Welcome back, readers.
I don’t have much to say here about the events in the US over the past week other than this: if you’re white and this feeling that your country is no longer safe or stable is new to you, that in itself is a form of privilege, worth examining and learning from. Please continue to seek out ways to support Black causes.
Around the site, have you caught our year-in-review article yet? Zoyander has been hard at work putting together 100 articles works works we feel best represent the state of critical games writing in 2020. Please check it out!
But that’s not all Zoyander’s been up to. Today is the last day for submissions to our Pandemics and Games Essay Jam. I’m excited to look at all the cool work that’s been coming in!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
At this point, people have had about a month to sit with Cyberpunk 2077–assuming that is, they picked it up at launch–and so a space for slower-burn critical reflections is taking shape. Here are four highlights I enjoyed this week.
- Trash Heart | Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter seeks out moments of warmth and humanity in a landscape of overwhelming cynical refuse.
- Everyone Is Already Pretending Cyberpunk 2077 Never Happened | Fanbyte
Alexis Ong looks back, a month out, on a game that seems to have nothing new to say, and a discourse burned out on saying it.
- The Cyberpunk 2077 Romances Weren’t Made for Trans People | Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley delves into the details and design decisions in Cyberpunk 2077 that seem to other and alientate trans characters and experienes more than accomodate and include them.
- DEEP-HELL Presents: Cyberpunk 2077: The No Escape From Videogames Review – No Escape
Skeleton reviews not merely Cyberpunk 2077 the videogame, but also Cyberpunk 2077 the development crunch purgatory, Cyberpunk 2077 the inescapable media hype cycle, Cyberpunk 2077 the cyclical, cynical cultural legacy. . . .
“CDProjekt Red’s primary motivation for Cyberpunk 2077 was that it was made to be talked about. All of our billions of dollars of technology has conspired to put us in this state. Videogames are either meant to be played forever, or meant to be talked about forever.”
Two letters, crafted in dialogue with one another, on one of 2020’s top please-do-not-sleep-on-this-one titles. Have we ever run a tighter section in this roundup? I, um, I don’t know actually. . . maybe? Anyway, this is cool stuff.
- Paradise Killer: Material Concerns – Uppercut
Grace Benfell weighs the material and the divine in Paradise Killer.
- Paradise Killer: The Horror of Normal – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe ruminates on the uneasy ease with which a world can go back to normal after it bears witness to horrors unthinkable.
“Some people can see the worst shit imaginable, and just want things to be like how they used to be. Paradise Killer understands that, and drives it home by leaving you frustrated on the shores of a dying island, while LD goes on to get whatever she has coming on the next island. The sheriff is back in town, and a new Council will rise. Soon no one will remember the bodies left behind. Everything will go back to normal.”
We’ve got two insightful selections this week examining monsters and monstrosity in games alternately along gender/misogyny and cosmic/racist axes.
- Game Log: Tales of Berseria – Digital Ephemera
Dan Cox weighs tropes and tensions of femininity and monstrosity in an uncommon feminine-led installment in the Tales series of JRPGs.
- Zarf Updates: Four (or five) recent Lovecraftians
Andrew Plotkin explores the mechanical and thematic diversities to be found among games associated with a Lovecraftian, cosmic horror influence, as well as the various ways in which these games address or don’t address the racism inexorably tied to the tradition.
“A lot of Lovecraftian games start out with the general question: what’s going on here? As these games indeed do. But that doesn’t mean that you do the same stuff in them.”
When It Hits Different
Three pieces this week display, I think, the real strength in weaving your own story into the expereince of a game, or a state of play. Read on and find out.
- I’m Playing a Sports Game | Cole Writes Words
Cole Henry reflects on how NBA 2K21‘s story mode hits home. I’ve read precious little critical writing on sports videogames and this is cool to see.
- Breaking the Surface: Learning to Live with Death and Depression in Iris and the Giant — Gamers with Glasses
Tof Eklund plays and responds to a deckbuilding game woven with a narrative and design cues about living with depression and a desire to die (content notification for indirect reference to suicide).
- Wood Pigeon – New Rules
Pema Monaghan narrates the play of watching birds amidst quarantine and depression.
“It is clear to me that wood pigeons have a dry sense of humour, for example, and that they prefer to make one or two good friends based on shared interests, rather than hang in big groups in which you may feel just as isolated as you have felt alone at home this year.”
Cases of Spaces
There’s a ton of stellar work this week examining spaces and especially urban spaces in relation to games and play. Here are six highights!
- Queer Expression in Teardown: Smashing your way to euphoria | Gayming Magazine
Oma Keeling reflects that while queer narrative representation in games has seen some promising progress of late in some respects, there’s much to relish in being given a space to tear some shit down.
- Play at the V&A | ROMchip
Samuel DiBella discusses the Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition with its principal producers and curators Marie Foulston and Kristian Volsing.
- City Guesser: The Vicarious Joy of Walking Outside – Uppercut
Chris Compendio recounts and evaluates the exploration of urban spaces, virtually, with just enough ludic context to give it structure and social appeal.
- Pawse and Play – New Rules
Adefoyeke Ajao searches out Nigerian virtual spaces and games by getting in touch with the local makers around Lagos.
- A State of Always – Venoms. Die. Twice.
E. considers the loop of violence and the liminal moments in-between in Arrest of a Stone Buddha.
- Questions pour un Balcon – New Rules
Catherine Bennett describes the inter-balcony quiz games people in Paris played in the early days of quarantine.
“Each night we got to know each other a little better. We shouted our names across the street, and sellotaped or tied sheets of paper to our balconies or window railings with writing in childish capitals”
We close this week with some world-to-text letter writing.
- Fischl | Unwinnable
Melissa King pens words of encouragement to one of Genshin Impact‘s premium protagonists.
“As I got older, I found out that I wasn’t alone in being lonely. It turned out that so many of today’s adults were once isolated, misunderstood children like us. In this fact about our past selves, we find solidarity in each other today.”
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!