August 6th

This week’s games criticism takes us to world’s of economic disparity, both imagined and real, and introduces a slew of writing on Tacoma, Fullbright’s spiritual successor to Gone Home. Welcome to This Week in Videogame Blogging!

Economics as usual

How we experience games is informed by our various lived experiences, and narratives in games can explore conditions and circumstances players may be far removed from.

“The characters’ hometown of Possum Springs also impacts their mental health and access to care. Possum Springs is a former mining town that is facing economic decline. Mae is infamously known for beating up a boy for seemingly no reason when she was in high school. At the time, she was reacting to an episode of depersonalization that caused her to see the world in “shapes” and disconnect from reality.”

Context clues

From the cultural to historical, these writers explore the connections between play and aestheticism, abstraction and subversion.

“In a post­mod­ern, media-dominated world, it can feel as though cul­tur­al mem­o­ry is his­to­ry – or at least, it’s replaced his­to­ry. Historical truths are fluid and com­pli­cat­ed; hard to pin down. Narrative isn’t near­ly as dif­fi­cult: America’s lost inno­cence, the end of an era. Juxtaposed with the dra­mat­ic imagery and music of the era, the sym­bol­ism becomes so tempt­ing that it’s dif­fi­cult not to be taken in by it.”

Morality warfare

“There is an underlying theme to all of Case’s games, and that is kindness. But not kindness as an altruistic ideal, nor as a sickly-sweet alternative to protests and being vocal about injustice—the flower in the gun barrel, the band-aid on the open wound—but about kindness as a provably smart move. Case backs up their hypothesis with simulations, experimentation and simple step-by-step explanations of even the more complex ideas.”

“You might still decide not killing your enemies is the right choice, but if you’re locked into that decision because you want an achievement, the morality is no longer playing a part. And when the game still tries to suggest that it does, you’re left with the message that torturing people is what a hero would do.”’

Ancillary parts

What occurs outside of the scope of the narrative is just as interesting as what happens within it, which can be anything from the way we input to the impact virtual locations have had on our collective consciousness.

  • Queering the Controller | Analog Game Studies
    Elsewhere, Miguel Sicart brings up the need for innovation in controller design:

    “… video game controllers have a very limited expression palette and that there’s very little that controllers make us feel. Emotions such as desire, longing and arousal are always expressed through game mechanics and narrative; they are not embodied and felt viscerally, and this is a problem.”

  • Breath of the Wild and Telling Stories Through Archaeology | Eurogamer
    Eurogamer’s Philip Boyes looks at Breath of the Wild through an archaeological lens, finding patterns in the landscape itself. “It doesn’t matter whether this theory’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong” says Boyes, “the environment was created in such a way as to suggest connections and prompt these kinds of interpretations.”
  • ‘Pyre’ Sees Exploitation Where Sports Meet Faith – Vice Waypoint
    Rob Zacny writes about Pyre’s connection to the fans faithful to bad sports teams, and the “porous” boundary between sports and religion.

Denouement

The action may be over, but there’s more interesting discussion to be had!

“Popular games were talking about sex, violence and politics; reviewers were doing the same. When I played Gone Home, it felt like one of the most cogent examples of these new trends and discussions, emerging among videogames. It seemed safe, as in not-at-all-silly, to describe this videogame as “adult” and “observational.” And for the amateur critic that was emboldening.”

Video


Plugs

“Games, from development and design to communities to mainstream writing to scholarship, have traditionally privileged not only certain intersecting identities, but even certain definitions, boundaries, and standards that exclude, overlook, and circumscribe those on the margins of the dominant groups. While we want to be careful not to appropriate the struggles of Black scholars for recognition, there’s a lot we can learn from critiques like Royster and Williams’, and from the foundations of critical race theory, as we look for ways into a more expansive view of games studies.”

  • Just Games – Game Studies Elsewhere, Editor-in-Chief of Game Studies, Espen Aarseth, is looking for articles on games, no matter the definition:

“Other fields, from literature and media to planetology and even biology, cannot sufficiently define their central objects either, and they are none the worse for it. The day we can formally define what a game is, that is the day games become uninteresting for intellectual inquiry.”

They’re also looking for submissions from academics of diverse backgrounds

“The special issue editors welcome submissions from scholars from a variety of backgrounds, including those from game studies, queer studies, science and technology studies, cultural studies, and beyond. We hope to hear from authors who are new to the work of queer game studies, as well as those who have already contributed scholarship in this area.”

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!