Welcome back, readers.
I find myself at a mild loss for witty introductions this week, but that’s okay, because quality critical games writing never sleeps and there’s plenty of great stuff to be had this week. So just know that I’m glad you’re here, because your presence and readership is a reminder of why this writing and these writers matter!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Once More on the Zero
There’s probably some Critical Distance rule somewhere I’d be in violation of if I let the release of Kentucky Route Zero‘s final episode pass without any kind of inclusion in the roundup, so we’re starting things off this week with a big bloc of some of the best, from some of the best. Oh, and when you’re done here, you can check out our Critical Compilation on the game here.
- ‘Kentucky Route Zero’ Pays Off on Nine Years of Hope and Doubt – VICE
Austin Walker recounts a decade alongside a game that is equal parts compassionate and critical of the infrastructure it and we exist within.
- Why I’ve Loved Waiting for Kentucky Route Zero | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks relates the opportunities for growth afforded by KRZ‘s drawn-out release history.
- Kentucky Route Zero Review: Thematic Surrealism | Fanbyte
Jay Castello meditates on KRZ‘s relatable, surrealist traumas as the series draws to a close.
- Global Game Hegemony – No Escape
Trevor Hultner, in the week of KRZ‘s conclusion, gestures to the games and makers outside a specifically American sphere of perspective and relevance and asks how we might make room for more of that.
- Busy and Poor: The Gentle Violence of Kentucky Route Zero | Sidequest
Madison Butler breaks down KRZ‘s magical realist late-capitalist critique.
“Specifically, it is a game about the violence an uncaring system enacts on the impoverished people who live in it. It asks what Conway will give up to survive; as a result we watch it take and take until, at the end of Act IV, Shannon turns around, and Conway is simply gone, and three indistinct skeletons are disappearing from the screen without a word.”
I am aware that I am tempting fate by antagonizing the well-established name confusion between Outer Wilds and The Outer Worlds by grouping articles on both of them together here, but each of the three articles gathered here extends one of those games–or the other–with a novel connection, be it architecture, artistic movement, or the state of space exploration.
- The Outer Worlds’ dystopian future is far off, but it’s not impossible – The Verge
Aron Garst investigates how The Outer Worlds‘ spacefaring corporate dystopia is informed by our own steadily more privatized spaceflight endeavours.
- Spectating at the End of the Universe | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole studies the influence of the Surrealist art movement on Outer Wilds.
- Some Things Last Forever | Unwinnable
Justin Reeve takes a stroll through the architectural short cuts and quick fixes on display in The Outer Worlds.
“The Outer Worlds provides a reminder that quick fixes often become permanent solutions when it comes to architecture.”
A big chunk of my dissertation-that-I’m-totally-going-to-finish is to do with how games handle, engage with, and make effective use of lore, which is probably a term I should be obliged to define, but which is somewhat nebulous in usage, so let’s just go with the items, information, and anecdotes which fill out the completeness and depth of a world, be it real, fictional, or otherwise. So I’m excited to see so many engaging discussions of lore this week, some of which will probably end up in my works cited eventually.
- Arkham Asylum Handled Lore Better Than Most Batman Stories – By Ignoring It
Cameron Kunzelman articulates the appeal of dropping players, viewers, readers into the middle of a complex story world rather than leading them by the hand through it.
- How Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror Upends the Conventions of Horror Game Design – Paste
Holly Green looks at how a horror game innovates by building its ruleset off of Indonesian folklore.
- The Quiet, Enduring Success of The Lord of the Rings Online | Fanbyte
Mark Hill identifies a care and attention to lore and worldbuilding as key to the unexpected longevity of the Tolkien MMO.
- So You Want a Pantheon For Your Game – Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short, drawing upon Greek and Roman examples, examines how divine mythological traditions can inform design practices for worldbuilding and lore in interactive story systems.
“Naturally game design often involves tidying up reality to turn it into something even slightly playable. However, there are a lot of interesting things about the construction of ancient pantheons that could help you enrich your mechanics and tell a more interesting story about your in-game universe.”
We’ve got two pieces this week that are about specific games, but also about the genres, trends, and movements those games inhabit, what those games have to say about those genres, and some of the challenges of writing critically about genre(s) in the first place.
- Gingy’s Corner: Wander No More/Written in the Sky | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson dwells on the difficulties of writing critically about the visual novel genre when longer, bad stories tend to take up more oxygen than inspired small-scale slices.
- “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” – The Critical Mass of Red Desert Render | RE:BIND
Emily Rose wanders in a nominal parody of a game, genre, and critical discourse already sufficiently loaded and bloated as to become their own self-devouring parody.
“It is hard to say if Ian MacLarty intended any subtext beyond the obvious mockery of open world games, but it’s hard not to see Red Dead Render as a meditative ‘Long Time Memetic Waste Warning Message‘, a reminder that in time these ideas may be reclaimed by later generations when the dust finally settles.”
Three articles this week all examine the affective, emotive, social, and introsective design qualities of their respective games.
- Playing Coffee Talk Reminds Me Of The Quiet Joys Of Being A Barista | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra captures a slice of vulnerability in a simulacrum of the sociality of a working-class grind.
- Playing Celeste’s Farewell DLC is a masterpiece of High Resolution Play • Eurogamer.net
Omar Haveez-Bore describes the synnergy between Celeste‘s affective and mechanical design, brought to its peak in its final send-off DLC.
- The Quiet Sleep: A Messy and Emotional Tower Defense | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan delves into a plainspoken yet richly allegorical tower defense game themed around organizing and navigating our feelings.
“But what it lacks for clarity, The Quiet Sleep makes it up by being a compelling and even frenetic experience, as you try not to crumble under the pressures conjured by your own mind. If you’ve ever felt paralyzed by the immense weight of anxiety or sadness, that’s what playing The Quiet Sleep can sometimes feel like, especially with its mounting challenges in the later chapters.”
Bless Uppercut’s listicle game this week.
- Gen 8 and Their Signs – Uppercut
Kayla Jouet gets an astrological read on some of the latest pocket monsters.
- Snuggling Those Pokemon – Uppercut
Andrew Cogswell sorts Gen 8 and beyond by cuddling suitability.
- Pokémon Appétit – Uppercut
Monti Velez challenges the Flavour League.
“Whether or not people in the Pokémon universe eat their pocket monster pals is no longer up for debate; we have plenty of hard evidence that they do. But which ones would be the best to eat?”
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