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So here’s a very cool thing that’s happening: a collected volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games, with a call for submissions. Check it out!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Just one piece in our opening section this week, with some excellent reporting looking in on Indian game dev scenes. Western readers, makers and critics would do well to be paying attention!
- How India’s shifting political climate is influencing local game development | GamesIndustry.biz
Khee Hoon Chan talks to Indian developers about the tensions of making historical and political games in a social and political climate of rising right-wing populism.
“India is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse countries in the world. The interweaving of narratives surrounding the numerous cultures in the country complicate the stories told about them — this is what makes retelling historical tales such a minefield. This amorphous tension is may become a challenge, particularly for Indian creators and storytellers who wish to share more nuanced perspectives about their nation’s past”
Examinations of the social dynamics of play are always in discourse, especially now when our social lives are in altogether upheaval, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a dedicated section on the topic. While plenty of games with a social focus have emerged over the last year, seemingly meeting a very real and growing need for them, here we’ve got two authors looking at older, established titles, and the kinds of shared experiences, protocols, and practices they engender.
- The Awesome Responsibility of a Dark Souls Summon | VICE
Cameron Kunzelman meditates on upholding a social contract in a deadly and deceitful world.
- ‘Destiny 2’ Is The Best MMO For People Who Don’t Like MMOs | Uproxx
Jessica Howard breaks down how Destiny 2 delivers the social appeal of an MMO in a more pick-up-and-play accessible format.
“The sad truth of the matter is when you start getting older–or paid to write about games, so a real double whammy on my part–your relationship with them changes. You start to celebrate ones that are more respectful of your time, that are more forgiving to those who can’t put in their 20 hours a week or power through an 80-hour story. MMOs aren’t for me because, quite frankly, I lack the willpower to commit to something that doesn’t commit to my joy immediately. But Destiny does and gives us a chance to enjoy a game with all the best elements of an MMO RPG and none of the ones that might make us wary of getting started.”
Here we’ve got a pair of examinations looking at mid-90s RPGs–one an adaptation, one on an unlikely platform. Neither is perfect in the estimation of the writers (one especially), but both crackle with worldbuilding potential.
- Alien Logic: A SkyRealms of Jorune Adventure | The Obscuritory
Phil Salvador considers a digital RPG adaptation of a tabletop setting, and how its designers found ample room in the format for extensive worldbuilding.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi takes a critical look at a JRPG very much out of its element on the arcade-heavy Neo Geo CD, with initial worldbuilding promise undermined by too many problems of mechanical design.
“It’s not a poor experience because it’s too easy, or too hard, simple, complex, or time-consuming – it’s a poor experience because it makes too many bad choices too often. Worst of all is knowing Samurai Spirits definitely has a strong enough cast of characters and exactly the right sort of setting to pull off a fantastic RPG – but this isn’t it.”
To Hit The Man
The Hitman games of late have been on a trajectory, with an emphasis among assassination targets on the wealthiest and most powerful. What exactly, then, does the third game have to say, if anything, about the playgrounds of capitalism which Agent 47 stalks? Mixed messages, it turns out, as this week’s highlights reveal.
- Death Is The Place | In The Lobby
Cole Henry traces a topography of death and wealth in Hitman 3.
- The Consummate Professional, or Hitman as Capitalist Fantasy — Gamers with Glasses
Christian Haines concludes that even when the contracts are for the world’s most powerful capitalists, the job of a hitman is still 100% capitalism working as intended.
“the hitman reimagines freedom and autonomy as perks of the job. It transforms the political hope of transforming or getting rid of capitalism into career satisfaction. And it does so during a historical moment when it’s become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure long-term employment and a living wage.”
In our next section, two writers invite us, through their respective object texts, to rethink and interrogate how genre and structure intersect with our own subjectivities and identities, leading to a multiplicity of possible play experiences.
- ‘A Short Hike’ reflects my neurodivergence in a way that feels safe | AIPT
Trevor Richardson approaches A Short Hike as a game that supports neurodivergent play styles.
- Void Terrarium Is One of the Best Games of 2020 That Nobody Seemed to Play | Paste
Waverly returns to a self-reflective roguelike that interrogates the cyclical structures of violence baked into its own genre.
“The genre of rogue always has mathematical violence which we take for granted as players. We have accepted the automated pleasure of raging against the machine.”
More than a Creed
Two authors interrogate how lived queer reality intersects with player positionality, authorial intent, and the albatross of choice in games.
- Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Would Have Been a Stronger Game if Eivor Had Been a Lesbian | Gayming Magazine
Stacey Henley reflects on canon, choice, and Assassin’s Creed‘s perennial unwillingness to commit to queerness.
- Killing Our Gods: A Wound at the Heart of the World: On Lucah: Born of a Dream – Uppercut
Grace Benfell meditates on the meaning and stakes of queer self-determination amidst the destruction rained down by heteronormative order.
“Queer liberation cannot be made by recreating puritanical, punishing moral logic with a rainbow flag. The way out then, is to imagine oneself as one is.”
Tropes and Nopes
Archetypes and stereotypes feature in our next section, as two authors look at representational tropes–one kinda cool, one very not cool–and situate them in a wider framework of how we perceive and associate bodies and practices.
- (Since nobody else is talking about it,) The Fat Mockery in Resident Evil 8 Extremely Sucks – No Escape
Kaile Hultner breaks down why there’s value and importance in critiquing the highly fatphobic depiction of The Duke even in a series already so fraught with harmful stereotypes.
- The Domestic Masculinity of Helltaker | Sidequest
Jay Szpilka contemplates the intersection of rugged masculinity and playboy domesticity in Helltaker.
“Even when he gets physical—and he does get physical a lot, crashing undead minions into walls and shoving enormous boulders out of his way—there is no meanness to it, no violence. Although the entire game crackles with not-so-subtle erotic charge, Helltaker’s sexual prowess is never really put under any sort of spotlight. Significantly, the story does not end in a bedroom, but in a kitchen, from which he emerges to serve his new household a huge stack of chocolate pancakes.”
Hack the Planet
Four pieces this week intersect with cyberpunk along different axes, looking at 2077, other games, and the genre itself.
- The cyberpunk genre has been Orientalist for decades — but it doesn’t have to be | Polygon
Kazuma Hashimoto delves into the long history of techno-Orientalism and Japanophobia that has guided the cyberpunk genre from its earliest iterations.
- The Best Parts of Cyberpunk 2077 Slow Down to Deal With Death | Fanbyte
Emma Kidwell describes how 2077 gives time and space uncommon among triple-A games to mourning and grief.
- Do Consumers Dream of Electric Phalluses? | Bullet Points Monthly
Jon Bailes contemplates the ways in which 2077‘s masculine-centred sexual power fantasies erode the game’s worldbuilding cohesion.
- observer: System Redux review | I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa considers how next-gen audiovisual tools meaningfully impact a cyberpunk/horror experience.
“The visuals help create the tense, nightmarish atmosphere – where incredible technology is fused in all its eldritch horror glory with decay and rot. You always feel dirty wandering the halls – not merely because it is scummy but because it feels “wrong”. That seems to me intentional, since the now boring discussion of “how far will we go before we lose our humanity” is central to cyberpunk aesthetics – but the game does not make loud noises about it. Instead, it’s merely an undercurrent rather than a flood – coming out in conversations, how Daniel is himself the outcome of that fusion, how the plague only exists because of crossing that line, that corporations have the power they do because everyone bought in to chipping away at their humanity to fill it with chrome.”
Gathered here are four different perspectives reflecting on personal practices of play–what the authors engage with, who they play with, what they take from those games, and when they choose to put them down.
- The Power of the Personal: The Enduring Resonance of Everything Is Going to Be Okay | Paste
Grace Benfell reflects on strength, survival, and the need to be heard via Nathalie Lawhead’s Everything Is Going to Be Okay.
- Toward a patient gamer | David Cooper Moore
David Cooper Moore asks, in a time where there is limitless choice in what to play, what games actually teach us.
- Soapbox: I Never Completed Breath Of The Wild, And I Never Will | NintendoLife
Kate Gray muses on the value of an ending not yet written.
- Playing Tabletop Games Alone Helped Me To Feel Less Lonely – New Rules
Zainabb Hull recounts some of the theraputic, liberating potentialities of solo tabletop play–as well some of the challenges (content notification for discussion of ableism and racism).
“For a short time, I’m no longer in a capitalist, racist, ableist society that demands me to perform to impossible standards for the sake of other people’s wealth. For a short time, I am in a utopia of my own construction, where my needs are respected and met, where I can thrive and adventure, and where I’m no longer alone.”
Two poems this week!
- Two Poems About The Sims – New Rules
Elspeth Wilson, The Sims (content notification for mention of suicide).
- Two Poems About The Sims – New Rules
“I am 15 days old. I am hungry and upset. I have been an adult for four days. Someone has removed the steps to my pool.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!