Critics enumerate videogames’ hyper-quantified powers, whisper their unspeakable horrors, and dig through the catacombs of their less-known histories. This roundup brings you the week’s most insightful and original writing on games from around the web.
First, a quick look at portrayals of masculinity that challenge toxic stoicism.
- Why Game Dads Matter – I Need Diverse Games
Tanya DePass highlights stories about men who face their weaknesses rather than simply increasing in strength.
“[T]heir games begin with them realising their vulnerability and what we experience with them, controlling them, is dealing with this vulnerability. Men made mortal, overcoming their demons, accepting they are not gods.”
Two pieces look at psychology from wildly different backgrounds – one scientific introduction to joy and excitement, and one literary analysis of depression and existential horror.
- Gamasutra: Ramin Shokrizade’s Blog – The Physiology of Gaming
Ramin Shokrizade surveys scientific knowledge regarding how we experience pleasure in order to better understand games.
- Weird Fiction: Channeling Lovecraft in ‘Night in the Woods’ and ‘Bloodborne’ | Goomba Stomp
Nic Rueben’s comparison of two games’ versions of horror is moving, insightful, and very upsetting.
“Mae is us. A fan of Lovecraft through cultural osmosis, if not direct experience. Mae’s fears are our fears; the passage of time not as unfathomable aeons under which civilizations die and cyclopean cities slip from memory, but as wasted days and creeping seasons that turn evergreen friendships to faded autumnal snapshots.”
Three critics examine with remarkable nuance the emotional and narrative meaning of different ways that games represent and reward progress.
- How Games Use Feedback Loops | Game Maker’s Toolkit – YouTube
Mark Brown looks at various examples of positive and negative feedback loops across genres in order to contextualise Pyre’s carefully-balanced design.
- Floor Kids – Rhythm and Creativity | PostMesmeric – YouTube
PostMesmeric discusses the creativity demanded of and demonstrated by a new indie rhythm game that uses a complex scoring system to encourage players to “color outside the lines”.
- Make Number Bigger | Matthew Seiji Burns
Matthew Seiji Burns looks at how idle clicker games (which he brilliantly refers to as “incrementers”) play with the economic class distinction that is associated with how many zeroes come after a number representing your annual income.
“Incrementers are explicitly about the fantasy of breaking out of your mathematical lane. They let you experience vertiginous climbs of a hundred orders of magnitude, a thousand, a million, all in just a few minutes.”
Two relatively academic pieces of writing consider how games are made, and how understanding the material realities of development could change the way we think about them as critics.
- Sierra On-Line and the Origins of the Graphical Adventure Game | Journal of Play
Laine Nooney critiques histories of games that focus on genre, in this paper for the Journal of Play.
- Ritual of the Moon | First Person Scholar
Kara Stone queers crunch, with analyses of the temporality of game development in dialogue with theorists such as Jack Halberstam and Jose Esteban Muñoz.
Writing about how games portray particular cities and countries in a historical context, two critics consider the conditions that change the places that are familiar to us.
- How Yakuza’s City Changes From Game To Game | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra describes the change and continuity that gives Yakuza games a sense of place.
- “Rewriting History in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Many have praised the new Wolfenstein game for basing its world building on the USA’s existing racism, rather than juxtaposing liberal Americans with foreign Nazi invaders. Reid McCarter complicates this, arguing that the game still reinforces the exceptionalist idea that America is defined by liberty, despite historical evidence to the contrary.
“If we use fiction to imagine the political landscape of a United States under Nazi rule, we should also be willing to look at the ways in which the real-world America influenced actual Nazi ideology. In short, American history provided a roadmap for Nazi policy.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!