This Week I Read – Medlar jelly

Hello there and welcome. This is where I share with you a bunch of articles, comics, games, podcasts – anything about videogames that I read over the past week and think you might also enjoy, with the goal of helping the flow of discourse and spreading the word on these authors and their works.

Quite a few articles this week, mostly about a good cross section of games and theory on the medium. There’s writing about Prison Architect, SUPERHOT, Skyrim, Fire Emblem, Dishonored, FTL and more. Most of it comes from the last week or two, so if you feel I missed out on a really good piece of criticism or if you’d like to help me find articles worth including in the future, you can find me on Twitter @ByronicM.

Links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **.

Robert Rath wrote for The Escapist* on Dishonored‘s Outsider as a figure of satanic manipulation and deceit.

On Polygon, Chris Dahlen* remarked on the subtle ways games can imprint characters on the player, adding depth to common story archetypes. (Minor spoilers for Earthbound and Jeanne D’Arc.)

Over on Sufficiently Human, Lana Polansky remarked on the Ms. Pac-Man problem of gender derivation regarding various indie titles, since these are developers who we expect to be pushing boundaries and testing waters, not casually following the cultural herd.

Bill coberly wrote for The Ontological Geek on morality design in FTL* and Mass Effect.

While I’m not really a fan of ask.fm as a platform for games crit discourse, Kris Ligman answered something on the future of games criticism that is worth the short time it takes to read.

Also by Kris, this time for Gamasutra, here’s a piece speculating on the market success of Fire Emblem: Awakening as not a result of casual appeal.

Emily Short discussed Gone Home** as a piece of bad interactive fiction for disallowing the player structural agency over uncovering backstory.

Over on her site,  Mary Hamilton wrote a fantastic piece on consent as fundamental to games and how gamification forgoes it.

On Gameranx, I criticised The Castle Doctrine‘s teleology as causal of an immoral, irresponsible narrative, and suggested a few things that could fix it.

Stephen Poole wrote for Edge Online arguing in favour of discussing games even if we haven’t yet played them.

For Kotaku, Paolo Pedercini went over the end-result narrative of Prison Architect‘s systems from his experiences with the alpha to find out whether it treats the subject matter with nuance and due consideration.

Also for Kotaku, Zoe Quinn put together a quick and handy guide for anyone interested in getting into game development.

Kat Bailey admitted on US Gamer* how the imagery of sexual assault in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 succeeded in compelling her to dread the game.

Over at The Indie MEGABOOTH, Christoper Floyd, Rob Manuel, and Patrick Lindsey recorded a podcast about SUPERHOT.

On that matter, I wrote about SUPERHOT as well, as a shooter whose artistry of play comes from its aestheticism.

Though it was first published for PC Gamer in August 2012, I only recently read this very entertaining series of articles chronicling Tom Francis’ experiences as an illusionist in Skyrim.* There are 16 parts in all so it might take you a while but it’s well worth keeping a tab open for.

On Pop Matters, Eric Swain discussed the narrative of the adventure genre under the influence of Telltale’s newly established model.

A little bit of self-promotion now: I’ve set up a Patreon page for myself so now you, dear reader, can volunteer yourself as a patron of my work if you fancy. If you value my writing and would like to support me with your patronage, please pop on over and consider chucking a few bob my way.

Games

Six games for you to try, this week. I’ll keep it short.

Cat Gentlemans Play: Insult Spinner 10 Cents by RobotLovesKitty is a quick two player game of duelling cats. The short bursts of consecutive minigames mixes well with the setting to confuse and delight.

Catlateral Damage by Chris Chung plays out a scenario familiar to all cat parents everywhere. Manoeuvring is very un-catlike but for the simple joy of roleplaying a dickish cat it’s quite endearing.

I’m well behind everyone else on this one but only this week did I play Michael Brough’s 86856527, a game interpreting hacking to be resource management and survival. There’s a lot to say about this one and I’m sure much of it has already been, but I’ll say this: if you get frustrated by the learning curve and quit out, I won’t blame you.

Ernesto – A Quick RPG by Daniel Ben is as it says, and is quite accessible and inviting for it.

Many players seem to have had an emotional experience from TIMEframe by Random Seed Games. I can’t say the same for myself as my first time playing found me snagged on a jut of terrain, effectively shuttering my mind away from it on subsequent plays. Still, I’m sharing it in the hopes that you fare better. It’s pegged as an exploration game with which I take umbrage – it might better be described as a game about feeling as small as an ant and as big as the universe.

Lastly is SUPERHOT, which I mentioned earlier. I’ve written about it at length so I’ll say this and leave the post here: it’s a shooter perhaps unlike any you’ve ever played before.

Advertisements

This Week I Read – A peaceful, angry year

Hello there and welcome. This is where I share with you a bunch of articles, comics, games, podcasts – anything about videogames that I read over the past week and think you might also enjoy, with the goal of helping the flow of discourse and spreading the word on these authors and their works. Although it’s not limited to articles that were written within the past week (or fortnight), this week happens to focus on things made around and since Christmas–since I haven’t updated in those few weeks, there’s a fair bit to account for. Usually I’d share some great free indie titles but somehow I barely played anything over the holidays so today I’m empty handed in that regard.

Most of the following naturally group into new year traditions and reminiscing, community hostility and bullying, some words and referrals on Patreon, and a small amount of scattered games criticism. There were a hell of a lot of Game of the Year pieces so I’ve decided against listing them as a general principle, otherwise I’d be here all day. If you feel I missed out on a really good piece of criticism or if you’d like to help me find articles worth including in the future, you can find me on Twitter @ByronicM.

Links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **. Continue reading

This Week I Read – Pure Again, Final Fantasy VIII and cultural rumblings

Hello and welcome. For newcomers, this is where I share with you a bunch of articles, comics, games, podcasts – anything about videogames that I read over the past week and think you might also enjoy, with the goal of helping the flow of discourse and spreading the word on these authors and their works. This week there’s a good scattering of subjects covered, from sexual dimorphism to responsibility, a couple of underdog games of the year, and some reminiscing on a few 90s classics.

Links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **.

Starting on a high note, definitely read this piece by Zoya Street on his game of the year, Pure Again,** a game about trans experiences that makes no assumptions about gender and an article that beautifully conveys what that means. You can play Pure Again by Kevin McGowan here.

On Not Your Mama’s Gamer, Samantha Blackmon reflected on BioShock Infinite‘s satire in context of the Tea Party’s racist appraisal of some of its imagery.

Mattie Brice threw her hat into the ring on the topic of ‘gamer’ and the notion of games as a meritocracy. I wrote something similar the other week, too.

IndieStatik wrote about the harassment directed at some developers who tried to get their game Greenlit while having the audacity of being women.

For Robot Hyena, Bryce Mainville discussed what sexual dimorphism says about character design, using a few MMOs as example.

I don’t normally do podcasts but Indie MEGABOOTH have a 40-odd minute bit between Christopher Floyd, Rob Manuel, Patrick Lindsey and Maddie Myers on A Dark Room** that is well worth your time. A Dark Room is available to play in your browser here, it’s one of the best games to come out this year so I’d recommend playing it before you listen to the podcast.

Speaking of A Dark Room, check out Elizabeth Simins’ comic on The Bygone Bureau.

In Chris Leggett Gameranx piece, he talked about the power of media to affect the minds of audiences as a rebuff to efforts of dismissal of dangerous games when convenient.

On Gamespot, Josiah Renaudin** discussed the humanity and maturation of the character of Squall, Final Fantasy VIII‘s protagonist, especially how he found some of himself in the same journey.

The week before last, C.Y Reid wrote about movement, flow and horror in Doom for Midnight Resistance.

From last May there’s this video critique of BioShock Infinite by Matthewmatosis.** It’s a pretty level take-down of the game that’s now making a load of Best Of lists, but it also includes a very clever contrast of Infinite with Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Also it might be of benefit to Irrational Games to hear what an Irish accent sounds like.

And last week, I spilled my heart on the sole good moment of BioShock Infinite.**

This Week I Read – On racism, violence, and gamer

Quite an active week for articles so I’ll get right to it. This week saw discussion on the value of the terms ‘gamer and ‘gaming community’, discussions about violence and purpose, institutionalized racism, and a fair bit on BioShock Infinite.

Links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **.

Leigh Alexander interviewed Merritt Kopas for Gamasutra* (small spoiler for GTAV) on the purpose of violence in videogames.

Amanda Lange continued the theme of game violence over on Tap Repeatedly,* discussing the purpose of shooting in BioShock Infinite, tying it in to game literacy and accessibility.

On Geek Empire, Liza Daly* reflected on BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, and The Last of Us in relation to the question, “What do I want out of videogames?”

Way back in May on The Brog, Isaiah T. Taylor* shared his own opinions on BioShock Infinite‘s one-dimensional personality, including its pretence of a narrative on racism.

Which brings us nicely to Sidney Fussell, writing for Salon, where he addressed the racism systemic in the medium as an effect of that of the culture and industry, and how to overcome it.

Making the rounds this week was Simon Parkin’s piece for The New Statesman on the terms ‘gamer’ and ‘gaming community’ and why he thinks we would do well to drop them from our vocabulary.

Over on her own site, Mary Hamilton offered a defence of ‘gamer’ as a term of self-identity.

Brendan Keogh shared a blog post in response to both, focussing on the term not as a self-identifier but as a signifier informed by broader culture. On the point Keogh makes about male being the assumption, I’d like to draw in the now-faded identifier of ‘girl-gamer’ since that was expressly in reaction to the exclusionary connotations embedded within ‘gamer.’ It’s great that now we can reference a variety of studies to show that a significant portion of people who enjoy games are women, but it also makes me a little bit sad that we would even need a near 1:1 split of women to men to fuel putting a stop to ‘gamer’ as a term of exclusion. Although ‘girl-gamer’ has fallen out of fashion, ‘gamer’ is still a term implying legitimization or delegitimization of character.

And on Gameranx, perhaps implicitly related to this discussion, Seb Wuepper argued that gaming culture is nothing more than a marketing construct. Each of these articles on the subject of ‘gamer’ and ‘gaming community/culture’ is well worth your attention. And if you’re interested, I weighted in with some of my thoughts on ‘gamer’, culture and accessibility here.

Mattie Brice talked about the use of labels inherent in identity politics as something that she feels can be dehumanizing, and her frustration at how intersectionality is sometimes warped to justify Oppression Olympics.

On Indie Statik, Chris Priestman cautioned against procedurally generated indie games on the basis that more does not mean better.

From earlier in the month, Cara Ellison wrote on Unwinnable about the loneliness of adventure games. I’ll be linking you shortly to a great little adventure game that really carries through on this sentiment.

And again on Unwinnable, but this time from last March, Ellison talked about the social and psychological connotations of a gendered AI.

I’d also like to share this wee post I put up near the end of last week. It’s about aboutness, as in intentionality, that the need to make games about something might perhaps misconstrue what some are.

Next to last is this write up by Zach A on the process of curating Critical Distance and some of the obstacles he experienced the past few weeks.

Finally, it’s not an article but you might be interested in this event for game critics being organized by Zoya Street.

Games

Only a wee handful of games this week but every one of them is well worth your time for different reasons. First is The Linear RPG by Sophie Houldon. You can use left and right to run across a line, and as you progress right two things happen: you lose health but gain experience (representing an automated battle system), and the crappy story unfolds behind the gameplay. It’s delightfully cynical of jrpgs. But it also says something to me about the relevance of the scale of a game’s systems, because ultimately that can be a relevant factor in a player’s enjoyment – Liza Daly’s piece flashes to mind.

Next up is Mind Game by gert_johnny. No joke, this is what I wanted out of Remember Me. It’s a little difficult to extract memories and I wasn’t able to complete the game but the simple execution of its mechanic makes for some design notes worth considering. Most notably, how to implement telepathy without automating it to ‘does telepathy.’

Lastly is Good Morning, Commander by alllen, which is pretty much Moon: The Game. Be sure to turn down your volume before clicking that link! It doesn’t run too smoothly on my laptop which made it a little bit of a trial to play – hopefully you’ll find it easier to handle. This is the one that stirred me with loneliness, and from that a prevailing sense of dread. I adore that it wasn’t afraid to fill the world with so much empty space, risking boredom, but survived by filling that space with the beating of my heart, my fears, my wandering thoughts.

This Week I Read – Now that’s Moirai like it

I read very few articles this past week, but I played a few more games than usual. Actually, I played so many indie games I burnt out a little, so I loaded up Spec Ops: the Line and have been giving that a whirl for the greater part of this week. It’s pretty good. And since I can’t divorce it in my mind from “that game that has to do with Brendan Keogh”, around the house I’ve started to call it Brendan Keogh’s Game. So congrats on a pretty good game, Brendan.

Anyway, on to the stuff I want to share with you.

As usual, links and articles that contain minor spoilers (minor narrative beats or gameplay segments, etc.) will be marked with a *. Those with major spoilers (major plot twists or story beats) will be marked with a **.

On The Psychology of Video Games, Jamie Madigan wrote about a bunch of studies that suggest players seek idealization from their avatars and are likewise influenced by their avatar’s behaviour. I’m not so sure how well that applies to me – I wouldn’t think so, since in the last game I played with customizable characters, Dark Souls, I made a pale blue-skinned weirdo named AQUALAD. Then again, maybe it does.

Maria Konnikova wrote about the concept of “flow” for The New Yorker and on the effects of first person shooters on their players, largely from a  neurological and psychological point of view. I’d caution that some of the scientific facts in that article may be total trash, although I’m not in a place just now to substantiate that concern as anything more than just an impression.

Cara Ellison wrote about how journalism and criticism inherently carry what some pejoratively might call an agenda, by virtue of intentionality and relationships.

On Pop Matters, Jorge Albor described design asymmetry in various multiplayer games, most centrally Android Netrunner.

For The Guardian, Keith Stuart interviewed Charlie Brooker about his documentary, How Video Games Changed The World. I haven’t yet seen the documentary myself, so that’s a thing on the books.

Here’s something from Brendan Vance examining Super Mario Bros. through consideration of the fundamentals of platforming design.

Tracey Lien put together this huge feature for Polygon, using a historic lens focusing on the games industry to describe the boy’s club reputation it earned for itself. I strongly disagree with the piece’s conclusion that sufficient diversity already thrives within the medium, as it accepts the consensus that mobile/casual games are for women and console/PC games are for men and interprets this as favourable for diverse representation. It presents this dichotomy as evidence that the boy’s club mentality is a ghost waiting to fade, when in fact all it does is further shutter men and women into separate boxes – these are our videogames, these are your videogames. That’s not a dichotomy I’m striving for, it’s not a status quo I’m happy with, and I’d rather not make to protect it as some sort of totem of feminist triumph. Otherwise, as an account of the history of the industry with regard to gender roles, the article is worth a read.

Back to Pop Matters, Mark Filipowich pitches in to help demystify the principle of interactivity in game design.

Games

Let’s start off with a nice wee one: the very odd Night Rider Turbo. I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to happen or how exactly to control it, but the sheer chaotic glee it allowed me to feel means I have to share it with you. It says there it’s made by Sos Sosowski.

The Very Organised Thief by arcane.artist enacts wondrously on a simple, interesting concept. What’s here is very serviceable as a design demo for a bigger expanded title. As it is, it’s compelling enough for me to have replayed it until I marked everything on my list. Certainly worth a look.

Continuing the theme of organization, Murder at Masquerade Manor by skysthelimit invites you to a dinner party and asks you to puzzle out the murderer’s identity. I absolutely adore murder mysteries so this game wins me on premise alone. For this reason, and for my own stubbornness, I had at it until I finally won a round – I found it to be quite hard to figure out the murderer, but eventually settled into a strategy of organization to whittle down the list of suspects. Identifying what’s useful information and planning your next interview to favour your own safety are what it’s all about. Let’s pretend the left-leaning camera represents your increasing paranoia.

Yay, Bubsy’s back! And this time he’s got his very own art game! Arcane Kids’ Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective is one after my own heart – it’s so blithe and irreverent, I love it. With its circular pretensions and utter disdain for itself, truly we have finally achieved videogames’ Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Lastly, here is a game called Moirai, made by HyperNexus. There’s a lot for me to say about this one – I love its use of control scheme, how it uses gamey elements to manipulate the way you perceive, the discordant atmosphere by the off visuals and music, the way it smashes the concept of “empathy games” to smithereens. I’ll talk about that last on at length another day. This is a game that makes me want to get others to play it. It is one of the best games I have played this year. Do check it out.