Okay, so to start with–and not especially related to this week’s roundup–this. Moral of the story: when developers engage in queer erasure, push back. It works. Live your gayest life, Kassandra.
With that out of the way (and with my spirits raised), this week I’m thinking broadly about what pulls players into the game, and what keeps them there. Or sometimes doesn’t. I said broad!
Oh, and Resident Evil 2 came out (err, again), so there’s that.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
So Resident Evil 2 is a thing this week, and lots of writers are thinking about how it and the survival horror genre have developed–or not–over the last 20 years. Here are
three four of the best pieces so far.
- Resident Evil 2: The Kotaku Review | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra weighs the Resident Evil 2 remake against the legacy of the original. You know we don’t typically curate reviews, so now you also know that this particular review is The Good Shit.
- The Wildest Ride in ‘Parkitect’ is Predatory Lending – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman plays, umm. . . a survival horror game? Okay, putting this article in this section is probably a joke that only I’m going to laugh at, but it’s a good read.
- “Uncanny, Real,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter finds the RE2 remake mired in the uncanny not on account of its groundbreaking graphics, but rather its unevolved, unrefined gameplay.
- Why Resident Evil 2’s City of the Dead scares us • Eurogamer.net
Nick Reuben delves into why and how our institutional edifices–political, economic, architectural–crumble in the wake of the zombie.
“They’re a uniquely American, capitalist nightmare in this sense. An all-consuming collectivist horde, converting their victims in a flurry of red. All the while remaining completely immune to advertising, body shaming, social anxieties, patriotism, or anything else that could normally be relied on to keep such an unpredictable mass tranquil.”
What makes play meaningful? How do our choices impact us, and what motivates us to make them? In what ways do we identify with our play-selves? I have the easy job in framing the conversation around these admittedly vague questions–the three authors that follow accomplish something considerably more impressive by proposing thoughtful and substantial answers.
- Conversation as Gameplay (Talk) | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short talks about talk in games–about how to design for conversation as a meaningful and rewarding element of gameplay.
- Playing for Dramatic Effect | Ada Play
Adarel discusses different approaches to making player decisions in story-based games: playing for character consistency, for morality, and for “dramatic effect.” Also, Draaagon Age <3
- character creation – DEEP HELL
Skeleton digs deep on identifying with–no, living through–our avatars.
“For a few hours of the day I can know and exist in the body of this woman. Just enough time to drop down to the surface of that planet and many others. I’ll never know what it’s like to take the armor off, though, or to feel the cold interior of a dropship kiss the bottoms of my feet when I first take my boots off.”
As kind of a parallel theme to the above, how can we find calm, relief, or even healing in imaginary places and worlds? How can games sustain these kinds of sites of recovery. Two authors approach these questions this week by way of two very different games.
- I’ll Be There, Part II – ZEAL – Medium
Rory Frances explores, in visual form, rewriting the self and finding comfort in our bonds, by way of Final Fantasy VIII.
- Becalm’s Kaleidoscopic Reality Helped Me Find Peace in My Own – Waypoint
Natalie Watson finds home on a strange horizon in Becalm.
“To spend time in Becalm is to be visually mesmerized by its colorful fantasy, yet at the same time feel grounded by the sounds of nature. During my voyage, I felt nostalgic for a place I had never visited, a deep longing for an experience I had never had. I felt at home in something completely unfamiliar.”
If games can create spaces to foster peace and escape, they can also simulate spaces that are somehow unsafe or compromised, whether by the invasive presence of surveillance or a physically dangerous terrain. Two authors this week think through these ideas.
- You Do Not Belong Here: From Industry to Interloper in HALF-LIFE | Medium
Tyler Opal Wallowa describes how the Black Mesa facility is characterized and designed as a hostile and inaccessible environment rather than an accommodating playspace.
- Opened World: The Act of Looking – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella masterfully reads Robert Yang’s The Tearoom as an exploration of queer optics, hegemonic surveillance, and prejudiced stream policies.
“The Tearoom is precisely concerned with how institutions define homosexuality as deviant through surveillance practices, reflecting the central role of sexuality in establishing certain social norms to the detriment of entire groups of people.”
Turning the Tabletops
I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t feature as much writing about tabletop games as I’d like to. This week, however, we’ve got a pair of articles that focus on a particular advantage of analog play and design–it’s a lot easier to get under the hood and tinker around.
- Get to know Liz and Steffie: RPG developing duo – I Need Diverse Games
Bunny Hanlon chats with Elizabeth Chaipraditkul and Steffie de Vaan about their project to make a new RPG each month for a year.
- The Accessibility of House Rules – Meeple Like Us
Michael Heron proposes house rules as a way of thinking of board games as modable, accessible, and customizable in their difficulty.
“Board games have a secret superweapon when it comes to flexibility – they’re infinitely modable. In fact, people do it all the time. We don’t call it modding. We call it house ruling.”
Okay, so we’ve wrestled a bunch this week with what pulls us into games. So what keeps us there? Or fails to keep us there, in some cases? A pair of writers this week delve into this problem and come away with some very different answers for very different games.
- Overwatch Is No Longer My Third Place | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio finds that she’s no longer getting out of Overwatch what she puts into it.
- Katamari Damacy: Keep Going | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor breaks down how every moving part in Katamari Damacy is engineered to fuel its irresistible feedback loop.
“In a way, Katamari succeeds because it tells the player exactly what they want to hear all the time, and that’s a powerful lure.”
Just for Fun
- A Game About Dating That Instagram-Famous Egg | Kotaku
Gita Jackson wrote a thing, and I have absolutely nothing of substance to add here.
“Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that you should probably take stock of whether or not you eat eggs for breakfast. Your new paramour may not like that.”
- What The Good Place says about game design | Unwinnable
Kris Ligman muses about the (rigged) (or not?) gamification of the afterlife. So, umm, is this deadification? Can you get into The Good Place if you spend all of Jeff Bezos’ fucking money? Kris is Critical Distance’s financial director, and routinely writes and develops cool things.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!