Welcome back, readers.
Friends, I am in my element this week. People are writing about old JRPGs, queerness, accessibility, inclusivity, and bad toys from the 90s.
Oh, and writers are taking the Mordhau devs to task for some wildly bad messaging that’s been woefully naive at best and stealthily insidious at worst.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Credit where credit is due: when Gamers get Upset, they can throw up some pretty creative dogwhistles to safeguard their toys. A trending one recently has been “historical accuracy,” an argument often invoked to keep game worlds (and play communities) soundly white and male. Anyway, that’s a load of shit, but don’t take my word for it. Three authors this week think through the the idea of history in games, and what games can and cannot do to preserve and reproduce histories.
- ‘Mordhau’ and the Fantasy of an All-White Middle Ages – VICE
Dante Douglas breaks down how the conversation on “accuracy” in games like Mordhau is a loaded game to begin with when our entire popular narrative on medieval history is severely skewed toward white supremacist make-believe.
- Exploring the afterlife of historical sites in video games • Eurogamer.net
Florence Smith Nicholls examines the value and role of subjectivity and interpretation in the digital reproduction of history and artifacts.
- When Player Choice Causes Erasure of Marginalized People — Shonté
Shonté Daniels walks through the pitfalls of allowing players to toggle (and therefore erase) people and identities in games in the name of coddling fragile white male egos.
“Removing women from a game is not the same as turning on subtitles, or changing a suit of armor from black to gold. Players can have too much power, and MordHau and Hunipop 2 point to the ways customization could lead to erasure.”
IF Genre, then
Genres are weird. Case-in-point: here I am, tying together an article about interactive fiction and a video essay about adventure games. Both are great places to start to get a better handle on their respective object genres.
- Who Shot Guybrush Threepwood? | Genre and the Adventure Game – YouTube
Ian Danskin simultaneously problematizes the idea of genres in games (and beyond) while also puzzling out how and why there is still something to them via (mostly, but also other things) the Adventure Game Genre.
- A Top 20 List of IF | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short has rounded up a curated list of impactful, genre-pushing interactive fiction. For anybody looking for a starter pack for IF, this is a great place to begin.
“I’ve deliberately skewed my list towards the criterion of maturity: games that represent what IF has become as a medium, that benefit from thought and careful play, and that communicate something about the human condition that is truthful, important, and hard to convey.”
We’ve got two highlights this week focusing on expanding and diversifying queerness in games.
- 10 Great Queer Games to Play After Pride Month | Paste
Natalie Flores offers up a starter pack for broadening your queer gaming horizons.
- Bear Bodies | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor seeks out some queer masculine body diversity in games, and finds much to mine in Capcom’s back-cat.
“Sadly, you don’t see a lot of different body types that can be queered in videogames, as the masculine is commonly portrayed as perfectly muscled bodies – broad chest slimming down to rock-hard abs that you can see. So those that diverge to offer something different stand out, and that’s why figures like Karnov, Street Fighter’s Zangief and Final Fight’s Mike Haggar are so beloved, giving a face to something verging on the bear community.”
There’s been a lot of great writing this week on JRPGs, particularly old ones. Part-and-parcel with these examinations are overarching questions of what does and does not emerge as salient and popular in the limited exposure space of a niche genre. Anyway, here are three standouts.
- How a Zelda Clone Outshone Actual Zelda: The Case for a Forgotten PS One Gem | ZEAL
Katriona Angel offers a unique perspective as a player who fell in love with one of Zelda‘s imitators and never experienced the original until much later.
- Off The Grid: Persona Q2 – Haywire Magazine
Allison Winters finds levity and leisure in a low-key spinoff of a storied JRPG legend.
- Déjà vu with Frane II – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi explores the idea of niche by examining a forgotten action-JRPG and comparing it to one of its better-known contemporaries that eventually found an international appeal.
“If Ys is the living embodiment of action RPG’s cranked up to 11, Frane II is the genre turned down to a grandma-pleasing 5 – it’s still all in there, but there’s no real oomph behind it, no energy or spirit.”
Here are three great articles making critical connections between our virtual and material worlds and lives.
- “Real Justice,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter describes how Judgment uses brutality and corruption to showcase the deep systemic problems in Japan’s legal system.
- How ‘climate crisis games’ could better model our problems and our future | Rock Paper Shotgun
Robert Yang seeks more ideas and attitudes in games that involve climate critique, rather than just gloom and doom–we’ve got those down pat already.
- An Ode to Foraging in Games (and Real Life) | Fanbyte
Virginia Paine thinks through collecting, consuming, and waste, in games and beyond.
“When I’m gathering plants in Tamriel, it’s not all that different from filling a free pile bike trailer with lightly bruised tomatoes from the produce distributor near Butchertown. I’m not sure where this thrifty compulsion came from, but it’s important enough to me that it’s as present in my video game life as it is in my real life. It’s a bit of romanticism and magical thinking, plus anti-consumerism.”
Moments Big and Small
Games have a whole suite of interesting tools they can use to tug at our feelings, on lesser and grander scales. Some of those tools simply amount to really solid narrative design. Sometimes they play up the player/character gap to really impressive effect and affect. Three articles this week think through a bunch of these neat ideas.
- Ringo Ishikawa, Animal Crossing, Persona — Everyday Life in Games
Diego N. Argüello studies the value of small, mundane moments in games, worlds, narratives.
- The End of Final Fantasy XIV’s ‘Shadowbringers’ Expansion Is The Emotional Spectacle I’ve Been Waiting For | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra contemplates the history of finales in Square’s ironically-named banner series.
- What Horror Games Can Learn From The Witch’s House | Fanbyte
Cass Ball looks at an indie horror title that capitalizes on the juxtaposition it establishes between player and character knowledge and experience.
“The question of Ellen’s perspective and morality deserves further interrogation, as it is in this obscurity that The Witch’s House moves beyond being a horror game with a shocking twist and becomes a fascinating exploration of the distance between the player and player character.”
Barcode Battler was the cyberpunk dystopia we deserved.
- Not even Mario and Zelda could make the Barcode Battler any good • Eurogamer.net
Jennifer Allen looks fondly back to were trash and nostalgia dovetail tidily in a quintessentially 90’s fad gadget. Fadget? Fadget.
“Skim past nearly 30 years, and here I am – 34 years old and with a Barcode Battler in my possession. And boy, was I excited when it showed up. And guess what? It’s utterly rubbish.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!