September 10th

A critical game, a video essay with limited narration, and in-depth interview pieces – this was a week of experimentation in games criticism, and this week’s roundup is all the richer for it.

Screenshot from "Something Something Soup Something" showing a 3D model of a bowl of soup

Burning

We start with two pieces of criticism that use unusual methods to get their point across.

  • Something Something Soup Something – Home (game: browser-based, subtitled dialogue)
    This week we received a critical game project! Stefano Gualeni’s web-based restaurant simulator uses food as a metaphor for some other discomforts that arise when new technologies put us at a distance from the people we rely upon.
  • Where Flesh Meets Steel | Precocious Ragamuffin (video: no subtitles)
    Written and edited by Ayk Iano, this video involves some narration, but its most novel points are communicated visually, through imagery captured from Deus Ex: Mankind Divided edited together to emphasize metaphors of fallen humanity and ascendant technology.

Stigma

There is a rich selection of writing on gaming scenes and professional networks this week, including pieces that look at how marginalised people are affected by conditions on games-related platforms.

“Despite the stigma directed at sex workers, Morbid feels that camming is more accepted than streaming as ‘real work’, maybe because there’s an offline analogue–you’re a “digital stripper”, as she puts it. Streaming is a newer practice and doesn’t have the same kind of equivalent. The idea of playing games while other people watch, much less making money from it, is still a very strange idea for some.”

Shame

Psychological approaches to games writing continue to be a strong point this week, as three writers look at how games, and the culture around games, affect people emotionally.

“Boiling down mental illness to a Campbellian Hero’s Journey fails to provide the nuance required to say anything conclusive. Is the rot on Senua’s arm a representation of her growing self-doubt? Is it a bruise left by her abusive father? It is a literal mark of shame from the gods? It ends up being all of these things, because Hellblade shies away from anything too definitive.”

Discipline

Specific game mechanics and design strategies are addressed in these four pieces, which consider what players do, and how the constraints of player action came about over the course of games history.

“Where does failure rest, here? At what moment does one fail at Skylines, and more importantly, what is the critical difference between failure here and failure in any of those death-and-learning action games that I mentioned at the beginning? Game culture doesn’t praise games like Cities: Skylines for their ability to discipline us into learning the systems of urban planning through failure and the brutal time cost of failing and starting again.”

Scars

These three pieces combine narrative with space, to look at how games tell stories about places through the design of environments.

Kentucky Route Zero reminds us that those real, wide-open spaces that arch out along the interstate are tangible and covered in scars. Places that we would push out of our mind and glaze over because it would be more convenient for the oppressors if we would forget about the victims buried beneath the surface. “


Plugs

Don’t forget to check out this month’s Blogs of the Round Table callout on “Oceans” — write a piece inspired by the writing prompt, and you’ll automatically have it featured in the month’s roundup.

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