Welcome back readers.
It’s our biggest issue in a hearty while, and on top of that, we’ve got new Keywords for you! Our guest this episode is Gregory Whistance-Smith, and the topic is meaning-making in videogame spaces!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week we’re leading with a slate of interviews and interview-ish articles across a broad range of artistic and social topics. I’d like to additionally highlight that Caroline Delbert’s selections here are part of a larger undertaking to produce criticism and interviews about some of the games comprising that giant Queer Games Bundle you can still get on Itch for the next seventeen days. If you’re looking for some essential indie games journalism in the wake of not-E3, well, buddy, here’s a great place to start.
- Springs and Short Games: An Interview with npckc | Video Game Choo Choo
Elvie chats with npckc about their visual inspirations, the messages behind the aesthetics, and the emotions they want to inspire in their players.
- Precise, beautiful PICO-8 games with Brook.p8 | Caroline Delbert
Caroline Delbert talks to Brook.p8 about the Pico-8 development platform, puzzle design, pride flags, and more.
- Tunic’s Second Hidden Language Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight | Fanbyte
Khee Hoon Chan chats with a community engaged in the cool and complex work of deciphering Tunic‘s deeper secrets.
- Sexy, flexible swashbuckling with Jemma Topaz | Caroline Delbert
Caroline Delbert chats with Jemma Topaz about sexy fencing, her favourite tools, and exploring the mutability of gender in games.
“The amazing thing about games is that even choices that are ‘meaningless’ actually aren’t. Even if points A and B are the same, it actually makes a difference if you take 5 minutes or 50 minutes between them, 3 steps or 30, 7 words or 700. Or just choosing the right pronouns; it’s not a ‘game’ decision at all, usually, but it is definitely meaningful.”
Two themes, or perhaps one compound one, guide our next collection: the interactions between queerness and material spaces in game worlds.
- In Hades, Queer Love Blooms – NiCHE
Juniper Lewis studies how queer love suffuses not just the narrative of Hades, but the transformation of its game world.
- Queer Melancholia in the Post-Post-Apocalypse of NieR:Automata – NiCHE
Kaitlin Moore ties together the destabliziation of the environment, time, history, embodiment, and human subjectivity in the world of NieR Automata.
- Being Trans is the ‘Dark Souls’ of Gender: An Exploration of Parallels | Epilogue Gaming
Flora Eloise, in an expansive critique, relates the experience of coming back to Lordran to the experience of coming out as trans.
“Being trans is a way of becoming your own mental self-defense instructor, developing techniques that disarm, diminish, and defuse the slurs, the dog whistles, the cheap shots, the awkward invasiveness. Fifteen hours into Dark Souls, I wormed my way back through Undead Parish, an area that once gave me grief, and I noticed myself deflecting unthinkingly, one-shotting enemies. I had learned how to survive efficiently, saving my energy for the true battles ahead.”
The Feminine Virtual
Now let’s look at both the limiting and evolving depictions of femininity in games and adjacent spaces.
- Krafton’s Latest ‘AI’ Woman Recycles The Usual Sexist Tropes | Kotaku
Ashley Bardhan reflects on the intersections between games, AI assistants, and the limiting gender tropes that inform their design and implementation.
- 10 years later, gaming has finally caught up with ‘Lollipop Chainsaw’ | Inverse
Willa Rowe reevaluates Grasshopper Manufacture’s voyeuristic cheerleader/zombie saw-em-up against ten years of cultural development on media depictions of femininity and the reclamation of the bimbo.
“While the circumstances of Juliet Starling’s creation in the original Lollipop Chainsaw are rooted in early 2010’s misogyny and voyeurism, modern reclamation of bimboism can give Juliet the deeper meaning she always deserved. And there has never been a better time than right now.”
This next section is concerned with both dismantling corrupt power structures and reassembling them in new and provocative ways.
- Killing Our Gods: Imperial Icon in Silence and That Which Faith Demands – Uppercut
Grace Benfell discusses the dismantling of gods and icons, in games and film, under colonialism and capitalism.
- Power Fantasies in RPGs, by Sharang Biswas – project NERVES
Sharang Biswas expands the conversation on imperialist power fantasies in RPGs to explore different meanings of power and ask what power fantasies can mean for historically marginalized groups of players.
“For historically oppressed folks, imagining worlds in which we are not just “tolerated” or “accepted” but powerful and celebrated, is potent. The simple fantasy of defeating monstrous foes is powerful in of itself. For marginalized folks exerting little power or influence on the world, such games offer an outlet, offer the idea that all struggles are surmountable.”
Next up, let’s talk discourse, bringing together both theoretical and very material concerns about how we talk about games, repeat ourselves, or occasionally avoid talking about them in good faith.
- On Change in Video Game Criticism – Death is a Whale
James wonders if part of what keeps discourse in games moving in circles is when it gets caught up in the ever-moving target of what games might be or ought to be over the here-and-now matter of what they are.
- GOTCHA | DEEP HELL
Skeleton sets the record straight on gacha and the games press’ tendency to dance around its rough edges.
“You can drink all night in a Casino, but the moment you tell me with a smug grin that you didn’t even gamble a sane person might ask you why the fuck you didn’t just go to a regular bar: it’s likely you’re not there for the ambience. You just love drinking in Casinos. It’s not the lure, it’s the satisfaction in tempation. Sure, you never pulled the handle of the slot machine, but you’re still giving them money.”
We now turn to genre movements and genre disruptions–past, present, and fifteen seconds into the future.
- Treasure Turns 30: Three Decades of Subverting Genres | Paste
Marc Normandin delves into the design philosophoes of Treasure’s transgressive genre-perturbing titles through the decades.
- Aaron A. Reed on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy | Gold Machine
Aaron A. Reed describes a few of the many ways in which HHGTTG, the game, breaks with the conventions and assumptions of adventure games of the day.
- The Melancholy Realism of Citizen Sleeper | Paste
Cameron Kunzelman describes a recent critical movement in adventure games, with Citizen Sleeper as an inflection point, but hopefully not an endpoint.
“Citizen Sleeper is a treasure. I really enjoyed it. It hits all the posts that it aims for, and it appears that longform updates are coming through this year to expand the space station and its people. But I hope that it expands conceptually alongside the word count, that we might see other ways of being and knowing that are not the echoes of the howls of us, all of us, caught in a bear trap of capitalism.”
On deck we’ve got a trio of play recollections and play impressions from both the cutting edge and the softer sanctuaries of nostalgia.
- Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Gave My Star Wars Obsession a New Hope | Sidequest
Marina Z approaches the newest Lego Star Wars game as a silly, joyful counterpoint to the toxic fandom which has plagued Star Wars in recent years.
- In Card Shark, The Devil Finds Work For Busy Hands | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy contemplates life or death on the draw, cards on the table, or under it.
- Dreaming of Dream Land | Unwinnable
Alyssa Wejebe reminisces about Kirby Super Star as the paradigmatic Kirby game in her memory.
“Kirby exists here in this particular boxy cartridge for me. I’ve dabbled with some other Kirby titles, but this slumbers cozy on a cloud in my mind. Cliche or just simply true, this old title holds the most sway with me.”
I thought this was pretty cool.
- The Reactive Square | CD-ROM Journal
Misty De Méo examines a mixed media print/software artifact from 90s that interrogates the intersections beteen interactivity, authorship, art, and play.
“It might be tempting to see the primary difference between the two works as their interactivity, and the square’s movement, but Maeda warns against this. He describes a book as “a human-powered film projector (complete with feature film) that advances at a speed fully customized to the viewer’s mood or fancy… Each piece of paper embodies a corresponding instant of time which remains frozen until liberated by the act of turning a page.” The book, too, is a moving object, one which reacts to the viewer’s interactions.”
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