Hello there you charming scoundrel, it’s time for another This Week We Read.
In case you’re new to these, each week I ask a group of peers, colleagues and strangers to share with you between three to five articles they read over the previous seven days. The articles they contribute can be a day old or a year old, they can be highly academic or light as a feather, they can be noteworthy for their originality or they can be utterly, delightfully derivative – the only criteria is that they found it interesting enough to recommend to you.
Previously this used to be a videogame-centric collaboration insofar as anything contributors linked to had to potentially be at least tangentially of interest to a readership that tends towards the medium of games. But since last week I’ve completely dropped this criteria – now contributors can suggest any piece of text from any field without needing to justify it to videogame-centricism. What I hope to achieve with this is to promote a healthy, outward-looking diet, rather than contributing to an ouroboric critical culture.
To this end, I want to emphasise that you don’t need to be a game critic (or a game-anything) to contribute to This Week We Read: we accept guests from any field or discipline.
Contributing this week we have Jed Pressgrove, Daniel Fries and Carli Velocci. If you’d like to volunteer as a contributor for next week’s post, you can of course contact me on twitter @stbeirne. Now, for articles on Advanced Warfare‘s button prompting, New York’s address system, and interviews with some of the best artists and creators in the business, on with the latest This Week We Read.
Perhaps you have read some of the flimsy connections made between games and real-life tragedies in Ferguson and Gaza. Film critic Armond White avoids this sort of opportunistic drivel with Culture’s Clash, a piece he wrote in 2012 after James Holmes, citing inspiration from Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, shot up and killed people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. White takes culture to town: “It is hypocritical to pretend that after years of celebrating sociopathy (as in Oscar tributes to such ugly characterizations as Charlize Theron in Monster, Denzel Washington in Training Day, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Monique in Precious, Ledger in The Dark Knight) that we don’t recognize James Holmes’ madness.” Because of this line and so many others (criticizing everyone from Roger Ebert to President Barack Obama), White’s essay is a provocative masterpiece.
Robert H. Dylan dismisses the critical commentary on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s funeral scene in Press X to disrespect: Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. In his inimitable wacky style, Dylan explains why the “Pay Respects” prompt is “a perfectly harmonious example of naked, apocalyptic scale human hostility, innocently dressed up in its pious, militaristic, fascist propaganda jive of ‘freedom isn’t free’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘duty’ and ‘sincere emotional investment.’”
It can be difficult to shake the built-in urge to look at video games in light of its older cinematic cousins. Haniya Rae’s review of Hohokum, If Yayoi Kusama Designed a Video Game, is neither the first nor the last example of criticism that connects video games to non-movie art, but the relative accessibility of the piece makes it a pleasure to read. The lack of interpretation in parts of the review can be seen as a weakness, yet Rae’s approach favors criticism that goes beyond easy links between games, movies, and our subjective histories with these forms.
Sierra Tishgart interviewed a guy who has opened a bootleg Trader Joe’s in Canada. He’s careful to stay in the clear legally, but it almost sounds like he runs the business as a challenge, or a statement about his relationship to enormous food market corporations.
Ben Wellington’s blog about NYC Open Data remains one of my favorites. He’s able to use the data in really enlightening ways, and usually produces an attractive graphic while doing so. This week he wrote about navigating NYC’s address system, something I often find difficult.
Alive O’Connor talks about experiencing Porpentine’s new game, about creating identities and wearing them on our skins. I haven’t gotten a chance to play the game, but I’m intrigued by the mechanics that spread out into the physical world, and O’Connor’s article makes me excited, if a tad apprehensive, about how I’ll feel while playing, and afterwards.
Finally, I love Michael Brough’s blog post from this summer on the things that are really impossible. We seem to fight back against that idea, especially when we design games, and I think he covers how important it is to recognize impossibility—in math, in games, in our lives, etc.
This isn’t one piece specifically, but I would encourage anyone looking to support marginalized voices in games to check out a series of interviews done by Jetta Rae over at Ravishly. She speaks with many of the most interesting game creators and scholars working today, including Lana Polansky, Soha Kareem, Mattie Brice, and more. Rae calls them a “resistance against #Gamergate” which is undoubtedly true, but they’re also a resistance against tradition, which is not a bad thing in a world as static as video games. I’ll link the interview to Toni Rocca, since it was the first one posted, but all are portraits of amazing people who don’t get nearly enough respect. Plus, it’s especially important in the wake of Gamergate that we lend support to those attacked by it.
Boing Boing ran a brief, but interesting piece this week about the history of social deduction games by Matt M. Casey. It works as a sort of beginner’s guide to the genre, but it also manages to introduce some thoughts about how we use time in play, creating different experiences based on old ones and developing our own in-game meta. It’s cool for board game fans, but it’s also enlightening for anyone who looks deep into the idea of “play.” Whole lot of questions raised in this one.
Despite never playing any Call of Duty games, I still find writing about it fascinating from the perspective of war. I find mixed reactions on how the series handles the realities of war and combat, which is why I liked Reid McCarter’s review at Kill Screen on the the latest game in the franchise. It provides a sort-of summary on the franchise’s relationship with war and how Advanced Warfare seems to almost finally recognize those problematic aspects. I’ve still heard some mixed statements on whether that makes enough of an impact, but seeing these kinds of discussions in the gaming space is probably a step forward, albeit a small one.
As for myself, I didn’t do too much reading this week so I’ll start with a video. Maddy Myers’ talk at this year’s Boston AlterConf is available to watch online. She discusses how gonzo journalism is presently practised by some of the more esteemed outsiders of the games (and co.) industry, since insider groupies tend to think of its subjectivity as vile and frightening.
I wrote an article about identity in games this week and I came across this piece while researching. Sam Kabo Ashwell has an incomplete bestiary on all sorts of things relating to player agency, including aesthetic, self-insertion and cheating. It’s big and it’s interesting so give it a look.
For those interested in the area of race and media representation, Dr Zélie Asava briefing of her book The Black Irish Onscreen is a compelling primer. Dr Asava was giving a keynote address this week and screening short films at the Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference – hopefully it’ll be archived soon and we can give it a watch.
Lastly is Terry Eagleton’s review of two of Slavoj Žižek’s books, Absolute Recoil and Trouble in Paradise. Eagleton’s reading of Žižek makes for enjoyable insights easily attainable to non-academics.
That’s it for this week’s collaboration. Once again, if you’d like to volunteer as a contributor in next week’s post give me a shout on twitter @stbeirne. Mind yourself.