After a troubling set of weeks, it seems a lot of games critics are thinking about how escapism is more than it appears on the surface. A major theme of this week’s blogging is how games can provide a sense of release from the crushing unpredictability of life, and can even be part of how we heal and overcome adversity. Perhaps this roundup, late though it is, can provide you some relief too.

Who are you now?

Discussions about the player-character relationship have moved beyond the simple idea that we identify with an avatar, with more critics looking at how games construct an experience of inhabiting an identity.

“Humans who author procedural systems of playable identity are creating systems that lack empathy. These systems can only interact on the basis of what they have been “told” to understand, whether they have been hard-coded with responses, learned from interacting with others, looked at large corpuses of information for design ideas, or been imbued with a social understanding through painstaking hand-authoring of social theories. A socially responsible and aware approach to game design thus requires consideration of social issues at every stage of creating the software.”

How does that make you feel?

These pieces look directly at how games can soothe players’ pain. Keep an eye out for content warnings on these, as some contain descriptions of experiences that you might find triggering or distressing.

“So many of us here have written about games as crisis management, about coping with tragedy and anxiety and mental health, and maybe that too is why representation seems so important to us. If games exist to take us somewhere else, to offer a bit of control we might not otherwise have, wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a little more control there, too?”

What do you remember?

Looking at the darkness in American and European history, these pieces examine games in conversation with traumatic cultural memories.

Inside is nothing short of the Schindler’s List of video games. It is, is anything, more effective in conveying the horrors of the holocaust. Whereas Spielberg’s opus was from the perspective of an outsider, Inside gives an insider perspective of persecution. Whereas one can sympathize with Schindler, simultaneously regretting he’d not done more while uplifted for all the good he did do, there is nothing uplifting in the least to Inside. It looks unflinchingly at the worst atrocity ever perpetrated, forcing the player to empathize with those who’d experienced such firsthand, and offers no consolation for the severity of such evils.”

What does this tell you?

Another major theme this week is inventive narrative strategies, with some people finding new ways to tell stories with interactive media; and others critiquing the tropes and structures of old.

“What I take away from wrestling’s occasionally astounding incohesion is that it doesn’t really matter. As a creative artist, I can take a hard turn and my audience will follow along if they’re on board with what I’m doing. The player and the viewer come to be entertained, and it’s always better to surprise them than to bore them. If they poke holes in the construction or logic of a scene later, at least I’ll know it comes from a place of passion instead of disdain.”

That’s all for this week! Please do keep sending in recommendations, they help a great deal. Critical Distance is a community-supported organisation, and as such we rely on your donations. If you’re able to spend a couple of dollars a month to keep us going, I would really appreciate that.