Where is all the good writing about games?
That’s Critical Distance’s slogan, prominently displayed on the website, just beneath the title. Our ongoing project, which I work my absolute hardest to honour, is to answer that question in an inclusive and accessible fashion.
To that end, for my work as Senior Curator I read, on average, a couple hundred articles of games writing a week. That’s somewhere between two and three hundred new articles each and every week.
That’s not a complaint, readers: I really, really enjoy this job. And my reading, though I try to make it as wide-reaching as possible, can hardly be called comprehensive, given all the blogs, vlogs, outlets, zines, and other publications I haven’t personally discovered yet. But I want to offer this anecdotal statistic as a contrast to the cyclical refrain, repeated anew this week, that nobody is reading good writing on games, or knows where to find it.
There’s a lot of snark flying around the Internet right now concerning that article, which I definitely identified with as my first knee-jerk reaction, but you know what? I get where this perspective comes from. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more people reading–and writing–critical writing on games that goes beyond such boilerplate questions as “Is it good?” or “Is it art?”
At the same time, the question posed by the article is not a new one (Critical Distance, for example, is a decade old), and it has been answered countless times before. If you want to find good writing about games these days, you really don’t have to look very far. A Google search for “critical writing on games” returns this website as the first result. Game Studies (though, in truth, it is unjustly reductive to fold all the different kinds of research involving games into that singular banner) is a rapidly-growing discipline in academic departments around the world. And as games become ever-more ubiquitous, more and more writing about games is published in mainstream venues that aren’t specifically dedicated to games.
And lastly, of course, there’s the writing itself, and there’s some really awesome examples I want to share this week! Keep reading for some truly excellent insights on accessibility, ableism, queer representation, and much, much more. This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Access and Excess
Three articles this week take different approaches to the intersections between accessibility and inclusivity, via Nintendo’s dichotomy between inclusive appeal and inaccessible hardware, the outrageous ableism of The Quiet Man, and the efforts to design games for comfort and kindness.
- Nintendo’s New Games Are Miserable for People With Disabilities | Medium
Mark Brown pushes through Nintendo’s rhetoric of inclusion to document the ways in which their products are profoundly inaccessible to players with disabilities.
- The Many Problems of The Quiet Man | One Odd Gamer Girl
Susan skewers the clumsy, broken, ableist power fantasy that is The Quiet Man. Readers, I wanted to quote every line of this article.
- How to design for coziness…and kindness | GamesIndustry.biz
Rebekah Valentine rounds up interviews with Tanya X. Short, Rebecca Cordingley, and more about designing games that make the player feel good.
“Alongside the panel, GamesIndustry.biz caught up with a few of the panelists after the fact to discuss cozy game design further. Throughout both the panel and these discussions, a common thread that kept coming up was the correlation between “cozy” games and “kind” games – games that are kind to the player, and that make them feel kind.”
Labours of Love
More and more writers are talking about the state of labour in games, and I’m really pleased with this state of affairs. Here are three of this week’s finest examples.
- We Asked Eight Studios From Across The World How They Deal with Crunch – Waypoint
Aron Garst catalogues candid conversations between Waypoint and developers about their labour practices.
- Social Commentaries in Forgotten Anne – NYMG
Jordyn Lukomski explores allegorical representations of marginalization, labour exploitation, and materialism in Forgotten Anne.
- The Case Of The Disappearing Nancy Drew Video Games | Kotaku
Elizabeth Ballou blends anecdotes and interviews to chronicle the unsung fall of Her Interactive and reflect on the state of “games for girls” in 2018.
“Whether or not we see Midnight in Salem, the long hiatus of Her Interactive has been a major loss for the world of video games, which, in 2018, needs a heroine like Nancy Drew more than ever.”
Two excellent articles this week look at uncompromising portrayals of feminine strength in games.
- This Mortal Coyle: Mira | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle finds a lot to love in Donut County‘s snarky, empowered protagonist.
- We need to talk about Kassandra(‘s biceps) • Eurogamer.net
Sam Greer breaks down the ways in which the Creed’s newest Assassin rejects the trends of feminine bodily representation in games. And I am totally here for those biceps.
“See where even the baddest of badass women in gaming manage to maintain a strong feminine silhouette, Kassandra is, dare I say it, masculine. Those broad shoulders, lack of a pronounced chest, large hands and narrow hips…she’s not like most female game characters. Even the armour she wears is devoid of the usual “boob armour”. Instead Kassandra wears what the men do and wears it damn well.”
I continue to be preoccupied by the state of gatekeeping in gaming spaces, as well as the tearing down of said gates. I suppose you could say I am opposed to gates in all of their varied forms. Two authors this week reflect on the states of gates past and present.
- Tobold’s Blog: Grumpy old gamers
Tobold Stoutfoot muses about gatekeeping and entitlement in Diablo and Dungeons & Dragons.
- Poker Night At The Inventory Is An Awkward Time Capsule | Kotaku
Maddy Myers experiences an uncanny encounter with the smugly self-referential geek culture of a decade ago via Poker Night At The Inventory.
“As I sat at the table with Tycho, Strong Bad, Max and the Heavy, I expected all of the good feelings that I had about gaming and those properties in 2010 to come rushing back, as a sort of guilty pleasure. Instead, I felt like I didn’t belong there. I remembered how insecure I felt in 2010, how often I was the only girl at the LAN party, paranoid that at any moment I’d be accused of being “fake” for not knowing enough about the right things. As Strong Bad turned to the camera and addressed me as “man,” I felt the old mask go on again. Just one of the guys.”
Queer Spaces in Straight Places
Each of these three outstanding authors investigates some form of queer identity in traditionally heteronormative places. These articles really, really impressed me!
- Sonic/Antoine Forever – ZEAL – Medium
blake p. conducts a deep dive on the flawed but varied depictions of masculinity and queerness in Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comics.
- Pretzel After Dark Is A Sexy Take On Twister | Kotaku
Kate Gray looks at queer sexuality and play in Pretzel After Dark (content notification: cartoon penises).
- The Kentucky State Fair | Unwinnable
Amanda Hudgins reflects on game-making, artistry, and growing up queer in the south.
“Telling my grandparents about my career was always a habit of careful lies. Not quite lies, but the kinds of subtle mistruths that come from you knowing that the other party will not understand. “I build websites” I would say. Or “I write for a newspaper,” when I was still making most of my money from online articles. These aren’t fundamentally untrue, but they’re a version of lying. My achievements, the ones that I’m proud of, don’t translate to my family.”
With more than my share of social anxiety under my belt, I really enjoyed reading these two articles which each investigate social tensions in games. And I’m still too stressed out to pick up Splatoon 2 for myself.
- The Game Mechanic of Jealousy | CapsuleCrit
Chris Compendio reflects on how Splatoon 2 bakes the never-ending quest to look fresh into its gameplay loop.
- ‘Hot Pot Panic’ Is a Charming Fake Friendship Simulator – Waypoint
Natalie Watson guides readers through a free game that simulates mealtime social interaction at its most white-knuckle uncomfortable.
“In real life, there are options for survival here—like, choosing your favorite restaurant and skipping breakfast, just so you can spend the whole time avoiding small talk by munching on all the deliciousness you can order. However, in Hot Pot Panic, you are forced to pay attention.”
How do you read a game critically? How do you read critical writing about a game critically? I could keep going down the rabbit hole here, but in lieu of that, check out these two timely (and rad) samples.
- Off the Grid: Viviette – Haywire Magazine
Allison Winters weighs atmospheric dread against clunky puzzles in Viviette.
- Writing for Video Games (Steve Ince) | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling
Emily Short briefly reviews an industry-focused book about writing for games and critiques the generalizations it makes about the relationship between games and stories.
“I’m not sure that, if I were a novelist encountering this book, I would be terribly encouraged by the prospect of moving into games writing. Ince warns the prospective writer that interactive narrative is always secondary to gameplay in all types of game, and also indicates that typical games aren’t very well written.”
Just for Fun
After this week, I needed this lightness. I hope it lightens your load, too!
- A List Of Weird Names My Kid Calls My Video Games | Kotaku
If this doesn’t warm your heart, then, umm, well, I tried, ok?
“You and I, as adults, know to call things by their actual names. My kid is four, and does no such thing.”
- The Therapy and Anxiety I Recognized in Celeste – First Person Scholar
Alyse Stanley maps her experiences with anxiety, recovery, and dialectical behavioral therapy onto Switch indie darling Celeste. In the interest of disclosure, I was the principal editor for this article.
- FPS Special Issue: Call for Papers – First Person Scholar
Jess Marcotte, Special Issue Guest Editor & Betsy Brey, FPS Editor-in-Chief are looking for submissions for a special issue on queer game studies! In the interest of disclosure, I work for FPS!
- Postmortem: You Are Jeff Bezos | Unwinnable
Kris Ligman reflects on hitting a cultural nerve of the moment with their recent runaway itch.io hit where you spend all of Jeff Bezos’ fucking money. In the interest of disclosure, Kris is Critical Distance’s financial officer.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!