Welcome back readers.
The thing I want to plug this week is a bundle currently running over on Itch: Games for Gaza. I have no affiliation with it other than wanting to see it do well–but it really would do my heart some good to see it do well! So check it out.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
From the Source
This week let’s start with a trio of interviews, ranging in topic from game dev sustainability, to queer representation, to the intersections between games and climate activism.
- An interview with Just Stop Oil about protest, playfulness and invading EGX | Rock Paper Shotgun
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell chats with Just Stop Oil activist Oliver Clegg about the intersections between protest and play.
- Jennifer English on growing up queer and becoming a video game icon in Baldur’s Gate 3 | Gayming Magazine
Aimee Hart talks to Jennifer English about representation, authenticity in portrayal, and the resonance Shadowheart has with trans players.
- El Paso, Elsewhere Creator On The Future Of Game Development | Kotaku
Claire Jackson chats with Xalavier Nelson Jr. about sustainability, holistic games development, and the problem of fidelity.
“Nelson says that loss of potential, from teams failing to survive ever increasing demands, is something “we are being made terrifyingly aware of” right now. But he adds a note of optimism: The rising public awareness of the pressures of game development “gives us a unique opportunity to push against these systemic factors.””
This grouping is all about platforms–hardware platforms, software platforms, design platforms, media platforms.
- you can’t emulate the nintendo ds | a weapon to surpass blaming yourself or god while knee-deep in the dead
Chuck Sebian-Lander ruminates on the hardware-software divide when it comes to keeping old games playable and accessible.
- Mega Man 2  | Arcade Idea
Art Maybury contemplates Mega Man 2‘s mirror shine as not just a game, but a platform for game design.
- LAKE Adventure: These Textual Delights Have Textual Ends | Gold Machine
Drew Cook considers medium, metatext, genre, and authorship in interactive fiction.
- Bitsy, the Small Game Revolution | ArtReview
Nicholas O’Brien looks back at, and forward from, seven years of Bitsy as a platform and a community.
“Games that utilize the engine best focus on intimate moments of contemplation, quietness and repose. Far from the bombast of their AAA cousins (a shorthand term for mainstream game studios with multimillion dollar budgets and vast labour pools at their disposal, like Call of Duty), Bitsy games celebrate silence – both literally (since the tool doesn’t support audio without a plug-in) and figuratively: there is a hushed tone about Bitsy games, a whisper in the ear, pillow talk murmurs, airy soliloquies.”
Now for a game-specific section, on a title that has continued to recur in these issues as more writers unspool their thoughts about its deep-running themes.
- Venba Cooks Up An Emotional, Cosy Feast | Sidequest
Zainabb Hull really clicks with Venba‘s intergenerational, transcultural story of family and food.
- Venba – A Poem To Cooking | Carlito Calzone
Nicanor Gordon juxtaposes Venba‘s messaging about food and family against influencer-driven food-as-content culture.
“I want to learn everything my family has ever made for me so that when we are separated by distance or time or death I can make something that captures how they felt about me. And I can eat it.”
Missing the Mark
Our next three writers each productively unpack their disappointment with sequels in long-running franchises, each entry squandering some vital potential it might have better realized.
- ‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage’ Is Flashy and Fun but Does Its Setting a Disservice | WIRED
Saniya Ahmed finds that Mirage‘s historical setting and characters go somewhat to waste in service to the same old AC intrigues.
- Final Fantasy XVI Review | Patreon
Imran Khan finds that FFXVI has more in common with Lost than it does Game of Thrones for its serial inability to stick to and develop a single idea.
- Silent Hill 3: Never go back | Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi reckons with a sequel that squanders the successes of its predecessors.
“This is the direct sequel to the original Silent Hill, and the game that came after James Sunderland’s emotional trip through the eponymous town. It deliberately reuses or references multiple people and places found in both of them, actively inviting comparison. Yet in spite of its highly regarded history there are too many unforced errors in here, too much of everyone’s time wasted on empty gestures towards self-aggrandising art and not enough on creating a real connection between the cast and the plot—never mind the player.”
Ok, now for a short section on curation and broader thematic analysis across genres and forms.
- Ten Short Free Horror Games on Itch.io | Sidequest
Kathryn Hemmann curates some Itch highlights for spooky season.
- Trans representation in movies isn’t great — but in 2023, I feel more seen than ever | Polygon
Lex Luddy surveys trans representation across media, looking at film as well as games, mainstream as well as indie.
“These indie projects are telling our stories in real and authentic ways, backed by creatives expressing their own lived experiences. And while mainstream films may not be representing us directly, we can still take ownership of them.”
Here’s a pair of selections focusing on narrative and theme.
- Embodied Research in Sea of Solitude | Gamers with Glasses
Edcel Javier Cintron Gonzalez explores trauma and embodiment in Sea of Solitude.
- ‘Saltsea Chronicles’ is A Wonderful Experiment in Narrative Complexity | Epilogue Gaming
Flora Merigold highlights the narrative design, pacing, and character writing of Saltsea Chronicles.
“I usually wait until I finish games to write articles about them, but Saltsea Chronicles left such an immediately strong impression that I’m willing to fully endorse it, especially if you vibed with Mutazione like I did. It iterates and evolves on some similar themes, ideas, and aesthetics in a way that scratches the itch of someone like me who kept wishing to wipe her memory and replay Mutazione for the first time again.”
Complementing the previous section, here’s one on design.
- Press X To Die – How Playable Deaths Shatter the Illusion of Choice | Uppercut
Gab Hernandez examines perturbations of power fantasy through terminal play.
- Real Play | The Paris Review
Devon Brody reflects on life as a practice of design, in The Sims and beyond.
“It turned out, for me, that The Sims was a terrible game if I had to Go To Work, Pay Bills, Cook Dinner, and Clean Counter in real life. My Sim was always getting hungry, burning toast, and stomping her feet. Often it took so much time to Go To Work, Sleep, and Eat from the plate she left on the counter that she’d start to smell bad, and would take a shower without me telling her to. None of these things boosted her Fun need meter, and the things I did in my free time, ostensibly for fun—Practice Writing, and Paint—weren’t fun to her, at all. Her Fun meter was always in the red, and she’d give up on her writing and painting before I told her to. I ended up buying her a nice bookshelf—for +5 Fun points, out of a possible ten—but she didn’t think reading was fun, either. She left her books on the floor and started waving at me with a thought bubble over head, inside of which there was a television.”
This week’s closer is appropriately unnerving for spooky season.
- The Tower | cohost
Childe dan to the dark tower came.
“In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, you watch them build the final dungeon. They build it right in the middle of the hub town over the course of the game. It isn’t hidden. It isn’t far away. It isn’t even ready for you when you show up outside. But it’s bound to be finished someday, like an office building slowly-but-surely being transformed into luxury condos. Aside from the temporary scaffolding and an architectural rendering filled with little stock-image people, it’s almost invisible. Something slow enough to give you all the time in the world required to understand that it is going to hit you and there is nothing you can do to stop it.”
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