February 7th

Welcome back, readers.

To begin, I’d like to bring your attention once more this week to this call for submissions to a collected volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games. This call runs until mid-March!

Over at First Person Scholar, there is also a call going out for submissions to a special issue centred around Decolonizing Queer Games and Play, published in collaboration with Khee Hoon Chan. This is paid work, and the organizers are hoping especially to hear from queer and trans BIPOC critics.

Back over on our site, Emilie Reed is back and hosting a new Jam! This time around, it’s all about lists. Submissions open in a week and run for a week. What do you want to write about?

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Community Spaces

We open this issue with two very different looks at community in games. The first focuses on all-women tournament spaces, while the second targets a broader collective and the toxic frameworks that poison it.

“The night has dragged on, and there are still so many people here. Suddenly, you hear a scream. You turn around, and there is the partygoer you saw crying alone outside earlier. They are sitting on the floor in the middle of the party space, and they scream again. Nobody from the main group, in fact, nobody at all, comes to check on them, to see if they’re okay. They scream again. And a fourth time. By scream number five, you see their eyes searching the room. They lock eyes with yours, expectant. You panic. Should you help them? Nobody else seems particularly bothered. You really just got here, is it really your business? Then, they are looking elsewhere. You hear yourself exhaling. A new friend from the main group tells you not to worry about it. Drama.”

Stage Select

This trio of narrative studies focuses on intersections of genre, performance, and character across three games, each distinct in scope, tone, and themes.

“This is a game that lets its men grieve, rage, and bond in ways that aren’t commonly depicted within big-budget video games. Even more surprising are Death Stranding’s overarching themes about the rejection of hopeless fatalism and isolation in order to embrace fatherhood, empathy, and community.”

Critical Queerness

Sometimes two pieces show up that just vibe with one another. Henley this week addresses a thematic inadequacy when games include a Pride flag or three and call it a day. Meanwhile, Siggy examines what can be achieved when queerness is meaningfully deployed through multiple layers, looking here at characters and themes.

“What really pleased me about Bugsnax is that it is an excellent example of what I’m calling twofold queer representation. It has queer characters… and queer-coded themes. The queer themes are never explicitly labeled as queer, and have no direct connection to the queerness of the characters. Nonetheless, the significant presence of queer characters cues the player to look for queer interpretations of the rest of the story–and find them.”

Personal Play

Two pieces centring players and play.

“It comes down to terraforming—the building mechanic which lets you build and collapse cliffs, create ponds and waterfalls. It should be relaxing, but for me it becomes weirdly stressful instead. It could go on forever, but I’m not quite sure why you’d want it to. I terraform and decorate obsessively, then begin to feel deflated by it, struggle along for a few more days or weeks with all the enthusiasm of a marathon runner whose legs have fallen off, and then eventually admit defeat and burn out.”

Lifting the Lid

Next on deck we have a pair of design-focused critiques interrogating genre, theme, presentation, and Toads.

“So, why have we let some genres monopolize on having a concept, which implies that other genres lack that concept, even though this concept is something that is existential to play and life, or in less grand terms, something that is pretty much a constant of all cultural production? What is this separate thing that we are trying to refer to when we talk about exploration? Probably, the thing we’re really talking about or desiring is ownership.”

Adept Adaptations

Our next two featured authors look at how works are translated across media, across platforms, across time periods, looking at a computer adptation of D&D and a modernized port and remake of a Sega Saturn classic, respectively.

“Graphically updating old games must feel a lot like being asked to nail custard to a wall: It’s a lot of messy effort for all involved and by the end of it nobody’s really happy with the way things turned out. Even the best-intentioned daub of next-gen polygonal polish can turn out badly – old games are often charming because of, rather than in spite of, the way they look, and by trying to give everything more detail for detail’s sake much of the charm and feel of the original can be lost to the unforgiving glare of a 4K image so intricately detailed you can pick out individual 3D eyelashes where once you were grateful if you could tell someone had a face at all.”

Story Machines

We’ve got two pieces this week looking at the specific intersection in games between stories and systems, and how these aspects interact and support one another in weird and unexpected ways.

“I think, overall, it’s games like this (Yume Nikki, Abzu, Celeste, Lucah) that are worth looking at for how you can get a lot of meaning, story… just for how they ask the player to interact. You’re placed in this fantastic world. Why even say anything? Exploration, engaging with what the game is asking you to do, builds such a powerful narrative even without words.”

Firmware Patches

This week continues a trend of great work towards unpacking and re-examining cyberpunk worlds, both in general and in specific. Here are four of the latest standouts.

“Perhaps the most damning thing about Cyberpunk 2077, a game that wants so desperately to be bright and loud and cool, is that it is uninspiring. Whereas other games might use their systems to posit new ideas about history, gender, or humanism, ideas I may well disagree with but demand critical attention, 2077 depicts a world that is much like our own. But this isn’t in pursuit of realist commentary. Rather, 2077 is entirely reactionary. It would be forgettable too if it weren’t for the attention money can buy.”

Critical Chaser

We close this week with a manual for the digital.

“OBJECT OF THE GAME:
To feel any kind of joy at all.


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