Thanks for stopping by, readers.
This week EA is the latest of the major publishers to take a turn on the layoff misery-go-round. You can bet this news is on my mind as I gather together the latest critical writing on labour in games.
I often find as I compile these weekly roundups that the articles coalesce into loose themes. This week much of what I’ve read revolves around rhetoric. How does a developer communicate accessibility options in a game? How does a critic connect her words with the widest possible audience? How do we centre under-represented voices with respect and dignity? You’ll have to read on to see how this week’s featured authors tackle these questions and more.
On a happy note, this coming April marks Critical Distance’s tenth birthday. Stay tuned for further details on how we plan to celebrate this milestone. 🙂
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Work on Play
The Game Developers Conference has offered a barometer of sorts in recent years on the conversation about labour in games. Two of this week’s selections summarize some the the major points of that conversation, while the third proposes extending that conversation beyond the West.
- Unions, diversity, and risk-taking: How GDC, IGF Award winners want to change the industry | GamesIndustry.biz
Rebekah Valentine rounds up the thoughts of GDC and IDF award winners on labour, representation, and combating toxicity in the industry.
- Unionization Was Center Stage at the 2019 Game Developers Conference – Waypoint
Dante Douglas recaps a year of conversation and progress on the topic of labour organization in games, from one GDC to the next.
- IF YOU DON’T WANT TO WORK, IT BECOMES YOUR JOB – DEEP HELL
Skeleton tempers Capcom’s comeback tour with questions about why the labour conversation in games so far hasn’t really extended to Japanese companies.
“It’s profoundly interesting that the labor conversation didn’t really trend towards Japanese games – of which stories about labor mismanagement are rife, until a more recent developer had positive words to say about needing an IV drip to continue making the new Super Smash Brothers.“
Art on Art
I haven’t included a lot of purely creative works in my time at Critical Distance yet, but this week’s two artists were just too good to pass up.
- Laura K Plays 13: Night In The Woods/Meltdown – ZEAL – Medium
Laura Knetzger captures the self-reflexive trauma and grief of Night in the Woods.
- I’m in Another Castle, but This Castle Isn’t Yours – Videodame
Rachel Tanner redresses the damsel trope in lyrical form.
“Who would you be
if you weren’t someone who rescued me?
Who would you be on your own?”
Front and Centre
Three authors this week reflect on who speaks for–or over–marginalized voices in games, and shed some light on efforts to re-centre those voices.
- The Fortune Cookie Incident — James Mendez Hodes
James Mendez Hodes dissects a stereotype-laden role-playing game to open up a discussion of how even well-intentioned or neutral engagement with surface-level commercial/cultural signifiers perpetuates and reaffirms centuries of racist discourse and erases historical trauma and violence.
- Real Native history in a video game: An Indigenous take on The Oregon Trail – IndianCountryToday.com
Adrian Jawort interviews Elizabeth LaPensée about centering Indigenous voices in When Rivers Were Trails.
- Why the “Gamer Dress” is about so much more than just a dress | Medium
Emma Vossen examines the recent unmitigated disaster that was the “Gamer Dress” and situates the ordeal in broader institutions of misogyny, harassment, and gatekeeping.
“They are opening the gate to their walled city but changing nothing about the culture there. They are not doing anything about the rampant racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, and sexual harassment. This tweet is saying “sorry our toxic pit is so toxic! Here is a dress for you to wear while you swim in the toxic pit: also it shows off your tits and ass!””
Rhetoric in Review
How to we talk about games? There are countless considerations, but one of the bigger ones is accessibility. Three authors this week observe that rhetoric matters, within both academia and the wider public sphere, and on the part of both creators and critics.
- On the persistence of game studies dull binary* | The beta-testers of being
Tom Apperley expresses a desire to steer game studies away from narratology/ludology discourse by exposing its anti-theoretical, antifeminist, and bad-faith elements.
- Game (Barriers, Readings, Reviews) | press.exe
Talen Lee thinks through reviews as a genre, and how accessible language is essential in producing useful critical writing.
- Looking Back On Super Meat Boy Creator’s Controversial 2008 Flash Game | Kotaku
Kate Gray wrestles with the question of finding value in the deliberately offensive (content notification: genital horror, grotesque imagery).
“Can we still find enjoyment in shock-horror even if it doesn’t have anything to say? Of course. But it makes me think of Cards Against Humanity. I’ve had a lot of fun with CAH in the past. But with CAH, everyone has a great time until they find a card that hurts them personally.”
Games have historical and ongoing issues with access–both materially and socially. What financial and geopolitical restrictions to players and makers face? Which audiences enjoy developer consideration, and which do not? Three authors this week think through these questions and offer valuable insights.
- The Difficulty With Difficulty – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi discusses why the rhetoric involved in accessibility options in games matters just as much as the options themselves.
- The Underground, Activist Gaming Scene In Communist Czechoslovakia | Kotaku
Cecilia D’Anastasio delves into the history of gaming hacktivism on the other side of the Iron Curtain
- Grow Up: Why We Need Young Adult Games | Sidequest
Melissa Brinks pushes back against the narrative of stigma around YA and very patiently explains why not every game needs to target an adult demographic.
“Remember five, ten years ago, when we were all concerned that audiences outside of the gaming community weren’t taking games seriously enough? We’ve conflated games’ capability to be mature with a dour sense of nihilism; now anything that isn’t that particular brand of serious, Rand-referencing “literary” is either relegated to the “pure fun” pile alongside Super Mario Odyssey and Battle Chef Brigade or, if it dares to have a message that isn’t depressing, it’s slapped with the “juvenile” label.”
Playing with Power
Many games are power fantasies, and many power fantasies are tied up in a certain able-bodied ideal of masculinity. What happens when we pull at the threads of this narrative? Two authors this week do just that.
- Wolfenstein II: On Disability – Death is a whale
James Tregonning weighs the consequences of putting one of putting one of gaming’s most storied action heroes in a wheelchair–and enabling him to mow down Nazis all the same.
- The toxicity of power in Devil May Cry 5 | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld uses DMC5 to break down the masculine power fantasies endemic to games.
“In a flashback, Dante’s mother tells him to “be strong, be a man” shortly before she dies. Using this memory suggests that this has been his goal ever since and still guides his actions. The message is as simplistic as it is clear: real men are strong, and exhibiting that strength is fun.”
Just for Fun
In one of the above selections, Talen Lee asks what constitutes the review as a genre. I don’t purport to have a clever answer of my own, but here’s the best review I’ve read all week. Enjoy some Pure Expression.
- Destiny 2’s The Drifter: A Review
merritt k is a blessing.
- Possibilities for Queer Community-Building Through LARP – First Person Scholar
First Person Scholar’s special series on queer gaming continues this week with a piece by Sharang Biswas documenting his experiences in several queer-focused LARP games. In the interest of disclosure, I am an editor for First Person Scholar and was the principal editor of this piece in particular.
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!