Welcome back, readers.
And thanks for waiting. A little later this time around, but also a little longer. Lots of interviews this week, and some reviews too! I hope you find a piece or two below you can really dig into.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week we open with a wide range of articles unpacking different trends and aspects of the industry, with foci on developers, demographic shifts, and finding space in the space to write about games.
- How China’s political influence is changing game development | GamesIndustry.biz
Khee Hoon Chan investigates the impacts of China’s increasing political and market influence on Hong Kong and Taiwan-based indie developers.
- ‘Devotion,’ the Taiwanese horror game deleted from Steam is back after two years | Launcher
Shannon Liao talks to developers from Red Candle Games about their desire to tell a story about family and cultural pressures from an authentic Taiwanese perspective.
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake Interview: Yoshinori Kitase, Naoki Hamaguchi, and Motomu Toriyama On Recreating A Classic | TheGamer
Jade King talks to some of FFVIIR‘s project leads about Final Fantasy VII‘s creative legacy, revolutionary themes, and the game’s need to reinvent itself to speak to new diverse audiences.
- From the Man Who Sold the World | Unwinnable
Diego Nicolás Argüello goos deep on the successes and challenges of elevating new writers in games media, fostering community, holding harmful actors accountable and managing toxicity.
“This is the story about a private community where bonds seemed unbreakable. It’s about the ups and downs, the lessons I learned, the people that took advantage of a safe place and how I found myself relating to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in the toughest moments of our time. It’s also the story of how it came to an end in late 2020, and what followed afterwards.”
Questions of art, exhibition, materiality, and embodiment abound in our next section with a focus on art installations, adaptation, serious games, and more.
- Enter The Data Dungeon: Sex Work & Digital Domination | Immerse
Lena Chen situates the goals of the online art installation/performance Play4UsNow in a digital landscape increasingly hostile to sex workers.
- Getting physical with Virtual Realms | Eurogamer.net
Alexis Ong discusses the uncanny experience of a games/art exhibition in a time of fluctuating public health restrictions, and talks to its collaborators about the artistic, conceptual, and logistical challenges of creating and adapting their games for embodied exhibition.
- Playing Your Way to a Better Story | Immerse
Jessica Clark takes inventory of card decks and games that help writers, journalists, and creatives think through challenges and strategies in their professions and crafts.
“The theme for this issue of Immerse is “playing with reality.” As we’ve been assembling it, I’ve been thinking about how working on the publication inspired me to create my own game—and how that in turn opened my eyes to an entire genre of card games designed to inform real-world media strategy.”
Angles on Inclusivity
Next up, we’ve got four representational stories in and around games, looking at race, gender, age, sexuality, and language.
- ‘Returnal’ and Why Games Need More Badass Middle-Aged Women | WIRED
Susan Arendt describes a need for more women characters in games outside a young-old binary, and why it’s important that Returnal’s Selene fits that bill.
- PRIDE 2021: My Complicated Relationship With The Queer Characters of Assassin’s Creed — startmenu
Louise Chase recounts the clumsy, start-and-stop, gradually progressing history of LGBTQIA+ representation in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
- Interview: Úna-Minh Kavanagh On The Importance Of Among Us In Irish | TheGamer
Cian Maher chats with Úna-Minh Kavanagh about Among Us‘ recent Irish language update, its role in promoting Irish cultural visibility, and the possibilities for games as language teaching tools.
- Black Woman Gets Two World Records For Her Vast Vintage Gaming Collection | Kotaku
Ash Parrish discusses an unconventional record-breaking games collection, the woman who put it all together, and the stakes for Black feminine visibility in the hobby.
“I am 33 years old. I know of only one Black woman older than me who plays video games. I know there are more. I just don’t know them. Finding Ms. Guillory is like discovering a hidden treasure, something long sought but rarely found. I would love to know more of her story.”
Visual novels and mystery games continue to make inroads in western markets, and more and more Japanese ones are being localized to great success. We also see this influence working both ways, as developers seek to connect with new age demographics and genres continue to shift and adapt.
- How the Great Ace Attorney Finally Went Abroad | VICE
Patrick Lum chats with Shu Takumi about the Ace Attorney series’ unique challenges in writing and localization.
- Has Danganronpa Gone Soft?? World’s End Club – In Review | Video Game Choo Choo
Solon assesses how the creators of Danganronpa and ZERO ESCAPE have reckoned with the latest challenge for visual novel and murder mystery games in the west–shifting target demographics.
“Visual novels, while having a long history in Japan, were until-recently maligned in the west both by a Book culture that hated games and a Games culture that hated books. This chasm was too wide, and the bridges were too weak. However, there’s been a huge influx of young people from a new generation who have now grown up on games like Undertale (2015), Doki Doki Literature Club (2017), and Sally Face (2018) that stem from the success of Kodaka and Uchikoshi’s works, as they were the artists to combine popular Young Adult literature genres with game-show styled rules to make these closed room murder mystery machines.”
Sight and Sound
Next up, some criticism focused on objects and sensations, the values they import from outside, and the impressions they make upon design.
- Serve me through the wall | KRITIQAL
Nate Kiernan muses on the discordant melancholy of Lofi Ping Pong.
- Object Oriented #01: Keys | getObject_
Paul Walker-Emig, in this innagural episode of an ongoing series, goes deep on the key-as-videogame object–the design practices in engenders, the values it conveys, the ideas it instills.
“We are often placed in the role of interloper; the keys we use are never ours – they are stolen, found, bought, or borrowed. We are Agent 47, finding ways into private spaces we should not be in in Hitman, the outsider arriving on an island in Morrowind, a survivor stumbling into an unknown dystopia in Bioshock, an agent behind enemy lines in Metal Gear Solid. Our role as trespasser, infiltrator, invader, aggressor, necessarily brings us into contact with locked doors. The key is a device for transgression in these places we are not supposed to be. An expression and enhancement of our role as interloper, letting us go deeper into forbidden. How delightfully appealing.”
Moving along, we’ve got a section on horror games, with recurring themes of isolation, humanity at odds with nature, and horror as a function of environment.
- Subnautica: Below Zero is Another Landmark in Video Game Horror | Fanbyte
Steven Nguyen Scaife finds horror in the quiet, open, isolating vastness of Subnautica and its new expansion.
- 20 years later, ‘Silent Hill 2’ is still a disorienting masterpiece | NME
Jordan Oloman describes the alienating, isolating horror that preserves Silent Hill 2 as an enduring classic.
- The Mountain | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole meditates on Mundaun, solitude, and the give-and-take of a balanced co-existence with nature.
“You can try to brute force the obstacles that stand in your way and save everyone like some perfect hero but Mundaun’s mountain eats heroes. It eats bravado and thoughtless aggression, eats the lazy cocksuredness of men who don’t think they owe anything for what they take. It consumes it all within the endless glistening drifts of its icy form. Only the light-footed, cautious and studied, those willing to exchange the bounties of social life for the raw minimalism of solitude, have a chance at surviving the mountain, or finding redemption beyond it.”
The Substance of Style
Next up we’ve got two pieces intersecting with conversations of style, art direction, and how these things can either serve other aspects of the game, or draw attention away from their shortcomings.
- BE ATTITUDE FOR GAINS – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi revels in the sheer spectacle of Radiant Silvergun‘s visual style and iterative, deconstructive boss design.
- Ghost of Tsushima | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente comes away from Ghost of Tsushima with feelings of ambivalance, caught between beautiful art direction and a noncommittal, underdeveloped story.
“Ghost of Tsushima is a story told in vague brushstrokes, words and actions layered faintly over the heavy paintwork of the art itself. It’s hard to see past that.”
Stories, Systems, Structures
You won’t get me to invoke the dreaded L word in games myself, but here we’ve got a series of authors working through systems, stories, and modes of play in different ratios, unpacking how they fit together–and how there’s no right way in which they necessarily fit best.
- Griftlands Review | The Indie Game Website
Justin Reeve finds story and systems to be very much in sync with one another in Griftlands‘ examination of explotation, with its only possibly shortcoming being a lack of vision on the outside of the nightmare.
- The foreshadowing of Evil Zone | LudoLudo Dissonance | Pixels For Breakfast
Rowan Carmichael observes how the games which innovate and the ones which history eventually vindicates aren’t always one in the same, by looking at a forward-thinking, all-but-forgotten late-90s fighting game with an emphasis on story and mechanical accessibility.
- We Don’t Need a Flow State: Intentional Frustration in I Am Bread | Sidequest
Emma Kostopolus examines how deliberately-frustrating games–such as the works of Bennett Foddy–challenge the idea of flow as the singular ideal path to sustained satisfaction in play.
“If we think about “why does a game want to work against flow?” we have to recognize that we’ve begged a question: we are assuming that flow is the optimal play experience. And for some people, it is—getting “in the zone” can be a pleasant experience. But there are plenty of people for whom flow is undesirable (because of issues regulating behavior and hyperfixating) or even unachievable (due to focus issues or motor issues that make most common control schemes uncomfortable and frustrating). So, a game that says to the player that frustration is the modus operandi actually opens up the acceptable ways of play to a larger group of people.”
I saved the spiciest discourse for last this week.
- Wrestling Fans Are Waging A Silent RPG War On Live TV | Kotaku
Leah WIlliams reports on the hard truths coming out in sports entertainment lately.
“It’s common for fans to bring jokey posters or memes to wrestling shows in an effort to be noticed on camera, but over the last three years posters have started tackling deeper issues. In fact, they’re tackling an issue close to the hearts of many gamers: which Final Fantasy is best.”
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