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.

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