This week’s labour abuse spotlight is on NetherRealm, and the story runs pretty much the whole way through the studio’s history. I hate that my touching on this is practically a weekly feature in its own right at this point, but I want to reiterate that this is not a problem that will simply go away. It’s a systemic issue that requires action, and action requires dialogue. So there it is.
Another thing, not particularly predicated on anything highlighted this week, but mentioned below and always on my mind. Sometimes reading important criticism on games, especially when it deals with trauma, abuse, and systemic injustice, can be emotional labour. Making games a more equitable, inclusive space for everyone is a daily project, but also a long-term one. Be gentle to yourself, okay?
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
States of Play
Two authors this week think through the new, old, and renewed ways in which we play together.
- Healsluts Are Challenging Gaming to Make Room for Queer, Kinky Self-Discovery | Daily Dot
Ana Valens presents a deep dive on the intersection between queer and kink identity play and online gaming.
- I’m gonna take you for a ride! – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi discovers that playing fighting games with your kid happens to be a great way to escape the online, tier-and-meta-driven culture of the genre and just have fun.
“Funnily enough playing against a spammy little sod with no concept of shame means I have to actually learn how to use the characters I’ve picked because if he finds a move I struggle to find an answer for he’s going to use that damned thing over and over and over until I’m pinned in the corner and turned to mush.”
Labours of Love
Increasingly there are new stories every week about crunch and abuse in the industry, and while it’s important not to shy away from them, it’s also vital that these stories exist within a wider culture of exploitation that effects us personally whether our own work intersects with games or not. Two key perspectives this week highlight this point.
- ‘Dreams’ Is A Powerful Tool to Create Anything and Own Nothing – Waypoint
Cameron Kunzelman relates Media Molecule’s latest to the free labour cycle that social media companies hinge upon.
- A story of crunch. | Unwinnable
Malindy Hetfeld wonders about what’s next in the conversation on labour in game by reflecting on how easy it is to fall personally into a cycle of overwork and burnout.
“We talk a lot about how inhumane long working hours are, how people who try to go home are kept from doing so, but simply working, simply moving on because the work needs to be done, can come to you just as naturally, and even once you do realise what’s happening, it’s astoundingly easy just to continue.”
Three very fine articles this week all engage on some level with metacriticism, thinking through how we consume and produce discourse about games as a medium. These are increasingly pressing concerns in an ephemeral era of algorithms and edgelords.
- Talkin’ ‘Bout tiny Games – YouTube
Chris Franklin articulates the adversity of advocating for the Indie in the age of the algorithm.
- Radiator Blog: We must cultivate our garden: games as personal history
Robert Yang thinks through game design and preservation in the best of all possible worlds.
- Lessons in PR with THQ Nordic – Sufficiently Human
Lana Polansky reflects on business as usual at THQ Nordic and the games industry as a whole, as well as what we might be able to help dismantle the industry’s toxic status quo.
“THQ Nordic has just opted to lean into a more openly right-wing demographic than Microsoft, and games culture, which harbours quite a lot of angry young men with reactionary beliefs, affords them the comfort of occupying that niche, usually without a ton of pushback.”
A pair of authors this week tackle issues with Mortal Kombat 11 and its position in matters of inclusivity and identity in games.
- Ronda Rousey Has No Business Being in ‘Mortal Kombat 11’ – Waypoint
Danielle Riendeau dreams of a world where NetherRealm doesn’t stoop to stunt-casting a transphobe and Sandy Hook truther.
- FAMILIAR VISCERA – DEEP HELL
Skeleton argues for a distinction between media which “grow up” and media which “mature” in an effort to figure out what the hell is going on with Mortal Kombat these days.
“11 is Mature, but not Grown Up. The trick to not becoming Batman Begins for anything that’s been around too god damned long is by knowing that the best things to embrace aren’t going to be the easiest. Not knowing about the creative process at Netherrealm means I can’t directly say that this is the result of including more inclusive voices but I’m willing to bet it’s a pretty fucking huge part of it.”
Text to Self, Text to World
One of the first things we learn in school about studying stories is to trace the linkages a story establishes between its world on our own. Those linkages can be personal or they can stretch more broadly, but very often we evaluate stories based on whether we deem those linkages to be credible. Do they connect with our own feelings in a sincere way? Do they have enough follow-through? So too for games. Two authors this week evaluate such linkages in thoughtful ways.
- “The Failure of Caricature in Wolfenstein II,” by Alex Dalbey – Bullet Points Monthly
Alex Dalbey identifies the limits of MachineGames’ political critique in its inability to respond to the problem of how to confront the Nazis America already had–and has.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition Let Me Be A Hot Mess | Kotaku
Kate Gray looks back at Inquisition‘s refreshingly real approach to sex, relationships, and agency.
“We don’t have to treat sex like something divorced from the narrative of the game, nor do we have to act like it only exists for the player’s enjoyment. Good sex in games, as rare as it is, should be about sex in context, with all the dynamics of power and personality that come with it.”
I’m renaming this section because “Just for Fun” doesn’t adequately describe everything I do with it. While sometimes I do include straight-up joke articles here, often the things I save for the end here do have a critical point to them, but also happen to be served with a good dose of levity. The point is that given the dystopian hellscape we currently inhabit, sometimes important critical writing on games takes an emotional toll to read (or watch). Think of this section, then, as you would a chaser in the beverage-sense: something lighter, sweeter, to close out the experience.
- A Woman Guesses the Breast Sizes of the Ladies of Mortal Kombat 11 | Fanbyte
Elizabeth Henges pulls off a fatality against Angry Men on the Internet.
- Jorge Luis Borges’s New and Improved Pokémon Type System | Fanbyte
Sinclair August brings order to chaos and made at least two of my friends involuntarily snort when they read this.
“Pokémon exist in an impossibly wide variety of forms — animal, vegetable, mineral, gas, data, whatever Tangela is supposed to be, and so on. No conventional taxonomy could suffice. Only the Emporium is robust and intuitive enough to bring order to such chaos.”
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