January 31st

Welcome back, readers.

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.

Emerging Tensions

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!

“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”

Soapstone Soapbox

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 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.”

Retro-Playing Games

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.

“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.

“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.”

Structural Reforms

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.

“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.

“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.

“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 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.”

Personal Play

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.

“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.”

Critical Chaser

Two poems this week!

“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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