It’s a new month and a time of shiny new treats for games writing. This week saw the launch of Waypoint, which seems to have allowed the Vice Gaming crew to grow a bit and build their own set of interests and themes separate to the larger magazine. This week also brought us a new issue of Game Studies, one of the main academic journals that overlaps with our part of the blogosphere. Meanwhile, amid all this newness, we still have a lot of writing to look at that reflects on our relationship to the past.
A Certain Self-Confidence
Two of Waypoint‘s first features look at conditions in workplaces and in a prison, giving us a solid look at how games intersect with some of the fundamental institutions that underpin American society.
- The Curious Appeal of Crunch – Waypoint
The influence of personal investment and heroic narratives on labor conditions in gaming are laid bare, forcing readers to confront the uncomfortably fuzzy boundary between individual free will and social control.
- Dragons in the Department of Corrections – Waypoint
In a remarkable and rare feature, Elizabeth de Kleer interviews tabletop RPG players in prison, learning how the game’s co-operative and communicative qualities represent particular challenges and potential.
“Currently, Bey plays a female halfling (he offers in a high-pitched tone—clearly his role-playing voice). Role-playing a female character in prison seems like it would take guts, but Bey isn’t worried. ‘When you’re in a setting like prison,’ he says, ‘where so much depends on bravado and presenting a credible threat, to sit down and play a game that has the word ‘faerie’ anywhere in it takes a certain self-confidence that I think demands respect.’ “
The Larger System
We continue learning about histories of America and other world powers in these pieces about simulations old and new.
- Civilization VI Tells a New Tale of Human History – AiPT!
Matthew Theriault introduces us to the idea of historiography and explains how games such as Sid Meier’s Civilisation play a role in the construction of the past
- Who Gets to Be a CIVILIZATION? – Between the Lines | YouTube (Video: subtitles auto-generated)
Kyle Kalgren’s fantastic video looks at the consequences of how nations are portrayed in Sid Meier’s Civilisation.
- America Daitouryou Senkyo | Hardcore Gaming 101
Brian Crimmins takes a timely look back at a Famicom game representing the American political system.
“Even when surprises present themselves, like current events changing public opinion or political factions calling you and promising to donate to your campaign if you support their cause, they never threaten to disrupt the system, as it’s built to accommodate them. All in all, you get the feeling that whatever thoughts the developers may have for this specific campaign […] they believe the larger system works […]”
Much of the critical writing with a historical bent this week has been directed at Mafia III, with writers reaching different conclusions about the meaning and merits of its portrayal of American history.
- History Respawned: Mafia III | YouTube (Video: subtitles auto-generated)
Bob Whitaker discusses how Mafia III participates in, and responds to, the construction of histories of civil rights.
- “Who is Lincoln Clay?” by Various Authors | Bullet Points Monthly
Different authors weigh in with their readings of the protagonist of Mafia III.
- Mafia III is a postcard tour of the American South | Kill Screen
David Chandler argues that Mafia III doesn’t manage to avoid the tourist gaze, despite being so deeply embedded in local histories.
“In killing his way up the mafia tower, Lincoln never comes across as more than a tourist in his own city, going through the motions of every other open-world protagonist […] Even though Lincoln’s goal is the destruction of New Bordeaux’s Dixie Mafia rather than climbing through its ranks, any sort of pretense of profundity in his revenge-porn rampage gets lost in the numbing patterns of open-world tedium.”
The Little God
Zooming in closer, these articles look at the individual responses of developers and protagonists in relation to larger forces of history and memory.
- Oxenfree: The Duality of Grief in Clarissa and Alex | YouTube (Video – subtitles auto-generated)
Red Angel looks at the use of dialogue to represent the responses of teenagers to ghosts both metaphorical and literal.
- “Cuba’s first indie game” wants to be much more than that | Kill Screen
Chris Priestman explores national identity and designerly pride in an indie studio on the threshold of local history.
“[…] ‘the Great God is no more and the world of Little God, for better or worse, is changing forever…’ The Great God could be interpreted as the US and its constriction of Cuba over the past 50 years, which is now dissipating. The Little God is perhaps Cuba itself then, which had for so long been strangled, and now finds itself in a looser grip.”
When Things Get Messy
In the more literary arena, these pieces look at text-based games that discuss the relationships of care and combat at different levels of consciousness.
- Games on hard topics; TAKE | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling (Content warning: vague allusions to child sexual abuse)
Emily Short discusses a sensual text game with multiple layers of meaning, highlighting the challenges keeping all layers legible while weaving together sexuality and trauma.
- Mystic Messenger and the power of texting games | Kill Screen
Stephanie Chan investigates how the peculiar feeling of connecting to someone over intermittent messages affects interactive storytelling.
“In stories featuring benevolent AI, this seems to be the role they commonly play: of caretaker, friend and, sometimes, lover. Like any relationship, that’s when things get messy. It makes us question what makes a relationship tick, how to relate to another being, and even what love is. Can something that’s not human truly consent? Can you separate consciousness and identity from something like sexuality?”
Finally, let’s get meta! First, a couple of selections from the new issue of the Game Studies Journal. I don’t always include academic writing here, but these pieces are open access and bring up some approaches and issues that are important to thinking about games outside of formal research environments.
- Game Sound in the Mechanical Arcades: An Audio Archaeology | Game Studies
Karen Collins attempts to excavate and analyse the sounds of old penny arcades.
- Book Review: John Sharp’s Works of Game | Game Studies
Thought you were burned out on articles about whether games are art? Veli-Matti Karhulahti might reignite your interest, bringing out some novel questions about exactly what kind of art we believe we are looking for.
“It’s telling that Sharp doesn’t provide a single note about Terry Cavanagh in the book. Unquestionably some of the most revolutionary artgames in the contemporary indie circles, Cavanagh’s works hardly offer their players themes or meanings to reflect; instead, they rely on the kinesthetic discovery of patterns and forms that simply FEEL good.”
And now let’s step comfortably back into the blogosphere, with some thinking on critical writing more closely in conversation with game development.
- A Game is a Game (Everyone Can Make Games) | vextro
leeroy lewin argues that diverse approaches to game design demand a wider range of lenses for reading games.
“As gamedev becomes more accessible and democratized, it’s imperative that interpretation, criticism at all levels, becomes democratized too. It’s not enough that games become easier to make, they need to become easier to accept. What constitutes goodness in videogames is mostly insular. A game needs to present itself through templates of other successful games, signaling their legitimacy and privilege by applied focus testing. It doesn’t need to be like this […]”
If I may, I want to tell you about a couple of things I’m involved with that might be interesting to you.
- Skeletons I have known and loved | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information
I have a piece up at ZAM this week about where loneliness and kids’ TV meet in videogame experiences.
- Action for Trans Health Bundle | itch.io
I also hit the big red button on this bundle of jam games made to raise money for Action for Trans Health. It’s pay what you want, and you get 17 items that all provide perspectives on waiting, transitioning, and pushing for change. Proceeds go to campaigning for democratic trans health care and grants for trans people in need of help with health costs.
How This Week in Videogame Blogging Works
Thanks for reading another roundup of This Week in Videogame Blogging! The process that we go through to bring these links can be a little opaque at times, so last week I put together a guide on how our curation process works. You can check that out here.
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