and pulls my crosshair in the right direction. Actually winning in such a scenario feels less about my skill in the fundamental act of shooting, and a lot more to do with my ability to simply select the right targets at the right time."
At the Pop Matters moving pixels blog, Nick Dinicola discusses Rage's excess of empathy, drawn out of him by the excruciatingly detailed character animations.
The Ambient Challenge blog has another top-notch piece this week, taking on the Chronicles of Riddick game this time, with 'Assault and Vinegar'. Here's the pithy opener:
"I once spoke to someone about a conversation she had with a schizophrenic man. The man described disembodied voices coming from over his left shoulder. They would comment, offer advice, and sometimes issue commands. The nature of their words were often violent and dangerous, and the man had learned mostly to ignore voices coming from that direction. Not above trivialising a serious mental disorder, I reflected that it must be a lot like playing videogames, except that in videogames you're supposed to listen carefully and do exactly what the voices tell you."
At Nightmare Mode this week Eric Lockaby enlightens us with the following: games are by no means the only interactive thing! I'm going to cheat and quote from the conclusion:
"a videogame's standout feature, a feature that is possessed by no other medium, is that it gives the conceptual author an analyzable presence…The author is systematized, sometimes by the creators (Pac-Man), and sometimes by the system itself (the kill screen). That embedded author "who" we have such difficulty describing, such trouble pinning down, is in videogames preserved in ones and zeroes."
At the excellent group blog Play The Past, Shawn Graham sings the praises of the point 'n' click adventure game.
Kirk Hamilton is bad at videogames. Accordingly here he is complaining about all the people who laugh at you when you die in Uncharted 3:
"You will die, and you will die often. And the kicker? After each death, your foes will laugh at your corpse. Despite its toothy grin and good sense of humor, sometimes I just want to punch Uncharted 3 in the nuts."
At Significant Bits, Radek Koncewicz looks at a number of irresistible, gratuitous actions in gaming. It's important because it's talking about things that the player doesn't have to do, but instead wants to do. Very cool.
At the Molloyboy blog, Patrick Molloy has two posts this week, the first on Squall from Final Fantasty VIII (my favourite character from the series), and the other about Axel from Kingdom Hearts. Perhaps these are relevant to your interests?
Speaking of the Final Fantasies, Brendan Keogh has this alternative-reading of late-game Final Fantasy VII placing Cloud in the role of post-traumatic obsessive, one stuck playing games in The Gold Saucer in order to attempt the many apocryphal Aeris resurrections… kind of creepy and sad, but also compelling.
Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer writes about 'The Sober World of Wither':
"What separates Wither from games like Jason Rohrer's Passage that try to grapple with the same kinds of human existential problems? Passage tries to mechanically represent emotion through gameplay (e.g. walking forward in time and watching one's loved one age and die) that leaves absolutely no room for interpretation. In contrast, through strangely poetic moments like having bizarre nightmares and witnessing suicides, Wither leaves the protagonist's psychological world open to interpretation."
I'm not really sure where this image comes from, as our own Eric Swain linked us to it without explanation, but it seems to be an email from "Grandpa Aaron" talking about all the games he's enjoyed, including Castlevania, Red Dead Redemption, and quite a superlative description of his enjoyment of Bioshock.
Mary Flagnahan blogs "The Twelve Propositions" about games at the Tilt Factor blog. These "Twelve Propositions from a Critical Play Perspective" start with the following: "#1 – Values are everywhere, designed into play and into games". Interesting and provocative.
And two videos to close out TWIVGB this week. First, video blogger 'Egoraptor' has an excellent video in his 'Sequelitis' series discussing the mechanical changes between the original Mega Man and the sequel Mega Man X – changes that are thematically important and rich with meaning.
That's it for this week, but a special thank you to everyone who sent in links (even those that didn't make it in). Keep sending stuff in as we really do rely on you lot telling us about stuff we'd miss otherwise. Hit us up on Twitter or via email, as usual.