October 28th

So apparently Red Dead Redemption II came out this week or something, but I honestly don’t have a whole lot of writing on the subject to share for this roundup. I did read an alarming number of worryingly uncritical reviews on the game. Polygon in particular seems to have lost its collective sense of better judgment and published a number of really tone-deaf pieces that I don’t care to link to individually here. Not every contribution to the special issue sets off alarm bells, but if my privileged settler ass can tell that something is up–and believe me, that privilege means I make a lot of mistakes that I’m learning to be more aware of–what’s everyone else’s excuse?

It’s not quite all so bad, though–this review stands out to me as the only one I read this week that offered more than a superficial critique of the game’s lukewarm portrayal of the racial and cultural violence it is so firmly embedded in. There could be more out there, but I have my limits.

And, hey! The discourse does not and should not revolve around Rockstar, on this week or any other. There’s lots of inspired and exciting writing to share this week on a wide spread of topics. In particular, I was pleased to include several really cool pieces looking at non-digital games (something, admittedly, I haven’t been reading enough of). There’s also some absolutely fantastic writing on display about The Sims, accessibility, off-beat JRPGs, inclusion, and, umm, (*checks notes*) worldbuilding in a Mario sports game. . .? You’ll just have to keep reading, friends! This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Crunchy Critiques

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that my principal preoccupation with the big shiny cowboy simulator of the moment is the developing conversation on the labour that went into its production. These three articles, I think, highlight separate but equally important beats in that conversation, and I encourage you to take a look at them each.

“Why have video games emerged in this moment, growing as the earlier visual media forms have stagnated, losing audiences and drifting toward the margins of culture? What has the medium’s material role been under capitalism? How has it reflected or shaped the specific ways capitalism has developed since 1973, when the series of crises that would lead to the neoliberal era began?”

We Dev to Serve

Related to that conversation of labour in games is the developing discourse on the business of games. Crowdfunding, microtransactions, and live services are in, while games as static products appear to be on the way out. These four authors offer illuminating, inspiring, and entertaining contributions to that conversation.

“Bandori opened up the phone game Pandora’s Box in me and, over the last couple of weeks, I have launched into a project trying many of them (admittedly influenced by both depression and spending my days laying on the sofa with my wife instead of on my PC).”

Simulacrum

Two very different, very valuable pieces this week examine how players engage with, push against, tinker with, and disrupt The Sims.

  • To All The Sims I’ve Killed Before | HuffPost UK 
    Jillian Capewell documents the inter-generational cat-and-mouse game between developers and players to give Sims more varied and interesting lives and deaths, respectively. Keep reading this one for discussions on representation and identity!
  • #129 Autumn by Reply All from Gimlet Media 
    Listen to this story about a 15 year-old girl who recreates her grandmother in The Sims–turning to black modding communities in the process–in order to say goodbye.

“I was like, “OK, well I just want to make my house again. I want to my actual real house that I live in. I want to make my family and all that stuff.” And so I was building. And then, as I was building it, I made myself, and I made my mom, it’s like “Well, I want my grandmother to be here. Because I miss her. And I don’t have anything to really remember her by because we don’t have a lot of pictures of her really either.””

Queer Play

I’m pretty much done with CD Projekt Red and Good Old Games at this point, so I’m very glad to see writers take them to task for their continued transphobia. On the other hand, enjoy a lighthearted yarn about trying to get laid in Assassin’s Creed as a gay woman.

“every time this happens, it feels like one more reminder that at least one person who works at a company that makes things I like thinks my existence is funny, and that enough people there either agree or don’t disagree strongly enough to stop them.”

Access Points

Two authors this week tackle accessibility in both digital and non-digital games, and I’m really happy to see more of this kind of work being published of late.

“Beyond the controls, Spider-Man bucks the trend of portraying disability and specifically wheelchair-users in a negative light by creating various wheelchair-user NPCs going about their days, reading the newspaper or filling in a crossword. The world in Spider-Man does not try to erase disability completely, but rather seeks includes it in a small but fresh way. Other games still find this surprisingly difficult.”

Marginalia

As a person living with depression, I’m fairly attentive to how people with the same are represented in games, and glad to see coverage on this topic. I’m also sorry to see Netrunner on the way out, but appreciate the reminders documented here about what makes the game so great.

“White male characters weren’t the default. The cast of playable Runners maintained an even split of male and female. There was queer representation, including trans and non-binary characters. And it was the rare cyberpunk game “that let Asian characters actually be the protagonists in their own stories,””

Stories and Worlds

In my own research (I write a few more pages of my dissertation every year) I’m trying to sort out worlds and mythologies in games as a separate process (or processes) from narrative. I’ll be sure to let you all know how that pans out, but I’m very much interested in reading more about both. These four authors showcase excellent critical attention to these elements. Also, my head is still spinning from the last one down there.

“The mood and world created in Charged are defined by the concept of desperation. Think back to those cases previously cited: Mad MaxRollerball, and The Hunger Games, where desperation and the need to survive are crucial in how those pieces of fiction depict their own societies. Applied to the Mario Strikers games, we see a twisted and sinister version of the aesthetic that Mario fans have since become accustomed to.”

Just for Fun

Remember when Spore was a thing? It’s okay if you don’t–my point here is that game offered powerful character creation tools that the internet inevitably took in the general direction of memes and penises. That tradition is alive and well in the latest SoulCalibur.

SoulCalibur IV includes the most robust custom character creation tool in series history. The game’s only been out for four days, and already the internet is flooded with twisted player creations, and not all of them have giant fake cocks.”


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