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.

“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 […]”

Mafia III

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.

“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.

“[…] ‘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.

“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?”

Kinesthetic Discovery

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.

“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.

“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 […]”

Some plugs

If I may, I want to tell you about a couple of things I’m involved with that might be interesting to you.

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.


Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?


Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!