It is hard, in the context of this week, to feel able to do justice to many of the themes that come up often in these roundups: queer liberation, decolonization, safe spaces, and of course, the fraught relationship between violence and media. I feel aware today more than ever that games are at once liminal spaces that allow us to escape from the world, and also an intrinsic part of the world. Games are one of many places where we reflect on the things that scare us and the things that we long for.
The blogs have seemed relatively quiet. Part of that may indeed be a respectful silence as people take time to make sense of their place in a troubled world. However, part of it is a normal thing that always happens during E3: the games press is flooded with product announcements, and there isn’t much space for critical writing.
This means a shorter roundup, but it also means I had a bit of extra time, so I took the opportunity to look at blogs in languages other than English. You’ll find those at the bottom.
Amid the hubbub about product announcements, there is still writing to be found that contextualises the industry, often with a critical lens informed by labour politics.
- Riot Games is Violating California Employment Law | Zed A. Shaw
Zed Shaw highlights the use of community management tools for surveillance when hiring and firing at one of the fastest-growing games companies.
- Six Key Takeaways On Where E3 Is Headed | Simon Carless
Simon Careless contextualizes E3 in larger industry trends
- E3: Putting Play in its Place Since 1995 | remotedevice.net
Jeff Watson calls for a rigorous leftist understanding of E3 in a 21st century system of labour as play.
“It’s a dark irony that this supposedly pro-play industry is ultimately about disciplining play, rather than liberating it, by putting play and players into their “proper place” as controllable and measurable commodities.”
Where can we find compassion amid the power politics of games? Critical writing can allow us to find ways to humanize the people we fear and those we desire, through our relationships with fictional characters.
- Tragedy and E3: It’s Not Just the Guns, It’s the Stories We Tell | ZAM
Robert Rath argues that games mediate shooting to produce many different ways of imagining the gun.
- Privileged Play: The Gaze, Interface, and Video Games – Not Your Mama’s Gamer
Bianca Batti thinks about the male gaze in combination with ideas of interface and liminality to give serious consideration to how gaze operates differently in different media.
- Queerly Represent Me: Favorite Representations of Sexuality – FemHype
Alayna at Femhype discusses findings from a survey into what makes non-normative relationships in games feel positive to players.
- Sympathy for the Spoon-Collector in The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine – Kill Screen
Gareth Damian Martin praises CD Projekt’s compassionate characterisation of monsters.
“the strength of the Witcher series neither lies in its fantastic monsters nor its richly drawn peasants, but somewhere between. It finds the monstrous, the ugly, and the grotesque in humans, and the redeemable, expressive elements of monsters, and in doing so it bridges the gap between them.”
Two video essays this week look at the spatiality of level design and play dynamics, to highlight how games relate to the history of their own franchises.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’s dungeon design | Boss Keys – YouTube
Mark Brown’s series of research notes on Legend of Zelda is off to a great start, with this examination of verticality and disorientation in Link to the Past.
- Errant Signal – DOOM 2016 – YouTube
The latest Errant Signal looks at how DOOM creates a sense of pace and power without reiterating the same well-trodden mechanics as the original game.
“[…] the original DOOM is basically a first-person Robotron: it’s a game of projectile avoidance as much it is a game about shooting things. To facilitate this projectile avoidance while keeping the action up-tempo they gave you the ability to run crazy fast […] Falling back on those old tropes would not only look really weird in 2016, but it would also put the game in this sort of boring, well-tread space play-wise. [DOOM 2016’s] response to that conundrum is to keep the gameplay movement-focused, but shift the way movement is used.”
BONUS!!! Non-English writing
Finally, a section on writing in languages other than English! I have a follow-list of blogs in Spanish, French and Japanese, but we can also accept recommendations in other languages, so please feel free to submit non-English articles any time.
- E3 2016: Los juegos del padre – Opinión en AnaitGames (Spanish)
At Anait Games, one writer critiques the preponderance of dad games at E3 this year.
“Videogames pursue the adolescent thirst for excitement, impossible speeds and Hollywood epics, but now they are also aware of those players who have already reached or surpassed their thirties, those belated youths who are suffocated by worries of vital importance, by the anguish of responsibilities and by the fear of more loss and failure than falling in a hole or being killed in a street fight.” [translation my own]
- Cœur de fer, jeu de velours (Hearts of Iron 4) – Merlanfrit (French)
Laurent Braud discusses revisionist histories and historical simulations, discussing what it is like to play Hearts of Iron 4 while reading Winston Churchill’s memoirs.
“Reading Churchill, I struggle to satisfy myself with the few cards I am dealt; I want to try living out the things that Churchill portrayed, the things that made this game possible. Conversely, the game feeds me little references throughout the play — the fall of Hong-Kong, or diplomatic manoeuvres with the Soviets — which have taken on a different meaning for me now, stronger, more ingrained.” [translation my own]
Critical Distance is community-supported. Readers just like you send us recommendations to help alert us to writing that should be considered for the roundups, and some also support us by giving us a couple of dollars a month on Patreon. More funding means more languages, more guest contributors, and more new features, so please help us out if you are able.