This roundup comes a little bit late, as I was kept busy this week by a conference about care and technology. As it turns out, the topic of care is not a bad lens for looking at this week’s blogging!
People are starting to talk about how unsatisfying it is to care for characters who have nothing interesting to say and are seemingly only interested in receiving material gifts.
- The Loneliness Of Stardew Valley | Pillock Post
Liam Padfield describes how lonely it feels to have a smallholding in a valley of somewhat demanding AI characters.
- Exchanging Marriage Plows: Gender & Sexuality in ‘Stardew Valley’ – FemHype
Alayna at FemHype points out the problematic emptiness of kindness coin-based relationship mechanics.
“The mechanics of Stardew Valley’s relationship simulator are not new, but the knowledge that they were inspired by similar games—most notably Harvest Moon—does not mean Stardew Valley’s approach cannot be questioned. The over-simplification of the relationship system makes dating and forming friendships feel like just another type of collection, like farming or fishing. By giving people two gifts a week—every week—eventually, anybody will learn to love you.”
Two pieces bring up, in very different ways, the relationship between being able speak and feeling like you belong somewhere.
- Teenage Girls Are Playing Video Games. You Just Might Not Hear Them.
Chris Suellentrop reports on a Pew research study that enriched my perspective on what the kids are doing these days while also revealing some of the sad effects of sexism on teenage girls.
- ‘Stephen’s Sausage Roll’: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome | Gamechurch.com
Drew Dixon wonders why he cares so much about wither Stephen grills that sausage, and realises that he feels compelled to learn the game’s puzzle language in order to feel a sense of belonging.
“My head aches like I’m learning a language—because that’s exactly what Stephen’s Sausage Roll is doing: teaching me how to read its’ world. Duolingo helped me to understand why I could only make so much Sausage Roll progress before my brain shut down.”
I’m always excited to see pieces that examine not just the events of history, but the nature of how events come to pass, and how we relate to them differently as conditions change.
- VR music videos from the ’90s were amazing | The Verge
Adi Robertson brings you a media history lesson, with floating skulls to boot.
- 1979 Revolution: Black Friday | Something in the Direction of Exhibition
Vincent Kinian wonders how much agency individuals really have on the course of historical events, casting doubt on the usefulness of player choice in documentary games.
- The Downsides of the Long Tail
Rampant Coyote has a quick note on an issue that I think is worth thinking about more: the temporarily of game distribution has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, affecting how far we care about playing the latest thing for the latest tech, when every new product standing in the shadow of an immense back-catalogue of similar games.
- Sent from Satan: Why Doom scared us back in 1993 | ZAM
Robert Rath remembers the occult panic of our fin du siecle, reminding us that there was, not that long ago, a time when people cared immensely about whether or not their children were exposed to satanic imagery.
“Doom was so scary in the 1990s because that was a time where occult imagery was uniquely frightening. Though laughable today, worries about demonic cults and the apocalypse were a major part of the popular consciousness in the grunge decade, and carried a sense of threat that isn’t part of today’s discourse.”
A new release this week is bringing up uncomfortable reflections on America’s history.
- Homefront: The Revolution is everything wrong with America – Kill Screen
Will Partin’s description of this militia-action-adventure beggars belief, pointing to that side of society so dark and frightening that you must either laugh or cry.
- ‘Homefront: The Revolution’ Takes the American Myth Too Far | Playboy
Reid McCarter draws attention to the cultural and historical demons that this game attempts to exorcise.
“Mythologize their tenacity for long enough and it becomes natural for Americans, unsure of their ability to fight back the hazily defined enemies of the 21st century, to reassure themselves by reimagining the successes of the late 1700s.”
Call it friction, frustration or flow gone awry, the pace and ease of progress in games is always an important topic of discussion. The first two pieces here focus on smooth, high-speed movement ever forwards, and the last two look at the things that trip us up on the way.
- What I talk about when I talk about endless running | ZAM
Joel MacGregor catches up with a genre that games criticism has often seemed to care little about.
- Home – Cameron Bryce
Speaking of running, Cameron Bryce looks at a poorly-designed chase sequence and considers how it could be done better.
- Fixing The Bugs | Brendan Vance
Brendan Vance argues that we should care for a game’s bugs, and for the people whose work is their habitat.
- Errant Signal – Dark Souls III Pt 2 (Boss/Story Spoilers) – YouTube (subtitled)
The latest Errant Signal is a collection of short and sweet essays on Dark Souls III, beginning with that question: why should we care if other people are good at the game or not?
“[Git Gud is] an obnoxious silencing catch phrase that’s permeated the games community. I always found that odd because the rest of the game is so indifferent to whether you’re good or not: there is no scoring system, or built-in speedrun mechanics, or leaderboards, or combo system. There’s just the singular challenge of finishing the game, and the game’s world doesn’t seem overly concerned with whether you do it or not.”
From running to falling to crawling; these pieces examine stories about endurance and resilience.
- More on the Power of the Fathers: Patriarchal Fatherhood and Oppressed Daughterhood in Rise of the Tomb Raider – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti examines how Lara Croft’s character is undermined by framing her work as caring for her father’s legacy.
- Is Survival the Ultimate Fantasy? – remeshed.com remeshed.com
Sophie Weeks explores the appeal of resisting extinction.
“Given the environmental threats that become more real every year, it’s not surprising that we want to persuade ourselves we can live off the land and become self-reliant. Minecraft opened the door, but games like Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust developed the survival theme into a hugely popular genre.”
This week’s round up sort of has an epistemology section! These two pieces both consider the role of knowledge in enjoyment.
- ‘SUPERHOT’ is an Anti-Cinematic Action Game | PopMatters
Nick Dinicola argues that in games, you don’t have to see something directly to have knowledge of it.
- Tabula Rasa | Problem Machine
Problem Machine argues that knowledge is the enemy of novelty.
“Given how compulsively the cultures of media consumption respects and enforces rules like spoiler warnings, it’s hard not to see the shadow of the destructive effects of knowledge. Perhaps part of the reason we’re afraid to know too much too soon is, not because we will enjoy the work less, but because we will be waylaid into enjoying it the way someone else has – that the work will become part of their story rather than part of ours, circumscribed forever by the bounds of their enjoyment, unable to be discovered for oneself.”
I had a few more submissions from readers than usual this week, which was truly excellent! Please keep them coming through the usual methods. Another way that our readers care for us is through our Patreon — many thanks to everybody who keeps us going!