A WEEK IN GEEK: Before things get started, D. talks about becoming mildly internet famous for about a day (the social media accounts of his favorite band, Twisted Sister, shared art he made of each band member). For those wondering, here’s the scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in which Twisted Sister appears:
INDIE ACCOLADES: Andrew and D. talk about the world of independent creation––mostly games, mostly video games––and how it works in the face of the big corporate franchises discussed for the past few weeks.
WEEK IN GEEK: While still playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Andrew tries to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) while D. gets excited by the Lovecraftian undertones found in Get Out.
THE FORCE IS…EXPENSIVE?: With the hotly anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront II released recently, with it came a lot of controversy. It stands at the apex of a recent trend toward big-budget titles adopting monetizing tactics more commonly found in free-to-play mobile games, this time in the form of blind boxes aka loot boxes. Andrew and D. dive into this controversy and try to find the middle ground.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew gets through the first episode of season 2 of Netflix’s Stranger Things and has LOTS of opinions––not about the show, but about streaming in general. Dan succumbs to weakness and plays the Deadpool video game (while simultaneously playing the much better––but much more intense––Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus).
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel looks at DC Comics’ retrospective of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios, Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years, and is completely underwhelmed by their effort while Andrew ponders the considerate world-building of Bethesda games as he dives back into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.
And, for those that are dying to know the reference, here is the cover to Elder Scrolls: Arena (all apologies):
Mass Effect: Andromeda stands as one of the most derided games of this generation. It’s to the point that Bioware said publicly that it’s no longer supporting it a mere five months after the game’s release. While I think the game is, indeed, very different from the previous Mass Effect games and, without a doubt, needed a few more drafts with the script, it was by no means a terrible game. If separated from the Mass Effect context––and when considered with all of its animation/texture/gameplay patches––it suffers from the deadliest of video game diseases: it ended up being a game that was just “fine.” Nothing stellar, nothing terrible, things that make it forgettable in the sea of games to get either quite excited about or quite angry about.
Though I may be biased because I enjoyed the game (aware of all of its flaws), I think Park’s ostensible defense of the game makes a very strong point not only about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but also about criticism in general. For those participating in the conversation around video games, both professional and amateur (though this line is blurring more than ever), a general agreement seems to be that to be “critical” means to look for what’s bad and point it out. I’ll grant some leeway because a lot of professional critics are playing these games during abbreviated periods for review purposes, so the bad stuff stands out even more. With a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda, it has the added burden of being a new entry in a highly venerated video game series, so expectations for the game were set a bit higher than other games. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have qualities worth discussing, remembering, and celebrating, and part of that, at least as Park argues, is because of gaming criticism’s relative youth:
We don’t yet have a critical structure that supports or fosters an appreciation of the misapplication of game language that causes “messiness.” And this is a major problem.
With that in mind, there is a trend away from more traditional reviews into a more personal or culturally critical look at a game. These are more critic-friendly because they don’t really need to be ready by the game’s release (although such timeliness is beneficial for SEO purposes), and such investigations allow the critic to step back from the game and take a more holistic approach to judging a game. Whether Mass Effect: Andromeda deserves or will even get that chance is up to history. At the very least, I hope future games––be they new installments in venerated franchises or new IPs––get the chance to be examined with a genuinely critical eye rather than just a score disguised as a conversation.
Instead of an article, this is an episode from the generally fantastic critical podcast, Bullet Points, where (at least) three games journalists record their thoughts of a video game they all played to write about and talk about for their website. Each episode is accompanied by articles written by the contributors and they’re always very thoughtful and insightful.
This episode, where they look back on Epic Games’ Gears of War (the first installment), is an absolute disaster in the best possible way. In the hour-and-a-quarter episode, they spend about fifteen minutes total discussing the game and, instead, slam critical views together like rams over a ewe. The conversation devolves into an argument about how to read the game, critically. One wants to look at the mechanics and render judgment based on those while another wants to look at the game’s place in a historical context. And, in this conversation, the twain never meet.
Throughout the entire fight, I found myself talking out loud as I listened while walking my dog one morning, hoping my mediation would travel through my headphones, up the RSS feed, and back through time so they could actually realize what it was they were fighting about. While it seemed like they were disagreeing about the quality of the game, the discourse on display was actually a fundamental lack of understanding when it comes to critical analysis. There is no one thing called “analysis” and that’s what everybody does. We have developed different ways to look at the same thing––be it Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Formalism, Feminism, Marxism, and so on. Look at something like Catcher in the Rye through a Structuralist lens will give you a very different argument than if you looked at it through a Feminist lens. And that’s okay. They all coexist. However, the static that can be caused by the lack of agreement on which one to use while looking at a text can lead to an actual halt to discourse and then nothing gets done, as is the case on this podcast episode.
The clashing ideologies between the two journalists was basically a fight between New Criticism vs. New Historicism, but the entire episode propels along a single question that, in itself, is quite interesting: can dumb texts be worth talking about critically? Also, can texts still be important when authorial intent is ignorant, dubious, or manufactured? I’d like to hear the podcast where they discuss that. Maybe more would get done.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew attends Seattle’s BrickCon and is intrigued by not only the affordable prices of hard-to-get sets, but also the creativity of independent LEGO builders, while Dan gives his impressions on the pilot episode of Fox’s new tv show based, ostensibly, on their cinematic X-verse, The Gifted.
WHAT A THRILL: Andrew, inspired its free status for PS Plus subscribers this month, re-downloads Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and gets poisoned by Venom Snake all over again, two years on.
NOT MY AMERICA: Swedish developer, MachineGames, and their parent company, Bethesda, are ramping up the marketing for their upcoming, hotly anticipated sequel, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and their tact has made a certain demographic very displeased.
STRIKE WHILE THE IRON’S HOT: After almost an entire year on strike, SAG-AFTRA and the studios it named in its grievance have come to a tentative deal, thusly ending the video game voice actors’ strike. But what was agreed to? What does this mean for the future of voice actors and game development going forward? Andrew and D. Bethel talk it out.
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel doubles up this time to talk about a personally exciting moment he experienced while at this year’s Alternative Press Expo in San Jose, CA, as well as seeing the new cinematic version of (half of) the Stephen King classic, It, while Andrew discusses playing SteamWorld Heist.
D. Bethel’s comprehensive recap of his time at APE 2017:
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew (starts at 1:38) hesitantly re-approaches (though actually, basically for the first time) Star Trek: Enterprise, while D. Bethel (16:13) has fun sacrificing folks in Kitfox Games’ The Shrouded Isle.
LUDIC CROSS-POLLINATION: (27:34) Gen Con, the long-running tabletop-focused convention, rolls out this weekend and leading up to it were a few announcements about new board games in an attempt to ride that wave of publicity. One of them is a brand new adventure board game based on the Fallout video game franchise. Lots of things like tv shows and movies are licensed for use within board games, but the kind of translation that can occur when adapting a game from one medium into a game in another proved a fascinating topic of conversation this week.