This was a pretty devastating week. The terrorist attack in Christchurch has sparked some long-overdue conversations about the extent to which white supremacist ideology is coddled at almost every level of western media and culture. This time around, games–and gaming communities–are explicitly part of that conversation.
And rightly so.
My personal goal in working for Critical Distance is to curate and promote writing that pushes for games and gaming to be a more accessible, more inclusive space. If you’ve been looking for my bias, well, here you go. I favour writing that critiques our western institutions of power and bigotry. I favour writing from marginalized and underrepresented voices. I favour writing that pushes back against exclusion and gatekeepng in gaming.
Because games are cultural. Games are political. The mantra that developers, journalists and critics should somehow keep politics out of games is a bad-faith argument that serves only to protect the white supremacy already insulated at the heart of our culture as the status quo.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
There’s been an upswing lately in articles that focus on making games more accessible, with a specific focus on the accessibility implications of localization. I’m excited to see this conversation gain traction, and pleased to share these three excellent samples.
- Apex Legends is a game-changing multiplayer experience for women • Eurogamer.net
Elizabeth Henges positions Apex Legends‘ pinging system as a step forward in design considerations aimed at curbing toxicity and harassment.
- How language shapes the way we play • Eurogamer.net
Giada Zavarise argues from an accessibility standpoint on why developers should bolster their efforts to localize their games.
- Gamasutra: Benjain Glover’s Blog – Thirteen tips for your next localization
Benjain Glover breaks down the goal of game localization into a series of accessibly-written actionables.
“The point I’m trying to make, if the above wasn’t clear, is that the language additions were and are absolutely worth it. Not only did the localizations end up covering their own costs and been a net positive, but they’ve also demonstrably increased our game’s audience and found players in countries we never originally expected to find them.”
Beat the Boss
The discussion of labour in games continues with undeterred momentum, and that’s great. While there have been many articles calling out unethical labour practices and advocating for unionization, this week I’d like to call attention to a pair of articles profiling developers who are already taking proactive measures to do right by their employees.
- Black jackets, sunglasses, and radical accountability as a worker co-op | GamesIndustry.biz
Rebekah Valentine chats with Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry’s quest for better labour practices in games with their new co-op, The Glory Society.
- Giving Workers Equal Power Isn’t Radical. This Studio’s Done It For Years. – Waypoint
Patrick Klepek profiles a small Canadian indie game studio where the workers are also the bosses.
“Game creation is often mythologized, blinding us to the everyday work making art possible. A person does not simply sit down at a computer with a clever idea and—voila—video game. This is especially true for games made by a team (or teams) of people who have to work with one another. But while we spend endless energy on the obviously important design work that goes into video games, precious little is spent on understanding the structure supporting it.”
How do you write about a game that’s interesting, but not very fun? What about a game that’s really fun, but kind of offensive in some ways? How about a game that’s kind of fun but also really offensive? This week three writers do these things, and do them very well.
- Beat It | Unwinnable
Sara Clemens reiterates the need for some measure of social awareness when authoring an ahistorical period piece about beat cops.
- Left Alive Isn’t Fun But Its Depiction Of Mechs Is Great | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra has an excellent read on the thematic underpinnings of the mecha genre, and shows how Left Alive does, too.
- The Excellent Devil May Cry 5 Falls Just Short of S-Rank | Paste
Dia Lacina offers the kind of layered critical review of DMC5 that never fails to piss of The Gamers™. That means that regular readers of Critical Distance will probably find a lot of value here in Dia’s discussion of colonial rhetoric and sexism in an otherwise delightful action romp.
“The kind of masculine cool that Devil May Cry has to offer feels woefully inadequate and out of step. It’s the most PS2-era throwback element of this game. Once we step out from under how great it feels to rip demons apart with motorcycle chainsaws, this is a game about three guys who really refuse to grow up, deal with their dad issues, and still think the crass one-liners are the height of comedy.”
Play by Feel
I’m always on the lookout for quality writing that centres the affective experience of the player. This week, however, we’ve got two authors who take this notion one step further and discuss the critical role of affect in otherwise mechanical systems.
- Gamasutra: Winifred Phillips’s Blog – Video Game Composers: How Music Enhances Virtual Presence (GDC 2019)
Winifred Phillips presents research and experience on the relationship between game music, presence, flow, and affect.
- On the logic and emotion within Chess and The Quiet Sleep – Historian On Games
Seva Kritskiy muses on the roles of affect and intuition in games that are otherwise rooted in mechanical logic.
“I am nowhere near the level of grandmasters who can feel chess – and I never will be. But sometimes, rarely, I look at a position, and a move feels strong, and I play it, without trying to calculate everything. And then I look at the post-game evaluation, and the computer tells me that yes, that was a strong move. And I feel happy, and my day goes on.”
Bodies of Work
Different players with different embodied experiences are always going to bring new and inspired critical perspectives to games. The more perspectives we read, the more complete a critical picture of a game becomes. This is why reading diversely is so important! This week’s three selections highlight embodied perspectives situated in trans identity, body diversity, and illness.
- Behold the Wonder of Immorgamsics! – ZEAL – Medium
The Giant Rat, in an incredible visual essay, maps the evolving experience of their trans identity onto an obscure series of escape room games.
- Today I Can Finally Be A Tall, Portly Man In World Of Warcraft | Kotaku
Mike Fahey describes WoW‘s overly long road to a little bit of human body diversity.
- What Red Dead Redemption 2 gets right about having a terminal disease – Polygon
Eirik Gumeny peers through the overwhelming simulacra of RDR2 to find an uncommonly satisfying character study of living with disease in Arthur Morgan.
“Arthur’s narrative does not specifically hinge on his tuberculosis. He evolves from Dutch’s faithful lieutenant to his wayward rival over time, and that story could still exist even if there was some way for Arthur to avoid contracting the illness. Arthur’s tuberculosis is a detail in the story, not the story itself.”
On the Line
More and more play experiences these days are shared, online, and communal. Three authors this week look at the intersections between players and shared play spaces.
- I’m Cautiously Excited About The Stories Apex Legends Fans Are Telling | Kotaku
Gita Jackson examines the relationship between canon and fanon via its latest permutation in Apex Legends.
- Navigating the Confusing, Horny World of MMO Roleplay | Fanbyte
Avelene Perry discusses the state and virtues of roleplaying in online games and offers some pointers for beginners.
- My agent is the scariest part about The Division 2 – Polygon
Cass Marshall thinks through the seemingly deliberate irreverence of The Division 2‘s player-avatar and its broader implications for this totally-not-at-all-political video game.
“When I see a couple of looters going through the pockets of a dead body, and I kill them, and then they drop loot for me to pick up … is that a statement on the inequality of society and the abuse of power? Or is my reaction meant to be along the lines of, “Sweet! New knee pads!””
Games are always material. Whether a unique arcade machine travelling the convention circuit or a Steam bestseller produced by the finite labour of human developers, no game is an eternity. Even when a franchise seems poised to continue on indefinitely, there’s no one player who will be around to experience all of it. Two authors this week reflect on materiality and mortality, respectively.
- The Traveling Arcade From Argentina | Fanbyte
Diego Arguello describes the mystique around a one-of-a-kind modern-day arcade game and profiles its creators.
- STUPID ENOUGH TO THROW MY LIFE AWAY – DEEP HELL
Skeleton reflects on the intersections between mortality and liking a video game franchise for long enough to wonder if it’s going to outlive you.
“Can something keep appealing to us as it gets older? Now that this series has tattoos and smokes cigarettes (while playfully reminding us it doesn’t want us to share the habit)? I don’t know. I know that we’ll all keep getting older, and the things that we love will too. Maybe we’ll outgrow them, and I kind of hope most of us do. You can’t discover what’s new unless you outgrow the things you grew up with.”
Just for Fun
Hey, don’t forget to take care of yourselves, readers. Here’s some wholesome content to help you through your day.
- Why People Want to Pet the Dog | Fanbyte
This article is in the fun section because I always try to end on a heartwarming note, but readers are actually in for a pretty strong critical case for cataloging all of the pettable dogs in games, and that, I think, is thoroughly delightful.
- Queer Games Studies Special Issue – First Person Scholar
First Person Scholar, for the next several weeks, is running a special issue on queer games studies! It all begins this week with an essay by Lee Hibbard on queering the design of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as an introductory podcast featuring Betsy Brey, Jess Marcotte, Bonnie Bo Ruberg, Kara Stone, and Elise Vist. In the interest of disclosure, I am an editor for First Person Scholar and participated in the editing of two of the articles to be featured in the coming weeks, including this week’s piece.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!