Welcome back, readers.
Today we bring you, as always, a varied and veritable selection of cool and interesting critical writings on games. And thank you–I do not say this quite often enough I think–for your continued interest, readership, and support in this thing that we have done on the weekly for what has now been a conspicuous majority of the millenium-in-progress.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We open this week with two-positive-and-one-negative examples of recent, popular games getting representation right, along cultural, geographical, and identity axes.
- Forza Horizon 5 Is a Love Letter to Mexico and Its Culture | Paste
Kate Sánchez celebrates Forza Horizon 5‘s showcasing of Mexico’s geographical diversity in a way that doesn’t often make it through the filter of stereotypes prevalent in the Anglosphere.
- The importance of Colt being bisexual in Deathloop goes beyond queerness | Gayming Magazine
Alma Roda-Gil reflects on Arkane’s proven track record of rough, relatable, three-dimensional queer protagonists.
- Video games just don’t understand extreme sports | For The Win
Cole Henry ruminates on how Riders Republic is just the latest example in a subgenre of games forever outside the culture they are scrutinizing looking in, out of touch, out of time, getting everything about it wrong.
“Why do games insist on always falling into parody in relation to extreme sports culture? Or is this what they really think these communities are like? Maybe they think it is funny (it isn’t), or maybe they think this approach is what people enjoy because it is what has always been there (it isn’t). I can’t imagine anyone enjoying what this game has to say or make you hear in regards to both dialogue and music.”
Next up, we’ve got a pair of pieces that elaborate upon how popular games and franchises reflect the structures of Empire and fascism, both thematically and structurally, wittingly and unwittingly.
- Civilization or Hegemony: Playing Empire in Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Daniel Navarro breaks down why, historical or ahistorical, wartime or peacetime, Civilization VI is always structurally imperial.
- Gears of War’s Heroes Are At Once Tools And Victims of Fascism | GameSpot
Grace Benfell writes of COGs, Gears, and the overarching machinery of fascism that grinds all to dust.
“While the Gears are granted a simple nobility by fighting in a system that exploits them, those who want no part of that system are merely mocked. In the context of the whole series, though, it reinforces the franchise’s grand tragedy. There is no outside of the COG. That possibility died when the Locust emerged from the dead earth. Even the humanized stranded of later games, to whom Marcus reacts with more than just distant annoyance, are either assimilated into the COG or die. Humanity’s options are either oppression or death.”
Would you believe it, I just noticed that we didn’t already have a tag specific to tabletop. Anyway, one of these pieces is actually about a videogame with some of the aesthetic trappings and imaginative openness of tabletop, but bear with me.
- What’s Going On With Dungeon Encounters? | PixPen
Sam Howitt contemplates the place of a minimalist, tabletop-esque JRPG in a canon cultivated by a famously opulent publishing house.
- Finding the Fun in Making—Not Playing—A Game | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks mediates on the collaborative process and pleasure of playtesting homemade tabletop games.
“As I’ve discussed here before, collaboration and playing with or against the rules is something I love about games. In this game—in my cousin’s workshop, with stacks of multicolored Chessex dice on a custom table—the fun was playing the game, sure. But the fun was also the suggesting, the tweaking, the stumbling into questions that didn’t yet have answers and getting to be the one to answer them.”
A warm new puzzler is making waves and making the critical rounds. Here are two highlights on the topic from this week.
- Unpacking Is a Zen Puzzle Game about the Joys of Moving in and Moving On | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores meditates on Unpacking, un-unpacking, and environmental storytelling.
- Witch Beam’s ‘Unpacking’ Transforms A Simple Chore Into A Ritual Of Material Anthropology | Video Game Choo Choo
Solon sits with Unpacking–at once safe, subversive, satisfying.
“Unpacking is a strong exploration of playing through this normal and regular action that occurs in almost everyone’s lives and is largely taken for granted (or maybe even abandoned entirely – you know who you are). And with that status of trail-blazing it carves a path of least resistance through a narrative that while I feel could be more challenging, largely evokes a nostalgic, nuanced zest for building life.”
I don’t know about you, but I put together, like, two and a half different costumes this year. One month isn’t enough, so here are a few more horror and horror-adjacent highlights.
- Battle Chef Brigade: Reality (TV) Is Scarier than Fiction — Gamers with Glasses
Tof Eklund finds something singularly disquieting in Battle Chef Brigade‘s specific convergence of beast hunting and reality television.
- The Ultimate Apocalypse Team | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle’s here with a good and fun (Halloween?)-flavoured list. I dug it.
- RE2 BOOK CLUB – DEEP HELL
Skeleton finds in Resident Evil 2 the ultimate nemesis: the company town.
“It’s not the Zombies that keep me, personally, coming back to these early installments in the Resident Evil world. It’s the texture of the city and the people that inhabit it. Umbrella’s not just a spooky villain that slips it’s sinister hands into every innocent pie: they’ve managed to build the stage and run the play.”
While both of these pieces are historically-rooted pieces on games of some infamy or obscurity–or both–further than that, I cannot escape the feeling that they also belong together on some inscrutably spiritual level.
- Top Five: Games Cancelled After Release | Bad Game Hall of Fame
Cassidy delivers a meaty list with strong intrigue-value on premise alone, but I promise it’s well-worth the full read, too.
- Tits and Tiles: The NSFW History of Strip Mahjong | SUPERJUMP
Baxter chronicles the rise and fall–with many twists and turns along the way delving into innovation, regulation, and obsecnity laws–of horny mahjong arcade games in Japan.
“In no time at all, Nihon Bussan found themselves not just saved from financial ruin, but thriving. People could not stay away from their game of simple sensuality. And answering the populace’s desires, smelling money in their blood, Nihon Bussan immediately shifted game development to almost exclusively adult games; in particular, mahjong.”
Levity and Poetry, together again and rounding out the ups. Enjoy.
- How does Samus Aran’s morph ball work? | Polygon
Maddy Myers goes deep into the lore to argue for why Samus ought to have the biggest ball of them all.
- she builds flowers we build futures | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, Devotion.
“i tell you that she’s a queer icon and you
laugh because that’s what i say about
any videogame character i relate to but this
time i mean it this time the origami tulips
remind me of something but i’m not sure
what i’m never sure what these days
if i’m being completely honest”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!