This week, we find ourselves peering backward in time, examining the world as it was, as it is again, and as we understand it now because of that we learned before. Part nostalgia, part history, but all This Week in Video Game Blogging!
In game development, there is almost always a time toward the end of a project where developers buckle down, square their shoulders, and pour every bit of themselves, often to the point of destructiveness, into a period of overwork called crunch. This week, two separate takes on crunch, and its place in the gaming industry.
- Why I worship crunch | Polygon
An ode to the destructive but, to Walt Williams, necessary and excellent game development feature: crunch time.
- Crunch Culture Is Never Just About Individual Choice | Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman challenges Williams’ article that deeply invests in the crunch culture present in modern game development.
This essay, though, gives so much ground to a practice that Williams claims not to support, and radically individualizes a systemic issue to the detriment of those who crunch and who do not have a complicated relationship with it. The essay functions as a romantic, florid apologia.
Sometimes games hold up a mirror to what humans are—as individuals and as a people. Even when it isn’t their central focus, games can speak to us in meaningful, human ways.
- Tacoma and the Stories We Leave Behind | Ploughshares
Human lives are narratives which can be informed partly by the artifacts we gather over said lives, a point at Patrick Larose felt central to the story of Tacoma.
- The People in Tacoma | shutupvideogames
Human lives are in people, and in people alone. At least, as Ed Smith’s argument goes, the belief that there’s something profound to be found in objects is a dishonest take on humanity.
- What Remains of Edith Finch and the Art of Inevitability | Eurogamer
Sarah Ditum comments on the human drive for a story, whatever the costs, in a spoiler-heavy pondering on What Remains of Edith Finch.
- and then we held hands is a Game of Discomfort | Unwinnable
Sam Desatoff discusses the success of and then we held hands as mechanically addressing emotional struggles, something games in general struggle with doing effectively.
The ability to elicit genuine emotion is a feat no other game has accomplished, at least in our experience. I thought about that game for days after, and because of that, I strongly urge everyone to experience it.
Despite our best efforts, even with art that can illustrate humanity, we can also be monsters. Not incorrigible, but at times less merciful than we intend.
- The Undertale Drama | Kotaku
Chloe Spencer speaks on the mercy-requiring yet merciless public opinion of the Undertale community.
- Inside and the Monstrosity of Collectivism | Pop Matters
G. Christopher Williams looks at the nature of individuals and collectives in a spoiler-heavy examination of Inside’s ending.
- My Wrath, Of Me? | Vextro
Leeroy Lewin looks inward at the personally cathartic approach to horror in Her Lullaby.
It was interesting to me, thinking about the complicated relationship I have with transgressive fiction. Am I drawn to them as just a voyeur, indulging my death drive?
Those who struggle with mental illness know that sometimes our minds can be both brilliant tools and fiendish traps.
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice | Critique Quest | YouTube
Noa of Critique Quest discusses the successes of communicating illness and stillness in Hellblade, and how books choices communicate something more than just a hero’s journey.
- Mental Health in Video Games | HeavyEyed | YouTube
A talk using videogames to speak on mental illness representation, primarily through Hellblade.
- Two steps forward, three steps back: How Hellblade reinforces myths about mental illness | ZAM
Mental illness is a road built of struggles, but one that Steven Scaife argues games all structurally poorly equipped to reflect on.
You might take your pills on time and record your thoughts in a journal like you’ve been asked to and look at things from different points of view and still things will go wrong. Still you’ll have an anxiety attack, still you’ll want to stay in bed all day, still you’ll be powerless to lock the bad thoughts out.
BioShock in Retrospect
Ten years ago, players first ventured into the haunting, beautiful, aquatic halls of Rapture.
- Choosing the impossible: Did BioShock define the last 10 years of videogames? | The A.V. Club
A decade after players’ first jaunts into Rapture, four writers from the A.V. Club attempt to piece together what BioShock actually accomplished, and whether or not it’s been an influence over game design.
- BioShock is Still Great, 10 Years Later. Here’s Why. | Waypoint
A brief tour of Danielle Riendeau’s experience in Rapture, and the ways BioShock continues to establish itself as one of gaming’s greats.
It’s a sad game, if you let it be, and linger in the ruins of living spaces, or listen to any story bits that involve the creation of big daddies and little sisters.
How We Used To Be
Nostalgia, a drug the culture can never escape, always seems
- A Post-Apocalyptic Games About Witnessing the Past and Present Simultaneously | Waypoint
Kate Gray dwells briefly on the terminality of of the post-apocalypse, and celebrates the ways Like Roots in the Soil subverts that.
- The Burnt Offering – Nostalgia Bomb | Unwinnable
A lingering thought on nostalgia and its alluring deceptions from Stu Horvath in anticipation of the Ready Player One film.
We mistake our own experiences with culture for culture itself, travelling back not to the thing, but to our memory of the thing, valuing that above all else, even as it is flawed and indistinct.
How Things Used To Be
It’s worth it, at times, to explore the history that came before to see pathways to what lies ahead.
- Why did 3D Sonic struggle? | Eurogamer
The speed of a two-dimensional Sonic never really weathered as will in 3D space, a conclusion Edwin Evans-Thirlwell grapples with to understand exactly why.
- Nintendo vs Sega: The Battle Over Being Cool | Polygon
With a brief history lesson on the 16-bit era gaming culture, Mike Sholars explores the diverging strategies of design between timeless Nintendo and current-cool Sega.
- Three Years of Writing About Destiny | Kotaku
Kirk Hamilton reminisces about three years of Destiny, including snippets and comments about articles, reviews, and how many of these articles were reflected in the developer and community movements at the time.
- How the World’s Oldest 3D MMO Keeps Cheating Death | Waypoint
Samuel Axom returns to a revived version of an old experience, Meridian 59, and finds its modernized revival fundamentally different.
It’s a more modern design, and it may sound like a small change, but this is not quite Meridian 59 anymore.
The Game Politic
- Subsurface Circular Makes the Case for Socialized Economy | Paste Magazine
Dante Douglas considers parallels between Subsurface Circular and the current economy faced with a potential influx of roboticized workforce.
- Wolfenstein II’s Picture of American Fascism Seems More Prescient Than Ever | ZAM
Devin Raposo frowns at the discomforting parallels between fictional and existent fascism in America using the Wolfenstein games.
Such fictional portrayals of life under fascism read as nothing less than honest and chillingly frightening in 2017.
- Clone Club: Motherhood and Technology in Orphan Black and Horizon Zero Dawn | Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti challenges the intersection of normative motherhood and family against the technology and narratives explored in Horizon Zero Dawn and Orphan Black.
My question after all this, though, is how do we (re)frame the power of the mother in a way that does not perpetuate essentialist and normative definitions of maternal labor? That is, how do we decenter patriarchal power and (re)claim power in motherhood in a way that does not rely on the same maternal tropes that patriarchal power uses to control and constrain women in the first place?
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!