September 1st

This week I have enjoyed a wealth of fine criticism concerning the relationship between games and the recent past as authors explore “retro” trends in titles new and old. Great writing is also being done on the nature and role of criticism itself, both in terms of diversity as well as reconciling seemingly unreadable games. Mental illness, morality and corporate banality also appear as themes of interest tackled by talented writers, and I was excited as well to see authors investigating motherhood, a theme in games all-too-often defined by absence rather than inclusion. Finally, plenty of valuable insights are on display from players and designers alike in indie games of all shapes. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Retrograde

Five pieces this week reflect on innovations, problems, and quirks of a medium with such a strong fixation on an imagined retro past.

Kingdom Hearts’ crossover excess isn’t strange anymore; it’s passé. And as pop culture collisions have only become more commonplace, Kingdom Hearts has moved beyond the novelty of its premise and spent the last decade, give or take, losing its goddamn mind.”

Metacriticism

Two articles this week examine the critical process itself in games writing, to very different and valuable ends.

“The various parts of Trampoline Terrror’s design may not conflict with one another, but they never agree with each other, either. The sum of those parts (if we can say they sum into anything at all), is a world in which everything (including you and your actions) is incidental, but you’re never quite sure of what, if anything, they’re incidental to.”

Moral(ity) Imperatives

A pair of articles this week look at moral binaries and fallacies in games, respectively.

“If you dig under the layers of sand Joule sometimes endlessly has to dash across in what seems to become more Lawrence of Arabia than extraplanetary terraforming expedition at times, what remains are some haunting connections between the game’s premise, its conduct, and our current sociopolitical, cultural moment.”

Developer Commentaries

Two developers this week offer their insights on design themes and distribution.

“I have plenty of reasons to enjoy releasing new games. I am sure you can relate to most of them: anticipation of warm reception, fan excitement, monetary gain. But one rather unconventional thing is my anticipation of scam emails.”

Designer Lenses

Two articles this week provide practical advice on design choices.

“I’ve split my tips into three categories: Presentation, how puzzles are displayed to the solver, Elegancy, how a puzzle should be set up to make it comfy to solve, and Aspiration, how a puzzle (or puzzle game, specifically) can become something special.”

Cogs in the Machine

A couple of articles this week look at intersections between blockbuster games and the corporate environments that produce them.

DOOM, as an engineered, architectural object, is far closer in execution to Brutalist artwork—simple, communicative, designed to make the impact of its environment upon it and the personality of those who put it to use immediately visible by reflecting what we do to it back at us.”

Mental Illness, Ghosts, and Trauma

Two authors, looking at very different games, make connections between depictions of mental illness, trauma, and the supernatural.

“Because there’s another interpretation for what Senua is hearing and seeing: that she’s in contact with the supernatural. And my default when confronted with the fantastical in art is to accept those fantastical elements at face value, even when they’re mixed in with non-fantastic elements.”

Motherhood

Two writers this week examine the roles of mothers in games.

  • The Sims Doesn’t Allow Teen Pregnancy, But Players Keep Making It Happen | Kotaku 
    Gita Jackson documents the recent trend in The Sims 4 community of modding the game to allow for teen pregnancy, reflecting on how the game reproduces the difficulties of teenage parenthood, as well as the varied responses from players to the phenomenon.
  • Helpful Moms and Rakuen | Unwinnable 
    Caroline Delbert responds to the recent buzz around God of War‘s examination of fatherhood with a critique of the absense of mothers in games, pointing to Rakuen as a positive example of representation for an under-represented demographic.

“I didn’t realize how absent moms were from all the games I’ve seen since EarthBound until I played Rakuen. Laura Shigihara’s sweet, moving game isn’t really an RPG at all, but it has the same feel as EarthBound.”

Players and Play

Four authors this week reflect on their play experiences with different games.

Donut County could’ve easily had a few more of those increasingly complex puzzles. By the time you’re really combining skills learned from earlier stages, you’re in the final third and barreling towards the end. But what’s here is so finely tuned and fun to poke around at that it’d be hard not to want a tiny bit more.”


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