A&I: On Intimacy (And Video Games)

Last week, I wrote a post that was half introspection and half criticism, a way for me to air my thoughts in a conversational and immediate manner, something that let me keep a record of where my head is at and talk about the games on my mind without needing to craft long, analytical essays. In an ancient and forgotten time, I believe this was known as “blogging.”

The upshot of which is: it was a success, so I’m going to keep doing that. Every so often (I’d like to say every week, but writing is too much hard work to force yourself to do it when you’re not being paid), I’ll be posting an update of sorts, a collection of short reactions to interesting games, accompanied by my (extremely) informal rumination on whatever topic’s been floating around the top of my mind. That’s this bit at the start, so I should probably get into it.

Here’s a tweet of mine from earlier in the week:

I spent six hours on a train last weekend, and the book I intended to read ended up sitting comfortably on my bed the entire time. In lieu of a good read, the majority of my time was taken up considering criticism as a concept, soul searching, trying to nail down my passions, my values, my stances. And as my twitter feed seemed to consume itself entirely in an endless debate about formalism, I kept coming back to one thing: the value of intimacy.

Much of the popular critical vocabulary (I chose “close reading” in that example, but I could have picked a thousand others) implies a dispassionate approach, one where the work is under scrutiny, positioning the critic as someone searching for meaning in every corner it can be found. This makes me uncomfortable primarily because it doubles down on the obviously incorrect assumption that the relationship between someone and a work of art is a one-way street. A relationship which is not intimate, but obsessive.

All the writers that I connect with, in games criticism or otherwise, are those that understand intimacy and its importance. Those whose analysis of any work of art comes from a place of self acceptance, those who know you must present yourself honestly to the work as much as the work must present itself honestly to you. And that’s the critical space I want to be in. One where flaws and jagged edges bump up against each other, and meaning pours out of the friction.

I don’t mean to imply my thoughts here are in any way new or unique, people have been doing such great, intimate games criticism for decades now. But to this day, work of this nature is seen as somehow less legitimate than traditional academic, capital C Criticism, which is a view I will never hold. This short ramble isn’t a take down of anyone else’s approach, or a polemic soapbox piece on the direction games writing has to head in, because lord knows I don’t have the strength to be invested enough in the burning pile that is games culture to do anything more than my own thing. More power to those that do, you’re doing god’s work.

So If it’s anything, it’s simply me figuring out loud where I want to be, what I want to say, and how I want to say it. And here, at the start of the year, I can say my one goal on Abnormal Mapping for the next 12 months of work: More Intimacy In Criticism 2015.


The edge of the building lies two steps ahead, and all around nothing can be seen but identical concrete structures, now reduced to waste and rubble. You take those steps forward, and crash off the edge, flailing to stay in the air, until something catches and you feel the wind lift you high into the air, carrying you to the next vantage point.

First Person Soar transforms a wasteland into a playground, a distillation of the beautiful triumph of movement.

Leg Hold

The inner mechanics of empathy are either difficult to define, or difficult to confront.

Leg Hold lays its view of them bare with a tragic honesty, as with a simple pained howl, a dog caught in a trap changes from something frustrating to someone heartbreaking.

Text And Drive

The stories told in Text And Drive are nothing that won’t wait til you’re home safe, but with the lonely dark of the road, and the haunting tones of the radio, why would you want to?

You steer the car, you text on the phone, keeping on top of rote busywork so you may stay up to date with your friend’s choice of ice cream. It highlights at once the meaningless and importance of human connection. It’s what keeps you going through the dark.

Problems and Solutions

Muted sadness runs as undercurrent to the abstract scenario Problems and Solutionspresents, a short tale of the quiet tragedy of co-dependency.

You carry your friend to set them free, but as you do, they merely find themselves trapped in a larger cage, leaving you once again to carry the load. Problems and Solutions paints a picture of the sad outcome to asking its one question:

Is there anything I can do to help you out?

Two-Days-Pay

An inversion in both title and form, Two-Days-Pay is literally the opposite of a shooter, as you suck up as much cash as you can, as fast as you can.

Chaotic and immediate, it presents the joy of accumulation as a power fantasy. Shooters give you power through how you affect your environment. In this inversion, Two-Days-Paygives you power by emphasising how your environment can affect you.