Welcome back, readers.
I’m thinking this week, as ever, about The Discourse, and specifically how narratives coalesce around games at an ever-more-careening pace, often before they’re even out and available. It feels increasingly difficult, in the early stages at least, to shut out the noise and keep it from overwriting the discussion altogether.
But that doesn’t stop so many talented writers who inhabit this discourse from pulling off that hard work every week, and it’s something I remain a little bit in awe of.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Tactical Exhaustion Affect
There’s a lot of really good writing out there on Death Stranding right now. Here are three of this week’s best. It’s probably a little early to be talking about a Critical Compilation, but if/when we do one of those, there will be no shortage of excellent material available.
- American Nomad – Death Stranding and Public Infrastructure | RE:BIND
Emily Rose delves into a character study of Sam Bridges, exploring public intimacy and community solidarity under oppressive conditions.
- Death Stranding’s Depiction of Queerness is Hamfisted and Creepy – No Escape
Trevor Hultner examines instances of queer and especially ace misrepresentation and erasure in Death Stranding.
- UNLUCKY SKIN – DEEP HELL
Skeleton articulates the embodied, exhausting experience of Death Stranding.
“Every time I lift something with my right arm, the muscles in my shoulder scream at me. They’ll twist in ways that are uncomfortable, or the joint will pop. I’m not in danger, I’m just being reminded that I could be by my body. Death Stranding allows us, as players, to feel weight. It’s unique in that it’s a videogame where the physical presence of objects is more than a number we have to worry about getting too high (though it is also that). Why is that so important? Because Death Stranding is also about the strain the world places on our bodies.”
A pair of really interesting articles this week zero in on games as they are understood not firsthand, but through the lens of cinema and film.
- HBO’s Watchmen Is Better At Lore Than Most Games | Kotaku
Joshua Rivera positions the new series’ revelatory approach to discuss some of the issues and limitations with worldbuilding in games.
- It’s Disgusting But I Can’t Help Myself – Emilie M. Reed
Emilie M. Reed wades into the Cronenberg back-cat to look at a film about the idea of games, and in doing so works to challenge the commonplaces academics use to study them.
“eXistenZ plays out the constructed limitedness of games, so often brushing intrusively against the exhortations that you’re powerful and free. The image of a body plugged into the game console, limp, dreaming and penetrated, regularly haunts the virtual fantasy down below, but this fantasy is also disempowering in its own right.”
The Hero of the Story
A bunch of big games have come out lately that have collectively provoked some interesting discussions about the state of storytelling in games. Four articles this week look at some of the narrative successes–and some of the misfires–in these recent releases.
- “Chaos as Canon,” by Joshua Calixto – Bullet Points Monthly
Joshua Calixto writes a bit about decision-making in Disco Elysium but also meditates generally on some of the limitations and pitfalls of choice-based game design up until this point.
- Luigi’s Mansion 3 Is Charming, Frustrating, and Weird as Hell – Paste
Dia Lacina discusses Luigi’s Mansion 3 as a fun game that dances on the threshold of something more critically provocative without ever quite getting there.
- 2019 was the year that capitalism became video games’ greatest villain | Windows Central
Carli Velocci traces a growing collective awareness of oppressive neoliberal power structures across games by way of Borderlands 3, The Outer Worlds, and Disco Elysium.
- Lay Down Your Burdens – The Outer World’s Subversive Approach To Player-Centric Narratives | RE:BIND
Emily Rose studies the small-scale, slow-burn storytelling approach on display in The Outer Worlds and examines how the developers challenge much of their own extant scaffolding in the genre.
“The Outer Worlds made subdued, slow-burn personal stories its guiding star, and the reward of this was an experience beyond that found in many other titles to date. For once it’s so nice not to be the center of attention, the main attraction of the event, to simply experience the reality of the world presented as a participant instead of the pivotal messiah in charge of saving the universe.”
Three articles this week examine two small games and one big one, delving into the reciprocal affective relationships we form with the games we play, and what we take back into the world afterward..
- Lie in my Heart and dealing with the aftermath • Eurogamer.net
Jennifer Allen reflects on trauma and vulnerability in autobiographical game development (content notification: suicide).
- Assemble With Care Is Helping Me Handle Myself With Care | Kotaku
Gita Jackson thinks through the small-scale labour of self-care by way of an indie puzzler.
- Breath of the Wild Got Me to Actually Do My PhD | Sidequest
Kelly Richards thinks through letting go of the need to get everything right immediately and all at once.
“Realising, or rather internalising, that it was, in fact, fine; that no one was actively judging me on how fast I could dispatch a Lynel; and that it was okay to just play and go at my own pace changed how I approached a lot of things that my aforementioned bad brain kept me away from.”
Slices of Time
Two authors this week situate games and the spaces they inhabit in their respective temporal contexts.
- The Final Days Of Anata No Warehouse, Japan’s Incredible Arcade | Kotaku
Alexis Ong visits a soon-to-be-closed Japanese arcade modeled after the Kowloon Walled City.
- A byte-sized blue blur – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi looks at Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure, an unlikely Sonic Mania predecessor decades before the fact.
“The NGPC library is something of a living masterclass in the art of the “demake” with so many famous entries in its high-quality selection distilling extravagant arcade crowd-pleasers down into equally enjoyable portable forms, and Sonic Pocket Adventure is no exception.”
The Duck Knight Rises.
- Sirfetch’d is the Most Horrifying Pokémon Ever Conceived
Sam Greszes goes deep on the Duck Knight’s improbable power level.
“We must remake Galarian civilization from the ground up, with the aim of appeasing and socializing these horrific beings by sitting on park benches all day, throwing stale bread at them, and hoping to stave off the destruction of all we hold dear for one more day.”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!