July 24th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Many have said this week that all public discourse seems to be about one of two topics: on the one hand, viral anger, collective outrage, and bigotry; and on the other hand, Pokémon Go.

No man’s land

Much of this week’s writing is in some way about how we imagine our divisions – past, present and future, as well as fictional, non-fictional, and somewhere in-between. These essays look at the historical conditions that produced the antagonisms between the French and the Germans, the digital and the analog, and between an adventurer and a dungeon slime.

“In Germany they no longer sing the first two verses of their national anthem because of the unfortunate connotations of “Deutschland uber alles,” skipping straight to a less controversial third verse about unity, justice, and freedom. Even though History Line: 1914-1918 lets you choose between controlling French or German troops it’s essentially unwinnable as the Germans, their final mission designed to be impossible because anything else would be both unhistorical and disrespectful.”

Refracted worlds

Pokémon may seem to have become our main antidote to division and depression, but feminist writing on games readily shows us that we have much more material from which to create positive alternative ways of being.

“As the partnership between the princess and her erstwhile enemy develops, the tensions that arise between them serve as a means of revealing the ideologies that underlie the foundational narrative of the Zelda series. In the original games, villains are meant to be vanquished, while damsels are meant to rescued. By positioning Ganondorf as Zelda’s ally, A Tale of Two Rulers encourages the reader to reimagine Zelda outside of the damseled role she so often occupies in the games. Instead, the comic experiments with alternatives to the toxic conceptions of femininity and masculinity by which Zelda and Ganondorf are cast as victim and aggressor.”

Public sphere

Outside of the private relationships of motherhood, marriage and study groups, the public sphere is where we act in full knowledge that others are present, where we make choices about how we engage with the world as a whole, and where we arrange ourselves into large social collectives. Pokemon Go has inspired discussion about the public sphere because of how it puts people into physical proximity to each other with a different kind of awareness of each other, but other topics in gaming address this too.

“There is a deep-rooted tendency to associate sports with moments of courageous overcoming, with displays of physical strength, grace, and beauty. E-sports contain literally none of these, which means they are particularly well positioned to reveal all the other things that actually make up sport: the reification of competition, victory, and glory; patriarchal nationalism; and the formation of hierarchal social groups anchored in the protocols of spectatorship.”

Secure zone

Looking at how games affect our relationship to physical places around us, two pieces on Pokémon Go draw from different perspectives on non-productive uses of public space: one looking at play as a form of consumption, and the other as a form of rebellion. One cannot talk about rebellion without in some way also talking about control, and the final piece looks directly at how gaming is affecting policing.

“At a deeper level, the challenge facing VR policing simulators is that in a lot of cases they may need to simulate doing nothing. Simulating moments of peak intensity, even ones where the optimal solution is to calm the situation, is an inaccurate representation of the challenges facing modern policing. Simulating the act of doing basically nothing, however, is antithetical to the work of a simulator. Do you just stand around in the thing for days waiting for something to happen?”


As we wrap up, I have a favor to ask of you. We are working on getting to a more secure place with our Patreon, so that we can maintain what we are currently doing and, ideally, allow it to grow. To help us to work out what steps to take next, I’d like to hear your perspective. In one or two sentences, tell us: how do you see the current state of games criticism? Send answers to @critdistance on Twitter, or to editors@critical-distance.com.

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