Happy Sunday, readers.

There’s new Deorbital this week, which under any circumstances kicks ass, but this time around it’s bittersweet news, as the publication is going on hiatus while the team seeks out new ways to keep the project funded. Deorbital produces some of the best games crit on the web, so keep them on your radar, and if an opportunity arises to support them and you are in a position to do so, please do. In the meantime, the articles from this season’s quarterly feature heavily in this week’s roundup.

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

Capital Punishment

A trio of excellent articles this week examine deep links and synergies between the games we play and the wider neoliberal frameworks they inhabit and reproduce, even when those games purport to push against those frameworks.

  • No Lands Beyond – Deorbital 
    Aaron Lascano blends Kirby Air Ride‘s invisible-walled dystopia with post-graduation disenchantment under late capitalism.
  • Crazy Taxi Tycoon and the Art of Selling Out – Deorbital 
    You know how brands on social media have started resorting to edgy tweets about mental health crises and appropriating social justice language to sell fucking moon pies? This Crazy Taxi clicker game is kind of like that, and Matthew Koester has all the grimy details.
  • Immigrants and Blood-Suckers – Deorbital 
    Bryn Gelbart seeks out the limits of Vampyr‘s critical examination of class struggle and power dynamics, and positions those limits squarely within the game’s player-centric power fantasy.

“For a game so concerned with power and inequality, a game that has some of the most fascinating and diverse characters I’ve ever seen, Vampyr still can’t escape the trap of player empowerment. You are the white, upper-class, wealthy savior to the rest of the world.”

Ghosts in the Virtual Machine

Three authors this week re-position the supposedly clinical tools we employ for work and play as sites of empathy, embodiment, and disruption.

“Progression becomes a compulsive and meaningless act, the only reward being the opportunity to experience more of the game’s outlandishly charming universe. It’s hard to tell if this gnawing tedium is intentional on the developer’s end, but it at least succeeds in conveying the profound pointlessness of social media approval.”

Queer Spaces

Queerness is revealed everywhere in games–but it can take some digging to find, buried as it often is under a prevailing heteronormative narrative logic. Three authors this week are up to the task.

“The queer author in straight society is a ghost writer, ambiguously positioned as speaking and silent, visible and invisible. I have been trying to make myself appear in the story of Dishonored, exercising my queer authorship to rewrite the text, but my influence is always ephemeral, limited to metanarrative. Now we shift that thought inward, into the fiction of the game.”

Empathy Game

Though empathy games as an idea have gained popular traction in recent years, empathy is still an often-overlooked element of games, play experiences, and perhaps most damning, our critical and journalistic coverage of games. Three authors this week explore empathy in each of these avenues.

“There might be an argument to be had that showing how ridiculous this original Tweet was helps to combat the normalisation of it. Yet, that still lends itself to promoting someone’s harassment above their work.”

War Games

Games simulating and/or representing war and conflict are a long-established form, though tabletop and virtual games respectively tend to depict separate and fairly narrow aspects of the topic. A pair of articles this week, looking at a tabletop and a virtual example, respectively, discuss how each of these games breaks that pattern.

Bloc by Bloc takes the largely untapped common idea of urban asymmetrical warfare, removes the danger of death or arrest, and makes it as fun as possible short of actually including a bank window to smash (maybe in the next update).”

Half-Fulfilled Promises

Sometimes games start with ideas that we love, but they just can’t stick the landing. Three authors this week, looking at three examples, discuss how and why.

“This feeling of a false starts and missed opportunities hangs over Falcon Age. Which is doubly frustrating because to see a game be so forward facing from the start about telling a story of colonizers and colonized, specifically from the perspective of the colonized, is important.”

Just for Fun

(Content notification: Toad’s dick) Filed to: Toad’s dick.

“Hey, it’s Toad, loyal pal of Princess Peach and Mario. Who doesn’t love Toad? What are you up to, buddy? How’s it hangin— Oh. Oh no.”


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!