November 5th

Resistance, systemic cruelty, and the role of individuals are major themes of writing this week. In addition, we’ve got great stuff on inclusivity and the history of game design, and some engaging ideas about how games meet the art world. First, however, we’re going to talk about fascism.

Who the bad guys are

A new Wolfenstein game has critics discussing Nazis, hyperviolence, and the appropriate response to fascism.

Wolfenstein, on the other hand, is unafraid to take its stance: interpersonal, pointed, direct violence against a structure of power that wields that power against the marginalized and the underprivileged is not only excusable, but necessary. Wolfenstein is upfront about who the bad guys are (Nazis) and what you should do about them (kill them).”

Interdependent actors

Examining our relationship with wider structural oppression, three pieces highlight games that portray – critically or not – individual responses to large-scale harm.

“Wallman sees megagames ultimately as a narrative medium, whose rules exist to generate stories. If so, these are the stories not of individuals but of systems, of institutions, of interdependent actors whose decisions conspire to produce a result few of them desired or predicted but which all of them collectively author.”

Pyre

Supergiant’s latest game is starting to spark a wave of interesting critical writing.

“Supergiant’s three games all helped me consider the role of the individual and our relationships with each other in different ways. They made me see how hard it can be to challenge your own perceptions and how this can only work if we try to stay open-minded.”

Voyeuristic exercise

Two pieces look at games history, and in particular, the factors that facilitated creativity in game development.

“It’s a voyeuristic exercise in psychoanalysis, a vivisection of a girl’s fantasies in a desperate attempt to understand why she is so broken. “

People at the bottom

Two pieces on the portrayal of oppression in games challenge developers to take the subject matter seriously, rather than simply exploiting it for laughs or drama.

“All power structures require people at the bottom to support those at the top, and Destiny 2’s society is no exception. No one accomplishes anything alone, but the epic narratives of heroic conquest that drive Destiny players to reach new heights of power and ability do plenty of groundwork to paint it that way.”

Super Mario Odyssey

Nintendo’s latest Mario title has many reviewers praising its joyful atmosphere and skilled design – however, two critics have raised a rather thornier issue.

“Mario gains an eerie power: anything that is made to wear Mario’s cap becomes Mario. Throw it on a dinosaur’s head, for instance, and that dino is instantly fused with Mario—and you, the player, find yourself playing as a dinosaur. Take control of goombas, electric poles, whatever else suits your fancy. Mario‘s vision of the future is a cap resting on an enslaved head, forever.”

The humanist reality

In writing on storytelling this week, two pieces look at the emotional authenticity of how different mental processes are portrayed.

“For all its cleverness, this is what Sethian gets wrong: its writing is shorn of cultural context and presented purely as a puzzle. It’s intriguing and ingenious but it feels a bit like decipherment as imagined by mathematicians or computer scientists, not the humanist reality.”

A new kind of meaning

Getting into some satisfying issues concerning the relationship games have to contemporary art, two critics propose new ways of thinking about the relationship between software and visual presence.

“Instead of contrasting Breakout as a relic of time gladly past, I want to see games like it reclaimed and retrofitted with a new kind of meaning, in terms of being compassionate game design that easily fits in a person’s life. To recast “simplicity” as minimalism. To acknowledge that not everything this shambling culture moved away from points to some kind of necessary, futuristic improvement.”


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