February 21st

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Sorry for the delay getting this week’s TWIVGB roundup to you. We had to squash some metaphorical and literal bugs in the critical curation machine. Now there’s bug juice everywhere.

Simulated wandering

We begin with two articles on my favourite topic: ambling around aimlessly in graveyards and other desolate places.

Simulated pondering

The topic of storytelling was explored a great deal this week, with analyses focusing on characters, props and philosophies.

“These stories are thrillers and mysteries, but first and foremost, they are actually just stories exploring human behavior, human relationships, obsessions, passions, and fears.”

Simulated bonding

Another narrative tool that has been highlighted in criticism of late is relationships between characters, in particular how giving players agency over whether and how relationships develop can serve the broader narrative and aesthetic goals of a game.

  • Fire Emblem: Fates Review | ZAM
    A great description of multinodal relationship dynamics in Fire Emblem Fates from Aevee Bee, co-creator of awkward triad simulator We Know the Devil.

“Because any given character will have scenes with about a dozen other characters, Fates achieves a unique depth-through-breadth method of characterization as you see the different facets of each unit through their relationships with each other, and much more than that by letting you see them as antagonists as well.”

Simulated fighting

Some of the more technical pieces this week examined creative ways that players and developers have worked with violence — be it the physical violence of a fighting game or using a staircase of goombas to get a leg-up, or the psychological violence of mind control in battle.

  • A Farewell to Focus | ZAM
    Suriel Vazquez’s technical analysis of design change in Street Fighter and the tension between casual fun and professional depth

“Before long, The Focus Attack went from being a way for the casual crowd to implement something new into their game plan to one of the most technical aspects of the game”

Remediated writing

It has been thrilling to see a number of pieces that examine subtext, metanarrative, and intertextuality, or that use cross-readings between games and other media to understand a work in a new light.

“The biggest spoiler regarding Firewatch – and this is possibly a sign of how weird narrative games are getting – is that you can’t really spoil it.”

Critical creativity

There is always more to learn about how critical analysis tools from a variety of disciplines can improve game development. Pieces this week looked specifically at storytelling, avatar creation and music.

Fallen London and Sunless Sea content chunks are rigorously edited, and the Failbetter Slack channel for contributors sees constant, ongoing discussion of style, voice, and theme. And (at least for me) that quality of editing is a positive inducement to write for a particular company or publisher.”

Critical inclusivity

As well as incisive writing on the structural exclusions in games culture, there was some positive news about concrete action being taken within games criticism to center the needs of disabled players.

Corrypt and Starseed Pilgrim, another abstract puzzle game endorsed by Blow, aren’t necessarily great PR for “indie games.” They’re far too idiosyncratic to ever be widely embraced by the more traditional game culture, but they don’t match the “film-lite,” middlebrow, white-washed NPR image of indie games either. So many of these games exist in a weird limbo — not largely understood or supported by those on either end.”

Stimulated minds

Finally, there have been some tender, bittersweet pieces of critical writing looking at how we feel and think about games.

  • Frustration | Problem Machine
    Technically published last week, Problem Machine’s post about frustration is a short and sweet ode to games as self-care.

“Confidence and humility, together, let you tackle a problem as it is, serene in the knowledge that you either will or won’t be able to solve it, and the only meaningful way to find out is to give it an honest try.”


If you like what we do here, and you want to help us either squish our bugs or train them in avant-garde bug ballet, you can support us at Patreon, Recurrency, or Paypal. And do feel free to send along any material for processing via Twitter or email.