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This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Beneath the Surface
Some weeks kind of just make me go “what the fuck, videogames?” Between Ubisoft equating Black Lives Matter to terrorists and Activision straight-up exhuming the pallid corpse of Ronald Reagan for a jingoistic redemption arc, it’s hard not to get whiplash if you try to track every loving caress of the AAA industry’s eager tongue against the boot of Empire. If we take a step back from the week-to-week transgressions, what are the bigger-picture goals, the things that we can push people in power on to facilitate positive transformation in games? Substantive inclusivity is one such answer, and that’s why Yussef Cole’s piece stands alone at the top of our roundup this week.
- Authentic Voice Acting Is More Than Skin Deep | Uppercut
Yussef Cole explains why meaningful representation in voice acting in games must extend beyond casting and include substantiative cultural and workplace transformations which centre the identity and dignity of marginalized characters as well as creators.
“Rather than relying on offensive cultural shorthand on one end, or an overcautiously non-raced persona on the other, these characters deserve depth and authenticity -which is inextricably rooted in who their voice actors are, how they are chosen, and how they are treated in the voice booth.”
Tell Me Why
DONTNOD’s latest game is making waves this week, striking a lot of differnet chords with a lot of players and writers. Keep watching this space, because we’ve only gathered a small taste of the critical work emerging out of this game, and I’m sure there will be more writing to share on this title in the coming weeks.
- Tell Me Why is the perfect wake-up call to include more queer stories in games | Gayming Magazine
Leon Killin finds warmth and value in Tell Me Why not just for its own merrits, but for the lessons it has to teach the wider industry about meaningful representation.
- ‘Tell Me Why’ Smothers Its Representation in Bubble Wrap | VICE
Dia Lacina reviews a game, an experience, an industry, and finds it all comes up ever-so-infuriatingly short. Also, I think every writer I follow on Twitter retweeted this one.
“How do you convey marginalized identities to outsiders? Is there an answer? No, I don’t think so. Not when we’re still misusing “let queers be messy” and raking them over the coals for being messy and exploring and interrogating their own identity-dependent traumas. How can we expect cis creators aim for anything but safe perfection? This is it. This is The Representation. Is it everything you hoped for?”
What Is It Good For
Four articles this week, of all shapes and sizes, all of them hitting hard, looking at games of war and conflict, and how their attendent ideological underpinnings are flattened, obscured, or even merely lost to time and the march of trends.
- Fuck the next Call of Duty game – No Escape
Kaile Hultner doesn’t need a lot of words this week to call Activision on its bullshit.
- Castle Wolfenstein  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea casts Castle Wolfenstein as a study in mechanical contrasts and thematic parallels to the many sequels and genres which have succeeded it.
- Destruction | Medium
Cole Henry contrasts the abstraction, precision, and immensity of violence in Ace Combat 7 with the more intimate iron-sighted violence we’ve become accustomed and desensitized to in military shooters.
- The End of Honor | Bullet Points Monthly
Sisi Jiang finds Ghost of Tsushima to be a flat and uninteresting morality tale, limited by its (and western culture at large’s) reductive and binary perspective on East Asian notions of honour.
“This is the crux of the problem in Tsushima, and it’s one that doesn’t exist in many other open world RPGs set in European settings: its morality is binary. People are either honorable or dishonorable, with little to zero nuance in between. A samurai either has self control (good) or they do not (bad). Where is the line? There is none, as honor functions as a “get out of jail free” card for its traumatized nobility.”
Man to Man
I had the pleasure of reading a couple of absolutely frickin’ inspired articles this week examining masculinity along different axes in popular games, exploring how different masculinities are constructed, and how those conversations are necessarily incomplete without doing right by the feminine characters, too.
- It’s just a manly man thing: Doom (2016), sound and hegemonic masculinity | Andrew’s Gaming Notes
Andrew studies how Doom (2016)’s sonic landscape–or possibly its lack of one–underscores and reinforces the game’s privileging on an apex, all-subverting hegemonic masculine power fantasy.
- Yakuza’s nuanced discussion of masculinity makes its treatment of women more disappointing | Polygon
Sam Greszes identifies a lack of feminine agency in the Yakuza series, impacting its otherwise thoughtful deconstructions of toxic masculinity.
“The Yakuza games have likely found a diverse and growing audience because of the way the franchise examines masculinity, especially toxic masculinity. But a commentary on masculinity — toxic or otherwise — must also necessarily be a commentary on femininity, and, indeed, the full breadth of the gender spectrum at large, in order to be complete. This is where the Yakuza franchise fails.”
Four articles this week offer in-depth character studies in games of all sizes, even if that character. . . *suspenseful pause* is you.
- Darkest Dungeon is a Landlord Simulator | Fanbyte
Vrai Kaiser peels back another layer to why you were the bad guy all along in Darkest Dungeon (spoiler alert: there are no good landlords).
- The Ballad of Bargain Bin Gendo: Why Alec Ryder is the Worst Part of Mass Effect: Andromeda | Cross With You
Katherine Cross observes that Alec Ryder sucks, and that his suckage pulls the rest of Mass Effect: Andromeda down around him because the game itself seems oblivious to the narrative and emotional significance of that suckage.
- The Many Layers of Alan Wake | Paste
Jessica Howard breaks down the thematic implications of Alan Wake‘s wardrobe in glorious detail.
- Your Will Be Done: Religious Authority and Queer Existence in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep – Uppercut
Grace Benfell studies Christian conformity among the covenant of keyblade masters, and the queer rebellion of the wayfinder trio.
“Terra might be trapped for now, but he will be free, and he will free his friends. Everyday I make the same promise to other queer people. Religious or not, faithful or not, I believe we can freely be ourselves, that our wills will linger beyond what confines.”
We’ve got two pieces this week which approach play in unexpected or nontraditional ways, whether it be going against the expected flow encouraged within larger games, or decoupling play from fun to understand games which encourage one without fostering the other.
- Idle Animations: Denying the Reaper in Red Dead Redemption 2 | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks, in a story where death is certain and predestined, makes space for some quiet time with the natural beauty of the world.
- From Office Cubicle to Janitorial Service | Videodame
Ana Hein thinks through satisfaction and accomplishment in ‘work’ games like Viscera Cleanup Detail which can be stimulating without actually being fun.
“I realized that what I really wanted all along with a sense of easy accomplishment — and I wanted that accomplishment to be meaningful in some way beyond actually doing it.”
Some more cool poetry this week out of Videodame.
- without a fuse | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, Origami King.
“maybe sometimes we just make monsters
out of anyone who stands in our way.
maybe we’re all just guessing.“
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!