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This Week In Video Game Criticism: From  DayZ  to rape culture
This Week In Video Game Criticism: From DayZ to rape culture
June 5, 2012 | By Kris Ligman

June 5, 2012 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Console/PC, Design



[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the charm of Arma II's popular zombie mod DayZ, and discussions about rape culture in games.]

With E3 upon us, it's time once again to take steady aim and shoot a bullet straight through the heart of what drives us to write about these games of ours. It's This Week in Video Game Criticism!

Let's start out on a high note. Leigh Alexander profiles the Kickstarter-facilitated reunion of graphical adventure veterans Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe. Drew Toal introduces us to the curious house rules of cheating at Scrabble for charity. And Kill Screen artist Daniel Purvis delivers a self-reflection on getting out of and back into gaming.

But many authors elected this week to also get right into the guts of things. Eric Schwarz declares Diablo III an abusive relationship while Josh Bycer presents us with a breakdown of the attributes of bad game design. Combining the two themes in a tale of "Vicodin Visions," Grantland's Tom Bissell performs a ludonarrative dissection of Max Payne 3:
"Ludonarrative dissonance, a term first coined by the game designer Clint Hocking, arises whenever a video game's fiction says one thing and its gameplay says an opposite thing. Some designers and critics regard ludonarrative dissonance as a core problem in modern game design. Max Payne 3, quite possibly the most ludonarratively dissonant video game ever made, amounts to 12 and a half hours of game fiction and game action throwing empty champagne bottles at each other."
Sounds quite pleasant!

On themes of games and virtual spaces, Robert Yang suggests reality underserves the history we "remember" through games:
"Most tourists don't say anything critical out of reverence, but the French have chosen to mar their version of Omaha Beach with a really awful metal sculpture that permanently scars the shore and ruins the subtle relationship between the original landing monument and the land. [...] It's just there, stuck in the sand, like another German beach obstacle that exists solely to be in the way. Well, it's supposed to evoke flames to symbolize youth or something, but its odd height leaves it just barely over human scale yet much shorter than a monumental scale — so it's a monument that requires a nearby plaque, poorly typeset, to explain itself and give it the monumentality that it still doesn't have and will never have.

Clearly the "real world" has failed Omaha Beach. It's up to video games to give it space."
Speaking of grandeur of and interactions with spaces, much has been made of survivalist ARMA II mod DayZ. Our favorite Sneaky Bastards pinned down the game's charm thusly:
"Despite its player-driven stealth gameplay, DayZ is not an emergent game. Emergence is something defined by the interaction of systems, whereas the ones that govern DayZ are as basic as can be. It goes beyond emergence, appealing to and being a reflection of raw human behaviour."
Quintin Smith, in a piece for Eurogamer which echoes his memorable Rock, Paper, Shotgun series on Russian cult hit Pathologic, also attests to the game's allure through the utter brutality of its play. If you're hungry for more like I am but can't brave the currently overcrowded servers, James Dalzell provides another engrossing tale of his play experience, and blogger J Wilbur has set up Day Z Diary to serially deliver the chronicle of his game in novel form.

From the extreme hardships of the zombie apocalypse to a more overarching treatment on player action in games, Dan Olson furnishes us with this great video essay on that old "are games art?" hobby horse, asserting that not only is the (sometimes overwhelming) potential for failure not unique to games, it is in fact integral to communication and media. And Roger Travis returns to the subject of player choice in Mass Effect, saying:
"The very large differences in the ways players of Mass Effect have viewed the way choice works in the trilogy deserve attention from a practomimetic perspective first because they represent critical perspectives worth refining. Second, and more importantly, however, those differences demand attention because of their affective nature, in light of what I would call the fundamental relationship in practomime between form and affect."
On the subject of Journey, Nathan Hardisty suggests that "What Journey does is introduce a computer into the most purest of human experiences. The incredible irony is that the word 'connection' now has two connotations. I think Journey is about this connection, about engineering the relationship." Writing for Edge, Brendan Keogh defines Journey and other recent independent releases as "walking games" where "a new generation of developers is asking what a videogame can be when such definitions aren't just ignored, but consciously resisted."

Patricia Hernandez (who, like Keogh, features heavily this week) gives us a retrospective on Purple Moon and the Girl Games movement, while Michael Abbott looks to film history to draw connections between the shooter and the Western:
"In 1959, 26 Westerns aired each week during prime-time. In March of that year, eight of the top ten shows were Westerns. […] So what happens when 1959 ends? Again, history could prove prophetic. The second wave of Western filmmakers (Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood) turned our deep familiarity with the genre in on itself, addressing existential questions and examining the nature of violence. These films were radical departures from the Hollywood formula, not because they rejected the familiar settings or the guns or the hero/villain dichotomy, but because they made these the very subjects of their scrutiny."
(The following section bears trigger warnings for discussion of rape, misogyny, violence toward women, and the inclusion of ableist and sexist language.)

On this note, the subject of the game industry responding to its own conventions, we're brought to what was unquestionably the leading topic of the week.

You may have heard a thing or two about Hitman: Absolution's notorious new trailer, in which the game's protagonist takes on a squad of hypersexualized nun-hooker-assassins (…or something). Alex of The Border House has to hand an excellent primer and link roundup on the subject, the entirety of which is definitely worth reading. Of particular note are Keza MacDonald's response on IGN, Brendan Keogh's "Quit Pretending There Isn't a Videogame Rape Culture", and Patricia Hernandez's personal account coming face to face with the rape culture of online gaming.

To add to Alex's already impressive list, I would also like to direct your attention to Brendan Keogh's follow-up to his Critical Damage post and the attention it received from this… shall we say, ill-advised Kill Screen piece by Michael Thomsen. Also of interest is Gaming as Women's wundergeek's documentation on the portrayal of rape and violence against women across geek media.

Less on the subject of Hitman and more on pulled Kickstarter project Tentacle Bento, Medium Difficulty's Adam Maresca calls the discussion surrounding the game a "Pandora's Lunchbox" of questionable priorities:
"The fuss is minimal when award-winning Pakistani student filmmakers are denied visas for depicting the bloody truths of "drone warfare". But get in Tentacle Bento's way, and you have one of the figureheads of "gamer culture" taking up the sword because of that one time he read that falsely attributed Voltaire quote and got it in his brain that all ideas are of equal value."
In further response to the topic and especially pieces like Thomsen's, Blake of The Border House calls direct attention to the consumption of sexist culture:
"I want people to stop giving money to companies that make first-person participatory hate speech. If they do so anyway, I am going to judge them for that individually. It baffles me that we might want government regulation, because I don't think it's unreasonable to expect people to not do things like this in public without having anyone tell them they have to. It's basic empathy here.

There may always be some population that would like to play this sort of game, but it's not that hard to make it not worth the huge budget that went into this game. As an industry, we don't have to spend millions to cater to assholes. Chances are, all it would take to get people to stop doing stuff like this is to stop giving them positive feedback for doing stuff like this! I am disappointed that it makes economic sense for this game to be advertised with this video. Apparently, holding out a giant poster saying "Our Game Hypersexualizes Women And Then Lets The Player Brutally Kill Them, Which He (because he is the same straight white male protagonist as almost always) Will Enjoy Because He Is Scared Of Agency Among People He Might Like To Have Sex With" is a winning strategy. The least I can do is point out that I don't think we should be validating that world view."
Writing for Nightmare Mode, Skyler Moss echoes the sentiment of developer and consumer responsibility in his critique of transphobia in major Atlus games:
"Both gamers and developers are responsible for the rather backwards nature of games today. Developers have an obligation to help progress move forward by releasing games that are better in this respect. Fans need to be held accountable for their purchases. Between the used games market and game rental services, there's very little excuse for knowingly supporting games that hold the medium back."
Finally on the subject, while in no way denying "the stupid shit" endemic of mainstream games, Gus Mastrapa suggests they should be kept around, if for just one reason:
"As repugnant and harmful as you find this stuff, try to look at Lollipop Chainsaw and Hitman as you would a blind, poisonous and altogether hideous cave frog who can only breathe the toxic fumes of a dank, sunless cave. As gross and useless as that species may seem, it probably serves some small purpose in the grand scheme. Don't hide your revulsion, go ahead and upchuck your salad. But don't crush those vile creatures under your boot. Wouldn't it be nice if those slimy little amphibians could live in their dark havens and go about their poisonous business without biting and infecting all the nice people up on the surface?"
(End of trigger warning section.)

While I don't have much to ease the sting of that last collection of quotes, I do have a couple cute curios for you to cap off the week: Dave Riller posts on the Team Fortress 2 blog with some interesting in-house design sketches for the game's "Gorge" map, and via Cory Doctorow we have the making of a perfect Minecraft-themed wedding. Awww. The world can't be such a bad place if it includes that, can it?

That concludes our links for the week! As a final note, I'll be hitting the E3 show floor myself this coming week along with my good friend and newly-minted Critical Distance event photographer, Jennifer Roy. Yes, we have one of those now! I'm not entirely sure what sort of treasures we'll be bringing back for you next week, but I would expect a lot of great low-light exposures. It's dark in that expo hall, you know. And loud.

Join us again next week for more of the best, most interesting, and most unique content from the world of game blogging. In the meantime, be sure to shoot us………. your article recommendations, that is, via Twitter or email!


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