This week sees some fantastic thoughts on role-playing. Which roles are represented in narratives, what it would have been like to play a particular role in its historical context, and how we deal with the pressure to perform in a particular role.
A dance teacher once told me that she sometimes tries on different people’s walks, to feel what it is like to be in their body. She said that it freaks people out, that somehow people can tell you’re doing it and it’s disconcerting. Some of the pieces this week make me think about game design as a way of letting someone try on a different kind of walk for a while.
Challenging our sense that history is a constant march towards progress, two pieces show how fragile and contingent any movement forward really is.
- Final Fantasy XV is a Step Backwards | remeshed.com
Amanda Jean argues that Final Fantasy XV‘s demos point to a socially regressive narrative in which the few women who appear are objects of desire and the men are offered little escape from toxic masculinity.
- What Happened to All the Black Games? | Mammon Machine: ZEAL
Alexandra Marie reflects on what it meant for a game to be black in the 1990s, and traces the loss of black culture in gaming since then.
“Games like Blitz the League and Def Jam wanted you to hear the crack, know that these people felt pain and could be hurt, but black people can take the hit. These weren’t humanized characters either, just cutouts and stereotypes, with no depth, no detail. As games were starting to develop a sense of humanity, black people got left out.”
Other pieces on games and history look at memories of the industry’s past, and imaginaries of formative moments in global history.
- That time I was blacklisted by Sega while editing a Sega magazine | Eurogamer.net
Keith Stuart shares an interesting career story from old school games writing
- The Ahistorical Representation of Religion in Civilization | The Hub City Review
Matthew J. Theriault upended my assumptions about how the Civilisation series relates to cultural history, with some interesting implications for how we read design.
- The Pirate Republics that Inspired Uncharted 4‘s Libertalia | ZAM
Robert Rath tells some of the stories of pirate utopias that informed Naughty Dog’s work.
- This is not a gas mask | Iterations of Cid
Paul Bauman explores the psychology of memory and trauma through iconography in WWI-themed tabletop The Grizzled
“[…] the iconography hangs in the air in a way that is functional but also slightly unnerving and hallucinatory, unmoored, out of perspective. These are abstractions that work as game elements but hint at a scarier, more brutal metonymy that would give these objects a near talismanic quality to the soldier […]”
What are do games ask of players? What are we enacting when we play with or against the designer? Critics are exploring the moods and cadences of this intricate dance.
- Firewatch Is Mine (No Spoilers) | YouTube (video, fully subtitled)
In a remarkably beautiful video, Satchell Drakes presents a paean to a game that, he argues, is a landmark in shifting attitudes to player choice.
- Hyper Light Drifter and the Siren Song of Nostalgia | remeshed.com
Sophie Weeks argues that game difficulty could be characterised as a work of art begging for your attention, just desperate to be loved.
- Editorial: An End To “GIT GUD” – You Don’t Need To Be “Good” At Games To Enjoy Them | Rock, Paper, Shotgun
John Walker articulates a important position against the elitism of skill in games discourse.
“The loudest voices are almost always from the smallest minorities of gamers, and when someone writes about – or videos themselves – being less “good” at a game, it is these loud voices that respond. Furiously and often cruelly, mocking and chastising, and ultimately dismissing, because they might have a better aim, or a greater affinity for a particular genre. However, as is very often horribly demonstrated by those doing the mocking and dismissing, what they aren’t better at is informative and entertaining writing. Which might rather be the key.”
Play as a kind of performance has been a central theme in early responses to the reboot of DOOM.
- How Does The New DOOM Compare to Previous Dooms? [Huge Spoilers] | YouTube (video, auto-captions)
Noah Caldwell-Gervais talks about the heart, avarice and unbridled joy of DOOM.
- The guy you’re playing as in Doom is playing Doom | Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan at Eurogamer covers similar themes about the emotions and aesthetics of DOOM
- Why is Doom so great? It’s not afraid to be itself. | ZAM
Danielle Riendeau surprises herself by thoroughly enjoying the unrelenting thrills of DOOM.
“A lot of games fall into a self-important trap. Their creative teams, probably with their hearts in the right place, want their violent AAA games to have rich characters, important stories, a sense of heaviness and drama. And that works beautifully in a game that isn’t explicitly about shooting thousands of enemies in their faces. But in a shooter that isn’t explicitly referencing military tactics and a very specific “war is hell” vibe, there’s massive dissonance there. Doom drops that pretense entirely. It wants you to know, from its very first minutes, that this is a game about having fun shooting and bludgeoning DEMONS FROM HELL IN SPACE.”
Speaking of SPACE, this week brings two particularly astute pieces on games as worlds and places.
- The Evolution of Dark Souls Level Design (and Bloodborne!) | YouTube (video, auto-captions)
Super Bunnyhop breaks down some of the spatial techniques used in the Souls games to give players a rewarding journey.
- Gamist vs. Worldist | Tobold’s Blog
Tobold Stoutfoot presents two different approaches to game design; personally I’m not fond of the nomenclature, but the work of identifying and complicating a dichotomy here is very useful.
“Gamist design considers the game to be first and foremost a game. It doesn’t matter what the numbers represent, but it is important that the game achieves a state of “flow”, where every single encounter is perfectly balanced to be neither too easy, nor too hard. Worldist design considers that everything in the game represents something in the game world, and that it is most important that this world is believable. There need to be interesting decisions which result in real consequences.”
And that’s the end of the roundup! Some final personal plugs and notes:
- Cities of Dust and Light | The Towner
A piece of mine was published in a magazine about cities and culture this week. I’m very proud of it and I hope that you consider taking a look, even though it wouldn’t be right for me to include it in the roundup proper.
- We’ve launched a Kickstarter | The Arcade Review
Zolani Stewart has launched a fundraiser for a final edition of the Arcade Review, in glorious print format.