February 23rd

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

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.

Body Politic

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?

“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.

“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.”

Anger

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?

“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.”

Context Sensitive

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.

“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.”

Story Time

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….

“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.”

Hard Games

Two authors this week reflect on games which function as mechanical allegories or expressions for trauma, grief, or hardship.

“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.”

Critical Chaser

I’m hitting a very particular subset of readers with this inclusion and I know exactly who you are.


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