May 31st

Welcome back, readers.

I know it’s been a hard week for many folks in and approximate to the US. Those of us who enjoy the privilege of not having to constantly think about the murderously-racist enterprise of law enforcement in the West are having that constructed simulacrum of a reality rudely and necessarily shaken, while everyone else has already been on this level for a long time. Rather than editorializing further, I’ll direct you to Skeleton’s thoughts this week on how this immediate-yet-overdue-crisis factors into our weekly preoccupation with entertainment media.

I know that’s all kind of a downer but sometimes a downer is the necessary truth, you know? I appreciate y’all.

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

Update June 26th 2020: a previous edition of this issue featured an article the author of which has since been the subject of credible allegations of abuse. While Critical Distance has not generally revised its roundup lists in the past, we felt it was untenable to continue to platform the subject matter of the particular article, which included the author’s account of their interactions with people they had abused. Moving forward, the Critical Distance team will be meeting to discuss and codify a permanent set of best practices and policies to ensure that our platform listens to survivors and remains a safe and accessible space for their voices and their work.

Hindsight 2020

We open this week with a pair of meditations on how the games we play, the entertainment we consume, in specific and in general, fit into our contemporary understandings of crisis.

“Our escapism sits always ever present, ready to come to life when we need it. Often waiting to tell us that this is not how the system is designed to work. There are thousands of ways to run from confrontation. Videogames are not the problem. More of us need to start asking why the days need to be so long that they’re the only thing we can think of when we clock out. It’s very unfortunate that we just can’t run from anything.”

Those Who Fight Further

Bullet Points just wrapped up a month of incredible articles pulling at the seams of the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake. We’ve gathered them all here, just in case you missed any, for your reading pleasure.

“Midgar is an excellent criticism of ’90s corporate America, and yet Wall Market represents the limits of the authors’ imagination. Humanity is only extended so far to those living under systemic oppression. In both the original Final Fantasy VII and its remake, Wall Market fails to subvert anything. The authors only pile on.”

A Tale of Stars and Wars, Eternally Retold

Uppercut released a pair of rad pieces this week on Star Wars games, including *checks notes* The Force Unleashed? Hell yeah.

“This is a Star Wars property, so of course, Starkiller’s redemption arc has little to no textual nuance to it. He gets the chance to lead a rebellion with bad intentions, then pivots and helps the Rebel Alliance we see in the OG trilogy form. But more broadly, this is suggesting that there is room for a new kind of masculinity in this world, one that can have a violent past but that is given room to embrace emotions and attachments instead of pushing them away. It’s a pitch for restorative justice, an opportunity to accept mistakes and harm from your past and do work to try and fix things as best you can.”

Umurangi Generation

Two more insightful articles this week on cool-and-rad indie title Umurangi Generation.

““Umurangi” is a poetic expression for red skies, and that’s exactly what Naphtali Faulkner saw last year as wildfires raged across New South Wales where he lives, destroying 18 million hectares of a bedrock continent, killing an estimated billion animals, and driving some species to the precipice of extinction. If we look closely at the world around us we can see the factors and influences that fanned those flames: a disregard for the facts of climate change, a ruling government that refused to properly resource firefighters, and a system of literal scorched earth policies. All those invisible factors that led to disaster become visible if we look close enough.”

History Lessons

A trio of retrospectives this week delve deeply into the titles of yesteryear… yesterdecade?

“There’s little in the way of elaborate platform puzzles or tricky timing to be mastered, and there are barely even any enemies to throw wrenches into the works. It really is just the very fundamentals of video game platforming on display here, but with a player character made to feel utterly unequipped to handle them.”

Games of Empire

I’ve borrowed the title of this book to introduce two articles which mediate on the ideological influence the largest (see: wealthiest) forces in the games industry bring to bear on popular narratives about what games are, where they came from, and what they mean.

“Few other major contemporary creative forces — corporate or independent or anywhere in between, working in games or otherwise— have dedicated as much time, energy, and budget to portraying and exploring a certain kind of mythology of warfare as Ubisoft has done in recent years. Whether this is intentional, hell, self-aware even, is beyond the point: what matters is that Ubisoft’s broad canon of franchises demonstrates with startling clarity a remarkably singular and coherent thesis about warrior ideology and war as a state of mind: a framework not only for existentially justifying nations and societies, but individual lives as well.”

Empathy, Presence

Both of the selections gathered here interrogate conceits or ideas that have become almost a given in popular circles of games critical discourse. What does the idea of an “empathy game” presume, and how is that idea fraught in discussions of the work of marginalized creators? How important is it really for the player to be “included” or “immersed” in a game world for that world to have meaning and an argument? You’ll have to read on to find out.

“Out For Delivery’s sympathetic construction relies on its honesty about boundaries and limits. There’s an important self-aware current of consent, where the workers speak to Yuxin on camera and joke about their international audience. There’s no sleek narrator who neatly ties together all the meaning for us, because everything speaks for itself. No one pretends we’re not there, but at the same time, no one pretends that our presence matters.”

Design Thoughts

Check out two short, specific meditations on game design, gathered here.

“Despite ultimately being the same game from a conceptual standpoint, FTL and Pulsar set themselves apart by the niches they fill while capturing similar feelings of excitement and planning. One is a bite-sized roll-the-dice experience, and the other is a tabletop game given immersive sim form, but together they form a complimentary duet that runs the gamut of all the possible adventures amongst the stars, sans dogfights of course- but that’s what Elite: Dangerous or Privateer are for!”

Think/Feel

Two pieces this week break down some of the affective dynamics between player and game, virtuality and materiality.

“People turn to video games as a source of entertainment—to engage with exciting stories, artful direction, and excellent music. However, have you ever thought about using games to practice mindfulness?”

Critical Chaser

We close out the week with two selections of art, as a treat.

“Place me in the ground like a bulb & wait
until spring. Wait until me.”


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