Welcome back, readers. Hope everyone’s keeping safe. I’m currently a third (?) of the way to the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, but I can definitely still feel the four walls of my apartment pressing against me.
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This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening section this week comprises a pair of pretty cool articles critiquing trends, biases, and imagined histories in the game industry. For my part, I’ve been waiting for a really crunchy piece on Doom: Eternal, and Mx. Medea has thoroughly delivered.
- Thomas Malthus’s Video Game Industry Simulator 2020: Introduction – No Escape
Trevor Hultner begins a series deconstructing the myth of “indiepocalypse” beginning with the dominance hierarchies the largest players in the industry leverage to keep everyone else in games fighting over the tiniest crumbs of the pie.
- The Need For Speed Part 3 – DOOM: Eternal Repeat | RE:BIND
Mx. Medea positions nu-Doom as an exercise in hyperreality and makes the case that the franchise–and the hell-powered marketing engine behind it–are now bent towards the reactionary project of imagining a nostalgic Good Old Days of games that never really was.
“Through fawning for the hyperreality of an imagined era that never was, one dreamed up by marketing executives who had little to no involvement in the creative process of countless artists, we risk uncritically internalizing the ideas that games are just fun diversions, that they’re at their best as adolescent power fantasies about being a sickass DOOMSLAYER, or perhaps even that games are just better off without politics (that is, with all of the ambient -isms in place that don’t challenge, but instead bolster, the worst parts of the status-quo that reads as neutral background noise to the most privileged among us).”
Spaces, Places, Un-Spaces, Non-Places
This admittedly-loose coalition of diverse critical perspectives all revolve around thinking and rethinking spaces and places in games, around games, about games. It makes sense, given the compulsory hibernation we’re all in right now, that people are thinking and writing critically about the spaces we inhabit, occupy, and subvert.
- At Home with the Ghosts: Kentucky Route Zero’s Reworking of Capitalist Space | Sidequest
Grace Benfell discusses KRZ‘s use of and rebellion against transitory “non-places” as part of its overall project of deconstructing frameworks of capitalism.
- The Joystick Is Mightier Than the Sword | EGM
Florence Smith Nicholls profiles the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, U.K., currently endangered due to ticket sale losses during the pandemic, and discusses its role in curating diverse histories of games.
- Unsafe Rooms | EGM
Diego Argüello considers the games which challenge and defy the established security of save points and other traditionally “safe” rooms in gaming.
- Animal Crossing and Queer Agency | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor writes about home away from home for queer players and communities.
- How ‘Splatoon 2’ Squidparties Let Us Make Connections During the Covid-19 Pandemic – VICE
Natalie Clayton draws on countergaming ideas to talk about reclaiming virtual spaces in competitive games for wholesome and chill hangouts.
- QUARANTINE VOL 1. MINECRAFT – DEEP HELL
Skeleton describes how Minecraft, despite being one of the most profitable multiplayer games ever, is at its most profound in solo play.
“Minecraft is a rejection of the outside world. Come in, build your ideal home out of whatever you want. Live out a dramatic story where you’re the only person on earth. Ravage an ecosystem or create an entirely contained floating one. As long as what you’re doing involves placing and removing blocks, what’s the harm? It makes for a perfect game to be played in isolation.”
These two pieces, both about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, look at the limitations and exclusions in simulating communities and environments, as well as the biases that determine those limitations and exclusions.
- I Wish Animal Crossing Treated Islands More Like Real Life | Earther
Yessenia Funes takes inventory of how New Horizons‘ getaway island is divorced from the real-world climate and conservation issues that disproportionately endanger islands and island communities.
- Animal Crossing, SimCity, and the Long History of City Planning in Games | EGM
Emilie Reed interrogates the oversimplifications and omissions endemic to city and community-building games and the inherent non-interventionist arguments these systems support.
“Games like SimCity have been promoted by proponents in the gaming and tech industries as a useful tool for teaching the fundamentals of city planning, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons has taken some cues from the same philosophies in terms of how it frames the process of developing an island, but their visions of a functioning community leave a lot out. You start on an empty plot of land or deserted island, from which resources consistently spring forth, owned or relied on by no one else. There’s no dump, no parking lots, and the citizens are either abstracted data points or cartoon animals. There’s not a question of what happens to the animals you don’t invite to live on your island, or the people who are priced out of living in your thriving SimCity.”
Tensions in Design
We’ve collected four pieces this week all of which engage in some kind of design-related critique of their respective games, examining how different moving parts can complement one another or run into conflict, as well as the two-way relationship both design and design assumptions have with players.
- What We Take For Granted | Hylke’s Game Blog
Hylke considers accessibility design through the lens of the assumptions that experienced players take for granted and which game designers anticipate.
- How Animal Crossing: New Horizons Has Helped Me Get Into My Work From Home Routine – Uppercut
Caitlin Galiz-Rowe muses on the structuring influence of a regular relationship with the steady-paced, real-time Animal Crossing.
- 2017’s Prey is the true spiritual sequel to Half-Life 2 | PC Gamer
Andrew King finds the physics sandbox legacy of Half-Life 2 alive and well in Prey (2017).
- Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Makes Organic Storytelling Feel Artificial | DualShockers
Chris Compendio finds storytelling structures and resource management mechanics a little too closely tied in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.
“Stories are malleable and shift based on who is telling them, but to turn them into objects and to shift storytelling into something transactional felt contradictory.”
How about some verse to close out the roundup?
- Extra Lives: I’ve Heard of a Love That Doesn’t Erase | Videodame
Rachel Tanner shares a little bit of Donut County poetry.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!