This week brings a selection of powerful and timely articles about inclusivity within games as well their overlapping communities of play, design, and criticality. With a shift by some major journalistic outlets away from scored reviews, as well as continued troubling reports about the dismissal of game developers who stand up for principles of identity and inclusion, I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate the need for ongoing reflection on who is represented–and who is excluded–in games.
There was no shortage of quality discourse on other topics, either. As the week’s big triple-A release, Marvel’s Spider-Man generated a lot of writing, and some of the finest examples are collected below. Other recurring themes that saw careful examination this week include the shifting legacies of role-playing games, the relationship between games and time (both specifically and conceptually), and the boundaries between design and interactivity.
Three articles this week reflect on the identities included, excluded, and effaced from games and their surrounding cultural spheres.
- Witch Spring, Fantastic Racism and Colorism – I Need Diverse Games
Latonya Pennington analyzes how a self-effacing character in Witch Spring 3 who disguises her appearance to look more white undermines an otherwise valuable game series with brown-skinned playable characters.
- Woeful Man Ahead | Brick by Brick
Ario Elami offers a debrief on reactions to a recently-published article on Kotaku about sexist practices of play in Dark Souls and Bloodborne
- An Incomplete List of Things I’d Need to Know In Order Not to Be A Complete Impostor | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short wastes no time in presenting a biting glimpse into the many expectations that make games an inaccessible place to work.
“In honor of folks freaked out about how many things they “have to” do to advance their career, I present a very partial list of things I’ve been encouraged or expected to do/know since I got into games.”
Three authors this week look at role-playing games from different angles: stagnation, legacy, and reputation.
- Why I can’t get back into MMOs – Polygon
Taylor Cocke reflects on falling out of love with online RPGs, and wonders whether it’s his tastes changing or the genre growing stale.
- The Strange Greatness and Missing Legacy of ‘Planescape’ – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman ruminates on the paradox of Planescape: Torment: a canonical classic without a legacy of influence.
- Are RPG Maker games as bad as people think? • Eurogamer.net
Giada Zavarise puts the negative reputation of RPG Maker games to the test in a big way with illuminating analysis and good-old-fashioned data.
“I decided to prove people wrong. With science. That’s why I took a deep dive in the Steam RPG Maker tag, gathering data about all 559 tagged games released to this day.”
Four authors this week weigh in on the impacts varying design choices in games have on their play experiences.
- I’m Sorry, Gordon: An Apology To Silent Protagonists – Timber Owls
Edcrab weighs the economic convenience of silent protagonists against the contemporary trend of heroes who have voices but are also jerks.
- The distractions in recent games make it hard not to fall behind • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld thinks about the pleasures–and potential accessibility issues–inherent to wandering and distraction in games.
- The Loop Remains the Same | Unwinnable
Levi Rubeck meditates on game physics and their role in keeping the player tethered to–and invested in–the game world.
- Donut County (Ben Esposito) | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short reconciles the cutesy aesthetic charm of Donut County with its more uncomfortable themes of gentrification and capitalist exploitation.
“I think ultimately the message of the game is that if you’ve been benefitting from a destructive system, you have a special responsibility to help dismantle that system and create a more just replacement.”
With the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man this week, there was no shortage of writing on the game. Here are three of this week’s finest examples of criticism.
- ‘Spider-Man’ Isn’t Just Good, It’s a Game About Trying to Be Good – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek looks at the ways in which Spider-Man weaves a narrative web that successfully captures our current cultural moment–and identifies a few problematic ways in which it doesn’t.
- The fast travel in Spider-Man is touched with genius • Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan uses the fast-travel load screens in Spider-Man to muse about the little touches in games and the unspoken boundaries where creativity ends.
- Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson finds his true calling as a blustering right-wing podcaster | A.V. Club
William Hughes probes how Insomniac has updated canonical elements of Spider-Man continuity to reflect the pitfalls and pundits of contemporary social media.
“Being a 23-year-old living in 2018, the game’s version of Spider-Man has his own official account on the game’s in-universe Twitter stand-in, tossing online quips around with the same ease that he hurls bad guys across the battlefield. Said social media platform is absolutely filled with Jameson’s online fans and detractors, discussing his show, arguing with each other, and, in one memorable case, offering up a good old-fashioned fake account mocking him at every turn.”
Four articles this week look at how different games situate themselves in time and manipulate its flow.
- “Money for Nothing,” by Ed Smith – Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith examines how Yakuza 0 both exaggerates and implodes the capitalist mythos of the 1980s.
- Let’s Place: Is This Now? – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina maps the myriad ways in which games organize, manipulate, and give rhythm to the flow of time.
- Hungry ghosts and book burning: Detention explores Taiwan’s dark past • Eurogamer.net
Sara Elsam chronicles how Detention blends supernatural horror with the very real totalitarian threat of living in Taiwan during the White Terror.
- Metal Gear: The Kotaku Retrospective
Heather Alexandra examines how the original Metal Gear designs for failure and extrapolates this theme to offer insights on how the game reflects the opposition of player, game, publisher, and designer.
“Outer Heaven, a paradise for career soldiers, is undone by a raw recruit. Metal Gear, a playground for its designer, is undone by the player. Big Boss and his descendants spend numerous games attempting to rebuild this paradise. It’s hard not to see the parallel to Hideo Kojima, making game after game and attempting to rebuild his private, player-resistant fortress.”
- The Strength of Heart Required to Face Oneself – First Person Scholar
Jenny Saucerman offers a personal account of illness and recovery through the lens of the Persona series. (Disclosure: I was the principal editor for this article.)
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