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23 March 2015

Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #11

The punk scene of game making.

By Critical Distance

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 take a look at debut publication Offworld – geared toward readers outside traditional videogame markets – and discuss the historical and political underpinnings of Folklore, perhaps the only major game release to be set in Ireland.

We start with Boing Boing’s recently re-launched games arm, Offworld, where Zoe Quinn is talking about altgames, the punk scene of game making. Elsewhere on the same publication, Gita Jackson has penned a feature which serves – in some ways – as a mission statement for the site: games are for everyone, including and perhaps particularly those who fall outside the traditional marketing demographics of young straight men.

A case in point, yet a third piece from Offworld this past week finds AM Cosmos offering a wonderfully diverse primer on Japanese-style romance games, particularly those geared toward women and gay men. This is a genre that is steadily gaining traction in the West and of which you’ll probably hear a lot more soon.

On Normally Rascal, Irishman Stephen Beirne provides perhaps the world’s only in-depth analysis of Folklore, a 2007 adventure game by Japanese developer Game Republic, a title distinguished by being one of few to ever be set in Ireland. The game, which remains fairly obscure to this day, takes place chiefly within the real Irish village of Doolin and a ‘Faery Realm’ based on an amalgamation of local mythology – which Beirne in turn interprets as a complicated commentary on Ireland’s own history.

[T]his is the core cosmology of Folklore’s Ireland. In the warring, competing factioned realms we meander through facets of our world which signify legitimate strands in our communal narrative—the transition from a romanticized Faery Realm to a wartorn battlefield to an underwater Other shows a deeply conflicted nature, fraught by all these different self-impressions of Irish identity. Just as the Endless Corridor symbolizes a recent Ireland devastated by betrayal of the Catholic Church, as we move away from the stranglehold of the institution we simultaneously distance ourselves from our own prior heritage.

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The beauty of games criticism is that it often opens the door to a wide variety of analytical approaches, like the above. Switching gears to a different kind of analysis, for the faith-minded, this essay by Christopher Howell over on Fare Forward offers a compelling reading of The Last of Us from a Judeo-Christian theological perspective. We recommend giving it a look.

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Finally, approaching faith in games from a different tack, Troy Goodfellow looks at how the spread of religion is modeled in Rod Humble’s recent strategy game, Cults and Daggers:

[T]he more I think on it, the more I think that Cults and Daggers is not about faith at all. It might be about religion, but it’s really about fear. […] [E]veryone is out to destroy you and your community of believers unless you can get to them first. You can blaspheme against local gods and then pin the blame on a rival cult. You can go into deep cover, only emerging to murder a persuasive enemy preacher. You can invoke prayers that will transform your ministers into agents of chaos. You build temples, suck up to nobles for protection and count on the hope of the people to carry you into the next age.

In many ways, it is a very paranoid game.

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.