Welcome back, readers.
I speak sometimes of the overarching themes and narratives that pull together each week’s selections over and above the explicitly delineated categories I come up with here. This week that theme might be games of the 2000s, which by my count comprise solidly half of this week’s selections (Bayonetta and Heavy Rain are close enough). Maybe that’s in part because we’re in the dry part of the year as far as big-budget releases go, but the bottom line is that’s two articles now on skateboarding games in as many weeks, and I’m pretty happy about that.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening grouping this week tracks two tensions: the continuing need to push for the inclusion of more bodies and more identities in games, as well as some caution in writing off specific bodies and identities–particularly feminine-coded ones–in the ostensible name of that critique. Who gets left behind in those cases, even if the aim is to establish more positive gains?
- I Was Wrong About Bayonetta – Irrational Passions
Jarrett Green pinpoints the pitfalls of reducing everything horny about games to a consequence of the cis male gaze when those games are so often created and enjoyed by people outside that particular privilege axis.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons Marks Nintendo’s Next Step Toward Inclusivity | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores identifies what’s at stake in Animal Crossing‘s new avatar creation options for race and gender.
- A Timely and Momentous Defence of Girls – Timber Owls
Ashley muses on how an overzealous dismissal of ‘traditionally’ feminine characters in games (or anywhere, really) might actually still just be telling women how to behave and conform and hurting the people who identify with those characters in the first place.
“So, my point is that healer girls own and I love them and actually right before I leave isn’t it funny how both healing and being emotionally driven only become subservient disempowering traits when girls do them?”
The Year 2000 Was 20 Years Ago
I’m still grappling with the above statement, so if you are too, I hear you. This grouping of four pieces each looks back to a game platform or franchise that saw its zenith two decades ago, tying them to some of their contemporary contexts to make sense of what they mean and why they matter to us now.
- Dreamcast’s Nightmare – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi looks back at the legacy of the Dreamcast and points to the long tradition of porting its games over to wider platforms as evidence of its impact.
- Remembering Bionicle By Its Videogames | Hylke’s Game Blog
Hylke looks back at some of the games that came out of Bionicle–a toy and multimedia franchise with an uncommon care and emphasis on lore and worldbuilding.
- Digimon Games Need Less Monster Battling, More Depressed Teens | Fanbyte
Blake P thinks through the human drama that distinguishes Digimon from its more popular monster-themed competitor.
- LIFE AND CONCRETE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton reflects on the enduring influence of skateboarding games and the embodied fragility of the kids who picked up their own boards in that same cultural moment.
“Tony Hawk could land 720’s like he was sitting down. In the back of a trailer somewhere, a haze of smoke and surrounded by people I didn’t know – people traded tapes. We’d pour over hours and hours of skateboarding footage and pretend to understand it. All of these sessions ended the exact same way. Someone puts a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in a Playstation. Instead of trying to understand whatever it was they spent hours watching real people do – it’s trying to figure out how to land something while watching a blurry CG approximation of a human being.”
Two pieces this week explore the permutations of anger and vengeance in games through a focusing question I don’t see very often in crit–what if, under the circumstances, the violence is wholly justified, or necessary?
- The Righteous, Musical Violence of Ape Out – Haywire Magazine
Stephen Mansfield explores the energetic violence of Ape Out as a counterpoint to the more meditative examination at play in Hotline Miami.
- On Killing Hitler | EGM
Michael Goroff delves into the history–and the critical limitations–of Hitler revenge fantasies in games and beyond.
“Killing Hitler is an easy choice. Who is more universally recognized as deserving of a violent death? But Hitler’s evilness is largely left abstract in video games, presupposing a knowledge and understanding of why Hitler’s death should feel so righteous. This abstraction divorces the act of killing Hitler from the fact that he ordered the murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million Slavic, Romani, black, gay, and mentally and physically disabled men and women.”
Three articles this week meditate on some of the dread-inducing contemporary contexts in which the games of our present are inevitably situated–you know, climate change and capitalism, those two totally-unrelated existential threats currently poised to devour us whole.
- Climate Change & Indiepocalypse by 4xisblack for Speculation Jam – itch.io
Brendan Vance peers through the mass-media haze around the idea of Indiepocalypse by identifying unsustainability in the scene(s) as squarely a consequence of the practices of the largest players in the market. (Curator’s note: the link leads to an itch.io page but I promise there’s a PDF after that).
- ‘Democratic Socialism Simulator’ Is Weirdly Depressing – VICE
Gita Jackson positions the topical Reigns-like as a cynical mirror of the present when it could have been a hopeful window into the future.
- Design Home: A Game, An Ad, A Real Estate Nightmare – Uppercut
Wil Williams recounts the nightmare of seeking refuge from one capitalist hellscape–the housing market–by entering another–a house-designing game which serves as a pipeline for furniture and decor advertising.
“There’s something shameful to it, to the blatant capitalist nightmare of a game that’s 90% an ad to a market that is unlikely to ever actually own a home. Each time I try to stop playing, they introduce a new home for players to furnish for themselves. I can’t help it. Like a moth to the flame, I am drawn to marble and teak.”
Three articles this week interrogate how narrative works in games, or sometimes kind-of doesn’t work, or actually does work in spite of a myriad of other messy things, or….
- What Made People Think ‘Heavy Rain’ Was a Great Game – VICE
Cameron Kunzelman reviews the legacy of Quantic Dream’s narrative thriller by weighing its approach to games as choice engines rather than action machines against its overall convolution and dearth of meaningful successors.
- Replication Error – Lysogenesis | RE:BIND
Emily Rose sets down her anxieties around interactive fiction long enough to explore Lysogenesis‘ experimental and hybrid approach to the genre.
- Off to the Garden of Madness!: No More Heroes and F*cking Up At Dramatic Convention Like An Idiot – Timber Owls
Lilly performs a deep-dive narrative analysis of constructions of (un)reality and ideology in No More Heroes. Also, remember No More Heroes?
“The lines between fiction and reality cross and merge in bizarre ways, leaving the reality of the situation completely muddled. Travis is a ‘fake’ assassin doing real assassin work to pay for a fake assassin ranking system where he kills real people who are also pretending to be, or are actually, assassins themselves.”
Two authors this week reflect on games which function as mechanical allegories or expressions for trauma, grief, or hardship.
- Easing the Long Trek | Bullet Points Monthly
Shonté Murray-Daniels writes about hardship, trauma, and the weirdly recuperative and empowering ice mechanics in Death Stranding.
- The Suicide of Rachel Foster review: a bleak look at grief and the people left behind in its wake – Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart gives an overview on The Suicide of Rachel Foster‘s examination of family trauma.
“The Suicide of Rachel Foster lets us delve deeper into the unspeakable, what it can do to a family and the carnage it leaves behind.”
I’m hitting a very particular subset of readers with this inclusion and I know exactly who you are.
- Fenris from Dragon Age 2 Tells a Dog She’s a Good Girl: A Review | Fanbyte
Absolutely no further summary needed here.
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