Welcome back readers.

We’re back from break, and ready to kick off a new year of outstanding crit with a double-wide issue to catch us up. Hope everyone found some kind of rest over the interregnum.

This week’s around-the-site update: our Year-In-Review is live, courtesy of Kris’ peerless efforts. There was lots of excellent writing for us to recap from the span of 2022, so please do check it out!

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Working at Play

This week we open with a selection of industry-level topics, from labour organization, to the workification of games, to the tracing of far too many rays.

“For the second year in a row, while celebrities, media and industry executives gathered inside the Microsoft Theater in Downtown Los Angeles, CA, to celebrate the so-called “best” the video game industry had to offer, another narrative coalesced outside. Theirs was a narrative that nobody, not even “voice of the industry” Geoff Keighley himself, could completely silence. Microsoft Theater staff tried to get them to move to a “free speech zone.” The Game Awards security tried to keep their pins from entering the theater. LAPD tried to get them to leave. And through it all, no matter what, the Game Workers of Southern California stood in front of the industry and proudly proclaimed: Labor Creates Games!

Not by a Longshot

We’re at about the point after the release of a longform prestige game that the real crunchy critical meditations start to make the rounds. Here are three that I dug for the latest God of War.

“I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. In a way, I felt as if I was playing a videogame about Kratos playing a videogame. From how characters communicate with one another outside of the main storyline’s scenes to the sheer lack of urgency reflected in the narrative design, given the apocalyptic implications of the story, it all just comes off a bit strange. The culprit of this dissonance seems to be the very aspect that was foundational to the experience laid out in Ragnarök’s 2018 predecessor, God of War: the one-shot camera.”

A Grammar of the Gremlin

A lot of this week’s categories have a common theme in productive contradictions. Here, those contradictions emerge between the creepy and the cute, the transgressive and the normative, represented sometimes-but-not-always by the archetype of the gremlin.

“There’s something to be said about how Greta, despite being a fairly insulting, low-hanging fruit of a character, can open up discussions about how femininity in geek spaces and beyond is performed.”

Games for Girls

We’ve got two selections this week centered on a single focal point in the Games for Girls movement of the 1990s: Barbie Fashion Designer.

  • Building Digital Dream Houses | ROMchip
    Sara Simon, Carly A. Kocurek, and Leilasadat Mirghaderi chat with producer Jesyca Durchin about the challenges of bringing about Barbie Fashion Designer, making creative computing accessible for young girls, and more.
  • An Ode to the Video Game Barbie Fashion Designer | Harper’s Bazaar
    Mary Kenney looks back at an early inflection point in the Games for Girls movement of the 90s, and how its commercial success challenges stereotypes and assumptions the industry continues to hold dear today.

“Pop culture, even now (looking at you, Stranger Things), tells us over and over that video games are the realm of boys, and only a few girls—the ones who are different, “not like other girls”—play games at all. But the evidence tells us another story.”

In Media Rez

Here’s another productive contradiction, if you will, between games and other media forms, both analog and digital.

“No matter how limited Portfolio CD was, it didn’t stop people from trying to create more complex discs. Portfolio CD was used to distribute a variety of commercial products around the world. Many, like the Philips releases, were simple educational discs, which accepted the limitations of the format in exchange for a simple way to distribute high-quality images. Others were a bit more creative; in Japan, there was an entire cottage industry of commercial Portfolio CD discs which consisted of digital photo books and magazines, some of which distributed art instead of just photos. And, yes, there were a very limited number of games.”

Revolutionary Ideas

Next up we have a series of meditations on games and their intersections with revolutionary politics.

“I keep using the word “satire,” but it is perhaps instead an earnest attempt to map out realistic hypothetical actions and thoughts of someone who doesn’t think like you, who is in a position you’re not, and who is effectively your opponent in life whose moves beg predicting — or even, in showing them your map, maybe routing their future actions and thoughts.”

Sixteen Bits

Here we’ve got two meditations on offbeat games from a common era, each leaving a lasting legacy in their own distinct ways.

“while the game may be hostile to newcomers, it is never hostile toward your identity or preferred expression in gameplay and story. after overcoming the hurdle of not getting it for hours, i never felt like i encountered something totally jarring to my own gameplay style and roleplaying preferences. instead, i just thought the game adapted to my thinking and i jived with its sense of humor.”

Choice Selections

Coming up now, a trio of meditations on different structures and framings of play, replay, interactivity, and choice.

“As hardship hits Tassing, it becomes harder to play Andreas any way other than carefully. This isn’t the same as trying to pick neutral options – there are no neutral options, people will still die – but the smallest choices are weighed down by greater responsibility. His outsized influence ripples outwards, like a rock thrown in a pond, occasionally just bludgeoning a fish.”

Parallel Circuits

Returning explicitly to that theme of productive contradictions, our next three picks place pairs of games in critical comparison.

“Suddenly, Portal was at the vanguard, but endured by cannibalizing many of the features of Half-Life as a whole. But in doing so, in taking on the bulk of AAA, fleshing out a story, and inserting cutscene walls stopping the action, Portal 2 becomes something else. It’s no longer the compact, breezy experience that made Portal the phenomenon it was. Instead, it became the replacement for Half-Life 2 at a time when its story was still incomplete. Now, people still draw memes from the first game and not so much the second.”

Family Computer

These next two selections draw upon legacies of family, both good and not-so-good.

“Alex’s mother, dying in her hospital bed, told her not to cry and to take care of her father and older brother. It seems she internalized this as a desire to help people, but I questioned how much of that was conditioning. I shuddered at the injustice of it — injustice I saw mirrored in generations of my own family. I saw a Chinese woman being told to stuff down her own emotions and center her life around grown men fully capable of taking care of themselves.”

Setting the Stage

In this productive contradiction, games are situated in relation to other popular cultures of genre and literature.

“The lack of life-sustaining water, the stillness of barren deserts, and monumental rock formations create an alien aesthetic, but the planet forms an identity when you add people or ruins of civilizations. Sable created its own identity with a brown-skinned main character where the objective of collecting masks is a meaningful aspect of meeting Midden locals, the magical floating ability pushes for further exploration, and her Gliding journey is about self-discovery. Along with the environment, this premise makes a world of a difference in how the alien desert is portrayed.”

Games from the Year

This is the closest section I have in this issue to a “Game of the Year,” but naturally I’m not quite playing it straight, with a short selection of articles that say a little more about their respective games.

“I can be propped up by self-determination all I want but there truly is no dousing the part of me that lives for love. Signalis, for all its unending horrors, stirred up the romantic in me.”

Critical Chaser

And I thought the Tapwave Zodiac was weird.

“For a very brief period in late 2010, Panasonic decided enough time had passed since they were dabbling in games as a 3DO licensee, and it was time to announce a handheld supposedly designed for playing MMOs on the go.”


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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!