I don’t want to callously overstate the importance of games at a time like this. There’s so much to be done to change the conditions that have led to Brexit, Trump, and right-wing gains in other Euro-American countries, and speaking personally, I cannot condone retreating into the digital right now.
The arts may well be part of what helps us through this dark period of history. They do not always change hearts and minds, and they are not enough on their own to change the world. They can help us to heal, and help us to visualize a better world not just with theory, but with symbolism and emotion.
I believe that if art helps us, it won’t be because of individual artists emerging from the cauldron of suffering with some shining great works. It will be because artists (and critics, and scholars, and enthusiasts) band together and create supportive structures that stand against an increasingly toxic mainstream culture.
So that’s why I’m here, bringing together writing on videogames while the “real world” trembles. And it’s why this roundup is not likely to bring much relief if you’re looking for an escape from this week’s miserable political news.
Almost everything I have included in this week’s roundup feels relevant to the aftermath of the US election. This is partly an editorial decision on my part, but it’s also in part a reflection of what has been on people’s minds. First, some articles in which people explicitly reflect on their work as journalists, scholars, and designers in this new context.
- A Note About The Election
Stephen Totilo at Kotaku made an editorial statement about how they stand in relation to a world that seems to be veering dangerously to the right.
- at Culture Digitally, we’re thinking about our scholarship in the harsh light of this week – Culture Digitally
Scholars of technology and society respond to the news in reflection on what it means for the sort of work they do at Culture Digitally.
- the state of the union | vextro
leeroy lewin reflects on how engagement with videogames remains relevant as political beings in a traumatized world.
“failures only exist in the constraint of an opposite definition of success. in the dark shadows of massive failures contain the beautiful and incredible resiliency of human life. i dont even know if i would be alive today if it wasnt for things videogames have introduced me to.”
Some people used games as a window for better understanding what happened in the election, while others considered how the economics of games are folded into what has been described by some political commentators as a rejection of globalization.
- Gamasutra: Ryan Sumo’s Blog – An Analysis of the 2016 US Election Using the Mechanics of Political Animals
Ryan Sumo applies game strategy to campaign strategy and shares some personal thoughts on how things could have gone better for Hillary.
- Here’s How The Presidential Election Is Playing Out In Second Life
Mike Fahey documented how the election affected interactions in Second Life.
- Games Industry post-Brexit: Who Will Profit? | GamesIndustry.biz
This analysis of how Britain’s withdrawal into isolationism will affect the games industry provides food for thought, and the beginnings of a strategy for socially-responsible studios.
“Brexit does indeed offer a unique opportunity to decide what sort of industry we want to be. This will require the companies that do not put profit before people to be vocal about their objections towards the neo-liberalism on steroids that Brexit is most likely to result in.”
Progress is not inevitable
The usual discussions of how history is represented in games took a turn to the negative this week, as people contemplate socio-economic decline and increased violence.
- “Battlefield 1, By the Numbers,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter discusses the uselessness of technical veracity for connecting to what’s at stake in our tellings of history through games.
- How ‘Dark Souls II’ Reflects Our Historical and Political Anxieties – Waypoint
Brendan Vance’s piece on the decline of civilisation makes for hard reading this week, but might be perfectly timed.
- Your Critic is in Another Castle: On Civilization
Kate Cox’s thoughts on a nation-building strategy game are sparsely expressed, but resonated with me a great deal this week.
“A war, in Civ, is always against external forces. It is a neighbor who wants land, a conquering force that wants your natural resources, a religious zealot who will convert by force. Civ cannot account for the fact that within your real civ, people look, think, and act differently from each other, and may, too, come to war within their own country. Progress is not inevitable. It is hard, ugly work, and it always comes with regression as its twin. “
The kitchen window
In the introduction to this roundup, I did suggest that there is some healing to be found in art at a time like this. These pieces discuss some ways that games can feel restorative, and what developers can do if they want their games to be part of the forces of healing.
- The National Pastime: Play in the Time of Politics – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Lee Hibbard has some warm words to share on the importance of games in bad times, regardless of whether or not art is going to save us.
- Video Games Are Boring | GamesIndustry.biz
This widely-shared essay discusses how interest is created and maintained in our current media landscape, and what that might mean for game designers who want to make things a bit better for other people.
- Dying Is a Learning Opportunity | PopMatters
Kym Buchanan relates some of the usual arguments about death and game design to some important theories from health and education.
- Animal Crossing Helps Me Cope On A Day Like Today
Gita Jackson redirects the notion of escapism into a wider, humanist idea of aesthetics and values.
“[…] deep in another bout of depression, my dad told me that every day he wakes up, stares out the kitchen window, and tries to think of all the things he is grateful for. The kitchen of our family home overlooks a modest backyard with a few trees and a creek lousy with mosquitos. My mother was, and still is, an ardent gardener and on our back porch she grew basil and lavender. Looking out on that, my dad would think about how he loved his family, his job, and the place he lived.”
These pieces consider how games can express our relationship with the rest of humanity through our local environment, with ruminations on blame and guilt.
- The influence of Blame! on videogame architecture is rising – Kill Screen
Chris Priestman sheds light on a design trend affecting how we relate to the city, life, and humanity in games.
- ‘Dear Esther’ Offers A Different, Romantic Sort of Apocalypse – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman makes a claim for Dear Esther’s significance outside of genre histories.
“This is the lasting power of Dear Esther. It isn’t the inauguration of the “walking simulator” or the randomized elements. It’s the fact that it is a game about a world robbed of humanity that forces the player to think about their relationship to the world, to their personal failings, and to their guilt. It is a game that can absolve you, but it does that through making you feel so incredibly tiny. Humanity recedes into the distance, smaller than mountains, smothered by clouds.”
Quests, sacrifice, causes
These pieces discuss how to tell stories, and what the consequences of storytelling can be on how people see themselves in relation to people who are different to them, particularly during a time of conflict.
- Outside Your Heaven: Weaponized Storytelling
Matthew Weise discusses how stories are systems that can compel people to hurt others.
- Small-Scale Structures in CYOA | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short shares some helpful models of player choice, using Twine 2 card layouts to demonstrate narrative structures.
- Playing for Real: Holding Out for a Hero – Haywire Magazine
Jesse Porch argues that for games to feel relevant and resonant, their main characters have to be ordinary as well as spectacular.
“JRR Tolkien was keenly aware that to truly resonate his story needed more than mere fantasy, it needed a firm grounding in the mundane life that gives heroes’ actions weight and purpose. In a letter to his publisher, Tolkien notes that “the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.” He viewed the mundane as key to properly understanding Sam’s heroism, which was itself based on his faithfulness, dependability, and perseverance.”
The tools with which one depicts an image
Finally, these pieces discuss taking action as game developers, politically and creatively.
- The Industry, the Union, and the Strike | Rami Ismail
Rami Ismail talks with SAG-AFTRA members about political action in the games industry itself.
- Nintendo – Putting Play First | YouTube
Mark Brown discusses how Nintendo conceptualizes game development as being fundamentally about playful actions.
- Brendon Chung’s Materials | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
Yussef Cole talks about cubism, boxes, and the idea that fluidity of creation is essential to creating an artistic voice.
“Chung’s method of using an ancient game engine and his choice to eschew photoreal high-fidelity representation is an approach which shares principles with the stripped-down flat perspectives of Cubism, the Dada-ist junk sculptures of Kurt Schwitters, and the material-focused art form of Minimalism. What all these movements share in common is a belief that the tools with which one depicts an image are just as important as the image itself.”
Things continue to change a lot around here, and we have some big announcements coming up this week with regard to our Patreon campaign. In the mean time, here are some recent posts for you to check out to stay up to date:
- New Website! Part 3: A games criticism archive | Critical Distance
I gave another update this week on some of the things that have improved around here recently.
- November 2016: ‘Illness’ | Critical Distance
If you’re feeling creatively blocked, keep yourself writing by taking on this month’s Blogs of the Round Table assignment.
How This Week in Videogame Blogging Works
Thanks for reading another roundup of This Week in Videogame Blogging! The process that we go through to bring these links can be a little opaque at times, so I have put together a guide on how our curation process works. You can check that out here.
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