Welcome back, readers.
For a discourse that doesn’t exist, there’s a whole lot of cool stuff going on in critical games writing this week. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep making good shit happen, friends.
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 salvo encompasses a quartet of industry investigations and critiques–much of it focused on this apolitical myth that triple-A-publishers have somehow managed to perfect and perpetuate.
- No shit, video games are political. They’re conservative. | The Outline
Josh Tucker peels back and unpacks the lie that keeps the neoliberal triple-A game industry turning.
- What It’s Really Like to Be a QA Tester | EGM
Diego N. Argüello shines a light on the systematic exploitation of quality assurance testers in the games industry.
- Why we now talk about politics in games so much • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld tracks the positioning and messaging of games in an increasingly connected and informed world.
- Call of Duty and separating art from politics – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa squarely calls out the combination of overwhelming privilege and gamer toxicity that allows the myth of the apolitical in games to endure.
“The yearning for the separation of art and politics is one held by those for whom the status quo is their foundation. To be reminded that alternative perspectives not only exist, but are forced to exist by virtue of an individual’s identity threads holes in the comfort the yearners drape over themselves; a comfort that is not long enough by virtue of colonialism, bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia and capitalism to extend to those of us who are not straight cis white men.”
How the Sausage Is Made
A trio of design-focused critiques and reflections this week examine some of the biggest genres, trends, and patterns in games past and present.
- “The Infinite Zeppelin,” by Ed Smith – Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith, in examining the banal redundancy of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, proposes that big-budget genres as a whole have reached a ceiling for the kinds of questions they can ask and the kinds of critical arguments they can make.
- The Dystopic Automobile Infrastructure of Red Dead Redemption 2 | Corporate Future Nightmare World
Brendan Vance describes how the American frontier in RDR2 isn’t quite the frontier it purports to be, but rather a lavishly produced (on the backs of exploited labourers) simulacrum of the present-day status quo.
- A GALAXY, ROGUED – DEEP HELL
Skeleton reflects on a really long JRPG from back before game publishers figured out how to monetize time.
“Catching myself laughing while I was playing, I started to think to myself that Rogue Galaxy would be offering me premium currency to reduce the encounter rate, or max out my weapons immediately so they can be combined. It is that sort of game, before its time in the worst of ways.”
Words on Words
The language of critical discourse is as vital as any other aspect of intellectual labour, and this is no less so in the study of games. It’s also easy to get caught up in salient words and terms, and the same language wielded in different contexts can alternately carry a lot of weight, or be rendered entirely meaningless. The way in which we describe games, genres, and mechanics matters, and two authors this week pursue these ideas to powerful effect.
- In Praise of Detective Barbie: Vacation Mystery | Fanbyte
Ariana DiValentino examines an example of yesteryear’s “games for girls” to unpack how gender divisions in game design and marketing have both been subtly disrupted and cynically reinforced by more contemporary success stories.
- Game Studies – “This Action Will Have Consequences”: Interactivity and Player Agency
Sarah Stang critiques interactivity and agency as played-out concepts in game studies and repositions those terms outside of game experiences proper and inside player subjectivities and communities.
“true player agency lies not within pre-scripted videogame narratives, but in the players’ interpretations of the game text, in their engagement with fan communities, and in the exchanges that occur between fans and developers.”
Making Sense of Nonsense
A pair of authors this week investigate goofy, funny games, and why those elements of absurdity compliment the rest of the work.
- Why Metal Gear Solid 4’s Nonsense is Great, 11 Years On – YouTube
Hamish describes how Guns of the Patriots has aged gracefully into its absurdity.
- Attack of the Earthlings Bakes Humor Into Its Freakish DNA | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan looks at an XCOM-like that offsets its cynical setting with a side of side-splitters.
“While many titles wrap their plots and jokes around the game, rather than let these influence or dictate its game’s design, it’s the humor in Attack of the Earthlings that sets its puzzles’ direction.”
Communication and Communities
A trio of articles this week all tackle social questions in gaming from very different angles. Respectively, they encompass a discussion of queer community in MMOs, a close reading of a game all about communication, and a designer’s perspective on the establishment and maintanenace of a healthy community of play.
- Queer Cooperation | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor describes how MMORPGs in general and Final Fantasy XIV in particular are so well-equipped for fostering and supporting queer communities.
- Off the Grid: Ghost Trick – Haywire Magazine
Allison Winters picks up an offbeat DS gem all about communication, along with some allegorical connections to identity.
- Gamasutra: Victoria Tran’s Blog – Designing Communities for Kindness
Victoria Tran discusses the role of a community design, as well as some basic principles for the establishment and maintenance of a positive and accommodating player community.
“To be clear here, kind community design doesn’t mean chanting positive affirmations into your community every single day. (I mean, you can if you want though?) It means creating a safe, low pressure, helpful, and encouraging interactive space among the players. So even when times of tension or anger come up (e.g. a troll), they still actively work together to help make the space a kind and accepting place.”
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has attracted a lot of strong critical writing from some of the sharpest voices in the discourse. Here are two excellent examples.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses pulls off what Fates could not – Polygon
Petrana Radulovic recounts how the latest Fire Emblem exploits player affect to execute narrative heartbreak.
- Gita Jackson Fire Emblem’s Depiction Of Abuse Feels Real | Kotaku
Gita Jackson studies and relates to how Three Houses maps out trauma and abuse in its character interactions.
“When Lysithea scolded her for not jumping to action when other students were involved in an accident, she ran away and retreated to her room. Lysithea went after her to apologize for being too harsh, but Marianne insisted that it was, in fact, all her own fault. She went even further than Lysithea, saying increasingly disparaging things about herself as Lysithea tried to calm her down. As I watched this scene unfold, the feelings felt uncomfortably familiar.”
Representative of the Medium
Three articles this week focus on inadequately-or-underrepresented voices and perspectives in games–both successes and failures.
- There’s A Latinx Void At The Heart Of Video Games | Kotaku
Joshua Rivera bemoans a lack of Latinx representation in interactive media in a time when that representation matters more than ever.
- The Artificial Therapeutic Singularity of Eliza | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar examines a game which artfully allegorizes the current state of mental healthcare with a dystopian AI-themed spin.
- Kingdom Hearts fails most of its women – Polygon
Natalie Flores summarizes the feminine characters in Kingdom Hearts as underrepresented, underdeveloped, and underutilized.
“Kingdom Hearts women are rarely given satisfying character arcs. Most women in the franchise end up in underdeveloped supporting roles, or are killed off for the sake of the plot.”
I kind of like games even when I don’t, and a lot of that has to do with this kind of writing.
- Twitter Bot Hosts Never-Ending Jeopardy Game | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra looks at. . . I’m sorry, what?
- Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball: A Review
merritt k also reviews the experience of DoAX.
“Almost admirable in its dedication to an incredibly thin premise”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!