March 6th

Critical writing can often be about reminding the reader of something that had been pushed to the back of one’s mind. You have a body. You are looking at this through a screen. You are not completely in control of events. You are reading This Week in Videogame Blogging.

Don’t forget to sit up straight

Writers are getting into their bodies, especially their bums, whether that’s by keeping them planted firmly in gaming chairs or having them sprayed with glitter at opulent parties.

“I remember semi-jokingly calling [The Meadow] a ‘sitting simulator’ at the time. Except this is exactly why both The Meadow and Eurotruck Simulator 2 made such powerful VR experiences: because they each accepted and reinforced the player’s own awareness of their sitting body, rather than stubbornly trying to distract the player away from that body. Players are bodies and that will never not be true.”

Don’t forget where you have been

Now that we have learned some rococo-punk decorum, let’s politely enter the salon for some discussions of spatiality.

“The horror comes from the sense of place, the knowledge that the player is engaging in something horrific, and continuing to, despite all warnings to the contrary […] It must be a conscious choice by the player to relaunch it, to enter the building again, each time against their own better judgment […] Each playthrough seems to disturb the house further. The player acts the intruder, poking at the flesh of something much more terrifying […] ANATOMY is a story about a house and its inhabitants, and the monstrosity of architecture left forgotten.”

Don’t forget to be creative

On game creation this week we have a profile of an auteur as a farmer, a history of a mobile game clone farm, and a discussion about a remarkable composer.

Stardew Valley is all about farming. Think about the image that brings up: I picture a humble guy, in overalls, tending to his crops day in and day out. It’s hard work, sweltering under the sun and tending to his soil, but he’s growing something real and nutritious, not that junk you can buy at a fast food place.”

Don’t forget your camera

Superhot is continuing to inspire discussions about games in conversation with cinema, but it is not the only game that has drawn attention for its use of conventions from other media forms this week.

“By evoking the lo-fi aesthetic of internet videos, the developers ground Dog Days in the real world. The unimaginable violence of shooters is filtered through the familiar look and sound of YouTube. In fact, the game’s UI deliberately mimics video sharing sites. Before each level is a “buffering” screen, complete with a spinning circular icon, as if the player were streaming Kane and Lynch’s exploits. “

Don’t forget to keep it simple

For longer than I can count, the aspiration in much of games culture has been to create a perfect marriage of story and interactivity. This week, four pieces challenge that in different ways, with one arguing that romance with less player agency is an interesting narrative proposition in its own right, and three pieces that praise narratives which embrace action rather than offer a commentary on it.

“Part of the beauty and lasting impact of Firewatch is in the way it flips the script on video game love stories and the way we’ve been taught to play them. Instead of agency and persistence, the romance, such as it is, is defined by acquiescence and compliance. When you play as Henry in Firewatch, you are Delilah’s romanceable companion.”

Don’t forget what you have learned

Discussions on the role of games in education this week cover titles designed for use in the classroom as well as games designed for entertainment, looking at motivating students, representing history and spreading awareness of mental health.

“I found that taking health points hindered classroom management, especially in kids with low self-esteem or anxiety issues. I asked Shawn whether he thought giving XP or taking HP motivated his students more and he agreed. “Definitely giving Experience Points (XP) and Gold Pieces (GP). For kids, that’s a very visible measure of their progress, both in the game and in class.” Losing health is arguably one of the defining characteristics of an RPG, and the ability to die gives the game greater stakes. However, I used it very rarely, and only with thick-skinned kids. While students taking dying on their X-Box or PC for granted, apparently dying in real life, in front of your peers, isn’t fair.”


Don’t forget to be awesome

Finally, the plug paragraph. First of all, here are some projects that you may wish to support:

  • Speculative Blackness
    There’s a book out on race in science fiction that should be relevant to games criticism

“In Speculative Blackness, André M. Carrington analyzes the highly racialized genre of speculative fiction—including science fiction, fantasy, and utopian works, along with their fan cultures—to illustrate the relationship between genre conventions in media and the meanings ascribed to blackness in the popular imagination.”

Additionally, the Critical Distance Patreon is in need of a boost at the moment. If you like what we do, please consider supporting us and/or pass our page on to someone else who may wish to do so. 

As always, you can send us links by tweeting with the hashtag #TWIVGB or emailing us. Also, be sure to check out the latest call for submissions for Blogs of the Round Table, and perhaps if you know anyone with expertise in dance or choreography, invite them to experiment with games writing this month too!