October 14th

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

It’s become something of a cliché at this point to quip that we are living in the darkest of a series of possible timelines. Moving beyond this idea’s (arguably well-justified) cynicism, I think this trend is indicative of a renewed impulse toward collective reflection on our recent history and the choices that have led us to our current political moment.

It was this thought that kept coming to mind this week in my work curating games writing, and I think this is due to both the quality and quantity of writing I have found that reflects on the historicity of games, be it through the legacy of past feminist icons, archaeology, or even just some tired old tropes in the medium that really need to be put out to pasture.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Yesteryear’s Heroines

Two authors this week note the enduring legacy of women and feminist cultures and icons from the 90s. These legacies have continuing positive implications for games, both in game worlds and in the industry.

Odyssey, benefitting from one of the only good things of our era, lets you play Kassandra as queer as you like, if you prefer a lady (or dude, she can be straight, pan, bi, or queer!) in every port. As far as I can tell, there’s no Gabrielle stand-in, which is kind of sad, but so many other elements of Kassandra’s character and the tone of the world positively scream Xena.”

Digging into Games

Games are doubly preoccupied with history, firstly in their representation (or misrepresentation) of cultural practices of the past, and secondly as material artifacts which are themselves historical. These three standout articles approach this topic from different angles.

“Why does it matter that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey has taken this different approach to Greek polychromy? Turning its back on the orientalist ideas which crept into Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft has chosen to present the public with a more nuanced perspective on the past. Blurring the boundaries between the cultural traditions of Greece and Egypt, this perspective helps to put the myth of an opposition between Western restraint and Eastern extravagance to rest.”

Power Shift

I continue to read with interest about the particular ways in which games privilege power fantasies–often male, almost always individual. This week’s three authors showcased here find each find ways to poke holes in these frameworks in favour of a more critical approach.

“The aim is clearly to pull us into the game’s scenario by making us invest in decisions and outcomes, but the dynamic it creates interests me for another reason. Specifically, it mirrors an everyday experience in neoliberalized societies of facing myriad choices that demand our attention and make us fully accountable for our circumstances.”

From Margin to Centre

The ongoing project to decentre the straight, white, able-bodied male focus in games sees fruitful results this week with articles that look at language, queer masculine sexuality, and accessibility.

“A beat-em-up sex game could easily be about kink and nothing more, but Strange Flesh is, at its core, a game about making someone happy. With copious penis. Isn’t that just lovely?”

Taking out the Trash

It’s well-past time to get rid of more than a little exclusionary baggage in games and games culture. These three authors identify some great starting points.

“The half-breed monsters that embody the very essence of Lovecraft’s revulsion, the troubled white male heroes that contain his arrogance and his gross simplification of mental illness are recreated in video games with no subversion, no critical thinking. In doing so they are breathing life, again and again, into Lovecraft’s hate.”

Narratives

Two very different articles this week tell very different stories about the storytelling process in games.

“The landscape I’m placed in is not just a decoration – it responds to the story I play, absorbing its tension. It provides ground for the narrative and presents the constraints of the mechanics. It teaches me how gravity works, what the limits of my abilities are, whether I can swim in this water or will drown instantly.”

Just for Fun

It was inevitable that I was going to find a way to work Mario Party into this week’s roundup somehow.

“You lured me into your home with breakfast foods and then forced me to play Mario Party, a game where you don’t win so much as you run through a series of randomized gauntlets and pray to god that you don’t fall into an open manhole, of which there are a thousand. (I did not win.)”


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