Why hello there, readers. I’m grateful to all of you who have taken time out of your very busy Kingdom Hearts III-playing schedules to sample some of the coolest writing on games around the web this week.
It’s a week where yet another “biggest crossover event ever” is out after years of hype, speculation, delays, and side-projects. It’s also a week where Machinima changed owners, wiped all its content from the web, and was finally gutted with all its employees kicked to the curb.
So I’m thinking a lot about Evil Empires this week. Not that I can ever really get around that as a grad student in the humanities, but doubly so given the discourse of my home discipline this week.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Evil Empires are an old trope in games; they’re bad guys we love to hate. But the most insidiously dangerous empires in the real world tend to be the ones we fail to see–or train ourselves not to notice. These empires very often have their hooks in the games that we love. Four authors this week take notice of those hooks in powerful ways.
- One Minute Past Midnight: Bastion & Healing from Nuclear Devastation | Deorbital
Ty Gale thinks through the erasure of their Japanese heritage via the diaspora and apocalypse of Bastion. And readers, as a curator with unresolved questions about my own relationship with being Japanese, this one really fuckin’ delivered for me.
- Model Metropolis
Kevin T. Baker chronicles SimCity‘s abstract libertarian urban theoretical forebears and considers the ominous implications of the game’s oft-overlooked politics.
- The Body as Temple of Carnage – Amsel – Medium
Amsel makes sense of the senseless violence (and narrative) of Mortal Kombat in an increasingly senseless late-capitalist world (content notification: gore, suicide, self-harm).
- Well Played: Store Credit — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil–God, how do I even summarize this one? Think Dyer-Witheford & de Peuter’s Games of Empire but with with an additional decade of hindsight, far more accessible writing, every intersection between culture and consumer-capitalism masterfully covered, and absolutely nothing held back. Osterweil is a goddamn gift.
“The depression that even many mainstream economists agree is coming this year will smash much of what remains of the middle classes. Video games are designed to survive that crash.”
Three authors this week think through copyright from different angles, whether by a small indie studio defending their work, or the aforementioned Evil Empires abusing the law for profit–or just plain power.
- Gamasutra: Jeremy Choo’s Blog – Why did we DMCA our own game few weeks after launching?
Jeremy Choo describes the decision process behind taking legal action against a publisher that took the money and ran.
- EarthBound became a cult hit thanks to SNES emulation and ROM trading – Polygon
Khee Hoon Chan chronicles Nintendo’s antagonistic relationship with its own legacy and with the preservationists who seek to keep its works alive.
- ‘Kingdom Hearts III’ is a Big, Beautiful Mess – Waypoint
Julie Muncy positions a review of Kingdom Hearts III as an opportunity to talk about copyright reform. Hell yeah.
“Combining Disney with the aesthetics and gameplay priorities of Final Fantasy at its most eccentric, Kingdom Hearts takes the vanguard of modern entertainment capitalism and turns it into something bizarre. Mickey Mouse, and Disney alongside him, is grist for one of the wildest mills in the last two decades of popular fiction, pitting Mickey and his friends against magical evils and the vague existential terror of a fictional universe where friendship is a literal, metaphysical binding property.”
Plenty of authors this week direct their attention to stories–both in games, and around games. Here are five of this week’s best.
- The Rivers, The Sea | Unwinnable
Stu Horvath reflects on the language–and magic–of roleplaying worlds.
- Due Diligence: Not One Forgotten – Haywire Magazine
Leigh Harrison traces the beating hearts (or no longer beating) buried beneath bureaucracy via Return of the Obra Dinn.
- Making Mulaka – Adventures in Not Making a Game | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld reviews a book about the luck and circumstance of the creative process that goes into making a game.
- The Brilliant Narrative Design of Subnautica | Outside Your Heaven
Matthew Weise revels in the uncommon union of successful system-heavy design and handcrafted environmental storytelling.
- Fighting with Perfect Greed | Deorbital
Eme Flores artfully navigates the many strands of Queer Indigenous activism via Heaven Will Be Mine.
“Heaven Will Be Mine was the missing piece helped me make sense of the divides between three generations of queer activists. It helped dispel the myths around of the radicalism of youth, adults who knew about “the real world”, and the cynicism gained through growing up trying to do the impossible.”
All art is political–and so it follows that the representational issues of our cultural moment naturally bleed through into our art, whether deliberately or not. This includes our games, our porn, and yes, our porn of games. Three authors this week perform invaluable criticism on this topic.
- What I Learned From Watching A Great Deal Of Overwatch Porn | Kotaku
Kate Gray reflects on what’s funny–and what’s not so funny–about the booming online industry of CGI porn with popular characters and shockingly high production values.
- Changes of perspective are vital to representation in games • Eurogamer.net
Malindy Hetfeld identifies the problem with abstracting issues of representation through allegories of fantasy and points to examples of games tackling the matter in better faith.
- I Wish ‘Resident Evil 2’ Let Me Be a More Compassionate Hero – Waypoint
Danielle Riendeau describes the survival horror genre’s seductive play logic of being a selfish asshole.
“It’s a terrible world, and I have to survive! RE 2 successfully put me in this mindset inside of its first hour, from the sort of player who usually loves to admire every tiny detail and art asset to a… grabby, selfish, grizzled jerk.”
The Play’s the Thing
It’s important not to forget that for all their questions of politics and empire and labour and affect, games are things we play. What does that play mean for us, the players? What kinds of play do we value, and how does the experience of play shape our feelings as we play? Two authors this week think through these questions.
- There’s Something Weirdly Comforting About Playing Games That Are Just ‘Okay’ | Kotaku
Gita Jackson expounds upon the virtues of the worlds okayest games.
- Emma Vossen’s Games of 2018 — Third Person
Emma Vossen looks back on games she connected with that she never thought could even exist.
“Why shouldn’t people in the media talk the way my friends talk? Joke the way my friends joke? Struggle the way my friends struggle? Despite being about a group of anthropomorphic animals NITW is one of the most realistic pieces of media I had ever consumed.”
Just for Fun
I’m not sure what I find to be the bigger head-scratcher, honestly: that Depeche Mode T-Shirt or the last 17 years of nobody being willing to tell Tetsuya Nomura “no”.
- Rochelle | Unwinnable
Deirdre Coyle looks back on Left 4 Dead 2 to ask the most important lingering question: why the Depeche Mode T-Shirt?
- Waypoint Investigates And Unpacks the Story of Kingdom Hearts, Part 1 of ?? – Waypoint
God bless the Waypoint crew for even trying holy shit.
- Interactive portraits show in Rotherham – Zoyander Street
Zoyander Street, Senior Curator alumnus, Critical Distance superhero and all-around kickass dude is presenting an interactive exhibit merging retro games and interviews with Japanese trans folx. It’s at the Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance, and it’s the last week to see it!
Critical Distance is community-supported. Our readers support us from as little as one dollar a month. Would you consider joining them?
Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!