I’ve been thinking a lot this week about my editorial voice, and how to try and use it for good.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how to balance the level-headed approach I believe curating quality games criticism demands with the subjectivity I inevitably bring to the role as an embodied (and let’s be honest, kind of undisciplined) individual who cares about things.
Some weeks, that may involve getting past my initial frustration that we’re having the same conversation again about where all the good games writing is, trying to understand what kind of place that question keeps coming from, and how to use that question to steer the conversation in a positive direction. Other weeks, it involves trying to get a handle on my excitement when somebody’s writing about some obscure game from the 90’s I haven’t heard about since the 90’s.
Other weeks, like this one, it involves reflecting on my ongoing desire to curate and signal-boost as much queer games crit as possible, and how to keep my energy and enthusiasm up when, say, my provincial government pulls identity-erasing bullshit like this.
I’m a messy editor. I let my feelings leak into my roundups and guide the connections and narratives I weave between the articles that I curate. That’s true even when my feelings are influenced by headlines that aren’t directly connected to games, such as the one I linked above.
It is all connected, though. Games are at the forefront of cultural ubiquity, and the critical lenses we apply when we talk about those games matter. This is one reason among many why I want games criticism to be more intersectional, more queer, more accessible, more Mad & Crip, more everything to do with identity. I think pushing for a more inclusive games criticism is part of the much larger project of pushing back against narratives of marginalization and erasure in general–the narratives we are seeing more of in the news cycle these days.
Because messy people play games.
Because messy people make games.
Because messy people write about games.
And so I’ll allow myself a little messiness as I do my best to promote and honour all that messy writing.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Gaming Games Crit
Two authors this week each offer insightful, relational meditations on games writing, considering the other spheres that writing intersects with, and occasionally rubs up against.
- Radiator Blog: The medium is not the magazine; the medium is not the criticism
Robert Yang proposes that game criticism’s visibility problem could be one of insularity. A really thoughtful piece, and I’m really grateful to see such positive work coming out of the latest “where’s the crit?” moment.
- We Need to Change the Relationship Between Developers and Press | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld unpacks the uncomfortable power and control game developers wield over the journalists who cover (and sometimes cover for) them.
“If the wider public knows too little about a game developer to accurately judge the claim of 100-hour work weeks, it is because too often, developers determine who gets to speak to them, for them and what shape the conversation takes.”
Spaces and Races and Space Races
Two articles this week investigate the relationship between virtual and embodied spaces in games, alternately though synthesis in VR and affective association in racing games. I’m also disproportionately giddy that Extreme-G is getting name-dropped this week.
- Presence, Preservation, and Virtual Reality | Play The Past
Peter Christiansen brings in some Walter Benjamin to reflect on the potential role of VR in preserving material spaces.
- ‘Grip: Combat Racing’ Evokes Offworld Fantasy and Sci-Fi Wanderlust – Waypoint
Danielle Riendeau muses about the sense of wonder instilled by the scenery in futuristic racing games.
“my first experiences with racing games made me absolutely obsessed with the places that the tracks took place on. The sense of life or strangeness they embodied, because they were places I could explore.”
There’s lots of great writing this week looking at design choices in games, from both player and developer perspectives. Narrative, perspective, theme, accessibility, and therapy are all part of this week’s conversation.
- Gamasutra: Laura Tallardy’s Blog – The Making of Cinderella VR
Laura Tallardy offers an extensive, accessible, and personable breakdown of the development of a story-driven VR game.
- Let’s Place: The other’s sight – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina reflects on the rhetorical power of gaze in games, and how players and designers alike affect and are affected by what that gaze has to say.
- First Steps: Arx Fatalis & Arkane | Arkane Studios Ludography (1/6) – YouTube
Ludocriticism takes a look at the failure of conveyance in Arx Fatalis in the first of a series looking at Arkane Studios’ games.
- Pokemon Let’s Go | One Odd Gamer Girl
OneOddGamerGirl offers a deaf-accessibility breakdown of the new Pokemon games.
- How One Dev Is Using Games as Therapy to Reach Across Generations – Waypoint
Dante Douglas chats with Heavily Medicated Games about their therapy-focused approach to game design.
““Video games are a big industry. And to youth, they’re a big world. I’ve had youth who primarily communicate in memes. Understanding video games to work with them is just the next evolution of working with a client. You can’t come into it outdated, trying to play Monopoly or something. It’s all about trying to find ways to access youth on a level that they’re comfortable with.””
Two authors this week bring in thoughtful reflections on the historical context that games invoke with their narrative elements, either with careful intention, or as a problematic product of precedent.
- How Princess Peach’s Story Draws On 2000 Years Of Women In Peril | Kotaku
Alyse Knorr offers a literary and historical tour of the damsel-in-distress trope, and reflects on ways to update rescue narratives to be more equitable.
- Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Living in Myth | io9
Beth Elderkin describes the ways in which Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey restores Greek Mythology to Greek Faith.
“In the world of Odyssey (as well as its predecessor, Assassins Creed: Origin), the gods aren’t just figures in tales, they’re part of the world. It’s one thing to read the stories of Athena, Theseus, and Medusa on the page, it’s another to feel them all around you, reflected in the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of everyone you meet.”
Three articles this week–Two of them on Red Dead Redemption II–look at the ways in which series successfully iterate upon their founding narrative ideas to produce sequels with greater depth, complexity, and yes, authenticity.
- Hell is Other People | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor maps out how Deltarune complicates Undertale‘s meditations on agency and violence with an added dimension of sociality.
- Why Red Dead Redemption 2’s Sean MacGuire is the best Irish character in a video game yet • Eurogamer.net
Cian Maher touches upon Sean as a jumping-off point for a wider discussion of Irish stereotyping in games, as well as the quest for more authentic representation.
- “A Good Man,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter threads together fleeting moments of tenderness in a vast, messy, colonial hellscape.
“These horse interactions are the “hug button” or the “chat with demons” absent from lots of games primarily about killing people. At first, they seem like a minor quirk—Arthur is great at murdering, but he loves his horses!—but, over time, the system and Arthur’s behaviour are revealed as the core of his personality and the game’s major thematic concern: how to maintain humanity in even the most inhuman circumstances.”
Just for Fun
I’m an unapologetic fan of Gita Jackson’s writing on The Sims. I found this week’s offering on the latest game’s latest expansion to be equal parts artful and hilarious.
- Getting Famous In The Sims 4: A Short Story | Kotaku
Gita Jackson dunks on that unsettling “Influencer” Sims expansion the way only somebody who loves a thing can dunk on it.
“When I moved to Del Sol Valley, I was so sure that it was going to be my ticket to fame. Instead, I’m in round after round of auditions for bit parts and commercial spots. Meanwhile, my two weird, nerdy roommates are streaming themselves to superstardom.”
- It’s time for the @INeedDivGms 2018 Winter Giving Campaign! – I Need Diverse Games
I Need Diverse Games is running a fundraising campaign! If you’ve been concerned as of late about the exposure that good games crit is getting, supporting organizations involved in producing that crit is a great way to get involved, and I can’t think of a better org to support in this capacity than INDG.
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!