May 21st

Worried about the future? Pull up a chair! This week features writing on fear and the economy in games such as Night in the Woods and Prey.

The thrill of reaching an audience

  • The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over – The New Yorker
    Jia Tolentino finds economic and cultural reasons for the rise and fall of a writing style that once made a huge impact on games criticism. She doesn’t specifically mention games, but it’s a topic I’ve been wondering about for a while with regard to our field.

For some writers, these essays led to better-paying work. But for many the thrill of reaching an audience had to suffice. And placing a delicate part of your life in the hands of strangers didn’t always turn out to be so thrilling. Personal essays cry out for identification and connection; what their authors often got was distancing and shame.

Cede control

In two pieces on agency and interaction, critics ask who has control and what players are compelled to do with the challenges they face in games.

Control and tempo of play isn’t dictated by what the player necessarily wants, it’s a matter of being in constant avoidance. Rhythm is determined by whatever chases; a player must cede control over the space, in a way that other genres or styles rarely, if ever, require someone to do.

Community norms

New ideas are emerging about the management and organization of gaming communities, through game design and through systems of moderation.

While anti-harassment solutions based on “big data” and machine learning might be increasingly popular, today’s MOBA designers should weigh carefully the Tribunal’s unique advantage: providing a forum within which community norms evolve organically in socially responsible directions. That lesson is worth remembering.

Live in the friction

Looking more specifically at inclusivity in gaming communities, this week three pieces identified strategies and successes in accessible and inclusive gaming.

As people of color, we cannot enforce strictures of racial or cultural credibility through something as simple as our goddamn hobbies, and as geeks, we cannot tacitly accept that being geeky means embracing a rejection of racial or ethnic identity, or allowing others to dictate that non-white cultures are non-normative. In short, we need to live in the friction. 

Misremembered American dream

This week’s writing on narrative in games often had a particular focus on the political implications of storytelling.

[W]e all know why Possum Springs dried up. It was never because the jobs left. It was because the job-givers couldn’t move on. The wealthy were afraid of giving up wealth, the town stayed transfixed on the past, on an ideal of a misremembered American dream.

At the end of everything

Four writers related their understanding of game narratives to specific mental states that games and other media can generate.

The game’s official tagline is “At the end of everything, hold onto anything.” Possum Springs is a troubled town, but what keeps it together is the human need to hold on to something, whether it be otherworldly or mundane. The world—and the town—is changing, in ways that are out of anyone’s control. When Mae returns to her hometown, it’s already started.

Imaginary Omaha Beach

Putting games into a longer history of media and art, these three pieces examine the significance of the times and places that games come from.

It’s meant to remind viewers of another time—not a time when the world was at war, but when it was largely at peace. These sounds, visuals, and themes aren’t so much a return to Normandy itself but of the imaginary Omaha Beach of Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and the copycat game genre it spawned.

Already stripped of free time

Three critics looked at games in relation to business and international economics.

In spending a week wandering the streets of Havana and its suburbs on the hunt for Cuba’s video gaming generation, I kept stumbling across this sort of low-tech meets high-tech fabulism. It gave my short stay in Cuba, already stripped of free time, time to think, time to relax, a sense of almost magic realism.

Visual ambition

Finally, these three pieces offer some insights into the visuality of games, with some tips on how to build visual literacy skills.

While the greebled Death Star might, for all its qualities, remain a generalized blob of tech and ornament, Talos I becomes, over the player’s time in its halls, a nuanced balance of visual ambition and literalized technology. It is liveable, understandable, even historical, and when the game lets us drift out into space and orbit its every surface and room as if we were debug testers, outside the bounds of the map, it becomes conceivable as a single architectural object.


Plugs

Subscribe

Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?

Contribute

Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!