Welcome back readers.
Around the site, we have not one, not two, but three new episodes of Keywords on Play for you to catch up on, featuring guests Felania Liu, Stephanie Harkin, and Xavier Ho. Phew! On to the written stuff!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
The Banished Vault
First up this week, bad time storytelling simulator The Banished Vault is making waves on the critical circuit. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
- In spacefaring management sim The Banished Vault, no one can hear me scream | Polygon
Alexis Ong chronicles the wanderings of a religious colony fully in its finding out phase.
- I don’t think I could survive The Banished Vault’s space management without its physical manual | Rock Paper Shotgun
Katharine Castle delves into the synergy between The Banished Vault‘s granular management sim systems and its optional print manual.
- I’m Hooked on The Banished Vault’s Bad Times Generation | Paste Magazine
Dia Lacina delights in a sublimely bad time.
“I have littered the cosmos with men whose names I don’t remember, ones I didn’t make space for amidst my notations. Men who truly had bad times. Many never even managed to establish a colony to be lost. Never got to inscribe their first desperate “Croatoan” on some barren rock. Their exile ended abruptly and then in one click, any evidence of it ever existing vanished. Space is so hard it seems cruel. Both the Carpathia and I took to calling the game The Punished Vault because of this in our signals to one another.”
Barbie is also pretty topicial right now for some reason, go figure! And that’s giving writers cause to think back to some of the tie-in Barbie games of yester. . . decade. Decade-before-yesterdecade? My knees hurt.
- Barbie Horse Adventures: Riding Camp helped me navigate the dreaded ‘Pink Aisle’ | Polygon
Amelia Zollner recounts navigating binary gender stereotypes with an expressive DS game that allows the exploration of both poles.
- Barbie Games Changed My Life, Now They’re Gone Forever | Kotaku
Ashley Bardhan looks back with mixed feelings on the now-largely-inaccessible catalogue of Barbie makeup games.
“It makes me sad that so many Barbie makeup games are gone, not necessarily out of feminism, or a pious inclination toward art preservation, but because I loved these simple, pretty games that encouraged me to invent myself.”
While we’re taking that trip down memory lane, let’s also stop to look at some of the peculiar print artificats that have emerged from critical and popular games culture, as well as the strange resonances their perusal can provoke today.
- Lara Croft: The Art of Virtual Seduction is the ultimate cringey relic of late ’90s game advertising | PC Gamer
Jess Morrissette thumbs through a fascinating print relic from the 90s that brings together all the cultural and discursive contradictions of Lara Croft.
- A Look Back at the Invasion: Martin Amis’ Critiques the Filthy World of Arcade Games | Aguas’ Points
Luis Aguasvivas peers into a cynical and unruly volume of early (though not earliest!) games criticism (content notification for the quotation of homophobic slurs).
“In 1982 arcade games were trendy and seen as the future of entertainment. Nevertheless, this was also an unusual topic for a writer of Amis’ renown to write about, let alone write an entire book about. In 2023, forty-one years later, Invasion of the Space Invaders is now a relic, a nostalgia-inducing concoction. It is fitting that the book ends with pages of lines of code as video games are code, the essence of video games. Yet, the talk and mystique around this book are based solely on Amis’ reputation as a writer. Let’s not forget that on Mother Earth others were also writing about games in 1982.”
Next let’s look at two games separated by decades exploring different aspects of feminine subjectivity.
- Spencer’s floozie: gender and gameplay in Christminster | The Rosebush
Victor Gijsbers unpacks a 90s parser fic tale where nobody in the ivory tower takes the feminine protagonist seriously.
- 2023’s Best Indie Reveals the Power of Video Game Storytelling | Inverse
Willa Rowe connects with He Fucked the Girl out of Me‘s raw and unflinching vulnerability.
“Great art isn’t about trying to speak to the largest audience. It is about selflessly tearing pieces of yourself off and sending them into the world to be seen by others — with no guarantee that anybody will resonate with them. It is the desperate hope that while your experience is personal, others will accept you for who you are and what your art says. The openness of HFTGOOM is an exercise in radical healing for someone who has gone through Ann’s experience of being forced to close themselves off.”
Gems All the Way Down
As the most recent AAA forever game vying for mindshare, Diablo IV also continues to elicit valuable critical insights. Here are two highlights I came across on my travels this week.
- Diablo 4 teaches us that less is more when it comes to the action bar | TechRadar
Cat Bussell finds meaning in the choicemaking imposed by Diablo IV‘s truncated skill bar.
- Diablo 4’s approach to body types lacks imagination | Polygon
Todd Harper finds no sanctuary in Diablo‘s inceasingly-dated reliance on body tropes as an extension of class fantasy.
“I’m all for class fantasies and designing to fit them, but I think saying “a fat Necromancer or thin Druid breaks my immersion” just makes the design team’s biases obvious. There is nothing natural or necessary about the connection between body type and character fantasy, and until we accept that and start moving beyond it, it’s likely that character design in games will keep retreading old, used ground, rather than moving forward into something new and better.”
Next up, we’re looking at both design and localization in established, yet malleable genres.
- Can you make an anti-imperial empire game? | Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell chats with designers Nikhil Murthy, Ryan Sumo, and Jon Shafer about revealing and undermining the ideologies baked into grand strategy design.
- It took 24 years for one of the all-time best Chinese language RPGs to get an English translation, but not the one it deserves | PC Gamer
Kerry Brunskill laments a celebrated RPG classic done dirty in its official English-language debut.
“A story that thrives on heightened depictions of real-world cultures and religions needed to be treated with more care. The game opens with xenophobic Christians trying to burn foreigners alive and a huge dollop of rival nobles pulling political strings in the background—this is not the time or place for a hero that says “Dude”. This game deserves better. Heck, any game deserves better.”
The Play’s the Thing
Finally, let’s close the week with a pair of, well, playful meditations on play.
- On Play in Tears of the Kingdom | Unwinnable
Phillip Russell plays with different perspectives and approaches to play in Tears of the Kingdom.
- Have You Danced with Devil Daggers in the Pale Moonlight? | Unwinnable
Hayes Geldmacher puts play and performance in dialogue in Devil Daggers.
“In spite of its vicious intensity and cruel aesthetic, Devil Daggers is kind enough to let the song of my muscles take control, to flow over hard stone like cool water – to dance among the damned. And when the Devil takes me to hell for my sharp edges, I know that I will feel at home on the stage.”
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