Welcome back, readers.
First things first, here’s a list of national and local bail funds supporting anti-racial-injustice protesters across the US. Local support is just as important as, if not more so than, national support!
Around the site, we’ve got a new Critical Compilation by Waverly, who is also featured in this week’s roundup. Gotta go fast!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening section this week gathers three articles united by a common purpose of filling in an incomplete picture–whether that lies in critiquing misleading, incomplete, or inaccurate representations of identities and ideologies in popular games, or looking at what ideas can get left behind in the face of that very criticism.
- The Spectre of Fascism | Bullet Points Monthly
Andrew Kiya examines how years of historical revisionism, mythologization of the samurai, and ultra-nationalist exploitation of both inform works like Ghost of Tsushima.
- Red Dead Redemption 2’s Depiction Of Jim Crow Racism Doesn’t Add Up | Kotaku
Isaac Monterose critiques the omissions and inconsistencies in RDR2‘s middling depiction of post-civil war racism in the American South.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020) | Imaginary Papers, Issue 3
Troy L. Wiggins reads past the stereotyping to arrive at who Barret really is.
“We’re both Black men enraged at how discrimination, classism, rampant ecological assault via unchecked capitalism, and state violences have stolen the lives of our people, tried to keep the rest of us shackled, and terribly reduced the lifespan of the planet. These are all massive enemies. Each of them alone could exterminate us, but in tandem, they’re a universal threat. We, both of us, have to stand up for and beside the people we love to fight this threat—even when we’re scared shitless.”
Here we’ve got a trio of design-minded perspectives aligned along several axes: music, space, and puzzle solving.
- The gamification of chill beats: the music of Kind Words and Coffee Talk | Andrew’s Gaming Notes
Andrew breaks down how rhythmic lo-fi music design alternately impacts and influences the narratively-driven Coffee Talk and the more freeform Kind Words.
- an account of space and meaning in dragon quest 1
sraëka lillian describes the meaning of space in the original Dragon Quest‘s world map.
- What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon – mssv
Adrian Hon offers an Alternate Reality Game designer’s perspective on some of the structural similarities and appeals online conspiracy community QAnon shares with ARGs, as well as the fundamental differences that make it both harmful and durable.
“No ARG can heal the deep mistrust and fear and economic and spiritual malaise that underlies QAnon and other dangerous conspiracy theories, any more than a book or a movie can solve racism. There are hints at ARG-like things that could work, though – not in directly combatting QAnon’s appeal, but in channeling people’s energy and zeal of community-based problem-solving toward better causes.”
Three pieces this week unpack queer and trans themes, struggles, and experiences in a variety of games and play communities.
- TTRPG Podcasts Connect Me to My Queer Communities | Sidequest
Alenka Figa muses on finding queer community in and around play over the airwaves (podwaves?).
- How If Found’s authenticity gives genuine, trans hope – Gayming Magazine
Waverly finds relatability in If Found‘s ordinary struggles, its embrace of trans time, and its acknowledgement of the catharsis of destroying the old to make something new.
- Review: I Am Not Playing Variations on Your Body | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks spends time with four pervasive games about bodies, trauma, and healing which she hopes to someday play.
““It’s important,” she writes, “to sincerely imagine impossible things, to develop empathy towards impossible creatures, to practice being impossible.” This is the goal of the games within Variations on Your Body—to imagine a model of being that isn’t possible, but that nonetheless gets you where you need to go.”
Communities of Creation
Two articles this week go into detail on game development cycles past and present with an angle on opening up games and play to underserved communities.
- Here’s how Temtem’s community helped Crema Games strive for inclusive language – Gayming Magazine
Astrid Johnson details a community-driven example of translating and localizing a game with inclusive pronouns into languages that have historically lacked that flexibility.
- The Incredible Story Behind The Barbie As Rapunzel Video Game | Kotaku
Ally McLean presents a deep deep dive into the development history of a late 90s Barbie game, spinning off into wider discussions about the games for girls movement and women in games development.
“Gender is more nuanced than the late 90’s Barbie debate suggested. Neither shunning Barbie or digitising her would ever deliver us an utopian equality. What’s more meaningful to me is what the early days of Mattel Media represent. That when people can bring their full selves to work they can make beautiful, bizarre and lasting games.”
Fine, not my best pun. But these two articles looking at the narrative and mythological structure of some of the older Final Fantasy games are pretty great!
- An unforgettable adventure – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi unpacks the grim (lol) fairytale structure of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.
- Final Fantasy’s Meta-Narrative Proves Video Games’ Short Memory | Into The Spine
Grace pushes against the immersion-as-technological-progress conceit in games PR cycles with a study of what the original Final Fantasy accomplishes with strict hardware limitations and an awareness of the porous boundary between players and game worlds.
“Though video game marketing often wants us to lose ourselves in an immersive world, games are at their best when they draw attention to their artifice and thereby our identities, our bodies, and our memories. Final Fantasy I’s simple fantasy story blows out to become about the beauty and reality of personal, subjective experience. That is more real than any attempt at pure simulacrum could be.”
Some art to close out the week.
- Off the Record | Study Hall
Study Hall presents a game about life as a journalist of colour.
- The Machine is also an Audience | Starts with a Fish
Poetry by Becky, on play, plants, performance.
“It gets hot, when you do something intense
Sometimes it chatters for no reason
Mine recently broke a fan,
from clutching too hard at its bearings”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!