What kind of critical practice can be built in videogames blogging? What techniques can we use as feminists to make the best intervention into how games are made? How do we relate to dramatic political change from inside of a bubble that engages so much with matters of fantasy? Writers this week are considering our roles as cultural critics in changing times.
Inaccessible, inward, myopic
- Why action? | vextro
In a rare example of meta-criticism, leeroy lewin discusses the writing of Tim Rogers.
“Action games are on average more resistant to learn and the more difficult for impaired players to experience. They’re more inaccessible, more inward, more myopic games. They’re made so incredibly specifically for an audience, with pre-molded expectations of how they should function, that they’re the clear and present opposite of interesting, utopian art.”
Efficiency and ethics
Some complex questions about what kind of feminism to practice come up in this week’s writing on inclusivity in games.
- The Morally Ambiguous Women of Dishonored 2 | remeshed.com
Amanda Jean addresses the positive and negative aspects of portrayals of women in Dishonored 2, arguing in favour of ambiguity and against the victim-villain axis.
- Technical Communication, Culture, and Apparent Feminism in Gaming | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Alex Layne discusses the “Apparent Feminism” methodology devised for the tech industry, and considers how it may or may not be useful in games.
“Efficiency is probably one of the most contested terms in technical communication. A lot of unethical work has been done under the guise of efficiency. It can and does kill people. I think the same could be said of certain terms in gaming; fun, for example, is a defense people use to convince themselves that something racist they laughed at—for example—isn’t important. It’s just a joke. It’s just for fun.“
Increasingly, writing on history and games is taking on board not just how history is portrayed, but what’s at stake in those portrayals – what do the games being critiqued suggest about the way that we remember the past?
- “Battlefield 1 is a Fantasy,” by Gareth Damian Martin | Bullet Points Monthly (Content warning: descriptions of xenophobia)
Gareth Damian Martin’s reflections on the glorification of war are a nuanced and timely intervention, suggesting that when we talk about Battlefield 1 we should direct our critique where it really matters.
- Oxenfree, Memory, and Public History | Play The Past
Christopher Sawula addresses how a haunted old military base serves as a commentary on how the past is remembered.
- Fallout 4 and the End of History | First Person Scholar
David Bowman argues that Fallout 4’s capitalism is much more contemporary than its atompunk stylings imply, yet its critique remains toothless.
“The two strains of late-capitalism, neoconservatism and neoliberalism, both make an appearance in the form of the world’s two main settlements. Diamond City is neoconservative, being both moral and regulatory and having encounters that frequently revolve around ideas of controlling sexuality and identity. Goodneighbour is neoliberal, being amoral in its ends and means with inhabitants enjoying drugs, jazz and paying the Sole Survivor to enact state-sanctioned violence against its inhabitants.”
A particularly important example of historical portrayals in games at the moment is Mafia III, which has attracted a great deal of insightful writing over the past few weeks. This week is no exception.
- Mafia 3 (Spoilers) | YouTube (Video: auto-captioned)
Chris Franklin gives an overview of Mafia III’s approach to historical storytelling.
- Mafia III’s NPCs can teach you a lot about history, so long as you don’t murder them first | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
Bob Whitaker writes about the ambient conversational details that educate and situate the player in history.
“NPC chatter has become a hallmark of the open world genre, but rarely does this chatter go beyond “hey, watch it!” or “ahhhh, he’s got a gun!” Mafia III includes this same sort of chatter, but it also features NPC dialogue infused with an impressive amount of historical detail related to the game’s setting in 1968.”
Politics, pleasure and frustration
Two interesting pieces address in very different ways a similar observation: that at the core of institutional politics, in games and in general, is the desire to capitalize on the base emotions of a populace.
- Gamasutra: Ramin Shokrizade’s Blog | The Price of Frustration
Ramin Shokrizade argues that the free-to-play theory of friction has already been disproven, but too late to stop it from becoming entrenched as a conventional approach to game design.
- The Real Problem is Not Misinformation | Culture Digitally (Content warning: Trump)
Mack Hagood argues that the very conditions that led to the election of Trump are the conditions exploited by app (and game) developers.
“Trump supporters did not vote for him because they were misinformed online—rather, they consumed and circulated misinformation because they loved Trump, because it was an enormously pleasurable thing to do, and because they imagined (correctly) that it drove the educated classes crazy [sic]. […] For better and for worse, digital technologies are rechanneling and amplifying these aspects of human nature […]”
Football Manager 2017
One particularly acute example of political feeling and frustration in games right now has come out of a sports management simulator.
- We planned for Brexit at Football Manager. So why did no one else? | Miles Jacobson | Opinion | The Guardian
Football Manager’s developer talks about the strangely adulatory response he has received for what he considers to be a fairly basic amount of research into the consequenes of Brexit.
- How Football Manager 2017 is making football fans panic about Brexit | Eurogamer.net
George Osborn reaches some interesting, if depressing, conclusions about Britain’s likely future, based on how players are responding to this simulation of the effects of leaving the EU.
“Although they don’t know when or how it’ll happen, FM managers in charge of British clubs have had to plan for the worst early to mitigate the effects of a hard exit. [… M]any managers have chosen to totally avoid Britain so they don’t have to worry about Brexit at all. “
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