“Progress” has become a problematic idea of late: the notion that the passage of time will push society generally in the direction of civil rights has become a truism, but the idea has been brought into question ever more over the past year. Some of this week’s writing should, I think, be understood against that backdrop: history isn’t assumed to run in one direction anymore, and progress is increasingly understood to require deliberate effort and forceful words.
We start this roundup with four articles about our relationship to the past and the future, highlighting in particular the ongoing activity around platforms that might otherwise be languishing in the cultural scrapyard.
- IFTF is adopting the IF archive
Important news about a games-adjacent preservation project.
- Why people are still making NES games • Eurogamer.net
Austin Wood interviews people making homebrew cartridges.
- Themes : Ruins and Futurity : SFE : Science Fiction Encyclopedia
Tabletop gaming blog Abstract Machine shared this article on post-apocalyptic science fiction, which explores its origins in the industrial revolution and political subversion.
- On ZZT and “ZZT” | vextro
leeroy lewin reflects on the organisation and motivation of artistic communities.
“Those who were imprinted by the allure of making ZZT games seem to follow and be followed by artistic pursuit. I see a self-explanatory, self-justified thing. It was a design language people could see and feel demonstrated. An immediate understanding that a videogame was made by a person.”
In writing on inclusivity, two perspectives look at our current position in comparison to the past few years of minority representation in games.
- An Open Letter to Nintendo From a Lifelong Fan – FemHype
Patricia C. Baxter neatly summarizes the ongoing problems with Nintendo’s social politics, including poor LGBT+ inclusion and sexism.
- Prey Lets Me Be Asian :: Games :: Features :: Prey :: Paste
Steven Scaife lauds the portrayal of an Asian protagonist with relatively few tired tropes.
“Morgan never faces any discrimination, never hears any cracks about how good he is at math. Instead, though it brushes up against some racial tropes, Prey does something just as brave: without erasing Morgan’s heritage, it lets us see the face of an Asian protagonist as just another face. And that makes all the difference.”
Next, these three articles look at positive emotions, self-image, and mental health issues as represented in games.
- ‘The Beatles: Rock Band’ Was a Revolution for Gaming Fantasies – Waypoint
Ed Smith indulges in the escapist fantasy of imagined fame and success, reflecting on the lifestyle implications of The Beatles as aspirational icons.
- ‘The Town of Light’ Leverages Reality to Portray Survival Horror – Waypoint
Joe Donnelly interviews a team working on a game that is rooted in local history.
- Vidcon Alley — July 3, 2017
Marek Kapolka argues that repressed trauma narratives in games can often clang, due to an overreliance on literalism.
“[…] these aren’t really stories about people with psychoses. In these games, psychosis is a vehicle to turn trauma into melodrama, and to imprint all these wounds onto a literal physical landscape. There are parts of the emotional tenor of save the animals that feel honest, but the frame is all wrong. The game of mapping individual mental phenomenon to lived events, 1:1, is doomed.”
Waypoint brings us some writing on game narrative placed into inventive new contexts.
- Narrative Speedruns Are Just More Fun – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman argues that speed runners who rely on a performance of skill might be impressive, but those who have memorized tricks and glitches reveal more about the nature of the games they are playing.
- Five Years Later, ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ Still Hates Military Bullshit – Waypoint
Brendan Keogh locates the game he once wrote a book about in the context of more recent anti-war games and interviews with the developers.
“[…] if you wanted to play a powerfully anti-war videogame, you would be better off playing Unmanned or September 12 or even This War of Mine . To say The Line is trying to be anti-war is to miss the point of what The Line is actually expressing. Not a clear moral message but a nihilistic frustration at its own existence within the blockbuster publisher-studio model. This is a game that hates itself.”
Moving on to perspectives on game development, we have two video essays on design techniques and one piece of investigative journalism looking at Sony and Microsoft’s divergent approaches to indie games.
- Journey: The Story in the Score | Game Score Fanfare – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Game Score Fanfare examines the musical techniques used by Austin Wintory in Journey, looking at instrument choice, motifs, and the slow crescendo that builds from beginning to end.
- Level up Screens: Design by Division – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Cagey Videos argues that the visual display of information is particularly difficult to refine on level-up screens.
- Despite a Cold Shoulder at E3, Sony Isn’t Turning Its Back on Indies – Waypoint
Mike Diver interviews indies and Sony representatives to make sense of what’s been happening in the past year and begin to evaluate whether the indie game scene will start moving back to Microsoft.
“The PlayStation Experience, PSX, takes place in Anaheim, California across December 9th and 10th. All independent development community eyes will be on proceedings, eager to see Sony show so much more than what it offered during its big E3 presentation. It’s in Sony’s interests, evidently, to not let its success—its reputation—in the indie sphere slide any further […]”
For more writing on time and the shape of history, check out the roundup and call for submissions for our regular Blogs of the Round Table feature!
- Episode 46 – Talking on Games | Critical Distance
- June Roundup: Time | Critical Distance
- July 2017: ‘Denouement’ | Critical Distance
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!