This Week I Read – The High Kings Edition

So named because I wrote this post while listening to the Irish ballad group.

After all the talk of GTAV‘s problems last week, you’d think I might have run out of juice, but no. This week, I’ve a few fantastic articles to share regarding the backlash to criticism of Rockstar’s popular title, starting with Anjin Anhut on How To not Suck At Game Design, laying it out nice and clearly how GTAV‘s supposed satirical tone clashes with the interest of its target audience. It’s a beautiful piece, there’s so much worthy of quoting but I’ll just drop you this:

hownottosuckatgamedesignquote01

Which is eloquent as hell. Even ignoring the audacity of these sort of apologists, what exactly do they expect to be permissible for critiquing that hits this sweet spot? Why do they think anybody can trust them to decide at what point that is? How come we never see them criticizing games within that mythical sweet spot? In truth, it’s just goalposts flying all over the place.

Anhut’s message is striking in its simplicity: if GTAV were really satirizing misogyny (etc.), it would be touting feminism and you wouldn’t see so many fans decrying feminism in their defence of the game against critics. Its fans wouldn’t be erupting in misogynistic tirades, flat out. And yet.

On The Border House, Katherine Cross further addressed comment culture’s slant against anyone outside the mainstream, like writers who don’t have the ‘correct’ gender or ethnicity. It’s no secret that any even remotely controversial opinion is much better received online if the speaker is male (and white, and so on). She bounces this against Pop Science’s decision to put a lid on comment sections.

I’d like to take one quoted comment within that article, though, and expand upon it a wee bit, bringing it back to GTAV: “You just dont put an african american to review a game about KKK, he will get his feelings involved“. As far as attempts go at exonerating Rockstar, it’s not very clever to directly compare them to the KKK. It’s not a flattering association. But it also blatantly admits that there are problems in GTAV – severe problems, discrimination and the like that you know people will lash out against… so why is this commenter balking at criticism of the game that it’s discriminatory? They accept that the criticism is valid and well founded, they just don’t want to see it because how dare you, I enjoyed this game immensely. Sadly, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from games culture, it’s that you’re not allowed criticize things that someone enjoyed immensely.

Changing gears now, Mat Jones interviewed Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone fame for Gameranx, where they discussed stealth and game design. I admit I don’t know much about Bithell’s design philosophies but if this interview is worth anything he’s bloody on the ball. Most AAA games of recent years which feature stealth as an option do so as an alternative to the games’ core systems – generally combat. Stealth is far more about navigation, about environments as puzzles with behavioural patterns forming the hazards. In action games stealth is an option, but in stealth games combat is the option. The difference of priority demands entirely different game design.

The pair rightly bring up Dishonored as an example of stealth as an alternative to combat. I only completed Dishonored this week past and I’ve a thing or two to share on that point. I’ll leave it to an article, though, barring to say this: Jones and Bithell are dead right, but I think Dishonored is interesting in how stealth is the morally good alternative in a horrible, desolate world. The lack of options available to you for the stealth approach, the inefficiencies of stealth compared to combat, make for an interesting reading of the game’s cosmology. I’ll elaborate elsewhere – keep an eye on my twitter for a link.

So, since I finished it, I felt inclined to revisit some critical discussion on the game. From last October on The Mary Sue, Becky Chambers’ write-up on gender roles in Dishonored (spoilers there) is certainly worth a read. It’s clever in how it presents oppression since it’s quite conscious in the predominance of sexism and classism in Dunwall, and includes these as forces that further befoul the city’s diminishing citizens. Very preposterous that in the midst of a ferocious plague and as natural disaster sieges the city, man-made nastiness would further degrade the lives of thousands, you’d think, and yet it rings true throughout history and to the present day. Not that Dishonored is wholly without fault in its dealings with gender – there are a fair few things in the game still stuck in my craw which I’ll not get into for keeping with the spirit of this post – but it is at least partly conscious in its dealings with oppression.

Next up is Mark Filipowich on Medium Difficulty, advocating for the discussion on narrative in games to be inclusive of the way games most commonly convey narrative: through mechanics.  Ostensibly Filipowich is singing the praises of ludonarrative (by which I mean the narrative that comes from gameplay) and calls upon a broad range of games as examples, which is a worthwhile endeavour. (I’d beg to differ on his reading of The Last of Us but, you know, another time, perhaps.)

Which brings us nicely to this piece by Jamie Madigan, and I didn’t even intend that! On Psychology of Games, Madigan explains how colour coding points of interest works to catch our attention and is a very neat way to design games. Not to be contrary since it doesn’t undermine his point there at all, but I had no idea TLOU used the colour yellow this way. I’m pretty sure when Joel remarked on that yellow landmark, I had no bloody idea what he was talking about and ended up just confused and narky. Madigan’s salient message stands, regardless.

We’ll wrap up with this entry on Groping The Elephant’s tumblr, where Justin Keverne shares some notes on attitudes on fundamental aspects to the medium of videogames. He’s non-specific but I can’t help substituting in “interactivity” as the fundamental component in question, since it’s all to often bandied as the medium’s core strength, or unique selling point, or what makes it art, and on and on. As if no other medium requires its audience to engage with the performance. As if boardgames never existed. Like Keverne, I think getting so enamoured in what you perceive to be fundamental to the medium empowers you to miss the forest for the trees. You base your assumptions of a medium on trends and tradition.

Games

I’ve been dreadful for finding good, free games for ye lately because I’ve mostly been watching Avatar: the Last Airbender and Star Trek TNG. I’d hoped to fix that this week but, well, here we are. I have nothing.

If you have any suggestions for some cool indie games you’d like me to try out or some articles you’d like to share, please pop a link to me on twitter (@ByronicM) or leave a comment below.

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