This Week We Read: 02/11/14

Each week I ask a group of peers, colleagues and strangers to share with you some articles they read over the previous seven days, describing in their words what they hope you might get out of their recommended reading. 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 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 Untimely Gamer, Mark Filipowich and Ian Miles Cheong. 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 superficiality in Sunset Overdrive, unification in game analysis, and Anita Sarkeesian’s history with the hobby, on with the latest This Week We Read.

Untimely Gamer, an American academic currently living in the U.K and enjoying the beer here immensely. I’m just a video game hobbyist who is obnoxious on Twitter at @untimelygamer

This piece on Gamergate by Ken White of Popehat really divided my Twitter feed, with people both praising and hating it. For my part I think there are some very sound critiques of the social justice politics Gamergate is aping in this piece. I don’t always agree with White’s assessments of identity politics, but I think they’re valuable for showing how these politics are perceived outside of progressive circles.

Maddy Myers’s essay on why “the male gaze” is inadequate to describe Bayonetta 2 illustrates why she’s my go-to critic on issues of media representation. It’s a smart, well-read, and incisive critique of how “the male gaze” raises more problems than it solves. The second half of the essay, however, is not quite as strong as the opening. To my ears it takes some special pleading, even by Myers’s own arguments, to fit Bayonetta into a feminist mould.

Garret Martin’s review of Sunset Overdrive critiques the hollowness of certain corporate forms of rock and how this shallowness informs the equally hollow humor of the game. Includes the phrase “Hot Topicalypse,” which alone makes this review deserving of a Pulitzer.

Andy Baio crunches the numbers about Gamergate, and finds evidence that there’s very little overlap between Gamergate and its opponents. It also forms an important corrective to Newsweek’s own analysis of the data, as he finds the tweets with the hashtag are overwhelmingly negative (not “neutral,” as claimed by Newsweek).

This essay on kink Twine games by Jetta Rae Doublecakes eloquently describes the emotional needs that BDSM fulfills (sometimes, I would argue, more eloquently than even the games she covers). Rae’s prose is a joy to read by itself, and her analysis of one of the Twine games takes an unexpected turn when it is revealed she is dating the writer and searching for clues in her own Twine game to romance her.

Mark Filipowich, Canada – disappointment; bigtallwords@MarkFilipowich

The first thing I read this week was Mike Joffe’s reading of the castle in Castlevania:Symphony of the Night as a metaphor for the family dynamics between Dracula and his protagonising son, Alucard. It’s an insightful piece about a generation of videogames that is too quickly dismissed.

This week I’ve also been perusing the dusty halls of what may be my favourite games crit blogs, Medium Difficulty (full disclosure, I moonlit as a writer for them in 2013). Though the publication is now laid to rest, I encourage you to go back and take a look at the great writing featured during its 21 month run. You can start your trip down the rabbit hole, as I did, with this piece from the always brilliant Lana Polansky, arguing that any criticism that favours a game’s pieces over its effect as a whole is incomplete.

One game that is not a complete whole until everything is torn to pieces is Mortal Kombat. This series has a special place in my torn-out, still beating heart and I seem to be in good company based on Aoife Wilson’s retrospective of the series’s early history for Vice.

Related, The Ontological Geek invite Amsel von Spreckelsen of Madness and Play fame to discuss MK‘s fatalities and how they relate to bodily agency for their podcast. It’s a long one, but there’s a lot of great discussion from everyone involved.

Ian Miles Cheongwriter; gameranx.com; @stillgray

Chris Suellentrop’s sharp analysis of Gamergate in the New York Times shines a spotlight on the disheartening campaign that’s taken its toll on game critics, reviewers, and journalists in the industry. He points out that video games—an art form on the verge of mainstream acceptance—may have been dealt a serious blow due to the campaign.

Also in the New York Times, Anita Sarkeesian, popular feminist critic and maker of the Tropes vs. Women in Games series writes about her relationship with the video game medium and why she declines to identify as a “gamer.” Contrary to the view that games belong solely to those who identify as “gamers,” Sarkeesian argues that games belong to everyone and talks about what the future holds for the medium.

No stranger to the Gamergate fiasco, Arthur Chu reflects upon his identity as a geek and how he identifies with the anger demonstrated by supporters of the campaign on Salon. Chu relates his experiences to Felicia Day’s blog post, in which she described the personal consequences of the campaign and how they’ve affected her.

Wrapping up this week’s coverage of the Gamergate topic is a short but insightful piece by Chris Plante in The Verge, who argues that the movement’s agenda—or more clearly, the smokescreen of ‘ethics in game journalism’—is no longer convincing anyone.

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

Who Goes There?, a short novel by John W. Campbell, has absolutely nothing to do with videogames but I’m putting it here for two reasons. First, because it’s seasonal. Second, because it was the inspiration for the best horror movie in existence, John Carpenter’s The Thing, so is therefore doubly relevant to anything ever. Actually while we’re at it, check out Graeme Mason’s Eurogamer retrospective from last May where he chats to a couple of the devs of the 2002 licensed spin-off/sequel.

Sticking with horror, Eric Swain’s Non Play Criticism looked towards the paradox of horror as a pursued form of… we’ll say entertainment. Swain leaps off a Philosophy Bites podcast on the paradox of tragedy to call for richer collective interrogation of how we perceive and value horror in the medium of videogames.

Here’s a collection of short reviews by Emily Short on three different Twine games: Terror Above The Speedwell, Her Pound of Flesh, and Lights Out, Please. 

And Lindsey Joyce relates an idea of how AI in games might be best considered with the user experience in mind as proposed in ‘Schizophrenia and Narrative in Artificial Agents’ by Phoebe Sengers. As summarized by Joyce, Sengers writes that the plausibility of an AI is perceived via narrative cohesion in the contexts in which it operates, so the trick to making an AI seem believable to a player or audience is in perceiving the artificial agents’ actions as interrelated rather than isolated from one another. It’s a perspective shift from computational to dramatic consideration.

That’s all for this week. Don’t forget that I’ll be looking for contributors for next week’s This Week We Read (you can find me @stbeirne). Hope you enjoyed some of these articles and thanks for reading.

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