Happy Sunday readers!
This week I’m thinking a lot about momentum. You see, I do believe that in some, small ways, things are getting better in gaming spaces in terms of representation, and in terms of what voices are included in both the production and consumption of games. And where we can’t point to direct progress, I do think we can at least gesture to a growing awareness among readers and players of pressing issues in games, such as in the case of labour equity.
Now, all of that has to be qualified with a big asterisk insofar as I am making these observations from a position of privilege as a perceived-white, perceived-male, perceived-cis, perceived-able writer and player. I try to keep myself well-read on issues that pertain to play communities outside of my bubble, but I know I’m always going to have to put more work into maintaining that awareness.
Still, there are setbacks, such as this disappointing news about the latest Mortal Kombat game, and yet another discouraging cancellation that has me worrying primarily about whose jobs are on the line this time.
But critical games writers, both at larger venues and at smaller blogs, continue to work to hold these practices (and their practitioners) accountable. Quality games writing, and the promotion thereof–especially writing produced by marginalized authors–is a big part of the successes we are seeing in terms of making games a safer, more inclusive, more equitable space for the members of all of its spheres. So in that spirit, Critical Distance continues to round up important thoughts and voices, even on the weeks that bum us out a little.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
A specific focus this week is on the social dimensions of the ways we play. Three pieces this week weigh in on the dynamics of competitive multiplayer, the gradual shift to streamers for game promotion, and how one set of social skills can be unexpectedly mapped onto unforeseen game contexts.
- Smash Ultimate Online Won’t Let You Taunt, So Everyone’s Teabagging Instead | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio weighs tilting against toxicity in the latest and most peculiar twist to Smash‘s online meta.
- Gamasutra: Meredith Hall’s Blog – The Rise of The Influencer? – ?And Why Epic’s New Store Approach Is Huge
Meridith Hall offers a thoughtful meditation on gaming brand promotion in the age of streamers and YouTubers.
- I’m Using My Dating Sim Skills To Solve Danganronpa’s Murders | Kotaku
Maddy Myers solves murders with all the min-maxing ruthlessness of visual novel sociability.
“Like a reality show contestant who is “not here to make friends,” I dove into this game with a hardened and manipulative heart—the heart of a dating sim player who knows how to hit her head against a series of repetitive dialogue choices until she gets the results that she wants.”
A GRIS-ly Postmortem
Artful indie title GRIS has been out for a little bit now, and sober reflections are starting to emerge, with a common theme being one of frustration. Comparisons to Journey appear to be inevitable, and for the most part it seems that critics find the newer work wanting.
- GRIS: Her Journey | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor finds GRIS to be enjoyable to experience but silent to a fault.
- Gris and the problem of symbolic hurt | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld walks away dissatisfied from a game that neither cares to tell her what to feel nor trusts her enough to fill in the blank herself.
“Gris’ attempt to evoke emotion fails due to its open metaphorical approach as much as its need to evoke any feeling, not trusting the player enough to find meaning for themselves.”
State of the Unions
The conversation on labour equity in the games industry gained new traction in 2018, and I’m pleased to see that much of that momentum has been preserved into 2019. Here are some well-articulated thoughts on where labour in games stands now, and where it needs to go from here.
- Game developers need to unionize – Polygon
Tim Colwill offers a valuable recap on the state of labour in games, and why unionization for game developers is a must.
- How ‘Slime Rancher’ Made a Ton of Money And Stuck to 40-Hour Workweeks – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek profiles a developer that doesn’t abuse its employees, and reflects on the problem of that being an anomaly.
“Based on my years of reporting, Popovich’s experience is rare. It’s not often that you meet a developer without a horror story about the process of making games—he’s basically a unicorn. It’s so ingrained as to be expected, which is a huge part of the problem.”
What goes into a game world? How can virtual worlds evoke emotions, or feelings of recognition, either in offering something new or presenting new combinations of the familiar? Two authors approach these questions with excellent articles.
- Surviving a Dead Galaxy in Duskers | Unwinnable
Corey Milne confronts confinement and isolation in vast empty spaces.
- The Blend of East and West in Red Steel 2 – ZEAL – Medium
Xavier Martinez probes at the ways Red Steel 2 effectively synthesizes elements from both the Wild West and Feudal Japan when so many things could plausibly go wrong.
“The question may then arise as to precisely why the world of Red Steel 2 works. The answer essentially lies in the method of the game’s combination of tropes. Rather than mixing the Wild West and feudal Japan into every single one of its characters, locales or plot elements (which would obviously be a recipe for disaster), the game allows both sets of tropes to stand on their own, but alongside each other and always within its narrative and aesthetic space.”
There are positive steps being made in big games towards greater inclusivity. But we can’t just sit back and be complacent about it, and these four authors certainly have not in probing where the margins are being drawn, advanced, and occasionally (and unfortunately) clawed back in games.
- Soldier: 76 Is Gay, but Overwatch Still Makes Fans Work for Queer Representation
Nico Deyo evaluates the limitations of queer representation in a game with minimal internal story, produced by a company with a historically troubled relationship with both narrative and inclusivity.
- On Red Dead Redemption and historical accuracy – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa weighs the dog-whistling of “historical accuracy” against the especially toxic environment for black avatars in Red Dead Online.
- In Kimmy, It’s a Girl’s World – Videodame
Alyse Stanley discusses how Kimmy recuperates “girly” femininity in games by giving primacy to everyday feminine subjectivity and not allowing its narrative beats to be co-opted by toxic masculinity.
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Latest DLC Has A Romantic Ending You Can’t Change | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra recoils at Ubisoft’s abrupt pivot back to heteronormativity.
“It can feel like a slap in the face, particularly if you were playing Kassandra as gay, to have her embrace domesticity, a heterosexual relationship, and motherhood.”
Just for Fun
We’ve peaked (or perhaps, umm, bottomed out) as far as games titled “blanky-blank” are concerned. Look, I don’t make the rules.
- A Game About Slapping An Ass Gave Me Embarrassing Flashbacks | Kotaku
Kate Gray reminisces and reviews Slappy Ass.
“Spanking can be a lot of things. It can be fun, painful, entertaining, sexy, punishing, and even so embarrassing that you melt into a puddle of shame. I had not yet realized the potential of spanking as a tedious exercise until I played Slappy Ass, the game that begins as a fun, silly jiggle simulator and slowly develops into a dull clicker with no real reward unless you really love to spank CGI physics-enabled butts in a multitude of colors.”
- Realistic Teen Witch Simulator | Unwinnable
Kris Ligman offers a reflective semi-postmorterm on their latest Twine game. In the interest of disclosure, Kris is a senior curator alumni and current financial director at Critical Distance.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!