Welcome back, readers.
This week I’d like to start by directing your attention to The Okra Project, which supports Black Trans people with home-cooked meals and resources! Check them out.
Around the web, Heterotopias has a new issue, with a theme of Unnatural Realities. Support their really cool in-depth work!
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 four pieces highlighting the lenses game worlds hold up to our own world, and not just enlightened, thoughtful lenses either. In fact, all of these games are probably negative examples–games that betray the fraught presuppositions baked into their design. Even so, they each end up saying a lot.
- Prison Empire Tycoon as a Case for Prison Abolition – Uppercut
Oma Keeling unpacks the brutal dehumanization of the for-profit prison model laid bare in several popular sim games while remarking upon the erasure in these games of the racist ideologies that guide the prison system.
- Criticizing Monster Hunter: World’s Trophy Hunt – Liftoff!
Hylke Langhout finds that Monster Hunter: World‘s gameplay loop is fun but that its narrative premise is scientifically dubious and colonially fraught.
- forgive me, forget you: villnoire in review
sraëka lillian looks at an RPG Maker game that doesn’t *quite* land in its treatment of systemic racial injustice.
- HARDLINE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton thinks through Battlefield Hardline and the ubiquity/uniformity of cops in entertainment media.
“Battlefield: Hardline came out in an unspecified time in the past I don’t want to remember. All I know is that it’s the Cop Battlefield. The horror of America is people starting to see that modern policing does mean our neighborhoods are seen as war zones. The comedy of the time we live in is that EA made a game specifically about that.”
Industry Rot, and Industry Renewal
When the Ubisoft Forward presentation aired, a refrain I saw a lot of on Twitter was that we shouldn’t doubly punish ground-floor workers who toil away making games for the abuses they receive at the hands of corrupt executives. And, well, yeah, that’s true! But I also think all that energy that the press brings to covering the AAA hype machine at all costs could be diverted to more time spent highlighting examples of studios and creators who, you know, don’t enshrine a corporate culture of abuse. So here we have two authors working through the fallout of the Ubisoft revelations as well as two authors looking alternately at cool and good things studios are doing now, as well as hopeful decolonized practices for the future.
- Everything Wrong with the Ubisoft Forward Press Event | Paste
Waverly highlights the failure of mainstream games press to take meaningful action against Ubisoft’s PR juggernaut.
- Opinions: My very conflicted thoughts on Beyond Good & Evil’s future | LVLS+
WildcatJF situates the Beyond Good & Evil franchise in relation to Ubisoft’s corporate misogynistic culture.
- If Found’s Llaura McGee on Making a Gay AF Trans Game – Gayming Magazine
Autumn Wright talks to Llaura McGee about If Found, queerness, making space for diverse creators, and designing something new.
- The Game Changers: Decolonizing video games | Play The Past
Franki Webb looks at several negative examples of Indigenous representation (and/or erasure) in popular games and explores what decolonization could look like in the games industry.
“Decolonization, of course, should not only apply to indigenous-created games. Decolonization should be envisioned within the larger collaborative process of game development and the studio system. with the aim of including indigenous narratives and game mechanics that can reach larger audiences.”
Changing the Rules
Two authors this week look at play as protest, art as activism, as well as how to design for both.
- The meaning of a massacre: GTAV and protest art — Wireframe Magazine
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell takes a long, critical look at a GTA mod designed to highlight both the crisis of gun violence in America and the perennial media feint towards games as the problem in lieu of dealing with the root cause.
- Games, Play, and Joy, Part 3 | Medium
Jane Friedhoff walks through some situationist theory to survey games, designs, and modes of play which subvert, challenge, and interrogate dominant cultural modes, using the rules of the magic circle to push back on the rules–written and unwritten–of our societies.
“So: what are the worlds we want to work for? What embodied experiences do we want to have? What alternatives do we want to try and crack out of our lives under Empire? Which people do we want to connect —or confront? Who needs joy, catharsis, or agency, and how can we provide spaces to practice it? What rules and contexts can we design (or purposefully not design) to provide room for this messy, emergent joy?”
Way Way Back in the 1980s
In addition to looking at some pretty old games, the three pieces gathered here are united by questions of genre, form, precedent, and design language.
- Pitfall II: Scene 3: Cycles of (Non)Violence | Midlife Crisis Optional
LeeRoy Lewin continues a far-reaching examination of Pitfall II, looking at a contrast between the themes it evokes in play and its hokey narrative framing and marketing materials.
- The Secret Origin of the Action RPG | Medium
Samuel Messner delves into the Japanese 80s microcomputing scene in search of the earliest antecedents for the Action RPG genre, and uncovers a heretofore unrecognized progenitor game… on the Apple II, authored by a western developer, two years earlier.
- Yuna and Yuri’s FX-cellent adventure – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi kind of takes a look at a 90s anime-flavoured game you’ve probably never heard of but also kind of sums up the state of design philosophy on the FMV-centric PC-FX.
“There’s a tangible sense of quality to Yuna FX’s incredibly frequent cinematics even when displayed as a window within a window like they are here: No matter what’s happening every frame always looks and feels like a real nineties anime production captured on a single CD-ROM… because that’s exactly what this is – a commercially-released OVA that’s been chopped up and then reformed into a semi-interactive movie.”
Playing with Identity
Two queer meditations by queer creators on recent games, thinking through the challenges of navigating our identities through often-hostile landscapes, both virtually and materially.
- If Found… please return – No Escape
Kaile Hultner writes on If Found, queer identities, pain, and renewal.
- Fire Emblem’s Byleth Is A Great Example Of A Nonbinary Video Game Character | Kotaku
Sisi Jiang makes the case for a nonbinary reading of Three Houses‘ Byleth.
“I think a lot of people misunderstand non-binary genders. They exist even if they are not explicitly called “non-binary.” Byleth’s complicated gender was clear to me.”
The Last of Us (2/??)
Two inspired pieces this week, each reconciling the game itself with its increasingly voluminous and often-exhausting discourse.
- The Last of Us Part 2 is An Allegory for the Transgender Bathroom Debate – Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley takes a closer look at the gendering of transphobic scrutiny around the pre-release leaks for TLOU2 and how it lines up with the specific panic around transwomen in public bathrooms over transmen.
- The rest of us: revenge, prestige, and putting The Last of Us: Part II in its place | Overland literary journal
Brendan Keogh unpacks the critical tensions at play in not only The Last of Us: Part II, but in the turbulent critical discourse which has followed.
“The thing is, videogames are not a medium of John Wicks and never have been. (As an aside, to say a videogame foundationally about the consequences of seeking revenge as not being a John Wick is deeply ironic). Such a claim can only be made if one draws a very deliberate and arbitrary border around which videogames get to count as ‘real games’. For a range of historic and cultural reasons beyond the scope of this essay, Triple-A blockbusters have long been able to position themselves as the only authentic works in the videogame form – everything else is just casual games or amateur games that can safely be ignored. For this reason, something is often considered not to have happened in the videogame medium until a Triple-A videogame does it, despite the fact that it has already probably been done somewhere else by someone with a far smaller budget a long time ago.”
Masculinities at Play
We’ve got two authors this week alternately looking at new possibilities for recuperative masculine representation in games as well as structures and themes which perpetuate its more toxic elements.
- No Matter His Age, the Point of Nier is Compassion, Not Tragedy | Sidequest
Madison Butler compares the younger and older iterations of the character Nier, finding that the latter bucks the more brooding trends towards dadification in favour of telling a more compassionate story.
- How Persona 5 Royals’ Mature Love Interests Reinforce Toxic Masculinity | Uppercut
Jess Cogswell unpacks the double-standard undercutting Persona 5 between masculine and feminine authority figures who prey on children (Content Notifications for sexual abuse).
“In Persona 5 Royal, Atlus perpetuates their long-standing relationship with toxic masculinity by refusing to acknowledge the predatory nature and agency of the game’s mature love interests, choosing instead to portray them as taboo sexual conquests. It’s an issue that is overlooked and deeply rooted.”
A little poetry for the road, about trying to drown one’s PS3 among other things.
- Game Enjambment: What Killed the Underwater Games Console? | Sidequest
Poetry by Oma Keeling.
““We were developing an idea that only took off because of how it sounded,
It sounded like market expansion.
Self-Contained. Underwater. Gaming. Apparatus.
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