November 11th

Where is all the good writing about games?

That’s Critical Distance’s slogan, prominently displayed on the website, just beneath the title. Our ongoing project, which I work my absolute hardest to honour, is to answer that question in an inclusive and accessible fashion.

To that end, for my work as Senior Curator I read, on average, a couple hundred articles of games writing a week. That’s somewhere between two and three hundred new articles each and every week.

That’s not a complaint, readers: I really, really enjoy this job. And my reading, though I try to make it as wide-reaching as possible, can hardly be called comprehensive, given all the blogs, vlogs, outlets, zines, and other publications I haven’t personally discovered yet. But I want to offer this anecdotal statistic as a contrast to the cyclical refrain, repeated anew this week, that nobody is reading good writing on games, or knows where to find it.

There’s a lot of snark flying around the Internet right now concerning that article, which I definitely identified with as my first knee-jerk reaction, but you know what? I get where this perspective comes from. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more people reading–and writing–critical writing on games that goes beyond such boilerplate questions as “Is it good?” or “Is it art?”

At the same time, the question posed by the article is not a new one (Critical Distance, for example, is a decade old), and it has been answered countless times before. If you want to find good writing about games these days, you really don’t have to look very far. A Google search for “critical writing on games” returns this website as the first result. Game Studies (though, in truth, it is unjustly reductive to fold all the different kinds of research involving games into that singular banner) is a rapidly-growing discipline in academic departments around the world. And as games become ever-more ubiquitous, more and more writing about games is published in mainstream venues that aren’t specifically dedicated to games.

There’s also lots of ways to get involved. Right here at Critical Distance, we currently have active calls for submissions for our Blogs of the Round Table and Critical Compilations features.

And lastly, of course, there’s the writing itself, and there’s some really awesome examples I want to share this week! Keep reading for some truly excellent insights on accessibility, ableism, queer representation, 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.

Access and Excess

Three articles this week take different approaches to the intersections between accessibility and inclusivity, via Nintendo’s dichotomy between inclusive appeal and inaccessible hardware, the outrageous ableism of The Quiet Man, and the efforts to design games for comfort and kindness.

“Alongside the panel, GamesIndustry.biz caught up with a few of the panelists after the fact to discuss cozy game design further. Throughout both the panel and these discussions, a common thread that kept coming up was the correlation between “cozy” games and “kind” games – games that are kind to the player, and that make them feel kind.”

Labours of Love

More and more writers are talking about the state of labour in games, and I’m really pleased with this state of affairs. Here are three of this week’s finest examples.

“Whether or not we see Midnight in Salem, the long hiatus of Her Interactive has been a major loss for the world of video games, which, in 2018, needs a heroine like Nancy Drew more than ever.”

Feminine Fierceness

Two excellent articles this week look at uncompromising portrayals of feminine strength in games.

“See where even the baddest of badass women in gaming manage to maintain a strong feminine silhouette, Kassandra is, dare I say it, masculine. Those broad shoulders, lack of a pronounced chest, large hands and narrow hips…she’s not like most female game characters. Even the armour she wears is devoid of the usual “boob armour”. Instead Kassandra wears what the men do and wears it damn well.”

Gated Communities

I continue to be preoccupied by the state of gatekeeping in gaming spaces, as well as the tearing down of said gates. I suppose you could say I am opposed to gates in all of their varied forms. Two authors this week reflect on the states of gates past and present.

“As I sat at the table with Tycho, Strong Bad, Max and the Heavy, I expected all of the good feelings that I had about gaming and those properties in 2010 to come rushing back, as a sort of guilty pleasure. Instead, I felt like I didn’t belong there. I remembered how insecure I felt in 2010, how often I was the only girl at the LAN party, paranoid that at any moment I’d be accused of being “fake” for not knowing enough about the right things. As Strong Bad turned to the camera and addressed me as “man,” I felt the old mask go on again. Just one of the guys.”

Queer Spaces in Straight Places

Each of these three outstanding authors investigates some form of queer identity in traditionally heteronormative places. These articles really, really impressed me!

“Telling my grandparents about my career was always a habit of careful lies. Not quite lies, but the kinds of subtle mistruths that come from you knowing that the other party will not understand. “I build websites” I would say. Or “I write for a newspaper,” when I was still making most of my money from online articles. These aren’t fundamentally untrue, but they’re a version of lying. My achievements, the ones that I’m proud of, don’t translate to my family.”

Frenemy Territory

With more than my share of social anxiety under my belt, I really enjoyed reading these two articles which each investigate social tensions in games. And I’m still too stressed out to pick up Splatoon 2 for myself.

“In real life, there are options for survival here—like, choosing your favorite restaurant and skipping breakfast, just so you can spend the whole time avoiding small talk by munching on all the deliciousness you can order. However, in Hot Pot Panic, you are forced to pay attention.”

Critical Conditions

How do you read a game critically? How do you read critical writing about a game critically? I could keep going down the rabbit hole here, but in lieu of that, check out these two timely (and rad) samples.

“I’m not sure that, if I were a novelist encountering this book, I would be terribly encouraged by the prospect of moving into games writing. Ince warns the prospective writer that interactive narrative is always secondary to gameplay in all types of game, and also indicates that typical games aren’t very well written.”

Just for Fun

After this week, I needed this lightness. I hope it lightens your load, too!

“You and I, as adults, know to call things by their actual names. My kid is four, and does no such thing.”


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