September 29th

Welcome back, readers.

Hey! Just in case you missed it, a few days ago we published a killer Critical Compilation on Kentucky Route Zero by Nicholas O’Brien. Check it out!

I’m now simultaneously exploring Koholint, Azeroth, and Erdrea. I’ve never stopped to wonder why I can juggle multiple game worlds without much difficulty, but struggle to keep up with more than one book at a time. Material for the dissertation?

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

Climates of Change

We open this week with three authors who all work from forward-thinking questions in relation to games. What does gaming look like in a world where climate change is an increasingly urgent and immediate threat. What exactly needs to be preserved about games in our capitalist, data-hungry world? And what have games been telling us about those intersections for years?

“this, finally, is where my underlying anxiety about preservation rests – I commend its desire to ignore profit as a motivator, and I believe in its mission of promoting the importance of the past, but I don’t think we need to be striving for immortality.”

Audience/Purpose

I think one of the richest and most important topics in critical games discourse is that of who is included and who is excluded in game makers’ design considerations. Communities of play are incredibly diverse, but many games and game-adjacent experiences still overwhelmingly target very narrow (and privileged) demographics. Two authors this week peer into this status quo and offer their thoughts.

“Virtual Mate is a turning point in sex tech, but it’s also a reflection of its biggest problem: The industry is dominated by white, straight, cisgender men. The Virtual Mate’s marketing copy says it’s “designed for male users” with a “female-user version” in development, implying masturbation sleeve users are entirely “male.” Trans women and gender nonconforming people can and do use sleeves, too, although it’s unclear if the Virtual Mate was even tested on trans users. The entire Virtual Mate intimacy system prioritizes straight cisgender men’s desires, with the “female-user version” mentioned as an afterthought “in development.” The system assumes cis men and cis women’s bodies are default, and it prioritizes cis men’s desires over any other gender.”

Social Studies

Two rad authors this week examine the relationship-building experiences in and around games.

“I won’t get too in the weeds with it, but it basically feels like the writers went, “what magical excuse can we use to justify the protagonist’s gender change,” and developed outward from there until they had a complex, bizarre world completely defined and controlled by mysterious SCP-like entities.”

Design Documents

A pair of authors this week offer some design reflections on games, concepts, and genres.

“Game designers don’t actually talk that much about difficulty; we talk about things like progression systems and mental load. None of these things are strictly questions of “difficult” versus “easy” — they’re more about how we guide players to greater competency, and what that journey should be like, ideally.”

Saturday Morning Silliness

Here’s a pair of fresh critical perspectives on some fresh and popular games.

River City Girls won’t entirely re-define the wheel: it is yet another nostalgic throwback to the BEATEMUPS of yore. I think the thing I love about it the most is that it can exist in the same world that we get games like The Friends of Ringo Ishikawa. A note-similar game that takes a very similar premise and uses it to meditate on being young.”

Critical Chaser

As always, some fun stuff to close out the week.

“It’s a game that knows how to say “yes, and” — yes, you stole the shopkeeper’s canned goods, and now she’s going to grab the broom to shoo you away as you find a spot to hide them.”


Subscribe

Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?

Contribute

Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!