January 20th

Happy Sunday readers!

This week I’m thinking a lot about momentum. You see, I do believe that in some, small ways, things are getting better in gaming spaces in terms of representation, and in terms of what voices are included in both the production and consumption of games. And where we can’t point to direct progress, I do think we can at least gesture to a growing awareness among readers and players of pressing issues in games, such as in the case of labour equity.

Now, all of that has to be qualified with a big asterisk insofar as I am making these observations from a position of privilege as a perceived-white, perceived-male, perceived-cis, perceived-able writer and player. I try to keep myself well-read on issues that pertain to play communities outside of my bubble, but I know I’m always going to have to put more work into maintaining that awareness.

Still, there are setbacks, such as this disappointing news about the latest Mortal Kombat game, and yet another discouraging cancellation that has me worrying primarily about whose jobs are on the line this time.

But critical games writers, both at larger venues and at smaller blogs, continue to work to hold these practices (and their practitioners) accountable. Quality games writing, and the promotion thereof–especially writing produced by marginalized authors–is a big part of the successes we are seeing in terms of making games a safer, more inclusive, more equitable space for the members of all of its spheres. So in that spirit, Critical Distance continues to round up important thoughts and voices, even on the weeks that bum us out a little.

This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.

Social Capital

A specific focus this week is on the social dimensions of the ways we play. Three pieces this week weigh in on the dynamics of competitive multiplayer, the gradual shift to streamers for game promotion, and how one set of social skills can be unexpectedly mapped onto unforeseen game contexts.

“Like a reality show contestant who is “not here to make friends,” I dove into this game with a hardened and manipulative heart—the heart of a dating sim player who knows how to hit her head against a series of repetitive dialogue choices until she gets the results that she wants.”

A GRIS-ly Postmortem

Artful indie title GRIS has been out for a little bit now, and sober reflections are starting to emerge, with a common theme being one of frustration. Comparisons to Journey appear to be inevitable, and for the most part it seems that critics find the newer work wanting.

Gris’ attempt to evoke emotion fails due to its open metaphorical approach as much as its need to evoke any feeling, not trusting the player enough to find meaning for themselves.”

State of the Unions

The conversation on labour equity in the games industry gained new traction in 2018, and I’m pleased to see that much of that momentum has been preserved into 2019. Here are some well-articulated thoughts on where labour in games stands now, and where it needs to go from here.

“Based on my years of reporting, Popovich’s experience is rare. It’s not often that you meet a developer without a horror story about the process of making games—he’s basically a unicorn. It’s so ingrained as to be expected, which is a huge part of the problem.”

Island Universes

What goes into a game world? How can virtual worlds evoke emotions, or feelings of recognition, either in offering something new or presenting new combinations of the familiar? Two authors approach these questions with excellent articles.

“The question may then arise as to precisely why the world of Red Steel 2 works. The answer essentially lies in the method of the game’s combination of tropes. Rather than mixing the Wild West and feudal Japan into every single one of its characters, locales or plot elements (which would obviously be a recipe for disaster), the game allows both sets of tropes to stand on their own, but alongside each other and always within its narrative and aesthetic space.”

Marginalia

There are positive steps being made in big games towards greater inclusivity. But we can’t just sit back and be complacent about it, and these four authors certainly have not in probing where the margins are being drawn, advanced, and occasionally (and unfortunately) clawed back in games.

“It can feel like a slap in the face, particularly if you were playing Kassandra as gay, to have her embrace domesticity, a heterosexual relationship, and motherhood.”

Just for Fun

We’ve peaked (or perhaps, umm, bottomed out) as far as games titled “blanky-blank” are concerned. Look, I don’t make the rules.

“Spanking can be a lot of things. It can be fun, painful, entertaining, sexy, punishing, and even so embarrassing that you melt into a puddle of shame. I had not yet realized the potential of spanking as a tedious exercise until I played Slappy Ass, the game that begins as a fun, silly jiggle simulator and slowly develops into a dull clicker with no real reward unless you really love to spank CGI physics-enabled butts in a multitude of colors.”


Plugs

  • Realistic Teen Witch Simulator | Unwinnable 
    Kris Ligman offers a reflective semi-postmorterm on their latest Twine game. In the interest of disclosure, Kris is a senior curator alumni and current financial director at Critical Distance.

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