Welcome back, readers.
With a number of sites entering the slow summer post-E3 period or taking some much needed rest, I’ve decided to just roll with having a lighter issue this week. Hope everybody is keeping safe, getting in some time outdoors, and overall doing okay!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Break It Down
It’s a lighter reading list this time around, and so I’ve decided that instead of splitting this smaller number of selections up into subsections, I’d experiment with the format a little and identify a critical thread to string together all nine selections this week. That thread is Breakdowns. Every article this week involves a disassembly, a demystification, or a deconstruction of larger constituent elements or dominant narratives around a game. This may take the form of games that fail to meet expectations, as it does with Jimmy Maher, or games that significantly rise above them, as it does with Kimimi. This theme brings together works of longform criticism, experiential writing, or in the case of Joel Goodwin, a bit of both. Some pieces, as is the case with Melissa Brinks’ piece on D&D, Sin Vega’s on architectural salvage, and Autumn Wright’s on Chicory, involve literal breakings and unmakings. Finally, everybody this week gets a pullquote. Enjoy!
- How to Break D&D for Fun | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks fixes D&D, heavy with historical baggage and byzantine limiting structures and systems, by breaking it.
“I, for one, break D&D because I’m a notorious lover of garbage. I like to play with trash. I find a lot of satisfaction in looking at something flawed and figuring out how I could improve it. How can I make something fun and satisfying out of something that simply isn’t very good”
- Someone should make a game about: architectural salvage | Eurogamer.net
Sin Vega imagines a game that locates the value in lost, recovered, repurposed made things.
“History might be only the percent of a percent that survived, but the bulk of human edifice is not truly gone. Even some of the grandest of ancient temples and monuments throughout the ages did not vanish, but were gradually broken down and used to shore up a house or tannery or boundary wall, their stones and bricks forming part of a new being like nutrients in the biosphere. Most of it will never be known. And that’s exactly why it’s so precious when you find a little piece of it.”
- Pentimenti: A Review of Chicory | Unwinnable
Autumn Wright approaches Chicory with attention to unmaking, white spaces, and community transformation.
“Color in Picnic materializes a promise of art that has often felt unfulfilled in our own, that it can by itself undo the world. Stickers, graffiti, and other art that fill the nonplaces of the end of history can make us see the world differently, can build up an alternate reality, but not undo what is present, never make another. In Picnic as on Earth, the canvas is never blank.”
- Ghost Trick and the joy of the ridiculous | Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld unpacks the humour in the unreal at the heart of Shu Takumi’s games.
“Ghost Trick and Ace Attorney fall into a category of their own – they acknowledge the ridiculousness of their setup in the deadpan, LucasArts way, but they also take it very, very seriously. They’re incredibly earnest and full of high-tension moments where you have to decide matters of life and death, and you defuse those situations by possessing a pair of headphones or calling a parrot to the stand.”
- We Dwell in Possibility | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente speculates on post-pandemic sexual catharsis via Robert Yang and Eleanor Davis’ We Dwell in Possibility.
“You can play or you can witness. Like, you can place things but design doesn’t feel like the goal here — it is a little out of our control, a little messy. Our place as the player is like… holding a hand under running water and watching as the flow splits into different streams between your fingers. Something you don’t do for long but that still piques at something natural and somatic while it’s happening.”
- Full Throttle | The Digital Antiquarian
Jimmy Maher re-examines Tim Schafer and LucasArts’ cinematic biker adventure as a game caught between trends, technologies, and times, better watched than actually played.
“But for all its considerable strengths, Full Throttle pales in comparison to the LucasArts games that came immediately before it. It serves as a demonstration that presentation can only get you so far in a game — that a game is meant to be played, not watched. And alas, actually playing Full Throttle is too often not much fun at all.”
- Tetris  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury zeroes in on Tetris‘ ability to wend its way beneath the conscious brain, the language brain, the legal brain.
“Tetris annihilates my consciousness. I become as if pre-verbal, entirely reliant on visuals and muscle twitches. (Not to overstate the case: this does not occur every single time I play Tetris.) I would not call this “immersion”, nor “flow,” because I don’t think that’s accurate to what’s going on, in Tetris or really any other game. I am engaged, I am in the zone. Perhaps this is what it is like to be proficient at playing a musical instrument.”
- The Abandoned Church | Electron Dance
Joel Goodwin, in this second part of a series, thinks through industrial spaces, infrastructure, and the life and death of small towns via INFRA.
“INFRA is not about workplaces, parks, playgrounds, bars or restaurants. It’s about what props up the façade of the metropolis, that concrete and pipework labyrinth, abstracted away through corporation motifs and manhole covers. Its existence is without question but what exactly lies beneath your feet?”
- Fillers, coasters, and horse racing – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi reaches down into the wholesale shovelware bins and comes away with a Saturn horse-racing game that’s… not bad??
“I don’t like really horses. I think they’re giant inscrutable kick-machines and best observed cautiously from a safe distance. So the thought of a whole bunch of them cooped up together with brightly dressed people on top, all skittish and ready to run at breakneck speed down a narrow track… It’s not an experience I’m desperate to bring into my home, let’s put it that way.
So it’s odd how relaxing Winning Post EX feels.“
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!