Welcome back, readers.
No speech this week. Here’s an extensive and detailed resource if you’re looking for a way to support Asian-American communities near you.
I do have a couple of updates around the site to highlight. Connor’s latest video roundup is live, so go check that out if you haven’t already. Also, we’ve got a new episode of Keywords in Play, featuring Dr. C. Thi Nguyen!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week we’re opening with a trio of sections about history and ahistory. I’ve gone back and forth a bit on how to order these pieces and sections because there’s lots over commonality on things like the short cultural memory that plagues games, cyclical narratives in reporting, and art, preservation, and obselescence. In this first part, we’ve got three authors who, while focusing on specific texts and topics, also gesture broadly to the construction of cultural history and memory in the industry.
- Too many games – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi interrogates the breadth and specificy of knowledge valued–even required–within games as a hobby and discourse.
- Gamer Trouble Book Club #1: O Gamer My Gamer – No Escape
Kaile Hultner embarks upon a read of Amanda Phillips’ provocative, accessible primer on and intervention in the cultural landscapes of games, the industry, and academia.
- MY LIFE FOR NERZHUL – DEEP HELL
Skeleton remarks upon history–and journalism–repeating itself every time Bobby Kotick awards himself a generous bonus and Activision-Blizzard lays off a bunch of people.
“Looking at Blizzard now, all of the original staff have left, or been folded into mobile games and esports marketing strategies departments. Former members of the studio decry the operation as being a husk of its former self: a catalogue of brands being managed by investors and hedge funds with a powerful need to keep the talent door revolving. Those staff that left, who did they get replaced by? If a company is the sum of its parts – what about when all of those parts are just people hungry for work that own too many Heroes of the Storm funkopops?“
Our next section (or subsection) also offers meditations on the industry as a whole, but rendered more directly through the lenses of specific object text games.
- Haunting, History, The Medium — Gamers with Glasses
Christian Haines excavates what The Medium‘s clumsy and reductive approach to history has to say about our own present (a)historical moment.
- 2009: A Dating Sim Exodus | Freelansations
Tom James identifies 2009 as an endpoint for the era of Japanese dating sims, and studies what each of its three tentpole releases that year has to say about the genre as a whole.
- Six Days in Fallujah Is Complicated and Painful For Those Connected to the Real Events | IGN
Rebekah Valentine talks with Arab and Iraqi devs and players about the stakes for harm in simulating atrocities for entertainment.
“The general sentiment that emerged from those talks — among much else — was a mistrust of Seattle-based developer Highwire’s ability to represent a truthful human experience of the events. Alongside that came worries about the game’s representation of Iraqi citizens (and Middle Eastern cultures in general), and a wider concern about the responsibility of trying to turn a real-life war — particularly such a recent, bloody, and controversial one — into an interactive entertainment experience.”
Finally, we’ve got two pieces looking at the intersections between web-building and art-making, tracing the histories of the craft, its tools, and the people who keep the forms alive today.
- Tracing the Sprawling Roots of Flash Preservation | Waypoint
Khee Hoon Chan delves into the history of Flash, talks to some of its proponents and artists, and looks into the efforts to preserve and celebrate the form.
- Talk Transcript: The browser is a creative playground! – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead discusses the webpage itself as a medium that supports both gameplay experiences and storytelling, and talks about how creators can get started making weird and cool art in this format.
“I think this is a really important creative philosophy to preserve. We lost pretty much all of it, largely because of killing Flash. The type of website I describe was often built with Flash. This wasn’t preserved. Flash games, on the other hand, were… but I think it’s important to bring this up, because there’s no reason that websites need to be this “dead format” that we’ve come to accept.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Next up, we have two meditations on loops in games, the meaning they evoke in players, and how all of that relates to a life stuck on repeat.
- Dark Souls taught me to celebrate small victories | Polygon
Maddy Myers pushes back against the oppressive weight of meaningless by finding meaning in the art and the aftermath of the parry.
- ‘Loop Hero’ Asks If a Cruel, Forgotten World Is Worth Rebuilding | Waypoint
Gita Jackson muses on waking up to the same thing every day.
“Every day, I wake up and enter a world of horror, one where each day seems as numbingly same-y as the last. I’m yearning for a return to an old version of this world, one that is now little more than a memory for me. Loop Hero‘s ultimate fantasy is the feeling of control, even if that control is ultimately illusory.”
Ok, this is another loose grouping, so bear with me. There’s lots of provocative questions this week about how spaces in games are constructed, what kinds of relationships we form with those spaces, how those relationships are influenced and informed by our prior experiences, and how our experiences with games inform and influence our relationships with material spaces.
- Walk Through The Valley | Into The Spine
Ryan Stevens weighs the popular escapism of farming and crafting sims in the context of having actually grown up on a farm.
- Bowser’s Fury Trades Flexible Levels for Experiments in Scale | Jeremy Signor’s Games Initiative
Jeremy Signor considers how a seamless sandbox and a beeeg Bowser come at the cost of platform variety in Mario’s latest minisode.
- Control – Análisis a Fondo [Parte 2] | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez studies the deliberate unknowability of Control and its narrative deconstruction of the player/protagonist dynamic (Spanish-language article).
- Rhythm Heaven: The Tempo of Everyday Life | rhythm heaven
Alex Wen examines how Rhythm Heaven teaches us not just to excel at itself, but also to recogize the rhythm that structures our lives.
- The land means nothing. Burn it, kill everything, and make money | In The Lobby
Cole Henry contemplates the Far Cry series’ troubled, transactional approach to nature in general and to hunting and fishing specifically.
“Nature is a thing that you shouldn’t be able to put a price tag on, but we have. I stopped hunting years and years ago, but the fact remains that I took part in a machine that has led to the eradication of numerous species, a booming gun industry, and more. Far Cry 5 plays into those same hands.”
Two pieces this week, incidentally both from TheGamer, invite us to reconsider key characters we’ve had time and space to sit with and appreciate their under-recognized successes.
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake Understands That Barret Is The Real Hero | TheGamer
Stacey Henley situates Barret as an eco-warrior and a tender father who learns to let down his trope-laden guard and grow into a rich and vulnerable hero.
- Skyward Sword Gave Us The Best Version Of Princess Zelda | TheGamer
Andrea Shearon considers the ways in which Skyward Sword‘s incarnation of Zelda is written with agency and intention.
“Zelda will live lifetime after lifetime, destined to spend it beating back the Demon King. This version of her gives each entry some added context that makes the princess more admirable and more tragic with each addition. It’s the indomitable will of Hylia, who cared so deeply for others that she commits herself to hundreds of lifetimes of fighting to make sure every generation is safe – ensuring Zelda will always be there to meet Demise.”
Two articles this week examine how horror and anxiety in imaginary worlds are rooted in the mundanity of present-date, real-world living.
- The Red Strings Club understands the dystopian nightmare of Cyberpunk is already here | Gayming Magazine
Ty Galiz-Rowe points to The Red Strings Club as a game that reckons with injustice as it exists today, rather than abstracting it as a warning of things to come.
- Devotion – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi dives headlong into Devotion‘s horror of the ordinary, of the emotional, of the personal.
“What makes Devotion’s horror so chillingly effective is how ordinary it is, how you come away at the end of it emotionally overwhelmed; justifiably angry, sad, disgusted, and filled with pity at once.”
Never Forgetti, Rest in Resetti
Welp. A year indoors, and a year since the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In lieu of our mostly-regular Critical Chaser section, here are two standout retrospectives on how people built out their islands, alone or together, in a tire fire of a year.
- Meet the Animal Crossing users who spent up to 2000 hours in game | The Washington Post
Shannon Liao talks with Animal Crossing players about completion, burnout, community, nostalgia, and more.
- The Year We Spent in Animal Crossing: New Horizons | Polygon
Nicole Carpenter documents the major intersections over the last year between Animal Crossing‘s events and happenings and ongoing developments in the material world.
“We’re back to New Horizons’ launch date — 365 days later. And who is here to greet us? Zipper T. Bunny.”
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!