It’s a lovely week for games criticism, with poignant examinations of grief and in-depth study of strategy among other delights. This is our roundup of The Week in Videogame Blogging (and other forms of criticism). Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to check out a very special call for submissions for Blogs of the Round Table!
Playing the field
First, two pieces on how games and play are studied in academia.
- The Intellectual Structure of Game Research | Game Studies
Paul Martin’s paper in the new issue of the Game Studies journal offers a very helpful overview of the state of the field today, and points to where academics could do more work.
- Theme and Variation: Arranging Play’s Forms, Functions, and “Colors” | American Journal of Play
Thomas S. Henricks proposes a new framework for studying play, including the rather novel notions of “red” vs. “green” play that consider how the player relates to the systems around them.
“Red play identifies and responds to current problems and tensions. It clarifies social and personal divisions. It resists complacency. It reveals new opportunities for change.”
Two pieces this week look at grief, while one looks at commodified emotions in the videogames industry as reflected in one game that features a hypercapitalist societal collapse.
- How Undertale Helped Me Grieve – Pixel Poppers
Doctor Professor tells a beautiful story of using Undertale’s two major modes of engagement to punctuate important life moments.
- The Loss Levels | Unwinnable
Daniel Fries explores a personal game made for public spaces, arguing that it deals deftly with the public and private dimensions of grief.
- Mixed Media: The Big Crunch – Haywire Magazine
April Tyack links the toothless portrayal of societal collapse in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to the role of games as a bridge between emotional needs and the demands of capital.
“Videogames will abandon this holding pattern only when it becomes unprofitable; in other words, when conditions at a global level support human wellbeing.”
Wreckage and dust
Looking further at a sense of loss and collapse, two writers consider landscapes that express these internal struggles.
- One Thing I Like About Firewatch – Spectre Collie
Chuck Jordan examines the use of repetition in the environment design of this lauded exploration game.
- A Look Back At Black Ops III’s Strangest Level | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra engages in a compelling examination of the textures and contexts of destruction in the landscape of a character’s traumatized mind.
“It revives the past but offers the player no healthy means to engage with it. All they can do is destroy it, leaving behind corpses and wreckage and dust.”
Three pieces this week look at portrayals of cultures that are often exoticised, while another piece looks at inclusivity issues very differently, exploring positive and negative feelings associated with a sense that one’s capabilities are limited.
- What the Wii Meant for Me – Videodame
Matthew Koester articulates a way of viewing the Wii as a finite device, made beautiful by its limitations.
- Dhalsim Needs No Haduken | Unwinnable
Gurmeet Singh highlights inaccuracies and implausible juxtapositions in the portrayal of a fighting yogi.
- Gamasutra: Rafal Basaj’s Blog – Horror wars East vs West.
Rafal Basaj gives a nuanced account of the work that went into creating a game that is both universal and local.
- Technology Worship, Media Archaeology, and Zombie Media in Horizon Zero Dawn – First Person Scholar
Ian Faith links Horizon’s portrayal of “primitive peoples” to its representation of media technologies.
“Horizon forefronts the materialism of media cultures and their spatial and temporal relations to our environment over our technical and biographical histories.”
Strategy games were considered in depth in two articles this week, that look for the expressive texture in the design of their systems.
- It’s (Potentially) Dangerous to Go Alone – Exploring the Fog of War – Old Grizzled Gamers
Nic Reuben considers the impact of incomplete knowledge on strategy.
- Democracy 3 and the Absurdity of Government | Unwinnable
Daniel Schindel has put together a nuanced, sympathetic critique of Cliff Harris’s policy simulator.
“Free from perception management or special interest groups, you feel pressure to actually make a tangible impact on people, if only so they’ll let you keep your job. That, more than any miscalculated social issue cause and effect, makes the game seem more like a fantasy of politics than a simulation.”
- May 2018: Haste – Critical Distance
Taylor Hidalgo has announced a TURBO EDITION of Blogs of the Round Table – get your submissions in fast!
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!