November 3rd

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Novtober

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.

“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.

“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.”

Critical Chaser

I can’t wait for somebody to do a commentary like this on Mario Kart Tour.

“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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