Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Welcome back, readers. Sorry, I can’t answer the phone right now (what’s a phone. . . ?). Mario Maker 2 is out, and I am in deep.

Pride Month draws to a close today, and we’ve got a selection of great queer reflections from masculine and feminine perspectives. They also reflect, I think, on the growing understanding that advocating for representation by itself is not enough, and that increasingly, we need to be vocal and critical about the quality of that representation in addition to the quantity. We need more trash mammals.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Planet at Play

This week we’re starting off with a trio of examinations of the ecopolitics in contemporary games–no small thing on a planet imminently poised to eat us alive in retribution–with a focus on where these games continue to fall short.

“For a game that emphasizes apparent political and ecological awareness, Red Dead Redemption 2 adheres to the same strict colonial lexicon we see in just about every mainstream open-world blockbuster. Player verbs cluster around shooting, running, exploring, and trading. And when it comes to the environment, we can only slaughter its animals or pick its useful plants.”

Nathan at all

A pair of authors this week perform queer readings of established masculine heroes in games.

“Obviously there’s a lot problematic with the narrow view of masculinity as seen through the lens of perfectly chiseled muscles, and such body image struggles continue in the gay community unabated. But by embracing the inherent homoeroticism of power fantasies like Contra and Altered Beast, gaymers are given a powerful tool towards understanding ourselves.”

Friend Re:Quest

People are hard–as someone who wasn’t born with an enormous amount of social grace myself, this is something I can attest to. Virtual environments can provide a safer space in which to explore relationships, yet sometimes even that relative safety can be a difficult thing to navigate, process, and accept. Two authors this week reflect on the uncanny nature of fictional relationships involving real feelings.

“And when I first realised I didn’t have to live in fear of displeasing any of these virtual people I was more than a little bit upset with myself – that thought process is not, for want of a better word, normal. Which means I’m not normal. Which isn’t news to anyone really but I was always hoping to be more amusingly quirky-weird abnormal than buried-trauma-manifesting-in-unexpected-ways abnormal.”

Trash Mammals and Street Fighters

Queer representation in games by itself isn’t enough if the characters at play aren’t allowed to be real, vulnerable, and messy. Two authors this week write on the subject of queer femininit(ies) in games.

“In the media, women are rarely allowed to mess up and be humorous – especially at the same time – and romances for queer people have often been wrapped in mystique, tragedy, and melodrama. As we near the end of Pride month, I find myself fondly remembering Undertale, Night in the Woods, and Butterfly Soup for each having a scene in which queer women actualize their feelings, or reminisce on a time they attempted to do so, and fail spectacularly or embarrass themselves.”

Content Roadmaps

The idea of purchasing a game as a singular event is increasingly a quaint and remote myth. Contemporary games are less discrete products and more amorphous webs of monetization, both via official press channels and their influencer partners. Two articles this week seek some sense amid the storm.

“watching someone else play video games addresses a broader set of responses to a screen, derived specifically from the affective space viewers inhabit while watching. This space is both intimate and alienating, lonely and social — that is to say, it is characterized by some of the same contradictions of life lived with and through screens.”

Evocative Design

How does one design for “game-feel?” Design choices can elicit powerful affective responses, whether by a single mechanical affordance or the structure of a whole-game world. Two authors this week think through these design choices and the affective effects they provoke.

“Every discovery recorded in your ship’s log is a crucial piece of information in unraveling the history of the Nomai and the solar system. Every suggested location yields a story and every story yields an answer. The log system is effective, and even if I do miss something, the game helpfully marks which areas still have more information to offer. The terror of space is in what you don’t know, and thus information is the remedy.”

Critical Chaser

I usually spend a line or two here being a smart-ass, but. . . just read this one, okay? I love it.

“It is damning that in order to realistically construct the fantasy of a romantic relationship with a straight man, they must be nearly featureless, and it is a terrible desire of mine that I crave this.”


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!