This Somewhat Weekly starts off with a conversation churning through game critics' barracks started by Michael Abbott's "Game's Aren't Clocks". Kate Cox takes Abbott's core issue and explores what he most likely wanted to avoid; "What are games? How can we define them?" "Win, Lose, or Fail" isn't there to be catchy, but to set up the dilemma this particular discourse has in defining what games are. Cox makes an interesting claim to center the concept of a game around success and failure states specifically, where others would muddle around in rules and game mechanics. I was glad to lend a hand in complicating her stance, which she deftly used to strengthen her argument to a point I find it hard to disagree (and I'm the first one out the room or in the middle of a brawl when it comes to definitions of any sort).
Line Hollis then joins in with another angle, looking at the player to help define the experience going on. In "Players are Planners," Hollis picks up on the player-determined aspect of Cox's article and runs with it in another direction entirely, defining a game by how a person interacts with it. The crux comes down to the capacity of an object to be malleable and allow the participant to change it and detect their changes. This will send the discourse bucking as game mechanics are the tools to mediate and prompt a player to plan, but this isn't the argument most ludologists would make. Definitely worth a read.
Speaking of definitions, Fraser Elliot wrote up a good piece on the somewhat known game in development, Spy Party. I'm including it because I hope for a reimagining of what multiplayer is and can do in games. The details are best explained in the article, but my optimism hopes for a more diversified multiplayer experience that doesn't rely on war tactical knowledge and aiming skill with a mouse or controller. We all have more skills than how to kill someone digitally, so I hope others take the cue from Spy Party and start creating more of those games!
Moving on to some game-specific criticism, The Border House has a great article up now by Denis Farr taking a critical look at 'ally' politics in Half-Life 2. "Anti-anticitizen One" frames the player's experience and Gordon Freeman's role as the ally to the socially oppressed, creating a great metaphor about a subject difficult to explain. Farr focuses on the story's aspects one may look over, away from "Gordon saving the world" to "Gordon helping Eli and Alyx save their world." Being a silent protagonist and MIA for so long, the world of Half-Life 2 isn't really Gordon's, though he gets the most credit and recognition for the success at the end. I suggest playing the game again with Farr's interpretation in mind, it's powerful.
While Gordon's hero status is spread to the rest of the cast, Alex Raymond tosses Dragon Age 2's Hawke's hero status altogether. "A fate that we deserve: Choice, Triumph, and All That Remains" taps into how the game removes the typical privileges a player has, like always saving the day, to create depth to the character drama. Many players are upset they cannot choose an option that will stop disaster, but this design decision is effective in shaking the core of player, making them feel something for the characters and events of the game because they weren't based on arbitrary decisions made by the player. Previously a strong critic of of Dragon Age 2, Raymond's perspective showed me how much I overlooked and took for granted; another piece to read before another replay.
There are many attempts to explain away Catherine's... problematic representation of gender and relationship, but I particularly liked David Carlton's personal blurb on feeling separated from Vincent and viewing the dissonance as an attempt to do the opposite of what most storytelling mediums want to do. Carlton describes in "catherine" a critique specifically aimed at Vincent that doesn't involve the player establishing empathy, which feels more honest than other critic's defenses of Catherine.
We'll look at some reactions that continue to happen in relation to Catherine that definitely fail to rationalize the gender politics to wrap up this weekly. Emily Short writes up a good summary of gender issues others have written about, but with a personal edge that makes it feel a little more real in "Analysis: Atlus' Catherine and Gender Stereotypes." It's a good read for those who haven't looked into the problems in the game, but I want to focus on the comments to the article, that I congratulate Short for suffering and handling well. In short, my reaction finds Catherine more of a trip-up than a success, because when the vast majority of games have critical gender issues, another game that uses gender stereotypes but doesn't do anything progressive with them fails to be a satire and tongue-in-cheek. Catherine would be more successful if video games didn't have its issues with gender, because the farce would be genuine and not rely on the tropes of a misogynist, heterocentric culture.
And that's about it; until next time, happy gaming!