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.
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.
- In ‘Animal Crossing’, there is no housing crisis | Curbed
Lia Russell examines different kinds of appeal and progress among players of New Horizons.
- The Doctor, The Disease, And The Division | Kotaku
Siddhartha Bajracharya compares the grim reality of pandemic from his perspective as a front-line healthcare worker against the fantastical dystopian excesses of The Division 2.
“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.”
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 modders creating accessibility modes for notoriously difficult games | Rock Paper Shotgun
Jay Castello talks to players and modders making games more accommodating to more players.
- How video games consistently fail Gandhi | Rock Paper Shotgun
Nikhil Murthy discusses how Gandhi’s representation in games, particularly strategy games, is fundamentally at odds with his political philosophies and ideologies.
- How to Grow Animal Crossing Flowers | Popular Mechanics
Caroline Delbert goes deep on the botany mechanics in New Horizons.
“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.
- Transing My Voice In Saints Row 4 – Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley explores the customization options in Saints Row 4 to give her feminine player character the velvet tones of Troy Baker.
- ETHER – DEEP HELL
Skeleton discusses masculine body dysphoria, its grotesque permutations among men in games, and the subtle interventions offered by Cloud in Remake.
“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.”
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.
- Neo-Midgar and Neoliberalism: The Myth of an Apolitical Game in Final Fantasy VII Remake | Paste
Austin Jones studies how Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s metatextual self-reflexivity also extends to its ideological arguments and the reception of those arguments over the years.
- With These Hands – EDEN | RE:BIND
Emily Rose, by way of EDEN, asks what it means to create, to compose, to craft.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake Is Haunted By What Came Before | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra stares down Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s literalized, metatextual struggle with its own canon and legacy.
“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.”
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.
- How Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery teaches us to grieve | AV Club
Patrick Gomez finds a surprising amount of compassion about loss and grief in that mobile Harry Potter game.
- An Ode to Final Fantasy VII’s Aerith Gainsborough | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores recounts growing up with the flower girl from the market, mortality, and fear of the unknown.
“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.”
William Golding’s Animal Crossing.
- The 6 Truly Worst Things You Need to Do on Your Animal Crossing Island | Fanbyte
Ginny Woo has written a list and now I sort of want to try New Horizons.
“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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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!