Welcome back, readers.
Last week, I very briefly used the official Critical Distance Twitter account to express my gratitude to the IGN staff who took the initiative among major US games press outlets by speaking up about the humanitarian crisis Palestinians in Gaza are facing and directing their readership to organizations and charities providing aid. My gratitude remains with the staff after the original article has been pulled down through apparent corporate interference, and is extended as well to outlets which have added their voices in solidarity with Palestine, including No Escape, Fanbyte, Gamespot, Gayming Magazine, and others.
Also, in case our own position isn’t clear, fuck Israeli Apartheid, and fuck the bullshit both-sides-ism that western media perpetuates as its governments continue to bankroll Israel’s genocidal imperialism.
Around the site, a new TMIVGV is live, courtesy of Connor. Be sure to check it out!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Police in Play
Our first two sections this week broadly investigate and interrogate sci-fi worlds in games. To begin with, we’ve got two pieces critiquing recent and contemporary depictions of police and police power in future worlds, here looking largely at Astral Chain and Mass Effect.
- Los policías en los videojuegos: héroes virtuales o villanos reales | Shock
Julián Ramírez narrates the history of playable police in games, from Police Quest to Astral Chain, finding that even amidst increasingly “grey” narratives detailing corruption, individualistic heroism is ultimately still leveraged to uncritically rehabilitate the image of police in most contemporary titles (Spanish-language article).
- Mass Effect’s revival reminds us it’s time to abolish the space police | Polygon
Yussef Cole draws upon the theory and literature of police power to ask how–and if–Shepard and company can be meaningfully seperated as characters from their roles as the unchecked instruments of their galaxy-spanning neoliberal state.
“You can explore a vibrant and colorful galaxy without serving as its enforcing power. You can experience these complex narrative systems in satisfying ways without requiring all final decisions to be subject to your own approval. It’s all possible, but it requires courageous vision, as well as hope and trust in others. Mass Effect lends rhetorical support to this cause, particularly in its endings, which aim for “peace across the galaxy” while also arguing that a lone, unaccountable hero is the one to deliver it to us. In reality, it is only we, as players and as people, who must find our own way toward a better world.”
Extrapolations of late-capitalism are a common theme in spacefaring future worlds, though these themes aren’t necessarily approached with equal care or critical intent across games. Elite, for all its genre-pioneering clout as the Ur-text of space-trading sims, doesn’t quite hold up under Art’s thematic scrutiny, while Ren finds a lot more substance in Hardspace: Shipbreakers‘ more recent labour-conscious loop.
- Early Assess: Hardspace: Shipbreaker Is the Labor-Conscious Game I’ve Been Waiting For | Fanbyte
Ren muses on labour, death, and taxes under space capitalism in Hardspace: Shipbreaker.
- Elite  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury takes inventory of all the little ways in which Elite‘s first-person, neoliberal-ish simulation and outlook are just a little… off.
“The worldbuilding flinches at every turn and just doesn’t add up. If I want it to work at all, I have to indulge in a little bit of speculative fiction myself. The license: we view Elite’s world not through a perfect window, but an imperfect mediated screen, like the set-up to the big twist in Ender’s Game , where their ability to mislead about the nature of reality is leveraged for ideological indoctrination and manipulation of actors.”
Games that Get It
Our next two featured authors this week give their attention to smaller games with a lot to say, alternately by making a lot of noise or none at all.
- Millennial Rage And Despair in I Hate You, Please Suffer – Haywire Magazine
Naomi Norbez plays an RPG that undertands millennial suffering as much as it allegorizes it.
- ‘Adios’ might have a way with words, but it’s the silence that comes through the strongest – No Escape
Kaile Hultner reflects on Adios‘ quiet, understated approach to death and closure.
“Adios got all that out of the way up front. You have an afternoon. Get your affairs in order. This is nothing but business now.”
Spaces, Places, Storytelling, and Simulacra
Our next section this week casts its net wide, but all parties involved here are concerned in some way with virtual spaces and the stories they convey, or fail to convey, variously through diegetic UI, timeworn towns and manors, and full simulated cities.
- Gamasutra: Sisi Yuan’s Blog – Storytelling with Interface: The Narrative Design of User Interface in Video Games
Sisi Yuan takes inventory of the ways in which UI design and narrative design can be brought together as one, from Dead Space to the present date.
- Where Ghosts Go to Die: Close Reading Spaces in Games | In The Lobby
Cole Henry describes a few salient places in games suffused in–and haunted by–history and memory.
- AUTO MAP | DEEP HELL
Skeleton dwells upon videogame cities, simulated with progressively finer detail, resolution, and scale, as everything material cities aren’t: deliberate, designed unplaces of perfect information.
“What will the first 1:1 videogame city be? Where one step takes you exactly as far as it does in real life but down pavement of calculated geometry. Real cities? They kind of suck: you don’t hang out in a real city for the reasons you do in real life. Alleyways don’t hide mystery over the age of 16 unless someone’s got a secret neighborhood cafe in them.”
Our next two featured authors, each going long, situate their subjects in industry history, looking alternately at social play and violence in games.
- The Ratings Game, Part 4: E3 and Beyond | The Digital Antiquarian
Jimmy Maher looks into the history of studying (and litigating) violence in videogames, coming away at last with a conclusion that methodological problems continue to prevent a satisfying proof of causality between violent games and violent real-world actions.
- 1990: LambdaMOO | 50 Years of Text Games
Aaron A. Reed chronicles the transition from MUDs to MOOs, from dungeons to worlds, along with the sociological and ethical challenges that emerged therein (content notification for a summary of a violation of a player’s sexual consent).
“Exploration remains perpetually magical: unlike in a single-author text game, here you never find the limits of the world model or the edges of the map. The next object might always have a new verb programmed into it, and behind any corner might lie a new domain awaiting fresh explorers. Listening to a seashell in a gazebo transports you to a lazy tropical paradise; winding a music box in a hidden glade summons ghostly figures to enact a tableau from Keats. Rooms with dynamic descriptions responding to the seasons and the time of day keep cycling through the hours, virtual moons moving through their phases above. Even with most of the people gone, the code they left behind still keeps Lambda House alive.”
Our next two featured authors respectively unpack the ideological undercurrents of one series and illustrate the ambitions of another title to implode ideology altogether.
- Resident Evil’s most unsettling theme isn’t zombies — it’s eugenics | Polygon
Kazuma Hashimoto looks beyond the zombies and tall ladies to delve into Resident Evil‘s long-running exploration of the horrors of eugenics and white supremacy.
- Spinning and Grooving to Disco Nihilism in Disco Elysium – Haywire Magazine
Jon Lancaster, in teasing out Revachol’s various political factions, seeks to find what Disco Elysium has to say about the pitfalls of ideology itself.
“But having acknowledged that the modern God of ideology is dead is also a statement of hope, to offer instead of the return of some sought-for state organization, that one may advance on one’s own and be judged by one’s actions according to the actual method and outcome. Or perhaps instead, there is the hope that in challenging the player in their ideology, that the player becomes less vulnerable to the whims and ways of each day. In either case, the path forward is shown to be something that can’t be argued in a discourse or written in a book but that must instead be lived out in the world.”
Replicant in Review
Bullet Points has two new pieces this week, unpacking ideas and themes from not just the latest Nier-make, but from the wider Nier and Drakengard series as a whole.
- Tragedy of the Ancients | Bullet Points Monthly
Julie Muncy expands upon the song–and characters–which bind the wider Nier series together.
- A Growing Perspective | Bullet Points Monthly
Rosarie Teppelin chronicles the Nier/Drakengard metafranchise’s continuing quest to play with, subvert, and challenge established and conventional perspectives.
“Replicant is a perpetual open question, asking the player what they believe in, and what should be considered “right.” Years later in NieR: Automata’s concluding “Ending E,” Taro seemingly responds for himself, “Perhaps now we understand that not everything has to have an answer.””
Here we’ve got a pair of pieces distilling personal philosophies of play, both generally and in relation to specific games.
- The Best New Pokemon Snap Pictures Are the Bad Ones | Fanbyte
Jay Castello ignores the scores in search of the perfect imperfect shots.
- How C-PTSD Defines Me as a Gamer | Videodame
Billie Gagné-LeBel talks about trauma, therapy, and adapting as a player with intention (content notification here for a nonspecific reference to child abuse).
“I am able to play games, and I am a gamer; just a disabled one. I can now better choose the games I want to play based on the triggers I have, and if a game really interests me but has strong potential triggers, I can plan for it.”
Communities of Play
Urban legends and tourney scenes abound in our next section about play communities and the games (real or rumoured) that bind them.
- HOW CAN I COMPETE? (the dangers of grinder brain) | cera sophia
cera sophia reflects on the end of the Magic the Gathering Pro Tour, the toxic grind of trying to play the game professionally, and the friends and memories made along the way.
- Reap your reward: cursed games illuminate the ghosts of our past | Eurogamer.net
Emma Kent delves into creepypasta games, their half-remembered truths, and their half-truth recollections of legacy media, urban legends, and imperfect records.
“A game that is entertaining, but not subject to your whims or pervading moral conventions. A title that played you a little, not the other way round. It makes games feel even more otherworldly, and less like clean vehicles you can dismantle and complete, each shiny corner ticked away. Creepypastas like Pale Luna keep those old games alive in a sense. Carving them into our collective imaginations, which still resound with the ghosts of yesteryear.”
We’re closing the week out with two sendoff pieces this time. Enjoy!
- Polishing A Turd: A Week Of Garfield NES ROM HACK | Rani Baker Digs You
Rani Baker sets about fixing a terrible game.
- Every Mass Effect Trilogy Companion Character Ranked By Moral Reprehensibility – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe is out here proving that we don’t have to agree with everything we include in the roundup, it’s fine, it’s fine, I’m fine (jk Ty good read).
“Garrus is literally every cop who has a Punisher sticker on their car. He’s an authoritarian who wants to take the law into his own hands to deal with crime violently. And instead of using his combat skills to help Mordin protect his clinic, he decided to play super hero. Go help with some mutual aid initiatives, ya jerk.”
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