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20 April 2015

Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #14

The rise of pastoral games.

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 look at the rising trend of pastoral settings in games like Harvest Moon as well as the politics of photography in Pokemon Snap.

First, Erik Bigras explores the epistemological boundaries around our concept of a “good” videogame, while at Kill Screen, Dillon Baker examines the rising trend of games about rural, pastoral life. Relatedly, Sarah Nixon takes a closer look at one such game with a pastoral setting, Harvest Moon: Story of Seasons, and its romance system.

On game development site Gamasutra, novelist Moira Katson documents their experience writing a videogame for the first time:

As I started to write the character, issues became plain: not only did I need to make a character arc largely without internal dialogue, but I needed to show the character in juxtaposition to the world without a great deal of external dialogue, either. This was an idea I had simply never faced before. The world would be shown as it was, not as my character perceived it, and my character’s main actions would need to be comprehensible, while allowing for the characters to feel they had an influence on the story. Oh, crap, would be a good assessment—if not quite a verbatim transcript—of my internal dialogue at this juncture.

Stephen Beirne, on his Two Minute Game Crit, examines how Ace Attorney presents clashes of ideologies, while Peter Christiansen at Play the Past asks what it means to design ethical systems in “historical” games. Elsewhere, on First Person Scholar, Alexandra Orlando and Betsy Brey examine the politics of shooting a photo in Pokemon Snap.

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The game privileges shots in which the subject’s size takes up about a third of the frame, the subject is in the centre of the frame, and is facing the camera. Some poses are encouraged over others […]The fact that [Pokemon] Snap gamifies basic photography skills and teaches its players how to create a single kind of photographic image indicates a single acceptable or desirable kind of photography. Not only does it teach just one style, but it also discourages learning others in the game space. This can be viewed as a kind of photographic colonialism—the limitation to a single viewpoint at the expense and extinction of others by a controlling power outside of the immediate environment. […] Instead, Snap prefers its players to produce particular kinds of photos in a particular way.

Lulu Blue writes a brief critique of the superficiality of common videogame language. And finally, Heather Alexandra writes a Defense of Lore in games, explorating alternatives ways of communicating a world.

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.