July 16th

From the question of what’s wrong with games criticism, to critical writing on games that ask what’s wrong with us, this week brings us a bumper crop of original, inventive work. It’s not easy to keep up with it all, but we have you covered.

Genre

A couple of key issues in games criticism were discussed this week on Youtube and on games sites such as Waypoint. First, the genre classification of games inspired by Dark Souls, and in connection to that, the current status of the Roguelike genre.

Author

Other issues brought up this week include the use of Twitter threads instead of blog posts, and the reputation and personality of the individual journalist.

“I’d argue Dunkey sells some of these websites (and their readers) short. When I worked at Kotaku, for instance, plenty of people were able to freely differentiate between the writers, usually because said writers were assigned specific beats and games, which means people checking out articles related to those games often developed a relationship with that author. If there was a Dark Souls post on Kotaku in the last few years, chances are it was from me. If someone was writing about a new JRPG, quite often Jason Schreier’s name was attached.”

Work

Discussions of how games make us relate to systems of labour and power came up this week, with some optimistic observations about the capacity of games to give players a different view on how they respond to the world around them.

“Tying your self worth to the material value you produce for someone else is a bad way to live your life. But as much as I may consciously know that, as much as I may repeat it to myself… It still feels good to fill that document, to click that prompt, to send that email. To churn out those most recognizable work units. It still feels good, even when it means absolutely nothing.”

Industry

Moving on from games criticism to games creation, these three articles prompt readers to look critically at the techniques and contexts that allow things to be made the way they are.

“Rather than a specific method or gap in knowledge that could be perfectly filled, what I think this points to is a perspective from which to ask what else is happening in terms of videogame development that will always allude quantitive work. And not just ‘over there’ beyond ‘the videogame industry’. As Push Me Pull You shows, these actors and practices are intimately connected with what constitutes the contemporary, regional videogame industry in this real messy tangle.”

Simulation

Looking at boundaries between the technical and the natural, these three pieces of writing suggest that we treat things that seem like mere technicalities as important parts of creative expression.

Magic: The Gathering is a game that often depends on feel: Does this spell feel red? Does this art feel like it fits this card? Does countering someone’s spell feel bad? Wallace’s art bot captures this core pillar of the Magic game. It understands, and reflects, the feeling of a card. And that’s wonderful.”

Mind

Turning now to critical examinations of game content, this week has brought rich discussion of mental health and games.

” it is problematic to label a technology itself as addictive, since only some users are affected to that extent. If the defining characteristic of a psychoactive drug is the ability to alter mood, does this suggest a more useful way to compare drugs with technology? It might, because many recent digital technologies can change users’ mood, including gamesphones and social mediaonline video, and virtual reality. This is also true of “old media” such as television and recorded music, which new mobile platforms make available anytime and anywhere. “

Harmony

Two pieces highlight ways that people are excluded from gaming, either through national boundaries or through gendered cultural norms.

“What makes Princess Debut feminine, though, is not its pink menus, delicate soundtrack, or shoujo manga-inspired character designs. Rather, those external aesthetics are genuinely representative of an internal structure that whose priorities and techniques are expressly feminine […] My working definition of feminine game design is this: design that intentionally evokes feelings of grace and harmony, often through qualitative and relational incentives.”

Boyfriend-wannabes

Romantic relationships provided fertile ground for discussions about psychological pain in games this week.

“Patricia Hernandez has argued that this limited, shorter ending after the storm might be a punishment for our selfish choice. Max chooses Chloe and damns everyone else. But I think it’s more poignant, or more utopian, than that. The catastrophic choice frees these two. There are no more stepdads, no more boyfriend-wannabees, no more investment possibilities in Arcadia Bay.”

Literature

Another key storytelling issue that came up this week was the intersection between world building and character building, with ample reference to literary criticism.

The Expanse—the world that began as a game, became a book series, was adapted into a television show, and is now, in fact, in a sort of full-circle move, being turned into a board game—opens up this conversation, I think, by revealing that the feedback between the forms, between games and literature, is not simply a straight line from literature to games but is, perhaps, more of a network, a multi-connected conversation between the vast array of mediums and forms that we engage with every day.”

Environments

Going deeper into the construction of game worlds, these two pieces look at open-world games that eschew gamey tropes, in order to make players pay a different kind of attention.

FFXII has a variety of beautiful environments, from wide-open plains to networks of narrow caves, but it does not care whether or not you poke your nose into every dead end and cul-de-sac.”

Capacities

Interaction remains key to other aspects of games’ creative expression, as these two pieces attest.

“the brilliance of Mercy is that her healing capacities are anything but expressive of some demure gender-normative passivity, a question of throwing down auras and waiting for the team’s heavy hitters to drop by. Rather, they unite with her eccentric movement abilities to create a high level playstyle that is, I think, unprecedented in shooters”


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!