So apparently Red Dead Redemption II came out this week or something, but I honestly don’t have a whole lot of writing on the subject to share for this roundup. I did read an alarming number of worryingly uncritical reviews on the game. Polygon in particular seems to have lost its collective sense of better judgment and published a number of really tone-deaf pieces that I don’t care to link to individually here. Not every contribution to the special issue sets off alarm bells, but if my privileged settler ass can tell that something is up–and believe me, that privilege means I make a lot of mistakes that I’m learning to be more aware of–what’s everyone else’s excuse?
It’s not quite all so bad, though–this review stands out to me as the only one I read this week that offered more than a superficial critique of the game’s lukewarm portrayal of the racial and cultural violence it is so firmly embedded in. There could be more out there, but I have my limits.
And, hey! The discourse does not and should not revolve around Rockstar, on this week or any other. There’s lots of inspired and exciting writing to share this week on a wide spread of topics. In particular, I was pleased to include several really cool pieces looking at non-digital games (something, admittedly, I haven’t been reading enough of). There’s also some absolutely fantastic writing on display about The Sims, accessibility, off-beat JRPGs, inclusion, and, umm, (*checks notes*) worldbuilding in a Mario sports game. . .? You’ll just have to keep reading, friends! This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that my principal preoccupation with the big shiny cowboy simulator of the moment is the developing conversation on the labour that went into its production. These three articles, I think, highlight separate but equally important beats in that conversation, and I encourage you to take a look at them each.
- No Respawns: Telltale, Rockstar & Crunch | Videodame
Nat Dish weaves artfully between narratives of destruction and expendable bodies in game worlds and development studios. This one is really special, folx.
- Should games get lower review scores for poor labour practices? – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa makes the case for game critics taking the labor context of games into consideration in their reviews.
- Well Played — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil examines how games reproduce prevailing hegemonic ideologies of toil in an absolute must-read column.
“Why have video games emerged in this moment, growing as the earlier visual media forms have stagnated, losing audiences and drifting toward the margins of culture? What has the medium’s material role been under capitalism? How has it reflected or shaped the specific ways capitalism has developed since 1973, when the series of crises that would lead to the neoliberal era began?”
We Dev to Serve
Related to that conversation of labour in games is the developing discourse on the business of games. Crowdfunding, microtransactions, and live services are in, while games as static products appear to be on the way out. These four authors offer illuminating, inspiring, and entertaining contributions to that conversation.
- Early Access Means Nothing Anymore | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio chronicles the commercial death of games as finished products.
- Gamasutra: Victoria Tran’s Blog – Boyfriend Dungeon’s $272k Kickstarter Postmortem
Victoria Tran breaks down what did and didn’t work during her team’s Kickstarter for their upcoming game Boyfriend Dungeon, and how their goals for the campaign went beyond the monetary to include building their community.
- The House Always Wins – Timber Owls
unhaunting pushes back against the construction of personal responsibility in gacha games, arguing that putting moral blame on the consumer deflects that same blame from the pushers.
- JRPGS are back, in collectible jpeg form – Timber Owls
Ashley Yawns descends into Gacha Hell and finds some surprisingly rewarding JRPG experiences on mobile.
“Bandori opened up the phone game Pandora’s Box in me and, over the last couple of weeks, I have launched into a project trying many of them (admittedly influenced by both depression and spending my days laying on the sofa with my wife instead of on my PC).”
Two very different, very valuable pieces this week examine how players engage with, push against, tinker with, and disrupt The Sims.
- To All The Sims I’ve Killed Before | HuffPost UK
Jillian Capewell documents the inter-generational cat-and-mouse game between developers and players to give Sims more varied and interesting lives and deaths, respectively. Keep reading this one for discussions on representation and identity!
- #129 Autumn by Reply All from Gimlet Media
Listen to this story about a 15 year-old girl who recreates her grandmother in The Sims–turning to black modding communities in the process–in order to say goodbye.
“I was like, “OK, well I just want to make my house again. I want to my actual real house that I live in. I want to make my family and all that stuff.” And so I was building. And then, as I was building it, I made myself, and I made my mom, it’s like “Well, I want my grandmother to be here. Because I miss her. And I don’t have anything to really remember her by because we don’t have a lot of pictures of her really either.””
I’m pretty much done with CD Projekt Red and Good Old Games at this point, so I’m very glad to see writers take them to task for their continued transphobia. On the other hand, enjoy a lighthearted yarn about trying to get laid in Assassin’s Creed as a gay woman.
- My Quest To Be Gay In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Ancient Greece | Kotaku
Gita Jackson embarks on a search for queer romance (or at least a good tumble) in the latest Assassin’s Creed.
- GOG Account Publishes Yet Another Awful Tweet | Kotaku
Riley MacLeod reflects on the cycle of passive-aggressive abuse and bigotry CD Projekt Red perpetuates on its Twitter account.
“every time this happens, it feels like one more reminder that at least one person who works at a company that makes things I like thinks my existence is funny, and that enough people there either agree or don’t disagree strongly enough to stop them.”
Two authors this week tackle accessibility in both digital and non-digital games, and I’m really happy to see more of this kind of work being published of late.
- The Universal Inaccessibility in Board Games – Meeple Like Us
Michael Heron identifies manuals as the accessibility bottleneck in who can and can’t enjoy board, card, and tabletop games.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man has thought a lot about accessibility • Eurogamer.net
Accessibility is rad and important, and here Vivek Gohil tallies the ways in which Spider-Man does and does not get it right, both mechanically and narratively.
“Beyond the controls, Spider-Man bucks the trend of portraying disability and specifically wheelchair-users in a negative light by creating various wheelchair-user NPCs going about their days, reading the newspaper or filling in a crossword. The world in Spider-Man does not try to erase disability completely, but rather seeks includes it in a small but fresh way. Other games still find this surprisingly difficult.”
As a person living with depression, I’m fairly attentive to how people with the same are represented in games, and glad to see coverage on this topic. I’m also sorry to see Netrunner on the way out, but appreciate the reminders documented here about what makes the game so great.
- Three Shades of Depression | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan profiles a trio of titles on itch.io that offer thoughtful examinations of depression.
- The Final Days of ‘Netrunner’ – Waypoint
Alex Spencer eulogizes a card game that gets representation right in a lot of ways, and which has built up a supportive and inclusive player community in ways that many other games struggle to accomplish.
“White male characters weren’t the default. The cast of playable Runners maintained an even split of male and female. There was queer representation, including trans and non-binary characters. And it was the rare cyberpunk game “that let Asian characters actually be the protagonists in their own stories,””
Stories and Worlds
In my own research (I write a few more pages of my dissertation every year) I’m trying to sort out worlds and mythologies in games as a separate process (or processes) from narrative. I’ll be sure to let you all know how that pans out, but I’m very much interested in reading more about both. These four authors showcase excellent critical attention to these elements. Also, my head is still spinning from the last one down there.
- Resonance of Fate – a gem that deserves a second chance • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld offers a reminder that JRPGs have never been quite as samey and formulaic as their reputation belies in the form of a particularly off-beat example.
- A History in Translation | Unwinnable
Odile Strik profiles a game where linguistics, history, and scholarship are central and lovingly portrayed.
- Can player choice solve World of Warcraft’s storytelling problems? – Polygon
Cass Marshall looks at the gulf of meaningful choices between Alliance and Horde players in WoW.
- The Dark, Anarchic Mushroom Kingdom of Mario Strikers Charged | ZEAL
Chris Compendio studies Mario Strikers Charged‘s anomalously grimdark aesthetic and peculiar attention to worldbuilding.
“The mood and world created in Charged are defined by the concept of desperation. Think back to those cases previously cited: Mad Max, Rollerball, and The Hunger Games, where desperation and the need to survive are crucial in how those pieces of fiction depict their own societies. Applied to the Mario Strikers games, we see a twisted and sinister version of the aesthetic that Mario fans have since become accustomed to.”
Just for Fun
Remember when Spore was a thing? It’s okay if you don’t–my point here is that game offered powerful character creation tools that the internet inevitably took in the general direction of memes and penises. That tradition is alive and well in the latest SoulCalibur.
- The Weirdest Soulcalibur VI Character Creations | Kotaku
I clicked on this and now I’m giving you the opportunity to make the same mistake (content notification: penises. . . I think?).
“SoulCalibur IV includes the most robust custom character creation tool in series history. The game’s only been out for four days, and already the internet is flooded with twisted player creations, and not all of them have giant fake cocks.”
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