Happy December, readers. Has it really been three months already?
There’s a whole lot of quality writing this week on Red Dead 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me: both have been out for a few weeks, and it only makes sense that deeper, fuller critiques are starting to emerge. Not that there weren’t some great articles out of the gate–because there absolutely were–but the longer a game is out, the more players have time to really dive into them and produce thoughtful, boundary-pushing criticism. So a bunch of that is on display this week!
Of course, that’s far from everything happening in the discourse right now. I’m always on the lookout for work reaching beyond the chart-toppers of the moment, and there’s an excellent piece this week on 2014’s Sunset Overdrive, which in a total coincidence I played for the very time this week. With whispers of Metroid making some kind of appearance at The Game Awards, now’s also a great opportunity to remind readers that the series absolutely supports a trans reading of Samus.
So dive in, readers! This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Storm the Gates
Five outstanding pieces this week alternately critique failures of representation in games and carve out spaces for diverse identities.
- The Power of Trans Samus | Videodame
Jaime Gonzalez explores the lore and paratexts supporting a trans reading of Metroid‘s protagonist in a beautiful visual essay.
- “Women Out of Date,” by Esther Wright – Bullet Points Monthly
Esther Wright details the ways in which Red Dead 2‘s depiction of women is a century out-of-date, and not just ironically so.
- Orientalism in MHM Medium – YouTube
Elizabeth Srsic performs a detailed linguistic analysis of Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion to highlight orientalist conflations in the game.
- On Voice Acting and Diversity | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld examines the lag between increasingly diverse character representation in games and a comparative lack of representation among the actors who voice those characters.
- Red Dead Redemption 2’s Redface Proves How Far Games Haven’t Come | Paste
Dia Lacina pens a critique of casting and characterization in Red Dead 2 that shouldn’t have to be written, but absolutely must be read.
“From its inseparability from 19th century American theater to later Hollywood films, (usually, but not exclusively) white actors have been pretending to be Black and Indigenous, typically as radically offensive stereotypes. Now, with digitally created characters, we’ve shifted from the makeup and costuming to their CG counterparts. Mocap actors inhabit and voice constructs of Blackness and Indigeneity. It’s a violence that continues to dehumanize and perpetuate racist ideas about people of color.”
Looking for Group
Four quality articles this week reflect on how games alternately help, hinder, and allegorize our fundamental need as social beings to make and maintain connections.
- Dreaming on the Untamed Net: The Rise and Decline of Furcadia – VRV Blog
Blake P. profiles a long-lived, but slowly dying social game/platform catering to the furry community.
- The Paradox Of Online Games’ Group-Finders | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio discusses the ways in which group-finders mitigate one form of toxicity by exchanging it for another.
- It turns out FIFA is ideal for teaching mental health patients about resilience • Eurogamer.net
James Holland, using FIFA as an example, argues for the socially recuperative affordances of games, and that the research being done on their effects might be approaching them from the wrong angle.
- Fallstreak | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson dives into a visual novel that explores our need for connections in an increasingly despondent world.
“We don’t always need stories with good people in them. Now more than ever, we need to be reading stories about horrible people doing truly awful things, and people deciding to fight against that by building and utilizing their own bonds of love.”
Five articles this week zero in on the sometimes-rough edges where mechanical and narrative design goals of games brush up against one another.
- The irony of Red Dead Redemption 2’s themes – Critical Hit
Brad Lang revisits the concept of ludonarrative dissonance to find Red Dead 2‘s dated gameplay at odds with its narrative warning about staying stuck in the past.
- The Emotionless Death Throes of ‘Battlefield V’ – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman analyzes a death animation in Battlefield V, demonstrating how borrowing from prior forms, conflating the cinematic with the interactive, the first-person with the third, breeds hollow desensitization.
- The meaning of death and Red Dead Redemption 2 – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa reflects on the triviality of death in games and its sobering consequences in Red Dead 2.
- Pivot | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor demythologizes the Metroidvania by studying the disparate design philosophies between the term’s two namesake games.
- Well Played: Passive Attack — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil deconstructs the concept of interactivity by problematizing its supposed opposition to passivity and pointing to gamification as a negative example of what the term actually upholds.
“Under other social regimes, games might offer a window onto liberated play, creativity, and pure joy. But video games under capital are instead used to degrade “creative agency” to rote, controlled manipulations, which allows managers to represent repetitive, deskilled work as a fun and fulfilling competition, while senseless, cutthroat entrepreneurial and corporate jockeying become playful maneuvers and displays of creativity.”
Games are very often pocket universes, microcosms for the conflicts and anxieties that were salient at the time of their production. How do these worlds relate to their material inspirations, and how do those relationships change over time? Three authors this week investigate these questions.
- “My Life Didn’t Begin Until The World Ended”?—?Sunset Overdrive and the post-apocalyptic identity
Adam Page, in an absolutely fantastic piece, documents the ways in which irreverent power fantasy Sunset Overdrive has proven itself to be a spectacularly poor read of the room just a few short years after its release.
- A day trip to Yakuza 6’s Onomichi • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld reflects on the whimsical, uncanny experience of visiting the real-world counterpart of a game-world locale.
- Sucking Blood from the Earth | Unwinnable
Sara Clemens muses about Vampires, ethical consumption, and the exhaustion of media in an exhausting world.
“A newly-vampiric doctor tormented between following his oath to do no harm and satiating his bloodlust offers a neat parallel to current worries regarding ethical consumption. I’m typing this on a sleek MacBook with my iPhone close at hand and what of it that the factory where they’re made features suicide-prevention nets, I guess. I give money to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. I deserve this Apple Watch.”
Open World Enough and Time
Three articles this week consider the tethers games maintain with the historical past, both in terms of representation as well as their status as material commodities.
- Why Homer would approve of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey • Eurogamer.net
Stephanie Clark unearths linkages between the latest Creed and its source text.
- Beware the corporate video game canon | AV Club
Lewis Gordon peers into the historical erasure big-ticket game publishers perpetuate when they go after emulation developers.
- Sexing My Way Through Ancient Greece In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey | Kotaku
Kate Gray is absolutely here for (historically accurate) sexual permissiveness in Ancient Greece.
“If there’s anything I learned studying Classics at university, it’s that our respected ancient ancestors were total horndogs. That’s why I’m so happy Assassin’s Creed Odyssey embraces historical bonkery to the extent that it does.”
Just for Fun
- Arthur Morgan’s No Good, Very Bad Day | Kotaku
Nathan Grayson tells a high-fidelity cowboy story suitable for children of all ages.
“Suddenly, he was back on the road, Jamie riding full-tilt ahead of him. And then he was crashing into that godforsaken fence again. Arthur crashed into it from multiple angles, at multiple points. He and Esports tumbled and thrashed into every conceivable tangle of human and horse.”
- Unwinnable Holiday Madness | Unwinnable
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!