We are, without a doubt, in the midst of the busiest time of year for big-name game releases, but for the first time in a few weeks, the most important elements of the discourse–for me at least–haven’t been tied to any specific new game. Sure, there’s another Assassin’s Creed out, and yes, it’s riddled with microtransactions, but this week the most interesting stories transcend any one game, or any one developmental trend (however galling microtransactions continue to be).
There’s some phenomenal writing on race and gender representation in games this week that I hope you’ll take the time to check out, as well as important developments on the growing conversation of labour in games. And that’s just some of what captivated me and moved me this week–read on and see what else is happening in the discourse right now. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
I’ve been really happy to see discussions of racial representation in games front-and-centre this week. This week’s four selections look at both positive and negative trends in games large and small.
- The state of blackness in games • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld charts the slow trajectory of black representation–especially black women representation–in games from hackneyed stereotypes to more nuanced and ordinary inclusion, while pointing out all the work that still needs to be done.
- The Antagonist in Life Is Strange 2 Is Racism | Kotaku
Gita Jackson explores how Life Is Strange 2‘s most successful examinations of racism arrive in small moments of discomfort and othering.
- The Uncomfortable Thoughtlessness of Spider-Man | Unwinnable
David Shimomura describes how “Spider-Cop” (really, Insomniac?) racially codes and stereotypes its “bad guys”.
- Spider-Man: The mediocre and the magnificent – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa argues that Spider-Man is a fun game with a lot of heart that needs to rethink its blind spot when it comes to representations of police.
“His relationship with the police is friendly and supportive, where the thin blue line is one that never becomes a net or noose for this vigilante – one who’s sometimes called in by the police itself. At time when young African-American men can’t even live in their own home without being killed by US cops, it’s hard to ignore white immunity at play.”
Working at Play
The larger conversation on labour in games, recently reinvigorated by the collapse of Telltale, continues this week. These four authors reflect on what that labour is worth in terms of personal and emotional cost, be it as developers or journalists, professionals or hobbyists.
- I Hate My Dream Job | Unwinnable
Rob Rick muses on the exploitation, barriers, and exclusionary practices that led to his disenchantment with writing professionally about games.
- There’s not enough videogames; everyone should be encouraged to make them (or, videogames are just art) | Brendan Keogh
Brendan Keogh distills his thoughts on why the recent discourse on the oversaturation of the indie games market is overly reductive.
- On Ambition and Labour in Games – Historian On Games
Seva Kritskiy celebrates the janky rough edges in games over the impeccable polish of AAA blockbusters as a sign of which games exploit their developers and which ones don’t.
- It’s Not Just Telltale Games: We Need to Change the Way We Talk About Studios Shutting Down | WIRED
Julie Muncy makes an appeal for putting workers before products when we talk about studio closures.
“Games are made by people. And if we care about games, at all, we need to care about the people who make them. In fact, I think we need to care about the people a lot more than we care about the games.”
I’m always interested in reading about gender representation in games–the more genders, the better–and one of the topics that I keep coming back to is the contrast between representations of the feminine and the masculine. One could stand to see more critical interrogation in games, while the other still fights to be included at every turn, and these two articles, I think, really highlight that divide.
- “Accuracy” vs Inclusivity: Women in Historical Games – NYMG
Jordyn Lukomski takes a closer look at developer efforts to balance historicity and education with the need to break from the harmful barriers to inclusion and representation of yesteryear.
- Game Studies – Walking, Talking and Playing with Masculinities in Firewatch
Melissa Kagen analyzes how Firewatch problematizes its protagonist’s toxic masculinity, and how walking simulators in general reject hypermasculine power fantasies commonplace to games.
“Henry is characterized as a hypermasculine protagonist, but the game actively refuses to let the player perform that masculinity, enabling instead the performance of a subtle, complex, and well-developed male character.”
Queering the Normative
Three articles this week look at different kinds of queerness in games, not only in terms of the representation of people and communities, but also in terms of queering heteronormative trends and modes of thought.
- Radiator Blog: Queer Futures in Game Feel
Robert Yang proposes expanding the list of things we consider under the label of “game feel” to encompass a softer, queerer, more diverse library of tools and experiences.
- Game Studies – No Straight Answers: Queering Hegemonic Masculinity in BioWare’s Mass Effect
Theresa Krampe applies a queer game studies approach to the Mass Effect trilogy to examine its representations of queer masculinities.
- Game Studies – “Why do I have to make a choice? Maybe the three of us could, uh…”: Non-Monogamy in Videogame Narratives
Meghan Blythe Adams and Nathan Rambukkana examine representations of non-monogamy in AAA games.
“Do representations of non-monogamies in game narratives break with or reinforce mononormative and heteronormative tropes? How might challenging the normative dynamics of compulsory monogamy open up new and more complex game dynamics and narratives?”
Second Screen Experience
A pair of authors this week offer some great insights on how our modern digital devices are themselves represented in modern digital games, and how those inclusions relate to other aspects of game design and argument.
- “A Properly Recorded Ghost,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter breaks down how the inclusion of an in-game smartphone, and the ensuing meditation on the relationship between memory and technicity, turns so-so thriller into an interesting game.
- Technology and nature have a strange relationship in Zelda: Breath of the Wild • Eurogamer.net
Christian Donlan looks at Zelda‘s direct engagement with the digital–uncommon in fantasy–and what that says about Nintendo’s broader relationship with technology.
“The suggestion, I guess, is that Zelda’s wildernesses have always been digital artefacts and its designers have always had to navigate this strange truth. And this plays out on several levels in Breath of the Wild.”
Text to World
How do games affect the social relationships we navigate in the material world? How do they fuel our expectations, our biases? This is one of the questions that led me to the study of games in the first place, and these four selections each take the question in provocative and valuable directions.
- How The ‘NPC’ Meme Tries To Dehumanize ‘SJWs’ | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio explores how trolls and edgelords have an easier time dismissing progressives’ humanity than their arguments, all thanks to conspiracy-tinged pseudoscience.
- Couples Fighting | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole considers Overcooked as a safe outlet for conflict in close relationships.
- My Brother Rabbit Tackles Seriousness with Surrealism | Unwinnable
Alyse Stanley reflects on how My Brother Rabbit responds to the harsh reality of trauma with the refuge of the fantastic.
- We Need More Pessimistic Games – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman contemplates the pitfalls of privileging the heroic in games, the myth that we can fix everything by just being awesome enough.
“In the autumn, as the leaves fall, I yearn for games that ask me to consider what I can’t do. I want games that give me the old gut check and say “hey, you’re just a human, and this is all that humans can do.” Because that’s the antidote to the bullet and the fist solving the plot problems.”
Just for Fun
I have nothing witty to say about this one. This is a thing that exists, and the author showcased willingly subjected herself to it.
- My New Alarm Wakes Me Up With Mini Games And It Works, But At What Cost | Kotaku
Gita Jackson, what have you done?
“I’ve been having trouble waking up on time recently, so I downloaded a new alarm for my phone that makes me play a mini game before it turns off. It’s the best and worst decision I have ever made.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!