This Year in Videogame Blogging: 2022

What can be said at the close of 2022 that hasn’t already prefaced a thousand best-of lists?

It wouldn’t be fair to say there were no bright spots this year, because there certainly were. In addition to a slate of excellent new releases — many of which are discussed below — Critical Distance also saw an immense outpouring of support from you, our readers, when we launched our emergency fundraising campaign this past November. Our Patreon is back on track, our Discord server‘s buzzing with activity, and we have some great new stuff planned for you in 2023. None of this would be possible without your support.

But I won’t lie, reader. There was a moment earlier this year when I thought to myself: “Does the world even still need Critical Distance? As journalism continues to collapse and everyone is strained financially, is the era of games blogging finally at the end?”

Then I read an Art Maybury post about some early 1970s piece of interactive fiction I would never have heard of otherwise and thought: “Don’t be ridiculous. This is exactly why Critical Distance exists.”

Senior Curator Chris Lawrence and I have once again combed through a year’s worth of weekly roundups to bring you more than 80 works that run the gamut from historical deep dives to industry politics — and yes, quite a few new releases as well. No matter what you take away from 2022, there is something in here for everyone.

(One disclaimer: Due to a mixup with scheduling, we weren’t able to open submissions to readers as much as we have in past years. We did our best to include as many reader submissions as we could.)

Historical POVs

We begin in the past. 2022 saw not just a wonderful assortment of retrospectives on classic games but also the people who made them, from the legacy of sound effects to Roberta Williams’s much-celebrated return to game development.

The Nostalgia Singularity

The videogame industry is a dichotomy in many ways, chief among them its twin obsessions with newness and nostalgia — despite not usually giving a toss about preservation. But there’s more at play here, as several writers highlighted this year:

The forever wars seen in AAA mainstays like Halo exist—at least partly—to compactify the stocks and flows of global capitalism into the simplicity of three dimensions. In its current state, the grind of modern industry isn’t a fight that can be finished. It can only evolve.

There’s a genius to these aesthetic trappings—a way of sidestepping the artificiality of digital 3D by making the world synthetic. This had been done before, but never in a work aimed at adults. And as the sixth and seventh console generations wore on, it became clear that Halo’s aesthetic sensibility was by far the longest shadow the franchise would cast.

Imagine if the Lightning Told a Story

As 2022 showed us, everything is a systemic issue. Be it by their programming, design philosophy, or politics, the machinery of games and how they’re used to create meaning for the player is a rich subject with quite a few depths yet to plumb.

It’s not that humans have nothing in common with ants. The problem lies in the idea that ants have a “civilization” that simulates and clarifies how human society operates. This view, exemplified by god games, reinforces the notion of a genetic, predestined order and implies that humans across history are all the same, motivated by the same sets of underlying functions that are more or less obscured or distorted by how society is arranged. A player of these games taps into this fiction of a fated order, even as the game semaphores that we are merely ant-size beyond it.

What if we removed all the combat, the platforming, skill-based anything? What if we only had press w to move forward, mouse to look around, dialogue, environmental storytelling, audio logs, item descriptions, cinematics, choices that matter, and a dash of light puzzling to taste? Walking sims are so simple, surely it should be easy, right?

The white player’s — imagined, assumed, understood — desires have been enshrined as objective and sacrosanct by our market-driven, data-driven, player-centric model of video game design. Funding is dispensed at his behest, he is invoked whenever someone in the room dares to suggest deviation from the well-trodden road, female protagonists are “unmarketable” or “financially risky”, whiteness and masculinity are replicated over and over not out of any racial prejudice or bigotry, no, but merely because of the practicalities of the market, which is an entity largely made of fantasy and unconscious desire.

“Player-centric design” is plagued by unexamined whiteness, and I believe that our reluctance as an industry to believe that players can enjoy experiences of unfairness, exclusion, limitation, powerlessness — or even just types of power outside of domination — is rooted in our internalisation of the white player.

To Live and Work in Games

2022 saw plenty of highs and lows for the games industry itself, from the continued push for unionization to the inexorable creep of gacha into every aspect of our lives.

The way we discuss visual novels on social media and elsewhere is self-defeating. We march to defend the positive values and that’s, of course, an important strategy. But it makes us reactive: we only show up when things go bad and that’s all. We also don’t build resources that would prevent such garbage being spewed on the web in the first place. This becomes a cycle where we correct misinformation but never have the initiative to confront the problem at its core.

Let’s be realistic and admit we haven’t done shit for people who want to learn more about visual novels besides what already exists. We feel comfortable saying platitudes like “respect VNs” because we don’t have anything else that’s constructive to say. Our current remarks should be seen as us smiling at a faltering status quo and being upset when people don’t know where to start.

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.

For Great Justice

You’ve probably noticed the boundary lines between these categories are kinda blurry, and this one’s no exception. But where above we focused on industry practices, here we spotlight games’ intersections with politics.

To live in the Global South is to brave apocalyptic conditions enacted by the West. They appropriate our stories, but they change the setting, they make up a villain, and then they cast themselves as the hero. Their empty dioramas are filled with caricatures of cruelty and sadism. Their “reality” is voyeuristic and escapist. After all, they’re only tourists here.

Anarchism is, in my experience, most commonly expressed by the things it opposes: states, hierarchies, domination, bigotries, prisons, borders, etc. These are what we might call the outer bounds or parameters of a possible anarchist society. They’re an important element of the anarchist possibility space, the outer ring of the magic circle.

Hardspace: Shipbreaker is unique in the completeness of its portrayal, and the grace with which it depicts that work. Objects float through space in gorgeous arcs, accelerating and decelerating in pace with the wide arcs of your grapple beam. Its reverence towards labor isn’t just aesthetically beautiful, but actively humanizing towards its characters. The joy of shipbreaking isn’t just satisfying gameplay, but an essential part of the game’s core belief in the possibility of a good world in spite of capitalism.

How’s That Systemic Racism Coming Along

It would be nice to say that 2022 was the year we finally turned a corner on race representation in the games industry, but it’s almost like these problems are structural. Still, there are positives to focus on as well.

Truly, there is something beautiful about seeing faith so reverentially applied to a story about liberation. It is also a deep act of healing, as a Black person, to be able to reject grotesque institutional injustice by the aid of powers that cannot be touched by any institution of man. As hard as colonial Brazil, the Papacy, and white supremacy more broadly may have tried for centuries to erase the breadth and depth of what belief means for Africans and their descendants, they failed. Mandinga is the result of why that is important not just to Black people but important to the historical record of the planet itself.

This Whole Thing Smacks of Gender

Let’s not mince words: 2022 was a bad year for LGBTIQA+ people, especially trans and non-binary folks. Even so, more than a few writers found inspiration and refuge in games, even in the unlikeliest of titles.

Don’t Game Me Bro

Before we dig down into some of this year’s stand-out titles, let’s chat about the people who play games and then get very, very, very, very (very) passionate about them.

At its core, conservatism is rooted in the idea that there is an in-group and an out-group. The in-group is good, the out-group is bad and attacking it. This justifies the right-wing’s violent response. Almost all right-wing art is predicated on the notion that There Is An Enemy To Be Defeated, and while there’s nothing wrong with art about overcoming struggle (all drama is about overcoming something, even ourselves), the right-wing art says, at some level, that might makes right.


[A] right-wing story cannot ever accept, in any way, that there are people other than the right-wing whose lives are valuable or meaningful unless the meaning of their life somehow elevates the hero’s own struggle. “I am better than them,” the conservative says, “I am the hero who saves the undeserving.” That sort of thing.

It’s so condescending and awful that it’s not hard to see why that kind of art never lasts, unless the violence is so thrilling and so exciting that the audience wishes to overlook the problems, like with The Division. Getting loot is fun, you know? So of course a lot of people are gonna play the game, politics be damned.

New Releases

Let’s now turn our attention to the games which took over our brains and our social media feeds in 2022.


The latest game from Sam Barlow is another database tale about sex and identity.


This H.R. Giger-inspired indie from Serbian developer Ebb Software asks the most important question a game can ask: Can body horror sustain itself on vibes alone?

Just as there is no outside to Scorn‘s failed civilization, the flesh that constructs the corridors, switches, and temples of the world does not come from somewhere else. It’s all grown right here. There are no white sepulchers, all the death that enables the world is on the surface. The flesh and labor of the workers that enable empire is grafted into the walls.

It feels like Scorn is attempting to have a conversation and engage in a dialogue with players about how empires ultimately all require a sliding scale of suppression so that everything can be fine tuned for creating more and more life. Creation for the sake of creation. Birth for the sake of birth. Life for the sake of life. And, while trying to remain as absolutely vague as possible, in the end, anything different or outside the binary must be struck down.

The Taroverse

This year saw the release of Nier Automata: The End of YoRHa Edition, but let’s be honest: when are we not talking about the beloved works of Yoko Taro?

The xenofeminist ethos can be boiled down to a few key tenets:

  • If nature is unjust, change nature.
  • Alienation is a liberating force.
  • Feminism must be a rationalism, and rationalism must be decentralized and decentralizing.


Indie gem NORCO captured plenty of hearts this year, with many comparing it favorably to Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero.

Citizen Sleeper

The latest from indie publisher Fellow Traveller, Citizen Sleeper audaciously asks us to imagine a futuristic world where work still sucks.

The realism of these games is that this strange existence will go on after you, that the world fundamentally does not need human life to succeed; the melancholy is that you will never understand it, will never be fulfilled in it, even if you can be stunned into wonder by the numinous mystery that borders on Mystery.

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.

Elden Ring

This year also saw the release of FromSoft’s biggest hit to date: Elden Ring. Naturally, the internet had plenty of thoughts about it, as well as its much-beloved predecessors.

And So It Ends…

We’ve come to the end of our 2022 retrospective! No list could ever be 100% comprehensive (and still be readable, anyway), but we hope our gathering-together of articles here showcases the breadth and depth of all that this fantastic little world of games criticism has to offer.

There’s plenty of other stuff to mention — our founder Ben Abraham’s important feature on games and climate change, our podcast, our recent ‘open mic night’ on our Discord server, just to name a few. 2023 is gearing up to be a watershed year for Critical Distance, so we hope you’ll stick around!

Happy New Year from all of us here at Critical Distance, and here’s to a brighter one!

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