Happy Halloween, readers.
I find myself coming up short for stunning witicisms to introduce this issue with. Instead, from the bottom of my ((un)dead) heart, I hope you have the opportunity to gather with some friends, wear a ridiculous onesie if that’s your thing, and celebrate small moments–scarily, of course.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Spooky Scary Eloquence
I would be remiss, I think, in a year where the roundup lands squarely on Halloween, not to kick the issue off with a hearty serving of critical pieces charting the highs and lows of recent (and not so recent) horror games big and small. So. . . I’m doing that. Enjoy!
- We Need To Let Go Of Silent Hill 2 – Uppercut
Jessica Hill reflects on the ways in which our continuing rumination on Silent Hill 2 holds the wider genre back and poisons its attendant discourse.
- House Of Ashes Review: Supermassive’s Latest Misses The Mark | Kotaku
Sisi Jiang concludes that the latest installment of the Dark Pictures Anthology fails to hold the balance between its horror-cinema roots and its desire to say anything of substance about the Iraq War.
- The Forgotten City | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente muses on the way in which The Forgotten City rekindles an oft-forgotten linkage between mythology and horror.
- Detention’s Film Adaptation Serves Its Medium While Distinct From the Game | Video Game Choo Choo
Elvie dissects the different, complementary storytelling strengths of Red Candle Games’ 2019 horror title Detention and its film adaptation of the same year.
- What’s Cookin’?: The Supper Subverts Cooking as Care to Create Horror – Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe examines a clever horror twist on cooking, comfort, and care.
- The Excellence of She Dreams Elsewhere Shows a Great Need for More Black Horror Devs – Uppercut
Allisa James discusses the value of representation and authenticity not just in horror games, not just in games, but in the development teams that bring them into being.
“It proves that black culture and characters aren’t merely a window-dressing or hindrance to creative expression. That they can be intertwined in the narrative and gameplay to enhance and elevate the experience in bold and unique ways. And that black culture can be portrayed in flawed and complex ways — the good, bad, and everything in between — without resorting to lazy stereotypes.”
The Empire, Peeled Back
Our next section highlights two writers charting different intersections of colonial empire with their object games.
- How The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles portrays the immigrant experience | Eurogamer.net
Alan Wen finds authenticity in how The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles captures Ryunosuke Naruhodo’s experiences, mediated by the spectre of colonial empire, as he travels from Meiji Japan to Victorian England.
- Deposition, Acquisition, and Deferred Satisfaction in Zork I | Gold Machine
Drew Cook illuminates the colonial collapse peeking out from beind the cracks in the original Zork‘s worldbuilding.
“The grand context of Zork–both implied and explicit–is that of a failed colonial project. A lone man travels a great distance over hostile terrain to reach a heart of darkness. There is a glum reality lurking just beneath Zork I‘s wisecracking narrative surface: the people who once lived and worked in this dark place are now long gone. The protagonist’s primary aim is transporting wealth from below ground to a literally “white” and “colonial” structure.”
The City and the City
Two old games, two gritty cities, alike in ambition, unlike in rendition.
- GTA 3’s Impeccable Vibes Alone Might Make The Remakes Worth It | Kotaku
Carolyn Petit reflects on unplanned, unscripted moments of beauty, which we often now take for granted in our endless contemporary options for open-world play, but which were more novel when Grand Theft Auto III was shiny and new.
- Descending Project Eden | Counter Arts
Vidyasaur delves into a Core Design cyberpunk romp with a lot of promising material–characters, setting, gameplay ideas–that are never fully realized and which never quite come together as a satisfying whole.
“My enjoyment of Project Eden was similar to the city of skyscrapers the protagonists descended. It started great but became dire the deeper I went.”
Harmony and Dissonance
Our next pair of featured pieces look at design goals, affordances, and values in different states of tension–one case where these elements are harmounously synergized, and one where they serve instead to highlight the game’s overall ideological dissonance.
- Urgency and Mastery in Umurangi Generation | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy finds the harmony in Umurangi Generation‘s seemingly disparate design tensions.
- Call of Duty’s latest marketing campaign misses the point of Call of Duty | Polygon
Kazuma Hashimoto meditates on Call of Duty’s relentless, fetishistic pursuit of authenticity, as mediated by its parallel function as a propaganda machine.
“Activision treats this history as something to be exploited in pursuit of “realism” for a franchise that is already entangled with the American military industrial complex in its use as a recruitment tool. It is a tasteless attempt at appealing to its most devoted player base (who are indeed more fixated on the historical inaccuracy of the weapons in Vanguard having laser sights), or those who are fascinated with World War II enough to jump into the series specifically for the voyeurism of it all.”
Cards on the table: I’m not 100% sure the “metaverse” falls neatly within our scope, and part of that is because, as our featured authors highlight below, the concept of the “metaverse” was never very precisely delineated and has only gotten murkier as a concept as tech moguls seek out superficially novel ways to monetize the concept. All the same, I’m happy to include this pair of well-articulated takedowns on the subject.
- The metaverse is bullshit | PC Gamer
Wes Felon elaborates upon how “metaverse”, in its contemporary usage, amounts to little more than a grift peddled by rich assholes willfully misunderstanding the Internet we’ve already had for decades.
- The Metaverse Is Bad | The Atlantic
Ian Bogost lays bare why the latest muck the Zuck is trying to huck frankly sucks.
“A metaverse is a universe, but better. More superior. An überversum for an übermensch. The metaverse, the superman, the private vessel of trillionaire intergalactic escape, the ark on the dark sea of ice melt: To abandon a real and present life for a hypothetical new one means giving up on everything else in the hopes of saving oneself. That’s hubris, probably. But also, to dream of immortality is to admit weakness—a fear that, like all things, you too might end.”
While it would have been darkly fun to bookend this issue with horror (for our present purposes I am equating the metaverse to a kind of prophetic horror), it would also be a touch bleak. In lieu of our usual critical chaser section, then, this week we close out the issue with a pair of heartfelt critical pieces on some really good games.
- Like Dia de Muertos, Kena: Bridge of Spirits Knows There’s More to Death than Grief | Paste
Kate Sánchez contemplates Kena‘s celebration of life and death through the lens of Dia de Muertos.
- Unsighted: The Kotaku Review: The Best Metroidvania Of 2021 | Kotaku
Renata Price is here with, I think, the best review I’ve read this year, of a Metroidvania you should not sleep on if you are a fan of the genre, or even if you aren’t.
“Unsighted is either a game about transness, or a game about chronic illness. I am not sure it knows the difference. Some days I don’t either.”
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