Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Games critics are looking closely at messes at the moment – messes that are oddly beautiful, messes in which we get entangled through human relationships, as well as messes that threaten to engulf the world whole and destroy its vital ecosystems.

A beautiful mess

We start this week’s roundup with two articles that imply new frontiers for how to do games criticism: one through its method, and another through its proposed subversion of what it means to evaluate a game’s quality.

“I’d love to be behind the production of a beautiful mess of my own. Messy, interesting games are hotbeds of inspiration: I’d even say they’re why I make games. They inadvertently challenge what I think a game can be.”

Seeing things blow up

Looking at the present and past conditions in which games get made, these three pieces offer ideas about which kinds of games get to exist in the world and why.

“[…F]or the most part we played in safe, non-competitive environments where the point was less about winning than it was about seeing things blow up in hilarious and unexpected ways. I suspect few of us were ever all that good at twitch shooters, but we were only occasionally confronted with that fact.”

A diseased garden

In writing on the toxicity of gamer cultures, these three articles link the symptoms to systemic causes, such as models of capitalism and the military-industrial-complex.

“YouTube, of course, doesn’t want to crack down on a flourishing part of its own ecosystem; but like a gardener who’ll pull out a beloved plant before it can spread a disease to the rest of the garden, Google’s executives will absolutely take the decision to raze the gaming sector rather than see its antics hammer down advertising revenues across the network.”

Illness in a vacuum

Four critics consider games and mental health, highlighting not only how games can heal but also how games portray mental illness.

“A person’s mental illness is inextricable from their social context. […] The closest we get to seeing Senua exist with other people is in flashbacks to conversations with Dillion or the trauma of her father’s extensive abuse. She never has to go to the store for milk.”

Less crystallized

These two pieces look at how personal identity might change shape in relation to the kinds of lives we live on the internet.

  • The New Flesh | Observer | Heterotopias 
    Zach Budgor compares Bloober Team’s Observer with the works of Kitty Horrorshow and Lilith Zone, as well as Cronenberg, analysing its visual and narrative expression of the theme of digital-physical convergence.
  • Games Are Finally Getting The Part Of Me That Grew Up Online 
    Cecilia D’Anastasio discusses the nostalgic impact of chat games such as Mystic Messenger and Cibele, but goes beyond simply stating “it takes me back”, examining what, and who, it takes her back towards, giving us a close look at identity in games.

“It’s tempting, though, to limit our digital personae to avatars and social media accounts where we may be playing a character. Less crystallized for me was another identity: I was a very good listener over AOL Instant Messenger. Discerning friends’ moods […] was a sort of game, and winning meant knowing enough to help out.”

Harvesting the energies of hell

Serious moral consequences are considered in these pieces of writing, with a particular trend towards considerations of climate change, as stories are increasingly told from a pre-apocalyptic standpoint.

“The profit drive of large corporations is often directly or indirectly a motive to look the other way on safety protocols, in the pursuit of higher profit flowing upwards. The UAC of 2016’s DOOM is an amplified caricature of this behavior […] as invested in “employee wellness” as it is in harvesting the energies of Hell for human usage.”

The porcelain bowl

Three critics look at spatial metaphors, and at least one also considers the material conditions behind game creation to think about how game spaces came to be as they are.

“They can be meaningful, poignant spaces to walk through, but they don’t engage the social self: you don’t feel nervous or comfortable, exposed or reposed, humiliated or relieved—or somewhere in the middle: just fine, maybe—on the cold of the porcelain bowl. You don’t see your face in the mirror. You don’t feel your body, in satisfaction or revolt.”



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