Welcome back, readers.
So a delightful trove of documents and materials have surfaced this week detailing the early development history of the The Sims and how queerness was an integral–and subversive–inclusion from the beginning. And of course, it largely comes down to the efforts of a lone programmer: one Patrick J. Barrett III. To invoke Bo Ruberg, “Video Games Have Always Been Queer.”
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
We’re opening this week’s roundup with five articles that are all focused on design in some way–and beyond that different subsets of design. Narrative design, world design, mechanical design, aesthetic design, and music design are all featured here.
- In Defense of Complex Mechanics in TTRPGs | Sidequest
Xander Orenstein makes the case for folding mechanical complexity back into meaningful narrative game design.
- Can We Make Talking as Much Fun as Shooting? | Game Maker’s Toolkit – YouTube
Mark Brown works through the Deus Ex Problem.
- Brick By Brick / What is Dark Souls’ World?
Ario Barzan pushes back against the impulse to understand the setting of the Souls games as a real, practical place when it is seemingly, deliberately everything but.
- Gamasutra: Winifred Phillips’s Blog – Video Game Composers: How Music Enhances Virtual Presence (The Theory of Flow)
Winifred Phillips articulates a practical theory of music design to pull players into virtual experiences.
- Gamasutra: Victoria Tran’s Blog – Fashion in Games: Why It Matters
Victoria Tran proposes some best practices and principles for how game designers clothe their characters.
“Fashion is its own complex language. Codified, meaningful, and symbolic, with different contexts and moods. So the first reason we should care about it is that fashion can increase our understanding.”
Gathered here are three pieces I’d characterize as metacritical in varying ways. They alternately drift between genres, between design philosophies, from text to world and back again.
- Final Fantasy 15’s AI is secretly a grand philosophy experiment • Eurogamer.net
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell unravels Cartesian dualism via the Best Boys.
- The real purpose of escape rooms • Eurogamer.net
Julia Hardy positions the appeal of escape rooms in their fuzzy boundaries between play and reality, and the opportunities to apply the skills we learn from playing games.
- SPILLING OUT – DEEP HELL
Skeleton clings to critical flotsam to stave off drowning in a sea of Takes, and in doing so, arrives at something about the state of games crit that has been incredibly difficult to articulate.
“In truth, there’s a lot of punditry going around in the world of games criticism. There’s not so much critique of labor practices going around as there is opinions on them. Who should do what, and when – but solutions offered only appeal to the barest audience of people that are already reading another article.”
A pair of articles this week look at the reciprocal–and affirming–exchanges between our play experiences and interior mentalities. And yeah, I’d let the storm take Arcadia Bay every time.
- The psychological reasons certain games feel like coming home – Polygon
Astrid Johnson interviews Jenny Saucerman to find out how and why we find familiar feelings in unfamiliar virtual worlds.
- Life is Strange: Finding Hope in The Dark Room | Into The Spine
James Frierson reflects on the isolation of anxiety and pushes back against the storm.
“Life Is Strange brought introspective thinking that I wasn’t expecting but desperately needed. Through playing the story, stepping alongside Max and feeling her choices, I was able to externalize struggles I previously only experienced internally. I could crystallize what I needed to carry on.”
Representative of the Medium
Three authors this week are all looking at different slices of representation, inclusivity, intersectionality.
- The Height of Incomplete Representation in Apex Legends | Videodame
David Shimomura muses on how the proliferation of transmedia storytelling in and around popular online games has offered developers an even lower bar to clear for representation as they offload identifying character details to game-adjacent lore works.
- Gingy’s Corner: Bonds | Unwinnable
Gingy Gibson reviews a game that takes a thoughtful look at the ins and outs of kink and consent.
- A League of Their Own: Women’s Esports in Southeast Asia | Fanbyte
Alexis Ong takes the temperature of the state of feminine representation in competitive gaming.
“as societal expectations change — glacially, incrementally, painfully — women in Southeast Asia are finally finding a place in competitive gaming, even if it has to be in a league of their own.”
I’ve seen a lot of folks lately looking back on the games from their younger days, which of course gets me all warm and fuzzy for my own formative play experiences. I think I’ve got at least one salient memory involving all of the games being covered here. It’s wonderful seeing these old favourites through other eyes.
Okay, fine, Area 51 has probably never been anybody’s favourite. Work with me here.
- Barking mad – Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster
Kimimi braves the controller-throwing perils of legendary shoot-em-up Radiant Silvergun to rescue its cadre of secret. . . good boys?
- 5 Reasons The Lion King Video Game Haunts My Dreams | Fanbyte
Christy Admiraal reminisces about a bad adaptation of a good story. For my part, I never got past that damn second level.
- Area 51 Nostalgia Yearns for a Time When Evil Had to Hide – VICE
Cameron Kunzelman connects a goofy and entirely forgettable mid-90s rail shooter to our contemporary struggle to make sense of naked realities whose cruelties far outstrip yesterday’s fanciful conspiracies.
- Did Trying to Beat Super Smash Bros Kill Power Stone? | Fanbyte
Chelsea Cruz looks back at a slice of the weird alternate pocket-universe that was the Dreamcast library. Also, I for sure played the hell out of this one back in the day.
“Imagine you’re working at Capcom at the end of the millennium. Smash Bros. has just changed the entire fighting game, uh, game, and you’re working on the sequel to Power Stone. So what do you do?”
Sprites are kinda horrific, actually.
- Mario’s Death Sprite: A Review | Fanbyte
Look, I get that these mini-reviews are supposed to be a gag, but merritt k has touched upon a real Thing here–sprites are relatively abstract visual representations of game characters and world elements, and the untethered perspective of a child can yield some pretty fascinating (see also: horrifying) conclusions about what that writhing mass of primeval pixels is supposed to be.
“as a child, I couldn’t visually parse what was supposed to be happening to Mario. As a result, I came to believe that Mario’s face had begun to slough off his skull.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!