Welcome, readers (and Happy Mother’s Day to those who observe it today!).
In reflecting on the major labour stories in games news this week, I think it’s important to keep in mind that while everyone under abusive management suffers, women, queer, and poc labourers at large games companies very often have it even worse. Even when a big developer or publisher isn’t explicitly crunching (or, at least, isn’t the latest subject of an exposé on Kotaku), work culture in these places is often steeped in gatekeeping, institutional bigotry, and harassment. This is normalized. So as the industry lurches toward (hopefully) greater organization and oversight, I think it’s important to consider how to overhaul labour practices in games in a way that protects and benefits the most vulnerable members of the industry, too.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
The Garden Overrun
This week’s labour-centric selections all bring in other angles in addition to the ongoing narrative movement concerning crunch and labour organization. Each is forward-looking, seeking to make sense alternately of individual titles and broader industry trends, in an effort to forecast where unsustainable labour practices will inevitably take the industry–and what will emerge in the aftermath.
- Thinking/Game-Gardening Ruderally – Emilie M. Reed
Emilie M. Reed sees AAA games as fundamentally unsustainable from both production and consumption standpoints, and proposes a model of the ruderal–the tenacious, the persistent, the creative–in hypothesizing about what might replace them.
- The pressure to constantly update games is pushing the industry to a breaking point | PC Gamer
Jody MacGregor observes that when games never truly end, neither can the labour that goes into their production, maintenance, and coverage.
- FATALITY – DEEP HELL
Skeleton grapples with MK11‘s unique position as both the only major fighting game even trying to make steps toward better representation and exclusivity and the latest flashpoint in the ongoing narrative of labour abuse scandals (content notification: screenshots of graphic violence from the game).
“Let’s get used to hearing about abused employees and crunch time when every big-budget game is released. I say that not because I’d like to see it normalized, but because we (the people that’ll be stuck writing about it) should have some trepidation about the market being used to create entertainment.”
Playing at Representation
A pair of authors this week each look at representation in games, alternately looking at how diversity can enrich play communities and how big titles that merely play at inclusion do a disservice to the very communities they purport to acknowledge.
- How Rainbow Six Siege brings diversity to the military shooter • Eurogamer.net
Sam Greer looks at how Operators have been both a game-changer and a fandom-changer, and why that matters for online shooters going forward.
- Where is the “Authentic” LGBTQ Content in Games? | Fanbyte
Matthew Perks reminds us that games where queerness is central are still subject to a double standard of scrutiny, whilst mainstream titles that do the bare minimum to acknowledge queer realities continue to rack up accolades.
“By focusing on the introduction of some minor queer content into otherwise typical titles, these awards risk celebrating safe corporate inclusion at the expense of games created by and for the LGBTQ community.”
Progression is one of the key “hooks” that keep us playing a game, and that hook is ever more-relevant as design goals shift toward keeping players paying into systems. Two authors this week explore these linkages between progression and modern game economies–especially gacha.
- Playing Love Live: School Idol Festival – ZEAL – Medium
Helen Stefanie gets at the heart of the allure in gacha’s lot-box-driven, women-collecting digital economy.
- I Like It When The Numbers Get Big | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra touches upon our collective love for progression and escalation, and connects these desires to gacha, microtransactions, and our capitalist hellscape generally.
“I am a friggin’ dope who loves the big numbers. Don’t just give me Excalibur, give me Excalibur+1.”
A Room, a View
Two authors this week look at space in games and beyond: one looking toward the spaces we inhabit and must live within, the other looking instead to the very act of looking itself, and the design challenges that ensue.
- The Challenge of Cameras | Game Maker’s Toolkit – YouTube
Mark Brown puts the design challenges of 3D space into perspective.
- The Sims Changed How I Think About Moving Apartments | Kotaku
Gita Jackson reflects on the value of creating comfort in one’s own space.
“I used to think of the mood boost that Sims got in the game was just a mechanic to give you an impetus to continue to buy them more things. As I get older, I also discovered that I’m just happier in a place that looks nice and feels nice, that has my art on the walls and is arranged in a way that feels cozy.”
A Dull Blade, a Sharp Thorn
A pair of selections this week offer deep critical dives on the narrative themes of two very new, very different games.
- Katana ZERO Offers Only Excuses | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor articulates why the latest ultraviolent flash-in-the-pan is fun but ultimately critically insubstantial.
- Us Lovely Corpses | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson explores an intimate visual novel about mental illness, vulnerability, validation, and acceptance.
“Despite efforts to ward off the pits of depression with good company or concerted efforts to find joy, some days will still be unbearably hard. But knowing that you’re not alone in that struggle might make it just a smidge more bearable.”
I swear I was just thinking about that Yeti a couple of weeks ago. . .
- The Abominable Snow Monster from SkiFree | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle reflects on an unspoken villain who looms large in our collective cultural memory.
- The Glorious Possibilities of Dragon Age: The Live Service | Fanbyte
Vrai Kaiser has the bold take nobody else was brave enough to write.
“Maybe it’s because I was really invested in Hawke and my favorite Origins character was Zevran, but I consider telling the player to fuck off to be a franchise tradition.”
- Write for us | Into The Spine
Diego N. Argüello has recently started an awesome new site for critical games writing, and they are looking to support new and developing writers. Check them out.
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!