This Week We Read: 16/11/14

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.


 

Jed Pressgrove, USA – video game critic; read his blog Game Bias, check out his reviews at Slant and Paste, or follow him @jedpressfate

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.

Daniel Fries, USA — Comparative Literature student; figurearcade.tumblr.com; @figurearcade

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.

Carli Velocci, USA – freelance writer; founder of postmortemmag.comcarlivelocci.wordpress.com@revierypone

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.

Stephen Beirne, Ireland – game critic; NormallyRascal.com@stbeirnepatreon.com/stephenbeirne

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 booksAbsolute 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.

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This Week We Read: 26/10/14

Each week I ask a group of peers, colleagues and strangers to share with you some articles they read over the previous seven day as described in their own words. The articles they contribute might 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 of perspective or they can be utterly, delightfully derivative – the only criteria is for their pick to be at least faintly relevant to people who might be interested in videogames.

My guest contributors this week are Sara Byrella, John M. Osborne and Carli Velocci. If you’d like to volunteer as a contributor for next week’s post, you can contact me on twitter @stbeirne. Now, for articles on ASML Let’s Plays, Alien: Isolation, and bad Final Fantasy fashion, on with the latest This Week We Read.

Sara Byrella, USA – Writer/Layabout; @umbyrella; sarsbyrella.tumblr.com

One of my most enjoyable, moving experiences this year has been Ice Water Games’ Eidolon. Apple Cider Mage explores the escapism she found in its sense of isolation and minimal investment in the player character’s physical being. Meanwhile, Jack de Quidt reflects on the process of coming to grips with its world and the many stories hidden within it, as well the narrative that emerged from his bewildered note-taking.

Emily Short briefly discusses Elegy for a Dead World, which expands upon the richness of de Quidt’s journal-scribbling trek through post-people Washington by asking players to write their own stories with minimal prompting and gorgeous, barren landscapes as their guide. She makes note of Elegy‘s potential limitations as well as the possibilities afforded by Dejobaan’s experimentation with narrative.

Lilith talks about the grimy, beautiful settings of her games, among them Crypt Worlds (referred to lovingly as “the piss game”), and how they came to be. Spurred on by anxieties not unlike those brought up in Apple Cider’s piece, she’s made a home for herself and her creations amid the dirty, unloved margins confining her throughout her life.

Janine Hawkins provides a primer on ASMR Let’s Plays and the ASMR phenomenon in general by engaging some of the scene’s participants. They share their thoughts on the stress-alleviating nature of these videos as well as the negative or confused responses some viewers have to their unorthodox contributions. Also remarked upon is the unprecedented array of video game media options now available.

John M. Osborne, American Expat living in Germany – freelance video editor and writer; @jmarquiso; co-creator of “Late to the Game”; Creator of reddit subreddits /r/cahiersduludica and /r/pocgaming, mod of /r/truegaming

Marshall Sandoval’s Cynicism, Recession, and the Resurgence of Cyberpunk on PopMatters take a look at the return of Cyberpunk as a popular setting in video games, especially indie titles, and makes the case that the current political and economic climate is responsible. Quotes from game devs like Brendon Chung (Quadrilateral Cowboy, Thirty Flights of Loving), and writers like Austin Walker tell the story why the poor, bottom rung hero against the evil corporate conspiracy is so popular.

Cameron Kunzelman takes a critical look at Destiny on The Cage is Worms, arguing that Destiny’s Raid is Interesting Because it’s a Game (whereas Destiny itself is more akin to a slot machine). This grabbed me personally as someone with a gambling compulsion – most ARPGs and Borderlands style shooters are off limits for me as a result. I’m more compelled to play than enjoying the play. Separating the Raid from the rest of Destiny highlights this issue.

On Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Graham Smith recalled his rewarding and exasperating experience bringing a loose guild together in It Takes a Village: Wurm Online and the Value of Tedium. He writes a great ode to teamwork, and how the game inspired it in the loose collection of players in the free server they played on. A server with its own society, history, and even mythology (a large statue of a legendary player character can be found on the island).

Patrick Keplick ponders the player’s role versus the artistic intent of the designer by looking at The Very, Very Large Black Bars of The Evil Within. Aspect ratio may appear to be a small technical detail, but the size of the frame is something in film that a cinematographer would tightly control. So the focus on the black bars themselves brought to my mind how VHS pan and scan would compromise artistic vision for filmmakers – why not game designers? Especially in an age where players ask for multiple display options.

On Eurogamer, Jeffrey Matulef argues that Walking is the New Shooting. He looks at Alien: Isolation not as just survival horror, but also a bold statement about exploration as storytelling in games.

On The Game Critique, Eric Swain tries to Define Gaming’s Arthouse in his Non Play Criticism series. Using Kyle Kallgren’s “Brows Held High” – a film criticism video channel – as a jumping off point, Swain argues that what gaming needs isn’t better criticism, but a better understanding of basic criticism.

Carli Velocci, USA – freelance writer; founder of postmortemmag.com; carlivelocci.wordpress.com; @revierypone

The horror genre is one of the best at conveying the subtle characteristics of mental illness and Daniel Link’s article at Topless Robot on Alien: Isolation captures that in a very straight-forward way. Not only does he talk about his anxiety disorder (and as a sufferer myself, I like to support those who, in a way, “come out” about their experiences), but it also talks about symptoms in terms of that horror and wraps them all together.

Gita Jackson once again does a great job being one of the few people to talk about fashion and games in the same article. Her latest at Paste Magazine does a close reading of Yuna in Final Fantasy X-2 and how her outfit transition from one game to the next might be problematic (as if Square Enix’s outfit choices have never been questionable before). Jackson uses humor and her knowledge of the fashion industry to craft a truly unique piece that raises questions about artist intent and short skirts.

One of the most infuriating complaints coming from the movement that must not be named is the idea of keeping politics out of games. To answer those who agree, it’s impossible to keep politics and personal experience out of games. You can either listen to me or read this piece by Krish Raghav over at the Arcade Review. Not only does it provide an extensive history into Singapore’s political sphere, but it also seeks to raise an important point about politics in games: even the smallest artistic additions can in themselves be political statements.

Stephen Beirne, Ireland – game critic; NormallyRascal.com; @stbeirnepatreon.com/stephenbeirne

I was gently struck by Charles Beckett’s short and sweet post about the importance of a piece of art to comment on the relationship between the audience (/reader/player/etc.) and the world around them. Beckett’s angle is since we live highly digitized lives the art we currently make and enjoy ought to reflect the impact technology continues to have on our… well, he doesn’t get into specifics, but I imagine he might mean our self-perceptions, our ability to communicate and form interpersonal connections, our adjusted concept of being and reality and time, and on and on…. and that art that fails to approach these crucial subject matters risks death.

On Shut Up and Sit Down, Brendan Caldwell’s review of Dog Eat Dog is a fantastic read for anyone interested in ludonarrative directed towards social critique, in this case to showcase how colonialism ingrains insidious power dynamics in the social sphere to degrade and reinstitute the very soul of a community. It’s probably obvious that I had a strong reaction to Caldwell’s write-up on a game about colonialism; he grew up in the North of Ireland and I in the south, so although his is a far more severe and present experience of British imperialism, much of what he relates about lost Irish heritage still applies in large parts of the Republic.

And lastly, Mattie Brice rebuked the community at large for paying attention to women only when they are victims of personal harassment or systemic prejudice, and seldom if ever demonstrating an interest in engaging with their art outside of capitalizing on it. Brice remarks on the reality TV aspect of heeding women in games as idols soon to become martyrs for the benefit of public entertainment (or, the bloodsport of seeing women used as frontline infantry while our community ‘progresses’ towards a feminist future). Certainly there is a deeply ingrained capitalistic current that sees women as little more than solutions to fulfil the market niche of ‘diversity’ in our community, an exploitative packaging and assimilation of their art and identities which marks the prevalent disregard for the work of women outside of activism. Brice recommends some ways we can cease to keep women and their work at arm’s length, and thereby fulfil our claims to welcome them into the fold as people, rather than as political pawns.