April 26th

Welcome back, readers. Hope everyone’s staying safe!

I wasn’t sure if I was going to, but Final Fantasy VII Remake seems to be just weird and subversive enough (see Heather Alexandra’s article below) that I’m going to have to get around to playing it. Since its release, a lot of cool and rad criticism on the game has graced our weekly roundups, and it continues to be a humbling sort of pleasure to read.

As far as my own gaming antics are concerned, my love affair with Elite: Dangerous has precipitated my re-downloading of No Man’s Sky after having put it down years ago just before the major updates started rolling out. There are entirely too many menus and I feel confused and old. Pray for me.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Complex Simplifications

In a present moment where things are a bit more complicated for many of us then we’re used to or comfortable with them being, the ways in which games simplify, abstract, or even distort complex systems in material reality stand out that much more. Sometimes this affords escapism, sometimes it warrants critique, and most often it invites both. Two writers this week probe these tensions.

“So here are two different models of a failed state: The Division’s, in which the crumbling state has lost its monopoly on violence, and ours, the fatally embarrassing confusion of a state stripped of expertise. I’m not an economic analyst, epidemiologist, or any sort of special expert on public health or healthcare administration (outside of a policy class in medical school). But it seems pretty obvious that a coordinated, effective response to a pandemic disease isn’t supposed to look like this.”

Mechanical Interventions

The following three articles all examine games from a mechanical or design-based perspective, document interventions and alternate playstyles, and/or make recommendations where designs have failed. Cool stuff!

“The way these flowers are programmed certainly doesn’t bear much resemblance to real life. But in a strange way, trying to guess at outcomes and understand hidden hybrid genes has added shades of scientific realism.”

Nonbinary Binary Bodies

See what I did there with the pun, because, uh, computers, and, umm, you see, gender is… ah, shit. Read the articles. They are real good and I’m always very glad to see writers critiquing the particular kinds of embodied tensions at stake in games.

“It surprised me to see that Square Enix went so strongly against a tradition of perfect gorgeous characters. In this return to their ur-swordboy, it’s different. Cloud is strong, but not stiff. Defined, but not grotesque. I can’t say if his body is realistic. Nothing that aspired to realism can be so if it’s made by a dozen different hands trying to craft an image worth selling. I almost believe he could swing that sword now. I want to believe it, because I want it to be true for myself. He’s also an excellent dancer.”

Intro/Retro/Spective

One thing I’ve appreciated about the remake trend is that it has afforded writers an opportunity to look back and possibly critically re-evaluate some of the famous old standbys that perhaps we normally spend more time waxing nostalgic about rather than re-engaging with. It’s extra fun when the remakes are themselves part of that conversation. But that isn’t all that’s on display in this section, as three writers examine metatextual, self-reflexive games.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game about being the remake of Final Fantasy VII. The burden of player expectations and the absurd pull of “canonical” events exerts itself at key moments. Because you can’t make Final Fantasy VII in 2020. You can only make a game about trying to make Final Fantasy VII in 2020.”

Recovery Partitions

What do games teach us about death? No, really–death is often cheap in games, but sometimes characters stick with us, and when they’re gone, there’s a lot of feelings. Two writers this week unpack some of those feelings in popular games.

“Aerith delivers the game’s final line — and one of my favorite lines ever — when she says, “I miss it. The steel sky.” At that moment, I immediately know what she means: she misses the comfort of certainty. I know what she means because I feel it, too.”

Critical Chaser

William Golding’s Animal Crossing.

“Ever visited Australia and thought “You know what this place is missing? More animals that could absolutely take me the fuck out”? Well, you’re in luck, because Animal Crossing: New Horizons is totally packed to the gills with things that want to kill you. Nothing gets your heart rate up quite like engaging in a Mexican standoff with tarantulas, or stubbornly shaking down trees and treating yourself to wasps to the face. Everyone just wants to feel a little alive.”


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