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The Impact of Giant Cat-Birds, War, and Game Ports

This month's Critical Distance roundup showcases some of the best games criticism of January.

Critical Distance curates and archives important games criticism, and works to put it in context for readers today and researchers in the future. Find more at

In the past few weeks, we've noticed that discussions about The Last Guardian have been a great source of provocative ideas about the nature of game design. Expanding on Ico's motif of going on an adventure with a vulnerable companion, The Last Guardian has moved players and prompted critics to investigate its charms. Trico, the large yet timid cat-bird-dog hybrid, has a compelling personality that is expressed through both narrative and mechanics. There are moments when Trico is a frustrating playmate, and it's often this frustration, rather than the pure joy of friendship, that has provided interesting material for games critics.


Header and all The Last Guardian screens courtesy of Sony

The Last Guardian and the Language of Games | Game Maker's Toolkit - YouTube  For Mark Brown, this is an opportunity to make better sense of game design as a larger craft. He looks at how interaction with Trico and with the world's puzzles creates a relationship with narrative weight.

Opened World: Goodbye to Language – Haywire Magazine Rather than focusing on the flow of interactions between player and non-player companion, Miguel Penabella highlights the importance of moments when that flow is broken. He argues that it's Trico's unresponsiveness that gives players the impression that he is a separate being with his own agency.

How The Last Guardian Makes You Care About A Bird Dog Heather Alexandra counters both of these angles, arguing that it's not necessarily about language at all. She offers an alternative reading of the relationship with Trico as not about mechanics, but dynamics.

"Instead of breaking down the mechanical factors at the core of the relationship, I think we would be much better served understanding how much of it is based upon the space between the two characters. As scenarios change, the space between parties shrinks and grows in order to stress which character is on top in the power dynamics of the relationship."

But critics wrote about more than just The Last Guardian in January. For more great ideas about games, culture, and society, these recent articles make an excellent starting point:

Due Diligence: Sublime Filth – Haywire Magazine Leigh Harrison talks a lot about "bags of sick and poo" in this remarkable account of experiences that oscillate between gaming and situationist drifting.

Game Studies - This Uprising of Mine: Game Conventions, Cultural Memory and Civilian Experience of War in Polish Games Piotr Sterczewski's article on Polish national memory in videogames is a particularly worthwhile read, with some remarkably smooth opening paragraphs and a topic that few outside of Eastern Europe are likely to have thought much about. The Passion of the Port | ZAM - The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information  This interview about the drama and challenge of porting games is a rare insight into a process that doesn't get a lot of attention.

How We Design Games Now and Why – Medium  Katherine Neil's history of game design and the discourses surrounding it is absolutely essential reading. It is almost impossible to find this kind of combination of industry insights with meaningful analysis of what's at stake.

To get a more thorough overview of the state of games writing on a weekly basis, and to get involved in a wider conversation about games criticism, be sure to check out Critical Distance.