Happy Sunday, readers.
There’s new Deorbital this week, which under any circumstances kicks ass, but this time around it’s bittersweet news, as the publication is going on hiatus while the team seeks out new ways to keep the project funded. Deorbital produces some of the best games crit on the web, so keep them on your radar, and if an opportunity arises to support them and you are in a position to do so, please do. In the meantime, the articles from this season’s quarterly feature heavily in this week’s roundup.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
A trio of excellent articles this week examine deep links and synergies between the games we play and the wider neoliberal frameworks they inhabit and reproduce, even when those games purport to push against those frameworks.
- No Lands Beyond – Deorbital
Aaron Lascano blends Kirby Air Ride‘s invisible-walled dystopia with post-graduation disenchantment under late capitalism.
- Crazy Taxi Tycoon and the Art of Selling Out – Deorbital
You know how brands on social media have started resorting to edgy tweets about mental health crises and appropriating social justice language to sell fucking moon pies? This Crazy Taxi clicker game is kind of like that, and Matthew Koester has all the grimy details.
- Immigrants and Blood-Suckers – Deorbital
Bryn Gelbart seeks out the limits of Vampyr‘s critical examination of class struggle and power dynamics, and positions those limits squarely within the game’s player-centric power fantasy.
“For a game so concerned with power and inequality, a game that has some of the most fascinating and diverse characters I’ve ever seen, Vampyr still can’t escape the trap of player empowerment. You are the white, upper-class, wealthy savior to the rest of the world.”
Ghosts in the Virtual Machine
Three authors this week re-position the supposedly clinical tools we employ for work and play as sites of empathy, embodiment, and disruption.
- Efficiency Machines: The Operating System Recontextualized – Deorbital
Vinícius Machado explores how Everything Is Going To Be OK crosses the gap from efficiency to empathy by way of a quirky, vulnerable simulacrum of an operating system.
- No-one looks good playing VR • Eurogamer.net
Julia Hardy reflects on the peculiarly goofy embodiment that is playing VR.
- Broken Reality Represents The Drudgery of Internet Culture | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan explores an Extremely Online game.
“Progression becomes a compulsive and meaningless act, the only reward being the opportunity to experience more of the game’s outlandishly charming universe. It’s hard to tell if this gnawing tedium is intentional on the developer’s end, but it at least succeeds in conveying the profound pointlessness of social media approval.”
Queerness is revealed everywhere in games–but it can take some digging to find, buried as it often is under a prevailing heteronormative narrative logic. Three authors this week are up to the task.
- A video game showed me who I really am – Polygon
Margaret Evans finds an unexpected space for reflection in Laura Kate Dale’s trans narrative Acceptance.
- Drea | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle finds a lot to relate to in the death-positive tone of Speed Dating for Ghosts.
- The Haunting of Billie Lurk – Deorbital
Eli Dobromylskyj seeks out queerness in the Dishonored series and must turn to its half-lit, uncertain edges.
“The queer author in straight society is a ghost writer, ambiguously positioned as speaking and silent, visible and invisible. I have been trying to make myself appear in the story of Dishonored, exercising my queer authorship to rewrite the text, but my influence is always ephemeral, limited to metanarrative. Now we shift that thought inward, into the fiction of the game.”
Though empathy games as an idea have gained popular traction in recent years, empathy is still an often-overlooked element of games, play experiences, and perhaps most damning, our critical and journalistic coverage of games. Three authors this week explore empathy in each of these avenues.
- How Journals Are Bringing Humanity to Video Games | USgamer
Andrew King contextualizes the enduring trend of journal-writing in games by examining the historical practice of private, vulnerable writing.
- Journey to the Mother-Tongue – ZEAL – Medium
Petar Duric connects Journey‘s silent tragedies to his own experiences seeking belonging in a family that survived the Yugoslav Civil War.
- You cheated the game – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa weighs in on the experience of receiving online abuse as a games journalist, and warns against letting online harassers take up all the oxygen in the room.
“There might be an argument to be had that showing how ridiculous this original Tweet was helps to combat the normalisation of it. Yet, that still lends itself to promoting someone’s harassment above their work.”
Games simulating and/or representing war and conflict are a long-established form, though tabletop and virtual games respectively tend to depict separate and fairly narrow aspects of the topic. A pair of articles this week, looking at a tabletop and a virtual example, respectively, discuss how each of these games breaks that pattern.
- Ogre Battle 64 and the Cost of Revolution | Fanbyte
Avelene Perry examines an uncommonly morally nuanced and messy game of war from the 90’s.
- Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game Turns Players into Protesters | Sidequest
Io Ascarium looks at an uncommon wargame that focuses on city blocks and revolutionaries rather than military machines and imperialist theatres.
“Bloc by Bloc takes the largely untapped common idea of urban asymmetrical warfare, removes the danger of death or arrest, and makes it as fun as possible short of actually including a bank window to smash (maybe in the next update).”
Sometimes games start with ideas that we love, but they just can’t stick the landing. Three authors this week, looking at three examples, discuss how and why.
- The Elder Scrolls Is At Its Best When It’s Super-Weird | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra examines The Elder Scrolls‘ circuitous relationship with its own lore, and why the games may not even be the best way to experience that lore.
- Hob is So Minimalist it Disappears | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson grapples with a game that makes every effort to bury its own narrative payoffs–sometimes literally.
- ‘Falcon Age’ Is a Damning Anti-Colonialist Story In Search of a Better Game – Waypoint
Natalie Watson expresses frustration with a game that sets up a compelling anti-colonial framework, but has no narrative follow-through.
“This feeling of a false starts and missed opportunities hangs over Falcon Age. Which is doubly frustrating because to see a game be so forward facing from the start about telling a story of colonizers and colonized, specifically from the perspective of the colonized, is important.”
Just for Fun
(Content notification: Toad’s dick) Filed to: Toad’s dick.
- The Internet Reacts To Nintendo’s Weirdly Suggestive Toad Promotional Video | Kotaku
I’m baffled by Nintendo’s decision to enter the kink market with a water-soluble construction material.
“Hey, it’s Toad, loyal pal of Princess Peach and Mario. Who doesn’t love Toad? What are you up to, buddy? How’s it hangin— Oh. Oh no.”
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