Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #8

Lara Croft, feminism and riot grrrl.

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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 look back on the semiotics of the original Sony PlayStation controller and look for a future beyond the capitalist construct of the “gamer”.

Let's begin with the intricacies of mechanics and controls. As part of Kill Screen's week on the first PlayStation, David Shimomura explores the semiotics of the design behind the PlayStation's controller. Shimomura writes that what Teiyu Goto, the designer of the original controller "didn’t realize was that while he had ultimate reign of the symbols themselves he did not have ultimate sanction over the meanings that others would draw from them." Shimomura also looks at the cultural context of the buttons and how they did and didn't translate to American audiences.

Relatedly, over at Paste, Katherine Cross discusses the button-pressing we love to hate, the quick-time event,or QTE. Looking beyond Call of Duty's cringe-worthy "Press F to Pay Respects," Cross considers QTEs in a more far-reaching and generous light:

Simply put, at their best, quick time events are meant to blur the line between cinematic and gameplay to maintain the involvement of the player. They can be seen as a form of experiential integration designed to simulate involvement in a particular moment of the avatar’s story. The input device, be it a keyboard, controller, a mouse, or a mobile phone, is used to its fullest extent to provide some kind of sensation that simulates what you see on screen

[...] 

But this simulation of physical sensation is, of course, an ideal which many QTEs spectacularly fail to reach, often simply reducing QTEs to basic reflex challenges.

Games can let us be new people or explore different parts of ourselves. Heather O at FemHype looks at the relationship between videogames, daily stress, and PTSD, exploring the role that simulated combat has played in her life as a disabled veteran. She links to several studies on this topic that are sure to be interesting to anyone who thinks about the ramifications of games as oftentimes-violent roleplaying experiences.

In a broader look at change, Owen Grieve highlights capitalism's influence on changes in the games industry and what it means for the "gamer" identity. This exhaustive and far-reaching exploration covers creators, players, journalists, and the myriad forces that bring us to where we are today and where we might go in the future. Here's a snapshot of one of the many topics he covers:

But now, more than 30 years later, and in spite of the mainstream cultural acceptance of games in general, the majority of people are still put off by the kind of wilful masochism of traditional videogames. There's a huge amount of commerical (sic) and cultural potential in exploring alternative game concepts.

[...]

But along with the celebration of acceptance and diversity, it does also create a wrinkle of frustration for some of us who grew up with traditional games: As more and more generations of people grow up surrounded by games, shouldn't the market for 'games for gamers' become stronger and more stable?

To return to Kill Screen, this week Chris Priestman unpacked the development of Lara Croft alongside the changing face of feminism in the '90s. I was surprised to learn how the intent of her creator was affected by cultural and political forces to create the paradigmatic figure we all know today.

Lastly, author N.K. Jemisin writes eloquently about making race matter in art, including in videogames, beyond simple nods to diversity. She discusses Vivienne in Dragon Age: Inquisition, pointing out that:

Vivienne is affiliated with many groups but few of them seem to have contributed anything to who she’s become. She’s the only playable black woman seen in the entire trilogy of games so far, and she is cultureless, rootless, and quintessentially raceless.

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.