11 bit studio's survival game This War of Mine.
Show Hide image

Critical Distance: This week in videogame blogging #4

Do games romanticise disasters?

Critical Distance is proud to bring to the New Statesman a new 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 doomed scenarios and disasters romanticized by games and finding better board games for your children than Monopoly.

Maddy Myers examined our penchant for romanticising disaster. Douglas F Warrick followed strategy games to the end of the world. Ian Bogost warned that algorithm worship puts us in a computational theocracy. And Matthew S Burns stared into the desolate endgame universe of Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame.

But it was Ridiculous Fishing developer Rami Ismail who gave the week its closing mic drop, with a healthy dose of bleak optimism for the present and future of games: "We’re in a creative industry. Of all people, we should know the way we get better isn’t through celebrating our successes, but by reflecting on our failures."

Deep in her home laboratory, Mattie Brice infused wine with tea in an effort to get us to make playfully and play makefully:

I feel like, in an effort to expand the DIY philosophy, we need to see video games, board games, whatever, as few of many objects we play with, and it’s the play we’re after to design. So, I want to let people know there are more objects to create, and things that you might already create everyday.

Meanwhile, Olivier Roeder drove the little silver car past Go, to recommend better board games for kids than Monopoly, as suggested by data.

Clearly, Monopoly can teach kids some bracing lessons about the risk of personal financial ruin. But we can do much better.

What makes a good game? Good games keep players, however young, engaged – and you’re not engaged in Monopoly if you’re bankrupt. Good games also require meaningful action and decision-making – something lacking from Candy Land or Snakes and Ladders – rather than merely blind luck. Games are fun, games engage and games teach. So, which ones do it best?

Javy Gwaltney released a disability and gaming resource list. Thomas McMullan mulled over the everyday lives of videogame characters. Holly Green looked at the dark side of how peers, players and NPCs can influence behaviour in games and art, and S R Holiwell shared an expansive and deeply personal inspection “to talk about our experiences is to talk about the ghosts of feelings, because sometimes it’s worth keeping the spirit alive”.

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.

Show Hide image

How the radio stations reacted to Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature inspired a bewildering gamut of radio responses. At first, proof of his talent was abundantly forthcoming, Andy Kershaw yelling down the line for World at One from a motorway services on the M6 within ­moments of the announcement. (“I can’t understand why they didn’t give this to him 41 years ago!”)

However, a full six days after Talk Radio excitedly reported the event on its home page (“a pivotal part of the cultural revolution of the 1960s”), the online feature has yet to attract a single comment. That’s zero talk. For its part, Radio 1 was too absorbed by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards to mention the proclamation on Newsbeat, though Heart FM firmly quoted the chair of the English faculty at Oxford (“The Tennyson of our time”), and pencil-suckingly dissected lyrics (“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’/ Up the road . . .”).

Is it poetry? Is it literature? You could tell it was doing everybody’s head in. But when, on Radio 4’s Front Row, Billy Bragg praised Dylan for “bringing a literary and poetic thread into pop music”, the argument sounded terribly old.

The whole battle about Dylan being as great a poet as Tennyson is a hangover from an ancient battle, from a time when it actually had to be pointed out that this pop-music stuff can be brilliant and clever. A time when boring people battled for respect and prestige for an obvious genius. Over on Radio 2, Mark Goodier cheerfully played “Tangled Up in Blue” (“Major, major prize for Bob today. If that isn’t a decent excuse to play a song, I don’t know what is”). But by Sunday, on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, the gloves were off and guests were declaring that they couldn’t stand Dylan’s voice (cliché, pathetic).

By Monday Simon Armitage was saying that Dylan’s lyrics had no more sophistication than something composed by a child. Is it poetry? Is it literature? Well, it kind of is. But it kind of isn’t. And it doesn’t matter very much, except to the likes of Dylan – and only a long, long time ago. Now he hardly requires the approbation. The Nobel Committee has given the prize to the one writer in the world who doesn’t need it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood