Welcome back readers.
It’s October! This marks the beginning of the most important holiday season of the year for disaffected millennials everywhere. While I’m thinking of what costumes I should put together this go-round, I’ll also be keeping an eye out for horror-themed games writing to include in the next several issues. If you’re looking to get into the spirit of things yourself, there’s a nifty Queer Halloween Stories bundle live on Itch.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
In This Tree
This week we’re opening with a particularly wide-ranging section on industry, bringing together thoughts on indiepocalypse, score aggregation, and sustainability.
- Is there an indie games bubble? | Roadmap
Gita Jackson chats with developers and creators about the state of indie games in a time of increased precarity.
- Unravelling the magic and alchemy of Metacritic | Rock Paper Shotgun
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell de(re?)mystifies the statistical and cultural divination behind review score aggregation at Metacritic.
- Grounding The Games Industry | Unwinnable
Phoenix Simms takes stock of the inadequate and counter-productive half-measures the industry takes in the name of sustainability, and looks forward to clearer-sighted and Indigenous-led examples and initiatives that the industry might learn from.
“I want more games that are solarpunk and center communities instead of lone heroes. I would like to play more games that aren’t modeling the climate crisis as inevitable and that don’t discount everyday actions as inconsequential. And I would like to see how as architects and consumers of technology we find better ways to approach crafting interactive experiences that embody and enact the ecological imagination.”
As more writers make their way through Armored Core VI‘s later, weirder playthroughs, we’re being treated to some very fine critical examiniations. Here are two new picks.
- A Gun That Never Misses | No Escape
Kaile Hultner highlights a lack of autonomy in Armored Core VI‘s posthuman, inhuman landscape (curator’s note: Kaile now works for Critical Distance running our monthly roundup and Patreon newsletter).
- She Had a Body | Bullet Points Monthly
Autumn Wright is on NG+++ with this one.
“In Armored Core VI, it’s coral as posthuman life that actually mediates human relationships with machine, bringing the two closer, and coral augmentation that led to the development of new pilots who could interface with ACs as artificial, Spartan-like Newtypes. “Building your own war machine can be a liberatory experience,” writes Dia Lacina. And cyberpunk, to me, is about the appropriation of liberatory transhumanism by the state (though some fictions aren’t so self-aware). In Armored Core as in “Helicopter Story,” mechanized war machines are the realization of transhumanist imagination under corporation, under empire, under capitalist realism. You could forget there’s a body in there. You could forget there was ever a body at all. The pilot becomes a combat umwelt.”
This fast-and-loose section is about two things in differing ratios: storytelling, and the platform and design constraints that act upon that storytelling in games and which can produce both frustrating and evocative results–sometimes at the same time.
- Saint Maker Reckons with Religious Trauma, In-Game and In Real Life | Uppercut
Lara Eviota listens to what a visual novel with no meaningful choices has to say about queer autonomy in an environment of religious confinement.
- Despite Its Unpredictability, Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Still Bound to Its Code | Paste
Grace Benfell observes that for all its homage to a tabletop game, Baldur’s Gate III does best what it does best because it is a videogame.
- say something, pinocchio, please | a weapon to surpass blaming yourself or god while knee-deep in the dead
Chuck Sebian-Lander pulls at some thematic tensions in Lies of P‘s borrowed approach to telling a story without the protagonist’s voice.
- Emerging Stories in the Sims | Ada Play
Adarel contemplates different intersections between player and system input in the stories that happen in games, in The Sims, World of Warcraft, and beyond.
“The Sims doesn’t have any game narrative, so all stories must emerge, but those stories are not typically about the player’s experiences. They are about the characters’ experiences. The stories are idiosyncratic to the players, since they observe or enact unique character stories, but they are not about the players. In fact, ideally the players are invisible in the stories that result.”
In another thematically plural section, overshadowed games from decades past get their due alongside critical reappraisals of their lasting impacts.
- Commander Keen — The Kid; id; Tom Hall | press.exe
Talen Lee look back at all 6 (6 and a half?) Commander Keen games, and at what id left behind when they grew up and became all respectable.
- Evergrace, A Forgotten FromSoft Classic | Sidequest
Kathryn Hemmann peers into one of From Software’s early works, finding echoes of the design elements that would come to define their identity and reputation.
“I experienced a strange moment of déjà vu when I first set foot on the Altus Plateau in Elden Ring, the breakaway hit game of 2022. There was something about the way the golden leaves of the trees swayed in the breeze that stirred my memory. I had definitely seen this place before. I had walked through these abandoned ruins. I had gotten lost on these plains, and I had died under these golden leaves. In fact, I had died kind of a lot.”
How to group these next two picks? Representational analysis? Genre and form? Whatever I settle on, don’t let anyone say I phoned it in.
- RE7 as American Folk Horror | Unwinnable
Emma Kostopolus does a little genre theorizing with the Bakers along for the ride.
- Object Lessons #2: Smartphone | Unwinnable
Emily Price asks what–and who–smartphones within games render transparent.
“The place of the smartphone in games is to be a window into the world of the person holding it. If I were a digital person, and somebody had my journal with the five faces, I shudder to think of what they’d say or do.”
Gods and Heroes
Our next two featured writers this week examine how misogyny in the culture–be it Greek mythology or competitive gaming–bleeds into and beyond games.
- Stray Gods’ story about moving forward leaves Medusa behind | Uppercut
Ty Galiz-Rowe finds something very off in the arc Stray Gods sets for one of its key characters.
- Elon Musk doesn’t know his Mercy fetish is boring | Polygon
Nico Deyo uses Elon Musk’s latest cringey showboating to oepn a more substantial conversation on misogynistic projections in the Overwatch community.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have a hot, nerdy girlfriend who hung on your every word, obeyed your every command, and unquestionably respected your power? While this is a perfectly fine kink to practice in spaces that are designed for it, this conception of Mercy also has a genesis in the Overwatch community’s weird behavior about her, which can be mapped over the existing heteropatriarchal power dynamics that exist outside of designed kink spaces. All of this floats under the circumstances of Musk posting a photo of Amber Heard and it ricocheting across social media.”
The theme we’re ending on this week is one of renewal in games and crit alike–celebtrations of the weird and the experimental, of keeping the fire alive.
- Making Games Special Again | One Controller Port
Benjamin Yoder seeks out strategies for staving off the ennui when everything in games happens so much.
- untitled | cohost!
thecatamites is after crit that’s a little more experimental, a little less polite, a little more liminal, a little less familiar.
“i miss reading stuff that’s excessive, that feels like someone trying to outrun and get an angle on their own tastes”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!