On her blog, Geek Essays, Jenni Goodchild writes a geek essay explaining the concept of reinforcement in media. When someone says that violence or attitudes are reinforced by the media, they aren’t saying that Mortal Kombat will cause someone to pull someone’s head off, rather that Mortal Kombat has certain attitudes about violence that reinforces attitudes found in real life. It’s an important distinction that Goodchild summarizes effectively in a very readable essay. Worth a bookmark.
Devon Carter muses on the silent protagonist trope in RPGs and wonders if it’s time for our roleplaying heroes to speak up a little. While Carter discusses what silence contributes to storytelling, ultimately the silent protagonist feels artificially separated from the world they’re trying to save:”Silence should be an event, not a character trait, unless it is using the character’s muteness wisely and not as an excuse to neglect their characterization.”
I’d like to counter with a piece by Kevin Dickinson from a few years ago, which argues that silent protagonists are not blank slates, their communication just exists outside of spoken language. Dickinson’s approach to understanding the silent protagonist is to take cue from the ways they reveal characterization beyond language.
There are more than these two sides, of course, and whether or not the silent protagonist works in a given game or not is another matter entirely. But the silent protagonist is a narrative trope unique to games, one worth teasing apart a little. I hope writers keep exploring this topic.
Wai Yan Tang has been so kind as to summarize and review the findings of a study by Johannes Breuer of the University of Cologne. Breuer’s research—co-authored by Ruth Festl, Thorsten Quandt and GGW featured Rachel Kowert—explores the long-term relationship between general videogame playing and the development of sexist attitudes and finds that sexist attitudes remain stable over the course of the three-year study. That said, Tang reminds the reader that this is a broad study, not a specific one, and that there are a number of limitations to bear in mind before declaring these findings as gospel:
IMO, this study is analogous of taking photographs from a tall skyscraper down into the streets at three different time periods. You get a beautiful view of a lot of things, but not very clear if you try to focus on a single thing. This means we need a high resolution camera focusing on the most relevant aspects for sexist attitudes.
Still, it’s a worthwhile read if you’re interested in the formal study of psychology and if you’re interested about where the conversation stands right now.
In the future all our words will be portmanteaus. Jed Pressgrove, perhaps one of the more scathing reviewers out there, has recently turned his attention to the NES-era inspired Axiom Verge, teasing apart not only the game itself, but its genre and its conventions. It’s not a ringing endorsement nor a brutal takedown of anything, rather it’s a look into the complex successes and failings of how a game works the past into the present.
Anybody looking to get sucked down a particularly fascinating rabbit hole, I recommend this piece by games historian Jimmy Maher which teases apart the cold war anxiety expressed in the 1986 adventure game, Trinity. It’s a great read for any history enthusiast but particularly those interested in the Second World War and the development of super weapons. Very troubling stuff.
And for those wondering where I ripped off the title of this post, I recommend the surrealist nightmare comic, The Manhattan Projects, an alternate history series that also deals with weaponized science.
Friends, Stephen Beirne has penned one of my favourite articles of the year so far. Beirne, an Irishman, unpacks Folklore, a Japanese RPG based on Irish mythology and geography. Beirne discusses how the game handles and mishandles his native land while teasing out how it feels to see his country portrayed with uncommon respect and interest. The article is thoughtful and funny, snarky but not mean-spirited, personal but easily applicable. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in seeing cultural cross-pollination and a great piece of personal videogame criticism.
On his personal blog, Sub Specie, Oscar Strik contemplates why he hasn’t returned to a playthrough of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. First, he explains why he loves the game, then why he hates it. Strik concludes that his ability to place himself inside the game through roleplaying and personalizing his avatar with different dressup options keeps the game in the back of his mind even while he wishes the combat and exploration could perform itself. It’s a personal response to a game that doesn’t completely gel and Strik’s piece examines the diverging but totally valid ways to play.
Given rumors of a new Mass Effect floating around, Tor has reposted an article from Liz Bourke’s column, Sleeps With Monsters, about how the series normalizes women heroism through its player-created hero. You can especially tell how good the article is because I made it past the obligatory complaints about the trilogy’s ending, which was perfectly fine, by the way.
Over at the ever eclectic Overthinking It, Richard Rosenbaum overthinks Hearthstone as a “third space,” a sociological phenomenon that people use outside of home and work spaces to connect to one another. Rosenbaum makes some compelling connections and uses the game to describe how complicated our understanding of “space” has become in the digital age.
In a 15-part retrospective of 2014, Haywire Magazine has gathered a long list of games writers, including yours truly, to pinpoint some of the outstanding titles released last year. Although it seems like a daunting list at first, each description hardly spans a few hundred words, and it’s a great starting point for those looking for a primer on what they might have missed in 2014 or for those looking for a second take on their favourite games of last year. While the list is no more exhaustive than it is exhausting, it’s a fun and positive look at the year that was and a decent measuring stick against what 2015 has to offer.