Welcome back, readers.
This week the thing I’m plugging before I get down to business is. . . this rad bundle of cyberpunk-themed games by independent creators! Get your punk on while supporting queer/marginalized creators!
Oh, but that’s not all, dear reader. There’s also an analogue cyberpunk game jam for Asian creators in the works! Given how deeply entrenched orientalism/sinophobia is in the western cyberpunk tradition, this is a cool and timely intervention. Check it out!
Lots of stuff around the site to go through this week. We’ve got both a new TMIVGV courtesy of Connor, a little early this month, as a treat, as well as a new Keywords in Play, this time featuring Sonia Fizek!
That’s still not all. I’ve got a few upcoming events and announcements too. First off, Critical Distance is hosting a micro-essay jam on Pandemics and Games! Details available here.
Lastly, it’s almost time for our end-of-year roundup. Whether it’s previously been featured in our weekly issues or not, if there’s a piece of writing (written this year, 2020 please!) you’d like to nominate, use the #TYIVGB hashtag or visit our Discord server and join the conversation there!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
It’s been a busy week for industry discourse no matter what spheres of gaming you move in, to say the least. Here’s a snapshot, courtesy of four authors, of some of the stories that matter most in the long term, beyond the industry accolades and tentpole releases of the moment.
- How Toxic Online Culture Is Affecting Women In Games | CGMagazine
Marie Gushie reflects on the last few weeks of games coverage and discourse, which have been pretty shitty for women, and especially women of colour!
- Speaking From The Chest: Streamer Receives Death Threats After Holding Console Makers To Account | Kotaku
Ash Parrish chats with ZombaeKillz about holding companies to account on their pledges of inclusivity, dealing with racism, gatekeeping, and harrassment, and what more equitable and inclusive games spaces should look like.
- AND, PRESENTING, – DEEP HELL
Skeleton takes one step back from Awards Discourse to scrutinize the rituals of awards shows themselves, asking what role they actually play in upholding and legitimizing a particular ideology of popular culture.
- When It Comes To Representation, Trans People Don’t Need Your Excuses | TheGamer
Bella Blondeau emphasizes that trans players and critics don’t need cis people to tell them how to feel about trans representation in games. Yes, it really can be that simple.
“If a trans person says something is bad for their existence, you, as a cis person, don’t have to tell them that it’s good, actually. You don’t have to convince them to play the game. You don’t have to defend and cape for a multi-billion-dollar corporation as if they’re some scrappy indie team. Every DM on every social media platform insisting that I give a company that crunches their employees’ bones into dust a chance just feels like the most desperate plea for attention.”
Welcome to the Cyberpunk Dystopia
There’s been a critical focus this week on just how long cyberpunk as a genre has been a thing. Along with that focus comes an examination on how things have changed since “MicroSoft” was sci-fi technobabble and a “megabyte” implied a theoretically ludicrous quantity of data, as well as how some things haven’t really changed at all. And of course there’s also the question of who is actually leading the changes and moving the genre forward. Three highlights this week to start us off, with more to certainly follow in the coming weeks.
- Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis Captures the Cyberpunk Spirit of the Tabletop Game | Paste
Dia Lacina is here with the hot videogame adaptation of the tabletop cyberpunk world everyone’s been talking about!
- How Cyberpunk Games Are Thriving Beyond 2077 | Fanbyte
Jack Yarwood takes stock of the cyberpunk worlds that exist beyond the bleeding edge of the triple-A.
- Orientalism, ‘Cyberpunk 2077,’ and Yellow Peril in Science Fiction | WIRED
George Yang examines orientalism and othering in cyberpunk stories and worlds past and present.
“The origins of the cyberpunk genre involve Western anxieties about the East. Techno-orientalism is the use of Asian aesthetics in cyberpunk, futuristic, and dystopian settings. There is a long and deep Euro-American tradition of using Asian symbolism such as neon signs with Japanese and Chinese lettering to express those feelings about what the future holds, including globalization and the threat of a takeover from the East.”
Nothing more countercultural than the biggest release of the year, amirite? Anyway, we’ve got two cool articles this week looking at other games and genres along with some reflection on what it means to be punk in games and elsewhere.
- Cole Henry and Skateboarding While the World Burns | startmenu
Cole Henry reflects on a year of skateboarding and skateboarding games, both in unexpected rennaissance.
- This Machine Kills Fascists: Extreme Meatpunks Forever — Gamers with Glasses
Nathan Schmidt considers what actually makes a game punk via Heather Flowers’ high-octane fash-punching gaystravaganza.
“Punk isn’t made to be perfect. Punk is raw. And Extreme Meatpunks Forever is a sometimes brutally raw story about feeling like you don’t know what’s going on in the world or how to fix it, but you know that if you punch a fash’s lights out, you’ll feel better, at least for a little while.”
We’ve also got four pieces this week examining apocalypses in games along various axes beyond the neon-flavoured ones!
- Infrastructure, Connection, and Crisis in Death Stranding — Gamers with Glasses
Brian Rejack negotiates circles within circles of irony playing Death Stranding amidst the competing American crises of 2020.
- Creating Player Guilt in The Last of Us 2 and Spec Ops: The Line | Kat (Pixel a Day)
Kat discusses why player guilt in popular games seems to be such a highly selecteive experience.
- Crowded Apocalypse | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole finds Fallout 76 to be crowded, convoluted, and loud–a step away from the games that preceded it, but not necessarily all for the worse.
- Let’s Place: Narratives of Rebuilding – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina finds that even in dystopias as disparate as Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II, a common survivor emerges: capitalism.
“Death Stranding is trying to sew the world together, by establishing knots in a network of outposts that shore up the market driven economy through routinely exhausting actions. In The Last of Us Part 2, Ellie tears through the social fabric of deteriorating relations, eliminating every possible knot on her way.”
How do technologies, genres, design practices, and media landscapes influence games over time? In revisiting historical works, what connections can we trace to the games, practices, and traditions of today? Two authors this week examine a foundational scene and a genre-defining game, respectively.
- The Flash game movement, my early Flash work, and how Flash games informed what we have in indie games today – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead returns with a new deep dive on Flash, this time focusing on its legacy and impact on the indie games of today.
- There’s No Game Like Rogue | Nora Blake
Nora Blake ventures into Rogue with a 2020 perspetive, comparing the game to some of its many descendants.
“I have enjoyed my time with Moria and Angband, and I really do think they’re more fun than some of the more modern roguelikes I’ve played. But as of right now, nothing has come close to touching the place in my heart that Rogue has carved. Its simplicity is a huge boon; it evokes so many things while leaving you guessing about the details, leaving you with a really fascinating emptiness that I found really easy to immediately project onto.”
Three authors this week examine the ways in which games of all genres and vibes reflect our contemporary ideological connundrums in larger and smaller ways.
- Kingdoms, Castles, and Video Game Cruelty | Saturshot
Ruth Cassidy thinks about how strategy games can railroad their players into specific ideoloical frameworks.
- ISO: The Perfect, Unproblematic Cottagecore Game – Uppercut
Harriette Chan takes stock of some of the colonial implications at stake in the likes of Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and more.
- De Blob’s a game about challenging authoritarianism – Liftoff!
Veerender Jubbal finds that De Blob‘s anti-authoritarian messaging is as loud as its colour pallette.
“That a game has to look, and feel, like a serious gritty action film to provide social commentary on themes of authoritarianism, dictatorships, ethnic cleansing, disruptions to our environment, or the end of leisure is a misconception, one countered by Blue Tongue Entertainment’s De Blob, like Lois Lowry’s The Giver novel before it, an easy to access colourful children’s painting platformer or a tale of authoritative outside forces executing bleak hegemony onto a vibrant state and its innocent citizens. “
Beneath the Surface
Four disparate deep dives, deconstructing different games with theory, analogy, and lived experiences.
- Once More at Its Source | Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter examines the complex religious and geopolitical contexts behind Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to understand the strengths of its historical storytelling.
- No Man’s Sky: Through A Screen, Dully – GlitchOut
Oma Keeling plays No Man’s Sky and finds that it’s more than retro in its sci-fi stylings–it’s a game out of time, with nothing to say.
- Learning Tetris | Unwinnable
Diego Nicolás Argüello writes about rebuilding and recovery–via relationships, via self-reflection, via Tetris Effect.
- Dead Things Matter Too, Abzû – Venoms. Die. Twice.
E. meditates on death, rebirth, and the phenomenology of the ocean in Abzû.
“To play Abzû is to remove oneself from the tension that underlines our experience of the ocean as humans. Its unknowable mass and mysterious beings become quantifiable, a series of vignettes in which nothing ever really lives or dies beyond the flight of our android.”
Here’s a trio of articles unpacking the state of queer representation and design in popular games and popular culture.
- The Casual Gaymer: Commodifying queerness with The Sims, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Jeffree Star | AIPT
Trevor Richardson delves into what is gained and what is lost when queer representation goes mainstream in games, reality shows, and reality shows about games.
- If Found’s celebration of experimental, queer game development tradition | GamesIndustry.biz
Rebekah Valentine chats with Llaura McGee and Eve Golden-Woods about narrative design, industry practices, and queer storytelling.
- The Queer Paradise of Bugsnax | Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley finds much to love in Bugsnax as a game that centres queer relationships while jettisoning the trauma that usually accompanies queer narratives in creative media.
“Many of the real-life issues and traumas actual queer people have can also be traced back to queerness, and games want to be realistic and grounded, and relatable. But Bugsnax is a game where taking a bite out of a cheeseburger gives you curly fries for teeth. It doesn’t need to be realistic. It can just put the himbo with the mad scientist and tell you “they’re gay” and be done with it.”
We close this week, as is often the case lately, with some poetry! I omitted the pullquote this time because the typsetting is an important part of the experience. I mean, that’s kind of always the case with poetry, but, well, just read on.
- Game Enjambment: GLaDOS and the Vortex Queen at the Supermarket | Sidequest
Katherine Quevedo, Portal, Ecco the Dolphin.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!