Welcome back, readers.
This week we’re plugging the Queer Games Bundle over on Itch, which brings together 200+ games from indie creators for the price of a single AAA title, and which runs for roughly a week more after this roundup’s publication. What would you like to play?
Around the site, I don’t mind highlighting our extra issue for Pride Month one more time before we head into Wrath Month. If you haven’t already, check out some great writing from throughout the front end of 2021!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening section this week examines historical processes both within games and around them, with particular foci on western bias and Orientalism. These trends inform games as works of art, as simulations, as commercial products, and more.
- Sable (Demo): The Trouble with a Timeless Desert – GlitchOut
Oma Keeling’s time with the demo for Sable is weighed down by an ahistorical Orientalism at the heart of the game’s whimsical indie aesthetics.
- The Death of Adventure Games that Never Was – Vagrant Cursor
Clara Fernandez-Vara observes that genres in games almost never actually die, and that proclamations of their deaths more often reflect a reductive historical approach to games that favours popular trends and the North Ameriacn market in particualr.
- Why Play at Orientalism? | Public Books
Sam Dibella analyzes the Eurocentric conceits (technological, economic, cartographical, and beyond) which guide Paradox games’ approaches to game design and to history.
“I wish these games could depict a more radical history, one whose highest aim isn’t just to switch the names of the conquered and the conquerors.”
Next up, a pair of pieces examine how contemporary games are tackling the topic of climate catastrophe, with a specific focus on Umurangi Generation. Check ’em out!
- FINAL LEVEL: Climate Disaster in Umurangi Generation and Sludge Life | The Indie Game Website
Ryan Stevens surveys the state of climate catastrophe politics in games, and the value of limiting the player’s ability to alter the outcomes of ruined worlds.
- The Article Where I Talk About Umurangi Generation In Full Detail (Total F*ckin Spoilers Ahead), Part One – No Escape
Kaile Hultner takes a step beyond the artistry to unpack the politics of photography and photojournalism in Umurangi Generation.
“Every story I’ve seen written on Umurangi Generation since it came out has been heavy on the photography – and let’s be clear, it’s supposed to be. It’s a game where the creator has put so much god damn time and energy into making a fully-functional DSLR system work in a game engine with gyro controls that you better be taking some fuckin photos, and sharing them too. I am guilty of this, making my reviews and other ancillary articles about Umurangi Generation photo-heavy just to have a chance to share some of the literal thousands of shots I’ve taken in the game. But very few pieces I’ve seen have asked, “hey uh why are we taking all these photos? Who are they for, both in-game and out of the game?” And as I stand in front of a pair of sentries in front of a makeshift machine gun nest trying my best to frame one guy’s helmet that reads “Property of the UN,” that question and the “who let me in here” question kind of hit at once. What am I acting in complicity with every time I raise the viewfinder to my eye?”
Our next three featured authors this week situate games in the context of the platforms they appear on, the series and IPs they are embedded within, and the raw materiality that enables and informs play in the first place.
- Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage Is Too Inaccessible and Closed Off to Be a Useful Tool | Paste
Grace Benfell finds that charming presentation and genuinely intuitive teaching tools only go so far inside a walled garden.
- This battle is about to explode! – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi situates Namco X Capcom in a canon of crossovers where the fanservice is the whole point and that’s just fine.
- I am literally writing this to bully CRTTV nerds | LeeRoy Lewin
LeeRoy Lewin discusses how the imprecise, buggy experience of retro gaming on analog hardware is pleasurable, but hardly technologically defininitve, or artistically authoritative.
“My point of view with this is that analog technology is exciting and personalized because it has more ways to fuck up and go wrong, rather than stumbling on some made up unicorn perfect way of playing the same fucking games. My nes emits a buzzing sound sometimes, my game boy color has a distorted and blurry display, and my mega drive garbles graphics, sometimes. Probably bad, but I have spares. The chance of technological failure and the ways that failure audiovisually expresses itself continues to be a fascinating vector of expression that emulation can only sort of replicate, but not as easily or randomly. Like glitches but isolated to the hardware level, so it has less artistic implications, and like I alluded to earlier, feels like it interfaces with the technocratic side of videogame expression…”
Norms Aboard the Normandy
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition has continued to invite new critical re-evaluations asking how the games (as well as games in general) have changed over the past decade-plus, and how they still maybe ought to change. Here are two of my faves this week.
- Mass Effect 5 needs to recognise that aliens are people too | PCGamesN
Jeremy Signor, in an overview of racial essentialism in Mass Effect, traces the problems and storytelling limitations of characters who are made to act as stand-ins for their whole species.
- So nobody in Mass Effect has a working gaydar, huh? | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart observes the ways in which, despite its limited roster of queer romance options, Mass Effect remains overwhelmingly, structurally straight.
“Joking aside, the reason why nobody in Mass Effect has a gaydar – despite it not actually being a thing that exists outside of straight people using it to out us or through fellow queers trying to identify whether to let their guard down or not – is ultimately because this series is unfortunately written with a straight, male Shepard in mind. The only difference between a male and female Shepard outside of romantic interests is that female Shepards get the ‘benefit’ of experiencing sexism thrown their way.”
Our next two featured pieces this week unpack challenges of artistic identity in games and game-making, asking what it means to make something new, or meaningful, or thoughtful within a series, within an industry, within a culture.
- A Snake Eating its Tail | Bullet Points Monthly
Emma Kostopolus finds that for all its callbacks, Resident Evil Village lacks an identity of its own, mechanically, thematically, or otherwise.
- Parasocial Nintendo Complex: 10 Years of Game Dev | Melodic-Ambient 2
Melos Han-Tani reflects on the creative challenges and potential pitfalls of making games while also existing within games culture.
“Every designer has their own style, and being an original designer is about contemplating all of the media and experiences (not just games) you’ve been through and then using that to figure out what feels important for you to design. Thinking about this from the ground up (rather than from “I Love Zelda”-down) allows you to be more realistic with yourself about what you’re capable of.”
Play in Context
Here, we’ve got two authors exploring how play is informed by our material and social conditions–how it must fit around our work lives and budgets, but also how it can inform and impact our ideological practices.
- Reconnecting with the way most people actually play games | Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld contrasts the endless marketing march of big new games (under capitalism) with the ways in which people actually budget their finances and time to make room for a few games that matter to them the most (under capitalism).
- Duty Bound — Real Life
Nadine Smith shares a tale of how propaganda–in Call of Duty and elsewhere–works on more than just reactionaries.
“So there we were, the capitol police officer and I, understanding each other too well. Playing Call of Duty, I like to tell myself I’m subverting the game, but in the end I have to admit I’m internalizing the same terms of engagement, and the same structural outlook as my ideological opponents. It’s easy to fall prey to the conditioning the game encourages — to feel too good about how precise your aim has become, or how many kills you’ve racked up. I don’t believe that war is natural and right. But I’ve found myself acting as though I do; and finding real friendship, and real belonging, under a set of circumstances I would otherwise abhor. Just like the invisible walls of a rendered landscape, you often don’t know you’ve hit the boundary until you’re up against it and booted from the game.”
- Review: Is Guilty Gear Strive Dumbing Down Fishing Games? – The Option Select
They’re right and they should say it.
“They’ve forgotten that part of what keeps people coming back to these fishing games is having a tackle box full of different options. What is there left to do in the long term if you can become a VIP fisherman in under a week?”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!