Welcome back, readers.
No news around the site this week off the top of my head, but I would like to expend a special thanks to our community members on our public discord, who have been submitting recommendations and helping us to read as widely and diversely as possible. If you’re looking for community, collaboration, and/or cheese, consider stopping by!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We’re opening this week with a set of longer-form meditations on how key retro (and nouveau-retro, is that a word? It is now) games are put together, the consequences of what those putting-togethers (puttings-together), and in one case, how to make sense of it all if you’re new to the game!
- Dissecting the Anatomy of the Fight in Treachery in Beatdown City – Uppercut
Colin Spacetwinks offers a comprehensive mechanical breakdown of Treachery in Beatdown City, discussing its RPG forebears, its communication of feeling and sensation, and its management of strategy.
- A dream paradox – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi pens a comprehensive beginner-friendly guide to NiGHTS into Dreams.
- Ted Woolsey Remembers Final Fantasy 6, Evading Nintendo’s Censorship Rules, and the Early Days of Localization | USgamer
Nadia Oxford presents the history of Final Fantasy VI‘s original SNES localization, with commentary from its translator Ted Woolsey.
“Woolsey’s clever alterations to Final Fantasy 6’s script and his dedication to the game’s characters still echo in ways he never expected. As Woolsey himself admits, parts of Final Fantasy 6’s translation are odd. Sentences often feel truncated, no doubt because of the strict memory limitations Woolsey worked with. Despite these problems, Woolsey’s Final Fantasy 6 translation built up characters like no other RPG had at the time.”
I’m always excited to see articles in explicit critical conversation with one another. This week Trevor Hultner asked a concise but rich question about what means of accessing games can accrue legitimacy, given that direct play can have so many different barriers to access. Two authors responded with insightful critical angles, and I hope to see this conversation continue.
- Do you have to play games to experience them legitimately? – No Escape
Trevor Hultner asks whether the bounds of a game experience are limited to pure play, or whether they might also include alternative means of access like streams and let’s plays.
- Destabilizing Play – Autumn Wright
Autumn Wright responds to Hultner’s question with further questions access and inclusion for queer, disabled, and vulnerable folks, not just in terms of games themselves, but also the industry as a whole.
- That Dragon, Cancer: ‘Legitimacy’ and pace of play. – GlitchOut
Oma Keeling wonders about the possible limitations of the Let’s Play format for particular affective experiences in games.
“Stating that there is a richer experience than the Let’s Play is, I guess, it’s own form of experience snobbery. I aim it specifically at those who would treat the game like a simulator for their own abled bodied guilt but I don’t intend to invalidate Let’s Play experiences of it as ingenuine, since there will be so many who watched playthroughs of That Dragon, Cancer for their own needs, for accessibility.”
Crises on Infinite Earths
One of the evergreen dualities in games (because I felt like writing this summary like some kind of pulp villain monologue) is their affordances of both escapism and apocalypse-tourism. In a time of global crises and uncertainty, it’s no surprise that players, writers, and thinkers are especially sensitive to both of these tendencies right now. Gathered here are four of the best pieces this week looking at both apocalypses and failed utopias in popular games.
- Pathologic and the Morality of Illness
Violet Adele Bloch draws thematic links between necropolitics, Pathologic, and COVID-19.
- The video game apocalypses are already here – and they’re all around us • Eurogamer.net
Ewan Wilson meditates on our collective fascination with architectural ruins and ruination, in culture at large and games in particular.
- Not Mad, Just Disappointed: Animal Crossing’s Fantasy Capitalism Fails to Imagine a Better World | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks finds a lack of transformative imagination in Animal Crossing‘s escapist fantasy, where capitalism feels warm and welcoming because its structural evils have been excised from the simulation (in the interest of disclosure, I am cited in this article).
- TOWARDS THE STARS – DEEP HELL
Skeleton discusses how the Mass Effect games ape Star Trek in superficial style but eschew its communal utopian ideals in favour of a kind of pan-human extrapolation on American exceptionalism.
“What Mass Effect wants you to know about the universe before you even see most of it is known almost immediately. Before the game even had me knowing the names of my crew, it was telling me Humanity First. We’re new to the realm of galaxy politics, and the universe hates us. If someone doesn’t hate us they’re at least suspicious of is. So our Shepard will be the one to show the rest of the galaxy that humanity is tougher, more terrifying and more important than everybody else.”
Two articles this week, both coincidentally looking chiefly at the Half-Life franchise, study the enduring longevity not only of particular games, but particular fandoms, or even singular ideas within those fandoms.
- Why Do We Keep Going Back to Old Games? – Austin’s Internet Zone
Austin investigates what keeps fandoms, and especially modding communities, alive, kicking, and labouring, sometimes after decades, even when the parent companies of those IPs are hostile to fan works.
- Grinding The Gears – Half Life’s Adrian Shephard | RE:BIND
Emily Rose examines the Half-Life fandom’s fascination with continuously re-litigating the traumas of one of the series’ tritagonist.
“This obsessive need to leave no man behind, to repeatedly revisit Adrian’s “unfinished” story and to re-attach him to the Half-Life lore, even if it means using duct-tape and superglue to do so, is representative of a subset of the audience’s inability to leave things unresolved. It goes beyond simple admiration or fond memories, instead being outright elevated by Hunt Down The Freeman as a family member. Adrian is the older brother so many of those who played Opposing Force never had or desperately craved, and to leave him stuck in a so-so action romp is somehow an insult to his supposedly meaningful presence.”
Writing on Writing on Games
We’ve got two pieces this week which reflect on the state of games criticism, looking alternately at a foundational text and the contemporary experiences of living within The Discourse.
- 1983 and the Future of Videogame Writing | Unwinnable
Levi Rubeck reflects on the state of games criticism/journalism through the lens of one of the oldest long-form printed meditations on the medium.
- Games Criticism Is A Kindness | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra. . . yeah, shit, I don’t have a summary for this one. Please read it.
“Criticism, applied in good faith, is an act of empathy and kindness. It is a rejection of fanaticism. It rejects the schemes of money-men. It rejects the snobbish suggestion that there is “high art” and “low art.” Criticism is an egalitarian act by which all work is treated as equally valid. There is an exchange. That exchange is more respectful of artists and creators than blind praise. When we apply criticism to art, we enter a conversation. One where we examine why we were swept off our feet to begin with.”
Some lovely Animal Crossing fiction this week to send us off!
- Confessions of a Dodo Airlines Worker | Sidequest
Jameson Hampton shares a little bit of affective Orville fiction, as a treat.
“You know, when I went into the airline industry, I thought it was my calling. There was something that felt so poetic about it. Dodo Airlines. My chance… my first chance… to get up in the air and see what the ground looks like from up in the sky. I thought I would be a pilot. I thought maybe I was born to be a pilot.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!