Welcome back, readers.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that it hasn’t been a great week for a lot of people on several different fronts. Before we get on with our usual curation business, consider starting your reading week here and here to catch up on how game developers and communities are organizing support both for Ukrainians and for trans youth and their parents in Texas, respectively.
A very warm shout-out as well to Uppercut, who ran a charity livestream yesterday and raised $1800 for the Transgender Education Network of Texas! They’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign for their next calendar year of content if you want to support the work that they do.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Death of the Wild
This week I gained Elden Ring and lost 15 or so hours. Like with any big popular release, it’s going to take time for critics and writers to really sit with the game, and that goes double for a game as bonkers-huge as this one. But these two early selections could not wait.
- Elden Ring’s character creator fails Black players | The Verge
Ash Parrish names a glaring omission in From’s otherwise-improved character creator.
- Elden Ring Isn’t the Souls Game I Asked For, But It’s the King’s Field Successor I Needed | Paste
Dia Lacina writes what I think is the Elden Ring review to read this week.
“Elden Ring says “what if we took the lessons we learned from Chalice Dungeons…and that was the game.” An open world, after all, is only as good as the dark holes that perforate its beautiful surface, the land is only as interesting as its scars.”
Popular games often accrue a critical narrative alongside any internal textual narrative they tell, whether that takes the form of Dreaded Discourse or a more evenhanded Consensus. To varying degrees, our next three featured writers go against these grains, offering new critical perspectives on well-covered titles.
- Spiritfarer’s Recipe for Solarpunk | Unwinnable
Phoenix Simms finds a solarpunk soul at the heart of Spiritfarer’s sustainable outlook and its focus on cooking as an expression of memory and nostalgia.
- Broccoli Dungeon | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy looks past the discourse on whether Boyfriend Dungeon should have made its narrative choices and towards whether it succeeded with them.
- Hades: Persephone the Runaway | Paste
Rosy Hearts returns to Persephone and observes that the game she finds herself in is too tidy, too closed off to reflect her reasons for running away.
“However, my version of this story doesn’t create a clean, unifying ending for Persephone. My ending does not somehow repair all the relationships that were broken. My ending is not the hopeful reward given by a game’s invested victory. Not because I want to see Persephone tortured, but because I think there are other means for Persephone to find peace, means that do not prioritize Zagreus’ own trauma over that of Persephone’s. My story believes that happiness can still exist while painful memories of the past lie within us. My story believes that we do not owe anyone an eternity of ill-fated attempts at repair.”
Our next pair of featured writers this week both happen to be talking about pretty old games, but the thematic resonance between them I wish to bring into focus is that of the ideologies at play in games which purporte to simulate, educate, or commmentate.
- Hamurabi [1968/1973] – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury turns to early roots in edutainment and narrative games while unpacking the economic ideologies at play in Hamurabi.
- Are You Not Entertained: Last Thoughts on Infidel | Gold Machine
Drew Cook concludes his meditation on a self-reflexive anti-treasure hunt game with an unlikable protagonist and much to say between the lines about its IF contemporaries like Zork.
“Infidel and Zork are both mastery games, but the fantastic (and disappointing) conclusion of the Zork trilogy makes its mastery fantasy a reality: the protagonist becomes the “dungeon master.” The real world offers players no such fulfillments. The American cannot become the “desert master,” nor can he overcome the problems created by his privileged bumbling. The Adventurer’s ascendancy is propelled by the twin engines of privilege and skill. The American, on the other hand, goes where his privilege cannot follow. It is a place hostile to gamers and their confidence, a place where competence is not enough. Infidel is a subversion of the mastery genre, yanking out the rug in the game’s final move.”
Text to World
Following closely from the previous section, these next three featured authors explore critical tensions in the thematic and ideological threads that tie their games of study to our own world, past and present.
- Uh-oh! Stormblood’s Politics are Kinda Bad! – No Escape
Kaile Hultner is back from another trip to Eorzea and the Scions are uh *checks notes* doing a colonialism? And some nationalism?
- Feeling History in Blasphemous: Monstrosity and Spectacle through Time | Play the Past
Jack Orchard continues his study of Blasphemous, this time looking at feminine monstrosity, trans saints, and the ways in which the game creates ludic identification and empathy for its characters.
- The Not-So-Subtle Art of Masking in Games | Paste
Phoenix Simms contemplates the many uses and rhetorics of masks and masking in games, from utility, to symbolism, to Othering.
“The more I’ve given some thought to masks as symbols in games, the more I’ve realized that AAA games have a preoccupation with masks that symbolize death, vigilantism, cults/mystery, and Otherhood. These categories are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive, they are merely the most prevalent ones I’ve noticed in games.”
Communities at Play
Two pieces next, an interview and a commentary, about making and playing games in wider communities.
- AN OUTCRY (Developer Interview) – DEEP HELL
Skeleton chats with writer and developer Quinn K about fangames, translation, the desire to be heard through one’s work, and their new horror game, An Outcry.
- It’s a Man’s World of Warcraft – Uppercut
Elle Biesemeyer describes how toxic masculinity and abusive behavior permeate the social experience of online worlds (content notifications for racism, slurs, sexual harrassment).
“Our identities don’t disappear when we enter a video game. Gaming doesn’t provide an escape for oppressed people as it should. Instead, the violence compounds and makes us realize that the world we live in will never, ever provide us a reprieve from the oppression that exceeds our computer screens.”
We close out the week, as I so often like to do, with poetry.
- “I’ll Wait for You” | Videodame
Rachel Tanner, A Plague Tale: Innocence.
“Where does love go
if there’s no one left to give it to?”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!