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27 April 2015

Critical Distance: This Week in Videogame Blogging #15

Introducing Mortal Kombat’s first openly gay character.

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 writing behind notoriously difficult games Bloodborne and Dark Souls as well as Mortal Kombat’s first openly gay character, Kung Jin.

The critical excitement about Bloodborne is still in full force this week, as well as interest in its lineage of other devilishly hard games by From Software, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. First up, Brad Gallaway writes about Bloodborne‘s storytelling, as does Reid McCarter. Meanwhile, Corey Milne departs from the newest entry to discuss place in Demon Souls and Dark Souls.

Mechanics and narrative have been another hot topic this week. Over at Pop Matters, G. Christopher Williams writes about narrative and storytelling in The Charnel House, pointing out the debt it owes to writers like John Barth and House of Leaves’s Mark Z. Danielewski. In a somewhat similar vein, Ben Chapman applies Stephen King’s adage to avoid adverbs to video games, exploring the ways in which video game dialogue choices sometimes eschew nuance at the expense of more impacting and interesting moments.

At Offworld, Leigh Alexander picks up a similar thread to look at the effects of typography in Kentucky Route Zero. And Mattie Brice looks at interactivity in games and tarot through the lens of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, pointing out how comics’ understanding of “closure”:

[I]s the kind of interactivity that is shared by all mediums, where the piece requires imagination, for people to fill in themselves in the blanks knowingly or not. I’m starting to think that play is games’ version of closure, if it isn’t closure in and of itself.

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Back at Offworld, Gita Jackson writes movingly about games and failure, musing: “I wonder how seeing yourself die — because your avatar is you, in a sense — changes how we see our failures in our own life.”

Meanwhile, Nick Hanford at Higher Level Gamer writes about identity tourism and Never Alone, drawing connections between high school community service trips and the game’s critical reception, raising important issues about how we engage with diversity in games. He writes:

I’m afraid that Never Alone is like that weeklong trip I took to Pine Ridge. I feel like I’ve done a few hours of work and have gone back to my comforts, but I’m not sure about what comes next– if anything. I fear that like the tattoo that I have, I, or other players, will quickly allow the experience of this game to be reduced down to objects that we can easily pick up and examine, removed from their context. I fear that other players will look at it and boil down the Iñupiat to scrimshaw and caribou-skin clothes. I fear this because I’ve personally done it before, albeit with different experiences and outcomes.

Along similar lines, Todd Harper complicates the reveal that Kung Jin in Mortal Combat X is gay, asking questions about how representation in games is a complicated affair. He writes, “The point, though, is to keep trying. To acknowledge forward steps and course correct after backwards ones. To keep forward momentum going and not be satisfied.”

At Vice, Soha Kareem writes about altgames, taking care to point out particular works by diverse creators, as well as the new forms of journalism surrounding them. There’s also been some interesting writing about religion in games this week: Grayson at Video Game Heart writes about games’ potential to encompass spirituality, and over at Game Church, Christopher Hutton provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the history of Christian videogames.

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.