In September, Grace Lee dropped an interesting piece titled What Isn’t a Video Essay? considering the notion of boundaries and semantics when it comes to format/genre/categorisation, which while not strictly about videogames (hence my shoehorning it into this bit of introductory text rather than as part of the roundup proper) is about video essays… and also may as well be about videogames. As I write – and who knows, maybe as I hit publish, possibly even as you read this – many discourse fans are sweating on the upload/release of Tim Rogers’ alleged review of/essay about Cyberpunk 2077, a video nearly a year in the making and supposedly so long that Youtube seems unable to finish processing it (or at least, that is how some are willing to interpret the vod’s repeated delays). I’m torn about this. On the one hand the criticism-as-spectacle can be fun, and funny, and “epic” video essay length is a strange and undeniably captivating qualifier of this arrangement that somehow works if, well, not quite oppositely, at least differently to written criticism, and I’m sure that’s worth talking about. On the other, I’m not sure I have the time. Anyway while you wait for Action Button, or after, or whenever, do enjoy this collection of shorter (though not necessarily short) video criticisms from September 2021 – feel free to pass it on to your entire contact list, or equivalent. Around the site, you can also listen to the most recent episode of Keywords in Play, with Leon Xiao, about comparative lootbox legality across regions.
This Month In Videogame Vlogging highlights the most compelling critical videos about videogames from the previous calendar month.
Up front, two videos considering the complicated allure of disaster zones.
After a City is Buried – Jacob Geller (22:54)
Jacob Geller considers the ethics of romanticising the re-discovery of buried history, as presented in The Forgotten City. (Manual captions) [Embedded advertising]
The Power of Abandoned Places – Hello Future Me (29:06)
Tim Hickson ponders the way people “connect” with abandoned places, as depicted in videogames such as What Remains of Edith Finch (along with texts like Annihilation (Jeff Vandermeer) and House of Leaves (Mark Z Danieliewski)) and real-world disaster-affected sites like Pripyat, Ukraine and Christchurch, New Zealand. (Autocaptions)
Critiques of Capitalism
Following on from last month, I’m pleased to link another four videos reading games through the lens of contemporary capitalist pressures.
Vibing to the End in Umurangi Generation – Errant Signal (25:13)
Chris Franklin looks at how Umurangi Generation resonantly depicts neoliberalism’s failure to facilitate change in the face of disaster, due to the system’s prioritisation of its own self-preservation. (Autocaptions)
Bless This Mess feat. @Kay And Skittles – laborkyle (15:48)
Kyle and Kay consider the idea of the suffering god as depicted in God of War and Katamari Demacy, and how these representations pertain to life under capitalism. (Autocaptions)
A Road Trip Through Kentucky Route Zero – thelitcritguy (1:34:34)
Jon annotates scenes from all five acts of Kentucky Route Zero with some critical theory and real-world parallels about predatory debt cycles and other (mal)functions of late-stage capitalism. (Autocaptions)
How Umurangi Generation Tells a Story – Static Canvas (6:56)
Thomas Ife highlights the ways Umurangi Generation places responsibility on the player to understand the predicament of its world. (Autocaptions)
Okay, here are a bunch of pieces that skew in one way or another to a personal, specific take on things.
Playing INSIDE – John Battle (16:52)
John Battle synthesises a playthrough of Inside with the recollection of particular personal memories. (Autocaptions)
A Personal Reflection on No Man’s Sky, Five Years Later – Writing on Games (36:00)
Hamish tracks how No Man’s Sky transformed to give the player an elevated sense of purpose, counterbalancing the existential despair of the game’s metanarrative with a sense of hope through play, thanks to continual systems tweaks and overhauls from the developer over several years. (Manual captions) [Embedded advertising]
A Love Letter to SEGA Classics – eurothug4000 (17:49)
Maria analyses and celebrates some of the design and style elements of Dreamcast titles Sonic Adventure, Space Channel 5 and House of the Dead. (Manual captions)
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – A Literary Analysis – Games As Literature (38:29)
Samuel Gronseth II demonstrates how the many fantastical twists of DS title Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective make sense due to the way the gameplay grounds the player in an “observable, believable understanding of its mechanics”, while highlighting the thematic importance of truth telling and community building for the game’s narrative. (Autocaptions)
Cuphead’s Music has NO business being this GOOD – Charles Cornell (13:16)
Charles Cornell elaborates on the qualities of Cuphead’s live Latin jazz big-band soundtrack. (Autocaptions) [Embedded advertising]
It’s a Me
It’s time… to consider some Mario & co. backstory.
How the Mario Characters Got Their Names – Gaming Historian (23:09)
Norman Caruso weighs up the most likely explanations for the names of each of the eight Mario series characters to appear in Mario Kart 64. I was really hoping/fearing an answer to the Bowser mystery in this one – it’s a personal obsession of mine – but I needn’t have dreamed/worried. (No captions)
Why is Wario? Just…WHY?! – Video Game Story Time (5:50)
VGST recounts how Wario’s emergence as the lead character of Super Mario Land 3 happened as the result of a development team feeling creatively stifled. (Manual captions)
Good Ideas, Done Poorly
This next trio look at some places games have handled the representation of social issues and other thematic things unsatisfactorily, despite all the best intentions/marketing.
How Bisexuality Changed Video Games – verilybitchie (54:12)
Verity Ritchie looks at the way ‘mechanical bisexuality’ became prominent in games as a developmental convenience and profit motive, obscuring a persistent lack of real (and especially positive) representations of bisexual characters and non-monogamous relationships. (Manual captions)
Let’s Talk About Life is Strange 2: Xen0phobia, Mexican American Identity, Displacement, & More – Asmara (52:00)
Asmara argues that Life is Strange 2 frequently falls short of showing the systematic elements at work in its depictions of violence, xenophobia, discrimination, and migration. (Autocaptions)
Halo 3 – A Literary Analysis – Games as Literature (39:23)
Samuel Gronseth II wrings out Halo 3 for failing to follow through on the thematic concerns and character arcs of its predecessors. (Autocaptions)
Damn, I’ve run out of categories. Here are my chasers for this month.
Does a play in football ever have to end? Fumble Dimension ep. 9 – Secret Base (26:40)
Kofie Yeboah and Jon Bois document their attempts to create a ‘perpetual play’ in Madden ’21. (Manual captions)
Ranking the Best and Worst METROIDVANIAS – Cannot be Tamed (59:59)
Pam storms through the exercise of assigning a rank to forty-nine ‘metroidvanias’ based on attributes like map quality, collectibles, and backtracking. (Autocaptions)
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!