Welcome back, readers.
Plugging these again this week in case you’ve missed them:
- Call for submissions to a volume and archive of Black creators working in, on, and around games.
- Call for a special issue themed around Decolonizing Queer Games and Play for First Person Scholar.
- Call for a special issue centred around Surviving Whiteness in Games for the Journal of Games Criticism.
Also, Connor’s latest roundup of video content is here! Please take a look!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Blackness in Games
Uppercut ran a pretty rad slate of articles over the past week, ranging from interviews, to critiques, to frameworks, to looks ahead at what Black representation can and should be in games. Check ’em out!
- Highlighting Black Twitch Streamers on the Rise – Uppercut
Marc Griffin chats with Pink Giratina and DataDave about streaming, representation, and what they’re playing!
- Why Video Games Need More “Very Special Episodes” – Uppercut
Najee Walker distinguishes between depicting racism and practicing anti-racism in games.
- The World of The Last of Us Leaves Black Trauma Behind – Uppercut
Dani Bethea critiques Naughty Dog’s narrative fixation of Black death and fridging in observing how none of the named Black characters in either The Last of Us game makes it through the story alive.
- How Marcus Holloway Rejects One-Dimensional Blackness – Uppercut
Calvin Edwards contemplates Watch Dogs II‘s protagonist as a rare example of authentic Black representation that reaches beyond the tired tropes that games so often recycle.
“Marcus isn’t a white person in blackface or a Franklin in hacker’s clothing, but a Black character with a thoughtful understanding that Blackness isn’t as simple as Rockstar would have us believe. And more than that, he actually mirrors plenty of Black gamers who pick up the game. Not all of us, to be certain — but with countless Franklins on the table, Marcus expands veritable representation in the industry.”
State of the Art
Okay. Bear with me a moment. This is, by my own admission, a loose association of pieces with different angles and perspectives. While Kaile Hultner is responding directly to the proposals and ideas laid out by Ed Smith, beyond that this is a much broader conversation on how, through the specific framework of games, we experience art, how we talk about it, and how it is mediated through capitalism.
- IT DOESN’T MATTER WHEN YOU KILL ALL THE CIVILIANS – RESTLESS DREAMS
Ed Smith questions the assumptions that underlie how we talk about the link between player and player character, and the idea that a game’s narrative or choices have any bearing on a player’s morality.
- Lifespan  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury explores art, Art Games, and their intersection in an early, allegorical, not-necessarily-originatory example.
- On Forced Empathy in the Magic Circle – No Escape
Kaile Hultner asks if an unmoral framework for play experience forecloses the possibility of player reflection.
- Goon Squads — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil breaks down how Cyberpunk 2077–and its marketing campaign–are emblematic of a longstanding approach by triple-A publishers to keep critical discourse in a circular, toothless holding pattern while weaponizing reactionary gamer toxicity to enforce an ongoing status quo of larger and larger games unambitious in all respects but profit motive.
“Game developers toss red meat to their army of online Pinkertons and crumbs to the rest of us, knowing full well that the games press, no less obsessed with appearing respectable and serious, will pretend that the crumbs are true progress and artistic achievement. If Cyberpunk 2077 hadn’t been so hilariously broken, it would have been just another blockbuster title playing out the same logic. Game critics would have praised it, wrung their hands about the transphobia, dutifully put it on their game-of-the-year lists, and drowned it in unearned superlatives. Fascist gamers would have flexed their disciplinary power where necessary to keep prices low, story lines conventional, and critics cowed, while reasserting their model of gamer identity as the “real” one.”
Our next section brings together ideas and critiques on design philosophy, localization, designer’s tools, and the act of creation.
- Shuffled World Game (Part 2) | Melodic Ambient
Melos Han-Tani refines some design ideas around shuffling world layouts and pairing randomness with narrative and dramatic weight.
- Video Game Translators Are on Your Side, So Stop Hating on Them | VICE
Kate Gray weighs the tensions of translation and localization in cross-cultural games, and how neither of these processes always gets a fair shake from the public.
- RIP Flash | Saam Pahlavan
Saam Pahlavan observes the passing of Flash by sharing the words and thoughts of some of the creators who worked in the scene.
- How a game about making zines helped me recapture my creativity in lockdown | The Guardian
Sarah Maria Griffin chronicles time spent with Nathalie Lawhead’s Electric Zine Maker.
- Sayonara Mario World Shows the Boundless Potential in Inspiration | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor examines how a kaizo maker responds to and adapts other games and genres.
“While these specific mechanics have nothing to do with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the overall design philosophy is similar – specifically, that anything goes, that you can explore as many corners of game design as you can fit within your chosen template and do so fearlessly. There really is a fearless atmosphere in the design itself, unafraid to take sharp left turns in trying different mechanics and giving them the space to breathe before moving on to the next one.”
Realms of Reverie
Next up, we’ve got two examinations of two indie RPGs, each difficult to categorize, each with a lot to say, each with a lot to take away from them in how we relate them to our own messy lives.
- White Space | Into The Spine
Amelia Zollner reflects on what the player takes away from Omori‘s tale of mental illness struggles (content notification for discussions of depression, anxiety, and self-harm).
- Killing Our Gods: When Tomorrow Comes – Uppercut
Grace Benfell relates a game that isn’t simple to a life, an identity that isn’t static.
“What is a human without dust or air or water? How can we define ourselves without the homes in which we have lived or the food that we have eaten? Tomorrow Won’t Come Without ____ forces us through hallway after hallway, because it knows that those repetitions are the things we are made of. “
Continuing on from a theme we observed a short while ago, these three authors are interested in revealing–and filling in omissions and obfuscations, where necessary–the history behind key moments, works, and authors in games.
- 1978: Pirate Adventure | 50 Years of Text Games
Aaron A. Reed details the collaborative partnership that popularized the adventure game genre–and the oft-overlooked woman who formed half of that partnership.
- Debunking The Myth That Lara Croft’s Design Was The Result Of A Bug | TheGamer
Ruth Cassidy puts to rest a longstanding urban legend and shines a light on a participatory culture that can’t ever seem to stop talking about women’s bodies.
- The history of Snake: How the Nokia game defined a new era for the mobile industry | It’s Nice That
Ayla Angelos chronicles the design history and design legacy of mobile gaming’s first real killer app.
“Snake was a milestone moment for the mobile gaming industry, and much of what we see today can be linked back to the dawn of the cellular serpent navigating the small, black-and-white screen. It brought smiles, happiness, brain stimulation, and it was just something to do now and then – or better yet fill the time on a drab afternoon bus ride back from school. It also showed us what can be done on a phone, perhaps making us a little bit more demanding for future years to come.”
Only What You Take With You
Our next section this week brings together pieces on social play, queer representation, death, and Dad Games.
- I Love You Man! Reflections on Twenty-Four Years of Male Friendship and Gaming — Gamers with Glasses
Jason Mical and Roger Whitson discuss how normative masculine sociality informs shared play experiences and vice versa.
- Pokemon Omega Ruby’s Contest Spectacular is one of the series queerest moments | Gayming Magazine
Latonya Pennington examines the ramifications of magical girls, Cosplay Pikachu, and queer coding in Pokémon‘s Gen VI remakes.
- Memory Pak: When Harvest Moon Taught Me About Death | Nintendo Life
Kate Gray looks back at a Harvest Moon installment with a touch of permadeath.
- Bowser’s Fury Is About a Bad Dad and I Was Not Prepared | Paste
Holly Green identifies a Dad Game of a different kind in Mario’s latest colourful romp.
“I feel sorry for this poor little Bowser Jr., terrified of his daddy’s anger problem, trying to navigate Bowser’s volatile mood swings, and asking Mario for help. While admittedly it is a problem that children, likely the target audience, would identify with, it’s also tragically one that they should not have to. What a depressing theme for a child’s game.”
Coming from a game studies background myself, I’ve read a lot over the years about the association between games and cinema. Our next two pieces update this framework with new critical interventions, reiterating that the comparison has never been a perfect one.
- Rethinking Videogame’s Relationship to Cinema with the Forgotten Aconcagua | Paste
Waverly proposes that the long and troubled relationship between games and cinema is less a matter of art and more a matter of business.
- Forget movies – games have much more in common with theatre | Eurogamer.net
Grace Curtis traces the parallels between games and live performance.
“like a game, a play is an intricately planned, live, continuous experience, full of hundreds of unseen moving parts. Each show follows the same script, but no two performances are the same. There’s a million spanners that might clog up works.”
- THE FIVE WORST GAMES TO HAVE SEX IN – DEEP HELL
Skeleton, in what I interpret as being as much an act of restraint as technicality, only put one David Cage game on this list.
“The neon-future of pan galactic boning is that even the whole species dedicated to lubing up every other type of alien in the galaxy is extremely interested in penetrative sex in the missionary position. There’s no Asari – on – Krogan sadomasochism despite the setting being rife with the implication that that’s what everyone really wants to see anyway.”
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!