Welcome back, readers.
I’m always surprised, in an exciting, fun kind of way, by how writers seem to sync up with one another from week to week on different topics in ways that aren’t necessarily guided by the games news cycle. One week, it feels like lots of people are looking at old RPGs. Another week, it’s survival horror.
This week, it’s magical realism in game storytelling. I’m here for it. It’s awesome.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We’re opening this week with four authors who are each concerned with how game narratives and worlds can be a little bit “extra” in their presentation or structure in the interest of more clearly articulating a connection back to the material world. This often involves the adoption of magical realist conventions, even in seemingly unlikely genres (military espionage, anyone?).
- Unitary Urban Occultism – Spellcrafting the Revolution | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar examines a game about dismantling capitalism, but as witch. Sign me up?
- Death and Religion in Final Fantasy X – YouTube
Alexandra Orlando examines the stakes for spirituality in Spira, where magic is real and death is often inconclusive.
- A Plague Tale: Innocence Is the Anti–Assassin’s Creed | EGM
Reid McCarter pinpoints a method to A Plague Tale‘s campy, gratuitous excesses–a method to de-mythologize historical atrocities.
- How Metal Gear Eschewed Realism to Convey the Horror of Imperial Violence | Fanbyte
Moira Hicks positions Metal Gear as a magical realist work that escalates and eviscerates the last half-century of American Imperialism.
“By leaning so heavily on impossible, fantastic things, Metal Gear breaks ranks with military fiction and instead becomes magical realism. In doing so, it is better able to communicate the impossible horror of war.”
Under the Hood
A pair of pieces this week present deeper examinations of how stuff is made and put together in games–specifically animation and musical composition.
- The Animation of Guilty Gear Xrd & Dragon Ball FighterZ – New Frame Plus – YouTube
Daniel Floyd peeks under the hood at Arc System Works’ 2D-simulating 3D engine.
- Player Two: An Interview with Ben Babbitt – Invalid Memory
Miguel Penabella chats with Kentucky Route Zero composer Ben Babbitt about collaboration and composition in games.
“Set to sounds as wide-ranging as a twanging bluegrass guitar and a ghostly theremin solo, the travails of protagonists Conway, Shannon, Ezra, and others carry a melancholy quality as Babbitt’s music builds a sense of both regional flavors and otherworldly atmospheres.”
Points of View
Our experiences with games are profoundly affected by the perspectives those games afford. Who is the protagonist? Who is playing? How are they playing? What is the arc, or trajectory of the experience? Three authors this week examine games, each with a focus on some kind of shift in perspective from the usual, from the conventional.
- Zelda Would Make A Good Archaeologist – Haywire Magazine
Don Everhart imagines Hyrule from a more intellectually and culturally motivated perspective.
- ASMR Let’s Plays Provide a Different Way to Experience Games | Fanbyte
Abby Lee Hood discovers an escape from toxic communities at the unlikely intersection of two YouTube sub-genres.
- Live, Die, Repeat — How Time Loops Took Over Video Games | OneZero
Jordan Erica Webber gets at the heart of why, over and over, ever more often, we seek to go back.
“As the mistakes of our past threaten our future, perhaps it’s no wonder that people are drawn to stories about attempting to break free from a negative cycle.”
The Play’s the Thing
We’ve got four great articles this week each with a focus on the affordances–and limitations–of play experience. How do game narratives integrate and synthesize an interactive component? What concessions–if any–need to be made? Is anything left out?
- Hope for Two – Videodame
Autumn Wright peers through Celeste‘s layered metaphors of identity and adversity.
- The JRPG Startup Cost, Part II > Significant Bits
Radek Koncewicz continues on a quest to quantify the get-into-able factor of JRPGs by examining how the shift in the fifth-generation console cycle to optical media (increased storage and loading times) affected the pacing and structure of games at the time.
- “Lack of Judgment,” by Ed Smith – Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith gets at the heart of what’s missing in digital detective stories like Judgment.
- Mario Maker 2EZ | Unwinnable
Amanda Hudgins explores Mario Maker from the other end of the difficulty spectrum, and finds a game mode without danger or difficulty rife with raw expression and possibility.
“There’s something powerfully irreverent about the poor game design at play in Endless Challenge Easy. They’re mostly a collection of levels that bring joy to the person who designed them. A person likes Yoshi’s, so here’s a level where you can run around mounted on a Yoshi. This person liked the new racing mechanic, so here’s a little race. It’s this snapshot into the world of the person who made the level, for the price of your time.”
Queerness and Coverage
The range of experiences available in games has broadened tremendously over the last few years–but to what extent has public discourse kept pace, or failed to keep pace? Further, what kinds of queer identification can we uncover in yesterday’s games? Two authors this week unpack these questions.
- Gaming’s Fickle Relationship With Porn Is Holding Back Adult Content | Daily Dot
Ana Valens interrogates a disconnect between the upswing in the production and availability of porn games and a lack of corresponding coverage from gaming media, and profiles some of the web-spaces presently filling the gap.
- Transforming Bodies | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor reflects on antropomorphization, transformation, and queer kinship in retro games and beyond.
“The act of transformation is a powerful concept in queer circles, and if that power can come from beefy dudes beating up on baddies, all the better for us.”
An unranked list is probably the safest kind of list to go with if it’s going to include both Morrigan and Flemeth.
- The Definitive Ranking of Witch Moms, Part I | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks and the SideQuest community put together, probably, the most important List of recent memory.
“Bayonetta is a dumpster fire living in the body of a drag queen. A drag queen with magic hair, whose eyes control the whole of reality, and whose feet can fire high-caliber pistols. She looks like a French fashion illustration even while she’s carrying her daughter/self in one hand and killing angels with the other. To her, motherhood is just like everything else: a performance. And damn if she isn’t a great performer.”
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!