This is the first week in a while where there hasn’t been a big-banner Triple-A release trying to take up all the critical oxygen in the room. Well, I suppose Square Enix did send The Quiet Man out to die this week, but from what I’ve seen so far it looks like the unfortunate marriage of terrible mechanical design and a paradoxically ableist power fantasy that plays up its deaf protagonist for edgy kicks. No thanks.
What this has been is an absolutely fantastic week for critical writing on games. Both CapsuleCrit and Deorbital dropped issues this week, and I encourage you to check them both out! Here, I’ve rounded up some really great writing on such topics as horror games (I wonder why those are in vogue this week…?), teenage queerness, toxicity in play communities, how to make roguelikes, 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 saw Halloween come and go, and plenty of writers took the opportunity to reflect on memorable experiences they’ve had with horror games. Here are four of this week’s finest examples of quality examinations of spooky games.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines | The Epitome of the RPG – YouTube
Pam takes a deep look at Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, just in time for Halloween.
- A Visual Novel To Scare You Sleepless | Unwinnable
Alyse Stanley looks back at the uncle who works for nintendo and takes the measure of its slow-building dread.
- Who Is Mike | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson plays a short horror visual novel that challenges the linkages between memories and identity.
- Glory Visits The House Without Walls – Timber Owls
unhaunting profiles Cultist Simulator as a narrative puzzle that refuses to be solved.
“The process of discovery that makes the player gradually build an interpretive framework for the game’s opaque concepts and systems is a wonderful thematic concordance: just as the character you’re playing dives headfirst into dream-visions and secret histories, so do you, the player, desperately attempt to put things together.”
I’m always on the lookout for writers and games that examine specifically queer and/or feminine perspectives in games, because these perspectives absolutely need and deserve more exposure and traction. For this week, please enjoy these three articles which all investigate different combinations of power and escape: one that looks at queerness, one that looks at femininity, and one that looks at both.
- We Are the Monsters | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor digs into an Orc dating sim that problematizes and rejects essentialism, whether it be anti-orc or anti-gay men.
- Fear of Missing Out – Deorbital
Lane LaBelle reflects on their childhood experiences with the escapist fantasies of hyper-feminine “girly” games, and how they offered a refuge from the reality of gender struggles that you really can’t go back to.
- Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Queer – Deorbital
dan parker offers a gripping read of We Know the Devil, a visual novel that explores teenage queerness and power fantasies of monstrosity, and which I need to be playing, like, yesterday.
“Aevee Bee and Mia Schwartz’s visual novel knows how the monsters of our culture really work and uses monstrosity to explore the forbidden queer desires and pained aspirations of its three closeted teenage protagonists.”
Red Dead Redress
Given the sheer scope of Red Dead Redemption 2, it only makes sense that it’s going to take authors some time to unpack the game with quality criticism, and I expect more articles to be published over the following weeks and months. This week, I wanted to highlight these two excellent examinations of the game.
- ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ Is Defined By Its Rough Edges – Waypoint
Austin Walker distills his conflicted thoughts in letter form about Red Dead 2.
- “I’ve Watched a Lot of Films:” The Cinematic Failures of Red Dead Redemption 2 — CapsuleCrit
Jackson Tyler offers a brilliant, concise critique of one of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s central tenets.
“More than 3,000 people sacrificed some of the best of their lives to the goal of making the most detailed and cinematic open world game of all time. And for all this (unequally compensated) sacrifice they failed, because while the men steering the ship may love movies, they do not understand them.”
I think it’s really important to keep an ear to the ground about what play communities are saying about games. This extends–safety and energy permitting–to when those communities becomes spaces of hostility and toxicity, because in those cases they serve as a bellwether to identify which voices and groups are being marginalized and abused in games. It’s equally important for me to acknowledge that the privilege I have as a straight/white/male-perceived individual does a lot to insulate me from the kind of harm that these groups traffic in, and so imbues me with a higher threshold for reading about said harm. These three articles examine various ways in which play communities influence the discourse on the games they consume, for better or worse (usually worse, I’m afraid).
- ‘I’m Already Tracer’ critics tear teens down just for having fun – Polygon
Petrana Radulovic examines nested layers of misogyny in Overwatch fan videos (Content Notification: abusive gamer bro comments).
- Worse than Scabs: Gamer Rage as Anti-Union Violence | Rhizome
Lana Polansky digs deep into the designed built-in precarity of games industry labour, and how publishers quietly leverage gamer rage to keep their workers afraid and exploited. This one feels especially timely given the absolute meltdown people are having this weekend over Diablo Immortal.
- There Are Not “Too Many Games” – Deorbital
Liz Ryerson demystifies the Indiepocalypse as a monolith by discussing the various economic, cultural, and political shifts operating under its label, and proposes that there is some good in leaving behind an earlier indie culture of kingmaking and gatekeeping.
“Now, especially with the relative ease and access of software like Unity or Twine or Gamemaker, many new voices are throwing their hats in the ring. From any other perspective other than a failure of most of these to achieve large-scale commercial success or visibility, there are not too many games.”
Three articles I came across this week offered some really inspired close readings of specific games; I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
- Kill Your Past, Remake the World – Deorbital
Jonathan Kaharl probes the mundane terror of authoritarian conformity in The 25th Ward.
- The Weight of the World – Deorbital
Lilly Fenton maps out the hyper-capitalist nightmare hell that is the world of Nier: Automata.
- Sephiroth & Me – Deorbital
Ria Teitelbaum excavates the deeper thematic linkages between Judaism and Final Fantasy VII.
“Not only was Final Fantasy my Torah but Sephiroth, known video game villain and icon, became the fictional personification of my relationship with Judaism.”
Four articles this week take different approaches in looking at the design elements of goals, be they instructional, analytical, pedagogical, or goal-oriented. I’m always interested in sharing quality writing the examines how games are put together!
- Gamasutra: Josh Ge’s Blog – How to Make a Roguelike
Josh Ge offers an accessible primer on getting started in the weird, wonderful world of Rougelike development.
- I Like Baseball Now Because It’s Just Like Dwarf Fortress | Kotaku
Gita Jackson explains why it’s all about the small, stressful moments.
- Opened World: Finding Her – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella reminisces about the pedagogical successes of Carmen Sandiego.
- VR has already taken people with dementia to the seaside – and now video games are exploring neurological disease itself • Eurogamer.net
Luke Kemp profiles several VR developers aiming to create experiences that alternately help people living with dementia and neurological disease and educate the public about those experiences.
“The symptoms of dementia aren’t always visible, and are difficult to explain to anybody who hasn’t experienced them. Video games occupy a unique space in terms of potentially being able to rectify this.”
Something to Make You Feel Good
For the last little while, I have been saving a place at the end of each weekly roundup for something light and fun, a sort of chaser for a selection of reading that at times can start to feel rather bleak or heavy, depending on the week. This week’s offering is presented for the same purpose, but the stakes with this one are a little higher, so I decided to run it under a new heading. I suppose you could also take the angle that both this and last week’s offerings revolve around cocks. I hope you enjoy it.
- One Twitch Streamer Is Fighting Racism With A Chicken Emote | Kotaku
Nathan Grayson documents an ingeniously meme-tastic weapon in the fight against racism on Twitch (Content Notification: racism).
“The system, which she explained during TwitchCon’s “How to Grow & Navigate Twitch as a Streamer Of Color” panel, is elegant in its simplicity. It centers around an emote of a chicken hiding behind a bush—a sneaky cock, in other words. When community members start spamming it, that lets Xmiramira and her moderators know that somebody’s said something racist or otherwise harassing.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!