Welcome back readers.
First, as usual, 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.
Apologies for the late update this week. I got a little caught up tying off my submission to Bitsy Essay Jam. If you’re interested in submitting, there’s still time!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Punk in Peril
So, cyberpunk. . . is a genre. A fraught one! And it’s easy to lose sight of its historical and philosophical preoccupations when popular culture comes to be dominated by a few salient works that vie for our undivided attention. Two authors this week therefore shift the focus away from the neon glare of the oncoming headlights to interrorage aspects of the genre and its attendent works.
- Ghost Running on a cyberpunk treadmill — KRITIQAL
Nate Kiernan concludes that if there is to be a critical diversion away from the cyberpuk genre’s mass-media pendulum swing towards empty aesthetic, Ghostrunner ain’t it.
- Fear of a Yellow Planet: Why We Need to Actually Understand Cyberpunk | Fanbyte
Alexis Ong embarks on a deep historical dive looking at the orientalist and sinophobic/japanophobic tropes and anxieties baked into the western cyberpunk tradition, while looking for alternatives that respond to and push back against this hegemonic narrative.
“Unfortunately, Cyberpunk 2077 is simply the most visible example of aesthetics-driven branding that dilutes a decent understanding of how cyberpunk, with all its Orientalist issues, came to be. And it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Each of these next three works is fundementally focused on the inescapable influence of the American cultural and critical lens, looking at how games, markets, and media are shaped both within its bounds and outside its walls.
- Vietnam Syndrome | Bullet Points Monthly
Yussef Cole observes how Call of Duty, in microcosm for American national identity at large, continues to obsessively revisit but refuses to learn anything from the Vietnam War.
- ET  + Pitfall  – Arcade Idea
Arcade Idea situates two Atari 2600 games–a good one and a bad one, but a starkly similar pair at the end of the day–in the wider historical context of the frequently-mythologized, often-misremembered Crash of ’83.
- The Uncanny Valley of Culture | Medium
Damon Reece discusses the difficulties of making culturally authentic art when all art is invariably subjected to the limits and lapses of an American critical lens.
“America’s cultural and linguistic hegemony is stifling and all-consuming. If you’ve always lived inside the American cultural bubble, it can be hard to conceptualize the difficulties of creating media outside of that. When you’re part of the dominant culture, all media falls into one of two categories. It’s either Familiar — made for you, an English-speaking American, or people like you — or it’s steadfastly Foreign, made for people very much unlike you.”
No Pain, No Game?
Punishment and play are central in these next three pieces, which all examine pain in games along different axes.
- BLEED FOR ME | DEEP HELL
Joshua Trevett studies injury and durability as gameplay contrivances, and how Metal Gear Solid V manipulates the expectations around both.
- Do We Really Need Combat? Systems of Interaction in AAA Games | Sidequest
Emma Kostopolus considers whether games like The Last of Us Part II and The Outer Worlds might be able to do more with their themes of violence if the mechanical rigidity–and eventual fagatigue–of combat was decentred from their gameplay loops.
- Supergiant Games’ roguelite Hades is about erotic punishment | Polygon
Nico Deyo pens a playful and piercing erotic take on Hades.
“The environmental design is edging in video game form. It is a process and a specific set of places that inches you closer to your goal, with brief respites like fountain rooms and Charon’s shop to keep you from getting too overheated. The details intoxicate and electrify: little bits of neon pink and blue, the shattered light and butterflies that float through places like Elysium or the cool, secretive parts of Tartarus. It is the apex of sexy danger, a beautiful sword you want to throw yourself upon.”
Two articles this week reflect in some capacity on technological affordances in games, and what those affordances (or constraints) mean for how we interract with a work of art, how we consume it, how we commoditize it.
- No-Fuss: The Economy of the Camera in Assassin’s Creed | Cole Writes Words
Cole Henry considers the long history of influence the language and techniques of cinema have had on games, and how the original Assassin’s Creed–uniquely in the series–challenges that relationship.
- Beyond the Astonishment of Fast Load Times – Historian On Games
Seva Kritskiy weighs the impact of platforms and features like Sony’s Activity Bar and Microsoft’s Game Pass on games as ever more fragmentary entities jostling for prominence in an increasingly attention-economy-driven marketplace.
“I think we see evidence of an ongoing pattern of alienation of players from games as distinct wholes that yearn for your undivided attention. I think we see the continuation of the pattern through which games as distinct wholes are de-valued through the Game Pass model and its equivalents providing you with a frankly irresponsible amount of “free” games at your fingertips. This fundamentally changes how players perceive games – not necessarily only for the better or for the worse, just different.”
Revise and Resubmit
Each of these next three pieces concerns itself in some way with failures–of narrative, of character, of imagination–in larger or smaller ways. Whether it’s tired character tropes and narrative themes, or a story that could stand to go just one step further, each of these authors examines what could be improved upon.
- The Last of Us Made Me Hate the Post-Apocalypse | Video Game Choo Choo
Rose reflects on an overarching lack of imagination stringing together the myriad bleak landscapes of self-inflicted human misery that post-apocalyptic games continue to render in obsessive detail.
- The Characters of Paradise Killer Deserve More From Its Finale | Paste
Holly Green comes away from Paradise Killer wanting a little more resolution.
- The mainstream FPS only knows one kind of Latina | Rock Paper Shotgun
Natalie Flores breaks down the hypersexualized, culturally homogenized tropes that continue to define Latina women characters in games.
“Latinas, and darker-skinned women in general, are rarely allowed to be more. The darker our skin, the less we adhere to whiteness, and the more deviant we are assumed to be. We’re allowed to be sexual, fiery, devious, seductive, and physically mature. We can almost never be vulnerable, cute, insecure, delicate, soft, or simply human – especially in the ways white women like Overwatch’s Mercy or Apex Legends’ Wattson get to be. We are constantly forced into an intensely stereotypical and narrow view of us that only gets further perpetuated every day through the media and is extended into the policies and cultures that shape our lives.”
We’ve got a trio of very cool personal thinkpieces this week, each revolving around how our time with games is impacted by the circumstantial and the contextual.
- 30 Years Ago, the Super NES, Final Fantasy 4, and a Broken Jaw Changed My Life | USgamer
Nadia Oxford reminisces about childhood and recovery via the Squaresoft classic.
- Mad at School | Into The Spine
Emily Price recounts how quarantine has produced preceisely the correct conditions for her to take on Fire Emblem: Three Houses at its highest post-release difficulty.
- Love Games During the Pandemic – I Need Diverse Games
Courtney Cole touches upon shared play with a partner during the pandemic, also touching upon disabled gaming and the theraputic properties of play.
“As someone with mental illness, maintaining my mental health can be hard work, and the pandemic has made it even more challenging. Gaming has been a great therapeutic outlet that recharges me so that I am better able to face reality. It doesn’t fix my problems – but it’s a source of self care that helps fill the void of other activities the pandemic has taken away.”
I’m really feeling this week’s closer!
- Sagittarius | Unwinnable
Autumn Wright on the zodiac, the seasons, Xenoblade, the cosmos.
“Far beneath Sword Valley, Shulk and the party emerge from Tephra cave upon a small field. We look up at the machinic deity as night falls. Stars twinkle into view over the infinite ocean, and the Mechonis, dark as the sky, is but a silhouette. There is no conception of planets or space among the life of Bionis, but a star rises and sets somewhere over the horizon of calm waters. We will learn it is salty, and that there are fish.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!