There’s a lot of looking back in critical games writing this week, which makes sense to me, since for many it’s a holiday weekend and we are in kind of a lull period between GDC and E3. Big releases have slowed a bit as well, and Sekiro is still commanding a large number of headlines. Who knows: maybe next week I’ll be blessed with a deep dive on how Johnny Cage as a representation of masculine excess has evolved over the years (or, alternatively, a treatise on why Scorpion and Sub-Zero should Be Together).
Right now then, there’s room to reflect on games and experiences of the recent past–from six months ago, from a few years ago, and I’m totally here for it. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Discourse Dies Twice
If I’m being honest, I’m a little exhausted thinking about how much oxygen the difficulty debate around Sekiro has taken up since the game came out, and I’m hungry for alternate and more complicated critical takes. Three such examples are included here!
- “The Unkind-Faced Buddha,” by Chris Breault – Bullet Points Monthly
Chris Breault faults Sekiro as an overwrought mutation of the artistic cohesion and mechanical simplicity of its predecessors.
- Sekiro and Difficulty: Why Cheese is Far Worse than an Easy Mode | Medium
Bagoum presents a deep dive on difficulty in relation to game experience, and why arguing against an easy mode is ultimately an inconsistent, untenable position given the myriad of culturally-sanctioned tools players already employ to subvert game challenge.
- This one isn’t about difficulty | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld pokes holes in the latest round of chest-thumping concerning From Software’s games.
“What if we instead didn’t think of being good at a videogame as a skill at all? It’s easy to buy into this idea if you belonged to the group of people who was routinely made fun of for being into videogames instead of the real sport of the hour, but this attitude was harmful when it was directed towards people who enjoyed videogames then and it’s harmful when used against people who would like to enjoy a game now.”
Four articles this week thoughtfully examine the consequences of game narratives both in and out of universe. Whether it’s deciding to date the misanthropic jerk in Dragon Age, or the fallout of an industry that makes bank on the narrative trauma of its creatives, there’s some great work to consider here.
- Dragon Age’s Isabela is a Catgirl (Kind Of) | Sidequest
Angie Wenham recuperates the catgirl trope by centering Isabela as an irreverent, independent, sex-positive counterpoint to an otherwise grand-destiny-oriented cast.
- Notes on EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OK: Actually It Isn’t – Sufficiently Human
Lana Polansky, in reviewing Everything Is Going To Be OK, takes time to reflect on the economy of trauma in the indie scene.
- Cracking the Egg, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Solas Romance | Fanbyte
Kaye Toal concludes that the Dread Wolf is a dick, but that romancing him offers great narrative payoffs.
- The Incredible Vanishing Game Developer – Sufficiently Human
Lana Polansky makes sense of the whole Bandersnatch thing by positioning it in relation to the ongoing exploitation of indie creatives by the games industry.
“The games industry loves to eat its children. That’s because it’s not interested in creating anything lasting or meaningful, it’s interested in hit-seeking to line the pockets of shareholders and to buy Bobby Kotick another yacht. It’s a component of the entertainment industry very much in that way. I think about this while knowing that this friendly tool called Twine, that hobbyists and amateur game-makers used to craft their own little interactive stories, is now being used by Netflix to mine data from users, including mine, presumably for the benefit of advertisers, as Esquire reported in February.“
Edgelords and Overlords
It’s difficult to look away from the bad guys–be they (playable) villains in games or real-world grief-grifters cashing in their influence to ominous ends. Three pieces this work examine the state of villainy on virtual and material fronts alike.
- Gamasutra: Katrina Filippidis’s Blog – The Morality of Anti-Heroes in Video Games: Why it’s Fun to be the ‘Bad Guy’
Katrina Filippidis looks at the motivations and justifications behind playing for renegade points.
- We Need to Get Ready for GamerGate Politicans – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek reminds us that we need to take toxicity-peddlers seriously and not just hope that they’ll go away on their own–they won’t.
- Running the Numbers — Real Life
Jeremy Antley takes a deep look at Twitch culture, and the carnivalesque conditions which render streamers vulnerable to descending into the mob-mentality bigotry that their audiences indulge.
“Holding a riotous audience captive, keeping the frivolity from descending into chaos, is a real concern of streamers, who must continue to produce perceived authenticity while preserving an atmosphere that seems to exist outside the rules governing other spaces. Streamers must produce the carnivalesque on demand, day after day.”
Time and Space
Time creates distance–from our prior selves, from prior places, from prior experiences. Going back can be painful, but also illuminating, as it allows us to take the measure of our personal growth. Three authors this week travel back and document what they find.
- Spyro Reignited is a Joyous but Troubling Trip Through Childhood | Sidequest
Naseem Jamnia weighs the nostalgia of fidelity against the awareness of a need to do better in revisiting Spyro‘s racially-coded characters and locales.
- The Cathedral and the Simulacrum | Play The Past
Gilles Roy ponders virtual places and reminisced spaces in Assassin’s Creed Unity in light of the fire at Notre-Dame.
- The Heartache Of A Video Game That Makes You Shred Real Books | Kotaku
Aiden Strawhun shreds the past to reclaim the future.
“It felt good to litter those pages and pages and pages with color and life and pain, to physically show myself how hard it was to lose my fiancé. That deliberate choice: to shred or not to shred, to hold on, let go, or pass on that grief (or hope) to someone else makes The Book Ritual so memorable.”
Just for Fun
God help me and my already-precarious time-management skills if I ever get into The Sims.
- The Sims Freelancer Career Sucks And Also Owns, Just Like Real Life | Kotaku
Gita Jackson is pretty much the foursquare mayor of Sims coverage on the web at this point. This week, I’m not sure whether to laugh or just feel really depressed–probably both?
“The only unrealistic aspect of The Sims 4‘s new freelance careers is that Sims get paid on time.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!