Discussion about guns and unionization looms large in games criticism this week. This roundup features the most important writing on these topics and more – but first, I want to bring your attention to something special that we published this week.
- Dark Souls Critical Compilation – Critical Distance
I was feeling a bit concerned for a while that we didn’t have one of these yet – a near-comprehensive collection of critical writing on this game that people still can’t stop talking about, years after its release. Reading Nic Rueben’s excellent survey of the material, I get the sense that this has come at just the right time – the discourse has matured over the years, and today writing about Dark Souls goes far beyond describing a videogame; it’s contributing to a shared narrative about a quasi-spiritual personal trial.
I can’t begin to say how excited I am to have this published. Please take a look, share it far and wide, and consider supporting us on Patreon so that we can commission more things like it – our current funding level is below the threshold that allows us to create this kind of content.
And with that, we now continue with our regularly-scheduled programming.
Two pieces represent two very different approaches to writing about violent emotions in games.
- Overwatch and DBT: Why it’s Time to Teach Boys Coping Skills
Wally Brennan shares some strategies for using the trials of a tense game to learn how to manage emotions.
- Sure, It’s Made Of The Corpses Of Your Victims. But Is It Art? | Kotaku
Stacie Ponder appraises the “artists” who leave dead bodies strewn around in gory videogames.
Fear of art
Continuing the theme of violence, four writers look at the meaning of power in videogame stories.
- Bloodborne and the Beast Within | Kotaku UK
Sean McGeady discusses Freud and gothic literature in an examination of Bloodborne lore.
- Games Need More Power Fantasies Beyond Beefy Dudes with Big Guns – Waypoint
Again referring to Freud, Cameron Kunzelman examines the positioning of power fantasies in a system of privilege and inequality, with reference to Mafia 3.
- Battle Royale Games Lack What Made Battle Royale Important :: Games :: Features :: Battle Royale :: Paste
Dante Douglas argues that the Battle Royale genre of videogame misses the political edge of the genre of novel and movie which inspired it.
- What Does the Soul Look Like | vextro
In a fascinating long read, leeroy lewin explores the limited existentialism of games that play with metatext (e.g. by commenting on the fact that the player can return to life). Spoilers for Undertale, Pony Island, and Doki Doki Literature Club.
“Metatext in videogames is super fixated on critiques of some sort of choice made—basically critiques of freedom—because it’s the nearest most horrible thing collectively felt. The fear of art is a fear of potential truth.”
Specifically focusing on gun violence, two critics bring out personal reflections on their relationships with weapons.
- Real Guns, Virtual Guns, And Me | Kotaku
Kirk Hamilton discusses what guns mean with someone who uses them as part of his job, with reference to Destiny, Wolfenstein 3D, and The Division, among others.
- Art Tickles: Putting Out Gunfire – Haywire Magazine
Taylor Hidalgo tries to navigate the conflicting meanings that guns hold as tool, sport, game, and weapon, with reference to Super Hot.
“I keep coming back to these guns we’re all holding. They’re interesting, and I love to watch the tactile pathways they design through the rooms.”
Far Cry 5
The latest in Ubisoft’s series has, as usual, brought up discussions of the colonialism inherent in a series that aims to create mayhem in exotic settings.
- Far Cry 5 doesn’t want to offend anyone, so it will end up annoying everyone – Polygon
Ben Kuchera summarizes a number of reviews to give an overview of the tone problems at work in a game that tries to appeal to as many people as possible.
- The history of violence buried deep in Far Cry 5’s landscape • Eurogamer.net
Gareth Damian Martin highlights the colonial politics of the worldbuilding throughout this series, and asks what it means for the fifth title to bring its focus closer to home.
“Far Cry 5’s enemies are not Native Americans, they are instead religious extremists. But the games’ choice of Montana as its ‘frontier’ cannot be separated from the history of that landscape and that word.”
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
An indie game about storytelling and the heart of American culture has inspired some thoughtful reflections, including from people who contributed vignettes of their own. (Disclosure: I did a couple of hours’ work supporting Claris Cyarron’s vignette for this game)
- Worldbuilding America: Where the Water Tastes Like Wine | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short looks at the narrative content of the game from a cross-cultural perspective, highlighting how important movement is to the American folk tale.
- Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Betrays the Heart of Storytelling | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor expresses frustration with the interactivity of this game as folk tale anthology.
“At all time, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is anxiously aware that it is a video game, and the writing suffers within those very nervous constraints.”
Industry on fire
This roundup ends with a couple of articles about the unfolding developments in labor organizing.
- After Destroying Lives For Decades, Gaming Is Finally Talking Unionization – Waypoint
Ian Williams gives an overview of the situation, contextualizing the disgruntlement with the IGDA as one of the factors leading to calls for a union.
- The struggle to unionize video games | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
It was John Brindle who did one of the first investigative pieces on the unionization drive at GDC, identifying the work of Emma, Liz Ryerson, Dietrich Squinkifer and Scott Benson getting it started.
“things in the games industry are not fine. The industry is, in fact, on fire. It chews up young, passionate new entrants, burns them up and spits them out as disillusioned refugees before their first decade is up.”