January 5th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Welcome back, readers, and welcome to a new year and a new decade. Things feel a little bleak right now, I know, but let’s do what we can to make the best of things, shall we?

(Update Jan 6 2020: I have updated the note on the Myers piece to explicitly denote that said piece includes reference to several individuals against whom there are credible allegations of abuse. I appreciate reader feedback as I work to maintain thorough coverage of critical games writing while acknowledging the voices of survivors.)

First, some stuff around the website. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out both Kris’ excellent year-end roundup and Connor’s latest monthly roundup on games vlogging.

Speaking of roundups, there’s lots of lists out there right now, particularly on the subject of games of the year or decade. Most of them don’t quite fit our usual fare for inclusion here, but there’s some pretty great insights and meditations to be had regardless. Here are a few of my picks, in no particular order:

Dia Lacina
Austin Walker
Mx. Medea
Sidequest
Natalie Watson
Emily Rose
Dante Douglas
Not Your Mama’s Gamer (Podcast)
Cameron Kunzelman
Catherine Brinegar
Danielle Riendeau
Gita Jackson
Ricardo Contreras
Gayming Magazine

With that out of the way, we now resume our regularly scheduled rounding up (roundupping?). This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Industry in Review

We’re starting things off with a fairly large group of pieces, each of which in some way reflects on the trajectory of the games industry over the last decade, from such vantage points as development, journalism, and critic, and covering such topics as labour, bigotry, criticism, and gatekeeping.

  • The Cost Of Being A Woman Who Covers Video Games | Kotaku 
    Maddy Myers looks back at a decade of hard-won survival and frustratingly incremental progress (disclosure: Critical Distance is referenced twice in-text) (content notifications: That Hashtag, harassment, abuse, threats of sexual violence) (Curator’s note: I’m aware that this piece has received some criticism for which voices are and are not included, and that some of the included voices have had credible allegations of abuse made against them. I think those criticisms are valid and should be heard, but also that this piece is an important part of the conversation and that no one piece, especially such a personal one, can capture all the contours of a decade in adequate resolution. Readers are encouraged to nominate any response pieces with the usual TWIVGB hashtag).
  • Dear Player: I love you, let’s talk – Polygon 
    Jennifer Scheurle writes from the perspective of both a developer and a community intermediary.
  • Games are Not Magic – Videodame 
    James Frierson demystifies the notion of “Bioware magic” by situating its games and those of other studios in the context of the fraught labour conditions under which they were produced.
  • Game Hihyo / Game Criticism Magazines – Gaming Alexandria 
    Hubz, as part of an overarching preservation project, profiles a Japanese magazine which sought to establish a voice of truly independent games criticism, but which ultimately strayed from that goal and foundered
  • Gamasutra: Michelle Deco’s Blog – Why Games Matter 
    Michelle Deco offers an insider perspective on why games–or perhaps more specifically the industry that produces them–are worth it.
  • Anita Sarkeesian looks back at GamerGate – Polygon 
    Anita Sarkeesian reflects on the lasting impacts of not only That Hashtag, but the industry’s ensuing silent complicity (content notification: abuse, harassment, pretty much every stripe of bigotry).

“If the games industry had taken a bold stand during GamerGate then subsequent events may have taken a different course. Maybe the later alt-right campaigns would have felt less emboldened or been less successful. Maybe major players in the realms of social media would have felt obliged to make real changes and take real substantive action. Maybe it could have all been different. But that isn’t the reality, and we can now say for sure that the games industry was on the wrong side of history for this one.”

Giving Voice

Two articles this week approach the topic of inclusivity in games via analysis and interview respectively.

“The video game industry is a very white place, and while progress is happening towards more POC characters, it’s rare to see them as main protagonists. Yet with people like Burch, as well as organizations such as I Need Diverse GamesPOC in Play and Out Making Games, we’re optimistic that video games – and voice acting – will become more diverse as time goes on.”

Affective Critique

A pair of authors this week reflect on how recent games allow us to be vulnerable by being vulnerable with us in turn.

“In Sayonara Wild Hearts, winning isn’t an ultimate version of breaking others’ hearts and evolving into greater power. Instead, it’s an informed return to your initial state. Rather than becoming your mask, you abandon it.”

Main Theme

Three authors this week examine how games embody–or fail to embody–their own allegorical themes through both their internal design and external contexts.

“While other videogames are focused with telling intimate stories (especially as we march ever forward into bigger pores and better hair), the SHMUP genre seems uniquely focused on apocalyptic visions not easily created elsewhere.”

Genre, Subgenre, Design

Included here are three pieces that dig into different aspects of genre and design, identifying successes, failures, trends, and legacies.

“We have created worlds that refuse the illegible, the secret, the lost. Cohesion has been placed into a state of primacy, friction is a mistake to be routed, and because of this, game photography suffers at a time when it is more prevalent and popular than ever.”

Nostalgia Episode II.9: A New Revenge of the Attack of the Nostalgia

I’ve recently noticed a number of pieces examining nostalgia via its sinister aspect as a marketing tool. Here are two more excellent contributions.

“Nostalgia baiting breeds traditionalism breeds the kind of reactionary politics we see all over the place today. You don’t just want the new live-action beat-for-beat retelling of The Lion King, you want to go back to when you were a small child seeing the animated Lion King for the first time. You yearn for a golden time, a simpler time, ignoring that at no time does this really exist.”

Critical Chaser

An Action Replay? Wish I’d thought of that.

“I have never played a game that shows such continual contempt for the person running it.”


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