This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Mattie Brice on topics including silent protagonists, co-op horror, the role of frustration in game design, and more.
The sun over the Critical Distance virtual offices was blotted by clouds and naked branches scratched at the windows. I was alone in the room, listening to the howling wind that matched my intentions, full access to the site at my fingertips. When Kris Ligman is away, Mattie Brice gets to play. LiveJournal open, itís time for This Week in Videogame Blogging.
05:28 PM February 8th, 2013
Itís the first day of the Mattie take-over, and Iím not quite sure what my first move should be to dethrone the powers that be and make Critical Distance mine. Reading Robert Yangís meditation on Cardboard Computer’s Limits & Demonstrations, how some more conceptual games resist being played, and playersí relationship with cheating. Maybe I should make a post that defies being read?
Herein lies the problem- when you leave out the personal, all thatís left is the status quo. Because that Ďstandardí consists of the values of a particular type of culture associated with the hegemonic, privileged class, there is actually something personal and subjective going on all the time. Thus, by leaving out the particular experiences of the silenced and marginalized, it bars anyone from revealing the bias that exists within this supposed stoically neutral discourse. It takes away the vocal chords of a person in a room full of shouting.
I wonder, did anyone sit down to consider their own understanding of God before making these games? After all, these two examples can be viewed as commentaries on the nature and necessity of religion: in From Dust the Breath is created by the Men to aid them in their quest for survival amidst an incredibly hostile world, and Black & Whiteís opening sequence shows the god of that game being called into being by the fervent prayers of humans in need. In neither case is the god pre-existing, never claimed to be a creator Ė they are invented by societies which feel the need for them. The obvious insinuation is that is that people create gods, rather than the other way around, to benefit themselves. From these parallel beginnings the two games part ways and the nature of the human/deity relationship branches.
So frustration is not a universal commodity. It’s okay in some games, let’s say, but it’s not necessarily okay in all of them. Indeed, some studios have developed clever ways to sidestep frustration. The Easy mode is the obvious one, and it has become prevalent now that games are a mass entertainment medium. Most narrative adventures will offer an option for players, ‘who just want to experience the story’. However, I can’t help but wonder if this is a dereliction of duty on their part Ė if you have produced a game with a win state, there should be a way of challenging inexperienced players without spoon-feeding them narrative sequences in between one-hit kills and dozens of lobotomised enemies.
My heart wants to sing like how critics want games to tell stories. Nick Dinicola at good olí PopMatters explains storytelling decisions in action games, akin to past lovers who ignore me at Starbucks but are friendly over a cheap bottle of wine:
[Binary Domainís] Dan is a very plain [person] when you think about it. Thereís not much to him beyond the white, rugged male soldier cliche, but because the game encourages us to forge multiple personas for him depending on the group, he comes out in the end feeling like a well rounded, fully realized person. Not an archetype.
Puzzles, as it happens, are one of the things that distinguishes games from many forms of narrative art. Not that those narrative arts donít contain puzzles. It is, rather, a difference in kind. Both Agatha Christie and Professor Layton present crime and punishment as a kind of puzzle, but itís doubtful that a novelization of a game like Antichamber will ever be able to achieve more than an awkward approximation. Thatís something to celebrate, if you ask me; in the Venn diagram of games and art, itís the critically ignored spaces that donít overlap which interest me most.
12:00 AM February 17th, 2013
This might be over for now, but I will be back again. Send me leads of subversive content through the siteís email submission form or mention a piece to Critical Distanceís Twitter. Make sure to use code words, so Kris doesnít catch on to my plan.