Writing About Games
December 9, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

As the conversation about the state of games criticism continues, there is a site that acts as a platform for some of the best writing in the field by theorists, critics, and independent developers: Nightmare Mode dot net.

Nightmare Mode refers to a group of outsiders, insiders, aliens, starfighters, and the occasional human being who refuse to work within the marketing machine. Fuck that. We write thoughtfully, meticulously, critically, sometimes absurdly about games, their industry, and their surrounding culture.
Here are some recent posts from the last month or so, with a bit of annotated info:

Dot Matrix Story: Final Fantasy Legend, by Andrew Vanden Bossche -- Andrew writes about the place that Final Fantasy Legend (wiki, gameplay) held for him as a child visiting his relatives in California.

I Speak for the " ... ", by Allois Wittwer -- Wittwer examines the often maligned silent video game protagonist using the lens of Dragon Quest V (wiki, gameplay).

Borderlands 2 - An Extended Engagement, by alex -- Falling out of and then back in to love with Borderlands 2 (wiki, gameplay)

Downtime is disappearing in modern games. Is that really a good thing?, by Craig Bamford -- Bamford explores the change in pacing brought about by social and mobile gaming, leading to more activity and less 'down time'.

You Know What’s Gross? We Often Play Nice Guys™ In Games With Romance Options, by Kim Moss -- On the idea of kindness as a sexual currency that's found in many games. Male gaze and gaming recently on the Blue. And less recently.

What can we consider ‘negative space’ in games?, by Matthew Schanuel -- A exploration of the concept of 'ma' in game design.

Eating in a game should mean more than just food, by Rachel Helps -- Helps looks at how food can be used in games as more than just a stat boost (also explored well over at Magical Wasteland).

Romero's Wives, by Cara Ellison -- A poem about what it means to be a woman playing games and working in the industry (and more). A play on Kerouac's poem, hadda be playing on your jukebox. Similar topic recently on the Blue.

How would a plant love someone?, by Dennis Farr -- Farr examines sex, gender, and world building with Guild Wars 2 (wiki, gameplay) and the fantasy race of the Sylvari. A recent discussion about identity in gaming.

Breaking out of a self-centered gamer mentality., by Richard Clark -- Clark writes about the self-centered nature of gaming, and the harsh conflict of game-reality with real-reality, resolving with a story about To the Moon. Are video games dumb?

At the Intersection of Police Brutality and Vigilante Tourism in Games, by Ethan Gach -- On fascism, vigilante justice, and wish fulfillment, using Arkham City (wiki, gameplay) as a point of discussion.

What games teach us about guns vs real guns, by Bill Coberly -- A reflection on why the primary verb in so many games is to shoot one thing at another thing, and what this means for our conceptions of guns, violence, and embodiment in game-spaces. Referencing the sublime QWOP. Spec Ops: The Line as an attempt to address this in-game.

Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution, by Porpentine (previously and previously, as an aside I can't recommend the second previously enough) -- A beautiful love letter to interactive fiction, a tutorial, a guide, and a bibliography; specifically referencing the IF software Twine.

Games for adults, by Jonas Kryatzes -- An extended joke which reflects upon the role of narrative in games. See also. See also. See Also.

Gaming the System, by merritt kopas -- merritt looks at serious gaming by examining Dsy4ia, by Anna Anthropy. Dsy4ia is a beautiful game about the designer's experiences with being transgendered in modern society.

The depiction of religion in games is awful for non-religious and religious alike, by Jordan Rivas -- Depictions of religion in game-spaces.

Labyrinth of Someone Else’s Memory: Mother, by J Chastain (previously, and previously)-- "Existing within Mother’s world means embodying the image of someone else’s childhood, his stumbling steps into adolescence, the expectations that have been inscribed onto his brain. I’m someone for whom attempting to exist as a good heterosexual boy was rather self-destructive, and part of playing Mother made the deep inscriptions burnt into my own brain light up. It’s the promise, repeated here as I saw it repeated a thousand times elsewhere, that understanding heterosexual desire is a gateway into adulthood. It’s the absolute inevitability of and my perfect, effortless entitlement to the care and adoration of women." Referring to Mother (wiki, gameplay). Highly recommended.

Lost for words: new relationships and Journey, by Alan Williamson -- How words fail in describing the experience of game play. Referrs to Journey (wiki, gameplay)

Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2: ass2ass.gif, by Greg Petrovic -- On the fake morality of No Russian.

No Exit: How Games Can Change Us, by Mattie Brice -- Brice gives a wonderful analysis on the bleed between the real and the sim. Raph Koster expresses similar ideas. Maybe a bit about the games/art dichotomy.

No Exit: How Games Can Change UsHow our perception of space in games changes depending on our maps, by Line Hollis -- Using Morrowind (previously, previously, and previously) as a focal point, Hollis looks at the way that our perception of geography is shaped within game-space by both physical and digital artifacts.

Play is excavation: the search for game poetry, by Dylan Holmes -- "My premise while writing this book was to portray these games as being something other than the insipid and pointless rot-your-brain-run-your-eyes-waste-your-life-whydontcha entertainments that many of the adults of my youth saw them as, but as the works of art they truly are." Holmes examines the game as poetry, referencing the work of noted games scholar Ian Bogost (previously, previously and previously).

Sometimes games want you to think they’re critiquing violence, but instead they legitimize it, by Cameron Kunzelman -- Kunzelman writes about the 'epic win' of the ten billionth digital covenant death, as celebrated by Jane McGonical. Relates specifically to the strange internal logic of the new XCOM game.

Planting Seeds: A mobile game that supports Kenyan women, by Jill Schar -- On gameful design, as imagined by Jane McGonical, and gamification.

The Heart of Torchlight 2’s Darkness, by Dan Cox -- The troubling mechanic of progression through killing. Examined within the game-world of Torchlight 2 (wiki, gameplay).

Borderlands 2 might be funny, but it’s not a comedy, by Tom Auxier -- Auxier writes about genre: shooter, comedy, action movie, farce. Draws upon the hillarious game Tokyo Jungle.

In defense of old values: talking with Pid’s Kian Bashiri, by Fernando Cordeiro -- An interview with Pid's developer Kian Bashiri.

Dark Souls – the Hollowed Killer of Lordran (previously), by alex -- A narrative about the narrative of Dark Souls. Praise the Sun!

There are many more at Nightmare Mode.
posted by codacorolla (11 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

Wow codacorolla, great post links. Thanks.

I've been gaming since the days of pong and consider it a hobby like any other. Years ago in trying to explain games and my attraction to certain games to people I have ended up using clumsy descriptions relating them to being pieces of art and story that you immerse yourself in. I mostly would get blank stares or comments about games not being art because well.... 'it's a game' and that's just weird so I can appreciate what the article is saying about the lack of language to talk about them in such a way. They are artistic creations as far as I'm concerned. Art that you immerse yourself in and deserve to be approached in such a way in terms of types of analysis. Glad to see the questions and legitimacy of games as pieces of art evolving as games have.
posted by Jalliah at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2012

There is a ton of stuff to read here, but I'm past my bedtime. I read the article on Dragon Quest V, but I'm not sure the authors thesis that there is a connection between a silent protagonist and introverts has much merit.

[The main character] runs into nothing but trouble for his entire life but, even if he did speak his mind, nothing would change. Maybe he’s wise to recognize a stronger force of will and remain silent, maybe he recognizes the things that can’t change. Whining and self-loathing aren’t tolerated in society. You can only talk about your own experiences for so long before people get angry at you.

Maybe these kids of the silent protagonist should get off my lawn, but DQ V's protagonist seems to be silent only due to convention. He gets in trouble often but he marries happily (and you can chose to marry any of the three women you can court) and portraying the birth of your kids, and showing and playing the happy (and adventurous) family of the hero despite the dastardly acts of villains and so on was rather forward-looking back in 1992. I don't know why not talking to people while meeting a ton of them and spending all your time in an adventuring party of 3-4 counts as introvert behaviour. By the way, DQ V popularised the monster-collecting that Pokémon used wholesale and the remake is a great game.

Looking forward to reading the rest of the articles tomorrow.
posted by ersatz at 5:49 PM on December 9, 2012

Great post, the last link goes to page 32 of NM if I'm not mistaken though?
posted by picklenickle at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2012

The big advantage of the silent protagonist is that the user's character never has to leave user control to go into a pre-scripted sequence. I'll take Girdon Freeman coming off as a little aloof over watching cut scenes or dumb dialogue trees.
posted by Artw at 6:19 PM on December 9, 2012

picklenickle: There's no archive page for the blog (that I could find), so I linked to the last page to allow people to go through it in chronological order, if they wish.
posted by codacorolla at 6:27 PM on December 9, 2012

It's worth noting that NM rebooted recently and their focus has sharpened quite a bit from what the last pages convey. They don't post game news and reviews anymore, just essays.
posted by picklenickle at 6:36 PM on December 9, 2012

This is interesting, thanks. My current favorite games writer has to be Porpentine in RPS, seriously read this or this and not be charmed.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:37 PM on December 9, 2012

Okay seeing as I just downloaded evernote for the first time and came to the blue to find some stuff to save and read later... well, mission accomplished! Great post.

Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution, by Porpentine (previously and previously, as an aside I can't recommend the second previously enough) -- A beautiful love letter to interactive fiction, a tutorial, a guide, and a bibliography; specifically referencing the IF software Twine.

This article is great, part ode to interactive fiction and part call to action by those who've been marginalized from the role of 'Creator'.

And a million votes for Twine. Ten minutes after downloading it, I had an interactive fiction game that was restricted only by my imagination, and not by my ability to program. This just... does not happen. Ever.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 10:09 PM on December 9, 2012

Oooh, interesting post. Thanks, codacorolla!
posted by Harald74 at 12:41 AM on December 10, 2012

I am coming back in to say, thank you. I really appreciated and have been inspired by the articles I've read so far.
posted by wobh at 6:00 AM on December 11, 2012

Feels a bit like the Grantland of video games. Wonderful, thanks codacarolla.
posted by demagogue at 5:10 PM on December 15, 2012

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