The conversation on labour in games continues with undiminished momentum, in part because Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser has volunteered himself to be the one to really step in it this week. There’s no positive way to spin 100-hour weeks, period, but I’m optimistic about the staying power of the current conversation. I take it as a sign of hope that things can change.
That being said, all of this has made the discourse a bit more emotionally draining to read lately, and I don’t want to let this single topic drown out all the other great criticism going on in games writing right now. This week there are some absolutely fantastic articles on colonial rhetoric in games, feminine queer sexuality, trauma and recovery, and much, much more. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week I was pleased to see authors extending the ongoing conversation of labour in games beyond development to include meditations on emotional labour, and some much-needed self-reflexivity on how journalists cover these topics. These four articles are well worth your time.
- Where Worlds Collide: Content Creation, Community Building, and Labor – NYMG
Samantha Blackmon calls upon readers to be mindful of the human labour–material, emotional, and otherwise–that goes into streaming.
- The Industry Won’t Change If Reporters Let The Powerful Off the Hook – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek emphasizes the responsibility of journalists to hold developers accountable for their labour practices, rather than helping them lionize crunch culture.
- Steam devs speak: Maximum profits for Valve, minimum responsibilities – Polygon
Tim Colwill interviews indie developers who speak candidly of their struggles to survive on Steam, where the algorithm is king and it often feels like nobody is keeping an eye on its rule.
- What will be left of the people who make our games? – Polygon
Katherine Cross shifts the narrative on crunch by turning to the concept of emotional labour and the toxic impact it has on games as a public-facing service industry. If you feel you’ve absorbed enough takes on labour in games these past few weeks–and believe me, I feel you–I still recommend reading this one before moving on if you’ve got the energy.
“The bigger the product, the more that is asked of employees, and the deeper that common denominator sinks. Both ArenaNet and Riot, which create and curate vast online worlds, unambiguously allowed the worst of their communities to dictate staffing decisions. Rockstar’s Houser attempted to use crunch as a sort of implicit come-on to the player: Look at how willing my people are to kill themselves for your pleasure!“
Four authors and one interviewer this week continue the ongoing project to push and prod at the marginal boundaries of identity and inclusion in games, both through reflection on what cultures and identities are being included in games, and of those which are, how they are being represented or misrepresented.
- Sims Players Want More Diverse Options From Fan-Made Creations | Kotaku
Gita Jackson investigates the whiteness of The Sims 4‘s gallery.
- Japan is a place on Earth – Timber Owls
Ashley breaks down the cultural blind spot the west has for treating problematic Japanese media as emblematic of the culture as a whole while simultaneously falsely elevating the west as morally superior. You really should read this one, folx.
- Butterfly Soup and The Myriad Asian Identity | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan finds lots to love in Butterfly Soup‘s diverse and nuanced depiction of growing up Asian-American.
- Meet SonicFox, The Queer Furry Who’s Destroying Everyone Else At Fighting Games | Kotaku
Maddy Myers interviews Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, who can absolutely beat your ass at Dragon Ball FighterZ and will do so wearing a fursuit and making no apologies.
- Analyzing the Historical Context of The Last of Us Part II’s Violence | Unwinnable
Hussain Almahr positions The Last of Us series in a tradition of games that reproduce and extrapolate colonial narratives about the vitality of the rule of (white, western) law.
“In the pursuit of portraying a realistic world, The Last of Us Part II actually reproduces a version of the world dreamt up by colonial administrators and the academics who aided in their destruction of cultures around the world.”
Two authors this week offer some valuable insights on feminine sexuality in games–be it by the recuperation of its representation in historical/mythological interactive fiction, or by the unflinching portrayal of contemporary queer feminine sexuality in one of the year’s most interesting (and macabre) puzzle games.
- The Missing Gets Queer Love Stories Right | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra documents how The Missing thoughtfully critiques the trauma of heteronormativity in the service of its queer narrative (content notification: self-harm, suicide, homophobia).
- Have Sex With King Arthur And Sir Lancelot In This Text Adventure | Koaku
Kate Gray explores an interactive fiction title that recuperates Arthurian legend by focusing on Guenevere’s sexuality and agency.
“Guenevere gives you an impressive array of options, meaning that when Arthur and I found ourselves in the bedroom on our wedding night, I didn’t just have the choice of “jump into the sack” and “turn him down.” Instead, I was offered the possibility of telling him yes or no, but with the nuances of not being interested in men, not being attracted to him, wanting to use him for political power, or wanting to ravage one of his other courtiers.”
There’s lots of great writing this week that pays particular attention to the affective relationships we have with the games we play. This week’s five standouts alternately look at desensitization, self-care, recovery, nostalgia, and comfort.
- Nukes Are Bad | Unwinnable
David Shimomura encourages us to be more reflective and more critical of the horrors of violence so easily and unthinkingly simulated in games today.
- A Game About Staying In Bed All Day | Kotaku
Keza MacDonald plays #SelfCare and reflects on its soothing, recuperative simplicity.
- How Night in the Woods Guided Me in Mourning a Friend
Chris Compendio works through trauma and loss via Night in the Woods (content notification: suicide).
- I’ll Be There (Part One) – ZEAL – Medium
Rory Frances explores, through comic panels, how Final Fantasy VIII captures a late-90’s mood on how to make sense of a world that makes no sense.
- Thoughts So Far – Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa talks about little moments of warmth and character growth in the latest Assassin’s Creed.
“At a time when so much of the world seems set against kindness, finding these tiny pockets of joy folded beneath the skin of a game with “Assassin” in the title, is something to relish.”
Just for Fun
My snark-sense is tingling this week.
- Finally, Players Can Add As Many Puddles To Spider-Man As They Want | Kotaku
As far as I’m concerned, Insomniac wins this round.
- A Look Back At The Odyssey Series, From Mario To Etrian To Assassin’s Creed | Kotaku
Inner voice: “Why do all the joke articles I include in the roundup come from Kotaku?”
“Currently on its tenth main series entry, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the Odyssey series has been around almost as long as video games themselves. Named for its main character, John Odyssey, it’s spanned countless platforms and generations, all in the name of telling one of gaming’s most fascinating and coherent stories.”
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