Welcome back readers.
The situation is looking a little dire this week in games press, with news of sites going dark and layoffs. This sucks. There are good tidings in independent and middle-state spaces, however, with new issues from both No Escape and First Person Scholar, selections from which feature below (obligatory disclaimer that I’m friends with these people!).
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
War All The Time
So here I am, at the top of the issue, with Kaile and Skeleton once again, on the subjects of Culture Wars, Shooting Wars, CoD of Wars, games by, for, in, and around the ol’ US imperialism. Could it be? How could it be otherwise?
- The Culture War Comes Full Circle | No Escape
Kaile Hultner takes stock of what’s actually at stake long-term when the right takes potshots at popular media over “going woke” or whatever word they’ve misappropriated from Black communities this week.
- BORN UNDER A BAD SIGN | DEEP HELL
Skeleton traces the fit of hero shooters into the larger machinery of the US military-industrial complex.
“There’s an old quote that goes something like “whatever world war III is fought with, world war IV will be fought with sticks.” to which I’d like to offer a brief and contemptible counterargument: whatever World War III is fought with, it will still be featured in Call of Duty: World at War IV.“
Yes, I’ll take my apocalypses half-and-half this week, pre-and-post, as values and practices bleed through and transform across the virtual and the material.
- Gunpowder in the Rouge | Unwinnable
Trevor Richardson examines what the Machines in NieR: Automata have gleaned from the human ruins of gender, beauty, war, and philosophy.
- Griefing the Climate Apocalypse in ECO | First Person Scholar
Laura op de Beke considers politics and practices of grief and griefing in a survival crafting game about ecological crisis.
“More than its commitments to ecological fidelity in the game’s rules and its representations, I think ECO should be lauded for staging issues of environmental crisis in online social space where it invites both collaboration, as well as sabotage.”
Art and Artist
Get out your reading glasses now (I’ve been neglecting getting my own perscription updated. . .) as we dig into some formal analysis, looking at art movements, authorship, and some cool-ass games.
- SINoALICE and the question of authorship | First Person Scholar
Hélène Sellier contemplates destabilized lines of authority between author, character, and audience in SINoALICE and other works of Yoko Taro.
- Elden Ring and the Shock of the Picturesque | Gamers with Glasses
Roger Whitson digs into the roots of the Haligtree, formally, structurally, and thematically.
- This is the World We Created: Baroque and Poetic Form | Fanbyte
Aurora Brainsky-Roth unfurls how the macabre, morose roguelike Baroque evokes poetry not in its writing, but in its structure and form.
“Naturally, this is true of all games; like a poem, a game only exists as a sustained, diffuse web to be “read,” never resolving into an external outcome entirely separable from the aesthetic configuration which expresses its coherency and meaning. Significantly, the sequence of tasks the player must perform in order to progress all involve retrieving and reconciling to memory and past events. The cyclical tower runs don’t so much propel the narrative towards a future resolution as retroactively entrench the game in the effaced history which formed it in the fictional world, and in doing so allow the characters to accept it as it is.”
Would have just called this one “Gotcha” but Skeleton did that one already.
- The Last Days of This Dying Gacha Reveal a System of Exploitation | Fanbyte
Jay Castello picks through a ruined machine, painted in a friendly guise of Kpop parasocialism.
- Sounding Board: Do No Harm | No Escape
Jeremy Signor asks games press to reckon more openly and honestly with the exploitative architecture of gacha.
“We often hear that these monetization schemes are acceptable because “you don’t have to spend any money,” thus shifting blame for the abuse from the corporation to the individual user’s choices. This is an easy position to settle into because it absolves the games press from worrying about it. It lets us focus on The Content, which is, after all, where the artful meaning is. But the truth is that’s convenient bullshit.”
Here begins a two-parter, taking reflection as our overarching theme. First, let’s start more micro, with protagonists that reflect aspects of the critics’ lives, pasts, presents, desires, regrets.
- Don’t Be So Serious | Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith looks at Sam Porter Bridges and wonders what it would be like to weather the grind, the hustle, all the bullshit and tedium that goes part and parcel with surviving In A Society, and come out the other end fundamentally okay.
- Face Where You Come From, Even If It Hurts | No Escape
Farouk Kannout plays NORCO and reckons with memory, grief, and their own upbringing in small-town America.
“I grew up in a small town surrounded by racist politicians stripping away people’s rights, high schools with slave owners for mascots, and struggling people ravaged by poverty and the opioid epidemic. The issues presented in NORCO are ones I know intimately. With everything so ever-present in my day to day as an Arab/Muslim person, it’s no wonder I left in the first place.”
Now, let’s go macro, to reflections and refractions as expressed by the game worlds themselves. I’m a little grumpy because I had the title in upside-down text for this one and I was pretty proud of myself but it doesn’t work in the font we use for headings. Buncha question marks. Psh. The pieces are great though.
- Shifting Tides and Dynamics in Queer Man Peering Into A Rock Pool.Jpg | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy weighs action and reaction, players, admins, and agency in a sweet, odd little game with Chunkies.
- Places of Wonder, Objects of Power | First Person Scholar
Kylie Broderick traces the fault lines between magic, power, knowledge, and ruin in libraries in fantasy games (bonus points for the Final Fantasy V shoutout).
- The Long Dark | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente survives a frostbitten Canadian wilderness while surviving a sweltering London heatwave, and reflects on the catharsis of games which externalize and literalize our ever-dwindling bodily resources and needs.
“My takeaway was that it’s draining having an invisible illness and communicating that experience to others — thrusting the boringness onto them, like listening to a song through a wall, hearing about somebody else’s useless dream, or spending all this energy convincing other bodies that this body is real. And I found it suddenly, blatantly, exciting and meaningful to see a character’s health visualised in stats on the screen in these terms. For the survival game I’m being forced to play, I want the same for myself. HUD to point at. Data. Temperature stat flashing red in the church, energy questionable, hunger acceptable because my friend just made paneer curry, and thirst perfect because of the 9 litres I’m putting away. That’s the science fiction future I need. Plug me in, I want to see everything I am.”
Saved something pretty cool for the end this week.
- Ganbare! Inuchan | CD-ROM Journal
Misty De Méo takes in a cute, creative, and compelling interactive storybook that I find hard to believe dates as far back as 1990–it looks that fresh!
“The player takes a step through the screen into Kato’s world, seeing the Mac as object of creativity. The Mac, after all, isn’t an object of worship on its own. It’s a tool, and it’s the tool that brought Inuchan and his world to life. The Mac, or any computer, offers the player the same chance.”
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