The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are (sometimes) for relishing the very un-Sunday-ish feeling of having a whole extra day off work ahead of you, and regretting not ordering God of War early enough for it to arrive in time.

Jennifer Allen’s article on Eurogamer about establishing rules for a gaming friendship is great, and I’d love to know how many people relate to it. Me and my childhood gaming friend never set up any rules, though maybe if we had he wouldn’t have grabbed the keyboard away from me in the middle of a velociraptor fight in Jurrassic Park: Danger Zone when I refused to stop spamming the tail-whip button.

Having tracked down a copy of Bubble Bobble for the Playstation 1, we realised that one of us was a little too keen to swipe up all the fruit at the end of the level. It didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things but it also really, really mattered. There were principles at stake here. So, we set a ground rule. Mentally, we drew a line down the middle of the screen and each player had to keep to their side when it came to picking up fruit and diamonds. Anything that was located directly in the middle was free for the taking. Invariably, I’d grab it in time. That was a rule that extended to Bubble Bobble sessions with my mum, because I’d get too competitive there too and you really don’t want to fall out with your mum over a game.

Also on Eurogamer, Wesley Yin-Poole retold the story of Vault 11 from Fallout: New Vegas. I want to talk about it but also don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll settle for just saying it’s the best story to come out of any Fallout game. Wesley has a neat interview with the designer at the end, too.

Vault 11 is unusual in that when you first arrive its main door, the one with the number 11 on it, the one would normally hiss and creak before pulling back and rolling sideways, is open. Most of the vaults you encounter throughout the Fallout games are locked shut, which makes sense. The vaults were designed to keep nuclear fallout out and happy dwellers in. Why is Vault 11’s door open now?

I haven’t played the game nor read many reviews, but it seems Rose’s criticism of homogeneous God of War reviews on Video Game Choo Choo has a point. The only parts I’ve seen of the old God of War games have been the horrifically sexist moments that Rose highlights, and I agree reviews should bring up those past mistakes and ask whether God of War has truly done enough to distance itself from them…

Once a consensus is born from a collection of many like-minded opinions, it’s hard for any sort of counter argument to claw its way back up to relevance, especially when the subject matter is something like that of GoW. GoW has trumpeted its masculinity throughout the past decade and a half, whether it was the misogyny and hyperviolence of the original trilogy, or the new “Dads will hurt you and they have their own deep reasons for doing so” brand of masculinity that has started to seep into the plots of many games recently. When the series gets continuous rave reviews upon every release, the entire industry continues to perpetuate this ideology, that this is the correct way to think, knowingly or not.

…though I do think it’s a shame that Rose doesn’t mention the reviews that do engage with those issues. I read July Muncy’s review for Wired straight after reading Rose’s piece, though mine still isn’t an informed perspective. The new God of War might have addressed the past failings of the series, it might not have tried properly, or it might have tried and failed. Rose’s argument that the game straight up endorses toxic masculinity does sounds uncharitable, though.

God of War, then, is an endlessly dissonant and self-contradictory game, cut across the same fault lines as its protagonist. It abhors Kratos’ quiet cruelties and the distance he places between himself and his son, but, damn, it thinks he’s cool. It wants violence to be serious, and weighty, while placing endless nameless monsters in the player’s path. It wants you, in a sense, to be both father and son, viewing Kratos as a terrible man who’s only good at one thing and also as Atreus sees him, as a potential hero waiting to unfold before you.

On Waypoint, Patrick Klepek’s piece about reserving the right to change his mind sounds like it’s about God of War, but really it’s about the nature of reviews and why it should be acceptable for critics to adopt views that contradict their original thoughts. I know it’s a bit navel-gazey of me to use so much Paper space on ‘how reviews work’, but Patrick’s thoughts are just as interesting to me as a review reader as they are to me as a review writer. I 100% agree with him, though don’t blame me if that’s not the case a few years down the line.

Every time, someone says something that makes me go think, puts into words a feeling I couldn’t articulate, or argues in a way that forces a re-examination of conclusions. The opinions of others help me better form my own. It’s a process built on my reaction, and the result is a delightful mixture. What’s important is the fluidity, keeping one’s mind open to the possibility of not only challenging a personal reaction, but willing to admit you could be wrong.

Screw it, last God of War thing, promise – Waypoint also did a spoilerful podcast which will totally absolutely definitively tell you whether it’s a goodun or a badun.

ContraPoints made an excellent vid that deconstructs Jordan Peterson’s seductive baloney, as I think she’d appreciate me calling it.

You should treat yourself to some Hot Salad.

This ad is going to stay with me for a long time.

…as will this thread, about a man who wound up alone in a room with his boss and the President of Ireland while on ketamine.

Music this week is Space Girl by The Imagined Village.

69 Comments

  1. Zorgulon says:

    Nice to see that Imagined Village track get a feature. Anything with Eliza Carthy performing is just amazing.

    • jamesm says:

      “Space Girl” has an interesting history. It’s a cover of a song originally performed by folk singer Shirley Collins (here’s the best version, from her Rocket Along album) and is itself a Peggy Seeger/Ewan MacColl parody of an older jazz number with a name like “Ghost Soldier” or “Ghost Soldier Blues”.

      Always wanted to hear the original, but can’t find out much about it, apart from two versions performed by Ken Colyer (who mentions Dizzy Gillespie in the intro to one of them).

  2. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I’d say God of War’s problem isn’t misogyny but general misanthropy and sadistic cruelty…. Gratuitous and silly ‘interactive’ sex-scenes are the least of its transgressions. I played the start of God of War 1 and the demo of 3 and found its ‘hero’ so fundamentally despicable that I could not imagine playing the rest of the game as him despite my interest in the setting (though my dislike of Quick Time Events probably also contributed). In everything he does Kratos goes out of his way to inflict boundless cruelty on everyone he comes into contact with. Frankly, I felt sorry for the minotaurs. The problem with GoW isn’t that Kratos is an angry violent man framed as *totally badass* (that’s true of 90% of action games), it’s that he’s an *actual monster* from moment-one and we’re supposed to be rooting for him.

    That they eventually frame all this as being motivated by a tragic backstory (the murder of his family, by himself) that mirrors that of Herakles doesn’t really mitigate that Kratos is fundamentally irredeemable as a character, so the fact that he’s now supposed to be read as a layered and complicated father-figure seems ridiculous… and however good the game may be mechanically (and it does seem to be very well-designed link to youtube.com) I don’t see how it can escape that.

    • Archipelagos says:

      I felt the same way playing through the trilogy a few years back. Kratos is a monster. And every terrible thing that happens to him is set in motion by his own temper tantrum on the field of battle. His army is defeated and he just can’t accept it, so calls upon Ares for assistance. Everything is his fault.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        Yes, but it’s not as if the game is pretending that isn’t happening is it? He’s meant to be an anti-hero. It’s God of War not Hero of War, and we’re talking about Greek Gods here. They’re fickle, selfish and cruel.

        That’s why the new one is such a departure.

        The games aren’t ever misogynistic, IMO. The sex aspect of them is pureal and immature. It’s not so much offensive as it is eye-roll worthy, but it’s certainly not jarring vs how the rest of the game plays out.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yeah. They absolutely knowingly depict Kratos as a rage-filled, prideful monster who’s responsible for a lot of horrendous stuff happening, not a hero. But that said, you’re also supposed to enjoy him wrecking everything in his path, so it’s probably reasonable to criticize that element.

    • Cederic says:

      Yes, but hating everybody equally is equality and thus fails both to sufficiently demonise some weird made up nonsense labelled toxic masculinity and to advance feminist causes that justify wholesale attacks on the game industry (and 50% of the population).

      Come on, get with the agenda, you do want to keep your job don’t you?

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Oy.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        I’d ask “what are you talking about?” but that would be rhetorical. Let’s just say that whatever point you *thought* I was implying there: I was not and want no part in what you’re on about.

        Misogyny and other problems are not mutually exclusive and arguing that the main issue with a given work is something else does not mean the aforementioned *isn’t* a problem in the medium or with the industry.

      • Babymech says:

        …angry men hating everybody and killing them isn’t toxic masculinity. Got it.

        • Blackcompany says:

          It could be.

          And it could also be other, deep seated issues. Like, say, forced suppression of any expression of masculinity for the sake of social acceptance boiling over in a fit of rage. Or chemical imbalances causing a failure to process certain neurotransmitters in the correct manner. Or a really bad day.

          • Babymech says:

            Spoilers:

            Like, say, forced suppression of any expression of masculinity for the sake of social acceptance boiling over in a fit of rage.

            This one is toxic masculinity; feeling forced to conform to a male role you don’t belong in and festering in that until you take it out on others. Toxic masculinity is not about men being bad, but men being forced into unsustainable roles.

            Or chemical imbalances causing a failure to process certain neurotransmitters in the correct manner. Or a really bad day.

            And these ones don’t just apply to angry men.

          • Babymech says:

            “festering in that until you take it out on others” or yourself of course; the disproportionate rate of male suicide should be seen as a result of toxic masculinity too.

        • DeepFried says:

          I mean it does what it says on the tin “God of War”.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Why is it a problem though? Why can’t a game depict something terrible? Do games *need to be* heavily ideological? With a narrative that punishes the bad guys 100% of the time, heavily defined bad guys that are 100% bad, and protagonists that are 100% good? I don’t think that’s progressive.

      • I Got Pineapples says:

        Of all the things that kinda make me leery of ‘woke’ internet pop culture discourse, beyond my essential issue that it’s praxis is founded more in proving your fanfiction ships are morally superior than the academic criticism that it borrows from, the one that makes me most actively irritated and disinclined to take it seriously is the idea that depiction is endorsement. It is such a dumb, adolescent idea that in part only gets to exist because it lets you write 400 words on the problematics or start another fun internet mob.

        • Frosty Grin says:

          Actually this idea was prevalent in Soviet culture – films and characters got axed because the characters weren’t portrayed according to the norms of the time. In some ways the results were actually “progressive” by the standards of today – like female characters that weren’t focused on sexual appeal and films that could have passed the “Bechdel test”. So it’s not a new thing, and I can’t see it as just dumb and adolescent.

          • I Got Pineapples says:

            I mean, yes, it’s not a new thing. The idea of ‘improving’ literature is a particularly Victorian concept. But it’s also an idea that has it’s heart a stern moral lecture. A desire to turn everything into a filmation cartoon from the 80’s where we learn that yes, racism is indeed bad.

            It’s not diversity or similar increasing the sort of stories that get told. It’s smug and limiting and built on the idea we are all morons who will be turned to wickedness by the sight of these corrupting images.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          I would agree with that argument (“depiction is not endorsment”) if it were not for the fact that you seem to be suggesting that God of War does not endorse Kratos’ behaviour… Everything about that game screams it’s SO COOL how you’re brutally murdering all these people and creatures (many of them innocents), inflicting maximum pain and suffering at every opportunity. I was looking up the opening of the game again and found a video compilation of how ‘totally hilarious’ it is that Kratos repeatedly (and for no reason at all) torments and murders an unfortunate boat captain. The treatment of that character perfectly sums up Kratos: pointless arbitrary cruelty with not a trace of remorse or feeling (or criticism).

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            I mean to be clear, I (of course) do not believe the creators of GoW IRL endorse or are in any way okay with the things Kratos does but the games (from everything I’ve seen and played) certainly do not frame his actions in a critical way.

          • pepperfez says:

            That’s an enduring problem of video games as an art form — it’s hard not to glorify an immoral player character without making an unfun game. God of War has always (at least after the first game) tried to have it both ways, with a plot saying Kratos is bad, damaged, crazy and gameplay saying he’s totally fuckin’ cool.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            True, but I would argue that God of War is actively sadistic in a way that (most) other violent games are not, and even the most morally grey protagonists are usually still on some level trying to help others, or are defending themselves.

        • Babymech says:

          Depiction without condemnation is seen as endorsement. And while I long for a time when we can just tell problematic stories without identifying them as such, I get where this comes from.

          Most of the problems that woke folk are trying to mitigate have their roots in silent approval; the ‘silent majority’ maintaining the illusion that if there’s no discussion of the problem, there’s no actual problem. Given therefore that A) there’s no opinion on the internet that is so vile or dumb that you can assume it’s not seriously held, and B) conservative values are generally propped up by (approving or non-committal) silence, it makes sense that the woke crowd should be extra diligent in asking that people explicitly condemn or at least show awareness of the shittiness of the behaviors they depict.

      • malkav11 says:

        I definitely think there’s room for depicting awful characters without necessarily endorsing them. But it’s also true that authorial intent isn’t necessarily going to factor into how the work is received, as we see with the distressingly high contingent of people who thought Breaking Bad was depicting Walter White as a cool badass worthy of emulation.

        • Frosty Grin says:

          Haven’t watched it, but why do you find it distressing? Or why is the author responsible for or concerned with how his work is being perceived – not just in general but including outliers? I think people should be free to draw their own conclusions.

          • malkav11 says:

            Because Breaking Bad is very clear about how fucked up Walt is and how he’s destroying everything he purports to care about, and getting excited about how much of a “badass” he is doesn’t just miss the point by almost 180 degrees but also suggests you find a variety of really reprehensible behaviors worthy of emulation.

          • GeoX says:

            Eh. Don’t fool yourself. The show’s promotional material really, really went out of its way to encourage the “badass” interpretation. I agree that it’s not, ultimately, the point, but don’t pretend people are getting this idea from nowhere.

          • malkav11 says:

            Well, there’s also a difference between how a work is promoted and the substance of that work. Creators often have zero input into marketing.

          • GeoX says:

            To an extent true, and to an extent “I am the one who knocks” was never not meant to be iconic. I think there’s a dichotomy here. The show is meant to be awful, true, but…it’s still meant to be cool. It just is. I’m okay with that, but it does require one to just accept unresolved internal contradictions while watching.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        Dude, if you can’t tell the difference between depicting something terrible and celebrating and reveling in it, I don’t know what to tell you… I have no problem with anti-heroes or tragic figures or morally ambiguous characters in narrative (indeed they are often the most interesting). Kratos is none of those things, he’s a black hole of a man who destroys everything and everyone he touches, not by accident or as an unintended consequence of poor choices (eg Walter White), but *on purpose*.

        • Frosty Grin says:

          It’s more that I can tell the difference between reveling in it and portraying the protagonist reveling in it. I don’t find it problematic to tell the story from the protagonist’s point of view, reflecting the society they’re living in – even when it’s not as progressive as ours. I think it’s rather counterproductive to portray things like sexism as personal failings when they actually were prevalent cultural norms.

          • GeoX says:

            If you think the world of God of War is reflective of anyone’s actual cultural norms anywhere…I don’t know what to tell you, man. That is a truly bizarre notion.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            The ancient Greeks were not *nice* by modern standards (though that is rarely a useful metric to judge history) but they were not Kratos.

      • pepperfez says:

        Do games *need to be* heavily ideological?
        Yes. There is literally not a way for them not to be, at least not if they say anything interesting at all.

  3. Grizzly says:

    That japanese ad is amazing

  4. DEspresso says:

    Vault 11 had quite a powerful story, thanks for reminding us.

  5. phenom_x8 says:

    And this is interesting story on Eurogamer about the death of Indie Store that just in :
    link to eurogamer.net

  6. Ben says:

    Can’t believe you didn’t link to Spaceman by Babylon Zoo.

  7. Laurentius says:

    Meh, this is the spiel again even though the ship has sailed. This dunking on GoW does not make much sense to me ( and I don’t have any stake in this, never played this series and not planing to). Killing is primarly mechanic and somehow games get really refined at it, now matching it with story that does not feel disconnected is monumental task. So I guess these games are actually more honest in a way then games like Uncharted or new Tomb Rider especially, where brutally killing hundreds of dudes is married with supposedly more “humane” story. So some people went even as far as to ask why this game was made, which is more honest but also, you know, not particualrly thoughtful criticism.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I used to wonder if games criticism was on a path which would end with the rejection of violence as something permissible in games. As conflict (whether in abstract or explicit form) has been fundamental to games on a mechanical level since their creation, that debate would have generated fireworks, to put it mildly.

      Nowadays I think it more likely that critics will content themselves to police the direction in which violence flows. I’d expect to see the question as to whether a game punches upwards or downwards to become more prominent, both when making value judgements about games and in the context of the wider cultural battlefield in which they’ve become situated. The idea that developer fiat can declare enemies assuredly bad, or heroes assuredly good, will be rejected in favour of a model that makes that power subject to the reading of the critic.

      I should point out that this isn’t necessarily a new or a bad thing. Edge of course famously asked why we couldn’t talk to the monsters in Doom, a sentiment whose time many will now think of as having arrived. On the other hand, I doubt the New Colossus would have scored any points had it offered the player ways of coming to peaceful compromise through dialogue with its Nazi hordes.

      As criticism develops along these lines, developers will have to become more wary about how they depict and contextualise violence in their games, and more wary still of the extent to which the critical interpretation of that violence will ultimately be out of their hands.

      • Frosty Grin says:

        I think one possible direction for violence in games is making it optional – or non-lethal. Plus making the protagonist accountable for excess casualties. It’s something that’s already being done, rather successfully. But, yeah, you do have a point about the New Colossus. There will always be a place for games designed for slaughter.

        • brucethemoose says:

          +1

          Dishonored is a good example of a game that ALLOWS gratuitous violence/killing (hence it’s a “safe” game to produce), but by no means requires it. It accounts for it, in a rather simple to implement way. And the option simply enhances gameplay instead of obstructing it. I think more games need to follow that as an example.

          • pepperfez says:

            There’s still the weird feeling that non-violent, or even non-lethal, approaches to games are de facto hard mode challenges. Dishonoured gives you options for avoiding killing and narratively discourages it, but when it comes down to it the game is designed around making it feel good and satisfying to turbomurder dudes with your sweet murder tools.

          • Mouse_of_Dunwall says:

            @pepperfez
            That’s a good point, but I see that as a reflection of Corvo/Daud/Emily/Billie’s mindset. They’ve all been wronged or betrayed, so it would be easy and satisfying for them to use violence to get their revenge. But, they become a monster in the process. The non-lethal path is more difficult and time-consuming, but in the end it’s more rewarding.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Have to agree with you there. Uncharted never sat well with me because I found the mowing down of waves of enemies completely at odds with the swashbuckle wise-cracking that accompanies it. It would’ve been a much better series if it was drunken-brawling in lieu of interconnected warzones. It’s like it wanted to be Indiana Jones, but didn’t quite get how even when Indy uses guns, he’s not being Rambo, they are spaced out between punch ups and stunts and he’s usually on the defensive.

      • freedomispopular says:

        Seems like a lot of games in general have this issue. Oh there’s a lull in between the main action? Let’s fill it with waves of enemies. It’s an easy way to pad the game length with filler content.

  8. Asrahn says:

    Contrapoints is just amazing.

  9. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Sorry to be a moan, but I thought RPS was a PC gaming site. Also, a site where I don’t just get articles about whatever’s being heavily marketed right now, but instead get to hear about some hidden gems or unusual thoughts/opinions. A load of blather (almost half the Sunday Papers, and over half the links that actually get a quote in the article) about the current heavily-marketed triple A console exclusive isn’t really what I come here for, basically. Could we, you know, talk about PC games?

    • Ghostbird says:

      If you’re looking for good writing on a wider range of topics then I recommend Critical Distance:
      https://critical-distance.com

      Or if you’re looking for writing on less mainstream titles then Lana Polansky is usually worth a look:
      http://sufficientlyhuman.com

    • geldonyetich says:

      They probably momentarily forgot Dad of Boy wasn’t PC considering its presence is the biggest thing going on in gaming in general right now.

      Personally, Kratos’ exploits have slipped between the cracks of my gaming time. I know he’s basically a character whose entire MO is being very good at killing for vague personal reasons. I don’t overthink Kratos because he’s obvious not there to be thunk aboot, he’s a vehicle for elaborate kill combos. How odd, then, is Dad of Boy.

    • Premium User Badge

      The Almighty Moo says:

      The Sunday Papers have always been the best in games writing, not necessarily the best in PC games writing. God of War holds no interest for me, but given it’s an interesting topic that relates to all games I can understand Matt putting in some of the articles about it.

  10. fuggles says:

    In regards to changing your mind, this actual website did this last week(?) with Battletech so yeah, it’s a thing that can be done.

    Also, I do think it’s a bit odd the whole thing this week is basically about a game I cannot play on PC. I suppose it might be so I would read up and engage in the conversation based on other people’s views, but ultimately I can’t play it so will only mindlessly regurgitate.

    I guess I could fire up black and white : creature isle. That’s parenty, right?

  11. LennyLeonardo says:

    I think Kratos is a bad man/god, but I like sort of pretending to be him for a tiny proportion of my life. OK?

  12. napoleonic says:

    Those reviews made me really want to play God of War. Will it be coming to PC?

    • Addie says:

      As one of Sony’s flagship system-sellers, it’s been added to the same high-priority porting queue as Crash Bandicoot, Demon’s Souls, the Uncharted series, the Resistance series, Bloodborne, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Any day, now.

  13. Premium User Badge

    The Almighty Moo says:

    Loads of friend rules, from fair play acknowledgements andnbalancing through to made up variation game modes. Examples include Unreal Tournament Hide and Seek (redeemer arena but with very few players on very large maps, only guided kills count), shank only in CoD MW (or any of them tbh), anything that’s let’s two players play on one controller when they aren’t supposed to. Infantry only Company of Heroes is fun, though snipers often have to be banned. Anyone else got any fun ones?

  14. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Why is everyone talking about this game that isn’t on PC? *confused*

    • Someoldguy says:

      For the same reason they refer to games as Metroidvania’s even though neither of those games were on PC, so a pure PC gamer won’t have a clue what it means.

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