Here’s a short post to make up for my silence over the winter holidays:

For Christmas my parents bought me How To Talk About Videogames by Ian Bogost. It’s an excellent book of academic essays on video games. The writing flows beautifully and Bogost’s points are very well-developed and original. I finished the book in just a couple days. It’s short and lovely. I’ll definitely read more of Bogost’s writing, as it’s totally an inspiration for the kind of critique I want to write. The main difference between his critical goals and mine, though, is that as he explains in the introduction, he writes criticism for the sake of criticism. To get to the bottom of things and what they mean. I admire that goal, but as a game designer the point of my criticism is to express ideas, opinions and observations that I think will help other designers make better work, and shape the future of games. There’s a big difference there, but I highly recommend the book to anyone who’s following my critiques. (It’s better than anything I’ve written by a long shot.)

I’ll give a little overview of a couple ideas that stood out to me:

  • Words with Friends is more than a shameless Scrabble clone. It represents an underrated design methodology Bogost refers to as “iterative design.” Starting from the proven formula of Scrabble’s crossword gameplay, Zynga with Friends has slowly changed the way the game is fundamentally played by adding features that were only made possible by new internet technology. For example, the new matchmaking systems which pair players of similar skill levels, and the way asynchronous play removes the pressure of real-time Scrabble and lets players find new words instead of relying completely on existing vocabulary.
  • Ms. Pac-Man is one of the first feminist video games. The marketing materials show Ms. Pac-Man as a glamorous independent woman, while the game itself shows her finding love and giving birth, showing her as a strong character who can truly have it all. What’s more, modifications on the mechanics of Pac-Man make the spin-off more difficult, inverting the formula so the game is centered on a skilled and clever female protagonist facing greater challenges than Pac-Man himself who is reduced to a cutscene character.

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