Resistance, systemic cruelty, and the role of individuals are major themes of writing this week. In addition, we’ve got great stuff on inclusivity and the history of game design, and some engaging ideas about how games meet the art world. First, however, we’re going to talk about fascism.
Who the bad guys are
A new Wolfenstein game has critics discussing Nazis, hyperviolence, and the appropriate response to fascism.
- Gamasutra:Bryant’s Blog -Wolfenstein II: a good argument
Bryant Francis argues that by keeping player agency relatively constrained, The New Colossus is able to take a clearer moral position.
- The New Resistance | Splendors Vendor
However, Ashley Yawns thinks that the new Wolfenstein game does little to shift the narrative beyond the last iteration, and as a result is unable to engage critically with the reality that has been revealed by the resurgence of the far right.
- Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: The Kotaku Review
Heather Alexandra states that a great deal has been achieved within one package in this game that somehow straddles both the demand for entertainment and the moral necessity for a clear message – despite Bethesda’s insistence that is has only done the former.
- In 2017, Video Games Can’t Be Afraid of Taking Sides – Waypoint
Dante Douglas contrasts the approaches to civil disobedience and anti-fascism anticipated in The New Colossus and Detroit: Becoming Human.
“Wolfenstein, on the other hand, is unafraid to take its stance: interpersonal, pointed, direct violence against a structure of power that wields that power against the marginalized and the underprivileged is not only excusable, but necessary. Wolfenstein is upfront about who the bad guys are (Nazis) and what you should do about them (kill them).”
Examining our relationship with wider structural oppression, three pieces highlight games that portray – critically or not – individual responses to large-scale harm.
- Owning Our Resistances With Thunderbird Strike – Dia Lacina – Medium
Dia Lacina contextualises the controversy surrounding Elizabeth LaPensee’s game about resisting environmental destruction and the oppression of indigenous peoples.
- The Orcs of ‘Shadow of War’ Face a Fate Worse Than Death – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman and Austin Walker share notes on the slavery allegories that appear to be present, but uncommented upon, in the latest Middle Earth game.
- How I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse Only To Wind Up In Federal Prison – Waypoint
John Brindle reports on the experience of playing a megagame simulating interconnected events on a global scale, and reflects on what this can teach about history and human responsibility.
“Wallman sees megagames ultimately as a narrative medium, whose rules exist to generate stories. If so, these are the stories not of individuals but of systems, of institutions, of interdependent actors whose decisions conspire to produce a result few of them desired or predicted but which all of them collectively author.”
Supergiant’s latest game is starting to spark a wave of interesting critical writing.
- Making History with the Music of Pyre | Game Score Fanfare – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Game Score Fanfare praises Supergiant Games’s integration of music composition into the core of their design.
- Different as they are, Supergiant’s games all explore tolerance and the ways we we deal with disaster | PC Gamer
Malindy Hetfield draws thematic links between three games made by the same studio: Pyre, Transistor, and Bastion.
“Supergiant’s three games all helped me consider the role of the individual and our relationships with each other in different ways. They made me see how hard it can be to challenge your own perceptions and how this can only work if we try to stay open-minded.”
Two pieces look at games history, and in particular, the factors that facilitated creativity in game development.
- Rediscovering History’s Lost First Female Video Game Dev | Co.Design
Benj Edwards tells the important story of Joyce Weisbecker, who was making games in the 1970s.
- The horrifying legacy of Yume Nikki, the homebrew game that became a phenomenon | PC Gamer
Giada Zavarise gives an overview of the kind of narrative pleasure that audiences get from a story about deeply disturbing psychological struggles, and how that has led to further creativity.
“It’s a voyeuristic exercise in psychoanalysis, a vivisection of a girl’s fantasies in a desperate attempt to understand why she is so broken. “
People at the bottom
Two pieces on the portrayal of oppression in games challenge developers to take the subject matter seriously, rather than simply exploiting it for laughs or drama.
- When I Visited South Park As A Trans Woman, The Joke Was On Me – Waypoint (content warning: transphobia)
Jennifer Unkle accurately calls out South Park’s transphobic writing, giving a thorough rundown of how The Fractured But Whole treats a transgender protagonist.
- Suraya Hawthorne: Destiny 2’s token human | ZAM – The Largest Collection of Online Gaming Information (content warning: racism, colonialism)
Yussef Cole argues that Suraya Hawthorne’s role in Destiny’s story is full of intriguing tensions, due to her unique position in the narrative – drawing parallels to colonialism and the first human ascent of mount Everest.
“All power structures require people at the bottom to support those at the top, and Destiny 2’s society is no exception. No one accomplishes anything alone, but the epic narratives of heroic conquest that drive Destiny players to reach new heights of power and ability do plenty of groundwork to paint it that way.”
Super Mario Odyssey
Nintendo’s latest Mario title has many reviewers praising its joyful atmosphere and skilled design – however, two critics have raised a rather thornier issue.
- Video Game Journos and Giving Mario a Pass | Unwinnable
DH Shimomura calls out games critics, with the exception of Julie Muncy, for not addressing cultural appropriation in Mario games.
- ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Review: Nintendo’s Surreal, Candy-Colored Triumph | WIRED
Julie Muncy highlights the disconnected mashup of cultural symbols, alongside the absurdist extension of a playful internal logic, to explain the artful ridiculousness of this title.
“Mario gains an eerie power: anything that is made to wear Mario’s cap becomes Mario. Throw it on a dinosaur’s head, for instance, and that dino is instantly fused with Mario—and you, the player, find yourself playing as a dinosaur. Take control of goombas, electric poles, whatever else suits your fancy. Mario‘s vision of the future is a cap resting on an enslaved head, forever.”
The humanist reality
In writing on storytelling this week, two pieces look at the emotional authenticity of how different mental processes are portrayed.
- Dealing with Grief – Life is Strange: Before the Storm – YouTube (video: auto-captions)
Kevin John brings some poignant self-reflection to his analysis of Chloe’s character arc, not just suggesting that the game illustrates his personal struggle or vice versa, but investigating how the emotional dynamics of both situations operate.
- Imagining and deciphering writing systems for games • Eurogamer.net
Philip Boyes argues that the process of making sense of something foreign to you is not simply mechanical or logical.
“For all its cleverness, this is what Sethian gets wrong: its writing is shorn of cultural context and presented purely as a puzzle. It’s intriguing and ingenious but it feels a bit like decipherment as imagined by mathematicians or computer scientists, not the humanist reality.”
A new kind of meaning
Getting into some satisfying issues concerning the relationship games have to contemporary art, two critics propose new ways of thinking about the relationship between software and visual presence.
- Radiator Blog: Games in public; games as public exhibitions
Robert Yang describes some positive examples of games festivals and exhibitions that have displayed games thoughtfully.
- On Minimalism and Breakout | vextro
leeroy lewin calls for a low-fi aesthetic divorced from ideas about games a medium driven by technological progress.
“Instead of contrasting Breakout as a relic of time gladly past, I want to see games like it reclaimed and retrofitted with a new kind of meaning, in terms of being compassionate game design that easily fits in a person’s life. To recast “simplicity” as minimalism. To acknowledge that not everything this shambling culture moved away from points to some kind of necessary, futuristic improvement.”
- Critical Distance Confab – Minisode 15 – Horror Games Mark II |
Eric Swain brought us a new podcast minisode this week, with a halloween theme.
- cfp | call for papers
The OneShot project looks like a good opportunity for anyone making games as essays.
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