Welcome back, readers.
There’s a lot of discourse this week on art–the value it creates (or doesn’t), the responsibility it bears (or doesn’t). Some of it is frankly tiring, and I don’t mean that as a value judgement. I’m grateful, however, that people still make and talk about art, be it the videogamey kind or otherwise, even and especially in perilous times. And thank you, readers, for continuing to read, write, and share those conversations.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week’s opening section takes both personal and collective trauma for its theme–how popular media engages with it, works through it, and reflects our own experiences with it.
- Phantom Pains: The Forever War Both Inside and Out | In The Lobby
Cole Henry talks about non-endings, self-perception, and bodily trauma (content notifications here for discussion of eating disorders and suicidal ideation).
- Nihilism is so easy, which is why we need to kill it – No Escape
Kaile Hultner didn’t actually write about videogames in this one but know what, heck with it, this one’s going in.
- A Year Later, I Still Can’t Stop Thinking About Disco Elysium | Kotaku
Renata Price muses on Disco Elysium‘s slow overarching meditation on trauma–personal and collective–and the ways we move through it.
“Shivers, the investigation, Harry’s own internal discourse and final testimony. All of it in service of producing narratives strong enough to cope with trauma after trauma, and realizing that, despite all the broken things inside of you, you can still touch and be touched by other people. Yes, Harry is a fuckup. But he’s still going. He wants to be better, and I cannot help but think he will do it.”
Out in the Open
Next up, we’ve got two meditations on virtual worlds and spaces, what makes them real, how we navigate them, what they afford us.
- ‘Sleeping Dogs’ is still the gold standard for virtual cities | NME
Jim Trinca looks back at what Sleeping Dogs got right about cities and stories.
- Red Dead Redemption 2 | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente escapes from the escapism in RDR2.
“In a game where you can be the most terrifying cowboy in the land — shoot anybody you come into contact with, kill every animal, steal every wagon, fence every stolen good — I was off taking my horse for a bath. I was admiring the drawings I’d made of squirrels and crabs. The game told me cowboys weren’t really allowed anymore and I said don’t worry, that’s okay. My heart can’t handle it anyway.”
Roguelikes are front-and-centre in this section, with questions of design, accessibility, fidelity, and storytelling in play.
- Gamasutra: Sophia Kramer’s Blog – Creating a traditional roguelike to a wider audience – a step into the darkness
Sophia Kramer lays out some design goals for preserving the essence of roguelikes while making them more accessible to a wider audience.
- Hades (PS5 review) – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa finds a lot to love about Hades‘ storytelling systems.
“This is a game focused on conversations, arguments, building trust; it’s one where Zagreus wants a better world yet yearns to leave it. Why renovate a place you’re trying desperately to leave? Why build relationships with those who would see you dead or won’t hear from when you leave? Because, I suppose, you never really leave home – do you?”
This next section deals with the experiences, challenges, and barriers of working in games, either independantly or with a company, as expressed both through popular media and personal testimony.
- Why Are We All Not Talking About Mythic Quest Right Now? — startmenu
Kate Robinson examines how and why Mythic Quest‘s incisive critiques of gaming workplace culture have seemingly been lost in the mix between the limited reach of its distribution platform, the genre conventions of workplace comedy, and the uncomfortable tension of Ubisoft’s involvement with the series.
- A retrospective on the Electric Zine Maker, making tools, sharing the $ numbers, and more (after launching the really big update…) – The Candybox Blog
Nathalie Lawhead reflects on the process of making the Electric Zine Maker, discussing metrics of success, access, and the barriers that affect vulnerable and precarious makers (content notification for brief discussion of sexual assault & journalistic abuse).
“I personally don’t like our cultural metrics for success. I think it’s terrible to weigh the success of a game or tool based on how much money it has made, how much the retention is, how many players it has accumulated, how much you can milk your userbase for… To me, success is the value people find in it. The time they spend in it, and what it brings to the handful of people that it has become meaningful to.”
Super Chart Island dropped a collborative issue with features on every game included in Sonic Mega Collection Plus. You can check the full issue out for yourself; here are two selections that I took a shine to and which I thought paired well together.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (Mega Drive) – Super Chart Island
Oma Keeling doesn’t like the original Sonic the Hedgehog, and after reading their perspective, I’m not sure Sonic the Hedgehog likes anybody.
- Blue Sphere – Super Chart Island
Martin F reckons with Sonic 3‘s simple, sprawling minigame diversion.
“Blue Sphere is a Sonic the Hedgehog game. This seems like a perfectly reasonable statement to make, but it’s also one in which every noun is to some degree debatable. Firstly; “Sonic the Hedgehog”.”
Ball Is Life
Our next feature examines the intersections of sports and ideology, either told straight or with a side of snark.
- Golf Club Wasteland Review | The Indie Game Website
Ruth Cassidy spends time cruising Golf Club Wasteland‘s cynical, satirical airwaves.
- Sports and Politics: How Final Fantasy X Resonates With the 9/11 Attacks and their Fallout – Uppercut
Theo Yurevitch considers the duality of sports as both refuge and ideological institution–both in the explicit theocracy of Spira and the implicit theocracy of post-9/11 America.
“FFX shows a world constantly under duress. In the face of the fear and destruction that Sin brings are two major institutions embraced by the people of Spira: religion and sports. None of this is subtle.”
We’re featuring two more pieces on Boyfriend Dungeon this week, as critics push past its attendant discourse to look at what the game actually offers, implements, and even teaches.
- Boyfriend Dungeon is as much of a life balance simulator as it is a dating game | Gamepur
Chris Compendio finds affirmation in some of Boyfriend Dungeon‘s less-discussed systems and structures.
- Learning the Warning Signs of Abuse With Boyfriend Dungeon | Fanbyte
Kate Sanchez reflects on what Boyfriend Dungeon has to teach its players about recognizing red flags (content notification for references to physical & emotional abuse).
“Throughout all the choices you make, the friends you connect with, and the weapons you eagerly romance, Boyfriend Dungeon never stops trying to teach you that your boundaries matter. Mechanically, it never stops pushing you into narrative choices with characters who want to protect you — not in ways that allow them to be seen as saviors, but that instead show genuine love and care. Seven and Isaac routinely step in to protect me from Eric, ask if I’m okay, and reaffirm the toxicity of the stalker’s behavior.”
If you’ve read Bad Game Hall of Fame before, you already know you’re in for a good ride here.
- Urban Yeti! | Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy is back with a downright strange GBA game and an even stranger development history.
“What do you get when you combine a mock cult, Dolemite, surfboarding, and multiple failed distribution deals? Why, a Game Boy Advance cartridge about cryptids, obviously!”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!