Welcome back, readers. Sorry, I can’t answer the phone right now (what’s a phone. . . ?). Mario Maker 2 is out, and I am in deep.
Pride Month draws to a close today, and we’ve got a selection of great queer reflections from masculine and feminine perspectives. They also reflect, I think, on the growing understanding that advocating for representation by itself is not enough, and that increasingly, we need to be vocal and critical about the quality of that representation in addition to the quantity. We need more trash mammals.
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
Planet at Play
This week we’re starting off with a trio of examinations of the ecopolitics in contemporary games–no small thing on a planet imminently poised to eat us alive in retribution–with a focus on where these games continue to fall short.
- Underwater Video Games Ignore the Perilous State of Our Collapsing Oceans – VICE
Cameron Kunzelman observes how the seeming invisibility of the ecological catastrophes playing out beneath the waves is exacerbated by romantic marine depictions in games.
- Stop making me kill animals – I Need Diverse Games
Tauriq Moosa bemoans the shallow and utilitarian characterizations of animals in popular games.
- Gaming’s Climate Dread in a 4K Streaming Ecosystem – VICE
Lewis Gordon surveys how even as games begin to adopt ecocritical themes, their arguments are still largely subsumed by colonial mechanics and the ballooning material costs of their production and consumption.
“For a game that emphasizes apparent political and ecological awareness, Red Dead Redemption 2 adheres to the same strict colonial lexicon we see in just about every mainstream open-world blockbuster. Player verbs cluster around shooting, running, exploring, and trading. And when it comes to the environment, we can only slaughter its animals or pick its useful plants.”
Nathan at all
A pair of authors this week perform queer readings of established masculine heroes in games.
- Dear Nathan Drake: Let’s See Other People | Fanbyte
A.K. Pradhan bids adieu to a longstanding digital crush, and in doing so thinks through the overlap and bleed between real and fictional relationships.
- The Homoeroticism of Contra and Altered Beast | Unwinnable
Jeremy Signor performs some queer analysis on a pair of old classics.
“Obviously there’s a lot problematic with the narrow view of masculinity as seen through the lens of perfectly chiseled muscles, and such body image struggles continue in the gay community unabated. But by embracing the inherent homoeroticism of power fantasies like Contra and Altered Beast, gaymers are given a powerful tool towards understanding ourselves.”
People are hard–as someone who wasn’t born with an enormous amount of social grace myself, this is something I can attest to. Virtual environments can provide a safer space in which to explore relationships, yet sometimes even that relative safety can be a difficult thing to navigate, process, and accept. Two authors this week reflect on the uncanny nature of fictional relationships involving real feelings.
- Why Do Animal Crossing’s Villagers Leave Such An Impact? | Fanbyte
Natalie Flores investigates how simply-designed characters in games can provoke lasting empathy and attachment in players.
- Back to school: An unexpected lesson at Habataki High – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi offers a postmortem on the disquieting experiencing of dating in a virtual playground where nobody’s an asshole or an abuser.
“And when I first realised I didn’t have to live in fear of displeasing any of these virtual people I was more than a little bit upset with myself – that thought process is not, for want of a better word, normal. Which means I’m not normal. Which isn’t news to anyone really but I was always hoping to be more amusingly quirky-weird abnormal than buried-trauma-manifesting-in-unexpected-ways abnormal.”
Trash Mammals and Street Fighters
Queer representation in games by itself isn’t enough if the characters at play aren’t allowed to be real, vulnerable, and messy. Two authors this week write on the subject of queer femininit(ies) in games.
- Street Fighter’s Queer Stereotypes Kept Me In The Closet | Kotaku
Maddy Myers articulates the difficulties with over-the-top and caricatured queer representation in games with a study of Juri.
- Celebrating the humanisation of queer women through humor in video games • Eurogamer.net
Natalie Flores looks at examples of queer characters in games being messy, clumsy, cringey, vulnerable, and human. Or trash mammals.
“In the media, women are rarely allowed to mess up and be humorous – especially at the same time – and romances for queer people have often been wrapped in mystique, tragedy, and melodrama. As we near the end of Pride month, I find myself fondly remembering Undertale, Night in the Woods, and Butterfly Soup for each having a scene in which queer women actualize their feelings, or reminisce on a time they attempted to do so, and fail spectacularly or embarrass themselves.”
The idea of purchasing a game as a singular event is increasingly a quaint and remote myth. Contemporary games are less discrete products and more amorphous webs of monetization, both via official press channels and their influencer partners. Two articles this week seek some sense amid the storm.
- WHY DO I GOTTA KEEP BUYIN SHIT! – DEEP HELL
Skeleton, in contemplating games advertising, identifies the next rung up from Fear of Missing Out.
- Well Played: Play Per View — Real Life
Vicky Osterweil discusses how games are uniquely suitable as a spectator sport, as well as the issues of labour and precarity that emerge out of streaming.
“watching someone else play video games addresses a broader set of responses to a screen, derived specifically from the affective space viewers inhabit while watching. This space is both intimate and alienating, lonely and social — that is to say, it is characterized by some of the same contradictions of life lived with and through screens.”
How does one design for “game-feel?” Design choices can elicit powerful affective responses, whether by a single mechanical affordance or the structure of a whole-game world. Two authors this week think through these design choices and the affective effects they provoke.
- Games Are Better With Double Jumps | Kotaku
Heather Alexandra reflects on one of the most absurd and most gratifying mechanical tropes in games.
- In the Reflection of a Dying Star: Wonder and Terror in Outer Wilds
Trevor Thompson reflects on the deep feelings evoked by the clockwork design of Outer Wilds.
“Every discovery recorded in your ship’s log is a crucial piece of information in unraveling the history of the Nomai and the solar system. Every suggested location yields a story and every story yields an answer. The log system is effective, and even if I do miss something, the game helpfully marks which areas still have more information to offer. The terror of space is in what you don’t know, and thus information is the remedy.”
I usually spend a line or two here being a smart-ass, but. . . just read this one, okay? I love it.
- The Ultimate Fantasy of Dragon Age is Being Listened to by a Man | Fanbyte
Moira Hicks. . . just. . . oh my god this is a terrific article.
“It is damning that in order to realistically construct the fantasy of a romantic relationship with a straight man, they must be nearly featureless, and it is a terrible desire of mine that I crave this.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!