Happy Sunday, readers!
So last week I used this space to essentially subtweet a major publisher that did something really stupid and toxic in a cynical attempt to grab headlines. Is it possible to do the same thing to the largest distributor of PC games in the business? Anyways, here’s a really good summary of (and commentary on) this week’s bullshit (content notification: Gamer™ Idiots waffling about sexual violence).
On to good stuff! If you haven’t checked it out already, Gilles Roy has written a Critical Compilation on Assassin’s Creed II, a game which I have been told is the actual start of the series, and which I may play someday if I ever find the time. I’ve also been told that Black Flag is where the series really starts, or perhaps Origins, or. . . wow there’s been a lot of installments.
As for this week’s selection of articles, we’ve got some inspired reflection on critical discourse itself front-and centre, which makes sense given that Anthem is now a thing and I’m still over here wondering when we’re going to get another Dragon Age II. We’ve also got great articles written from the developer perspective as well as work reflecting on love and contentment in our contemporary hellscape.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Several writers this week have taken the time to critically reflect on the critical discourse itself around particular games and topics. Is quality criticism connecting with audiences in a way that facilitates real change? Can the topics that presently dominate our discourse account for a game as a whole text?
- The New Queer Tropes In Video Games Series Is Tired, But Sadly, Still Relevant | Kotaku
Natalie Degraffinried wonders whether even Feminist Frequency’s latest well-researched, well-intentioned effort (which I’m pretty excited about) can move the needle on queer representation in games.
- Insisting The Division 2 is apolitical while marketing it with overtly political messages is some grade-A bullshit | VG247
Kirk McKeand succinctly summarizes why I’m grossed out by everything about The Division despite having never played it. Also, can Ubisoft please stop stapling Tom Clancy’s soggy name to new intellectual property? He’s dead, Jim.
- “Consuming the World,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter problematizes the critical discourse around Anthem as reductive and inadequate for describing it and games like it as anything other than repositories of content.
“When games are discussed in purely mechanical terms, as these kinds of games inevitably are, any evaluation of what they actually achieve (or fail to achieve) on other fronts is always going to feel besides-the-point or navel-gazey. The accepted approach is to say that Anthem does not have “enough to do,” foregoing a look at whether what there is “to do” is worthwhile.”
Game Masters and Gatekeepers
In our increasingly online and interconnected communities, the games that developers build and publishers ship are only half of the story. The other half? Communities–for better or worse. Three authors this week look at how player communities shape, reshape, and sometimes threaten games and their developers.
- Fantasy’s Widow: The Fight Over The Legacy Of Dungeons & Dragons | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio interviews Gail Gygax and profiles her increasingly isolated efforts to protect her late husband’s work.
- Atlas is a pirate MMO played by thousands but the battlefield is broken – Polygon
Cass Marshall peers into the buggy, lawless, nationalistic hell-orifice of a latter-day MMO.
- Overwatch’s community can’t keep the promise of its queer-friendly lore – Polygon
Kenneth Shepard describes how Overwatch‘s inclusive lore is hamstrung by Blizzard’s approaches to storytelling and community management.
“Blizzard got me into Overwatch through Soldier: 76, but if the developer isn’t brave enough to let the character be who he is in the game itself, it’s passively allowing an environment that makes me a target if I try to be myself as well.”
There’s a lot of great writing out there from the folx actually involved in making games, but I sometimes have a hard time making a case for its inclusion in our weekly roundups. This generally comes down to a matter of accessibility–I value quality critical writing that non-expert audiences can dig into and take something from. These three authors–two developers and a journalist interviewing a developer–hit that balance and offer valuable perspectives on both design and labour.
- Radiator Blog: Why you should almost always localize your games
Robert Yang, with supporting data, describes how localizing games for access beyond the anglosphere can connect games with much wider audiences.
- “There’s space in the medium for ultra-hard games.” – Below and the difficulty in crafting difficulty | Rock Paper Shotgun
Sam Greer chats with Below creator Kris Piotrowski about how to make a satisfying game that’s designed to kick your ass.
- What it’s like to be laid off from your video game studio – Polygon
Katie Chironis describes the precarious life of a game developer in an understated, raw, cutting piece.
“Dream jobs are a funny thing. You can make money doing what you love. That’s pretty cool. But after multiple interstate, or intercontinental, moves for the sake of finding a new job, or rebooting your social life for the fifth time, or having to explain to your daughter why she’s changing schools and leaving her friends, the cool parts lose their luster.”
It feels like even our escapist fantasies are beginning to feel weighed down by the failure of our own collective futures to meet our hopeful expectations. Two authors reflect on this trend.
- ‘Objects in Space’ Knows the Future Sucks, But Makes the Best of It – Waypoint
Danielle Riendeau looks past utopian futures to ask how we might make the most of the depressingly mundane.
- Rose | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle discusses a tragic romance in, honestly, the last game in which I expected anybody to find any such thing.
“Unlike New Vegas, Fallout 76 doesn’t actually have fuckable robots. But it does have a robot plotline centered around doomed love . . . and is that really so different?”
I distinctly recall 2010’s NieR making waves at the time of its release for featuring a middle-aged father as the primary protagonist, but we’ve had older dudes at the helm of games well before that. Nowadays, they’re almost trendy. Older women? Not so much. This week’s on-point author calls bullshit.
- Time to give rise to the rugged woman • Eurogamer.net
Laura Francis makes the case for including more older women in games, citing examples like Mortal Kombat X‘s Sonya and. . . God, is that really it? Kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?
“Video games need to do a hell of a lot better in making progress in promoting age diversity with their female characters. Audiences and critics must demand way more. Whether young, old, straight, queer, there’s plenty of room for every type of woman in gaming, whether within the industry itself or as part of the video game.”
Just for Fun
There’s a Doom mod for literally everything.
- New Doom Map Recreates A Famously Terrible Bathroom | Kotaku
Fun fact: the original “architect” of this terrible bathroom (the real one, not the hilarious Doom recreation discussed in this article) was banned repeatedly from SA because he refused to stop referring to women as “females”, so that’s the kind of intellectual heavyweight we’re dealing with here.
“If you’re wondering why the ground around the bath is causing damage, that’s because the actual bathroom featured rocks all around the bath (designed to grow moss), and the damage caused to Doom Guy is a reflection of the damage we have all had to take looking at this casino/Yakuza bar colour scheme.”
- Destined for Silence – First Person Scholar
Lillian A. Black analyzes how the gradual loss of the Destiny player avatar’s voice has affected her ability to identify with and embody the character. In the interest of disclosure, I was the principal editor of this article.
“When the body you inhabit in the physical word does not match your cognitive experience, the character customization in games is an opportunity and a means of representing yourself physically in the digital world. Now that they have pulled the voice from my character, I am forced to replace it with my own; my own voice becomes that of the female character with which I embody and identify.”
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!