Hey there, readers. Hope you’re taking care of yourselves.
I hate that at this point I more-or-less expect to have a new big headline about labour abuse to talk about each week, but that’s the reality. This time it’s BioWare, and while this kind of journalistic coverage on the matter is vital and commendable, I don’t think anybody is greatly surprised, exactly.
Another popular topic in the last couple of weeks has once again been accessibility and difficulty modes, courtesy of Sekiro. There’s enough content around the web right now to dedicate a weekly roundup entirely to the subject, but I have chosen here to focus on writers who look past the surface-level debate and examine what’s actually at stake for disabled players, players who just want to experience the story, and everybody else who gets left behind in the wake of a deafening chorus of “git gud.” There’s always linkages to other corners of the discourse, of course, and I think Vicky Osterweil’s outstanding piece this week can and should be read in relation to this accessibility conversation.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
This week four selections look at the intersections of labour and games from a variety of angles. In addition to new developments on the labour organization front, there’s excellent work here on in-game labour and gamification.
- The Amazon Games – Postyn Smith – Medium
Postyn Smith reports from the unique brand of hell that is a gamified Amazon warehouse.
- Game Workers Unite Argentina: Labor organization in the videogames industry | Matajuegos
David T. Marchand announces the formation of an Argentine branch of Game Workers Unite with a call to action.
- Shenmue’s Much-Hated Forklifts Feel Revolutionary Today | Kotaku
Harry Mackin finds powerful symbolism in Shenmue‘s forklifts, identifying them as the point in the game where the paths of the player–seeking belonging–and Ryo–seeking isolation–um, fork.
- “Today, I Felt Nothing,” by Tara Hillegeist – Bullet Points Monthly
Tara Hillegeist allegorizes the troubled development of Anthem by grappling with the many ways, good and bad, that the game makes the player feel small, vulnerable, alone, and inconsequential.
“A studio like Bioware Austin, comprised of hundreds of employees and supplemented by thousands of outsourced asset developers, depends on a company culture where they can justify to themselves it’s worth it because they believe in the magic of the creative act in exactly this way, after all. It couldn’t exist as it does if they didn’t believe in it. They could not have survived the tumultuous seven-year development of Anthem from its beginnings as Project Dylan to its launch, now, as a live service, without at least partial hope that this was a true metaphor.”
A pair of authors this week tackle gaming’s perennial love-affair with post-apocalypses, working, among other things, to decouple some of the colonial assumptions underlying how apocalypses are defined and depicted.
- Whose Apocalypse? | Unwinnable
Gavin Craig critiques our idea of apocalypses and their accompanying posts, both in games and as a general concept.
- Alone at the End of the World | Unwinnable
Yussef Cole muses on why the world after the end becomes more and more appealing as the world before it continues to decline.
“The post-apocalypse is frontier fantasy but it’s also a way to sample a future beyond that stubborn sword of Damocles we’ve erected over our present day. It’s nice not to have to brace for war, or climate disaster, even if that means spending time in fiction where those disasters have already come and gone. There is an ironic comfort in being alone at the end of the world.”
Don’t Open that Door
Horror games have ebbed and flowed over the years, but right now they appear to be on something of a retro-fueled resurgence. Three authors this week dig into how these games have commanded our attention over the years, how they have held up (or haven’t), and how their legacies have evolved over time.
- The Glass Staircase Gets Why Retro Horror Games Worked | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra identifies pacing and perspective as the keys to successful fixed-camera horror design.
- Let’s Place: A Tale of Endings – Haywire Magazine
Daria Kalugina studies the game Prey from different narrative and phenomenological angles, positioning its horror in its destablization of any authoritative anthropomorphic subjectivity.
- Lo-Fi Whispers: Echoes of FromSoft’s Bygone Era | RE:BIND
Catherine Brinegar peeks under the hood of a late-90s survival horror game to make the case that retro-style indie games need take a more rounded approach to replicating their inspirations rather than just mimicking an aesthetic.
“In the end, it’s simply not enough to harken back to the simpler styles of rendering to create an interesting piece of art. It would do microindies good to take these older pieces in as a whole, investigating what the developers did with the visuals, and how they allow players to interact with their worlds.”
Push, Parry, Poise
From Software’s latest grueling adventure Sekiro has made the critical rounds, and, as From games often do, it has reinvigorated the “easy mode” debate. At the top level, however, much of that conversation is preoccupied with a reductive should-they-or-shouldn’t-they dilemma that frankly asks the wrong question (because yeah, they should). This week’s three selections look more deeply at the issue, considering how disabled player identity is flattened out by the zero-sum difficulty conversation and how From is in some ways complicit in the more toxic dimensions of “git gud” culture.
- Easy Mode Isn’t An Easy Fix For Accessibility – Timber Owls
Lilly sizes up the accessibility discourse and argues that easy modes, while necessary, are an incomplete solution and when implemented alone serve only to erase and ignore disabled players.
- Difficulty Isn’t Personality: From Software Games Can Be Better than This? – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa likes From Software’s games well enough, but rejects their (and their fans’) gatekeeping tendencies.
- “The Master Swordsman,” by Reid McCarter – Bullet Points Monthly
Reid McCarter traces the brutal, cyclical symmetry between Sekiro‘s looping mechanics and themes.
“Its theological and historical context work together with the often-frustrating experience of mastering its exacting sword fights to create a holistic sutra of a game—a work of fiction that treats the accepted videogame conceits of preternaturally skilled warriors, “respawning” characters, and punishing combat encounters as essential narrative elements in its story of 16th century war and Buddhist thought.”
Power and Play
A pair of articles this week look at play communities from opposite perspectives, respectively: letting players in, hearing their diverse experiences and prioritizing their voices; versus shutting the gates and excluding everyone who can’t (or won’t) tread water in an ocean of bigotry and toxicity.
- New Afro-Futurist RPG Is A Fresh Break From Sci-fi’s Tired Tropes | Kotaku
Gita Jackson chats with Brandon Dixon about designing a tabletop experience that centres nonwhite characters–and players.
- Game Boys — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil positions gamer culture as an exclusionary-by-design pressure valve that keeps our larger hegemonic frameworks standing. This one’s a goddamn masterclass, people.
“Games have been constructed — actively, by industrial and political economic forces — as a refuge from “the real world,” a place of rest, relaxation, and identity re-enforcement for straight white men, a space in which the feminized labor of social reproduction is performed for them by a machine rather than a woman.”
Just for Fun
Hitters spike twice.
- What I Know About Surviving In Sekiro I Learned On The Volleyball Court | Kotaku
Natalie Degraffinried draws an unexpected parallel between a Muromachi battlefield and the volleyball court.
“after watching so many bloody Sekiro deaths, I have to say: Getting hit in the nipple with a volleyball is probably way more pleasant than getting run through with a big ol’ spear.”
- Nonbinary – First Person Scholar
First Person Scholar’s special issue on queer gaming continues with an interactive Twine narrative from Adan Jerreat-Poole on nonbinary experience. Full transcript available here.
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