Welcome back, readers.
It’s taken me until the wee hours of the morning local time to do so, but we’re here with the latest crit, and we’re calling it Sunday gods darn it!
Around the site, Connor’s latest TMIVGV is live and you should check that out too!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Norco continues to make critical waves. Here are the pieces about it that stood out to me this week.
- The Greatness of ‘Norco’ Is Found in the Tenacious Weirdos Who Live There | VICE
Cameron Kunzelman finds profundity in the authenticity of the people populating Norco‘s only slightly-exaggerated dystopia.
- Norco review | PC Gamer
Alexis Ong offers the highest praise to Norco as a game that approaches its bleak, hyperlocal, dystopian setting with humour and heart.
“On a good day, Norco is a bastion of beautifully evocative storytelling that invites any player to take refuge in its world. On a bad day, it cuts deep as a sobering, but loving portrait of a modern dystopia—a community on the edge of great change. But on a personal level, it’s a game that understands who we are and what the internet has made us—how this digital constellation of fragmented subcultures has shaped the way we see the world and our place in it. There are few games in the world like Norco, and it belongs unequivocally in the highest tier of narrative experiences in the medium today.”
Can’t call this an Elden Ring section, exactly, or even a soulslike section, precisely speaking, but there is a thread here in how these kinds of games make us think about ourselves and our selves, as players, as bodies, as travellers, as people.
- ELDEN | DEEP HELL
Skeleton is writing a travelogue of Limgrave, which we featured previously, but since this is also a living, weekly-updating document, we’re checking in this week to see what Jack’s been up to.
- Bloodborne PSX creator explains why the original is “so transgender” | Gayming Magazine
Juniper-C chats with Bloodborne PSX dev Lilith Walther about her homage to a game she positions as fundamentally about unravelling the class and identity baggage of gothic horror.
- Die, Retrieve, Repeat, Succeed | Unwinnable
Emily Price responds to Elden Ring hype with a renewed foray into the closest equivalent on hand–the slow, contempletative, and deliberate Dark Souls II.
- SORRY THAT YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BODY | DEEP HELL
Karin Malady meditates on bodily autonomy, bodily decay, and trans liberation as cotextualized through soulslikes, Disco Elysium, and more.
“Laws divide the body like a chart outlining cuts of beef on a cow. Bodily autonomy disrupts this process. Now, we’re getting to the heart of the problem. The body is a battlefield. Yet, bodily autonomy does not exist. We are each individually owned by a state, a kingdom marking us with tiny masks.”
Two studies of games both within and as cultures comprise our next section.
- Why is board gaming so white and male? I’m trying to figure that out | The Conversation
Tanya A. Pobuda seeks to quantify the overrepresentaiton of white men in design, play, and art of board and tabletop games.
- Citizen Kane  – Arcade Idea
Art Maybury notes that the histories and cutural positions of games and film are too fundamentally different for games to credibly produce anything resembling a Citizen Kane analogue, and at this point the identity of the medium is more wrapped up in the argument than the outcome anyway.
“Deep down, video game culture clearly wants this fight picked. If nobody’s around actually picking it, we’ll shadowbox ghosts instead, because we’ve just gotten that reliant on an inferiority complex from the medium’s protracted and painful adolescence.”
Next, we’re looking at hardness, both as difficulty and intensity, as gameplay and culture.
- Why We Love Hard Games – The Science Behind The Urge To ‘Git Gud’ | Gaming Bible
Ed Smith seeks to make sense of nineteen rounds with the Blade of Miquella (for what it’s worth, for me it was nearly a hundred).
- Harder Core Than Thou | Unwinnable
Ben Sailer asks what the term “hardcore gamer” even means anymore, or whether it ever meant anything in the first place, and this question Goes Places.
“Looking back, it seems like what they wanted to see games achieve (and what they meant by “hardcore”), was something close to the spirit of the “indie game” movement of the mid-2000s. If games like Fez, Braid or Super Meat Boy had been released in 1999, the hardcore set of the time would have hailed them as the future, likely much to the confusion of their peers.”
I wasn’t willing to make a tag called games-from-the-past-that-did-one-thing-ridiculously-well, but that’s more or less the vibe on this one.
- Mirror’s Edge is still the undisputed queen of parkour | PC Gamer
Natalie Clayton looks back at the original Mirror’s Edge and its undefeated mastery of movement.
- Game Pile: Total Annihilation | press.exe
Talen Lee looks back at late-90’s real-time strategy game Total Annihilation and reflects upon its staggering sense of scale.
“The end game of Total Annihilation games was often two enormous economic engines building multiple gun emplacements that would be in any other game the single campaign-ending tool and shelling corners of the map at random with explosions a few hundred meters across just in the name of softening them up. The only thing the game asked of you to get to this point was time, and, well, not taking a more aggressive stance.”
This week’s design-focused selections explore fresh new topics in player experience and sound engineering; check ’em out!
- Ethically designing unethical worlds | Game Developer
Ruth Cassidy talks to the makers of several notable simulation and strategy games about the tricky balance of presenting a world with problems without producing a system made out of different problems.
- A History of Hup, the Jump Sound of Shooting Games | WIRED
Bryan Menegus presents a thorough historical examination of That Grunt.
“Pessimistically, it might seem like the rock-star developers of the time threw a sound into their splashy new game because they could and didn’t find it annoying enough to remove. Then every game that followed in those footsteps re-created that sound, perhaps without even consciously considering why it was being included. That might be one way to read it.”
Our next two featured authors this week explore narrative possibility in games–whether those possibilities are under-explored or take us to satisfying new heights.
- Horizon Forbidden West Struggles to Meaningfully Talk About Labor | Fanbyte
Ty Galiz-Rowe contrasts the approaches to labour politics in Forbidden West and Disco Elysium and finds that the former’s efforts are ultimately a victim of the game’s scale and Aloy’s overall heroic arc.
- Reverse-Engineering a Living Archive | Unwinnable
Phoenix Simms invokes the work of Uchikoshi Kotaro to examine the narrative and thematic payoffs when a game takes the player’s control away.
“Game creators need to incorporate reversals and interruptions into their narrative design more. There’s a lot of potential in complicating the player’s definition of agency in gameplay. I agree with Uchikoshi’s: we need more games that aren’t just power fantasies but ones that explore the nature of power and those who are adversely affected by it.”
Treat him with respect.
- Elden Ring Is a Horse Girl Game, Actually | Fanbyte
Jenny Zheng proposes that Elden Ring is right at home in the midst of a sort of postmodern renaissance for Horse Girl games.
“In Barbie Horse Adventures: Riding Camp, you can take your horse on trails and get rewarded for collecting stars, proving the accuracy and control you have over the horse. In Elden Ring, I’ve substituted collecting sparkly stars for collecting the heads of enemies. It’s basically the same thing.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!