Hang All The Critics: Towards Useful Video Game Writing

Jonathan McCalmont @ 18-01-2012

 

  1. The Problem

It does not take a genius to realise that the world of video game reviewing is completely and utterly fucked. Their reputations sullied by an endless cavalcade of scandal and stupidity, video game reviewers routinely find themselves in the impossible position of having to balance the financial requirements of their publishers with the (frequently unreasonable) expectations of their audience, all the while striving to be completely objective, irreproachably fair, amusingly articulate and uncommonly insightful. Frankly, nobody could satisfy all of these demands at once — and, even if they could, I doubt that anyone would care. The age of the critic has now well and truly passed. Continue reading “Hang All The Critics: Towards Useful Video Game Writing”


Demon’s Souls and the Meaning and Import of Virtual Death

Jonathan McCalmont @ 09-11-2011

 

  1. Bad is Good and Good is Bad

The problem with video game writing is that it tends to be written by fans of video games. The corruption and stupidity of games journalism are not isolated quirks of the system but symptoms of a flawed approach to the medium. Fans, by their nature, approach their choice of medium wanting to fall in love: Good games are filled with good things; bad games are filled with bad things. Love the good things. Hate the bad things.

While I think that this approach to art can be intensely rewarding, I also think that it has its weaknesses and the most obvious weakness is a failure to recognise that bad things can sometimes be good.  They can be good because these bad and un-fun things make the good bits glow that much brighter, and because even painful and unpleasant experiences have meaning and importance. This is a column about the role of death in video games and how a more sophisticated appreciation of one of the least fun aspects of the gaming experience might unlock the door to a world of new themes and experiences. Continue reading “Demon’s Souls and the Meaning and Import of Virtual Death”


Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story: High School, Privacy and Blended Identity

Jonathan McCalmont @ 25-05-2011

Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story is the follow-up to Christine Love’s critically acclaimed indie game Digital: A Love Story. Much like its author’s previous work, Don’t Take It Personally is a game devoted to exploring the nature of online identity. However, while Digital expressed a delicately muted nostalgia for a fictionalised past in which cyberspace allowed Mind to detach itself from Body, Don’t Take it Personally expresses a similarly ambivalent attitude to a notional future in which privacy has become an archaic and outmoded concept. Continue reading “Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story: High School, Privacy and Blended Identity”


The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism

Jonathan McCalmont @ 30-03-2011

At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see. Surplus capital and surplus labour exist side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together in the midst of immense human suffering and unmet needs. In the midsummer of 2009 one third of the capital equipment in the United States stood idle, while some 17 per cent of the workforce were either unemployed, enforced part-timers or ‘discouraged’ workers. What could be more irrational than that? – David Harvey The Enigma of Capital (2010)

In my previous column, I cast an eye over the different ways in which strategy games depict the world and how these distorted visions of reality mirror the distortions that affect people when they become part of large institutions, such as governments and corporations. In that column, I discussed strategy games such as Civilization V (2010) and Europa Universalis III (2007) and god games such as Populous (1989) but I omitted to mention games that set out the simulate what it is like to run a business. Continue reading “The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism”


Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths

Jonathan McCalmont @ 02-03-2011

0. A Tendentious History of Strategy Games Leading Up To A Question

All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.

– Chuck Palahniuk

Some video games require greater imaginative leaps than others. For example, games like Pong (1972) and Space Invaders (1978) were so graphically primitive that the gap between the things on the screen and the things they were supposed to represent could only be crossed with the use of a rocket-cycle; this collection of squares over here is an alien. That collection of squares over there is Earth’s last line of defence. The little squares moving up and down are particle weapons… or possibly missiles… or shoeboxes filled with explosive. It was difficult to tell. Continue reading “Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths”


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