Welcome back readers.
Last week I took some time at the top of the issue to plug our currently-in-progress First Foot Forward jam (which I am technically still plugging this week; you should totally submit). This week I’d like to draw your attention as well to the fruits of a jam already concluded: the ReviewJam 2023 hosted by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell. You’ll see some familiar faces if you frequent our own site fairly regularly, as well as writers entirely new to me. Check it out!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Contradictions of Design
This week’s issue, in its first draft, had a full eight articles grouped together in the first category, each of them exploring some kind of productive contradiction in games and play. After a heated round of eleventh hour negotiations with my own impulsive affinity for galaxy-brained excesses, I was at last talked down to a more manageble set of four couplets articulating different dimensions of this common theme. Here is the first movement, encompasing both artistic and narrative design.
- From the spelltacular to the magically mundane | Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi summarizes GBA JRPG Magical Vacation as a game of frustrating contradictions–beautiful but unimaginative, conventional but unfocused.
- God of War Ragnarök | The White Pube
Gabrielle de la Puente concludes that the Sony Santa Monica follow-up has delivered just about everything but surprise.
“But if I got a clean lesson in character development from 2018, what I got from 2022 was a warning to never make something so successful that you have to write its sequel.”
Contradictions of Theme
The second movement in this meta-section looks at liminalities, dichotomies, and playful tensions in the broader arguments of games.
- tunic is a video game’s video game | a weapon to surpass blaming yourself or god while knee-deep in the dead
Chuck Sebian-Lander observes Tunic as a game of playful contradicton, between the tangible and intangible, story and context.
- The Triple Goddess Effect | Unwinnable
Phoenix Simms extends her study of mythic liminality in Hades to the prospective sequel’s new protagonist.
“In my previous column, I was interested in how Zag’s biracial identity was a metaphor for liminality and bridging the distance between his divine and chthonic relatives. But with Mel I’m particularly interested in how her identity and journey are tied more to the void between these two states and its boundless potential.”
Contradictions of Play
The third movement widens in scope beyond the game proper to account for tensions in the play experience, particularly as it shifts (or doesn’t) across successive sequels.
- Some Thoughts on Nintendo’s Wave Race: Blue Storm | Aguas’ Points
Luis Aguasvivas finds Blue Storm‘s excellent technical chops to be at odds with intuitive playability.
- You Can’t Go Back To Pallet Town: The Bleak Future of Pokémon | Paste
Madeline Blondeau contrasts the decades-old Pokémon formula against its recent open-world pivot and finds that both reflect a bleak determinism in one another.
“As it turns out, those rat mazes were important. Without them, being a Pokémon master doesn’t seem so exciting anymore. There’s only flat and desolate terrain pockmarked with unfeeling creatures—diagonals in every direction. It’s just another map to clear. Another virtual ecosystem to colonize and leave behind when I’m done.”
Contradictions of Industry
For the final movement, the lens widens to examine contradictions at the industry (or pan-industry) level, looking at broader trends in media and criticism.
- Time is Money: A Response to ‘Review Code’ | No Escape
Kaile Hultner appreciates the candour behind a fairly restrictive view of what criticism is and who it’s for.
- MY CITY, MY RULES | DEEP HELL
Karin Malady ponders the violence of simulation.
“The consumer-nerd is not capable of understanding metaphor in any context. They cannot hold the contradiction of the literal-metaphoric. So, the world becomes a video game and video games become the world. We’re all just numbers on a page they need us to fit so we can keep being sold apps and subscriptions. Maybe you run a diner on your phone, or a farm, or a kingdom: they think they run the world on theirs. The world wasn’t originally a simulation, it was turned into one. When I close the game and walk outside, what do I find?”
I’m not going out of the way to force the association, but contradiction is at the heart of adaptation too, isn’t it? The exchange between what is gained and lost, preserved or revised, constitutes the core critical challenge of the endeavour, whether it’s a prestige television adaptation of a videogame already itself obsessed with its own relationship to cinema, or a remake that seeks to close a four-decade gap with its own source work.
- The Last Of Us Episode 3 Recap: The Ballad Of Bill And Frank | Kotaku
Carolyn Petit documents how an adaptation is perhaps at its best when it does what the original could not.
- Colossal Cave (2023) | Zarf Updates
Andrew Plotkin comes away satisfied with Colossal Cave‘s success as an adaptation.
- Colossal Cave Review – A Reimagined Excavation For The Ages | Game Informer
Juno Stump finds that despite the advancement of tech and a shift in perspective, Colossal Cave still captures the spirit of the original.
“In an age of having nearly every objective displayed on a HUD, it was refreshing to walk down the streams and through the darkness of Colossal Cave. I didn’t always know where to go or what to do, but I kept exploring and playing. I found myself lost a lot, but I always managed to find a weird item or path forward that gave me enough to continue.”
So the funny thing about contradiction in communities is that~ kidding. Here’s two pieces about intriguing mysteries in play practices and player communities.
- Dead by Daylight: la desaparición y el regreso del caballo Maurice | GamerFocus
Julián Ramírez investigates the mystery of the missing horse (Spanish-language article).
- Why Do Gay People Play Healers In Overwatch | Kotaku
Alyssa Mercante delves deeper into the long-running affinity of queer players for support characters.
“I interviewed players and peers, and I spoke to a queer-identifying counselor, all in an attempt to properly investigate Overwatch’s gay healing agenda. The result is a fascinating look at a subculture within a subculture, one marked by real-world social queues, kink play, emotional connections, and, unfortunately, a frustrating lack of scientific research.”
This week two short pieces comprise our weekly sendoff.
- Play by Numbers (Or: I wanted to make this interactive but I was in too much pain) by zainabb
Zainabb Hull meditates on the intersection of pain and play.
- The Beach Epiphany | Into The Spine
Tigran Bleyan celebrates an evocative minimalism in small games.
“With only the mechanics to walk and slap, I had to take in the ruin of this game’s society. In this desolate absence of a goal, I saw what games can do.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!