March 3rd

Abstract image evoking bird silhouette

Happy Sunday, readers.

Things happened this week in games. Some really, icky, bad things. Typically I leave some space at the top here to reflect on some of these things and maybe connect them to the week’s selection of writing, but if some company somewhere, hypothetically speaking, did something particularly gross with the specific aim of generating publicity, I’d be hard-pressed to play along and indulge them with a link. You follow?

If you haven’t checked it out already, Dan Solberg recently penned an excellent Critical Compilation on The Stanley Parable. Also, Capsule Crit just released a double-sized issue dedicated to fan fiction! You absolutely owe it to yourself to check it out.

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

Labour of Love

In an article so on-point and badass I’m putting it in its own section, Vicky Osterweil takes stock of the culture of labour abuse in games production and connects it to the broader organization of our means of production and consumption. Unionize, absolutely unionize, but the work doesn’t stop there, and Osterweil absolutely knows this and makes sure you do, too.

  • All Work and All Play — Real Life 
    Vicky Osterweil absolutely drop-kicks the mic and extends the conversation on labour in games beyond the limited (but still absolutely fucking necessary!) question of unionization.

“The gamer and the developer work in a cyclical process of mutual exploitation and alienation, deepening the ideological hold of current capitalist relations of production while buying Paris pied-à-terres for executives like Bobby Kotick. Unionization will be one of the tools to break out of this cycle, but alone it will not be enough.”

Push Back on Pushback

In her writings on intersectional feminism, Sara Ahmed identifies a catch-22 with the practice of the feminist killjoy: “you become the problem because you notice a problem.” Inconvenient criticism of a game–especially criticism written about and/or authored by marginalized voices–seems especially prone to triggering an avalanche of “Well, actually” reply guys disgorged from the fetid orifice of Mount Gamer. But the fact is, games sometimes (more than sometimes, really) have shitty representational politics, and we can stand to do better. Today’s pair of featured authors know this all too well.

“So while it’s good that Western critics are demanding Atlus do better, Americans and Europeans must still use their anger and outrage responsibly by raising the voices of Japan’s queer gaming community. It’s these critics that can enact real change in Japan, as a Japanese developer may be willing to accept flaws with their work or make changes to their stories if Japanese gamers refuse to purchase a game with transphobic content.”

Future Perfect

Games have invested an awful lot of narrative energy in imagining the future over the decades. Infuriatingly, they tend to be simultaneously very wrong and very right in their predictions. What I mean by that statement is that games often correctly forecast the movements of the sociopolitical structures presently posturing to devour us all, but present those movements by way of artificial mechanical constraints that can limit our capacity to imagine positive solutions to the apocalypses we revel in for entertainment. Three writers this week gaze into the palantir to make sense of what is coming, and what isn’t.

“While MGS4 was a far more sombre game, dealing with Snake at the end of his life fighting a war he had no choice but to fight, Revengeance is (as the incredible subtitle implies) near-infamously bombastic in the same way that many of PlatinumGames’ other developed titles are. This switch in tone works extremely well in its favor – while MGS4 used Snake to question the legitimacy of heroic war narratives, Revengeance is focused heavily on the question of violence itself in a video-game context.”

Wood and Metal

In our accelerating era of digital distribution, always-online, and, ugh, live services, it’s easy to forget that games are made out of stuff. I don’t just mean cabinets and coltan, but also the very material conditions of their development and production. Two authors this week engage in archaeology and art criticism, respectively, to unearth secrets of how games are, and how they come to be.

“As a whole, Everything is a container, filled with every object imagined. As a single in-game thing, it is a surface, hollow and flickering.”

*shrugs* Whatever

Narrative-driven games can be highly suspect object texts for studying personal relationships. They often place their characters in environments wildly alien to our present status quo, and the mechanical conceits that make a game a game can further interfere with character arcs and consequences. Sometimes, however, games can demonstrate awareness of the ways in which they are compromised, and in doing so can produce illuminating results, as two writers this week discuss.

“I’d like to think the meaning behind DEEP-HELL dot com is that the only thing videogames can teach you is bad things, and here it is again. ESB is a game that tells you there’s a right combination of words and social affectations to become friends with anyone, and then pulls a Funny Games right before the end and tells you: it’ll work on everyone but the people you desire most.”

Genre Pieces

Part and parcel with the understanding that games in no way exist “outside” their often late-capitalist conditions of production, some of our most fundamental (and therefore overlooked) conceits of game design belie the ideological frameworks that birth them. That last sentence very nearly went up it’s own ass, so suffice to say that hegemonic power fantasies are kind of weird and fucked up if you stop to think about them. Two authors this week do exactly that.

“Rather than a muddled, murky Diet Colonialism Fantasy of exploration, World could be a game that requires players to maintain that balance. Hunt too many of one species, and the systems that choreograph the cross-species interactions between monsters in the middle of a hunt suddenly bring the real world implications of environmental stewardship to the fore. Allowing players to impact the ecology of The New World visually, or systemically in ways that alter gameplay, would go a long way to preventing Monster Hunter World from undercutting itself.”

Esprit d’Esports

While I will freely admit that I don’t know a whole lot about it, esports is definitely a Thing–it commands a lot of viewers and dollars, and like any other major institution in gaming, I want to see it associated with more diverse representation. Two authors this week explore the expansion–as well as setbacks–faced by esports athletes beyond white guys in the west.

“In the mid-2000s, I was just entering my teens, and I was painfully aware of the difference between my own gawky body and the cool, polished allure of the Frag Dolls. They are not like me, I remember thinking, and the thought stung. Did I need to have that kind of beauty to make up for my unfeminine obsession with games?”

Just for Fun

Reading this article made me miss playing Destiny. “Treads Upon Stars” is a more interesting, more evocative name for a gun than “Wingman,” and you will find that I have not deviated from this position over the years. Also, this entire paragraph just happened and I can never undo it.

“It’s a sea of pseudo-military acronyms that don’t actually mean anything. Honestly, though, they’re so forgettable that I’ve begun to find it endearing.”


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