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.
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.
- We Need to Talk About Games Journalism – Grace In The Machine
Grace decries an economy of suffering in popular games journalism, leveraging and ultimately disposing of the trauma of survivors rather than making any movement towards substantiative change.
- How Games, Tech, and the Army Use Progressive Language as a Smoke Screen | VICE
Lana Polansky offers a brief history on the appropriative tactics big companies–intersecting with games, tech, and beyond–use to deflect substantiative criticism of their actual practices.
“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.
- Video game criticism in an age of conflict – No Escape
Kaile Hultner resituates the importance of games and their attendant criticism in a time where their distraction from and abbetting of Empire is more pronounced than ever.
- Playing Through a Serious Crisis: On the Neoliberal Art of Video Games | Post45
Patrick Jagoda examines the dual role of games as both hegemonic reinforcement and critical interrogation of the failures of neoliberal society from which we now seek refuge.
- Microsoft Flight Simulator: The Kotaku Review | Kotaku
Will Partin thinks through cloud computer, economics and power, supply chains, ownership, and games-as-services via Microsoft Flight Simulator.
“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.
- Baseball is Dead, Long Live Blaseball | Unwinnable
Ben Sailer identifies Blaseball’s appeal as being rooted in its ability to exagerate the absurdities that already exist in its material analogue.
- Digital Fuckery: The Monetization of WebToons | Unwinnable
Amanda Hudgins delves into the byzantine gamified economy that powers contemporary digital comics platforms.
- Fragments. | Medium
Cole Henry considers the relentlessly neoliberal cycle of death and rebirth in Fortnite.
- ‘Disco Elysium’ Was Too Afraid of Sincerity to Be Revolutionary | VICE
Colin Spacetwinks faults Disco Elysium as a game full of ideological intrigues unwilling to commit to a sincere belief in anything.
“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.
- Crusader Kings 3 made me understand the eldritch madness of grand strategy games | Gayming Magazine
Astrid Johnson finds Crusader Kings III, for all of its complexity, to nonetheless be an accessible entry point into the strategy genre.
- ‘Crusader Kings III’ Is a World of Complexity That Feels Powerfully Alive | VICE
Gita Jackson gets lost in sometimes fraught but consistently engrossing storytelling systems of the latest Crusader Kings.
“This is a game for people who are nerds about people, and why they act the way they do.”
We’ve got a pair of cool and insightful interviews this week, looking at representation, digital subjectivities, and more!
- Player Two: An Interview with Everest Pipkin – Invalid Memory
Miguel Penabella chats with artist and academic Everest Pipkin about creation, curation, digital intimacies, and much more.
- Creating Tyler Ronan: How DontNod created the first major transgender protagonist in video games – Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley evaluates the successes of Tell Me Why‘s protagonist in conversations with some of the people who brought him into being.
“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.
- The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of Returning To Dragon Age: Origins | Kotaku
Ash Parrish returns to Dragon Age: Origins a decade later and finds a game that’s harder to love today but which still has its hooks.
- World building – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi explores a three-dimensional game creation from *checks notes* 30 years ago on… *squints* the Amiga 500???
“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.
- I Can’t Stop Thinking About Final Fantasy XIV’s Latest Villain | Kotaku
Chingy Nea presents a character sketch of FFXIV‘s latest Big Bad, with callbacks to broader trends and themes across the series’ rogues gallery.
- Shintaro Kazama is the real villain of Yakuza Kiwami • Eurogamer.net
Jay Castello paints a character sketch of the failures of fathers and the reprucissions for brothers across the first two chronological chapters of the Yakuza 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.”
Don’t @ me. Or do. Pandemics are lonely.
- I am closing the roundup with a tweet… from Twitter
Just click on it.
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