Welcome back, readers. I try not to take up too much space myself in these roundups from week-to-week but this week we’ve got to talk.
You ever see those tweets about how 2019 feels like it’s been roughly a million years long? This week feels like all of that in a microcosm.
There’s a non-trivial chance you’ve read all about the mass-resignations at Deadspin by now, and besides the fact that Kotaku is a sister site to Deadspin and thus owned by the same investors and herbs, this week is a sobering reminder of just how precarious journalistic independence is these days in an increasingly media-hostile culture. The dogwhistle “stick to sports” shares much DNA with “games aren’t political” and both mantras are increasingly trendy in a cultural moment where it has become dangerously vogue to pretend that any kind of media can be consumed in a context-less vacuum.
There’s also been a long-running conversation on the health of independent games blogging, which of course predates this latest development. That issue has plenty of moving parts of its own, including the so-called “pivot-to-video” which we now know was at least in part the product of fraud.
So there’s definitely an air of dejected pessimism in and about the discourse this week, and that is absolutely justified. But even in this Darkest Timeline, there’s incredible and essential work being done in games writing.
Since assuming this position, my attention has been drawn to smaller-scale blogs and websites covering critical stories in games that need to be told, but which continue to slip through the cracks at larger venues where incredibly talented writers must balance their work against readership metrics and malicious corporate interference. I think of places like RE:BIND, which has seen tremendous growth in a scant year of existence and publishes extraordinary weekly critiques on games nobody else is covering. I think of places like Timber Owls, which routinely marries high-level theory to an accessible format and voice. I think of places like DEEP-HELL, which delivers the sharpest metacritical games writing on the web on a weekly basis. I think of places like Unwinnable, Into the Spine, CapsuleCrit, SideQuest, and Haywire, which all do invaluable work by finding talented new writers, getting them in the door, and giving them a platform.
I also think of places like Deorbital, which also dedicates itself to this same work but which is presently on hiatus as its creators look for new means by which to finance the operation. They aren’t the only ones, either.
As the best of the big games sites grapple with the everyday struggle to protect their writers and tell the stories they want to tell, and the more generalized venues continue to waffle over whether games need to be covered at all, it’s more important than ever to read widely and keep independent games blogging thriving–because it is thriving, dear readers, even as its community members struggle to keep the lights on. Support writers–with money if you can, and with retweets and signal boosts regardless.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Give Me Your Hand
Death Stranding isn’t out yet, but the embargoes have mostly lifted. I’m being real careful about what writing to include on the game at this early stage, but these three standouts simply cannot be ignored.
- Death Stranding: The Kotaku Review | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra navigates the convoluted, marvelous mess of Kojima’s latest, and frankly demonstrates an artful mastery of the written review.
- CRITICAL CONSENUS – DEEP HELL
Skeleton discusses how Death Stranding demonstrates the limitations of reviews as both genre and business model.
- Platonic Solids, Solid Snake: Hideo Kojima’s Erotic Formalism | Fanbyte
Aurora Brainsky-Roth delves into a thorough analysis of Hideo Kojima’s design language, weighs its strengths against its baggage, and looks forward to what this might mean for Death Stranding.
“A persistent feature of Kojima games, especially in the Metal Gear series, is that they develop a sense of unreal or hyperreal abstraction through realist design methods and attitudes towards form that emphasize materiality and intimacy.”
Untitled Labour Discourse
There’s been a bump in discussions of labour in games over the last few weeks for. . . a few reasons. Here’s a pair of quality pieces, alternately examining labour-as-mechanic and the ongoing out-of-game labour of media preservation.
- The Joy of Labor in Wilmot’s Warehouse | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor examines a game that refutes the work-as-tedium argument.
- The race to save Japan’s incredible ’80s PC gaming history before it’s gone forever | PC Gamer
Wes Fenlon looks in on a preservation group’s efforts to archive and preserve an entire generation of Japanese PC games.
“In 2019, the common wisdom is few Japanese gamers play on PCs. But you have to remember that in the ’80s, Japan was riding high on an economic boom. Japanese technology was the hottest shit on Earth, and personal computers—specifically the NEC PC-8801 released in 1981—were selling gangbusters.”
Rocko’s Modern Warfare
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is coming out (again?) and the most interesting things I’ve read about it all have to do with how much it has to say despite purporting to say nothing. Check these two articles out.
- ‘Modern Warfare,’ The Highway of Death, and Call of Duty’s Exploitation of the Past – VICE
Matthew Gault puts Modern Warfare‘s revisionist jingoism on blast.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (PS4) – Review ‘Em All
Matt Paprocki reviews a completely apolitical piece of entertainment media.
“As if angels or Jesus returning to Earth, US/British troops crash in through a skylight, backlit as they kill. Restraint is not letting a character shout, “Christian values, bitch!” while they stab/shoot the faceless villains, even if such a line is implied. There’s persistence in the writing about saving this totally-not-Syrian-but-definitely-Syrian country.”
Sure, we’re technically a few days past Halloween, but hey, we’re not called This Day in Videogame Blogging. Besides, I’ve really enjoyed all the writing on spooky games over the past month, so consider these five articles a sendoff.
- How The Missing combines survival horror and puzzle platforming to capture queer hope – Gayming Magazine
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe examines rare deployments of agency, empowerment, and hope in the survivor horror genre.
- How the Janitors in White Day: A Labyrinth Named School Made Me Change How I Act in the Real World – Paste
Dia Lacina recounts how a horror game made her rethink her out-of-game spatial awareness and habits, and thinks broadly about how games influence our behaviors.
- Gears of War Has Secretly Always Been a Horror Franchise | Fanbyte
Cameron Kunzelman looks back at–actually, yeah, those games are fucking terrifying.
- 7 Spooky Games You Can Largely Find on Abandonware Sites and Absolutely Must Play this Halloween – Uppercut
Dia Lacina compiles some Halloween favourites of yesteryear where remembering how the command prompt works is just one of the spooky trappings.
- Ulterior Motives – Condemned and The Art Of Playing Games Wrong | RE:BIND
Emily Rose explores some permutations of successful game design through the accidental lens of house rules.
“Without a taser, every fight in the game is a very blank slate, opponents are evenly matched with your damage output and tolerance, and when your weapons finally snap in half there’s no choice but to improvise. You are constantly hanging by the thread of your wits as you rapidly scan the room for endless possible solutions, in the end, the finality of Occam’s Razor takes hold when you grab the nearest 2×4 to bludgeon your opponent with.”
Control Alt Critique
One reliable indicator of whether I’m going to be interested in a game is if it continues to collect deep critical dives several months after the initial hype cycle surrounding release. Control is one such game and the following pair of articles are well worth your time.
- The Poster and the Wall: The Society and/of Control – Timber Owls
Lilly draws on Plato, Foucault, Deleuze, and more to orient the false reality of capitalism allegorized in Control.
- The New Weird and racist structures – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa weighs Control against the cross-media New Weird boom and its parallels and intersections with white supremacy.
“If you play or read the new weird, know that the dread it delivers – of knowing and yet of being helpless, of reaching yet never grasping – is very similar to what a lot of us who are targets of racist structures have felt.”
I can’t wait for somebody to do a commentary like this on Mario Kart Tour.
- Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and the feud that keeps on running • Eurogamer.net
Philippa Warr demonstrates the kind of gloves-off grudge matches that emerge from the crucible of Nintendo’s cut-down mobile neighbor sim.
“My former best friend is standing right next to me. We haven’t spoken in more than eight months. Well over a decade of friendship was destroyed by one careless letter. He’s here now because he wants something. He always wants something. This time he’s demanding a single coconut.”
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