Welcome back, readers.
For this issue, the cool thing I want to plug first is the TTRPG Charity Bundle for Trans Support currently being hosted over on Itch throughout the month of June. There’s some stellar talent included in this package, and I’m glad to see a focus on tabletop games, which don’t always get as much attention! Check it out of you can.
Around the site, our latest issue of Keywords in Play is up, featuring Dr. Alenda Y. Chang. Check it out!
Now, a technical note for this week. A few things around the site aren’t working precisely the way they should be right now. I apologize in advance for any unanticipated reality-disrupting events you may experience while you’re here. The short of it right now is until we get it fixed, links around the site are behaving oddly. Trying to click and drag on text also appears to be an issue. If you want to follow through on any of our selections this week, right-click (or hold to tap on mobile) and open the page in a new tab. The same rules apply if you’re checking out our new episode of Keywords in Play. Thanks for your patience as we hunt down whatever reality-warping miscreant has chewed through a wire behind the wall.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
A new game, Chicory, has come along, and has elicited some pretty favourable impressions on the game’s approaches to art, imperfection, and self-acceptance. As such, we open this week with a trio of responses and reflections on the game.
- Chicory Review: A Warm and Cozy Picnic | Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe spends some time with Chicory and finds a bit more storytelling depth than its cutsey package might suggest.
- For a Game About Imperfections, Chicory: A Colorful Tale Is Practically Perfect | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores reflects on what Chicory has to say about art, imperfection, and self-worth.
- Chicory: A Colorful Tale teaches finding purpose in a world full of pressure and criticism | Gamepur
Chris Compendio examines Chicory‘s artful approach to self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
“Chicory: A Colorful Tale is an insightful look at art criticism, and it reminds us that we all owe it to ourselves to go easy on our own work, and to not be afraid to ask for support from the people around us. A hint of self-doubt can be necessary — I’m certainly feeling uncertainty as I write this very piece — but by breaking yourself free from the restraints of larger expectations, or at the very least nudging yourself away from them, you can fully form the image of your best self.”
Moving along, let’s look at design. But not just design–also design practices, industry trends, a certain pressure to conform in the triple-A scene, as well as the more liberatory design affordances possible outside that sphere.
- Design Deep Dive: Valheim | The Bottom Feeder
Jeff Vogel describes why it’s important to suffer (a little, not too much, just the right amount) for your art in crafting games to make the world, the experience, and the art just a bit more real.
- Ubisoftification | Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith locates a cycle of repetition in AAA design, not just in how tentpole series replicate one another, but in a particular reactive, crowd-pleasing instinct in sequel making and marketing.
- Feeding The Chimera | Unwinnable
Phillip Russell wrestles with Biomutant and wonders if AAA games right now are just too beholden to bigger worlds and more and myriad checkbox mechanics to actually say the things they really want to say.
“I’m stuck on this feeling I have while playing Biomutant where I want to like it. I want it to succeed, and I want it to figure out its own voice. I think this comes from the fact that there is a unique perspective to the world and drive of this game that is buried beneath decades of game design that has felt invincible, a sure bet. But maybe all of this iteration, this conjoining of these systems we know to “work” is the very thing stifling Biomutant from actually achieving the promise that its visuals and light-hearted humor embody?”
Our next section is all about interactivity and choice-making in games, with two pieces united by a desire to shift our view on some of our baseline assumptions about what makes us feel involved in a game and to what ends.
- Beyond Calculable Actions | Immerse
Nicholas O’Brien introduces an idea of essay games which pivot the function of choice in games away from affecting worlds and towards understanding them.
- Performing Interactivity | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole considers the role of performance in meaningful interactivity, and how that can play into the pleasure of watching a streamer’s specific and adept playthrough.
“It is a player taking the tools allowed him by the game’s design and making them wholly his own. Centering himself within the design like a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, with input lists and speedrun stratagems circling around his outstretched arms in perfect synchronized harmony. These tools may have been designed for a wider audience, mass-produced onto infinitely replicable code, but the no-hit streamer reduces the game down into digital singularity, making it seem like it was made solely for him.”
What We Take With Us
Next up, we’ve got two more personal pieces examining how we situate particular games in relation to the struggles, challenges, and traumas we face in our material lives, and how those games can help us to unpack or better understand our experiences.
- Making Friends With the Grim Reaper: Processing My Grief in The Sims | Sidequest
Connie Ricketts meditates on death, grief, and two decades with The Sims.
- The World Around Me | Into The Spine
Jessica Reyes talks through The World Ends With You and learning to open up to others.
“TWEWY didn’t change me overnight. But, after a few other fateful shifts in my life, I thought back to this game when I decided to trust the people who would eventually become my first friend group. Socialization followed as my life transformed into a more “normal” high school experience. Strangers weren’t scary anymore. They weren’t trying to hurt me. They were people, and possible friends.”
Re-releases and remakes (or even re-releases of remakes) are the name of the game(s) in our next section, as our next two featured authors make sense of what’s new, what isn’t, and what could have been.
- Finding The Heart Of Midgar With Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade’s Photo Mode | TheGamer
Jade King explores how Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s new–albeit limited–photo mode opens up its world a little more.
- Mass Effect Isn’t Star Trek | Gamers with Glasses
Christian Haines notes how Mass Effect‘s adherance to an action-focused format also adheres it to our contemporary neoliberal, conflict-driven worldview, and that a pivot towards communication and exploration could provoke a more utopian speculative outlook.
“I wonder what kinds of AAA games might emerge if action-based design sensibilities were loosened and if the principles of compelling world-building weren’t confused with internalizing the social values of the status quo. Maybe instead of simply meeting aliens in a virtual world, we might also discover alien versions of ourselves – new ways of being human, new desires, new hopes.”
The Way You Remember It
It’s funny the way our recollection of old games, like all things, tends to drift (often unreliably) into tidy narratives and structures of what we think they should be. We remember, or we think we remember, what games were supposed to look like on a CRT television, rather than what they actually happened to look like on the particular sets we had access to at the time. We remember, or we think we remember, what it feels like to play one of the old Falcom classics fresh out of the 80s. But we don’t, not quite, and that can be a valuable starting point for contemporary criticism.
- morgan’s cool blog
Morgan Manginelli demystifies the notion that there can be a single authoritative or intended way to display graphics on retro gaming hardware.
- A fresh bundle of very old games – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi weighs the varying merits of emulation vs remakes by taking a look at a Saturn-era compilation of refreshed Falcom RPG classics.
“You can feel Falcom working out game design through these titles, each of them a slightly different answer to a question people were only just beginning to ask. It may not be accurate in the way we think we’d want a retro compilation to be, but Falcom Classics arguably gives us something even better; an enjoyable and less intimidating way of accessing some otherwise perhaps hard to play retro games – no user discs to create, no floppies to swap, no keyboard controls – just lots of fun.”
This week, we’re closing things out with an interview so wide-reaching in topic and scope as to warrant its own section. This one is very much worth a read (or a listen!).
- Interview with Kishonna Gray | First Person Scholar
Dr. Pallavi Sodhi chats with Dr. Kishonna Gray about racial equity in game design, building and maintaining accessible and equitable communities, and more.
“We come to video games to have fun. We don’t want to be reminded of oppression and our marginalization, and that at any time we could be killed by the police. We don’t want to be reminded of that in the game. That’s where a lot of these games, they need to evolve beyond that. They need to stop doing that.”
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