Here’s another packed edition of What I’ve Been Reading. Your weekly dose of thoughtful thinkpieces and amusing articles follows after the jump.

  • In light of the recent Tomb Raider controversy, there has been a lot of talk of the “maturity” of video games. Rob Fahey of GamesIndustry believes that games aren’t yet “mature” enough to deal with sensitive subjects, but that doesn’t mean that they should stop trying. I agree with the second part of that belief, but I take issue with the first. It’s one thing to point to a single game and declare it “mature” or “immature;” it’s quite another do that with an entire medium consisting of thousands of different works dealing with thousands of different topics. Leave the sweeping generalizations about video games to the mainstream media, Mr. Fahey. Gaming analysts should know better.
  • You may be aware that Sony recently acquired cloud-gaming service Gaikai. Richard Leadbetter of Digital Foundry ponders what that could mean for Sony’s future gaming experiences from a technical standpoint. As Leadbetter points out, for now, cloud gaming simply can’t replicate the experience of a dedicated gaming machine: bandwidth is an issue, but more notably, response times simply aren’t fast enough. Perhaps future technology will improve to a point where cloud gaming becomes not only enjoyable, but also a reasonable approximation of what can be achieved with a dedicated gaming machine. From a business perspective, cloud gaming seems like an easy way for Sony to offer access to its classic library without building backwards compatibility directly into its future consoles. Unfortunately, one can also imagine that cloud gaming will become yet another way to nickel and dime customers, with expensive rental and pay-by-the-minute schemes. In any case, this is an interesting business move for Sony, and we’ll see where they go from here.
  • Reality television is usually derided as trash, and rightfully so, but Todd VanDerWerff of the A.V. Club makes the case for Survivor being great television. He argues that unlike other reality shows, Survivor has thematic depth; it has something to say about human nature. I haven’t really watched the show since its second season, but I see what VanDerWerff is getting at. Season 1 was memorable for all its backstabbing and alliance-building, while in season 2, arguably the two nicest contestants in the entire competition made it to the end. It’s easy to dismiss this as thematic incoherence, but I think it shows just how different social experiences can be depending on the people involved.
  • In light of the controversy over the inclusion of the Hindu goddess Kali in the multiplayer game Smite as a playable character, Colin Campbell of IGN investigates the depiction of religious figures in video games. I’m all for free speech, but while I don’t condemn Smite’s inclusion of Kali, I don’t support it either. The common defense for putting religious figure in games as playable characters is that films and TV have depicted religious figures and modified religious stories for their own purposes for many years. But I contend that there’s an important difference between such depictions and their inclusion as playable characters: interactivity. Religious figures as NPCs are one thing; putting the player in the shoes of a recognizable and openly worshipped deity is quite another. Giving the player control over a goddess reverses the power relationship between deity and human. That’s why it’s possible not to be offended by a depiction of a religious figure in a cartoon but to be offended by that figure’s presence in a video game.
  • Rowan Kaiser of Joystiq argues that voice acting in RPGs may be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s expensive, it affects the design process, and it can have a negative impact on a game’s flow and pacing. I’ll concede the first two points, but not the third. If voice acting has a negative impact on a game’s pacing, then that’s not a strike against voice acting; that’s indicative of poor game design. Plus, many games feature subtitles and skippable dialogue, so the point is almost moot. Voice acting also has an important upside that shouldn’t be overlooked: it helps the player experience the story. Good voice acting allows players to invest in the game’s characters, which enhances the overall experience.
  • Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom debuted a couple of weeks back, and the reviews have been less than charitable. Linda Holmes of NPR contends that the show is actually deeply cynical. The Newsroom operates under the assumption that the vast majority of Americans are stupid and uninformed, which is supposed to explain why American society is having trouble solving the problems it faces. (Apparently, it has nothing to do with the complexity of those issues, history, institutional arrangements, or academic debates. It’s just that simple! *rolls eyes*) Though I’m enjoying the acting, directing, and cinematography more than most, I can’t help but agree with Holmes. I’ll offer more thoughts on The Newsroom in a few weeks.
  • Kate Cox of Kotaku analyzes the music of the Mass Effect series. I have to say, the Mass Effect series has some of the most memorable video game music I’ve ever heard. Plus, a portion of the ME3 soundtrack is now up for free download. Sweet.
  • Many Americans celebrate the 4th of July by attending fireworks shows. Sometimes, those shows experience technical malfunctions, as residents of San Diego found out this week. A glitch caused all of their fireworks to go off at the same time. It looked damn impressive. Too bad it lasted all of 15 seconds.
  • Also on the subject of Independence Day, the Dtoid Show did a special flashback episode for the 4th of July. It’s 1997 all over again!

Thoughts? Comments? Pizza-related stories? Post ’em below.