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.
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.
- The Riot Grrrl spirit comes to video games • Eurogamer.net
Emily Gera traces parallels between the 90’s Riot Grrrl scene in punk music and contemporary indie DIY efforts to get girls and women involved in making games.
- I Keep Playing ‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’ Because it Reminds me of Xena – Waypoint
Danielle Riendeau celebrates Kassandra’s queer lineage and traces it back to 90s TV.
“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.
- Traps, treasure and ancient tomb raiders • Eurogamer.net
Philip Boyes traces the historical precedent for the trope of the treasure-filled, booby-trapped tomb in games.
- Atari: Game Over Featuring an Interview with Andrew Reinhard | Unwinnable
Megan Condis interviews Andrew Reinhard about the relationship between games and media archaeology, excavating Atari games in the desert, and the ethics of “archaeologist” characters in games.
- History in Color | Unwinnable
Justin Reeve contrasts the depiction of Greek and Egyptian statues in the most recent two Assassin’s Creed games to chart the trajectory of orientalist cultural assumptions in the medium.
“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.”
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.
- Life is Strange 2 works to deconstruct the series’ power fantasy | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld considers how a shift in narrative framing and the adoption of a more politically-charged setting allow Life Is Strange 2 to subvert some of the power fantasy tropes embraced by its predecessor.
- The Nukes of ‘Fallout 76’ Are Where Power Fantasies Hit a Breaking Point – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman examines the nuke-happy Fallout 76 and concludes that power fantasies in games have reached a troubling, untenable, and ultimately paradoxical zenith.
- Choice, Guilt, and Life Is Strange – ZEAL – Medium
Jon Bailes reflects on How Life Is Strange‘s choices mirror our neoliberal obsession with enforcing responsibility for things beyond our control.
“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.
- [Yells in Foreign Language] | Unwinnable
David Shimomura weighs the cultural implications inherent to the choice between dubbing and subbing a foreign-language game.
- Gamasutra: Daniel St Germain’s Blog – LEVY: Designing for Accessibility_03
Daniel St Germain offers a brief but illuminating breakdown of the the design goals and challenges of accommodating sighted and non-sighted players alike in LEVY.
- Strange Flesh Is Like Streets Of Rage With Much More Sex | Kotaku
Kate Gray profiles a retro beat-em-up that engages squarely with queer masculine sexuality, desire, and repression (Content Notification: screenshots of penises).
“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.
- Tomb Raider’s grisly death animations are outdated – Polygon
Mark Brown breaks down Tomb Raider‘s recent history of violent death scenes, framing it as an anachronism of design propped up by misogynist underpinnings of exploiting and “protecting” the female body (Content Notification: graphic violence).
- Discord is a safe space for white supremacists.
April Glaser investigates how Discord abets and shelters hate groups, and creates an ideal environment for the indoctrination of impressionable players (Content Notification: reporting on/screenshots of white supremacist rhetoric).
- Games really need to fall out of love with Lovecraft • Eurogamer.net
Sam Greer implores games to untether themselves from the racist, misogynist legacy of H.P. Lovecraft.
“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.”
Two very different articles this week tell very different stories about the storytelling process in games.
- “The Nightmare Was Always the Same,” by Ed Smith – Bullet Points Monthly
Ed Smith meditates on nightmares, dream work, recovery, and guilt by way of Max Payne.
- Let’s Place: The Forest With No Trees – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina treks through nature landscapes in games and reflects on how they frame narratives and guide players.
“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.
- We Debate Whether Super Mario Party Is Actually Evil (And Whether That’s Bad) | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio and the Kotaku Editors probe the saccharine agon of Super Mario Party, and in doing so take me back to a very real place in the late 90s when I had burned a hole into my hand with a Nintendo 64 controller.
“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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