Welcome back, readers.
It’s been a week, huh. Anyways, in the face of enough constant societal and political upheavals to give anybody whiplash and then motion sickness, I’m once again this week going to plug BlackGameDevs, a website and resource that collects information on Black creators who do all the things that go into making games. If you’re looking to hire new talent for your team, consider starting here.
Lots of Content to mention around the site this week! First, our latest Critical Compilation is here, this time on Breath of the Wild with Autumn Wright. Second, Connor is back with the newest TMIVGV. Finally, our newest episode of Keywords in Play is live, featuring Jamie Woodcock! Please read, listen, share, and enjoy!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Tell Me Why has motivated a lot of excellent critical writing, looking at its stories, characters, and the state of trans representation in contemporary games writing. Here are two of my favourites from this week!
- Trans games professionals explore Tell Me Why’s landmark depiction of trans identity | GamesIndustry.biz
Sara Elsam talks to Io Brindle, Leon Killin, Megan Fox, and Quill about what Tell Me Why does and does not get right when it comes to Tyler.
- ‘Tell Me Why’ town of Delos Crossing should be a warning to future gamemakers | Launcher
Autum Wright comes away from Tell Me Why having found promising protagonists in need of a more ambitious narrative.
““Tell Me Why” is a conflicted game. It’s a rich production about interpersonal conflict with a frustrating broader vision. Its excellent character work delivers touching and startlingly realistic moments of queer kinship, but set in a confounding unreality that glosses over inconvenient truths. The game will likely be many players’ first chance to play a game as a trans person, a high wire act of representation taken up in the name of promoting empathy. But empathy requires a subject, and I’m suspect of who the player is meant to empathize with here.”
I love the ways in which I continually find pieces that rhyme each week by apparent complete coincidence. This week we’ve got authors getting up to their elbows in design examinations of 90’s sci-fi strategy games. Check ’em out!
- Masaya’s Mega Drive mechs | Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi offers impressions on the design philosophy of 16-bit sci-fi strategy game Vixen 357.
- X-COM | The Digital Antiquarian
Jimmy Maher delves into the development history of the original X-COM, as well as the development philosophy of its designer.
“In the early days of game development, there existed little to no separation between the roles of game programmer and game designer. Those stalwart pioneers who programmed the games they themselves designed could be grouped into two broad categories, depending on the side from which they entered the field. There were the technologists, who were fascinated first and foremost with the inner workings of computers, and chose games as the most challenging, creatively satisfying type of software to which they could apply their talents. And then there were those who loved games themselves above all else, and learned to program computers strictly in order to make better, more exciting ones than could be implemented using only paper, cardboard, and the players’ imaginations.”
Play Communities Past and Present
Covering a wide span of time periods, four authors (Alexis Ong with a double feature!) this week explore games and play as the connective thread that binds different communities of all shapes and sizes together, both on-and-offline.
- Even When Games Finally Go Offline, We’ll Always Have Their Soundtracks | Paste
Dia Lacina reflects on Glitch and the media artifacts, community stories, and memories it left behind.
- I Pretended to Pretend to Be a Star Trek Character Online | Fanbyte
Alexis Ong has penned a piece I’m not gonna try to summarize, but which I am gonna encourage you to read.
- How the ’90s family computer shaped a generation’s exposure to PC gaming | PC Gamer
Alexis Ong reminisces about the intimacy of play communities, as mediated by the shared space of the family computer.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: Playing Together During the Pandemic | Gamers with Glasses
Patrick Jagoda and Kristen Schilt recount the experience and affordances of playing together, via Breath of the Wild.
- The Essential Workers of Death Stranding | Into The Spine
Joe Ostrander asks what work is really essential, in Death Stranding and beyond.
“My mother’s spirit resists easy answers, and doesn’t provide readily mappable likes or dislikes. But, like Stella, while I cannot control the actions of those I care about, at the very least, I can control my own; provide comfort when it’s needed and distance when it is asked for.”
A Coin for the Ferrymaster
We’ve got two excellent pieces this week weaving in and out of Spiritfarer.
- Spiritfarer shows the cost of living for others, rather than for yourself | Red Bull
Jeremy Signor finds that Spiritfarer‘s narrative arc omits any possibily for the self-care of its protagonist.
- Intertwined | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole writes on family, on Spiritfarer, on the ephemeral, on the everlasting.
“When I watch footage of Mullen or other contemporaries like Daewon Song, something falls over me like a spectral blanket. What they find through ollies, grinds, and reverts, I chase every time I write.”
Queerness at Stake
While Tell Me Why has certainly been making the critical rounds of late, there are lots of writers out there looking at imperfect permutations of queer representation in other games past, present, and evergreen. Here are two of this week’s highlights.
- Remothered: Broken Porcelain wants to queer horror – but will have to win back queer players first | Gayming Magazine
Matt Kamen wonders if a clunky-but-appealing horror game with an endearing queer romance can outgrow the transphobic legacy of its parent series.
- Final Fantasy XIV’s ‘Fantasia’ Potion is an Unexpected Gift for Trans Players | Gayming Magazine
Erin Donegan thinks through the affordances and stakes of identify exploration in Final Fantasy XIV.
“FFXIV asks a commitment from the player to change their gender in a way that it doesn’t for its other appearance options, and while I find this to be a kind of frustrating and manipulative decision by the developer, it forced me to think carefully in a way I hadn’t before. To make that commitment, to be able to admit that I wanted to change this very real aspect of myself so dramatically, was a hurdle. The fact that I was, in the end, willing to jump that hurdle told me a lot about who I was, things that I maybe would not have been aware of if not for this game.”
A pair of authors gathered here weigh the successes or failures of topical, popular games with in the contexts of the industry and culture that has produced them, alternately finding reflections both favourable and unfavourable in their respective object texts.
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 reflects the changing culture of skateboarding – Polygon
Cole Henry takes inventory of the myriad ways in which THPS 1 + 2 both reflects and advocates for a more positive, more inclusive, and less gatekeepy contemporary skate culture.
- The Last of Us Part II Review | Video Game Choo Choo
Rose did not like The Last of Us Part II, finding a story its authors are unqualified to tell.
“The most TLOU2 is able to provide is a power fantasy for well-off white people. It’s a nihilistic and detached work that reflects the only fears and topics that can occur in the minds of those who have never truly suffered, where suffering and desperate people are the scariest thing in the world. It’s the libertarian fantasy, where the peak of success a character can reach is owning a huge swathe of land away from everyone else, and they have every right to shoot down whoever they want.”
We’ve got two articles this week exploring the possibilities for narrative design in games.
- Tabula Rasa: In defence of the amnesiac video game protagonist | Thumbsticks
Hannah Copestake looks for positive potentialities for the amnesia trope in popular games.
- Like Sands Through The Hour Glass, So Are The Days of Crusader Kings III | Paste
Holly Green finds that it’s the emergent narrative twists that really give Crusader Kings III its staying power.
“They say truth is stranger than fiction, and that the best stories are the ones you just can’t make up. With its emergent narrative structure, Crusader Kings III proves this can be true in the virtual storytelling world too.”
KEWH-k off indeed.
- The Chocobo Race in Final Fantasy X can KWEH-k off | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart hits a big mood with the minigame grind in FFX.
“As you may have guessed already, I do not fuck with the Chocobo Race in FFX. After spending over four hours on it, and only getting to the 0.2 mark, my good faith for the minigames in this game have quickly been ground into dust. If someone gave me three buttons and told me that two of them would erase an embarrassing memory from my brain, whilst the other would just purge the Chocobo Race from existence, then that damn minigame would be gone.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!