Welcome back, readers.
While there has been no shortage of bad press about crunch in games development over the last several months (and rightly so), it seems that there are still large studios who haven’t fully committed to acknowledging that there’s a problem in the first place. This, of course, brings about the question of boycotting games versus supporting the often-vulnerable developers who produced them under exploitative conditions, which is the subject of one of this week’s selections.
Rage 2 is out, and there’s some good critical writing on that, too! I’m still waiting for a treatise on Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s burgeoning (b)romance, though.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
While much of the discussion on Rage 2 so far has been concerned with the fact that, as Gita Jackson puts it, the game is “caught between Good Stupid and Bad Stupid”, a subset of that discussion has zeroed in on the popular generalizations about disfigurement and disability the game props up. These two selections elegantly encapsulate that important conversation.
- Rage 2 is a fun game that makes me feel like garbage – Polygon
Chris Plante connects id and Avalanche’s latest to the long, ableist narrative association between defect/disability and evil/monstrosity.
- The Lazy Design Aesthetic of Misrepresenting Genetic Conditions — Plenty of Hominids
Michael California draws upon his background as a geneticist to compliment a discussion of Rage 2‘s industry-standard ableism with an explanation of why the “mutant” tropes of disfigurement and disability widely perpetuated in popular media make no scientific sense whatsoever.
“It appears to me that the designers were just cribbing dysmorphic features that occur in real life and applying them to the game’s monsters, then naming them “mutants” and going on their way. Why do they look the way they are? Because they’re “mutants.” No additional thought went into that.”
What keeps us coming back to the games we’ve already completed? How are games uniquely positioned to reward repeat visits? Two authors this week reflect on the replay.
- Now I’m motivated! – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi studies how character development compliments combat polish to keep the closing acts of DMC5 evergreen on subsequent playthroughs.
- Heaven’s Vault rewards replays as you to live the theory you’re investigating – Polygon
Katherine Cross celebrates a New Game Plus with substance and deep narrative purpose.
“In managing to incorporate the idea of replaying the game into the game’s story itself with subtlety and style, Heaven’s Vault is one of those experiences that shows what the medium can do that others cannot”
Spaces of Play
Two articles this week alternately examine the virtual and material spaces at stake in games.
- Eastshade: Fantasy Without Crisis | These Heterogenous Tasks
Sam Kabo Ashwell looks at what works and what doesn’t about environmental storytelling in an interactive fantasy world whose story eschews conflict.
- How Google Stadia Made Me Reflect on My Physical Gaming Space | DualShockers
Chris Compendio examines the notion of defining one’s personal space in terms of boxes at the crossroads of Google Stadia and Marie Kondo.
“With a potential vision of the future calling for a lack of boxes and all of our games in the cloud, I reflected on how important these boxes were in building my own personal spaces. Will something be lost on the way while transitioning to an all-digital future, or could this change possibly be for the best?”
These three articles all converge on matters of design–be it in individual titles, broader genres, or in the pushing of a game beyond its original designed uses into therapeutic applications.
- ‘Project Hospital’ is A Great Way to Understand Our Broken Healthcare System – VICE
Ian Boudreau marvels at the simulation that exists beyond the game in relating Project Hospital to the United States’ fraught profit-driven healthcare system.
- Where video games and ASMR converge • Eurogamer.net
Aimee Hart explores the therapeutic applications of exploring Skyrim.
- The Anatomy of Horror: Chthonic or Cathartic? | RE:BIND
Mx. Medea pulls at the threads of genre distinction around horror in games, and identifies and proposes solutions to several adjacent design challenges.
“A well executed Horror game is simply one which evokes the requisite emotional responses in its audience, fear, tension, panic, and perceived near-futility. A Horror themed game by contrast is one that evokes any number of Horror pastiches, monsters, eldritch entities, slasher villains, and body horrors that doesn’t stick the landing of transmuting these discrete elements into the emotions one is trying to invoke within the player, a subjective if key facet of the experience.”
Out of what materials are our connections with others formed, and how does that speak to games? Two selections this week critically examine how our links in games with others are formed, neglected, or broken.
- Why Games Need Better Non-Player Characters | Fanbyte
Annie Mok breaks down the latest alt-right dog-whistle phrase to get at the heart of how video games can promote more interconnectedness.
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s ‘best’ ending is its weakest • Eurogamer.net
Sam Greer evaluates endings of several sorts in thinking about how game narratives position family.
“I didn’t care to put back together my original family because, frankly, they were a bunch of arseholes who only redeem themselves if Kassandra does all the work. Meanwhile all around Kassandra was that truer, more caring family. For me this was a game about cutting blood ties, about not letting familial connections control you and about embracing those who are already there for you.”
Though there is a perception from, uhh, certain subsets of player communities that politics have somehow invaded games as of late, I think it’s fair to say that all games are already political in the sense that all art is political. More productive questions emerge, I think, in examining how the politics of creators and designers affects the politics of their craft. Is a game’s ethos compromised, for example, if a game articulating something provocative is the production of developers or management who are exclusionary, exploitative, or toxic? And then the big question: should you purchase that game? Two authors this week wrestle with these questions.
- How to support a videogame in 2019 | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld opens up about the complexities of supporting–and critiquing–art in an industry full of Randy Pitchfords and Dan Housers.
- Persona Can’t Do Women Justice Without Fixing its Conservatism | Into The Spine
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe makes the case that Persona will fail to make any kind of institutional critique so long as it continues to prop up outmoded ideas about gender roles.
“Until P Studio can come to grips with these conflicting viewpoints, I just can’t see them doing a playable woman justice. We don’t need any more instances of oversexualizing young girls who’ve already been traumatized by sexual assault, or portrayals of gay men as aggressive predators on the prowl for high school-aged boys to take against their wills.”
I’ll cop to getting away with similarly Hail Mary takes in graduate seminars, but I don’t recall any of them being quite this fun to read.
- Mewtwo is Basically Notorious 19th Century Poet Lord Byron | Fanbyte
Cain Maher articulates why the angry godlike cat is a cut above in terms of conviction and compassion.
“Mewtwo technically didn’t apologize to Ash after murdering him in The First Movie, but again: Byronic hero. Also, baby steps. Anyway, the Church of England supports him.”
- Memory Trading – First Person Scholar
Catherine Brinegar locates the power of storytelling and shared player experiences in Caves of Qud‘s richly-textured procedural world. Disclosure stuff: I edited this piece.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!