Welcome back readers.
First the most important stuff:
- Check out the ways in which you can support protests against anti-Black and Brown police violence in the US and abroad.
- Legal Fund for organizers fighting commercial exploitation of Haudenosaunee lands.
Around the site this week, we’ve got a new episode of Keywords In Play, this time featuring Dr. Lindsay Grace. Check it out!
Also, remember that Bitsy Essay Jam I keep hollering about every Sunday? That’s happening this week! You can sign up here.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
The four pieces gathered here for our opening segment are quite diverse in their topics, but united by a perspective anchored in the industry at large. Whether it’s the legacy and impact of a single series (Blondeau), the technological trajectory of digital media and the market forces that lean heavily upon that trajectory (Lawhead), or reflexive critiques on how we choose to write about these things (Kiernan/Lewin), each of these pieces asks us to devote some of our attention to a bigger picture.
- Life is too short to play abusive games — KRITIQAL
Nate Kiernan pushes back against the notion of games that are too big not to play–or cover.
- Queerness In Mass Effect Is Messy, But Still Vital | TheGamer
Bella Blondeau makes the case both that queer representation in the original Mass Effect trilogy absolutely sucks and that it’s an important focal point for the industry’s turn towards better queer representation in later games.
- Imagining Decentralized Videogame Culture: Unprofessional Game Criticism
Leeroy Lewin makes a call for a plural culture of videogames and their attendent criticism, one that includes overlooked and marginalized art, which embraces all the things the market has not deemed profitable.
- A short history of Flash & the forgotten Flash Website movement (when websites were “the new emerging artform”) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead documents the ways in which Flash was such a creatively promising development platform for website design before technology (see also: big players in the industry) took a different path and much of this history was lost.
“I feel like there’s a lot to learn from Flash. As an example of what technology enables for “the little people”, as an example of what it takes to destroy that and basically eradicate a huge portion of digital history, and as an example of how easy it is for something like that to just happen.”
Number One Dragon
I ended up featuring a lot of reviews this week, in this section and elsewhere. Look, buddy, it’s not my fault so many writers this week are elevating the genre. Anyway, here’s four awesome pieces looking at the Yakuza series, alternately identifying and problematizing its theses on ethics, people, and communities.
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon Proves that It’s Time for the Yakuza Series to Grow Up | Paste
Dia Lacina observes that the closer the Yakuza games get to perfecting their overarching thesis of compassion for humanity, the more apparent it becomes that the games need to finally sort their shit out on who is included in that compassion.
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s shop mini-game turned me into a corporate sellout | Polygon
Sisi Jiang lives long enough in the confectionary business to become the villain.
- Yakuza: Like A Dragon Review – Humanizing Me As An Immigrant | Uppercut
Monti Velez submits Ryu Ga Gotoku’s latest to a working class/immigrant critical lens.
- Spaces Left Blank #2: Yakuza 0, Heterogeneous Systems, and Derridean Ethics | Spaces Left Blank
Axel Hassen Taiari studies, by way of Derrida, how Yakuza 0 threads together its heterogeneous genres and characters with an overarching politics of “faire le bien” or doing good.
“When civilians need help, I have to stop. To be clear, I often don’t want to. Like killing hordes of nameless, low-level NPCs in RPGs—it’s just not for me. But every single time, I stop anyway. Actually, I stop because. Yakuza 0 turns anyways and despites and after alls into reasons to care and thus play in specific ways.”
I’m getting the impression (and hey, it might just be me) that Watch Dogs: Legion is shaping up to be one of those games where the critical writing on and around the game turns out to be a lot more interesting than the game itself. Perhaps this is in part because the dissatisfaction writers are associating with the game is also a microcosm for broader grievances in an industry that for the most part hasn’t figured out how to articulate and commit to a meaningfully progressive ideological framework without all kinds of caveats and asterisks. Anyway, here’s three of this week’s highlights unpacking difficulties and tensions within the series.
- Killing | Cole Writes Words
Cole Henry studies the evolving thematic implications of killing across the Watch Dogs series.
- In Watch Dogs: Legion, queer identity is still flavor text | Polygon
Carolyn Petit finds dissonance in the fact that the indentity intersections of your operatives in Watch Dogs: Legion have so little bearing on their struggles against fascism.
- Watch Dogs: Legion Is Completely Detached from Reality | Paste
Jackson Tyler concludes that for all of its supposedly subversive political ambtions, Watch Dogs: Legion never achieves more than being, well, a videogame.
“It falls short of every one of its ambitions. It neither succeeds at being a politically cogent, ripped-from-the-headlines thriller, nor as a bold new design experiment for open world games. It isn’t a disaster either, a game where you marvel at the gulf between ambition and reality, and find your own joy sifting through the wreckage. Perhaps most damningly of all, Watch Dogs: Legion is simply a Ubisoft open world game.”
Built and Rebuilt Experiences
We’re featuring a trio of design-minded critiques this week with an emphasis on the impact of design successes and failures on the feelings players bring to and take away from their time within the magic circle.
- Monster Hunter y el problema del ‘power creep’ en los videojuegos | GamerFocus
Julian Ramirez discusses how the gradual progression of steadily-more-powerful gear and abilities in (primariy service) games creates social pressures to keep up and limits the number of ways in which games can be sustainably enjoyed (Spanish-language article).
- Moles, Lava, and 100 Deaths in Spelunky 2 — Gamers with Glasses
Don Everhart muses on what happens, via Spelunky 2, when complex authored systems and players collide.
- Dead Space 2, Survival Horror, and the Fantasy of Mastery — Gamers with Glasses
Christian Haines reflects on Dead Space 2‘s exploration of environmental mastery in fact lays bare the vulnerability of the human experience.
“For survival horror, mastery is a superficial fantasy that covers over the player-character’s vulnerability to their environment. The Dead Space series, and Dead Space 2 in particular, positions players so that they’re caught between the drive to master their surroundings and the acknowledgement that survival is a best-case scenario.”
We’ve got a varied selection here of three great pieces unpacking key critical themes at the hearts of games big and small.
- The Last of Us Part II’s Conservative Politics Show How Far Games Have To Go | Sidequest
Madison Butler finds that with or without him, The Last of Us series continues to centre Joel’s fuck-you-got-mine pessimistic, individualistic worldview.
- Bugsnax Review: Bad Vibes in Paradise – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe observes that Bugsnax attempts to marry the cute/wholesome tone that’s all the rage with some fairly grim existential themes and ideas in a way that doesn’t quite land.
- This Is A Blog About Bloodborne | Kotaku
Ash Parrish writes about the struggle of overcoming adversity and the long weary work that stretches beyond individual triumphs. You know, in Bloodborne.
- c ya laterrrr | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente plays through a Twine game unpacking the artist’s experience of the aftermath of the 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing.
“When this happened in Manchester, I remember being a city over and searching the news for… I don’t know what. I could not believe what had happened. In a dark and (what I hope is an) honest way, I think what I was looking for then (and what I’m maybe always looking for when I click on a trending event like that) is what I found here in this game.”
Some poetry to close out the issue, as a treat.
- Game Enjambment: The Deku Butler’s Son | Sidequest
Katherine Quevedo, Majora’s Mask.
“Will no one blare the Deku pipes, the five-belled horn?
We need a dirge. The Deku Butler comes to mourn”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!