As we approach the end of the year–err, the Western colonial calendar year at any rate–the discourse of critical games writing naturally makes an annualized turn toward reflection on the bigger picture–be that via industry trends, communities of play, genre shifts, or other benchmarks of the state of games and play. Read on and you’ll find discussions of all of these topics this week from talented authors.
This reflection is healthy and important! How else are we ever going to make sense out of nonsense like this? This week’s first selection was just the kind of critical antidote I needed after reading about Capcom’s latest in-game advertising antics, and I hope it helps you, too.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Two phenomenal game reviews this week use their objects of study as springboards for wider critical discussions about what we are and aren’t willing to tolerate in the games we consume, both in terms of content and how they are sold to us.
- ‘Artifact’ Isn’t a Game on Steam, It’s Steam in a Game – Waypoint
Will Partin, in a powerful and wide-reaching review, positions Artifact at the crossroads between metagames and Valve’s particular brand of distributed monetization.
- On The Missing and what we choose to ignore – Historian On Games
Seva Kritskiy responds to the tolerance we often have for problematic big-budget games with a proposal for how we should approach scrappier indie titles.
“if we play AAA games to enjoy polished mechanics while ignoring some of their terrible politics, we should play and celebrate games like The Missing for their beauty, for their humanity, for their politics – while ignoring the at times frustrating mechanics.”
Two authors this week take a close look at fan communities in, around, and adjacent to games, pulling no punches at the ugliness they find but also finding some sparks of hope and joy along the way.
- Politics in Nerd Media Part I: The ‘Politics’ of People Who Don’t Look Like You – Zen Of Design
Damion Schubert demystifies the idea that games have somehow all-at-once gotten political.
- The State Of Fandom In 2018 | Kotaku
Gita Jackson weighs in on toxicity, fan wikis, Bowsette, and more.
“It was the best of fandom: a bout of creativity powered by pure, unfiltered horniness. Nintendo has made some unusually horny characters of late, but this fan-made version appealed so acutely to a wide swath of fan communities—furries, gender swap fans, people who want to be stepped on—that it could only have come from fandom.”
Choose Your Destiny
What’s in a choice? By now the body of criticism around the notion of choices in games has been around the bend and back more than a few times, but this week’s pair of authors bring fresh perspectives to games old and new.
- How Myst Taught a Generation of Gamers to Explore New Worlds – Atlas Obscura
Evan Nicole Brown steps once more into the Star Fissure, exploring tension, morality, and self-determination along the way.
- YOGO: You only game once • Eurogamer.net
Julia Hardy injects choices in games with a methodology of permanence and consequence.
“I chew fingernails over my choices. I make strategic cups of tea to stare out of the window pondering the metaphorical existence I’m screwing up. And only rarely (very rarely now) do I look things up online.”
In what ways do games explore recovery? In what ways can they facilitate it? Four authors this week explore these questions via their own experiences.
- Gris mirrors the stages of grief through art, sound and design – Polygon
Ashley Oh follows Gris on a journey through depression, hope, and recovery.
- In Love with a Dread Wolf | Ada Play
Adarel roots for–and falls in love with–the villain. But is he?
- How Pokémon Go Is Helping My Mom Quit Smoking – Videodame
David O’Keefe documents the recuperative value of catching Pokémon on the Go.
- Cancer, OCD, Spider-Man & Me | Unwinnable
Blake Hester finds relief amid crisis by swinging through Manhattan (content notification: suicide, self-harm, feelings)
“Maybe it’s because I’m a member of the game press, or maybe it’s because I’m pretentious, but I don’t look to videogames for escapism. Like books, movies or music, I play games to engage with them mentally (which, admittedly, can be hard because most games are stupid). Spider-Man, though, was different.”
What are the consequences of looking back, of returning? What is the cost? What feelings are involved, or at stake? This week’s pair of authors find out.
- The joy of Katamari Damacy • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld reflects on the simplicity and joy of the Katamari.
- Opened World: Standing Still – Haywire Magazine
Miguel Penabella raises the stakes for homecoming and nostalgia in Night in the Woods by examining the privilege and mobility that make these sentiments possible.
“Night in the Woods filters the world through the perspective of the naïve Mae as a way to carefully unravel and critique nostalgia and the privilege that accompanies it, steadily undercutting its own autumnal aesthetic of warm, homespun imagery as concealing the underlying hurt that the protagonist fails to see clearly.”
Two authors this week reflect on properly venerable genres, and the ways in which modern spins keep old conventions fresh and viable.
- Gamasutra: Samantha Wheeler’s Blog – The Use of Feedback Loops in Dungeons in Phantom Brave
Samantha Wheeler investigates how one tactical JRPG keeps the grind interesting.
- Adorable Point-and-Click games, Rise! | Unwinnable
Alyse Stanley Profiles two recent successes in a supposedly-dead genre.
“Games take themselves entirely too seriously these days. We need titles like The Haunted Island to remind us that it’s OK for humor to be your whole shtick; making people laugh is valid in its own right.”
This week a pair of articles look closely at the implications of space and place in big games.
- Did a Big-Ass Dinosaur Just Save PUBG from Extinction? – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman weighs the lighthearted goofiness of PUBG‘s latest map against its overall impulse toward realism.
- Streets of New York, Streets of Gotham – DEEP HELL
Skeleton muses about open worlds as lived places via Bat-Puncher and Spider-Cop.
“Open world games want us to love their worlds as much as Spider-Man loves New York. Even though they’re mostly just amusement parks than they are real places. The best of these amusement parks allow you to learn landmarks and understand the world for what it is.”
Just for Fun
Two articles to close out with this week! I apologize for nothing.
- I Watched Some Fortnite Porn So I Finally Could Figure Out What Fortnite Is | Jezebel
Tracy Clark-Flory learns about Fortnite via one of its most accessible inroads.
- That Time I Created All The Greek Gods In The Sims And Made Them Have Sex | Kotaku
Kate Gray extrapolates pubescent doll-play into The Sims and equal parts wonder and hilarity ensue.
“Of course, being the absolutely awful dork-child that I was, my first thought was not a tiny-fist-clenched, all-consuming need to make the sims fuuuuuck. Instead, I decided that I would make an accurate representation of the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods, writ small in janky AI humans.
I mean, there was fuckin’. But at least I had the flimsy excuse that this was sort of educational.“
- Unwinnable Holiday Madness | Unwinnable
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!