This Week We Read: 09/11/14

Well folks, 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 of perspective or they can be utterly, delightfully derivative – the only criteria is that they found it interesting enough to recommend to you.

In previous weeks 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. My hope in outlining such a loose demand was to encourage people to contribute (and read) outside of our usual tiny corner of the world, in order to advance an interdisciplinary model of game criticism curation.

From this week onwards I’m completely dropping 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. (I do enough of that in my own writing.)

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 Zolani Stewart, Jess Hyland and Dom Peppiatt. 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 exploring sculpture as an artform, the self-imposed indie dev caricature, and sound design in Dark Souls, on with the latest This Week We Read.


Zolani Stewart, Canada – Games and Art critic, Founding Editor of The Arcade Review, @Fengxii

Last Week, the Abstract Critical twitter account linked a pdf of the April 1969 Issue of the Metropolitatian Museum of Art Bulletin, and in it is a short and sweet piece of writing on the sculptures and paintings of Jules Olitski. Dissatisfied with the limitations of painting, Olitski used sculpture to explore the foundations of color and surface, and the relationships within color and shape, or what Kenworth Moffett calls “shaped surface.” It’s an engaging read, and a nice gateway for anyone new to criticism on abstract sculpture. And it even helps my own thinking on videogames and their relationship to abstraction and abstract art.

Exteunt Magazine is my current fix for great criticism on theatre and performance art. One of my favourites is Catherine Love’s really expertful review of “An Enemy of The People,” where she explores the show’s own political contradictions, and how they reflect the almost ironic struggle between the intellectual dissatisfaction with capitalist culture and the middle class desires formed by that culture.

At Ricochet, Canada’s newest independent Left publication, Andrea Houston writes a *crucial* piece on the racism that was rampant during Toronto’s Election Campaigns, an issue mostly overshadowed by Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual abuse case.

And lastly, there have been some debates in the black intellectual blogosphere about the term “politically black” and its uses. Here is Nathan Richards arguing caution for the term, claiming that its use has been a tool for non-white non-black scholars to gain credibility in ethnic studies off the backs of black scholars who have less opportunity, and responding is the blog Native Species on how these claims are unfounded, and the assumption of identities trying to climb over others plays into cynical perspectives on identity politics. Obviously I appreciate these kinds of nuanced debates on racial identity/politics that go beyond what I tend to read in the U.S left writing. Here identity is acknowledged as more of a complex, nuanced space than it is a strict grid of identities that operate under strict understandings of how we think power works. It was somewhat refreshing reading it, so I encourage anyone interested to take a look.

Jess Hyland, UK – character artist; @floofyscorp;

Cliff Harris’s description of the young, hipstery ‘indie game developer’ stereotype made me squirm a bit, but only because it’s so familiar. He’s raising an interesting point – are indies really as diverse as we like to think they are? Are we missing out on potentially valuable contributors to the indie games space just because they don’t fit the profile, because they aren’t accessible enough?

Have you ever come across a piece of fan-musings that paper over the disappointing elements of a work in a way that just makes you really smile? The total absence of dwarf women in Tolkien’s writings is something that always felt wrong to me, but these fans building their own interesting reasonings for it brightened my day right up.

I’m fairly sure almost everyone on Earth is sick to the back teeth of GamerGate by now, but this long, slightly rambling essay by Film Crit Hulk (which you may want to translate into sentence case with this tool) is heartfelt and somehow brimming with empathy for almost everyone ensnarled in the controversy.

A three-part article by Tim Schneider which is unusual, to me at least, in comparing trends in videogame art to those in fine art. Having never encountered my medium being taken quite so seriously before, I was delighted to read about the debate, both then and now, over the goal of visual fidelity versus aesthetic appeal. History repeats itself, in pixels as in paint.

Dom Peppiatt, England – games journalist – games™, SciFi Now;, @dompeppiatt

John Hopson – a triple-A game design veteran and lead researcher for Bungie – writes about Behavioural Game Design back in 2001: an interesting read when you consider the majority of addictive qualities mentioned have been wrangled to fit into Bungie’s Destiny, over a decade later. A concise and clear breakdown of how developers see their audiences psychologically, and relevant in relation to how Bungie has managed to hook over 9.5 million players on its newest MMO-FPS hybrid.

Nissa Campbell gives a rundown of Red’s personal arc (Transistor) in Finding Her Voice, eloquently deconstructing what it is for a games writer to tinker with self-awareness and metafiction for a protagonist in a game that otherwise plays its narrative straight. Observed with a feminist slant and – if you want to read it a certain way – gaming’s obsession with the power of the phallic icon.

I also happened upon David Canela’s The Sound Of Dark Souls – a reflection on how the sound design/musical direction in From’s seminal action-RPG emphasizes the game’s structure. Describing how a binary musical skeleton and seemingly random rebellions against its own aural rules allows the developer to create an unsetting kind of dread you can’t put your finger on at first. Worth a read for anyone interested in psychogeography, in real or virtual worlds.

That wraps it up for the latest TWWR, folks. Once again, if you’d like to volunteer as a contributor in next week’s post give me a shout on twitter @stbeirne. Thanks for reading and have a good week.




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