It’s been a busy week for games criticism, and that’s rad.
Fallout 76 and Pokémon: Let’s Go! are among the big recent releases making their way through the critical circuit, and while there’s plenty of writing out there on each, the discourse as a whole remains much more varied and far-reaching. For example, I’ve noticed an uptick in writing on trans perspectives in games, and that’s just awesome. On a partially-related note, writing on cyberpunk games is on the upswing as well, and I’m pleased to see the discourse expanding beyond the seemingly-doomed-to-heteronormative-banality Cyberpunk: 2077.
I rambled a bit last week, so this week I’m going to keep my own commentary brief. Read on for some very cool writing on reclaiming feminine sexuality in fighting games, music design in games, the absurdity of Agent 47’s half-assed disguises, weird edutainment games from the 90’s, 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.
Video and Games
This week’s headlining pair of articles each look at intersections between sociality and inclusivity in play communities. What role does social media play in which identities gain acceptance or are excluded in play communities?
- Popular Overwatch Fan Song Has Turned Into An Excuse To Mock Female Gamers | Kotaku
Gita Jackson critiques a misogynistic meme; Gamers™ respond in an utterly predictable fashion and defend their antics as irony.
- The Singular Life Of Twitch’s Most Foul-Mouthed Streamer | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio interviews Sweet_Anita about being a performer while living with a disability.
“What is the relevance of authenticity on Twitch, when the goal is ultimately to entertain? And what does it mean, in an age when technology can facilitate real-time access to another person while concealing as much as it reveals, to ask who someone online is?”
Two authors this week examine topics which are often simplified and trivialized for ludic convenience–alcohol and death, respectively–offering counter-examples which break from these trends.
- Due Diligence: A Boilermaker and His Helper – Haywire Magazine
Leigh Harrison zeroes in on alcohol as one of the many things Red Dead Redemption 2 simulates with uncommon thoughtfulness and detail.
- Epitaph: What Remains of Edith Finch and Death
John Carter reflects on the gulf between death as a video game conceit and as an embodied concept, and studies how What Remains of Edith Finch moves thoughtfully past that divide (content notification: references to suicide).
“In What Remains, the escapism is representative of the allure of romanticising death, but the commentary of the game acknowledges that escapism for what it is, reminding us that fetishising death is us stepping away from reality instead of engaging it.”
There was lots of great writing this week about bodies of all kinds: how they are included, excluded, policed, queered, and more in games. These three examples are among this week’s finest examples.
- Hitman’s humour evolved because of 47’s penchant for disguises | Rock Paper Shotgun
Steven Nguyen Scaife observes how Hitman leans into its central narrative and mechanical absurdity for laughs.
- A Sexy Cyberpunk Dating Sim About (And By) Trans Folk | Kotaku
Kate Gray profiles a thoughtful and inclusive queer cyberpunk game that actually is, well, punk.
- The Inexplicable Sexiness Of Ivy Valentine | Kotaku
Maddy Myers takes back Ivy in a big way, studying feminine attire in SoulCalibur and coming away with far more criticisms of the body-shaming tenor of the conversation around that attire than of anything in the game itself. Hell yeah.
“I like seeing my female peers reclaim Soulcalibur’s characters without shame—characters who weren’t created “for” them but who became weapons in their hands. The most recent time I played Soulcalibur VI at a party, the room was full of my queer friends, all of us hooting and hollering at Ivy’s slow-motion breast jiggling. “My girlfriend! My queen!” we screamed in delight every time she stomped. She was part of us, one of us.”
Fallout from Fallout
Fallout 76 is a thing you can buy now, and critics and players alike are trying to sort out its intentional disasters from its unintentional ones. One author this week offers a illuminating contrarian take on the game itself, while the other offers an illuminating contrarian take on, well, the takes themselves.
- Fallout 76 succeeds as a fever dream instead of a simulation – Polygon
Jenna Stoeber revels in Fallout 76‘s sheer sense of unreality.
- Fallout 76 – DEEP HELL
Skeleton reflects on the business of reviews and wonders when critics will let a bad game be bad.
“Look: we shouldn’t be in love with brands. Brands are built and maintained by inspiring us to associate them with part of ourselves. Videogames are art, but the videogame market is one where products are created to live and die based on how they resonate with us. Fallout is no exception and in the sense of the more modern games, it’s arguably driven everything about the original titles that was compelling out in the hunt to make the whole concept of a Fallout game the most marketable thing it can be.”
Two different shooters go under the microscope this week: one popular and rising, one old and forgotten.
- Shooting without killing: the cozy cult of Nerf Arena Blast • Eurogamer.net
Jennifer Allen, via foam darts, muses on the enduring, colourful charm of nonlethal shooters.
- On Warframe and Late Capitalism – Historian On Games
Seva excavates sharp statements about labour rights in Warframe‘s latest expansion.
“Not only does it dissect the rot of late stage capitalism by exposing how workers suffer under unchecked oppression, but it also reaches the only logical conclusion in the way it tells the story of the Solaris: an emphatic call to arms for unionisation.”
Two authors this week offer thoughtful examinations of music design in games–one via in-depth analysis, the other via detailed interview.
- Player Two: An Interview with Mona Mur – Invalid Memory
Miguel Penabella interviews composer Mona Mur and they discuss, among other things, sound and music design emphasizing unpleasantness rather than pleasure in games about war and violence.
- Gamasutra: Jason Yu’s Blog – Breaking the Loop: A Look at the Cinematic Music of Breath of the Wild
Jason Yu breaks down the rules of composition in video game music and explores how Breath of the Wild alternately bends and breaks those rules.
“When I discovered my first cave in my playthrough of Breath of the Wild, I was struck by how cinematic the moment felt, without the game having to resort to any sort of cutscene—accomplished simply by transitioning to this track as I entered. It’s the game’s ability to create memorable moments like this with music that make the exploration aspect of this game so strong, and a large part of it the soundtrack’s willingness to dial back the melodic writing and focus instead on timbre and harmonic color.”
Three authors this week offer very different perspectives on the ways in which games are put together–be it their styles, their worlds, or their business models.
- Cheap Golf is an Ode to Inelegance | Unwinnable
Khee Hoon Chan muses on a scrappy little game that marries low-fi golf with an insidious advertising algorithm.
- Fumito Ueda’s Architecture – YouTube
Jacob Geller analyzes the ambivalence and decay of Team Ico’s world design.
- Artifact’s Monetisation Is A Mess – Timber Owls
Lilly presents a detailed breakdown and critique of Artifact’s broken business model.
“For as much as it experiments with gameplay, Artifact feels like three steps backwards – aggressive pricing on a game with just a single set on offer and barely any game modes feels like pure arrogance no matter how good the game itself is.”
Each of these three articles offers, in its own way, a sobering reminder of how fleeting games can be, whether by design choices that fade from popularity, franchises that end abruptly, or titles that disappear from availability entirely.
- Saying Goodbye to Extrasolar | Paste
Holly Green documents the passing of an innovative sci-fi alternate reality game that will soon be shutting down. Her article’s urgency, I think, reaffirms what’s at stake in efforts to archive and preserve digital games.
- Left 4 Dead lives on as its own genre 10 years later – Polygon
Cass Marshall considers the peculiarly enduring legacy of a game made by a company that doesn’t really make games anymore.
- The Encarta MindMaze Witch | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle dives into the weird world of edutainment games hidden in mid-90’s “multimedia” software, and in the process reflects on her own relationship to magic and witchcraft over the years.
“It was 1995 – I didn’t really want to learn world history or geography; I wanted to break curses and hang out with witches. I’m just a sorceress who happens to be a millennial.”
Just for Fun
Possibly my favourite writing to come out of the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go!
- Pokémon Poetry: Nine Haiku About Our Collections | Kotaku
The Kotaku editors offer (very) succinct reflections on their pokaymans. Let me show you them.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!