Welcome back, readers.
In lieu of my usual, broad reminders that systemic violence and injustice remain a stark reality for Black and Brown folks regardless of who the incoming and outgoing establishment politicans may be at any given point, this week I’m going to be more specific and encourage you to follow and support Twitch streamer ZombaeKillz, who works hard to get big publishing entities in games to pay more attention to Black content creators. Thread explaining the situation here, Ko-fi here.
Around the site, Connor’s back at it with a new TMIVGV. Perhaps our video curations could make for a refreshing pallete-cleanser after all the reading I’ve found for you this week?
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We open this week with three articles challenging dominant critical narratives in games and their attendent discourse. How can we talk more meaningfully about games without going in circles? What else is out there to play and cover? How can we more thoughtfully engage with the stuff that already has all of the mindshare?
- La importancia de descentrarse | la era del videojuego
Tomás Grau de Pablos observes that after a few promising years of diversification, mainstream games criticism has retreated once more toward the insular and the uncontroversial, and that the way forward towards a meaningful discourse must be decentralized (Spanish language article).
- Call Of Duty Shouldn’t Get Away With Its Revisionist Politics In 2020 | TheGamer
Bella Blondeau proposes that if triple-A studios want to sit at the big kids’ table and be respected as artists, then critics should respond in kind and critically interrogate their art and its attendent ideological implications (a great example of exactly this appears below!).
- OKTPM’s itch.io Imbroglio | Operation: Kill the Pac-Man
cfarmer02 plays and reviews 8 queer games you can get on Itch right now instead of, you know, that one (curator’s note: a tweet I did was referenced in this piece).
“I searched for LGBTQIA+ on itch.io games, and then grazed. I have paid the recommended price for each of these games where applicable, and I encourage you to also cough up a dollar or two for these developers and others not seen here – many are in dire straits and even a buck for coffee will make a difference in their lives. Rock n’ roll; let’s play some games.”
Play It Loud
This week we’ve got a pair of authors delving into the forgotten epoch of the 1990s, to exhume trailblazing titles and under-represented genres.
- The Game Boy’s forgotten genre | Vidyasaur
Vidyasaur takes stock of the scant few detective games available on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
- First flight – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi dives headlong into the original Panzer Dragoon‘s slick, stylistic, genre-bending, convention-defying world.
“This isn’t some simplistic off the peg Tolkienesque world – Team Andromeda had a much bolder vision for their debut 1995 Saturn shooter, their dragon refusing to conform to the usual role of a roaring knot of muscle and flame amongst an endless supply of swords and orcs. Here “dragon” usually means an elegant and lithe creature covered in sky-blue scales, its sinuous tail carving beautiful shapes in the air as it flies past ornate structures and strange organic shapes.”
History, Rev. 1.X
There’s a good chance you’ve seen periodic flareups in The Discourse about the role of historical fidelity in games. This is sometimes a bad-faith cudgel weilded by reactionaries incensed by the idea that non-white and/or queer and/or disabled people can feasibly exist in historical or quasi-historical settings. This is not that. Here, we’ve got three writers exploring different ways in which games “play” with history, manipulating it to their own ends, for purposes good or ill or maybe neither but still artistically interesting.
- Ethics in Strategy Gaming, Part 1: Panzer General | The Digital Antiquarian
Jimmy Maher traces the history in wargaming of excising war crimes from war games so that players can comfortably roleplay Nazi generals rebranded as cunning and fashionable underdogs (content notification: this one gets into the weeds re: Nazi atrocities and subsequent efforts to whitewash German military history).
- Crusader Kings 3 Can’t Conceive of a Gay Family | Gayming Magazine
Jeremy Signor finds that for all its queer inclusivity, Crusader Kings III is still unwilling to go all the way when it comes to families and heirs.
- Blank Ops | Bullet Points Monthly
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell focuses on Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War‘s deployment of redaction as an artistic device to understand the game’s destabilizing approach to history.
“The aura of semantic instability produced by redaction is what separates the “black op” in Call of Duty from a mere secret mission, or even the structurally and tonally similar “spec ops” of the Modern Warfare games. Black ops in Call of Duty are sites of chaos and collapse, where protagonists undergo various kinds of disintegration before a self-contradictory imperial ideology that raids, kills, or tortures in the name of peace and humanity. In Black Ops Cold War, the phrases stricken out by the censor correspond to a multitude of disavowed, “plausibly deniable” spaces.”
Filling Out the Map
Two authors this week write about how real spaces are faithfully (or not-so-faithfully) reproduced in games, and the uncomfortable tensions this reproduction evokes either way.
- Kentucky Route Zero Feels Like Home – For Better And Worse | Game Informer
Blake Hester reflects on the fidelity with which Kentucky Route Zero depicts good people living hard lives chosen for them rather than by them.
- MONEY MACHINE – DEEP HELL
Skeleton muses on how the reduction and abstraction involved in turning a city into a videogame playground are inherently antithetical to any proposed communal or revolutionary ideological thrust, in Watch Dogs: Legion or any game.
“Watch Dog’s Legion’s brand-marketed version of revolution has no space for people. Neither does the city it takes place in. In losing the idea of a city as anything other than a place to blow shit up or fucking tase someone in, why should we worry for these people? In a way, this sort of abstraction of reality almost served as propaganda to avoid any kind of meaningful community interaction.”
Two authors this week reflect on recent and popular games that helped them make sense of their own circumstances and move forward with renewed resolve.
- How Spider-Man: Miles Morales Reminds Me That Being The New Guy Is Okay | Game Informer
Marcus Stewart talks about working through imposter syndrome, whether as a professional games writer or as a superhero.
- How Two Video Games Helped Me Come Out As Transgender | Epilogue Gaming
Blake Andrea situates their play experiences with Tell Me Why and If Found… in relation to their coming out.
“I can’t say with certainty that Tell Me Why or If Found did anything to substantially change how I thought about my own gender. What they did do, however, was make me feel that I was not alone, that I could find a community of supportive people who would care about me regardless of how I presented myself. They gave me opportunities to talk about these issues as I explored these games’ themes and characters. And these games have motivated me to continue pushing the comfort zone that others have established for me, in exchange for a deeper and more fulfilling relationship to myself as I establish a new comfort zone of my own for the first time.”
So the World Might Be Mended
So, Demon’s Souls is back, and with it renewed discussion on what is gained and lost as popular titles and cult classics are periodically remade. On one hand, the art direction is irrevocably changed, as Julie Muncy charges of the Bluepoint method, and as Julian Ramirez concludes, these games cannot be said to preserve everything about the originals. On the other hand, if they’re going to monkey with the design anyway, would it kill them to include some difficulty options to make the game accessible to more players, as Helen Ashcroft proposes? No, the answer is no, it wouldn’t kill them, since I’ve long learned the peril of leaving a rhetorical question hanging.
- Easy Mode Is Essential For Me And I Shouldn’t Have To Defend It | TheGamer
Helen Ashcroft lays out how resistance to difficulty accomodations in games shuts out disabled players and reinforces toxic gatekeeping.
- El problema de los ‘remakes’ para la preservación de videojuegos | GamerFocus
Julian Ramirez concludes that for all their bells and whistles and modern creature comforts, the contemporary trend of big-budget “remakes” cannot be taken as a credible replacement for a true preservation effort (Spanish language article).
- The New ‘Demon’s Souls’ Remake Tries Too Hard to Be Realistic | WIRED
Julie Muncy explains how Bluepoint’s pursuit of a particular, videogamey vision of ‘realism’ clashes with the original art direction of the games it remakes.
“As a substitute for something authentically weird, Bluepoint has created something authentically normal that adheres to the slightly cartoony version of “realism” that video games so often employ. Everything’s a little uglier, a little grimier, a little less visually striking.”
Communities in Play
Each of these next three pieces explores the role of games (and online haunts in general) as vital social spaces of community and identity-construction, with an emphasis on queer communities.
- Dead by Daylight has a promising queer future ahead | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart talks to Mathieu Côté about making space for queer identity both within the horror genre and within the play communities built around games.
- Love in the Time of Closets: How LGBT+ Teens Turned to Online Spaces to Discover Themselves | Gayming Magazine
Katherine Rodgers discusses queer identity formation and exploration on the Internet in places like Habbo Hotel, IMVU, WoW, and beyond.
- Why Hangout Games are due for a renaissance | Eurogamer.net
Grace Curtis forecasts coming trends in games towards casual play and chilling with friends as they fill a need for connection.
“Pearl-clutching science fiction writers have warned us for years about the dangers of getting absorbed in virtual reality. But life under lockdown has exposed an opposing problem. It’s all too easy to get trapped by the real world, by the grueling repetition of day-to-day work, to drench yourself with bucket after bucket of terrible news. Escaping with your friends for a few hours is nothing less than a matter of survival.”
Here we’ve got a pair of articles looking at the ways in which a couple of popular protagonists make their players feel seen by grappling with the realities of disability and class.
- Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s New Lead Is The Hero I Need Right Now | Kotaku
Chingy Nea breaks down why Ichiban Kasuga connects to working-class, messy, vulnerable players in ways that Kazuma Kiryu does not.
- Geralt of Rivia: A disabled protagonist | Eurogamer.net
Sara Thompson discusses Geralt’s status as a disabled hero, as well as strong ableist resistance within fandom to the idea.
“It was Geralt’s long path to accepting his disability that helped me to accept mine. He was shown time and time again to be capable, strong, and to still have value as a person – all these things being unusual in disability representation I had interacted with before and still come across now. This isn’t to say the books are perfect in their representation – the slur of ‘cripple’ is tossed around like nobody’s business – but they perfectly captured and reflected my own experience; one of anger and internalised ableism.”
Here lies Quips, struck dead by more great poetry this week.
- Game Enjambment: Oregon Trail Triolet | Sidequest
Katherine Quevedo, Oregon Trail.
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