September 6th

Welcome back, readers.

This week I am again linking the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, which is currently supporting protestors in Kenosha fighting for racial justice and an end to state-sanctioned racist violence and murder with bail and attorney support. You can donate to them here.

New Critical Compilation! This week it’s Dishonored, as presented by Heather Dowling!

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

Industry Critique

Let me come out of the gate with a clarification that there’s a lot of overlap and bleedthrough between our first three sections this week, and indeed lots of different ways I could shuffle these articles around. All of them on some level involve the relationship between games as a neoliberal artform (both in specific examples and as an industry on the whole) and their position within the broader structures of late-capitalist Empire. The two articles I’ve chosen to head up this meta-bloc focus specifically on harmful practices within games writing, marketing, and journalism, as well as charting out some of the ways in which individuals and entities within this sphere need to do better.

“It’s best to understand this trend not as an isolated phenomenon within games and tech but as part of a broader social trajectory for hegemonic institutions to recuperate social movements, empty them of their radical content, and commodify them. Think of brands like Bon Appetit or Cards Against Humanity getting exposed by their own employees for racist and sexist abuse despite manicured reputations for socially-conscious and charitable work. Think of the U.S. military’s most recent antics on Twitch in the context of its long history of its use of pinkwashing as a recruitment strategy.”

Neo Liberal 20XX

This next section shifts the focus away from specific injustices in reporting and marketing and towards understanding what games and criticism mean and represent in the current cultural moment–specifically, how we can define and redefine the particular roles games and the corporations behind them play in the wider practices of Empire–even (or perhaps especially) in a time when the integrity of practices is in question.

“While what’s on Microsoft Flight Simulator’s screen is, obviously, sublime, what the game is—how it exists, how it looks, what it does, and what it lets players do—isn’t possible without the cloud, machine learning, and the rest of the technology silently working behind the screen. Flight Simulator wouldn’t be a different game without them; “it” wouldn’t exist at all. So these Microsoft services aren’t just what makes the game possible; they are, to some degree, the game itself. This cuts to the intractable, ontological question of what a video game is, what can really be called a “part” of it, and where the game properly begins and ends. Is it simply the dynamic between a player and a particular set of rules? Their computer or console? A billion lines of code? Zeros and ones on a hard drive?”

Theory, Meet Practice

While to some extent both of the previous sections focus on bigger-picture trends and issues in games, the next four pieces zoom in on specific games and platforms which alternately reaffirm, interrogate, or mock neoliberal logics baked into their subject matter.

“For Disco Elysium, the issue is a lack of sincerity, a defensive posture adopted to keep you from getting too close to what is at its core—an ache to believe in the revolutionary politics and possibilities of communism, and a fear of the sincerity it requires.”

Crusader Kings III

How’s everybody doing? It’s kind of a heavy week in roundup land. In this section we shift gears a bit to present two reviews examining different aspects of Crusader Kings III, looking alternately at its evocative storytelling systems and the way in which it navigates the tightrope between the accessibiliy and complexity of its systems.

“This is a game for people who are nerds about people, and why they act the way they do.”

Creator Conversations

We’ve got a pair of cool and insightful interviews this week, looking at representation, digital subjectivities, and more!

“By Tyler’s very existence, Tell Me Why is a game which will go down in queer history, and for once, a queer character makes the history books not because of a wink, whisper, or a reference buried deep in the lore, but because of pride.”

Like a Fine Wine

Two pieces this week look at older works from a contemporary perspective, evlauating how they hold up: a fan-favourite Bioware game, and a game creation platform, respectively. The results may suprise you.

“What makes 3D Construction Kit feel so enticing is how quickly I can build something with it, taking a few shapes and turning them into something recognisable with no previous experience at all. My models may only look right from one fixed angle and there’s a lot of visual cheating going on but even so I came away from my session feeling happy, creatively fulfilled, and with a renewed appreciation of the extreme effort that went into making early 3D games.”

Sunshine Sketches of a Tyrant

We’ve got two cool and compelling character studies this week, both looking at antagonists in storied series.

“Taken together, both games demonstrate how both brothers were failed by their parental figure, Shintaro Kazama – and that this failure is the true tragedy of the arc.”

Critical Chaser

Don’t @ me. Or do. Pandemics are lonely.


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