I want to begin with a confession: I’m tired. It’s been an emotionally draining news week pretty much regardless of what interests and channels you follow. I say this bearing in mind the privilege I enjoy in passing for straight, white, and male–even if I’m not quite any of those things–and can only defer to the folx out there who don’t have all of those advantages, and who have also had to endure this week’s barrage of headlines.
The biggest news story in games this week is, without a doubt, the shuttering of Telltale Games and firing of hundreds of its employees without severance, which has rapidly segued into the unconscionable prioritizing of its projects over its people, and–none too surprisingly–a lawsuit.
Naturally, then, there’s no shortage of games writing on labour practices this week, but I’d be remiss if I let that drown out the other things happening right now. Check out excellent writing on queer representation, spatial design, mental illness, and more. And, hey, if your week needs some lightening up, Pokémon is now 20 years old in the west and there’s quality some reflection to be had on that front. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
There’s an absolute deluge of writing around the web on Telltale right now. It’s going to take some time for most of the sober takeaways to make their way to publication, so instead of a roundup on all the most biting Telltale-specific takes out there, I’ve opted instead for a wider selection of writing looking both at the studio in particular as well as more general meditations on work practices in the industry. These seven articles, I believe, offer an aggregate look at the present conversation on labour in games.
- RIP Telltale Games – squinky.me
Squinky offers a post-mortem on Telltale and exploitation, writing as a former employee.
- Hermes and Gry: A Crooked Plan | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson finds laughter in a visual novel that abstracts today’s toxic work relationships into an anime-flavoured fantasy setting.
- Gamasutra: Ethan Thibault’s Blog – Why I Quit the Game Industry Before I’d Even Begun
Ethan Thibault articulates his ethical reasons for not entering the games industry despite his background in and passion for making games.
- 2018 will go down as the Year of the Bad Employer | GamesIndustry.biz
Brendan Sinclair rounds up the developer exposes and shutdowns from the past year and offers some thoughts on future trends (hint: unionization).
- When did we forget people – not brands – make games? • Eurogamer.net
Wesley Yin-Poole charts a course-correction for how we talk about labour and labourers in the games industry, with reference to the Telltale fallout.
- Going Through the Motions of Work in Fortune-499 | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan explores how Fortune-499 lampoons corporate culture without ever sacrificing its sense of the whimsical.
- Years In the Making: How Kitfox Games played the long game with Boyfriend Dungeon hype – itch.io
Tanya X. Short dispels the myth of the overnight success by detailing the labour involved in her studio’s recent hit, Boyfriend Dungeon.
“I don’t want to waste your time bragging — it’s not like Boyfriend Dungeon is the next Minecraft or anything, plenty of people have still never heard of the game — but I want you to understand:
- We worked hard, hoping a “blow up” might happen.
- But most of that work is invisible to fans & peers. From the outside it looks like we just sat there.
- We didn’t know if any of our efforts would work. Usually they don’t.
- And that’s totally normal.”
With Pokémon hitting the 20-year milestone in the west, there’s been lots of reflective writing on the series. In particular, I was interested in these two contrasting viewpoints, each in their own way looking at the games’ evergreen accessibility and prioritization of a more casual, less-experienced audience.
- You’re never too old for Pokémon – Polygon
Petrana Radulovic advocates for what makes Pokémon accessible and engaging at any age.
- It’s OK to be too old for Pokémon – Polygon
Cass Marshall looks at the upside of letting Pokémon remain such a positive experience for novice and newcomer players.
“The quest to collect them all just didn’t speak to me anymore. There’s a moment of sadness there, sure, but there’s also liberation in the realization that not everything has to be for me.”
I’ve come upon excellent writing examining the rhetoric of space in games nearly every week, and that trend continues today. This week’s three highlights look specifically at the political arguments evoked by the treatment of space in games.
- The Superheroic Vertical – Haywire Magazine
Marcos Gonsalez connects the sensation of the superheroic in games with mastery of both verticality and privilege.
- The Socialist YouTuber Using Cities: Skylines To Explain Politics | Kotaku
Cameron Kunzelman looks at Justin Roczniak’s project to demonstrate the allegorical affordances of Cities: Skylines.
- Opened World: Erasing Places – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella tackles two games with very different approaches to exposing urban gentrification.
“Players are positioned as villains aligned with capitalist hegemony, dispossessing land from longstanding communities and reflecting the systemic processes by which underprivileged neighborhoods are displaced by the arrival of outside wealth.”
Representative of the Medium
I continue to find hope and joy in the upward trend of both queer and gender representation on both sides of the screen in games. These four articles highlight a sample of the great work being done on those fronts.
- Radiator Blog: Post-partum: “Ruck Me”, a gay Aussie football TV game about men marking men
Robert Yang discusses building an interactive installation to critically examine gay representation in Australian football.
- Saving punk from Cyberpunk • Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell chronicles how Toronto-based indie devs are reclaiming cyberpunk from AAA gaming’s bland, overproduced transphobia. Consider taking your Cyberpunk 2077 dollars elsewhere.
- “It’s not enough to point at Bayonetta or FemShep and say ‘job done'” | GamesIndustry.biz
James Batchelor interviews Daisy Fernandez on diversifying both the number of and variety of women in games, both as characters and as developers.
- All Too Human – ZEAL – Medium
Marcos Gonsalez reflects beautifully on queerness and the limits of (heteronormative) human imagination in Mass Effect. Also, I goddamn loved this one.
“The model of the humanoid used in modeling nonhuman life forms, as is the case with my Mass Effect crushes, strikingly tends to appear like a certain kind of human. A human upright with proper stature, fine and narrow facial features, a slim frame, uses standardized English, overly able. Gendered in a binary, too, and if a woman oversexualized, and if a man hypermasculine.”
Two excellent pieces of writing this week look at games as products of their time from opposite angles–the recent past and the far future. Much more productive than making the historical accuracy (*cough cough racism cough sexism*) of your favourite war-simulator the hill you plan to die on if you ask me.
- How survival horror reinvented itself • Eurogamer.net
Emad Ahmed considers the positive influence of 90’s/early 2000’s Japanese cinema on survival horror games, with emphasis on the unsettling and the unknowable over the gruesome.
- Playing today’s games in a thousand years • Eurogamer.net
Andreas Inderwildi scrutinizes the viability of games as enduring historical artifacts, along cultural, rather than material, lines.
“Will there still be people around who’ll appreciate, or at least try to understand, the seemingly timeless appeal of Dark Souls, Doom, Civilization or Super Mario in a thousand years? The only certainty is there will be major hurdles beyond purely technological ones to overcome if anyone is to actually play and engage with these games in any meaningful way.”
Mind and Heart
I want to see more games addressing mental health as well as affect–and more conversations about those games, especially when the games get it wrong. Here are four standout examples from this week.
- The Harmful Misconceptions Behind We Happy Few | Unwinnable
Alyse Stanley scrutinizes the problematic arguments We Happy Few makes about medication-based treatment of depression.
- Bullets are the Pennies | Unwinnable
Levi Rubeck contextualizes the loot box trend with a personal family history of gambling.
- Journey – ZEAL – Medium
Ella T.C takes the reader on a visual journey through their affective experiences with Journey over the years. This one is beautiful!
- The Amazing Wholesomeness of Being a Grandma | Unwinnable
David Shimomura looks at a game that navigates a tale of declining mental health with dignity and heart.
“The beauty of the conversations gramma has with her customers is that not only are we learning about the problems of her customers as she does, we also learn about her problems by being reminded by her patrons. Her growing senility (an anxiety she asks a patron about) leaves a hole to be filled by the story and it does so beautifully.”
Just for Fun
It’s been a hard week in a lot of ways for a lot of people, so this time around I’m capping things off with two lighthearted articles. Enjoy!
- The worst original Pokémon: Our 37 picks – Polygon
Russ Frushtick goes on a tear against a full quarter of the original 150.
- Moving: The Kotaku Review | Kotaku
Nathan Grayson writes a totally serious game review about driving a U-Haul.
“I recently left my apartment in northern California and drove a U-Haul full of my belongings to a new place in southern California. Although it’s a game that’s played by millions every day, I cannot recommend Moving.”
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!