January 22nd

Cartoon strip cell showing a child at a riverside, with text "I remember when I was that small, when textures and smells were so much stronger"

I love it when critics find ways to get a point across without words. Images can be just as valuable a critical tool as writing; they offer a different set of techniques for demonstrating what a game is doing or what it means to you. Normally, visual essays and photojournalism are thin on the ground in these roundups, but this week I’ve been spoiled rotten with pieces that use visual expression to say something about games and aesthetics.

Cracking open

Let’s start with the broader topic of how to engage critically with games. A few different approaches were raised this week, from diagrams to serenades.

Cartoon strip cell showing a child at a riverside, with text "I remember when I was that small, when textures and smells were so much stronger"

Ungentle snow

Homing in more directly on how a game looks, these two pieces examine how the landscapes of particular games are composed, and what effect that has on the play experience.

 

Conversation options

There were some interesting discussions this week about conversations as learned behavior and as labor, with diverse perspectives on how ability and circumstances change the kind of toll that conversation takes on a person.

“Granted, video games still have a long way to go in terms of being fully accessible, and some difficulty curves are still rather high, but knowing that it’s perfectly natural to talk to non-player characters (NPCs) to reorient yourself, choosing your own play style, or leveling up your party before taking on a difficult boss is refreshing to someone living in a world where people raise eyebrows when you ask for clarification or require extra accommodations. My brain is not punished or judged for being autistic when I game; I simply play and enjoy.”

Tragedy

Finally, these three pieces examine narrative techniques that provoke players not to take their own victories for granted.

“Tragedy, as a genre, dismantles. It doesn’t tease us with the idea of inevitable victory as most modern video games do. It grimly acknowledges the inevitability of loss in endings, something that gamers are trained to pretend just isn’t possible, just isn’t allowed”

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