Welcome back, readers, and happy Pride Month!
Many of this week’s selections can be related back to the notion of inclusivity in some way. The decisions you make as a designer to include (or not include) accessibility and/or difficulty options affects who is included as a player and who can experience the game. Meditations on kitsch, quirkiness, and appropriative design weigh in on which designs (and which designers) are included in the hegemonic sphere of legitimacy. And, of course, there is the ongoing struggle for safe inclusion in gaming communities. If you want to get really meta about it, there’s the question of which outstanding articles among so many options get included in these roundups every week–and that’s a question I spend a lot of time racking my brain over.
In general, though, inclusivity is both a great boon and worthy goal for games and gaming–and I hope at this point that’s there’s absolutely nothing remarkable in that claim.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
I am not walking back that terrible pun. Anyways, Pathologic 2 is out, and it’s both really good and really hard. This has prompted quality writing advancing the difficulty conversation in games in thoughtful ways, as is the case in these paired examples.
- Is Pathologic 2 Too Hard For Its Own Good? | Paste
Holly Green discusses the consequences of interference between game difficulty and world exploration–especially when the game is really hard and the world is really interesting.
- Pathologic 2 Is Getting Difficulty Sliders, and That’s a Good Thing | Paste
Dia Lacina breaks down why accessibility options–including difficulty modifiers–are always a win for everyone involved in the production, consumption, and fandom of a game.
“Difficulty is not synonymous with accessibility, which is the process of enabling as many players as possible to engage with a game, regardless of physical or cognitive ability. Color-blind options, subtitles, audio/visual cues, button mapping and the capability to adjust how button presses operate, and support for assistive technology are all accessibility options. They do not make the game less difficult. They provide players with access to engagement with games regardless of neurological and physical differences that are often not accounted for in game development. And while not synonymous, difficulty modifiers can enable access.”
Some incredible work this week on the politics of exclusion in games and gaming communities–be it representation in games, gatekeeping and delegitimization, or the blunt instrument of hot takes.
- Who’s Afraid of Modern Art: Vandalism, Video Games, and Fascism – YouTube
Jacob Geller ties gatekeeping and exclusion in gaming culture to far-older debates about talent, legitimacy, and quality in art–all a cover for preserving hierarchy and control, for deciding who is permitted their voice.
- The Yellophant In The Room | RE:BIND
Emily Rose responds to the avalanche of takes on the Playdate handheld with a warning against zero-sum arguments that either stan for the device as a sacrosanct project or dismiss the prospect of experimentation and accessibility in games altogether.
- The Ballad of EarthBound’s Gay Tony | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor, fed up with gay baiting in popular media, turns to an overlooked and understated but sincere example of queer representation in games.
- Well Played: Imagined Homeland — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil articulates how gaming communities have become the home base of fascist organization under capitalism.
“The territory of gaming is a metonym for the homeland: Defending it is like defending the status quo, and the processes of appropriation that renews the cultural terrain for profit and for consolation. Driving SJWs and queers out of video games so that you can enjoy them as the reparative safe space you’ve long experienced them as is good practice for driving them out of your country altogether.”
Can stories in games be compelling? Yeah, of course. Do they require design interventions specific to their interactive nature? Yep, that too. Does this cause tensions sometimes? Absolutely. Do game narratives ever just knock it out of the park? You bet. Three articles this week collectively work through all of these questions.
- ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Can’t Decide Whether War Is Bad or Badass – VICE
Austin Walker comes away from previews of the latest COD-boot with a strong impression of ludonarrative dissonance.
- Counterpoint | Problem Machine
Problem Machine points out some of the pitfalls in trying to provoke consistent emotional climaxes in dynamic systems–you know, like games.
- Two Years Later, Night in the Woods is Still Relatable | Sidequest
Madison Butler describes how NitW remains emblematic of an enduring and ongoing cultural moment for disaffected millennials in small-town America.
“One of the things that makes Night in the Woods work so well is that it preserves a moment of enormous uncertainty in the United States, thanks in part to the political parallels. The cult’s biggest problem (economic stagnation) is one real-life Baby Boomers blame specifically on young people.”
We’ve got a pair of awesome articles this week offering deep and detailed examinations of design philosophy in games. One focuses on the idea of conveying a sense of the infinite, while the other zeroes in on the colonial acts of appropriation and repackaging.
- Approaching Infinity ? | Tiny Cartridge
Caroline Delbert contemplates the paradox of the infinite, and through a series of meditations and interviews, considers how finite games can cultivate an impression of the infinite and keep players coming back to them.
- Talk: Plantations of Play – Colonial botany in videogames | Sabine Harrer
Sabine Harrer summarizes the concepts of collecting, naming, and pruning in colonial gardening, and relates them to practices of appropriation in games and game design.
“Like colonial explorers, game designers like themselves in the role of innovators, venturing out into the seemingly uncharted world of folk games and appropriating gameplay principles: A world where no-one owns mechanics and they can be sold as innovation.”
Any quality discussion of space–virtual or otherwise–will encompass the function(s) of those spaces as well as the form. In the specific context of games, that discussion may encompass critical contexts that may not immediately relate to the mechanical or narrative design of a space. Two authors this week offer deeper dives on particular spaces in games.
- The Pokémon Center as a Non-Place – Haywire Magazine
Florence Smith Nicholls characterizes the Pokémon Center as interchangeable and devoid of identity–but also accessible and even utopian.
- THE FRIENDS OF RINGO ISHIKAWA – DEEP HELL
Skeleton thinks through what makes a game world compelling–and keeps it that way–in contemplating the role of idleness in games.
“I spent a lot of my early life hanging out doing nothing – I don’t feel upset about it. There are times of the day when you just want to watch the clouds pass by, and times of the day when you don’t know what you should be doing. Ringo Ishikawa is a lot of those moments, if you want them to be.”
Online, Over the Line
A pair of articles this week each lay out some social best practices in game communities–be it for self-care in managing the online presence for your indie game, or simply not being a jerk in a competitive gaming scene.
- Dream Daddies and Fearful Fathers: How Indies Can Cope with Being Terminally Online – YouTube
Leighton Gray discusses the pitfalls of maintaining an online presence as an indie developer in relation to mental health.
- Feedback Makes Me A Better Gamer–When You’re Not An Asshole | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio proposes some best practices for giving feedback in competitive gaming.
“There’s a way to do it with love that makes your gaming community more supportive and more powerful. There’s also a way to do it spitefully, with an overtone of superiority and abuse.”
- I Covered My Entire Body in Gamer Goo | Fanbyte
merritt k gets a grip on hardcore gamer skincare.
“Grip-enhancing products are used by weightlifters, climbers, and pole dancers — but those are all activities where a sweaty hand could mean a serious injury. Is it necessary for playing Call of Duty? Well, maybe not. But ask yourself this: is it necessary to play Call of Duty at all?”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!