From Software's Bloodborne.
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Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #16

Gaming's literary roots.

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 regional development scenes of Saudi Arabia and Crimea and explore the literary roots of From Software’s gothic horror Bloodborne.

Let's begin with a short video report by Al Jazeera on Saudi Arabia's Prince Fahad al Saud, whose initiative, New Arab Media, aims to support the development and distribution of games for a growing, billion-dollar Saudi audience. In particular, al Saud seeks to encourage more games geared toward Saudi girls.

By contrast, Skoryh Tatyana takes to Kotaku to discuss how economic sanctions and structural upheaval in Russian-occupied Crimea has affected the games industry, and for that matter the communications industry, in the region. Tatyana writes that despite relative peace in the region, the sanctions and bureaucratic changes have been trouble for developers especially. One subject, an IT professional and developer named Ignat, lamented:

The only option now is either to move to continental Russia or to Ukraine, and by officially registering there we can revive our internet business. In fact, going by what I've heard and read amongst my friends and on forums, about 1,000 developers have already left Crimea because of these sanctions.

Meanwhile, and on a happier note in the Netherlands, a new English-language podcast hosted by Erwin Vogelaar brings together interviews from game-lovers from all walks of life, including developer Adriel Wallick, a local writer and even a catholic priest in one very well-executed radio package. Listen to Vogelaar's dulcet tones on The Life We Play here.

At FemHype, a new comic by Kiva Bay expresses a moving, personal argument for how classism and misogyny intersect in gaming. Her story reveals how those who lack the funds to participate in this relatively expensive hobby tend to be socially excluded, no matter how much they may love the form.

At Not Your Mama's Gamer, Sarah Nixon discusses the double-bind of self-representation that female streamers often have to grapple with in "The Female Streamer's Dilemma", while Jennifer McVeigh's "Let's Clear the Air: A Closer Look at the Sexist Games=Sexist Gamers Study" describes the dubious research methods employed in a German study which some say demonstrates how games don't make gamers sexist. McVeigh notes that the study, by the researchers' own admission, doesn't actually prove very much at all, writing:

While this research is interesting, it is difficult to assess whether the study offers any new information regarding sexist video games and their effects. The study suggests that future research be conducted on more specific genres and subgenres to determine if any correlation between video games and sexism exist and ultimately admits that the research is limited due to location specificity. Certainly, the study does not offer quantifiable proof that games do not cultivate first order attitudes nor does it disprove Anita Sarkeesian’s claims regarding video games. All this study really reveals is that we should shift our focus from investigating the belief that games cause certain behaviors and instead concentrate on the attitudes that allow and promote sexism in games.

Over at Kill Screen, David Chandler traces a literary history between Bloodborne and Stoker's Dracula, remarking in which ways the decadent, gothic death-sex-fest by From Software emulates the thematic preoccupations found in Stoker's decadent, gothic death-sex-fest.

Finally, at Offworld, Leigh Alexander pens a heartfelt apology for Silent Hill, mourning the death of an era of Japanese games marked by the departure of Hideo Kojima. Alexander revisits Silent Hill 2 to see if the moody, abstract, deeply symbolic and elusive horror game still "held up." She poetically recounts:

But somehow it was better and more beautiful. Though as uncomfortable to play through as a belly full of battery acid, it was somehow graceful in its age. Its rattling cages, its nauseating architecture, inhuman shapes. My radio hissing as a silent executioner in a red metal pyramid mask followed me down an apartment building’s fire stairs. My flashlight throwing a headless dress form into sharp relief, my wife Mary’s clothes still on it. The way I ran, with purpose, up the broad carpeted steps of a fateful hotel, almost to her room, only to suddenly come up against a rusty gate, the sound of my own name murmured urgently, sepulchral, from beyond it.

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.

 

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Edinburgh in the time of Harry Potter - growing up in a city that became famous for a book

At first, JK Rowling was considered a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. 

In an Edinburgh playground, circa 1998, I found myself excluded from one of the world’s first Harry Potter cliques. My best friend Sophie had a copy of a book with a title which seemed indecipherable to me, but she insisted it was so good she couldn’t possibly let me read it. Instead, she and the other owner of a book huddled together in corners of our concrete, high-walled playground. I was not invited.

Exclusion worked. Somehow I procured a copy of this book, rather sceptically read the praise on the cover, and spent the next day avoiding all company in order to finish it. After my initiation into the small-but-growing clique, I read the second book, still in hardback.

Edinburgh at that time was something of a backwater. Although it still had the same atmospheric skyline, with the castle dominating the city, the Scottish Parliament was yet to open, and the Scottish banks were still hatching their global domination plans. The most famous author of the moment was Irvine Welsh, whose book Trainspotting chronicled a heroin epidemic.

In this city, JK Rowling was still considered to be a local author done good, rather than fiction’s future megastar. She gave talks in the Edinburgh Book Festival, a string of tents in the posh West End Charlotte Square. By the time I saw her (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, hardback edition, 1999), she had graduated from the tepee to the big tent reserved for authors like Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen. At the end we queued up for the book signing, and she told me she liked my purple dungarees.

At that time, there were no films, and what the characters should look and sound like was a constant playground debate. Another member of the Harry Potter clique I spoke to, Sally*, remembers how excited she was that “she did the same voice for Hagrid that my mum did when she was reading it to me”.

About the same time, a rumour spread around school so incredible it took a while to establish it was true. JK Rowling was moving to the street where some of our Harry Potter clique lived. We started taking detours for the privilege of scurrying past the grand Victorian house on the corner, with its mail box and security keypad. The mail box in particular became a focus of our imagination. Sophie and I laboured away on a Harry Potter board game which – we fervently believed – would one day be ready to post.

Gradually, though, it was not just ten-year-olds peeping through the gate. The adults had read Harry Potter by now. Journalists were caught raking through the bins.

Sally recalls the change. “It was exciting [after she first moved in], but as it was just after the first book it wasn’t as much of a big deal as it soon became,” she recalls. “Then it just felt a little bizarre that people would go on tours to try and get a glimpse of her house.

“It just felt like an ordinary area of town with ordinary people and it made me realise the price that comes with fame.”

Edinburgh, too, began to change. As teenagers (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003) we liked to gather at the Elephant House cafe, on the bohemian George IV Bridge. We knew it was one of the cafes JK Rowling had written in, but we also liked its round wooden tables, and its bagels, and the fact you got one of the hundreds of miniature elephants that decorated the café if your bagel was late. It became harder and harder to get a seat.

We scoffed at the tourists. Still, we were proud that Harry Potter had put our city on the map. “As I grew older, it was fun to think of her writing the books in local cafes and just being an ordinary person living in Edinburgh with a great imagination,” Sally says. As for me, it was my trump card during long summers spent with bored Canadian teenagers, who had not heard and did not care about anything else relating to my teenage life in Scotland.

The last in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published in July 2007, a month after I left high school. Not long after that, I left Edinburgh as well. The financial crash the following year stunned the city, and exiled graduates like me. I fell out the habit of reading fiction for fun. JK Rowling moved to a house on the outskirts of Edinburgh, ringed by 50 foot hedges. The Scottish independence referendum divided my friends and family. On Twitter, Rowling, firmly pro-union, was a target for cybernats.

Then, two years ago, I discovered there is another Harry Potter city – Porto. As in Edinburgh, medieval passageways wind past stacked old houses, and the sea is never far away. JK Rowling lived here between 1991 and 1993, during her short-lived marriage, and drafted the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the university district, students wear black, ragged gowns, and the fantastical wooden carvings of the Livraria Lello bookshop is tipped to be the inspiration for some of the aesthetic Rowling applies to the books.

I don’t know whether it did or not. But it made me realise that no city can possess an author, and not only because she could afford to any part of the globe at whim. Standing in the bookshop and watching the students drift by, I could imagine myself in some corner of the Harry Potter world. And simultaneously, perhaps, some tourists queueing for a table at the Elephant House were doing the same.

*Name has been changed

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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