Videogames and VR are often described as “empathy machines” – and though that term was first used for cinema, the idea today is often that newer mediums are more immersive, and therefore more empathetic, than those that came before. But what does empathy actually do? What about the many other ways videogames can have us relate to other people’s struggles, or to our moral obligations? This week many writers took on questions about feelings and ethics. We also have writing on interactive storytelling and diversity – it’s all here in the roundup of This Week in Videogame Blogging!
Drill those fingers
First, these two pieces look at creative uses of interactive systems to build meaningful experiences.
- The Forest Review/Critique: Enable, Don’t Show – YouTube
Ludocriticism takes on storytelling techniques, framing, and interaction, through a close look at one title.
- A Mandala of Space Bullets | Unwinnable
Levi Rubeck meditates on planning, execution, and letting go, in this discussion of Next Jump’s tactics-ification of an old genre.
“In bullet-hell, tactics, and life, man plans and god/nature/the universe laughs. You can drill those fingers or try to anticipate every possible outcome, but in the end we are flawed beings living at the whims of the cosmos.”
Love and hate
This was a great week for reflections on games and the history of art, or art about history.
- Art Games Have Always Existed – YouTube
This playlist of videos on the history of art games is a fantastic resource.
- Game Art: Joseph Delappe’s Elegy: GTA USA Gun Homicides (2018) – GAMESCENES
Game Scenes wrote about Joseph DeLappe’s project that uses Grand Theft Auto’s built-in graphic simulations of gun violence to visualise actual gun violence occurring every day in the USA. A live stream of the piece is currently running on Twitch, where it is hoped it will continue 24/7 for one year.
- “The Erotic Death Drive of Nier: Automata,” by Julie Muncy – Bullet Points Monthly
Julie Muncy eloquently argues for a queer reading of Nier: Automata’s horny robots.
“For the tragic heroes and villains of Nier: Automata, “the little death” is just death. A sword piercing imitation flesh, blood against leather, eyes locked in love and hate both.”
The heavy lifting
There were two pieces this week about a lack of diverse representation in videogame characters.
- Where Are the Disabilities in Visual Novels? | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson discusses the harsh politics of desirability and fetishization for disabled characters in a genre so often focused on winning the chance to have sex with someone.
- More Representation Won’t Help Overwatch – Timber Owls
Nadia M. re-energizes critiques of Overwatch’s cultural costuming, and argues that you can’t just layer better representation on top of the bad and get all the cookies.
“Time and time again, Blizzard’s fans have had to do the heavy lifting with their own worlds and games.”
Two writers looked at the moral failings of institutions in videogames.
- ArenaNet sends all the wrong messages | GamesIndustry.biz
Brendan Sinclair explains why ArenaNet has caused so much upset by firing employees under pressure from wrathful consumer-kings.
- Where are the Radical Politics of Cyberpunk? – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman takes this piece into a slightly different direction to what I was expecting, not just rehashing arguments about cyberpunk having lost its way, but points to its origins in the formative years of contemporary amoral individualism.
“It’s so much easier to fight about canonicity and the “right” version of the genre that we love than to confront the fact that maybe its origination point is one that disempowers us”
We had a bumper crop of articles about how morality is linked to empathy in interactive media, in part thanks to a week on the theme hosted at Real Life.
- ‘Vampyr’ is a Deeply Flawed Game, But That’s Exactly Why It’s So Memorable – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek investigates this game’s fascinating unique qualities, while criticizing its execution (so to speak).
- Deception III: Dark Delusion, Part 2 | Something in the Direction of Exhibition
Vincent K. sees in one 1990s RPG’s story an interesting argument for reason over emotion as a driver of empathy.
- Empathy Machines — Real Life
Olivia Rosane argues that simply being able to imagine someone else’s plight does little in the face of oppressive structures that shield the powerful from most of the harms they inflict on others.
- Apathy Machines — Real Life
Rob Horning compares the VR dream of empathy to the 18th-century novel’s idea of sensibility
“The sensibility era’s novels served as testing devices: If your heart didn’t respond, your moral sense might just be weak and you might not be as moral as you hoped”
Looking further at the morality of emotions in games are these two pieces on addiction and abuse.
- The Truth About ‘Video Game Addiction’ | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio talks with sufferers and experts about gaming addiction, and surfaces some compelling reasons why it has become a diagnosable disorder despite often being linked with other illnesses such as depression.
- Don’t Mention The Bruises – Timber Owls
Lilly argues that important truths about the nature of abuse are too often cast aside in favour of traditional narrative structures in works such as The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
“It’s a major problem with these narratives that they don’t seem to properly consider the feelings of the victim or the long-term repercussions of familial abuse. […T]he people genuinely affected by it are sidelined in order to tell a traditional tragedy.”
- HIRING: Could you be our next Senior Curator? – Critical Distance
There is one more week left to apply for my job. Tell us what you would bring to this role!
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!