Welcome back readers.
We’re running a wee issue this week, a portable one even, so we will once again dispense with the usual format and get right to the good stuff.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days
- The Diablo is in the details | GamesIndustry.biz
In our first selection of the week, Brendan Sinclair unpacks the PR-speak and numbers games that further obfuscate the realities of the F2P business model, in Diablo and elsewhere. I’ve appreciated that the high-profile launch of Diablo into the mobile market has prompted a larger conversation about the more predatory market mechanisms in place around these kinds of games beyond Diablo, and this is a good continuation of that conversation!
“Like many in the free-to-play space, the execs at Activision Blizzard don’t want players to know what they are getting in exchange for their money. They don’t want players to understand just how much they have spent, or how much more they will need to spend until they have what they want. They want to slant the playing field against players being able to make informed purchasing decisions.”
- 17 years ago, Yakuza reinvented video game masculinity | Inverse
In a piece I earmarked for this issue as soon as I saw it on my timeline, Cian Maher explores vulnerability, expressivity, and brotherhood on the streets of Kamurocho. Yakuza is such a thematically (and tonally!) dense tapestry (and is easily my favourite contemporary JRPG series) and I’ve come to depend on Cian’s perspective as a reliable and insightful guide through that tapestry.
“Throughout the series, protagonists like Kazuma Kiryu, Goro Majima, and Ichiban Kasuga consistently unsettle and subvert our expectations of what a man should be — with unforgettable results.”
- The Depraved Bisexual trope shouldn’t have stopped Solas from being bisexual in Dragon Age | Gayming Magazine
Continuing a theme of character studies in much-beloved games, Sherry Toh distinguishes between tropes and character complexity in the story paths the Dread Wolf might otherwise have taken. Bioware helped to popularize richly-written and complex character relationships in western RPGs, and Dragon Age arguably constitutes their finest work to date in this regard. That critics continue to unpack and challenge these characters and their bonds eight years out from the series’ most recent release speaks to that legacy.
“I’ll give credit to BioWare for their sensitivity towards bisexual fans, in a world where bisexuals are stereotyped as promiscuous and untrustworthy romantic partners. But as a bisexual fan, I can’t help feeling BioWare missed an opportunity to give bisexual fans one of the most complex representations of a bisexual character in video games.”
- Volcano Manor, Blasphemy, and Christian Nationalism — Gamers with Glasses
Aw hell yeah: Nate Schmidt parties hard with the perverse and the profound up at Uncle Rykard’s house of horrors. The Volcano Manor and its collection of amoral weirdos was a high point for my Elden Ring experience, and I’m glad to see a capable critic like Nate peel back its layers.
“In a way, I love this because it’s so corny and on the nose. A Lucifer-type figure, once a high-ranking church member, teams up with a serpent in a place full of fire and brimstone so he can become the lord of blasphemy who rules over a place of hellish torment. It’s FromSoft’s take on the biblical Satan story, and the Bloodborne-reminiscent architecture will remind savvy players of the similarly satanic fall of the Healing Church. It’s the video game incarnation of Ozzy’s shivery screams in “Black Sabbath,” or of Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast”—the era in metal when Satan was as likely to be a scary figure as a sympathetic one. Your mileage will probably vary on the game’s depiction of torture and violence, which can come across as needless edgelord shock-schlock, but Elden Ring is still one of a precious handful of games that let you kill both God and Satan.”
- Rogue Legacy 2 and CBT Have More in Common Than You’d Think | Uppercut
How does a game make space for you to engage with it, and what can devs learn between installments to make a better on-ramp for more players? Next up, Caroline Delbert settles into a long-awaited sequel that invites her to engage with it on her own terms, at her own pace.
“CBT uses a model called SMART: setting goals that are “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited.” My own therapist first drew my attention by discussing their incremental approach, something that appeals to me as I keep learning to live with my anxiety. And this is how Rogue Legacy 2 grabbed and finally held my attention: by allowing me to adjust the gameplay to support my one missing piece, and let my skills level up until I was able to do it mostly on my own.”
- Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a perfect portrait of a cyberpunk city fighting for revolution | PC Gamer
When Cyberpunk 2077 landed (or rather, crashed spectacularly) into public discourse it was rightly pilloried for playing fast and loose in how it objectified, fetishized, or outright conflated or fused real-world cultural identities and communities. Alexis Ong reminds us this week that fuller, more authentic stories are possible as she returns to a cyberpunk great with a firm sense of space, place, and context for its revolutionary politics.
“There are few other cyberpunk games of Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s caliber that wholeheartedly engage with the inherent orientalism and intra-Asian cultures and communities that make up Hong Kong’s rich cultural identity. It’s because of this narrative commitment to getting Hong Kong right that Shadowrun still hits hard today, and proof that western developers—Harebrained is a Seattle studio run by white men—are capable of producing culturally diverse games without defaulting to racism and appropriation.”
- Writing for Games: Theory & Practice (Hannah Nicklin) – Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Lastly, a review! As friends in the know have told me repeatedly, Emily Short is one of the most vital people to read for anybody interested in learning about the particulars of games writing and narrative design. Here, she reviews an accessible and approachable entry-level guidebook for aspiring games writers, and it was enough to convince me to pick up the book myself.
“If you’re a newcomer to this field, or if you’re mentoring newcomers, it’s very much worth a look. And even if you’re not, you will likely find valuable approaches especially in the later chapters of Parts I and III.”
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