Welcome back readers.
I want to extend my heartfelt thanks this week to our Discord community–the regulars (and not-so regulars!) there have been an essential pillar for helping us find and connect with interesting and underappreciated avenues for writing with the near-complete loss of Twitter as a reliable or navigable networking point for folks interested in games crit. If you’d like to join us, you can do so here!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Our opening section this week brings together longer pieces and and deeper dives which seek to connect popular games with our ever-changing and plural presents.
- AND WE’LL SWIM TILL WE SINK | DEEP HELL
Bryn Gelbart wades through faith, violence, and the meaning people seek in them.
- Game design as conspiracy theory: what Amnesia learns from Umberto Eco | Rock Paper Shotgun
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell measures the swing of Foucault’s Pendulum in the conspiratorial depths of the Amnesia series.
- We’re More Ghosts Than People | The Paris Review
Hanif Abdurraqib contemplates the impossible and vital salvation of Arthur Morgan.
“In early 2019, spinning through Red Dead Redemption for the first time, I became obsessed with the idea of a heaven for someone who wasn’t real. Someone I had come to love, but who only existed in a fictional realm. It was a private thought. Discussing love and sanctification like this seems foolish, probably a byproduct of my many newfound chambers of loneliness. I wanted not only a kinship with this not-real someone, I wanted to save them, and save myself in doing so.”
Our next two picks bring together inquiries of simulation and history along different axes.
- Byzantium, Western Anxiety and Europa Universalis 4 | cohost
Cat prods at the question of which Roman Empires are valorized and which are not in EU4.
- Our House Is a Very Very Very Molly House | SPACE-BIFF!
Dan Thurot plays a thoughtful and provocative tabletop game about queer joy and resistance in 18th century London.
“It’s a little bit wondrous, these festivities. Despite being a contest at heart, the camaraderie is genuine. Everybody may contribute, everybody may benefit. Together, perhaps something worthwhile and vibrant emerges. In one sense, Molly House is not all that far off from the many games about rebels and insurgents who meet under cover of darkness, each bringing their own scrounged equipment and intelligence together in an effort to throw off their shackles. Except in this case, the objective isn’t revolution. It’s living well and honestly.”
The theme I see here is tricky to articulate, but here’s what I’ve got. Each of these three pieces focuses on a conspicuous absense, something cut away from a tapestry where we would otherwise expect it. Whether it’s a vibrant queer spirit, a spirit altogether, or even people altogether, these pieces make those absenses productive by filling them in with what otherwise might be.
- How queerness became calamity in Tears of the Kingdom | Polygon
Autumn Wright finds that the world of Hyrule isn’t quite so open the second time around.
- A Recursive Universe | Bullet Points Monthly
Jay Castello reflects on Bethesda’s space race-era sense of wonder in Starfield, and asks whether preserving that passion for the player character must come by robbing it from everyone else in the galaxy.
- Nobody Lives On Rubicon | Medium
Vehe Mently dwells on the disembodied, brutalist architectural landscapes of Armored Core VI.
“There’s this adage in some circles (or the ones I am adjacent to) that mech fiction is, fundamentally, about bodies. I grimace when I hear this, not because there isn’t truth to it, but because I feel it’s a bit myopic and jealous. Mech fiction is about a lot more than just bodies, and to reduce a genre to some core theme is obviously absurd. But as I play Armored Core VI, I cannot stop thinking about bodies. Not because of any bodies in view. Rather, their absence haunts Rubicon.”
This was precisely the kind of hopeful, forward-thinking piece I hoped to round this week out with.
- Saltsea Chronicles Beautifully Finds A Way Forward | Paste Magazine
Emily Price plays a game that dreams of an imperfect, messy, and beautiful collective.
“I never found Le Guin in Saltsea Chronicles, though maybe she’s in there somewhere. But throughout it echoed the philosophies of anarchist and socialist thinkers, as well as existing and pre existing collectivist societies. In linking the Saltsea archipelago to our world while also making it meaningfully distinct, the game resists becoming an allegory and becomes a story in and of itself. It extends beyond being a mirror for contemporary society and instead becomes an illustration of an alternate path forward, another way we could approach the same issues of climate change and environmental devastation that make up the characters’ pasts and presents.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!