Welcome back, readers. Take a deep breath. Give yourself some space to be still, to practice gentleness, if you can. I’m going to go ahead and throw up a Content Notification here, as I’m about to work my way through some upsetting and potentially triggering news headlines from the last week related both to the recent mass shootings in the US as well as gaming’s own evergreen toxic elements.
It’s been a difficult and discouraging week, and by now you surely don’t need me to tell you that. That mood isn’t just limited to the gut-wrenching shit that extends beyond games and games media coverage, either. Time doesn’t stand still for trauma and tragedy, and entirely separate from the latest bad-faith attempt by politicians to feint towards a vapid rehash of the mid-90s moral panic around games is what feels like a take-your-pick week of Bad News in gaming, with the overall “prize” being split roughly down the middle between the Entertainment Software Industry and the toxic elements of gaming fandom as a whole.
It’s a lot to go through and think about, and there isn’t nearly enough room to sort any of it out here on a platform that isn’t really supposed to be about what I have to say, and that goes double in a situation where acknowledgement and engagement are on some level the very trap to be avoided in the first place.
In a way, though, it’s also all a reminder of why Critical Distance’s project is important to me in the first place. Quality, diverse, intersectional critical writing on games and their many interactions with our wider lives and experiences is the path forward. Not just in the writing, but also in the dissemination, the sharing, the signal-boosting. In the years of my own academic study, I’ve never found a way around Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter’s proclamation that games are “the paradigmatic media of Empire.” It’s a grim assessment and forecast, sure, but the important follow-up thought to that is that we all live within Empire, too.
So let’s make some sense of this present cultural moment, and of the games we make and play to survive it, navigate it, and maybe even change it.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week’s opening group of three authors all look at games that screwed something up somewhere, even if they’re otherwise solid productions and experiences. There’s great critical value in poking holes in successful games especially–how else are we to learn from previous mistakes?
- “Killing Nuance,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter takes Wolfenstein: Youngblood–and the rebooted series as a whole–to task for its style-over-substance approach and its increasingly muddled messaging. This one’s a damn read, friends.
- Fire Emblem Doesn’t Just Need Gay Characters, It Needs Queer Life – VICE
Todd Harper discusses how Fire Emblem has (slowly) expanded the number of its queer romance options without actually making space for them.
- One of Judgment’s Biggest Enemies is Male Entitlement | Videodame
Aimee Hart positions Judgment as a mostly-well-intentioned game that nonetheless fails to address its own privilege.
“While Yagami is a fantastic character who often goes out of his way to protect the women in Judgment, the lack of female voice to take control of the conversation about harassment and entitlement to women’s bodies was one of the most uncomfortable aspects of the game.”
Five articles this week all have something to say about games that do something cool, or got something really right, and that’s mostly built around narrative premises.
- There’s no atmosphere in space, and yet… – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi annotates the unexpected narrative excesses of an already-unlikely tactical spinoff/mashup of one of gaming’s storied scrolling shooter series.
- S T A T I C – E N D: Six Reasons You Should GO OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW | RE:BIND
Mx. Medea is locked inside with a small indie horror title.
- Baba is You is a Postmodern Masterpiece | Into The Spine
Ben Sledge studies how the recent indie puzzle gem makes players critically examine rules, objectivity, and truth.
- Dragon Age II Was Better Than Anyone Gave It Credit For | Fanbyte
Vrai Kaiser reflects on probably the best Bioware game of the last decade.
- Man Versus Diver – The Narrative Subtext of Remedy’s Alan Wake | RE:BIND
Emily Rose examines Alan Wake‘s American literary roots and homages, as well as its own underappreciated metafictional legacy.
“Alan Wake gives way to a shockingly complex, insightful homage to mid-90s American television and literature, one that thoughtfully explores the very nature of narrative itself and what it means to be a writer.”
Four authors this week all have something to say about shifts in design. How can these shifts improve experiences or provoke critical thinking? How do we describe the end result, and do we need to re-frame our descriptive vocabulary?
- The BEST Mega Man Rip Off You Never Played – Bobdunga – YouTube
Bobdunga profiles an ambitious NES localization that went the extra mile to improve and iterate upon its original Japanese design.
- The Door Problem of Combat Design | Andrew Yoder
Andrew Yoder lays out a practical level design theory and philosophy for not-funneling-all-the-bad-guys-through-a-door-to-shoot-one-at-a-time.
- Cook Your Way is a cooking game with a kitchen controller | Rock Paper Shotgun
Vinícius Machado talks to Enric Llagostera about his uncomfortable, incisive, interactive cooking/immigration mashup.
- Are Game Genres Useful? | Fanbyte
Azha Reyes observes how genre labels in games mostly describe mechanical rather than narrative elements, and discusses how this both limits and obfuscates the ability of a game to connect with an audience.
“If we rethought how we presented different kinds of games, more people may take a chance on playing titles they’d otherwise steer clear of.”
Our last bloc this week weighs in on the state of the industry. What progress has been made toward making games and their production more equitable and accessible? What work remains to be done? These four articles check gaming’s pulse.
- The Anita Sarkeesian story – Polygon
Anita Sarkeesian, in an extensive interview by Colin Campbell, recounts her history of activism and advocacy.
- Hot dogs and history at Cyan Worlds | The Obscuritory
Phil Salvador visits the house of Myst and reflects on the studio’s quiet longevity.
- MAKE YOUR EVO MOMENT – DEEP HELL
Skeleton seeks out actionables in the aftermath of EVO greenlighting and tacitly supporting a convicted abuser.
- Riot Games And Sexism, One Year Later | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio follows up on one of the opening exposes in the current games-and-labour conversation to see what Riot has and has not accomplished in a year.
“Now that it’s all out in the open—the slanted hiring practices, the chauvinism, the ball-tapping frat antics—employees are witnessing the rollout of a belated justice.”
I kind of love it when people screw with D&D.
- It Is Surprisingly Hard To Create An Incompetent Ass-Clown In Dungeons & Dragons | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio documents her efforts to play against D&D‘s framework of fostering heroic, exceptional characters.
“Sucking in totality is just not something Dungeons & Dragons readily accommodates. And yet playing an idiotic character tests everything you knew about Dungeons & Dragons, from the core of its mechanics to the way you navigate your dungeon master’s plot.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!