Community Making

World of Warcraft Warlock

Catherine Thériault guest posts her thoughts on The Belle Jar about the limitations and possibilities of videogame communities. Thériault’s article neither apologizes nor glosses over the problems found in gaming communities but it urges those unfamiliar with games to give them—or rather the people who play them—a chance. In her own words:

What you don’t hear about on the news are the average people who play video games. They have families, jobs, and lives outside of the game. I have a job. I go to college. I have a successful relationship. I also have a level 100 warlock that I use to kill in-game monsters and sometimes other players who have signed up for a fight against me.

On Cart Life

Cart Life everything will be fine

Carolyn Petit pens a brief and personal reflection on how Cart Life reflects the instability and anxiety of living pay check to pay check. This is the kind of thing I don’t want to intrude on too much so I’ll just leave you with a hearty recommendation that you give it a read and reflect on things for a few minutes or more.

Calling Reinforcements

Mortal Kombat Sub-Zero fatality

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.

Silence is Golden

Golden Sun

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.

A Long View

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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.

Retr-oid-vania

Axiom Verge flamethrower

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.

Science. Bad.

Trinity box art

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.

The Land of the Rising Sun on The Emerald Isle

folklore pictureFriends, 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.

Dressed for Success

KOTOR2On 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.

No Janey Come Lately

mass effect 3 commander jane shepardGiven 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.