Another year has passed and now is the time to look back and take stock of the year that was. For Critical Distance that means crafting our mega roundup, with links curated from all the year’s weekly roundups and bolstered by recommendations from the community, into a representative portrait of the year. And from this particular portrait I was surprised to see very little of 2018 itself take shape. Instead, I saw all the previous years and decades leading up to 2018 reexamined.
Reading Catherine Nichols’ piece reminded me of the saying, “the age-old battle between good and evil.” I was reminded because, as Nichols explains, the concept is quite new and has little basis in our founding myths, in the classics so revered as the bedrock of the western canon. And yet such a phrase is emblematic of the thinking that colors our entire view of the world. We believe there are bad guys who must be opposed by good guys, nothing more, nothing less. This is how it is, how it always was, and how it has to be. Right?
Often it feels like videogames exist in their own tiny bubble completely at odds with the rest of the world. This is on purpose. They are meant to be a refuge from the real world. Right? But like the phrase “age-old battle between good and evil” that too is just another unsupported myth. Videogames have always been connected to the real world. They are made by real people, not logos. They are played by real people, not demographics. To say these things out loud, both statements feel obvious, yet old beliefs remain.
In going through the criticism of 2018, it wasn’t so much about 2018 as much as it was about how we got to 2018. The things we take for granted, so much so that we don’t even think about them anymore, were reappraised and often found wanting. It was a year of no longer accepting facts without support, nor truth without wisdom. For the 2018 edition of This Year in Videogame Blogging, let all assumptions be challenged and no myth given the credence of reality.
Videogames are reflective of the means and conditions by which they were produced. They are difficult to produce, but do not need to break those that produce them. Yet, beyond just the people they affect, the working conditions cannot help but set the tone for the wider medium both in and out of the games themselves.
- When did we forget people – not brands – make games? | Eurogamer – Wesley Yin-Poole
In the wake of Telltale’s closure and the reaction that the developers should finish their games for free, Wesley Yin-Poole asks a question that should have been asked long ago.
- The labour of games | I Need Diverse Games – Tauriq
Tauriq Moosa highlights the effects of the firings of Jessica Price and Peter Fries from ArenaNet on all developers in the industry, from lack of workplace protections to the handing over of power to internet loudmouths and harassers.
- Student expectations, course marketing, and the invisible labour of game development. | brkeogh – Brendan Keogh
Highlighting a pervasive issue when teaching game design, Brendan Keogh brings up the fact that many of his students don’t know the actual kind of labour that goes into work at a development studio and how universities (and culture at large) do a poor job of advertising that.
- The Universe Has Been Outsourced | The Outline – Michael Thomsen
Michael Thomsen does some in-depth reporting on the unseen labor done on nearly every AAA game nowadays, done by supporting developers that are effectively doing the same type of work as the credited creative studio.
- How bad crediting hurts the game industry and muddles history | Gamasutra – Richard Moss
Richard Moss explains how the crediting of workers is inconsistent at best, arguing that the “flawed record of authorship” has a massive historical precedent, but also hurts our understanding of the medium’s history.
- 2018 will go down as the Year of the Bad Employer | gameindustry.biz – Brendan Sinclair
Brendan Sinclair’s title pretty much says it all in this survey piece cataloging most of (not even all of) the companies abusing their positions over their workers and how it will probably, finally lead to unionization.
- Toxic Management Cost An Award Winning Game Studio Its Best Developers | The Verge – Megan Farokhmanesh
Back in March, Megan Farokhmanesh did an in-depth piece on Telltale’s poor management practices and how it created a hostile environment to its employees and drove them away. This was long before the studio’s closure.
- Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games | Kotaku – Cecilia D’Anastasio
More in-depth reporting about a company creating a hostile work environment, this time by Cecilia D’Anastasio about Riot Games. The report talks with 28 current and former Riot employees about the studio’s culture of sexism.
- Injured Sovereigns, Foucault, and Jessica Price | MSSV – Adrian Hon
Taking a more philosophical approach as to why companies and gamers behave the way they do, Adrian Hon invokes Foucault to analyze how Jessica Price’s tweets weren’t about being “rude” but about inadvertently challenging the very sovereignty of the culture behind both the company and the players.
- Game Companies Can Serve Communities or Customers, But Rarely Both | Waypoint – Christopher Williams
A former moderator for a game company, Christopher Williams explains how their job was to serve the company, not the community by protecting high-spending abusers.
- What will be left of the people who make our games? | Polygon – Katherine Cross
In light of the Rockstar interview, Katherine Cross brings up the ever-present spectre of crunch, but also how the number of hours has become a PR stunt dehumanizing developers into servants of the player kings with their emotional labor in addition to stated jobs.
- After Destroying Lives For Decades, Gaming Is Finally Talking Unionization | Waypoint – Ian Williams
Ian Williams details how the condescending GDC roundtable on unionization in the industry turned into a “catalyst that lead workers to start organizing.”
- On the Path towards Unionising the Games Industry | Historian On Games – Seva
Seva Kritskiy takes stock of the current situation regarding unionization to figure out what can be learned from prior attempts in both the game industry and adjacent industries so we can understand clearly what goals should be aimed for and how.
- Stability, Support, and Safety: Small Game Studios Need Unions Too | Waypoint – Dante Douglas
Dante Douglas brings up an often-forgotten sector of the industry when it comes to unionization– independent and freelance development–and how organizing benefits these creators as well.
- Worse then Scabs: Gamer Rage as Anti-Union Violence | Rhizome – Lana Polansky
Lana Polansky focuses on the other size of unionization: the efforts of union-busting. In the 1920s it was the strike breakers, now it’s the frothing masses of internet gamer rage. And yet, in the face of it, Game Workers United is optimistic about the future.
- Sex, Pong, And Pioneers: What Atari Was Really Like, According To Women Who Were There | Kotaku – Cecilia D’Anastasio
Despite how we see the trappings of it now, Cecilia D’Anastasio’s report on the corporate culture of Atari back in the day from the perspective of the women who worked there paints it to be far more progressive and equal than we find today.
- “Companies really need to ask themselves if they’re serious about diversity” | gameindustry.biz – Ian Dransfield
Ian Dransfield reports on the work of Phoenix Perry, founder of Code Liberation Foundation, who tells a story of how diversity in the game industry is getting worse and tells companies to not just talk the talk, but actually put effort into their diversity initiatives.
- We Asked Eight Studios From Across The World How They Deal with Crunch | Waypoint – Aron Garst
Aron Garst asks eight studios from Europe and Japan how they deal with and combat crunch. They sound a lot more on top of the issue than their American counterparts. For starters, they recognize it as a problem and have taken a variety of steps to mitigate/eliminate it.
- The Industry Won’t Change If Reporters Let The Powerful Off the Hook | Waypoint – Patrick Klepek
In the wake of the Rockstar interview, Patrick Klepek points out what a moment this was and how much of a failure it was to not hold Dan Houser’s answer accountable if there is to be any chance to “enact systemic change.”
- Abdication | Your Critic is in Another Castle – Kate Cox
Valve finalized its anything-goes stance on Steam and Kate Cox calls it, for all its power, an abdication of responsibility to all the systemic issues on its platform. It hurts customers, publishers and PC gaming as a whole.
- Why I’m not super excited about Valve’s new Steam policy | Radiator Design Blog – Robert Yang
One would think an anything-goes policy would help artistically provocative developers like Robert Yang, yet he says it’s ultimately more harmful as no moderation means there is no relationship with Valve and in the end is its own form of gatekeeping.
- Steam developers speak: Maximum profits for Valve, minimum responsibilities | Polygon – Tim Colwill
As Tim Colwill succinctly puts it, “Valve like to take a cut of sales, but it doesn’t like to be responsible for the store”, as he speaks to numerous small developers who feel like Valve isn’t doing anything to earn its cut as platform holder.
- Using Psychology and Loot Boxes to Destroy Video Games: A Fun and Practical Guide | The Psychology of Video Games – Jamie Madigan
Jamie Madigan is tied up and Satan takes the reins to explain how best to exploit your player base psychologically with loot boxes.
- For Many Players, Lootboxes Are a Crisis That’s Already Here | Waypoint – Ellen McGrody
In a much less lighthearted tone, Ellen McGrody finds that the cycle of addiction thanks to loot boxes is already having real-world consequences for quite a few players already. The problem is further exacerbated by an industry that resists calling it gambling.
Too Many Games
- There Are Not “Too Many Games”: What The Indiepocalypse Panic Ignores
Liz Ryerson debunks the cry of “Too Many Games” as the current manifestation of the separation of values between two camps of independent creators; one focused on economics, and the other on art.
- There’s not enough videogames; everyone should be encouraged to make them (or, videogames are just art) | brkeogh – Brendan Keogh
Brendan Keogh also champions this call by stating everyone should express themselves by making games, just like everyone should express themselves through writing or painting.
- The Endless Stream of New Games Releases Is Exciting, but Also Exhausting | Waypoint – Cameron Kunzelman
Not affiliated with the previous argument, Cameron Kunzleman says there are too many games as not a problem of money or art, but attention. There are so many exciting new releases to play, but so little time and mental energy with which to keep up.
Communities of play are where beliefs about videogames matured into the present attitudes we have today. Their constant repetition led to the calcification of the underlying notions into doctrine and to the virulent reactions against those outside those norms.
- CTRL+ALT+DEL | YouTube – Hbomberguy – Harry Brewis
While dodging an axe-wielding murder, Harry Brewis narrates a retrospective on the webcomic CTRL+ALT+DEL and despite, or perhaps because of, how bad it was, it was a mirror to the culture from which it spawned.
- Gaming’s toxic men, explained | Polygon – Colin Campbell
“Experts tackle the phenomenon of angry men, trolls, racists and misogynists who hover around the game industry.” A report compiled by Colin Campbell from how we got here to how real change can be enacted and what’s next.
- We Can’t Fix The Internet | Kotaku – Gita Jackson
Gita Jackson details how these problematic behaviors of internet discourse are inherent to the nature of the beast. “It’s the medium, not the message.”
- How Historical Accuracy Became a Euphemism | Waypont – Justin Reeve
It became a clarion call for not how the world really was in the past, but how it’s been re-imagined over and over by more recent media, as Justin Reeve explains in his piece.
- How Video Games Demonize Fat People | The Outline – Anshuman Iddamsetty
Anshuman Iddamsetty expresses disappointment in the portrayal in games of fat characters, their view on it as a choice and ultimately how inclusion demands acceptance.
- Guns And Games | Waypoint – Various Authors
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting and America’s conversation about gun violence, Waypoint ran a large number of articles exploring videogames’ relationship with guns from a number of different perspectives, collected here.
- Let’s Talk About Guns and Video Games | Waypoint – Austin Walker
Austin Walker introduces Waypoint’s week on guns, violence and videogames with an open thread explaining the special series and his own musings on the nature of guns in videogames and how we talk about them.
- How Video Games Are Funding Gun Manufacturers | YouTube – Heavy Eyed – Mitch Cramer
Mitch Cramer takes a sombre look at the co-dependant relationship between game companies and gun manufacturers. While it is difficult to prove monetary connections, the games do create free advertising and prime a younger audience with a positive, knowledgeable relationship towards guns.
- Real Guns, Virtual Guns, And Me | Kotaku – Kirk Hamilton
Kirk Hamilton doesn’t like guns, but muses on how videogames have made him so knowledgeable about them, and how it all fits into the current culture of America regarding both.
- Opinion: There’s a Huge Problem With Fighting The Anti-Video Game Debate With A #NotAllGames Mentality | IGN – Chloi Rad
The Administration released a video to scapegoat videogames, and the industry/community responded, with what Chloi Rad describes as a poor rhetorical strategy, putting games on the back foot instead of embracing the violence and arguing for it as artistically valuable like in any other medium.
- The imagined importance of the blockbuster game – Brian Crimmins
Brian Crimmins argues that AAA blockbuster games, by any metric, have bought their clout rather than earning it. Their position continues on through intertia as they continue not to push the envelope in audience, influence or artistic relevance.
- Beware the corporate video game canon | AV Club – Lewis Gordon
Sony released the list of titles to appear on the PlayStation Classic and Lewis Gordon warns against letting corporations decide on the canon of what videogames are historically important.
- Hampering the search for real criticism: Two platform deaths | ZoyaStreet – Zoyander Street
In the third post in a series, Zoyander Street explains the history of where criticism used to happen and how it has changed over the years to private platforms due to evolving social and safety concerns, leading to the continuation of the question “where is all the good writing on games?”
- The Vid Economy: Making A Living From Crowdfunded Game Analysis | Game Informer – Jacob Geller
Jacob Geller writes an exposé on the new critical circles appearing on YouTube funded through Patreon. He looks at the nature of those channels and listens to the stories of those creators.
- The Review and The Critic | ZAM – Eron Rauch
Rest in Piece ZAM. Eron Rauch was kind enough to republish his piece about the historical and evolving difference between reviewers and critics and how that distinction affects our discourse about them.
- Should games get lower review scores for poor labor practices? | I Need Diverse Games – Tauriq
Tauriq Moosa’s answer is ‘yes.’ “If we agree bad labour practices matter more than bad graphics, I don’t see why you wouldn’t mark down a game for the former.” Just because it wont matter to some, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be reflected in your personal evaluation if it matters to you.
- Writing About Games: Learning to Love the Compromise | Unwinnable – Yussef Cole
Yussef Cole couldn’t muster enthusiasm for Red Dead Redemption 2 until the marketing machine demanded he do so. It causes him no amount of self-reflection in buying into a morally compromised product as he articulates why he stays writing in a field that resists such self-reflection.
While more esoteric than the more concrete areas of criticism, those based on things and people, it can be more than useful to understand concepts. From there, a different future can be planned out away from the ties of present reality and the things and people stuck in the rut even as they try to escape it.
- Single Player as Local Co-Op | ZEAL – Sophia Foster-Dimino
Sophia Foster-Dimino draws a comic whereby she discusses playing games in non-standard ways, including with multiple people at the controls at once, and how this alters the experience in unexpectedly pleasant ways.
- Artificial Identities: An Essay | PEM Playtime – Katherine Cross
Katherine Cross examines what is behind our conception of identity in role-playing games and how this can reveal a player’s true nature.
- Apathy Machines | Real Life – Rob Horning
To run counter to the current conception of VR as empathy machines able to help improve the world, Rob Horning undermines the underlying assumptions that lead to that conclusion and how the current commodification undermines the effect empathy is supposed to engender in the first place.
- Do Videogames Turn Us Into Bad People? | Paste – Holly Green
Holly Green looks at the data that helps answer that question and realigns our common understanding of what motivates players to what actions. It’s not the events that sway them so much as how their decisions align with their self-perception of their personal values. Games won’t turn you into a bad person, but they can reinforce tendencies you already have.
- Hygge in Video Games | YouTube – Satchell Drakes – Satchell Drakes
Satchell Drakes looks at the Scandinavian lifestyle of Hygge – coziness, warmth and comfort – and identifies where such a lifestyle can be found in videogames and what affect those games craft.
- What Makes a Game Punk? | YouTube – Writing on Games – Hamish Black
Hamish Black contends with the contradiction of punk and videogames, as one is highly regimented and the other is a genre of creation outside of normal/accepted bounds and is inherently abrasive. He tries to zero in on where these categories overlap by examining games labeled as punk.
- A call for video game neorealism | Radiator Design Blog – Robert Yang
Robert Yang says videogames should move past photorealism into something more akin to Italian neorealism that moves the focus onto truth, authenticity and social context with historical immediacy.
- What Video Games can learn from Eroticism? | YouTube – Gamedenker – Haitham and Elizabeth
Elizabeth and Haitham contend that videogames can learn a lot from the art of strategically covering up, leaving something to the imagination by appealing to one’s intellect, their divine love, and not to baser instincts. “Cover some parts. Make me wonder. What’s behind the façade.”
- Dungeon And Queers | First Person Scholar – Elise Vist
Elise Vist posits that “systems tend to be straight – even if they’re queer – because for something to be a system, it has to have rules that fit into other rules” and then muses on how it can be possible to create queer games, all in the context of D&D.
- Customizable Player Characters Don’t Replace Diverse Leads | Sidequest – Heather Wells
Heather Wells rejects the idea that customizable player characters are a step towards inclusivity because who you are shapes your story and if your person is mutable the story loses the texture of specific experience.
- The Subjective Shot Storytelling & The First Person | Gamesutra – Richard Hamer
Richard Hamer feels that first person stories leave him cold and tries to understand what it is about the camera perspective that engenders a lack of connection despite literally walking in the character’s shoes.
- First Person Games Are Changing. But Into What? | Waypoint – Cameron Kunzelman
The first person genre has gone through many permutations over the years and Cameron Kunzelman looks at what he feels is the next paradigm of this style of game through the lens of several releases he feels are accomplishing similar goals.
- The Universal Inaccessibility in Board Games | Meeple Like Us – Michael Heron
Michael Heron laments the most basic barrier to playing a board game: learning how to play it. It’s all well and good if someone at the table can teach the rest, but if you’re all new there doesn’t seem to be a universal good solution to the problem of locking people out.
- Designing for Disability: Make Games Better for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing – Mark Brown – Mark Brown
Mark Brown begins a new series focused on how videogames can make themselves more accessible, highlighting techniques in practice, what they do well and what they do poorly. The first episode is for the deaf and hard of hearing, with an emphasis on subtitles.
Critical Video Game Criticism
Ultimately, any conversation about an artistic medium needs the subject by which all other conversations revolve. Art will outlive the artists and can perpetuate beliefs better than any individual ever could. Games construct our view of the medium’s past and will be the lens by which those in the future will ultimately see our present. They are the conversation.
God of War (2018)
- The Game of the Generation | Deorbital – Jackson Tyler
Jackson Tyler says the new God of War “has always been the game of the generation, a mirror in which we can see ourselves and our values” only to find little has changed and how the real ugliness shines through the change in style and goes unaddressed.
- God of War Leviathan Axe | YouTube – Mark Brown – Mark Brown
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mark Brown examines the central weapon of God of War as a triumph of combat and game design. He also delves into the process by which the developers crafted it as it did not spring fully formed.
- Atreus: God of War’s Strongest Asset | YouTube – Writing on Games – Hamish Black
Hamish Black focuses on the character of Kratos’ son Atreus, calling him the triumph of the game as he constantly delivers Kratos and by extension the game from its overly self-serious nature and allows the game to breathe naturally through their relationship.
- In ‘God of War,’ Moms Come Last | Waypoint – Dia Lacina
Coming back to that real ugliness, Dia Lacina highlights that in all the focus on Dad Games and the relationship between fathers and sons, stories of mothers and their children are given the short shrift, demonized by their presence or lionized due to their absence. In the end, mothers cannot remain.
Far Cry 5
- Far Cry 5 Offers No Insight into Christian Fundamentalism | Paste – Holly Green
Holly Green lived within the confines of American Christian Fundamentalism and contends that Far Cry 5 doesn’t get much if anything right and offers a very false view of that experience.
- Far Cry 5’s Faith Seed Embodies An Evangelical Double Standard | Kotaku – Riley MacLeod
Riley MacLeod, however, does find one hint at truth through the character Faith Seed and how she is presented within the double standard of Evangelical Christianity. She is both temptress and subordinate to men. She reflects reality as she is trapped by her position in the culture with no real agency even as a villain.
- Far Cry 5’s Hyper-Videogamification | Bullet Points – Ed Smith
Ed Smith feels stymied by the game’s resistance to any critical apparatus he has developed as the experience of playing it is so overwhelming in its gameness that it creates an uncertainty in anything he could say about it with the illusion he was missing something.
- Far Cry 5 and the Art of Saying Nothing | YouTube – Errant Signal – Christopher Franklin
Despite the title, Chris Franklin does think Far Cry 5 is about something, but in a hyperrealist way. It is about selling the beer commercial version of the great outdoors and sense of freedom instead of anything conferred by the actual content of what its story is. It’s not much and it’s not pleasant, but it is something.
Red Dead Redemption 2
- How Red Dead Redemption 2 Attempts (and Struggles) to Emulate the Modern Western | DualShockers – Chris Compendio
Red Dead Redemption 2 tries to position itself as a modern western, but Chris Compendio knows the Western film genre and says “it tells a story in the style of a modern, revisionist neo-Western, while yearning for the old Western.” Ultimately it’s all surface-level.
- The Problem with Arthur Morgan’s Search for Altruism in Red Dead Redemption 2 | DualShockers – Steven Santana
Steven Santana contends Arthur Morgan’s character suffers because of the player. He can wax morosely as much as he wants about not wanting to kill, but there’s no weight or tragedy. He liked the version of Morgan the existed in his journal, the one who actually did seem a part of a tragedy.
- Is Red Dead Redemption 2’s Animation Too Slow? | YouTube – New Frame Plus – Daniel Floyd
Daniel Floyd looks at the animations and after describing how technically impressive they are, gets down to the pros and cons of all the detail Rockstar put into every single animation. The animations offer a different, methodical experience and yet they very quickly wear out their welcome.
- Red Dead Redemption 2’s Redface Proves How Far Games Haven’t Come | Paste – Dia Lacina
Dia Lacina didn’t want to write this article, but no one else had or looked like they were going to. For all the ink spilled on Rockstar’s newest opus, no one seems to mention the casting of its minority characters and how it continues the grand tradition in media.
Detroit: Become Human
- David Cage Games Keep Treating Women Like Shit | Kotaku – Heather Alexandra
Heather Alexandra is sick of how David Cage treats his women characters in what now looks like limited access to a small number of tropes, including having them tied down and threatened with rape metaphors.
- ‘Detroit’ Siphons and Squanders a History of Marginalized Stuggle | Waypoint – Yussef Cole
Yussef Cole is disappointed, but ultimately not surprised by Detroit’s unimaginative handling of its own content, both with regards to Android and AI subject matter as well as its story of minority struggles.
- The Casual Inhumanity of How Detroit: Become Human Uses Black Culture | io9 – Evan Narcisse
Honestly, the title kind of says it all. Evan Narcisse calls out how Detroit copies its civil rights imagery with no sense for context or meaning. It’s a copy and paste job of various symbols and reference points, not people.
- Spider-Man’s Take On Police Feels Out of Touch | Kotaku – Heather Alexandra
In the current climate, Heather Alexandra finds that Spider-Man seems stuck in a much earlier era, where being so accepting of state power was a good guy thing, while also existing in a world not reflective of our own on these issues.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man: The Realest Dad Game | Sidequesting – Erron Kelly
With the ongoing crop of “dad simulators,” Erron Kelly finds Spider-Man to be a more accurate representation about the relationship between father and son, albeit from the son’s point of view.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man and Dissecting Its Black-and-White Tale of Morality | DualShockers – Chris Compendio
Chris Compendio feels a bit disappointed that Spider-Man doesn’t follow through on its setup of making its villains more complex and relatable, as the game ultimately reverts back to the old-time black-and-white morality of the original comics and drops the villains’ more complex motivations.
Life is Strange 2
- Life is Strange 2 works to deconstruct the series’ power fantasy | Unwinnable – Malindy Hetfeld
Malindy Hetfeld likes that the latest Life is Strange game embraces the characters’ positions where they lack power despite having super powers. It fits the game’s themes that Daniel’s problems (racism) do not have a quick fix.
- What Other Games Can Learn From the Racism in Life is Strange 2 | Paste – Natalie Flores
Racism is not all loudmouth bigots or white hoods. It can be a lot more subtle, insidious and damaging. It can be as much as not standing up and letting oppression pass. Natalie Flores feels Life is Strange 2 captures this aspect of racism expertly.
- Hitman’s humour evolved because of 47’s penchant for disguises | Rock, Paper, Shotgun – Steven Nyuyen Scaife
Steven Nyuyen Scaife finds that Hitman’s world has gotten more and more ridiculous over the years and now finds the latest game seemingly leaning into that. It has created a world where everyone is too self-absorbed to see what is right in front of them and has become “some truly wicked satire.”
- ‘Hitman 2’ Makes You The Catastrophe Everyone Is Dreading | Waypoint – Cameron Kunzelman
Cameron Kunzelman likens Hitman 2 to global warming, not in its effectiveness in destruction, but in relation to the last level at an oligarch conference on how to deal with the climate crisis. It’s a metaphorical thing, filled with irony that I won’t do justice describing here.
- Fallout 76 | Deep Hell – Sam Kittrel
Sam Kittrel examines a Polygon article on Fallout 76 and is frankly a little disturbed by the slavish devotion to the brand to the point of the author disregarding his own feelings while playing it.
- How Fallout lost its soul | Polygon – Katherine Cross
Fallout was about the existential threat of nuclear annihilation, a dark satire of the mid-20th century. Katherine Cross doesn’t ascribe the latest entry’s failure as something individual, but the inevitable end of a long downward spiral once the franchise changed hands.
- Battlefield V: A corruption of history | Medium – Ruben Ferdinand
Ruben Ferdinand sees Battlefield V as another “link in the shackle of commodified World War 2 stories,” based not on anything true, but “on sensationalized cultural images.”
- A Sad, Fun Story | Bullet Points – Reid McCarter
Despite what Battlefield V has to say for itself, Reid McCarter can’t help but feel its aspects in service to being a fun, multiplayer shooter renders “the war into little more than an aesthetic” saying its “lasting impression is of a sad story read in a jungle gym.”
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine
- Encountering the Wanderer in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine | Videodame – Rachel Watts
Rachel Watts feels Where The Water Tastes Like Wine nails the feeling of wandering through a “battered and worn country,” becoming a vessel for stories and ultimately capturing something true through it all.
- Worldbuilding America: Where the Water Tastes Like Wine | Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling – Emily Short
Emily Short’s blog post is a postmortem on the story she contributed to Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, based on the experiences of her relatives.
Shadow of the Colossus (2018)
- The question of fidelity and Shadow of the Colossus | Eurogamer – Gareth Damian Martin
Gareth Damian Martin finds the final result of Shadow of the Colossus’ remake stunning to look at, but also finds it falls victim to an odd quirk of fidelity, “that ultimately it undoes what it seeks to represent.” The more detail there is, the less that needs to be imagined and something is lost.
- The Shadow of the Colossus Remake Isn’t Quite The Same | Kotkau – Heather Alexandra
In the changes of the remake, Heather Alexandra warns that the changes, while not bad, make things different through unintended consequences. Better placed controls make Wander feel more competent and altered lighting make the world more real rather than surreal.
Other 2018 Games
- The Ethics of a Human Whopper | Unwinnable – Levi Rubeck
Speaking on Vampyr’s mechanic of nurturing the relationship between NPC’s before sucking their blood, Levi Rubeck notes that this creates a mindfulness towards the food you consume, something most of us don’t consider in our real lives.
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance – Myth-making and Historical Accuracy | Unwinnable – Reid McCarter
Reid McCarter posits that Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the latest in a long line of historical fiction that must reckon with the fact that the past is not some immutable thing, but something we create in the present as we remember it. “It’s distortion by omission – by artistic and historical selection.”
- ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’ Tries, but Fails, to Tackle Its Own Colonialism | Waypoint – Dia Lacina
For every step forward, Shadow of the Tomb Raider seems to take the same step back according to Dia Lacina. She finds there was a more interesting game in there, but its need to hold onto the Lara Croft fantasy means it never could really grapple with the colonialism inherent in the franchise.
- How Realistic is Yakuza 6? Behind Japan’s Long History of Crime Syndicates | USGamer – Reid McCater
In answering that question, Reid McCarter finds that Yakuza 6 may be less accurate to the real life Yakuza than the romantic notion of them in popular media; it is however a truthful representation in at least one aspect: that of the importance placed on the found family.
- Losing players is the best thing to happen to Sea of Thieves | Polygon – Cass Marshall
When Sea of Thieves was new, the game didn’t live up to its potential as most weren’t willing to play into its fantasy, but Cass Marshall is happy to tell us of the culture that emerged once only the die-hard pirate role-players remained.
- Games Like ‘BattleTech’ Are Slow For a Reason | Waypoint – Bruno Dias
Bruno Dias contends that while many find BattleTech’s tempo is too slow and hampers enjoyment of the game, it isof vital importance to the game’s essence and gives every turn the necessary weight it deserves that speeding it up would lose.
- How Return of the Obra Dinn Works | YouTube – Mark Brown – Mark Brown
Mark Brown explains how Return of the Obra Dinn is innovative in how its design and how its contrived narrative conditions allow the player to live out the detective fantasy by emphasizing deduction over genre realism.
- Glory Visits The House Without Walls | Timber Owls – unhaunting
Cultist Simulator reminds the author unhaunting of The Fall of the House of Usher in that it is a work where it is best to resist the detective style of critical interpretation. In the desperate search for the ‘correct answer’ you can lose sight of thematic meaning.
- Putting On A Tough Face: The Insecurities of Dead Cells | Timber Owls – unhaunting
unhaunting has a lot to say about Dead Cells. It’s a game about insecurity and overcompensation that seems unaware of this. Instead it is itself an insecure game, overcompensating with its cult-of-difficulty power-fantasy whose own mechanical loop it doesn’t really support. There’s a lot in here.
- The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Ownership of Identity | Timber Owls – Nadia M.
Nadia M. does a close reading of The Missing, going over all the ways it ends up being an effective trans narrative though both metaphorical set pieces and too-real narrative beats.
- The Anxiety of Celeste and its Music | YouTube – Game Score Fanfare – Mathew Dyason
Mathew Dyason explains how Celeste emphasizes its themes and the struggles of the game’s characters through the evolving musical compositions of its levels.
- Octopath Traveler: Reimagining Game Music | YouTube – Game Score Fanfare – Mathew Dyason
He also discusses how in many aspects, a game like Octopath Traveler has to be better than the games it’s emulating in order to match nostalgic memories. He spends the video focusing on how Yasunori Nishiki does that with the game’s musical score.
- Wallowing in Paratopic’s Inspired Mundanity | Sidequest – Liam Conlon
Liam Conlon describes Paratopic in detail, getting at the effectiveness of the game’s themes where it finds the horror in cycles that continue on despite the results.
- Opened World: Erasing Places | Haywire Magazine – Miguel Penabella
Using Donut County and Nova Alea, Miguel Penabella explores how each game approaches the theme of gentrification and its effects on a community.
- We Need To Talk About Florence And Emotional Labour | Mahli Bombing – Mahli-Ann Butt
Mahli-Ann Butt points out that for all of its freshness in mechanically representing a relationship, the relationship itself is highly gendered in how the pair expresses their feelings to one another.
- Hell is Other People | Unwinnable – Jeremy Signor
Undertale’s follow up, Deltarune, is another game about empathy and games. Jeremy Signor explains how Deltarune is exploring a slightly different aspect and how it reveals a blueprint for a better world, one worth hoping for.
- ‘Artifact’ Isn’t a Game on Steam, It’s Steam in a Game | Waypoint – Will Partin
Will Partin goes down the rabbit hole of metagames and how Steam’s new digital card game works. In it he finds a rather cynical game whose economic metagame perverts whatever it could have hoped to be. It’s not any more exploitative than other card games, so much as it’s better at obfuscating it and becomes more insidious as a result.
- magical capitalism | killing a goldfish – Jesse Mason
Likewise, Jesse Mason, explains in extensive step-by-step detail how capitalism distorts the design of Magic: The Gathering which itself leads to the company grasping for top-down control of the culture around the game, which in turn leads to players buying into the concept that what is best for the game is what is best for the company that makes it.
- Super Plumber Odysseus | Corporate Future Nightmare World – Brendan Vance
Brendan Vance writes about meritocracy, capitalism, the magic circle and how each of them are a lie, using Super Mario Odyssey as a demonstrative example.
- Capitalist Present, Collective Future: An Analysis of Labor | YouTube – Jacob Geller – Jacob Geller
Jacob Geller looks at Night in the Woods and Tacoma to see what they reflect about our late capitalist hellscape and what future they can offer us.
- Where are the Radical Politics of Cyberpunk? | Waypoint- Cameron Kunzelman
Cyberpunk is over 40 years old as a genre, but Cameron Kunzelman expresses that whatever original political meaning it may have had has been sanded down into just an aesthetic co-opted by the capitalistic system it is meant to be a critique of.
- Metal Gear Solid 2 Is Not About The Internet | Outside Your Heaven – Matthew “Sajon” Weise
Given the current political climate, Matthew Weise finds it timely to take another look at Metal Gear Solid 2 and examine what it has to say about propaganda and social control. Oligarchs worry about the loss of their power over the people and anything might happen. “A clown could even be elected President.”
- “My Life Didn’t Begin Until The World Ended” – Sunset Overdrive and the post-apocalyptic identity | Medium – Adam Page
Adam Page takes another look at the fantasy offered by Sunset Overdrive where after the apocalypse you can be free to express yourself, where all “the marginalized; the fandoms; and […]the gamers will unite to take on The Man” and concludes that ultimately, “it’s a pipe dream” a dream that was always “pure snake-oil.”
- My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data | The Atlantic – Ian Bogost
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Ian Bogost goes back to Cow Clicker to see the extent of it and finds he had access to a disturbing amount of private data from his users even all those years ago, data he never knew he had.
- The Socialist YouTuber Using Cities: Skylines To Explain Politics | Kotaku – Cameron Kunzelman
Cameron Kunzelman does an exposé on a YouTuber “donoteat” who uses Cities: Skylines to explain, historically, how cities are built. In trying to explain things historically, he finds he can’t help but explain that politics and what happened then is directly attached to what is happening right now.
- How World of Warcraft Was Made: The Definitive Inside Story of Nearly 20 Years of Development | USGamer – Mike Williams
From 1998, when it was first an inkling in its creators’ minds, to the present day, Mike Williams covers the history of the most successful MMO ever made and the stories of the people behind the scenes of its design and evolution.
- How Sierra and a Disgraced Cop Made the Most Reactionary Game of the 90s | Waypoint – Duncan Fyfe
In the early 1990s, Sierra On-Line hired the police chief who oversaw the LA riots to make the next game in its Police Quest series. It turned into an auteur defense of his career and worldview. And in 2018, it feels disgustingly relevant and persistent, Duncan Fyfe reports.
- Two histories of Myst | Medium – Picking Up The Pieces – John Gabriel Adkins
There are two histories of Myst, John Gabriel Adkins explains. One where the game stood as an emblem in the hardcore vs. casual culture debate and the other which actually happened. “On all sides, memory and history grew deformed.”
- Scars & Stories [Planescape: Torment vs. Torment: Tides of Numenera] | YouTube – Noah Cadwell-Gervais – Noah Caldwell-Gervais
Noah Caldwell-Gervais breaks down in his what has made Planescape: Torment worth talking about for all these years, concluding that people have been talking about it for so long because there is just that much stuff in it worth talking about.
- Epitaph: What Reamins of Edith Finch and Death | Giant Bomb – Gamer_152
Gamer_152 examines What Remains of Edith Finch regarding how its characters deal with death and how their poor coping leads to a deadly legacy.
- Games and Lit. 101 – Female Agency in Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild | YouTube – Games as Literature – Sam Gronseth
Same Gronseth, The Game Professor, looks at how the endings to two of Nintendo’s latest big games end in very different places regarding the agency of their princesses. Breath of the Wild stumbles, while Super Mario Odyssey presents a breath of fresh air.
- The Surprising Feminist Overtures of a Leisure Suit Larry Retrospective | Medium – ZEAL – Rachel Presser
Rachel Presser is surprised to find that Leisure Suit Larry, despite supposedly being a tawdry sex comedy, presents a character and world far more supportive of female sexual empowerment and treats “even the briefest of lovers […] like human beings.”
- Where The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt Goes Wrong in Depicting Women (and Why it Matters) | Not Your Mama’s Gamer – Elizabeth Ballou
Reminiscent of Kateri’s survey of all the women in the first Witcher game, Elizabeth Ballou goes through all the major female characters in the third Witcher game and explores how the game treats them.
- Indignities: A Brief History of Obsidian’s Problem with Women | Timber Owls – unhaunting
Likewise, unhaunting goes over all the major female characters in Obsidian’s games and sees a pattern of regressive depictions. Chris Avellone addresses some of the issues she has in a forum thread linked at the bottom. They have a nice discussion on narrative design, at least until the Nazis show up.
- Why Does Everyone Hate Mercy, Part 2: This is Not The End | Medium – Apple Cider
Following up on last year’s piece, Apple Cider continues to look at the Overwatch community’s reaction to Mercy and the changes Blizzard continues to make to her. She feels she might have been too charitable in her earlier analysis.
- Hellblade and Living With Psychosis | Sidcourse | YouTube – Leonardo Da Sidci – Leonardo Da Sidci
Leonardo Da Sidci details his personal experience with Psychosis and his worries about how Hellblade would represent the condition. Through playing it, he finds a series of design decisions that replicate many aspects of the mindset and struggle through Senua.
- The Horror of Universal Paperclips and Space Engine | YouTube – Jacob Geller – Jacob Geller
Jacob Geller explains the existential horror of the perspective granted by Universal Paperclips and Space Engine for just how small they make him feel in relation to the size of the universe.
- Screen Sculpture | Doki Doki Literature Club | Heterotopias – Eron Rauch
Eron Rauch considers the glitch aesthetic of Doki Doki Literature Club in relation to questions of art, photography, and imagery as a whole. In it we find a radical new idea of what is considered good imagery as the game breaks down its own visuals for a purpose.
- A Stairway To The Unconscious – Thief: The Dark Project, 20 Years Later | Medium – ZEAL – Liz Ryerson
Liz Ryerson goes back to Thief: The Dark Project and finds a surprisingly subservient game as it stands against much of the presently accepted design orthodoxy. She also finds something great about a game not trying to answer the big question, nor place its protagonist as the moral center of its universe.
- Talking SOMA: Let Us Submit Together | Medium – ZEAL – Liam Conlon
Liam Conlon has wanted to write this piece about horror and kink for years. They explore this connection with SOMA and their own personal way of playing this type of game with others.
- Floor Kids – Rhythm and Creativity | YouTube – PostMesmeric – Alex Carlson
Alex Carlson finds the rhythm game genre stale, and then he plays Floor Kids, which switches up the formula by adding a degree of creativity and style to the timed button presses.
- Dying By The Creed | Corporate Future Nightmare World – Brendan Vance
Brendan Vance, whose favorite Assassin’s Creed game was the first one, a strange experimental open world game, laments that the rest of the world finds the drastically different second game to be the series’ peak and the one to copy endlessly.
- Three Short Arguments on Monkey Island | YouTube – Innuendo Studios – Ian Danskin
Ian Danskin cannot say whether or not The Secret of Monkey Island is good or bad. At best, he can only find interesting things to discuss. The game is so wrapped up in nostalgia and his personal history that he cannot view it with any critical self-reflection without it being tinged with all that baggage.
There are no easy answers. It is difficult to let go of long-held if not cherished beliefs. The drive for truth can be short, but the drive for wisdom is never-ending. I wish you luck and good fortune on your long trip throughout 2019.
The weekly roundups have resumed. Please submit any for TWIVGB to our email or @ our Twitter account.
Critical Distance is completely community-sourced and funded. If you are willing and able, please consider signing up to our Patreon to help us continue our work, curating and archiving the best writing the community has to offer on games. Every little bit helps keep the lights on. If you can’t afford to do so, then spread the word.
Welcome to the New Year. Hands up and cover the face. It’s going to be another rough one.