Welcome back, readers, and thanks for your patience as I took a little extra time to prepare this week’s issue.
While I’ve got you, we just recently celebrated a book launch for Sickness, Systems, Solidarity, a free anthology bringing together 35 pieces from our earlier Pandemics and Games Essay Jam, edited by Zoyander Street and Joey Eschrich with a foreward by Yussef Cole. This is an outstanding culmination of years of very cool work, so I encourage you to check it out!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week we open with three selections about the the making of games, the labour involved, the barriers encountered, and the contexts at stake.
- This stunning Deep South fable isn’t the next Kentucky Route Zero—it’s the first Norco | PC Gamer
Alexis Ong chats with the developers of Norco about bummer vibes, material hyperlocality, and much more.
- Hogwarts Legacy Imagines a Harry Potter Without JK Rowling | VICE
Gita Jackson contends that there can be no divesting of TERF Wizard Game from its creator when the story world is itself so structurally fraught with her shitty worldview.
- Do Subalterns Dream of Digital Worlds? | RLS Geneva
Pam Punzalan documents the structural barriers and challenges faced by Filipino game workers both domestically and abroad, centering their voices and experiences to do so.
“I wanted to juxtapose my experiences with Foster’s to drive three points home. First: the Philippine game worker space exists. Second: Filipino game workers can work at the same caliber as everyone else in the industry. Third: our existence and capabilities are constantly undercut by systematic racism and oppression. The problem instead is that we are in the wrong country.”
Next up, two pieces on inclusion and representation, considering both characters and character creators.
- LoL is winning the MOBA battle thanks to its diverse roster | PCGamesN
Veerender Jubbal articulates the value of and stakes for real representation in a genre where developers seem more willing at times to offer blue characters than brown ones.
- Elden Ring’s Undying Quest for Drip Extinguishes Black Self-Expression | Fanbyte
Funk-é Joseph highlights the pleasures of Fashion Souls in its latest Elden incarnation, but notes that the character creator itself still fundamentally lacks in good options for Black expression.
“Elden Ring understands the appeal of cosmetics and fashion, as well as why players are so infatuated with those concepts — a fact that makes its unnecessary shortcomings all the more perplexing. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they can have such a robust character creator yet one of the most despairingly weak options for Black people in a game, especially in 2022.”
A Wrinkle in Design
Here we bring together three pieces on the ways in which the rough edges of different design features and priorities can brush up against one another.
- Flow State | In The Lobby
Cole Henry breaks down how OlliOlli World alternately settles into and bounces out of a satisfying flow state.
- Gran Turismo 7 and the Death of the CaRPG | Paste
Jackson Tyler identifies Gran Turismo 7‘s problems as structural, inherent to its design, and more than microtransaction-deep.
- SPLINTER CELL: CHAOS THEORY – RESTLESS DREAMS
Ed Smith identifies a dissonance in games between the friction of challenge and the smoothness of presentation–soundtracks in particular here.
“Game characters and game soundtracks are almost uniformly designed to inspire in us senses of coolness and extreme competence, whereas controls and mechanics are designed to challenge us and make us fail — give us something to develop a mastery over so we can also have the satisfaction when they become something we eventually “beat”. And I’d suppose these two things don’t especially, effectively, mix.”
Time for a genre-focused section, well, sort of, Visual Novels and Dating Sims are not the same thing even though they are often invoked interchangeably and actually I’m not helping things on that front by. . . ok, know what, read the pieces, they’re good.
- Ghostwire: Tokyo – Prelude: The Corrupted Casefile Highlights the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Visual Novel | Paste
Phoenix Simms contemplates the Visual Novel as transmedia worldbuilding device, examining how it meets or misses the mark in the case of Ghostwire: Tokyo.
- Happy days at Kirameki High – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi takes an optimistic approach to one of the most legendarily-challenging dating sim games and comes away with an appreciation for the game’s willingness to just let you live.
“I was so shocked by how pleasant and stress-free the whole experience was I honestly wondered if I’d unwittingly done something to break the game. I hadn’t of course – all I’d done was take the game at face value, enjoying and engaging with what it was actually offering instead of crushing its breezy innocence under the weight of the emotional baggage I had previously brought to the table or treating the expected multi-girl dating aspect with unfounded suspicion due to the wider gaming industry’s famously backwards way of incorporating females into games, especially in romantic scenarios. In this context – a trip to the zoo being a trip to the zoo, a day out shopping nothing more than a day out shopping whether you end up looking at dresses or electronic components – choosing to do those things with more than one girl (more than four, five, or six girls too) isn’t leading anyone on, it’s just a nice time with someone you know.”
States of Play
Two fresh player perspectives on recent and popular games.
- [Opinión] Horizon Forbidden West: la religión a través de los ojos de Aloy | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez chronicles Aloy’s character arc in Forbidden West from Annoying YouTube Athiest to someone with a bit more empathy for the value of spirituality in other people’s lives (Spanish-language article).
- Going in Alone | Bullet Points Monthly
Alexis Ong describes the solitary experience of playing–and reading–Elden Ring as a work of interactive fantasy literature.
“Elden Ring has taken the experience of getting absorbed in old-school fantasy literature and translated it into something special: flawed and imperfect, like all art, but a perfect analogue for the inherent solitude and emotional resonance of reading a transportive fantasy novel.”
For our next section this week, here are a pair of pieces excavating the histories and narratives of games, developers, and media.
- Kate Higby’s Magic Carpet Ride | Fanbyte
Damiano Gerli uncovers the forgotten legacy of an innovative programmer from the bedroom coder days.
- Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury, in exploring the earliest possible examples and edge cases for videogames, finds success less in committing rigidly to formal criteria and more in observing their shared genesis with television as paradigmatic media of the US military-industrial complex.
“Video games were born of war. Trajectories, competition, elimination, drilling over and over again to improve performance and self-discipline. That’s not every video game, but it’s never far away.”
Communities at Play
We now prepare to delve into the topic of fan communities with a pair of wide-ranging pieces on fanon, relationship with creators and original works, and more.
- Five Nights at Freddy’s spawned a fan game scene shaded by controversy | Polygon
Jay Castello explores the long-running and densely layered community of FNAF fangames and its peculiar and changing relationship with its politically fraught creator (content notification: this article deals at varying points with transphobia, abuse, and grooming).
- Final Fantasy 7’s Tifa vs. Aeris love triangle spoke to bigger anxieties – Polygon
Holly Boson delves into two decades of internet culture, gender archetypes, and fanon, and my god this piece goes places (also, content notification, this piece quotes fansites and as such there are gendered and ableist slurs).
“Final Fantasy 7 ship warriors are obsessed with which girl ends up with the hero, because we have been taught that if she does, she is the better woman. Aerith isn’t just herself — she’s also Lenna and Rosa and Yuna and Terra and Elly, part of a lineage of pure healing princess girls with staves. Tifa, on the other hand, represents forcefulness and sexuality, like Kid and Celes and Lucca and Layla and Ayla. Bolstered by the same anime industry that responded to the success of Neon Genesis Evangelion by cloning a million aloof Reis and hot-and-cold Asukas with all their fury and sexual subjectivity edited out, Japanese media fandom has always loved identifying a type and using it, not as a lens, but as a box to lock stories into.”
Now for a pair of perpsectives themed around “retro” aesthetics, traditions, and logics in modern games.
- Tunic’s instruction manual and the Zelda art that inspired it | Rock Paper Shotgun
Katherine Castle admires the little touches and deep cuts in Tunic‘s in-game manual art.
- Retro horror games are preparing to go beyond the PS1 | PC Gamer
Natalie Clayton chats with Breogán Hackett about the enduring–and growing–popularity of PS1-esque, texture-warped horror vibes and the stakes for developers in the scene.
“See, on Itch, it’s Halloween 1998 every single day.”
This one goes hard.
- Frickin’ Duke Nukem vs. Scorpion, who kicks more ass!!?!!! | Polygon
How do I even pick a pullquote for this one? Oh, I’ve got it.
“Are you wearing pants right now? Well, you’d better take them off fast, because you’re about to shit yourself. Get in the bathtub, right now, and get ready to rinse that shit off, because it’s time for the manliest video game matchup of all time: DUKE NUKEM versus SCORPION!!!”
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