How Game Criticism is like Cooking a Roast Chicken Dinner

Game Criticism Cooking Slide1

What follows is the rough script and a selection of the slides for a talk presented at the Eargoat 2 event, a meetup for creative types in the greater Dublin area, held on the 14th of November, 2015. This talk covers my opinions on game criticism as a creative medium and presents an overarching argument for criticism as a craft in and of itself, rather than merely a vassal of videogame development.

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Two Minute Game Crit – Metro: Last Light or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the World

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Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit, and I’m Stephen Beirne.

When we talk about a game’s first level, it’s usually to note it as an entry-point to the game’s mechanical design–how to move, what to collect and what to avoid.

Less often do we consider it in terms of narrative design, in a broader sense than just what we learn mechanically. This is what a first level does, as well – it introduces a world and a story which we have to understand and relate to, rather than merely operate in.

Look at Metro: Last Light.

At the start of the first level we’re woken from our bed by this happy chap, who quickly gives us some exposition and our first objective – “go to Point A”. The second he leaves we’re taken to the table to pick up our stuff, and another, different conversation kicks in.

The instinctive thing is to go look for who’s talking, and in any other game we’d be allowed to, but here you only gain control after he’s finished. Straight away this puts us off a bit, since it goes against the way we feel things should be.

Once we have control, it’s fun to spend a few minutes just skirting around the bedroom for some environmental storytelling, to get into our character’s head. See what kind of music he likes. Check out his guitar, to which the game responds…

[Footage of screen briefly brightening and the sound of distant chimes.]

Whatever that means.

So we leave the room and yet another conversation starts up with these two lads in the far corner, and at the same time a tutorial box opens. So which do we focus on?

Everywhere you go, there’s this constant overlapping of things begging for your attention. It’s in how you manage your resources, figure your way through a level, and just whenever you enter a new room.

This narrative noise, and our ability to wade through it, is a key dramatic point all throughout Metro. The story here is about how fear and cynicism have destroyed humanity, and how we can repair the damage by opening our hearts to everything around us.

We may not realise it at the time, but what we’re being taught here is to choose how we see the world of Metro from the onset. Is the clutter a source of hostility and frustration? Or are you willing to filter through it and find the sense within?

Video description:  Continue reading

Articles on Race and Ethnicity in Games from non-American Perspectives

Articles on race fron non-American perspectives

Below is a collection of articles, papers, videos, etc. that interrogate issues of race, ethnicity, colonialism, representation, and other related subjects in videogames from non-North American perspectives.

What is shown here is intended not as an all-encompassing list of such materials, but rather a jumping off point for those who wish to read and/or share alternative perspectives on a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of ‘race in games’.

Every link was submitted by individuals from various communities and disciplines. For the collection to grow, it needs your help. If you know of something in any language that may belong here, please leave a comment below with the author, title and link, and hopefully I will get around to incorporating it into the post soon after. If you’d prefer to send a recommendation through Twitter, you can reply to this tweet here.


Denis Farr (2012) ‘Papo & Yo: Monsters Inc.’ Gameranx

Sos Sosowski (2015) ‘The indigenous tribe of Witcher 3’,

Souvik Mukherjee (2014) ‘Playing Subaltern: Postcolonialism and Videogames’,  Meaningful Play conference, Michigan State University

Souvik Mukherjee (2013) ‘‘The Playing Fields of Empire’: Empire and Space in Videogames’, Games and Philosophy Conference, Bergen

Stephen Beirne (2015) ‘Irish Travellers and American Blindspots’, Normally Rascal

Tauriq Moosa (2015) ‘Colorblind: on the Witcher 3, Rust, and gaming’s race problem’, Polygon

Ulrich Schädler, Andrew Morris-Friedman (2003) ‘“Juden Raus!” (Jews Out!) – History’s most infamous board game’, Board Game Studies, vol 6

Various authors, Mark J. P. Wolf (editor) (2015) ‘Video Games Around the World’, The MIT Press

Vit Šisler (2008) ‘Digital Arabs’, European journal of Cultural Studies

Vit Šisler [Warrants another entry for their larger body of work, though too varied to list individually]


Sybille Lammes, Sébastien Martinez Barat, Johan Hoglund, Mehdi Derfoufi (2009) ‘Le gaming postcolonial : géopolitique du jeu vidéo’ [Collection], Poli

Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn’t speak

Embassytown: Before the humans came we didn't speak

Artwork by Crush

This piece is community funded. If you enjoyed this article, please support my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron. 

You should first know two things about China Miéville’s Embassytown. One: it has a pullquote on the front cover from Ursula K. Le Guin branding it as “a fully achieved work of art”. Two: the back cover summary so confused me that I fled to the nearest young adult fiction, which happened at the time to be Railsea, as I was cornered by a small army of Miévilles as if in ultimatum.

Keep those in mind when I say, to talk about the structure of Embassytown is to juggle sand. It’s a wonderful, fascinating, elusive beast, in part because of a thematic richness to which I can’t do justice here, and in part because of its structural metacommentary on left-wing politics in colonial states, to which I can. It’s mainly elusive because of what the end of Embassytown says about the start of Embassytown. And since this is a book interested in describing the breach of a world-shattering status quo change, it’s elusive because in the fuzzy emotional space of newfound self-awareness, my mind four hundred pages ago is estranged to my mind now. Continue reading

Thoughts on nearby covers

Thoughts on some covers - Alien Trilogy

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One of my most vivid videogame-related childhood memories is this. In July of 1996, my brother, the middle one, had done our mam no favours by asking for a copy of Alien Trilogy for his birthday. Despite the game having launched four months earlier, which in modern terms would have made it a hundred years old by July, nowhere in our area had any copies in stock. By which I mean, none of the three local video rental shops had it in stock, because this was Ireland at a time when the commercial exchange of games was a novel quirk and not a viable business angle.

Packed into the car were we for a rare trip to The Tallaght Square, famous in our minds for reason number one of being the only remotely accessible shopping centre in the greater Dublin area at a time before Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley. Reason number two for its fame was that it was pyramidal, not square, and this for us, pre-internet, constituted a joke whose humour was always worth revisiting.

So it was immediately a bit of a journey just to find this game, and when we did recover a copy in The Square, it felt all the more of a treasure. I’m sure there were other errands on that trip but my memory tells me it was the only thing we came away with. My brothers and I passed the box around for the long drive home, poring over the manual and delighting in anticipation of what the box cover suggested, foreboding the Alien’s imminent pounce. Once at home we put it on and certainly thrilled in the experience, but now I suspect I didn’t enjoy it half as much I did its prelude.

Perhaps it’s because back then we had fewer games and an over-abundance of free time that we would so patiently gorge on a game’s extra material like aesthetes at an art museum. Now, as I have no lack of the former but absolute lack of the latter, I seldom consciously dwell on a game’s cover as intensely as I used to. While I still variably note my appreciation for or dislike of any given box art, I don’t study what I enjoy about it and savour the anticipation or place it in context, beyond exceptional circumstances. I miss that.

So, with my limited vocabulary, I’d like to take a spell to put that sort of mindfulness to a platoon of games stationed at hand beside me, them dust-coated sentries what have kept me company these past years of working and writing. Continue reading