Welcome back, readers, and happy Father’s Day to y’all who celebrate it.
E3 has come and gone, and readers and especially writers are no doubt in recovery mode after the annual avalanche of coverage on all The New Games. While many of these games obviously haven’t been in the oven long enough for much in the way of final-form critiques to coalesce, some have attracted important critical reflection in the here and now, a little bit of which you’ll find below.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our first three selections this week all deal with design in some way, what makes a moment in a game, and how many of those moments to cultivate.
- Let’s Place: Collecting Things and Listening to Stories – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina describes how games can be narratively expressed as assemblages and divisions of objects.
- Dave talks Video Games: Hollow Knight and the joy of exploration | Dave Critiques #42
Dave Flodine unpacks some of the seemingly contradictory exploratory pleasures of metroidvanias.
- A Bite-Sized Bottle Episode – Svartkolla & Presentation | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar muses on the value of brevity in preserving the poignancy of smaller, intimate game experiences.
“Many are put off by these shorter-form games, especially in the mainstream, but I think it’s a trend well worth embracing. Not necessarily for a desire to have time to play more games or experience and go through different things quickly, but for the reason that a tightly-edited film moving at a quick pace can feel like a relief as opposed to a bloated, 3-hour epic: editing to your strengths, and keeping just the most important parts, makes for a stronger whole.”
Cyberpunk 2077 was one of the Big Games at E3 this year, and given CD Projekt’s troubled history with trans issues, lots of players are understandably concerned about how the final game will represent trans characters and trans bodies. That being said, what the company says and does in the present matters just as much, and two authors this week have a lot to say about some of the current promotional material for the game.
- Transphobic Ad in ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ Represents Cyberpunk at Its Worst | Daily Dot
Ana Valens breaks down why CD Projekt’s satire, such as it is, cannot work in context and cannot work for a large swath of its audience.
- Cyberpunk 2077’s in-game context doesn’t matter if its marketing contributes to transphobia right now | Rock Paper Shotgun
Sam Greer sets CD Projekt’s latest controversy in context, and that context doesn’t engender faith from marginalized players.
“Folks keep asking marginalised groups to give the benefit of the doubt, to wait patiently in the vain hope that the developer’s won’t fuck it up this time. Maybe they won’t. In the mean time, transgender individuals will continue to face discrimination alongside all other queer folks. People of colour will continue to face oppression from every facet of society. So when images like this are handed out as marketing, then now is the time to address it.”
Two articles this week run the numbers on this year’s E3 regarding several representation metrics, and the results do not engender confidence. Still, there are some things to celebrate, alongside some important recommendations for making games a more open and accessible space for everyone.
- E3 2019 Let’s take about Diversity and Inclusion – The Startup – Medium
Jeffrey Rousseau seeks out and shares some representational highlights from across E3.
- Female Representation in Videogames Isn’t Getting Any Better | WIRED
Anita Sarkeesian and Carolyn Petit perform some data analysis to articulate how (and why) the needle hasn’t moved on feminine protagonists.
“It’s true that the number of games in which you either control characters of different genders or get to choose the gender of your hero character significantly outstrip those with established male or female protagonists. And of course, as a general trend, the freedom to choose or create your own character is a welcome one. However, it’s fundamentally different from being asked by a game to take on the role and experiences of a specific character. A male player who is more comfortable with experiences that center men can and will simply play as men in games that offer him the choice. On the other hand, every player who comes to a game such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood must step into the shoes of a female character in order to play.”
The relationship between a player and her avatar can be a site of instability and tension, especially when social relations are a driving force behind the play experience. Two articles this week probe the limits of these tensions in recent titles.
- Kate Gray Knife Sisters Explores The Tricky Subject Of Player-Character Consent | Kotaku
Kate Gray untangles overlapping and potentially conflicting agencies in a visual novel about experimentation and vulnerability.
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Encourages Betrayal | LevelSkip
Seth Tomko studies Sekiro‘s subversive approach of framing player choices through the narrative lens of betrayal.
“Sekiro’s identity in the end may be not entirely steadfast, but through his disloyalty the player and Sekiro dispel the corrosive illusion of unreflective loyalty. When admonished by Owl for not following the Shinobi Code, Sekiro replies, “A code must be determined by the individual.” This is the first step on Sekiro’s path of making his own choices, and the more players decide to deviate from codes and unthinking loyalty, the more positive the outcomes are for Sekiro and everyone else.”
Two authors this week examine the state of queer representation in games, as well as games-adjacent media.
- Black Mirror’s ‘Striking Vipers’ is a Skin Deep Exploration of VR Sex – VICE
Nicole Clark positions Black Mirror‘s latest games-adjacent foray as a missed opportunity to do more with queerness (especially nonwhite queerness) and virtuality.
- Masquerada and the Heart of the Queer Family | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor reflects on found families and queer legacies, and how they challenge heteronormative commonplaces about bloodlines.
“Because of the nature of how queer people form families, they are ostracized. It also happens that video games, particularly party-based RPGs, are uniquely positioned to explore this dynamic.”
To what extent may we find parts of ourselves reflected back at us in the game experiences we accumulate? Two authors this week peer bravely into the virtual mirror.
- Into the Mystic | Unwinnable
Sara Clemens describes her fear and awe of horses and relates those feelings to their digital incarnations.
- Memory Loss, Mental Illness, and Final Fantasy VIII | Medium
Kazuma Hashimoto thinks through Bipolar Disorder via Time Compression.
“I see myself in Ultimecia, desperately clawing for the memories she’s lost to the unkind passage of time. And maybe seeing a reflection of our experiences, even vaguely, in a game is enough to make a questionable entry a great one.”
In the interest of keeping things real here, my first 45 minutes of playing Elite: Dangerous involved the grueling work of learning how to park my ship in those infernal spinning orbital stations, and on more than one occasion, I have–instead of deploying my landing gear–fired the afterburners and slammed into the back wall of the station. So I suppose not all that much has changed in the last 30 or so years.
- A space diary from the Frontier – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi chronicles thirteen lives and deaths in the comically user-unfriendly Frontier: Elite II.
“The great-granddaughter of the original Kimimi, better known as “Kimimi the Stupid”, discovered that the autopilot system’s other fun quirk is that it really isn’t too fussed about trying to avoid WHOLE PLANETS ARE YOU KIDDING ME, and that is why she had to be scraped off the surface of Mercury before burial.”
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!