April 7th

Hey there, readers. Hope you’re taking care of yourselves.

I hate that at this point I more-or-less expect to have a new big headline about labour abuse to talk about each week, but that’s the reality. This time it’s BioWare, and while this kind of journalistic coverage on the matter is vital and commendable, I don’t think anybody is greatly surprised, exactly.

Another popular topic in the last couple of weeks has once again been accessibility and difficulty modes, courtesy of Sekiro. There’s enough content around the web right now to dedicate a weekly roundup entirely to the subject, but I have chosen here to focus on writers who look past the surface-level debate and examine what’s actually at stake for disabled players, players who just want to experience the story, and everybody else who gets left behind in the wake of a deafening chorus of “git gud.” There’s always linkages to other corners of the discourse, of course, and I think Vicky Osterweil’s outstanding piece this week can and should be read in relation to this accessibility conversation.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Daily Grind

This week four selections look at the intersections of labour and games from a variety of angles. In addition to new developments on the labour organization front, there’s excellent work here on in-game labour and gamification.

“A studio like Bioware Austin, comprised of hundreds of employees and supplemented by thousands of outsourced asset developers, depends on a company culture where they can justify to themselves it’s worth it because they believe in the magic of the creative act in exactly this way, after all. It couldn’t exist as it does if they didn’t believe in it. They could not have survived the tumultuous seven-year development of Anthem from its beginnings as Project Dylan to its launch, now, as a live service, without at least partial hope that this was a true metaphor.”

Postgame Content

A pair of authors this week tackle gaming’s perennial love-affair with post-apocalypses, working, among other things, to decouple some of the colonial assumptions underlying how apocalypses are defined and depicted.

“The post-apocalypse is frontier fantasy but it’s also a way to sample a future beyond that stubborn sword of Damocles we’ve erected over our present day. It’s nice not to have to brace for war, or climate disaster, even if that means spending time in fiction where those disasters have already come and gone. There is an ironic comfort in being alone at the end of the world.”

Don’t Open that Door

Horror games have ebbed and flowed over the years, but right now they appear to be on something of a retro-fueled resurgence. Three authors this week dig into how these games have commanded our attention over the years, how they have held up (or haven’t), and how their legacies have evolved over time.

“In the end, it’s simply not enough to harken back to the simpler styles of rendering to create an interesting piece of art. It would do microindies good to take these older pieces in as a whole, investigating what the developers did with the visuals, and how they allow players to interact with their worlds.”

Push, Parry, Poise

From Software’s latest grueling adventure Sekiro has made the critical rounds, and, as From games often do, it has reinvigorated the “easy mode” debate. At the top level, however, much of that conversation is preoccupied with a reductive should-they-or-shouldn’t-they dilemma that frankly asks the wrong question (because yeah, they should). This week’s three selections look more deeply at the issue, considering how disabled player identity is flattened out by the zero-sum difficulty conversation and how From is in some ways complicit in the more toxic dimensions of “git gud” culture.

“Its theological and historical context work together with the often-frustrating experience of mastering its exacting sword fights to create a holistic sutra of a game—a work of fiction that treats the accepted videogame conceits of preternaturally skilled warriors, “respawning” characters, and punishing combat encounters as essential narrative elements in its story of 16th century war and Buddhist thought.”

Power and Play

A pair of articles this week look at play communities from opposite perspectives, respectively: letting players in, hearing their diverse experiences and prioritizing their voices; versus shutting the gates and excluding everyone who can’t (or won’t) tread water in an ocean of bigotry and toxicity.

“Games have been constructed — actively, by industrial and political economic forces — as a refuge from “the real world,” a place of rest, relaxation, and identity re-enforcement for straight white men, a space in which the feminized labor of social reproduction is performed for them by a machine rather than a woman.”

Just for Fun

Hitters spike twice.

“after watching so many bloody Sekiro deaths, I have to say: Getting hit in the nipple with a volleyball is probably way more pleasant than getting run through with a big ol’ spear.”


Plugs

  • Nonbinary – First Person Scholar 
    First Person Scholar’s special issue on queer gaming continues with an interactive Twine narrative from Adan Jerreat-Poole on nonbinary experience. Full transcript available here.

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