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Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #17

The role of motherhood in gaming.

Critical Distance is proud to bring to The New Statesman a weekly digest of its popular This Week in Videogame Blogging feature, which promotes the best, often little-known, incisive criticism and cultural commentary on interactive media. This week, we discuss the role of motherhood in the popular Dragon Age roleplaying series as well as politics of representation in Rust and Saints Row.

First off, in light of International Mothers’ Day, Jillian from FemHype has written a very good essay about motherhood, magic, and the monstrous feminine trope in the Dragon Age series. If you’re interested in more on the Dragon Age series, you may want to check our recent Critical Compilation of Dragon Age II.

Moving on to how games communicate a sense of space, over at Castle Couch, Oliver Bouchard describes how adventure games, Grim Fandango in particular, nurture the development of nostalgia with the design of their spaces.

By the time I was done, I knew the city and its many intricacies. I had exhausted every possible conversation option with all of the people that live there. I wandered around for hours solving puzzles without knowing how they would add to the main story. I was a resident like any other (although it’s possible I was the only one with a purpose). Suffice to say, I lived there.

In a similar vein, Miguel Penabella compares the similar cinematic and writing techniques in The Last of Us and the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers.

Stephen Beirne describes the famous long ladder sequence in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, in which players climb to a disembodied singer, as a moment of game-breaking clarity, one with analogues in a pair of Sherlock Holmes-themed games.

… Snake Eater’s ladder is wonderful in being perhaps the most subtle act of media-bending in any Metal Gear Solid, but which acts its magic through channels which are perfectly ordinary in nature. We see the past, the future, we become absorbed in the moment at the same time as we sail high up above in adoration of its dramatic structure.

Transitioning us from discussion of spaces to player representation, on PBS Game/Show, Jamin Warren discusses the ways that a player’s avatar and in-game behaviours influence the real world, specifically through race. In particular, Warren discusses the subject in light of Facepunch Studio’s recent decision to randomize avatar ethnicity in Rust.

On a similar thread, writing for Offworld, Aevee Bee describes the agency involved in controlling how her avatars make contact with others. Whether through dodging attacks or controlling the flow of a fighting game, Bee describes the pleasure and power in being the one who “controls the conditions of touch.”

Todd Harper uses Bee’s essay as a launching pad for one of his own. Harper discusses the bodies and movements in games that erase or diminish his own body, along with the ways he’s found to build himself in a game:

Perhaps because there is a strong note of aspiration. I didn’t make my Lady Boss [in Saints Row] to “reflect” me; I made her of something I wish I could be, and which was just close enough so that I could believe it wasn’t that far off.

Jillian from FemHype describes how games have influenced the perspectives on her body (content warning: discussion of eating disorders). Although games were there when she was too overwhelmed to socialize any other way, they kept their body standards:

In Second Life, the smaller and slimmer my avatar was, the more attention I’d receive. People (in this case, their avatars) would actually initiate verbal contact with the character I created—and it wasn’t to shame me! I was being acknowledged as a human being, which is kind of hilariously pitiful, since my assembled collection of pixels wasn’t human at all. At my lowest, I remember wishing that I, too, could be computer generated like the person-shaped avatar with decisions made by keystrokes.

Meanwhile, on Paste Magazine, Heather Alexandra argues that “Videogames Have a Pessimism Problem” that can only be solved by restoring a lost sense of heroism. Her diagnosis of the kinds of games published in the last decade doesn’t pull any punches:

Created works always reflect the times they are made in and we all contribute to the tone of our time. The American zeitgeist is dominated by hopelessness. How could it not be? Debt cripples our students, the people meant to protect and serve citizens are little more than militarized thugs and our politicians vote to restrict the rights of the marginalized. This hopelessness isn’t unique to America; there are problems everywhere. It’s global.

Finally, shifting us from videogames to physical games, the folks at Shut Up and Sit Down have taken Cards Against Humanity to task this week, detailing how its reliance upon insensitive humor makes it a poor ambassador to the growing indie board game community. From Paul Deen’s writeup:

In an age of greater awareness, where more and more people push for social change, this game is winking at you and telling you it’s okay to indulge those backward prejudices.

There is much more available in this week’s full roundup at Critical Distance! Tune in again next week and be sure to follow us on Twitter @critdistance for all the latest and greatest games writing from around the web. Critical Distance is a reader-supported publication. If you like what you see and want to help support this ongoing free content, consider pledging a small monthly donation to our Patreon.