Welcome back, readers.
Anyone else at the “I’m just going to play videogames and meeet the functional minimum for my work commitments until something meaningfully changes for me” stage of pandemic living? Just me? Cool. I cleared Diddy Kong Racing last night in one go, so that’s how I’m doing.
Anyway! Twelve cool articles from the last week are gathered here for your perusal. In spite of the thing I just said about work commitments, I promise I did not slack here! I liked reading these and I hope you do do.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Let’s open this week with a pair of meditations on how games might do things a little differently, which is to say, outside of the established frameworks laid out by the popular industry, both in terms of game design and game distribution. These pieces touch upon capitalism, distribution, critical practice, and more.
- Games that avoid capitalistic design | Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld unpacks capitalistic systems in games and looks to examples like Chicory and Sable which explore beyond that framework.
- The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc Series Looks to the Past to Create a New Future Outside Corporate Games | Paste
Grace Benfell reflects on The Haunted PS1 Demo Disc and its spinoffs as a counterpoint in both aesthetic and organization to other banners and collaborations in the contemporary indie scene.
“The annual Haunted PlayStation Demo Disc, and the spin off Madvent collections, offer fewer games, less frequently. In exchange, they get a specificity, weight, and tactile difference. Many of the games in the 2021 Demo Disc are first person, exploration horror games. In a highlight reel, it might be difficult to really sort through what each of these games do differently. When you can play each of them, it is far easier to weigh their differences in your mind.”
Roll Speech Check
Next up, two pieces interrogate common practices of worldbuilding and choice design in popular games, looking at both the ideological implications developers think they’re designing for and the ones that actually emerge in practice
- Balancing in the Middle | Problem Machine
Problem Machine ruminantes on the counterproductive both-sides-ism that passes for moral complexity in games like Fallout: New Vegas.
- For Commander Shepard, Ignorance Is Access | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy pokes at the tension between Mass Effect‘s efforts to explore racial prejudices in the game’s story world through dialogue interactions and its priority of always keeping Shepard firmly in role of sympathetic protagonist.
“Mass Effect is a power fantasy for the player – and one particularly invested in defining power in strength and influence and agency. Shepard’s xenophobia and its invisibility are both tools to give players what they want: as much access to the game’s world as possible, without the social cost. Their critics are only depicted as acting in bad faith, spanning the spectrum from obstructive bureaucrats to tabloid journalists to literal terrorists.”
Artful Time Battle
RPGs and especially JRPGs are front-and-centre in this next pairing looking at poetic and experimental design decisions in key games.
- Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter Revealed the Ugliness of RPGs in Stripping Them to Their Bare Essentials | Paste
Austin Jones examines the interesting, experimental, and not very fondly remembered installment of the Breath of Fire series.
- How is a battle system like a poem? | Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell reflects on metre, repetition, and artful abstraction in a good old-school RPG battle system. I thought this was cool.
“In presenting themselves as separate structures – martial dioramas, sealed off from exploration and the narrative behind loading breaks, with their own scenery and soundtracks – these skirmishes invite a reading of their games not as over-inflated sagas or scenic hikes spoiled by the presence of a million Giant Rat reskins, but as collections of combative, poetical devices that come alive in the repetition.”
I’m catching up on some of the recent critical examinations of Halo brought about by the latest installment, Infinite. Here are a few standouts!
- The Silent Cartography | Unwinnable
Julie Muncy identifies silence–quiet moments, natural beauty–as a critical ingredient in relation to to the rest of Halo‘s more action-oriented toolkit.
- Dust and Echoes | Bullet Points Monthly
Rosarie Teppelin dissects 343’s cyclical, cinematic-universe approach to Halo.
- Insert Chip | Bullet Points Monthly
Cameron Kunzelman asks what is a Master Chief, or a Halo game, without another objective beacon over the next hill and a voice in our ear urging us toward it.
“Faced with the opportunity to be Master Chief without Cortana, a Master Chief with freedom in an open world, Infinite skitters back into a cave, the very limits of what make this entire operation work laid bare like sandblasted concrete. At the end, Weapon takes the name Cortana. Master Chief says we have to finish the fight. Whatever the interregnum was, it’s gone now. Unmastered no more, never again.”
Relatable Subject Matter
Next up, two authors reflect on games that spoke to them and met a vital need, be it in terms of representation, outlook, acknowledgement, or all of the above.
- Realism, Catharsis, and Why Pyre Works – Sidequest
Zora Gilbert muses on Pyre‘s take on revolution, at once idealized and pragmatic.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Lets Me Be The Hometown Hero I Always Needed – Game Informer
Jason Guisao finds representation both for himself and for Harlem in Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
“Finally – even if it’s just in some digital game world or etched onto the page of a widely read comic book – my community got the protector it deserved. And if I timed my dodges right or tapped a button enough times to save innocent people from danger, I could be that protector too.”
Poetry Corner is back two weeks in a row!
- Limit Break | Into The Spine
Tonya Pennington closes us out this week with some Kingdom Hearts poetry.
is a brilliant star
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!